The question was asked of me as columnist at Quora.com: Will governments eventually ‘approve’ of cryptocurrency? First let’s agree on terminology…
- By “approve”, I assume that you are asking if governments will adopt or at least tolerate the use of crypto as legal tender in commerce. That is, not just as a payment instrument, but as the money itself—perhaps even accepting tax payments in cryptocurrency.
- The word “cryptocurrency” is sometimes applied to altcoins and even to ICOs. These are not the same. Many altcoins meet the criteria of the next paragraph, but none of the ICOs measure up (ICOs are scams). I assume that your question applies to Bitcoin or to a fair and transparent altcoin forked from the original code, such as Bitcoin Cash or Litecoin.
A blockchain-based cryptocurrency that is open source, permissionless, capped, fast, frictionless, with a transparent history—and without proprietary or licensing restrictions is good for everyone. It is good for consumers; good for business; and it is even good for government.
Of course, politicians around the world are not quick to realize this. It will take years of experience, education, and policy experimentation.
Many pundits and analysts have the impression that shifting to cryptocurrency—not just as a payment instrument, but as the money itself—will never be supported by national governments. A popular misconception suggests that a cryptocurrency based economy has these undesirable traits:
- it is deflationary (i.e. that inflation is necessary to promote spending or to accommodate a growing economy)
- it facilitates crime
- it interferes with tax collection
- It interferes with national sovereignty, which leads to “world government”
- It is not backed by anything, or at least not by anything substantial, like the Dollar, Euro, Pound, Yuan or Yen
- it interferes with a government’s ability to control its own monetary policy
Over time, perceptions will change, because only the last entry is true. Adoption of cryptocurrency puts trust into math rather than the whims of transient politicians. It helps governments avoid the trap of hoisting debt on future generations or making promises to creditors that they cannot keep—Yet, it does not lead to the maladies on this list.
But, what about that last item? Does an open source currency cause a nation to lose control over its own monetary policy? Yes! But it is not bad! Crypto cannot be printed, gamed or manipulated. Despite perception, it is remarkably resistant to loss or theft. Early hacks and fiascos were enabled by a lack of standards, tools and education. As with any new technology—especially one that changes practices or institutions—adoption of radical processes goes hand-in-hand with gradual understanding and acceptance of benefits.
How Does Crypto Help Governments?
Adopting/accepting a national (or international) cryptocurrency is a terrific way for governments to earn the respect and trust of citizens, businesses, consumers and especially creditors. There is no more reason for governments to control their money supply than there is for them to control communication networks, space travel or package delivery services.
You may not agree that cryptocurrency is good for government, and so I expand on the topic here. But your question doesn’t ask if it is good, it asks if governments are likely to approve.
First, a few forward thinking countries like Iceland, Japan or UAE will spearhead adoption of a true, permissionless cryptocurrency (or at least recognize it as legal tender) . Later, ‘stress-economies’ will join the party: These are countries that need to control either rampant inflation, a reluctance to tax citizens, treasury mismanagement or massive international debt. A solution to these problems requires restoration of public trust. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Greece, Zimbabwe, Venezuela or Argentina in the mix.*
Eventually, G7 countries will tread into a growing ocean. Not now; but in 5 or 8 years. The conditions are not yet right. It requires further vetting by early adopters, continued development, education and then popular consumer adoption. But all of these things are inevitable. Eventually, governments will recognize that a capped, trusted, transparent, math-based money is far better for all stakeholders than money based on intrinsic value, promise-of-redemption or force.
- Related: Is Cryptocurrency Good for Government?
* We are not discussing countries that plan to create their own cryptocurrency. None of these plans involve a coin that is open source, permissionless, decentralized and capped. They are simply replacing paper with a national debit card. But it is not crypto.
Philip Raymond co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences. He sits on the New Money Systems board of Lifeboat Foundation. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.
By now, every interested news-junkie is aware that Bitcoin plummeted from $15,000 to $13,000 (USD exchange rate) on January 11, 2018. This morning, every news outlet and armchair analyst attributes the drop to the Korean government signaling that it will ban Bitcoin trading among its citizens.
With Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un butting heads over nuclear missile tests and the upcoming Winter Olympics, you would think that South Korea has other priorities than banning Bitcoin.
As with all news—except accidents—the Korean plans were known by a few insiders (in this case, government bureaucrats), and so the influence on value was bigger than the drop that occurred after the news story. In the days before this “event”, it was probably responsible for a drop of about $4500 in exchange value.
Listen up Wild Ducks! We have heard this before. On Sept 11, China announced the exact same thing. I wrote about it in the most popular article of my 7 years as Blogger: Bad News is Good News for Bitcoin Investors.
As an investor, am I worried? Not on your sweet bippy. I am ecstatic! There are some things that governments cannot ban: the mating of feral cats; water from seeping into cellars; communications networks that are distributed and permissionless. Ineffective and unenforceable regulation always spells opportunity. When I hear of such “bans” (or learn about Jamie Dimon claiming that Bitcoin is a ‘pyramid scheme’ before having all the facts), I become confused and excited…
Investors often fail to recognize the way in which toothless government edicts work. I am confused that anyone would act on such flawed information. I am excited that they do. Why?—Because each time Bitcoin makes a quick dive due to crazy or irrelevant news, it makes an even bigger upward jump within days. In this case, the reverse correction has already begun.
I created the chart, below, for my presentation at the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai during the last days of October. During this 3 day conference, Bitcoin jumped from $6000 to 6500 because these days followed a hard fork that scared analysts. Within 5 weeks of the conference, Bitcoin touched $20,000, depending on the exchange from which you get quotes. But here’s an odd thing (not so odd, to me): With sudden market accessibility in the past 30 days, why is Bitcoin falling? [continued below]…
In the past month (Dec 10 2017~Jan 10 2018), Bitcoin and Bitcoin futures are finally becoming accessible to traditional brokers using familiar investment instruments. As a result of market accessibility, everyone and his brother is getting into Bitcoin. Since it is still difficult to take a negative position, you might expect this fresh interest to drive up value. This expectation is reinforced by my own anecdotal observation: Based on the large number of old acquaintances asking me to help them buy Bitcoin, it certainly feels like the sentiment is bullish. But no! Existing stakeholders are dumping their positions!
It’s not just because of yesterday’s news. Rather, it’s because anyone who has seen Bitcoin triple in just 3 months, feels that their personal stake experienced a “lucky” gain. They want to turn that paper gain into a profit before it tanks.
But then, there are the cognoscenti. That’s us…We are the individuals who have a feel for the natural, intrinsic value of Bitcoin. We understand that value does not require a redemption guarantee from Caesar. We have a reasonable vision of currency, inflation, economics, history, the role of government—and especially, of distributed trust. Just as important, we understand why an altcoin is unlikely to replace Bitcoin—even if it solves some of Bitcoin’s frustrating technical and governance issues.
Governments tend to react to perceived threats before understanding opportunities, motives and that which is fait accompli. There is a role for government in all of this, but it is not to ban what cannot be banned. That is simply good news for us stakeholders.
Philip Raymond co-chairs , publishes and hosts the New York . He is keynote speaker at the in India this month. to inquire about a presentation or consulting engagement.
Oh, Cheez…We’re back to this question, again!
As a Bitcoin columnist, I get this question a lot. Today, an answer was requested at Quora.com, where I am the lead contributor on cryptocurrencies:
“Clearly, some people value Bitcoin. But How can
this be? There is nothing there to give it value!”
Many individuals, like the one who asked this question, suspect that Bitcoin was pulled out of thin air—and that it is not backed by gold, a government, or an authoritative redemption guaranty. After all, it is just open source code. What stops me from creating an ElleryCoin using the same code?!
Let’s start with the short answer:
- Indeed, it was pulled out thin air
- It isn’t backed by an asset, government or promise
- You could easily clone Bitcoin (the entire mining ecosystem) and distribute it yourself. It would be exactly like Bitcoin. Yet, Bitcoin is clearly valued by everyone, and your new coin is unlikely to generate interest or adoption.
A More Complete Answer: What is value?
Bitcoin has more intrinsic value than a government printed paper bill. The value arises from a combiation of fundamental properties:
- It has a capped supply
- It is widely recognized, liquid, and resistant to legislation
- It has attained the robust supply-demand of a growing, 2-sided network.
- It is open and transparent. This elevates user trust
- Unlike cash and credit, Bitcoin requires no back-end settlement. That’s because it is not a payment instrument. Rather it is money itself.
- Finally, it’s value is likely to be durable, because it is not printed by a country that has racked up debt. In fact, it can never be inflated.
Downside and Risks
But wait! What about the long transaction delay and high cost? There are sharp disagreements anong miners, users and developers concerning block size, transaction malleability, and replay issues. Aren’t these a deal killers? And what about wild volatility in the exchange rate? Doesn’t this retard adoption as a functional currency?
These are transient issues associated with a new technology. Although Bitcoin is weathering growth pains that arise from a new and distributed governance technology (democracy can be messy!), all of these issues have sound solutions. We have already witnessed and tested the solyutions with various forked coins. Think of them as beta tests. Even if current problems delay the day when you can spend bitcoin at every retail establishment—it is already sucking liquidity from national currencies and becoming the world’s de facto reserve currency.
Many individuals find all of this hard to accept. That is because we have been conditioned to think that ‘value’ arises from assets with ‘intrinsic’ value, the promise of redemption, or by edict. This is not true. In all things, (including gold, a Picasso painting, or your labor) value arises from simple supply and demand.
Some individuals claim that all other factors are secondary. But, even this statement is false. All other factors are irrelevant. They may be related, but they are not the source of value.
I recognize that this answer may seem smug or definitive. So, allow me to suggest related questions with answers that are a bit more interesting, because they are subtle. Unlike the question of value, these two questions are open to analysis and opinion: (1) “Will people continue to value bitcoin in the future?” — And (2) “When will Bitcoin stop swinging wildly in value?” (measured by its exchange rate with other currencies).
This is fun! Let’s explore…
Philip Raymond co-chairs , publishes and hosts the New York . Last month, he kicked off the in Dubai. to inquire about a live presentation or consulting engagement.
Tune in tomorrow (Thursday, Nov 10, 2016) at 4:30PM Eastern. Find out what Edward Snowden has to say on the future of the US. [Source: StartPage via Engadget]
American technology policies could change significantly under Donald Trump, and that includes its stance on privacy. How will the new leader alter government surveillance, for example? Edward Snowden might have an answer. The whistleblower and Dutch search engine StartPage are hosting a live event on November 10th at 4:30PM Eastern to address what happens to privacy in the Trump era, among other questions. Snowden speaking engagements are nothing new, but this is special — he’s more than a little familiar with government spying activities, and this is his first chance to opine on how things might be different under a new administration.
Snowden hasn’t said much of anything about the subject as of this writing. However, Trump doesn’t exactly have a stellar record on internet privacy so far. He has proposed reauthorizing the Patriot Act and the previous, less restrained NSA mass surveillance that took place while the Act was in force. He tends to “err on the side of security” over privacy, even if he’s not especially fond of it. As such, Snowden probably won’t have many kind things to say. He’s in favor of more privacy wherever possible, and that could easily put him at greater odds with the US government than he is now.
I was asked this at Quora.com, where I answer questions under the pen name, ‘Ellery’. But the query deserves a companion question, and so I approached the reply by answering two questions.
You might have asked “Why was Bitcoin designed to have a cap?” But, instead, you asked “Why is the cap set at 21 million bitcoins”. Let’s explore both questions starting with the choice of a circulation cap…
Why set the cap at 21 million BTC?
The choice of a cap number is arbitrary and in fact, it could be 1 or it could be 1 hundred trillion. It makes no difference at all and it has no effect on the economy—even if Bitcoin were to be adopted as a currency all over the world. If it were set to 1 BTC, we would simply discuss nano-BTC instead of 1 BTC for amounts of about $650.
In fact, we already do this today. For many purposes, people are concerned with very small payments. And to best discuss these payments, we have the Satoshi. There are 100,000 Satoshi to each bitcoin (BTC).
What is important, is that the total number of bitcoin (regardless of how many units there are) can be divided into very tiny fractions. That way, the total worldwide supply can be divided into smaller and smaller slivers as market adoption gains traction. Everyone needs to earn, save, spend or pay with a piece of the pie. All users need to know is what fraction of the pie do I control? and not how many ounces, pounds, Kg, or tons is the pie. That is just a number.
Incidentally, the same could be said of gold (it can be shaved very thin), but gold is not quite like computer bits. It has industrial and cosmetic value, and this intrinsic demand for gold (beyond it’s role as a pure monetary instrument) has an effect on supply and demand along with the influence of investment, circulation, savings and reserve.
Why is there a cap at all?
At the beginning of this answer, I suggested another question: Why is Bitcoin capped at all? After all, the monetary supply in every country grows. Even gold production is likely to continue for centuries to come. Why not Bitcoin?
Satoshi designed Bitcoin to eventually become a deflationary currency. I believe that he/she recognized inflation is an insipid tax that constitutes an involuntary redistribution of earned wealth. With a firm cap on the total number of units that exist, governments can still tax, spend and even enforce tax collection. They can go about business building bridges, waging war and providing assistance to the needy. But without a printing press in the hands of transient politicians, they can only spend money with the consent of their constituents and residents.
Of course, they could borrow money by issuing bonds. But with a capped currency, each creditor would earnestly believe in the will and ability of the country to repay its debts.
In effect, monetary policy is restricted to the business of the governed, but the money itself is not coined by a domestic treasury. It is the province of something that is far more certain than a human institution. It arises from pure math. It is open and transparent. In effect, everyone is an auditor. That’s because the bookkeeping is crowd sourced.
For prescient legislators and national treasurers, Bitcoin presents far more of an opportunity than a threat. It is good for both government, business and consumers, because it forces everyone to be open and honest. Ultimately, it builds trust in government, because no one can cook the books, water down wealth, or print their way out of debt.
What about recession. Isn’t it a result of deflation?
Deflation doesn’t lead to recession. Rather, it sometimes accompanies a recession. Recession is caused by an uncertain job market, war, a massive supply chain interruption or political upheaval. In one way or another, it boils down to a lack of confidence sparked by one of the economy’s core foundations: consumers, investors, business or creditors.
Bitcoin as currency removes a major impediment to confidence. By creating a system that cannot be rigged, it fosters trust in government along with an open and transparent treasury.
The question breaks down into two parts:
- For what public benefit? —and—
- No, it cannot be achieved in this way
Governments are in the business of regulating certain activities—hopefully in an effort to serve the public good. In the case of business methods and activities, their goal is to maintain an orderly marketplace; one that is fair, safe and conducive to economic growth.
But regulation that lacks a clear purpose or a reasonable detection and enforcement mechanism is folly. Such regulation risks making government seem arbitrary, punitive or ineffective.
«— This is money. It is not a promissory note, a metaphor, an analogy or an abstract representation of money in some account. It is the money itself. Unlike your national currency, it does not require an underlying asset or redemption guarantee.
Bitcoin is remarkably resistant to effective regulation because it is a fully distributed, peer-to-peer mechanism. There is no central set of books, no bank to subpoena, and no central committee to pressure (at least not anyone who can put the genie back into the bottle). In essence, there is no choke point or accountable administrative party.
Sure—it is possible to trace some transactions and legislate against ‘mixers’ and other anonymization methods—but there is no way to prevent a transaction before it occurs or to know the current distribution of assets. Bitcoin can exist as a printed QR code and it can be transmitted from a jail cell with a blinking flashlight. Sending bitcoin from Alice to Bob has no intermediary. Settlement requires only that one of the parties eventually has access to the Internet. But, there is no credit authority or central asset verification. [continue below image]…
If you are thinking of legislating against the use of Bitcoin, you might as well pass laws to ban the mating of feral cats or forbid water from seeping into underground basements. These things are beyond the domain of human geopolitics. You can try to shape the environment (e.g. offer incentives to cats and water levels), but you cannot stop sex or seepage.
Fortunately, Bitcoin is not a threat to governments—not even to spending or taxation. A gross misunderstanding of economics and sociology has led some nations to be suspicious of Bitcoin, but this improper perception is abating. Governments are gradually recognizing that Bitcoin presents more of an opportunity than a threat.
I have written more extensively on this issue:
Ex-NSA boss says FBI director is wrong on encryption
Encryption protects everyone’s communications, including terrorists. The FBI director wants to undermine that. The ex-NSA director says that’s a terrible idea.
The FBI director wants the keys to your private conversations on your smartphone to keep terrorists from plotting secret attacks.
But on Tuesday, the former head of the U.S. National Security Agency…
Read the full article at CNN Money
When my daughter was just starting primary school, she would look inside a book for the pictures before reading the text. She was old enough to read without pictures, but she wanted to get a quick synopsis before diving in. “Look, Dad! a bunny is carrying a giant clock into a rabbit hole.”
This is my first article without pictures. At least none of Bitcoin, because the copper coin metaphors are tired and inaccurate. At the user level, owning bitcoin is simply your stake in a widely distributed ledger. Ownership exists only as strings of secret code and public code. There is no physical coin.
Since the only pictures in this post show a white rabbit with a big clock, let me give you the quick synopsis: The answer is “No”. Bitcoin will not end government, nor its ability to tax, spend—or even enforce compliance.
But there is an irony: Most lawmakers and regulators have not yet figured this out. They perceive a great threat to their national interests. That’s why Andreas M. Antonopoulos runs around the world. He briefs prime ministers, cabinets and legislators with the noble purpose of demystifying and de-boogieing Bitcoin.
Does Bitcoin Help Tax Cheats?
I accept the need for taxpayer reporting, measurement, and compliance initiatives. After all, it’s human nature to dislike paying taxes. Many individuals dodge taxes, if the perceived risk of being caught is low. Sociologists also point out that people are willing to cheat a system, if they perceive it to be sufficiently big or impersonal—i.e that their individual contribution is meaningless.
[ASIDE]: For this reason, Akamai Technologies ends their free-soda-&-snack policy whenever an office grows beyond 30 people (I learned this during a job interview a few years ago). People who would normally respect the policy begin pocketing free sodas for their home or friends, if (a) they no longer know everyone, or (b) they perceive the extra burden is just a drop in the corporate bucket, and not a burden on their office peers.
I suspect that most early proponents of Bitcoin are partially motivated by a desire for low taxes and privacy. While I don’t feel that these individuals are bad for the cause (after all, I am one), I feel that it is unfortunate that they appear to be the overwhelming majority of users & supporters. Let’s dismiss, for the moment, the fraction of voices that want to completely end government and taxation…If you believe in any taxes at all, then government needs compliancy mechanisms, including methods that measure, verify and ultimately arbitrate or prosecute offenders. (Don’t blame me…I’m not even the messenger here. Just an observer).
My point is that in their effort to control a country’s monetary supply (and the interbank loan rate, etc) and in their effort to ensure taxpayer compliance, a great many governments view Bitcoin as a threat. In the past, I felt that my job was to evangelize the public on the benefits of cryptocurrency, and to a great extent, that’s what CRYPSA is all about. But in recent months, I have become confident that Bitcoin will become ubiquitous. It doesn’t need me to be an evangelist. The freight train is now rolling downhill. But…
But as an engineer, author, speaker and occasional consultant, I have found a new calling. Like Andreas Antonopoulos (my idol), I have found a calling in de-boogieing Bitcoin to lawmakers and regulators. I demonstrate that (a) cryptocurrency represents far more of an opportunity than a threat to a national interests, and (b) the future is coming at ya’.
So, either: Stand pat; Get out of the way; or Hop on!
I can give an audience filled with old-school conservatives compelling reasons to “hop on”. Ultimately, blockchain technology coupled with true, permissionless, p2p transactions will shake up established mechanisms and enforcement protocols. They will force new ways of thinking. But cryptocurrency will not end the reign of government—nor even end the ability to tax, enforce and spend. It will simply change the way they do these things. It will also change the way we conduct polls, vote, arbitrate disputes, perform scientific research and much more.
Bitcoin and the blockchain are not just technologies. They transform the way in which many tasks are performed. But it’s not just about efficiency. These technologies offer mechanisms to level the playing field. They bring fairness and representation to processes that were opaque and perhaps even relied on the excuse of opaqueness.
Ultimately, Bitcoin may render certain government departments redundant. Nations will begin to question their need to directly control monetary policy. The impact at the department level is no reason to fear Bitcoin. Overall, it represents great opportunity and not a threat. In my opinion, the changes will benefit everyone.
Bitcoin is not an us-against-them instrument. It is win-win. Of course, perception counts. Misunderstanding potential and confusing it for a threat is a fundamental problem. I share CRYPSA’s passion to help make it a very short-term problem.
Philip Raymond is CEO and Co-Chair of CRYPSA,
The Cryptocurrency Standards Association.