Bitcoin trade in Japan accounts for about half of the global trade volume. That number has surged since the government passed a new law earlier this year, recognizing bitcoin as a legal form of currency. CNBC’s Akiko Fujita reports.
Bitcoin trade in Japan accounts for about half of the global trade volume. That number has surged since the government passed a new law earlier this year, recognizing bitcoin as a legal form of currency. CNBC’s Akiko Fujita reports.
The blockchain is a digital, decentralized, distributed ledger.
Most explanations for the importance of the blockchain start with Bitcoin and the history of money. But money is just the first use case of the blockchain. And it is unlikely to be the most important.
It might seem strange that a ledger — a dull and practical document associated mainly with accounting — would be described as a revolutionary technology. But the blockchain matters because ledgers matter.
Ledgers are everywhere. Ledgers do more than just record accounting transactions. A ledger consists simply of data structured by rules. Any time we need a consensus about facts, we use a ledger. Ledgers record the facts underpinning the modern economy.
Ledgers confirm ownership. Property title registers map who owns what and whether their land is subject to any caveats or encumbrances. Hernando de Soto has documented how the poor suffer when they own property that has not been confirmed in a ledger. The firm is a ledger, as a network of ownership, employment and production relationships with a single purpose. A club is a ledger, structuring who benefits and who does not.
Ledgers confirm identity. Businesses have identities recorded on government ledgers to track their existence and their status under tax law. The register of Births Deaths and Marriages records the existence of individuals at key moments, and uses that information to confirm identities when those individuals are interacting with the world.
Ledgers confirm status. Citizenship is a ledger, recording who has the rights and is subject to obligations due to national membership. The electoral roll is a ledger, allowing (and, in Australia, obliging) those who are on that roll a vote. Employment is a ledger, giving those employed a contractual claim on payment in return for work.
Ledgers confirm authority. Ledgers identify who can validly sit in parliament, who can access what bank account, who can work with children, who can enter restricted areas.
At their most fundamental level, ledgers map economic and social relationships.
Agreement about the facts and when they change — that is, a consensus about what is in the ledger, and a trust that the ledger is accurate — is one of the fundamental bases of market capitalism.
Let’s make a distinction here that is crucial but easy to miss: between ownership and possession.
Take passports. Each country asserts the right to control who crosses its borders, and each country maintains a ledger of which of its citizens have the right to travel. A passport is a physical item — call it a token — that refers back to this ledger.
In the pre-digital world, possession indicated ownership of that right. The Australian passport ledger consisted of index cards held in by the government of each state. Border agents presented with a passport could surmise that the traveler who held it was listed on a distant ledger as allowed to travel. Of course this left border control highly exposed to fraud.
A Belgian passport held by the Australian National Archives, A435 1944/4/2579
Possession implies ownership, but possession is not ownership. Now modern passports allow the authorities to confirm ownership directly. Their digital features allow airlines and immigration authorities to query the national passport database and determine that a passenger is free to travel.
Passports are a relatively straightforward example of this distinction. But as Bitcoin has shown: money is a ledger, too.
Possession of a banknote token indicates ownership. In the nineteenth century the possessor — ‘bearer’ — of a banknote had a right to draw on the issuing bank the value of the note. These banknotes were direct liabilities for the issuing bank, and were recorded on the banks’ ledger. A regime of possession indicating ownership meant that banknotes were susceptible to be both stolen and forged.
In our era fiat currencies a five dollar bill cannot be returned to the central bank for gold. But the relationship remains — the value of the bill is dependent on a social consensus about the stability of the currency and government that issued it. Banknotes are not wealth, as Zimbabweans and Yugoslavians and Weimar Republic Germans have unfortunately learned. A bill is a call on a relationship in a (now synthetic) ledger and if that relationship collapses, so does the value of the bill.
For all its importance, ledger technology has been mostly unchanged … until now.
Ledgers appear at the dawn of written communication. Ledgers and writing developed simultaneously in the Ancient Near East to record production, trade, and debt. Clay tablets baked with cuneiform script detailed units of rations, taxes, workers and so forth. The first international ‘community’ was arranged through a structured network of alliances that functioned a lot like a distributed ledger.
A fragment of a late Babylonian cuneiform ledger, held by the British Museum, 58278
The first major change to ledgers appeared in the fourteenth century with the invention of double entry bookkeeping. By recording both debits and credits, double entry bookkeeping conserved data across multiple (distributed) ledgers, and allowed for the reconciliation of information between ledgers.
The nineteenth century saw the next advance in ledger technology with the rise of large corporate firms and large bureaucracies. These centralized ledgers enabled dramatic increases in organizational size and scope, but relied entirely on trust in the centralized institutions.
In the late twentieth century ledgers moved from analog to digital ledgers. For example, in the 1970s the Australian passport ledger was digitized and centralized. A database allows for more complex distribution, calculation, analysis and tracking. A database is computable and searchable.
But a database still relies on trust; a digitized ledger is only as reliable as the organization that maintains it (and the individuals they employ). It is this problem that the blockchain solves. The blockchain is a distributed ledgers that does not rely on a trusted central authority to maintain and validate the ledger.
The economic structure of modern capitalism has evolved in order service these ledgers.
Oliver Williamson, the 2009 Nobel laureate in economics, argued that people produce and exchange in markets, firms, or governments depending on the relative transactions costs of each institution. Williamson’s transactions cost approach provides a key to understanding what institutions manage ledgers and why.
Governments maintain ledgers of authority, privilege, responsibility and access. Governments are the trusted entity that keeps databases of citizenship and the right to travel, taxation obligations, social security entitlements, and property ownership. Where a ledger requires coercion in order to be enforced, the government is required.
Firms also maintain ledgers: proprietary ledgers of employment and responsibility, of the ownership and deployment of physical and human capital, of suppliers and customers, of intellectual property and corporate privilege. A firm is often described as a ‘nexus of contracts’. But the value of the firm comes from the way that nexus is ordered and structured — the firm is in fact a ledger of contracts and capital.
Firms and governments can use blockchains to make their work more efficient and reliable. Multinational firms and networks of firms need to reconcile transactions on a global basis and blockchains can allow them to do so near-instantaneously. Governments can use the immutability of the blockchain to guarantee that property titles and identity records are accurate and untampered. Well-designed permissioning rules on blockchain applications can give citizens and consumers more control over their data.
But blockchains also compete against firms and governments. The blockchain is an institutional technology. It is a new way to maintain a ledger — that is, coordinate economic activity — distinct from firms and governments.
The new economic institutions of capitalism
Blockchains can be used by firms, but they can also replace firms. A ledger of contracts and capital can now be decentralized and distributed in a way they could not before. Ledgers of identity, permission, privilege and entitlement can be maintained and enforced without the need for government backing.
This is what institutional cryptoeconomics studies: the institutional consequences of cryptographically secure and trustless ledgers.
Classical and neoclassical economists understand the purpose of economics as studying the production and distribution of scarce resources, and the factors which underpinned that production and distribution.
Institutional economics understands the economy as made of rules. Rules (like laws, languages, property rights, regulations, social norms, and ideologies) allow dispersed and opportunistic people to coordinate their activity together. Rules facilitate exchange — economic exchange but also social and political exchange as well.
What has come to be called cryptoeconomics focuses on the economic principles and theory underpinning the blockchain and alternative blockchain implementations. It looks at game theory and incentive design as they relate to blockchain mechanism design.
By contrast, institutional cryptoeconomics looks at the institutional economics of the blockchain and cryptoeconomy. Like its close cousin institutional economics, the economy is a system to coordinate exchange. But rather than looking at rules, institutional cryptoeconomics focuses on ledgers: data structured by rules.
Institutional cryptoeconomics is interested in the rules that govern ledgers, the social, political, and economic institutions that have developed to service those ledgers, and how the invention of the blockchain changes the patterns of ledgers throughout society.
Institutional cryptoeconomics gives us the tools to understand what is happening in the blockchain revolution — and what we can’t predict.
Blockchains are an experimental technology. Where the blockchain can be used is an entrepreneurial question. Some ledgers will move onto the blockchain. Some entrepreneurs will try to move ledgers onto the blockchain and fail. Not everything is a blockchain use case. We probably haven’t yet seen the blockchain killer app yet. Nor can we predict what the combination of ledgers, cryptography, peer to peer networking will throw up in the future.
This process is going to be extremely disruptive. The global economy faces (what we expect will be) a lengthy period of uncertainty about how the facts that underpin it will be restructured, dismantled, and reorganized.
The best uses of the blockchain have to be ‘discovered’. Then they have to be implemented in a real world political and economic system that has deep, established institutions that already service ledgers. That second part will not be cost free.
Ledgers are so pervasive — and the possible applications of the blockchain so all-encompassing — that some of the most fundamental principles governing our society are up for grabs.
We’ve been through revolutions like this before.
It is common to compare the invention of Bitcoin and the blockchain with the internet. The blockchain is Internet 2.0 — or Internet 4.0. The internet is a powerful tool that has revolutionized the way we interact and do business. But if anything the comparison undersells the blockchain. The internet has allowed us to communicate and exchange better — more quickly, more efficiently.
But the blockchain allows us to exchange differently. A better metaphor for the blockchain is the invention of mechanical time.
Before mechanical time, human activity was temporally regulated by nature: the crow of the rooster in the morning, the slow descent into darkness at night. As the economic historian Douglas W. Allen argues, the problem was variability: “there was simply too much variance in the measurement of time … to have a useful meaning in many daily activities”.
The 12th century Jayrun Water Clock
“The effect of the reduction in the variance of time measurement was felt everywhere”, Allen writes. Mechanical time opened up entirely new categories of economic organization that had until then been not just impossible, but unimaginable. Mechanical time allowed trade and exchange to be synchronized across great distances. It allowed for production and transport to be coordinated. It allowed for the day to be structured, for work to be compensated according to the amount of time worked — and for workers to know that they were being compensated fairly. Both employers and employees could look at a standard, independent instrument to verify that a contract had been performed.
Oliver Williamson and Ronald Coase (who was also an economics Nobel prize winner, in 1991) put contracts at the heart of economic and business organization. Contracts are at the center of institutional cryptoeconomics. It is here that blockchains have the most revolutionary implications.
Smart contracts on the blockchain allows for contractual agreements to be automatically, autonomously, and securely executed. Smart contracts can eliminate an entire class of work that currently maintains, enforces and confirms that contracts are executed — accountants, auditors, lawyers, and indeed much of the legal system.
But the smart contracts are limited by what can be specified in the algorithm. Economists have focused on the distinction between complete and incomplete contracts.
A complete contract specifies what is to occur under every possible contingency. An incomplete contract allows the terms of the contract to be renegotiated in the case of unexpected events. Incomplete contracts provide one explanation for why some exchanges take place in firms, and why others take place in markets, and provides a further guide to questions surrounding vertical integration and the size of the firm.
Complete contracts are impossible to execute, while incomplete contracts are expensive. The blockchain, though smart contracts, lowers the information costs and transactions costs associated with many incomplete contracts and so expands the scale and scope of economic activity that can be undertaken. It allows markets to operate where before only large firms could operate, and it allows business and markets to operate where before only government could operate.
The precise details of how and when this will occur is a challenge and a problem for entrepreneurs to resolve. Currently, oracles provide a link between the algorithmic world of the blockchain and the real world, trusted entities that convert information into data that can be processed by a smart contract.
The real gains to be made in the blockchain revolution, we suggest, are in developing better and more powerful oracles — converting incomplete contracts to contracts that are sufficiently complete to be written algorithmically and executed on the blockchain.
The merchant revolution of the middle ages was made possible by the development of merchant courts — effectively trusted oracles — that allowed traders to enforce agreements privately. For blockchain, that revolution seems yet to come.
The blockchain economy puts pressure on government processes in a whole host of ways, from taxation, to regulation, to service delivery.
Investigating these changes is an ongoing project of ours. But consider, for instance, how we regulate banks.
Prudential controls have evolved to ensure the safety and soundness of financial institutions that interact with the public. Typically these controls (for example, liquidity and capital requirements) have been justified by the fact that depositors and shareholders are unable to observe the bank’s ledger. The depositors and shareholders are unable to discipline the firm and its management.
Bank runs occur when depositors discover (or simply imagine) that their bank might not be able to cover their deposits, and they rush to withdraw their money.
The bank run in Mary Poppins (1964)
One possible application of the blockchain would allow depositors and shareholders to continuously monitor the bank’s reserves and lendings, substantially eliminating the information asymmetries between them and the bank management.
In this world, market discipline would be possible. Public trust in the immutability of the blockchain would ensure no false bank runs occurred. The role of the regulator might be limited to certifying the blockchain was correctly and securely structured.
A more far reaching application would be a cryptobank — an autonomous blockchain application that borrows short and lends long, perhaps matching borrowers with lenders directly. A cryptobank structured algorithmically by smart contracts would have the same transparency properties as the bank with a public blockchain ledger but with other features that might completely neglect the need for regulators. For example, a cryptobank could be self-liquidating. At the moment the cryptobank began trading while insolvent, the underlying assets would be automatically disbursed to shareholders and depositors.
It is unclear what regulatory role government should have in this world.
Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok have argued that much government regulation appears to be designed to resolve asymmetric information problems — problems that, in a world of information ubiquity, often do not exist any more. Blockchain applications significantly increase this information ubiquity, and make that information more transparent, permanent, and accessible.
Blockchains have their uses in what is being called ‘regtech’ — the application of technology to the traditional regulatory functions of auditing, compliance, and market surveillance. And we ought not to dismiss the possibility that there will be new economic problems that demand new consumer protections or market controls in the blockchain world.
Nevertheless, the restructuring and recreation of basic economic forms like banks will put pressure not just on how regulation is enforced, but what the regulation should do.
The implications for big business are likely to be just as profound. Business size is often driven by the need to cover the costs of business hierarchy — in turn due to incomplete contracts and technological necessity of large scale financial investment. That business model has meant that shareholder capitalism is the dominant form of business organization. The ability to write more complete contracts on the blockchain means that entrepreneurs and innovators will be able to maintain ownership and control of their human capital and profit at the same time. The nexus between operating a successful business and access to financial capital has been weakening over time, but now might even be broken. The age of human capitalism is dawning.
Entrepreneurs will be able to write a valuable app and release it into the “wild” ready to be employed by anyone and everyone who needs that functionality. The entrepreneur in turn simply observe micro-payments accumulating in their wallet. A designer could release their design into the “wild” and final consumers could download that design to their 3D printer and have the product almost immediately. This business model could see more (localized) manufacturing occur than at present.
The ability of consumers to interact directly with producers or designers will limit the role that middlemen play in the economy. Logistics firms, however, will continue to prosper, but the advent of driverless transportation will see disruption to industry too.
Bear in mind, any disruption of business will also disrupt the company tax base. It may become difficult for government to tax business at all — so we might see greater pressure on sales (consumption) taxes and even poll taxes.
The blockchain and associated technological changes will massively disrupt current economic conditions. The industrial revolution ushered in a world where business models were predicated on hierarchy and financial capitalism. The blockchain revolution will see an economy dominated by human capitalism and greater individual autonomy.
How that unfolds is unclear at present. Entrepreneurs and innovators will resolve uncertainty, as always, through a process of trial and error. No doubt great fortunes will be made and lost before we know exactly how this disruption will unfold.
Our contribution is that we have a clearer understanding of a model that can be deployed to provide clarity to the disruption as and when it occurs.
Outspoken billionaire investor Peter Thiel told attendees at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that people are “underestimating” bitcoin and that it has “great potential left,” comparing the cryptocurrency bitcoin to gold.
In his remarks, Thiel said that while he is “skeptical of most [cryptocurrencies],” he believes bitcoin has a promising future depending on the trajectory it takes…
“I’m skeptical of most of them (cryptocurrencies), I do think people who criticize are a little bit… underestimating bitcoin especially because… it’s like a reserve form of money, it’s like gold, and it’s just a store of value. You don’t need to use it to make payments,” Thiel said.
The PayPal founder and venture capitalist compared some of bitcoin’s features to gold.
“If bitcoin ends up being the cyber equivalent of gold and it has a great potential left and it’s a very different kind of thing from what people in Silicon Valley focus on – companies, not algorithms not protocols, but this might be maybe one exception that is very underestimated,” the Silicon Valley elite said.
Even so, in Thiel’s opinion, like gold, it’s difficult to mine, making it more worthwhile…
“You can ask the same questions about gold. What is gold based on? Why is gold valuable?…
It’s a tangible asset but it’s also hard to mine. So if it was easy to mine then it wouldn’t be that valuable and we would just have way more gold.
So bitcoin is also, it’s mineable, like gold it’s hard to mine, it’s actually harder to mine than gold and so in that sense it’s more constrained,” he said.
In September, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon famously called bitcoin a “fraud” and said it will eventually blow up.
“The currency isn’t going to work. You can’t have a business where people can invent a currency out of thin air and think that people who are buying it are really smart,” Dimon said while speaking at an investor conference.
However, Thiel proposed a different take:
“The argument it’s based on is the security of the math which tells you it can never be diluted by government… it can’t be hacked and it’s a form of money that’s… secure in an absolute way.”
To really understand an asset, we have to examine not just the asset itself but who owns it, and who can afford to own it. These attributes will illuminate the political and financial power wielded by the owners of the asset class.
And once we know what sort of political/financial power is in the hands of those owning the asset class, we can predict the limits of political restrictions that can be imposed on that ownership.
As an example, consider home ownership, i.e. ownership of a principal residence. Home ownership topped out in 2004, when over 69% of all households “owned” a residence. (Owned is in quotes because many of these households had no actual equity in the house once the housing bubble popped.)
The rate of home ownership has declined to 63%, which is still roughly two-thirds of all households. Clearly, homeowners constitute a powerful political force. Any politico seeking to impose restrictions or additional taxes on homeowners has to be careful not to rouse this super-majority into political action.
But raw numbers of owners of an asset class are only one measure of political power. Since ours is a pay-to-play form of representational democracy in which wealth buys political influence via campaign contributions, philanthro-capitalism, revolving doors between political office and lucrative corporate positions, etc., wealth casts the votes that count.
I am always amused when essayists claim “the government” will do whatever benefits the government most. While this is broadly true, this ignores the reality that wealthy individuals and corporations own the processes of governance.
More accurately, we can say that government will do whatever benefits those who control the levers of power most, which is quite different than claiming that the government acts solely to further its own interests. More specifically, it furthers what those at the top of the wealth-power pyramid have set as the government’s interests.
Which brings us to the interesting question, will governments ban bitcoin as a threat to their power? A great many observers claim that yes, governments will ban bitcoin because it represents a threat to their control of the fiat currencies they issue.
But since government will do whatever most benefits those who control the levers of power, the question becomes, does bitcoin benefit those holding the levers of power? If the answer is yes, then we can predict government will not ban bitcoin (and other cryptocurrencies) because those with the final say will nix any proposal to ban bitcoin.
We can also predict that any restrictions that are imposed will likely be aimed at collecting capital gains taxes on gains made in cryptocurrencies rather than banning ownership.
Since the wealthy already pay the lion’s share of federal income taxes (payroll taxes are of course paid by employees and employers), their over-riding interests are wealth preservation and capital appreciation, with lowering their tax burdens playing third fiddle in the grand scheme of maintaining their wealth and power.
Indeed, paying taxes inoculates them to some degree from social disorder and political revolt.
I was struck by this quote from the recent Zero Hedge article A Look Inside The Secret Swiss Bunker Where The Ultra Rich Hide Their Bitcoins:
Xapo was founded by Argentinian entrepreneur and current CEO Wences Casares, whom Quartz describes as “patient zero” of bitcoin among Silicon Valley’s elite. Cesares reportedly gave Bill Gates and Reed Hoffman their first bitcoins.
Their first bitcoins. That suggests the billionaires have added to their initial gifts of BTC.
The appeal to the wealthy is obvious: any investment denominated in fiat currencies can be devalued overnight by devaluations of the currency via diktat or currency crisis. Bitcoin has the advantage of being decentralized and independent of centrally-issued currencies.
I submit that not only are the wealthy the likeliest buyers of bitcoin for this reason, they are the only group that can afford to buy a bunch of bitcoin as a hedge or speculative investment. Lance Roberts of Real Investment Advice recently produced some charts based on the Federal Reserve’s 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) report– Fed Admits The Failure Of Prosperity For The Bottom 90%.
Put another way: how many families can afford to buy a bunch of bitcoin?
Here is a chart of median value of family financial assets: note that this is far below the 2000 peak and the housing bubble of 2006-07:
Here is mean family financial assets broken out by income category: note that virtually all the gains have accrued to the top 10%, whose net worth soared from $1.5 million in 2009 to over $2.2 million in 2016, a gain of $700,000.
Everyone’s ADD, including me. I get attracted by shiny objects. I first noticed Bitcoin as a shiny object in mid-2013. I went down the rabbit hole far enough for The Wall Street Journal to call me “Wall Street’s Bitcoin expert” while they live blogged a Bitcoin conference call I hosted. I invested in ChangeTip. I bought and sold BitcoinWallet.com. Unfortunately, by late-2014, nine months in to a severe Bitcoin price decline, my focus wandered to new shiny objects.
Fast forward to 2017, and my mind wandered to a new shiny object, ICOs. Once again, I got the four smartest people I could find on the topic, and held a conference call on June 29th during which I had my crypto epiphany.
Crypto is now so shiny, so luminous, I can’t divert my eyes. I’m living and breathing crypto 24/7. Reading every thoughtful post I can find. Meeting anyone thoughtful on the topic. Holding more crypto conference calls. And writing and writing on crypto, because that’s the best way to learn.
After 3 months going down the rabbit hole a second time, here’s what I learned…
We’re still so early, that much about what people are saying and writing about crypto is more theory than fact. Lots of people (including me) compare the the crypto bubble to the Internet bubble. But the parallels between the development of crypto and the development Internet are everywhere I look. Take this snippet from Wikipedia’s “History of the Internet’’:
“With so many different network methods, something was needed to unify them. Robert E. Kahn of DARPA and ARPANET recruited Vinton Cerf of Stanford to work with him on the problem. By 1973, they had worked out a fundamental reformulation, where the differences between network protocols were hidden by using a common internetwork protocol…..”
As a non-techie, that sounds exactly like a paragraph I read yesterday on Medium. But an important difference about the evolution of crypto and the evolution of the internet is how public crypto’s early evolution is. There were maybe a few thousand people who cared about what Cerf was doing in the early days of the Internet. So it was done out of the public’s eye. It wasn’t until 1994, 21 years after Cerf’s 1973 solution, that Netscape introduced it’s browser, and most people learned about the internet.
Crypto is evolving in its early days in a public way, so it’s messy, and theoretical, and dense. So if you feel like you don’t really understand crypto, join the crowd. Neither of us would have understood much if we sat in the room with Vint Cerf in 1973.
Another sign that it’s early is that foundational parts of crypto theory like Joel Manegro’s Fat Protocol post , which has been repeated ad infinitum, is being questioned and rethought by Teemu Paivinen, Jake Brukhman and others (h/t Yannick Roux).
The chart below provides a simple way to think about the three types of cryptocurrencies.
On the currency side, while Bitcoin is a crypto leader in payments, it’s rise in it’s value has little to do with the currency applications of Bitcoin, and all to do with it being a store of value. Therefore, Bitcoin is simply a confidence game as are ALL store of values. As with other assets, the higher Bitcoin’s value goes, the more confident investors become, which is another factor driving bubbles. After being used as a store of value for thousands of years, it’s easier to believe in gold as a store of value (hence the rocks have a total market cap/are storing over $7 trillion in value vs. $75 billion for Bitcoin today). I believe Bitcoin will continue to gain share of value storage. I’m a HODLer.
Utility Tokens like Civic which provide a digital good in return for the token (in Civic’s case they provide businesses and individuals the tools to control and protect identities) are an exciting new way to fuel ecosystems. However, in the SAFT White Paper published by Cooley and Protocol Labs last week, a whole section is titled “Pre-functional Utility Token Sales Are More Likely to Pass the Howey Test”, which is another way of saying the SEC is likely to deem them a security. Hence they propose the SAFT as an instrument to address this risk.
The third type of token are Security Tokens, which are similar to shares, as they convey ownership interests. The cool thing about Security Tokens is that they’re liquid (assuming there’s someone who wants to buy them and security laws are addressed), and companies can access a global investor base when raising capital/doing an ICO. While most of the ICOs to date have been Utility Tokens, because of the massive advantages that Security Tokens have over traditional capital raising, I think the total market cap of all security tokens will be much larger than the total market cap of all utility tokens.
This post in Blockchain Hub gives a great detailed overview of the three types of blockchains? – ?public blockchains (like Bitcoin and Ethereum), federated blockchains (like R3 and EWF), and private blockchains (e.g. platforms like Multichain).
Blockchains, cryptocurrencies, together with other smart contracts are enabling Decentralization, which is the REALLY disruptive thing. The chart below is widely known in crypto. It’s often disparaged as too simplistic to be meaningful, but I find it helpful.
Governments and businesses have largely functioned via centralization. Someone or some organization sits in the middle, making the rules, and taking a toll (either taxes or fees) for providing a function. We can now leverage technology, take out the middleman, and enable highly functional decentralized entities (like bitcoin).
Take life insurance. I believe, in the future, through smart contracts and the blockchain, decentralized structures will provide life insurance, saving buyers of life insurance the $10’s of billions of tolls (sales commissions, profits, …) that insurance companies takes for sitting in the middle.
ICOs are funding a growing list of real-world decentralized companies. Augur is building a decentralized prediction market. PROPS is a decentralized economy for digital video. OpenBazaar is a decentralized peer-to-peer marketplace. Aragon is a decentralized provider of tools to enable more efficient decentralized companies.
Decentralization is the lens through which I now look at everything. It’s the most important thing I’ve learned about over the last three months.
It seems to make sense that, all else being equal, the industries most at risk for disruption from decentralization are where the middlemen charge the highest tolls. Below is a list from Forbes of the 10 industries with the highest net margins in 2016:
Even though investment managers are getting disrupted by ETFs and robo -advisors, they’re still churning out nice margins. Certainly my own industry (venture capital) is at risk:
But I don’t think VCs aren’t going away anytime soon, particularly VCs that focus on crypto and invest in ICOs. In addition, ICO investors see name VCs as a positive signal (e.g. Filecoin). So VCs may be diminished, but the good ones will adapt and innovate.
To learn more about decentralization, read Vitalik’s “The Meaning of Decentralization” which goes in to the the three different dimensions of decentralization:
The biggest sign that it’s not a bubble, is that almost everyone says it’s a bubble. By way of background, I’m a VC and former Wall Street equity analyst, and I think it’s a bubble because I see ICOs trading at 50X-100X+ what I think they would be valued at if they were funded by VCs or traded publicly. And history says it’s not different this time. Here’s a great book on the last 800 years of people saying “it’s different” this time to justify lofty valuations.
I say “so what” because I believe in Amara’s Law: We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. This is part of the reason we get bubbles. We get overexcited about a new technology and we drive up prices beyond any reasonable valuation. Bubble’s go on for years. The internet bubble lasted 5+ years.
But the more important part of Amara’s law is that we underestimate the effect of a technology in the long run. The internet is more impactful, and a greater wealth creator than anyone imagined. The internet brought us $3 trillion of wealth just in FAMGA. What’s the value to be created from crypto, blockchain, and decentralization? Today, the cryptocurrency market cap is around $150 billion. Could that figure go down 78% like the NASDAQ did in the 30 months after it peaked on March 10th, 2000? Sure. And that would be painful. But I’m playing the long game. It was a good strategy with the internet, and it should be a good strategy today with crypto.
Regulatory risk is obviously significant on a country-by-country basis, or within the U.S. on a state-by-state basis re all cryptocurrency. We’ve seen what happened in China. Korea and other countries are also clamping down. In the U.S. the SEC DAO Report was a big step forward for ICOs given the incredible amount of detail and guidance the SEC gave in the report, without it being an enforcement action. Crypto’s next on the SEC agenda on October 12th. But at the end of the day, governments are going to do what’s in their best interests.
While there is significant regulatory risk, I believe governance is the greatest risk to Bitcoin and other decentralized entities. Bitcoin is essentially governed by exit (h/t Ari Paul). While there’s a consensus mechanism, if people don’t like the consensus, they have three choices. They can 1)suck it up, 2) they can sell their bitcoins and leave, or 3) they can take the open source code and fork it. Forking comes with both technical risk and community risk. The Segwit2X debate, which could result in a hard fork November 18, is just the latest example of Bitcoin’s risk from governance by exit. The Balkanization of Bitcoin won’t be a good thing for the community.
After Jamie Dimon said “Bitcoin is a fraud”, my Twitter stream was filled with Dimon haters. I read what he said, which brought nothing new to the conversation other than his opinion, and moved on. Maybe Dimon doesn’t even believe what he’s saying. Maybe he’s just talking up his own book. I don’t know, I don’t care, and I won’t spend time defending the industry from haters or dissecting the reasons the haters hate (unless they’re bringing something new to the conversation).
I want to spend my time preaching to the choir. I want to spend my time learning from, helping, and investing in the believers. As an industry, we have a lot of work ahead of us to achieve the massive world-changing potential of blockchain, cryptocurrency, and decentralization. I’m getting to it.
The guy who made tens of millions of dollars misleading American retirees into buying worthless pink sheet stocks says he agrees with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon’s comment that bitcoin is “a fraud.”
Jordan Belfort, the inspiration for Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in the 2013 Martin Scorsese film “The Wolf of Wall Street,” told the Street that he believes Dimon is right, adding that bitcoin “isn’t a great model.”
In what may eventually be revealed as an important distinction, Belfort’s take was somewhat more nuanced than Dimon’s. While the JPM CEO predicted that all digital currencies would eventually become worthless, Belfort said there might be room for one.
“I’m not saying cryptocurrencies, there won’t be one – there will be one – but there has to be some backing by some central governments out there.
If any digital currency demonstrates long-term viability, it will probably be one that’s backed by a central bank.”
Two weeks ago, Dimon sent the price of bitcoin tumbling when he called the digital currency a fraud and said he would fire any JPM traders caught trading it. He added that it made people like his daughter feel like “geniuses” for buying in early.
“It’s a fraud. It’s making stupid people, such as my daughter, feel like they’re geniuses. It’s going to get somebody killed. I’ll fire anyone who touches it.”
Surprisingly, given bitcoin’s role in helping disrupt the financial services industry, not every Wall Street CEO shares Dimon’s dim view on the digital currency. Two days ago, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman told WSJ that he believes Dimon is wrong and that “bitcoin is certainly more than a fad.” However, he conceded that “there is a government risk to it” – alluding to Chinese authorities’ decision to shutter local bitcoin exchanges. Joining Dimon and Belfort in the skeptics’ corner is Bridgewater Associates Founder Ray Dalio, who said last week that he believes bitcoin is in a bubble.
Circling back to Belfort, he explained to the Street that he just couldn’t wrap his head around bitcoin…
“Basically, the idea that it’s being backed by nothing other than a program that creates artificial scarcity it seems kind of bizarre to me.”
He also claimed that he knows people who lost money in the Mt. Gox hack, and that the incident served as a wakeup call.
“They could steal it from you I know people who have lost all their money like that…”
Of course, Dimon’s statement didn’t stop JP Morgan Securities from transacting in a bitcoin-linked exchange-traded product traded on Nasdaq Stockholm, prompting an algorithmic liquidity provider called Blockswater to sue Dimon for “spreading false and misleading information” about bitcoin.
Traders, meanwhile, have continued to vote with their wallets: Bitcoin finally filled the “Dimon gap” yesterday, and has continued to climb on Thursday…
By quick way of review, here’s the key chart. As you can see, the $USD staged a large bull market run in 2014 as the [Foreign] Federal Reserve wound down its QE program. The greenback was then range bound for three years until this month when it broke down in a big way.
Here’s the $USD’s chart running back 40 years. I call this the “single most important chart in the world,” because how the $USD moves has a massive impact on all other asset classes.
As you can see the $USD broke out of a massive 40 year falling wedge pattern [between 2014-2016]. This initial breakout has failed to reach its ultimate target (120) and is now rolling over for a retest of the upper trendline in the mid-to low-80s.Question:
What happens when new currency is created with few limits by central and commercial banks?
Far too much debt and currency are created.
What happens when an extra $10 trillion in central bank debt plus another $80 trillion or so in other global debt is created in a decade?
Prices rise because each unit of fiat currency purchases less.
NASDAQ Composite 2,400 6,000
S&P 500 Index 1,400 2,370
T-Bond 110 150
Gold 700 1,250
Silver 13 18
Crude Oil 60 50
Now might be a good time to grab some physical gold, silver and cold stored Crypto.