Tag Archives: bitcoin

Is Bitcoin on your Computer? Money in the Internet

No, not asking if you own any Bitcoin. Or the IP address.

This blog is prompted by the Nicholas Weaver article “Risks of Cryptocurrencies” in the June 2018 Communications of the ACM.

He writes, rather misleadingly in our opinion:

“This was not because our Bitcoin was stolen from a honeypot, rather the graduate student who created the wallet maintained a copy and his account was compromised. If security experts can’t safely keep cryptocurrencies on an Internet-connected computer, nobody can. If Bitcoin is the ‘Internet of money’, what does it say that it cannot be safely stored on an Internet connected computer?”

Would you leave a gold coin lying around in the open? Lock that thing up in a safe or safety deposit box.

Bitcoin is not really the ‘Internet of Money’ so much as ‘Money in the Internet’. And the cryptocurrency was not on an Internet-connected computer. Those were the keys.

Your wallet holds one or more private keys, not cryptocurrency itself.

Key distinction (pun intended). The money doesn’t move off the distributed ledger. When it moves from one wallet to another what happens is the send process (that you initiate) changes which private key can access it. Namely the designated receiver’s key becomes the only one that works.

The graduate student’s indiscretion was in making a copy of the key that allowed the safe or safety deposit box to be opened by an unauthorized person. And then not properly securing it.

Where is the Bitcoin stored? Why in the distributed ledger, the blockchain, that is simultaneously existing in many places, but has a single verified history from the Nakamoto consensus protocol that committed it into the blockchain. 

That is effectively the bank where all the safety deposit boxes are.

How do you get to your coin? With a key stored in a wallet, the private key. Visit your bank.

That key must be stored in a safe place. It can be in a hardware wallet (USB device typically) which is stored in a home safe. And then it has the same level of security as the gold coins in your safe.

Better, since you can keep another copy in another secure location (safety deposit box, for example).  

The next best alternative is a pass phrase on a piece of paper again stored in a safe or safety deposit box.

There is no need for your private key to be sitting on the Internet.


If you use an exchange you can use their vault, or cold storage, option for most of your holdings. Then you are relying on their assurances that they are storing in offline devices.

When you do visit your Money in the Internet bank, do so from the privacy of your home, not from some insecure wifi cafe.

You go to the bank and take some gold coins out from your box and they are already less secure, but that is why they have guards at banks. And when you go out to your car with a couple of the coins, they and you are even less secure.

But we are used to doing that. We understand the procedures.

It’s just that there are new procedures that we have to get used to, with digital gold like Bitcoin. It’s rare to be physically mugged for Bitcoin.

Keep only moderate amounts of cryptocurrencies in exchanges with established security reputations, and modest amounts in mobile wallets.




Blockchains Could be Vital to National Security

Last year Tokyo hosted a meeting of the International Standards Organization, including a session on blockchain technology to examine ideas around standards for blockchain and distributed ledgers.

A member of the Russian delegation, who is part of their intelligence apparatus at the FSB, apparently said “the Internet belonged to the US, the Blockchain will belong to Russia.” In fact three of the four Russian delegates were FSB agents!

By contrast, Chinese attendees were from the Finance Ministry, and American attendees were representing major technology companies, reportedly IBM and Microsoft among others.

Let’s unpack this a bit. The Internet grew out of a US military funded program, Arpanet, and the US has been the dominant player in Internet technology due to the strength of its research community and its technology companies in particular.

As we wrote in our most recent blog (http://orionx.net/2018/05/is-blockchain-the-key-to-web-3-0/), blockchain has the potential to significantly impact the Internet’s development, as a key Web 3.0 technology.

Blockchain and the first cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, were developed by an unknown person or persons, with pen name Satoshi Nakamoto. Based on email timestamps, the location may have been New York or London, so American or British citizenship for Bitcoin’s inventor seem likely, but that is speculation.

More to the point, the US is the center of blockchain funding and development activity, while China in particular has been playing a major role in mining and cryptocurrency development.

There are many Russian and Eastern European developers and ICO promoters in the community as well. The Baltic nations bordering Russia and the Russian diaspora community have been particularly active.

The second most valuable cryptocurrency after Bitcoin is Ethereum, which was invented by a Russian-Canadian, Vitalik Buterin. Buterin famously met with Russian President Vladimir Butin in 2017. Putin is himself of course a former intelligence agent.

The Russians reportedly want to influence the cryptographic standards around blockchain. This immediately raises fears of a backdoor accessible to Russian intelligence. Russia is also considering the idea of a cryptocurrency as a way to get around sanctions imposed by the American and European governments.

The Russian government has a number of blockchain projects. The government-run Sberbank had initial implementation of a document storage blockchain late last year. There is draft regulation around cryptocurrency working its way through the Russian parliament. President Putin has said that Russia cannot afford to fall behind in blockchain technology.

Given the broad array of applications being developed for cryptocurrencies, including money transfer, asset registration, identity, voting, data security, and supply chain management among others, national governments have critical interests in the technology.

China has been cracking down on ICOs and mining, but it is clear they think blockchain is important and they want to be in control. Most of their government concerns and interest appear to be centered around the potential in finance, such as examining the possibility of a national cryptocurrency (cryptoYuan).

China would like to wriggle free from the dollar standard that dominates trade and their currency reserves. They have joined the SDR (foreign reserve assets of the IMF) and have been building their stocks of gold as two alternatives to the dollar.

China’s biggest international initiative is around a new ‘Silk Road’, the One Belt, One Road initiative for infrastructure development across EurAsia and into the Middle East and Africa. One could imagine a trading currency in conjunction with this, a “SilkRoadCoin”. In fact, the government-run Belt and Development Center has just announced an agreement with Matrix AI as blockchain partner. Matrix AI is developing a blockchain that will support AI-based consensus mechanisms and intelligent contracts.

China’s One Belt One Road Initiative, actually has six land corridors and a maritime corridor. (Image credit: CC 4.0, author: Lommes)

The American military is taking interest in blockchain technology. DARPA believes that blockchain may be useful as a cybersecurity shield. The US Navy has a manufacturing related application around the concept of Digital Thread for secure registration of data across the supply chain.

In fact the latest National Defense Authorization Act requires the Pentagon to assess the potential of blockchain for military deployment and to report to Congress their findings, beginning this month for an initial report.

What is clear, is that blockchain and distributed ledger technology have the potential to be of major significance in national security and development for the world’s leading nations.

We encourage the US government to increase engagement with blockchain and distributed ledger technology. This can include funding research in universities, pilot projects with industry across various government agencies including the military and intelligence communities, the Federal Reserve, and the Department of Energy, NOAA and NASA, in particular.

Also the federal government should pursue standards development under the auspices of the NIST and together with ISO. Individual state governments are also promising laboratories for projects around identity, voting, and title registration.

Information has always been key to warfare. But there is little doubt that warfare is increasingly moving toward a battlefield within the information sphere itself. These are wars directed against the civilian population; these are wars for peoples’ minds. Blockchain technologies could play a significant role in these present and future battles, both defensively and offensively.

References :

DARPA https://www.google.co.th/amp/s/cointelegraph.com/news/pentagon-thinks-blockchain-technology-can-be-used-as-cybersecurity-shield/amp

US Navy http://www.secnav.navy.mil/innovation/Pages/2017/06/BlockChain.aspx

2018 National Defense Authorization Act https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2018/05/03/could_americas_cyber_competitors_use_blockchain_for_their_defense_113400.html

NIST https://csrc.nist.gov/publications/detail/nistir/8202/draft




Bitcoin Forks are So 2017

“Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom” Mao Tse Tung 百花齐放

Well there are 20 flowers in the Bitcoin ecosystem. And over 1400 in the cryptocurrency ecosystem at present.

Salad forks, dinner forks, shrimp forks, dessert forks, tuning forks, pitchforks… so many kinds of forks..


Image credit: Ellen Levy Finch, CC BY-SA 4.0

Why fork a new cryptocoin? One can fork for technological improvements, one can fork to make money, and one can fork for ego, for the pride of “ownership”.

There were several software forks that occurred mainly in the 2015-2016 timeframe and known as XT, Classic, and Unlimited. Including Unlimited, they have had limited impact to say the least.

But let us look at hard forks, or coin splits, that have been so prevalent since August of last year.

Technology enhancements promoted in these forks are across several main categories:

  • Bigger blocks for scaling, shorter block times
  • Off chain or side chain transactions (Segwit for signature, more generally Lightning, etc.) for scaling
  • Different hashing algorithms for easier mining
  • More anonymity, security
  • Enhanced programmability, smart contracts
  • Increased money supply

How many hard forks and coin splits has Bitcoin had so far? In total there have been 20 such forks to date.

  • August 2017 – 2
  • October – 1
  • November – 1 and Segwit2x proposed, withdrawn
  • December – 14
  • January 2018 – 2 so far

This Cambrian Explosion of bitcoin forks is in large part a result of the increased transaction costs and delayed confirmation times with original BTC, Bitcoin Core. But it is also a sign of a healthy and growing blockchain universe. If cryptocurrencies were not seeing increased success, the rate of innovation, and the number of forks, would be smaller.

Here is a list of the most significant ones, all in the second half of 2017, and with current pricing, key features, and URL:

August – Bitcoin Cash, BCH, $2413, 8 MB blocks, bitcoincash.org

October – Bitcoin Gold, BTG, $323, equihash, bitcoingold.org

November – Bitcoin Diamond, BTCD, $22, 10 times number coins , X13 hash, btcd.io

December – Super Bitcoin, SBTP, $108, lightning and zero knowledge proofs and smart contracts, supersmartbitcoin.com

If you owned bitcoin prior to block 478558, you in principle own all 20 of the forked coins, including the most valuable one Bitcoin Cash, and mostly in a one-one ratio. Putting your hands on them is trickier.

That is a question as to what support particular private wallets or public exchanges provide. There are guides on the internet and YouTube as to how to retrieve although it seems more trouble and risk than justified in most cases. (This writer has managed to get some BCH and BTG separated out, but it is a somewhat nerve-wracking experience.)

For now it seems we have reached a point of exhaustion for the principal good ideas and the newest forks are more likely to be dodgy, or frauds, or duplicating others, or of limited potential.

Here is an important consideration: while increasing the transaction rate and lowering fees will bring greater utility to users, this does not contribute to the store of value or digital gold aspect. Bitcoin, the original Bitcoin core, is most valuable today for its store of value attribute, much more so than for its medium of exchange attribute.

Now it will be a race between development teams and marketing teams to see which of these forks/coins other than BCH and maybe BTG will have relevance and value going forward, and what value any of them can sustain.

Information Economy 2.0

Bitcoin is a Trillion $ Economy

We often hear that we live in an Information Economy. We have an information-based economy, but we don’t have a pure form of “money as information”. Instead we have a hybrid of digital money and paper money with encoded information such as denomination and serial numbers and engraving details.

Money (Money 2.0, ‘paper’ fiat money) today is mostly information, but the modern monetary system was designed long before the Information Economy. Even so, money is mostly held in digital form, on the ledgers of banks, and as monetary reserves at central banks. Physical currency in circulation is a small fraction of the money supply. So today it is a hybrid. One can argue it is not fully suited to our rapidly evolving information economy.

Steven Mnuchin, Louise Linton, Leonard Olijar

Steven Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary, and Wife Posing as Bond Villains, while Enjoying Dollar Bills at the Bureau of Engraving, While Dreaming of Tax Cuts for Multimillionaires

Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies collectively are Money 3.0, a form of money that is entirely digital, entirely information. Even if you have a physical bitcoin wallet or paper wallet, the money does not reside in the wallet, only the keys! The keys release bitcoin money held on the blockchain.

Trying to separate the blockchain from bitcoin or cryptocurrency is like trying to separate the economy from information in the information economy. The blockchain holds the ledger information, the cryptocurrency powers the economy. The term ‘blockchain’ does not appear even once in Satoshi Nakamoto’s seminal paper for bitcoin and cryptocurrency.  See this OrionX.net podcast discussing Nakamoto’s vision and the Nakamoto consensus algorithm: https://youtu.be/ZLS5P7SYcyI

Today, market participants mostly look at the market cap of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, as if they were some sort of equity shares. But actually, they are currencies, or perhaps digital gold, and what is somewhat strangely called ‘market cap’ is actually the money supply for that currency. It is simply the price of bitcoin, times the aggregate number of bitcoins in circulation. Here, in circulation means securely committed to the blockchain through a cryptographic hashing algorithm.

The size of the economy for bitcoin is related not only to the money supply, but also how rapidly that turns over. In macroeconomics this is called monetary velocity. In fact GDP = M2*V where the GDP is equal to the M2 money supply and V is the velocity of that money. It reflects how fast money moves through the system per year.

In the US the GDP is about $19.5 Trillion, the M2 money supply is about $13.7 Trillion and the velocity is about V = 1.42. That is, on average, the money supply turns over 1.42 times per year. In fact the Federal Reserve has been worried that the velocity is too low. It has been dropping steadily, which is a symptom of stagnation.


Velocity of M2 Money: Federal Reserve of St. Louis

For bitcoin the velocity is much higher. It turns over about 9 times a year, V = 9. Today the money supply or market cap for bitcoin is about $121 billion. With a velocity of 9, that translates to a bitcoin economy that is over $1 trillion. It amounts to around 5% of US GDP and more than the GDP of the United Kingdom. Bitcoin is not usually described in such terms, but this is a measure of the vibrancy of the economy for the cryptocurrency.

Many cryptocurrencies have even higher velocities. Bitcoin Cash, which has only been in existence a few months, has a velocity of 26 and a total economy of over $500 billion, similar to the GDP of Sweden. The world economy of cryptocurrencies exceeds $2 trillion. This is more than the GDP of Italy.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are enabling the Information Economy 2.0, where whole new forms of efficient exchange of value can be implemented with fewer or even no middlemen and at lower cost.

Bitcoin: Like Gold or Like a Currency?

Valuing the various bitcoin forks

Breaking News: Segwit2x fork has been postponed indefinitely


Some say bitcoin acts more as digital gold then as a currency, more as a store of value than as a medium of exchange. It is very interesting to look at the various bitcoin forks with this question in mind.

Everything in life and in finance is a tradeoff. Gold works well as a long term store of value, but not so well as a medium of exchange. The US dollar works very well as a medium of exchange, but not well as a store of value in the long term. Even the Federal Reserve and other central banks hold gold as a reserve asset. It represents the bottom of the inverted money pyramid.

Now bitcoin is from its beginning more like gold in the sense that it is an asset with limited, predetermined supply. Dollars and other fiat currencies are debt-based since they come into existence when new loans are made, and their continual supply growth is rather assured; usually inflation occurs to varying degrees. See the Money 3.0 article for a longer discussion of this point.

Image: Silver ice cream fork, De Young Museum

There are 4 versions of bitcoin, 3 currently, and one possible fork. That was scheduled later this month as Bitcoin 2x (or B2X) a possible fork due to partial adoption of Segwit 2x, but it has now been indefinitely postponed due to lack of support.

As of today, approximate values for the 3 existing forks are:

Bitcoin BTC $7200

Bitcoin Cash BCH $630

Bitcoin Gold BTG $140

And Bitcoin 2x B2X had future values around $1600 before plunging on the announcement that it is now postponed.

All these cryptocurrencies have a supply of around 16.6 million accounting units, and all are limited to 21 million as the ultimate supply. And yet their prices are very different. Bitcoin has a first mover advantage but is that the whole story? How does one value BCH and BTG relative to BTC? In principle the various versions have both asset and currency characteristics.

Each of the alternatives to the original bitcoin is designed to facilitate faster, less expensive transactions. And this makes it more like a currency than a reserve asset.

BTC can be looked at like a large denomination bill, not as easily spent, although it is much easier to break into change than large bills are. Bitcoin Cash differs from BTC because it has a much larger blocksize, 8 MB. Bitcoin Gold differs in adopting a GPU-friendly mining algorithm, Equihash, rather than SHA-256 used by the others, which requires custom ASICs.

Bitcoin 2x adopts Segwit2x with a larger 2 MB block size.

Each of these three alternative coins is designed so that the system can process transactions more quickly and at lower cost, and so, along the spectrum of digital gold to currency, each is closer to a currency than the original BTC.

And that, somewhat counter-intuitively, is why original BTC retains a higher value.

In particular, the Bitcoin Gold is actually least like gold of all of these, since it will have the most accessible and thus fastest mining algorithm, and presumably could end up with the lowest transaction fees.


Image credit: bitcoingold.org

The respective values of the 3 or 4 types of bitcoin reflect this view. Bitcoin is the “slowest” and has the lowest velocity (slowest turnover) and highest value. Bitcoin Gold appears to be the most rapid and with lowest transaction fees, and thus has the lowest value.

Bitcoin Cash and a possible future Bitcoin 2x are between the two extremes. Since Bitcoin Cash has much larger blocks it has substantial miner support. Bitcoin 2x is favored by the user community that wants to facilitate more efficient transactions.

If you have a gold coin and some fiat currency, which do you spend first? You bought the gold coin in expectation that it would preserve its value and increase in terms of the number of currency units per coin.

So HODL (hold on for dear life) BTC, and spend or convert BTG and BCH seems the way to go for now. As always one should monitor how the different cryptocurrencies are developing in comparison to each other, in this very dynamic and volatile marketplace.

Evolutionary Forks and Dividends

What is a fork?

It is early days in evolutionary terms for cryptocurrency. Bitcoin has not been around even a decade. Ethereum has only been here for a few years. The respective economies of these and other cryptocurrencies have been growing at triple digit percentage rates.

A given blockchain can be thought of as a continuing line of a particular species. A new blockchain, e.g. Ethereum with new attributes is a new species of cryptocurrency. A fork in a blockchain, such as the recent Bitcoin Cash, is also a new species, but perhaps one can say that it belongs to the same genus.

Mayr’s concept of species is that of representatives of the same breeding population. They are in some sense on the same continual chain.

A fork is an evolutionary branch in response to environmental pressure. The pressure arises due to the developing needs of the ecosystem for cryptocurrencies overall and for individual cryptocurrencies.



The pressure that gives rise to evolution in the cryptocurrency ecosystem arises from the need to scale cryptocurrency to higher transaction rates and to more diverse use cases. For example, there is the very general use case of smart contracts, that led to the creation of Ethereum.

How new currencies are created or are forked results from the technological requirements and how those are interpreted and implemented by particular members of the development community. This is a political arena since miners, developers, exchanges, merchants, and other groups have different interests.

We have just had the Bitcoin Cash fork and are now facing possible forks for Bitcoin Gold and Segwit2x (Segwit was adopted without a fork in August).

It is difficult to determine which fork or species will be the most successful in the long run; but the original or main branch can have an advantage. Overall forks can be seen as strengthening the ecosystem as a whole since total value seems to rise after forks. After the Bitcoin Cash (BCH) fork the original Bitcoin (BTC) increased in value, and one could also collect the BCH on a one per one BTC held basis as a dividend. 

More generally, this has been borne out by the continually increasing market capitalization of the set of cryptocurrencies, currently having reached around $160 billion (roughly a Buffet plus a Gates).

For investors in cryptocurrency one can view forks as special dividends. Those who held Bitcoin through the Bitcoin Cash fork received a dividend of several hundred dollars per BTC. Sometimes numbered prints or copies are valuable as well.


Above is not our view, but that of @BitcoinWrld

What you do (hold, sell all, sell half) with your dividends is up to you and your views on individual forks; we make no recommendations here. But the dividends are there to receive, along with possible capital appreciation as the cryptocurrency economy continues to grow rapidly.

Ethereum: Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

Ethereum is described in Wikipedia as an “an open-source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform featuring smart contract functionality“.

How does it differ from Bitcoin? Well Bitcoin is open-source, public, distributed, and block-chain based. The difference is principally found in the terms “computing platform” and “smart contract functionality”. And there are other differences as well.

Ethereum is only two years old. It was the brainchild of wunderkind Vitalik Buterin, a Bitcoin developer, and while initial funds for the project were raised in mid-2014, the network went live in mid-2015. A foundation under Swiss law manages Ethereum.

The motivation was to have better scaling than Bitcoin, both horizontally, in terms of transaction speed, and vertically, in terms of use cases supported (implemented via smart contracts). It also has a better specified development plan, with 0, 1, and 2 versions of the software having been implemented, and version 3 (Metropolis) currently in testing.

It has been a great success, and Ether, the coin of Ethereum, now has the number two market cap among all cryptocurrencies at around $29 billion. Its value has risen dramatically during 2017, rising from $8 to $300.



Ethereum logo CC-BY-3.0


There are two types of accounts in Etherland. One can have a regular cryptocurrency account, or an account can represent a smart contract. There is a virtual machine (EVM) that is said to be “Turing complete” and that supports multiple scripting languages in which contract rules can be specified.

The idea of smart contracts has been around for over two decades; blockchain with broad programmability on the chain provides a very useful technology for their implementation.

Smart contracts allow value to be exchanged between agents without existing trusted relationships. Sort of like escrow, but much more streamlined. The basic idea is to cut out the expense and complications associated with middlemen.

Use cases being explored for such smart contracts include:

  • Real estate leases or purchases
  • Securities settlement
  • Supply chain management
  • Governance, including voting
  • Intellectual property protection

The number of currently existing use cases is few at present, however, and they tend to be simple and related to the Ether coin itself. Some have argued that smart contracts are much harder to implement in practice than many imagine. A recent interesting one is Prism Exchange, which allows you to hold a variety of altcoins across multiple exchanges from a single application.


Ether is much quicker to mine than Bitcoin, and can process 25 transactions per second. Transaction fees are also much lower than Bitcoin, around 8 times lower currently. Blocks are generated every 12 seconds, as opposed to the 10 minute target with Bitcoin.

Like Bitcoin, Ether is mined via Proof of Work, but the intent is to move to Proof of Stake (some measure of ownership) over time. A different cryptographic hash problem, Ethash, is solved, and with this hash Ether does not benefit greatly from mining with ASICs and is therefore accessible to CPU and especially to GPU mining. “Ethash PoW is memory hard, making it basically ASIC resistant.”

Basically the algorithm is designed to consume memory bandwidth and to be GPU-friendly. So it is good news for Nvidia and AMD and Intel.

Enterprise Ethereum Alliance

The Enterprise Ethereum Alliance has grown to over 150 organizations as members and includes some of the most important technology companies and largest banks. Its purpose is to address enterprise requirements for smart contracts and blockchains. The founding members are shown in the graphic below. Mastercard and Cisco are two major companies who have also joined recently.

Banks, in particular, have interest in permissioned blockchains, so that they can retain control of their customer relationships. There is a natural tension between open distributed trust of the blockchain and centralized trust that banks provide today.

It is an exciting time. How blockchain will be deployed by the financial industry, and how it will disrupt the industry are open questions. Smart contracts allow blockchain to be even more disruptive because they provide the tools for disintermediation. Jamie Dimon may not want his traders to trade Bitcoin, but he sure wants a seat at the Ethereum “smart contracts” table.


A Golden Fork

What do Bitcoin and Gold have in common? They are both assets. Both have limited supply that grows only slowly. Both can be seen as a form of money since they are stores of value and can be used as a medium of exchange. Both are liquid and divisible, although Bitcoin is much more easily divided. And both are unlike fiat money, in that they are debt-free. Both are ‘mined’, gold is physically mined, and Bitcoin is ‘mined’ via cryptographic hash algorithms (proof of work).



But what is Bitcoin Gold? It is neither gold, nor the current Bitcoin. Rather it is a proposed fork of Bitcoin, designed to make mining easier, and accessible to more people. And it could happen very soon, just three weeks from now.

The chief backer is CEO of a Hong Kong-based company, Jack Liao, and he indicates the motivation behind Bitcoin Gold is for it to be complementary to Bitcoin and to grow the community of miners, to allow the Bitcoin ecosystem to move away from its present centralization in a few mining pools.

It is not clear how well the proposal has been developed, and how many miners, current or new, will back it. But the intent is to allow mining by GPUs, rather than the specialized ASICs highly optimized for the SHA-256 hashing used by both Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash.

Instead it will use the Equihash algorithm, that is GPU-friendly rather than ASIC-friendly, since it demands substantial utilization of memory and memory bandwidth. This could allow for a much broader community of miners since GPUs from Nvidia and AMD are so widely deployed.

The primary cryptocurrency usage of GPUs today is for mining Ethereum. But since Ethereum is scheduled to move away from proof of work and to adopt proof of stake next year, Bitcoin Gold could be the most important new target for GPU-based mining.

The developers of Bitcoin Gold intend to remain aligned with Core and Segwit roadmaps.

Everyone holding Bitcoin, with a suitable private wallet at the beginning of August, received a ‘free’ dividend of Bitcoin Cash. The major exchanges ended up supporting access to users’ Bitcoin Cash, some sooner, others later. Now everyone holding Bitcoin with a suitable private wallet on October 25th stands to receive a free dividend of Bitcoin Gold (BTG) as well.


Cryptocurrency a Bridge to the Future

Bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies more generally, can be a bridge to a better monetary future for the globe. In almost every nation today, fiat currency managed by a central bank is the norm. This is money that is inherently inflationary by design. Since central banks are controlled by national governments, and governments routinely run substantial deficits, the banks promote inflation in order to benefit their governments.

In our current low growth environment, the Federal Reserve has grown the money supply (M2 money stock) 4.9% during the past year when inflation is running at 2% or less. They are operating on an equation of around 2% inflation plus 2% to 3% GDP real growth for about 5% monetary growth.

Bitcoin has a very controlled and low absolute inflation, much less than 1%. There are currently 16.6 million bitcoins available, and there will never be more than 21 million, and that does not occur until over 100 years from now. In practice, Bitcoin is currently deflationary since the economy around Bitcoin is currently increasing very rapidly, at triple digit rates. It has been gaining value against fiat currencies rapidly, albeit with very high volatility.

Bitcoin meets the attributes of currency, see Money 3.0 article. It is not debt-based, as are all currently circulating fiat moneys, paper and digital money backed by nothing but debt (Money 2.0).

Akashi Kaikyo bridge is the world’s longest suspension bridge. GFDL license.

The entire financial system was at risk of collapse in 2008 due to accumulated debts and risky and fraudulent derivatives built on top of those debts. Trillions of dollars of wealth were destroyed, with Americans losing 40% of their net worth during a 3 year period.

In addition, the system is well-designed for the money center banking elites to pull more and more wealth into their own hands, through financial techniques that create no real wealth. Those who get to create the money lend it out and accrue the highest benefits.

A more stable system is required, and Bitcoin could play an important role, as an asset-based, not debt-based, currency. Dollars and Euros come into creation as new loans are issued by commercial banks. Central banks manage the reserve and equity requirements of those banks, but a large amount of leverage is inherent in the fractional reserve system.

Bitcoin comes into creation as a result of the mining process, that occurs as new transactions are forged into the blockchain. Bitcoin creation is a direct result of the operation of the economy around the cryptocurrency. Bitcoins are ‘minted’, not ‘printed’. Like fiat currency they have value due to scarcity and utility, and dependent on the growth of their economy.

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies can be the basis for more honest money, as well as for decreased transaction costs, and higher efficiency. Banking will change forever. Like fiat currency, bitcoin can be borrowed and it can be lent.

Those who are involved in Bitcoin today, a “peer-to-peer cash” are pioneering a future that could be a more stable, more honest monetary system. Today Bitcoin is young, has plenty of growing pains, and volatility, but it is now 8 years old and maturing rapidly.

Money 3.0: Cryptocurrencies

Recently, Jamie Dimon called Bitcoin a ‘fraud’. This coming from the CEO of JP Morgan, the bank that has been fined more than any other, save one, for financial crimes since the Great Recession of 2008. His statement reeks of hypocrisy since JPM is a member of the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, his traders have been trading Bitcoin related ETN securities, and his firm has applied for patents using blockchain technology.

By the way the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance has well over 100 members including Microsoft and Mastercard. Serious players understand that cryptocurrencies are a big deal. The market cap of all cryptocurrencies is currently in the neighborhood of $150 billion, around 2/3 the market cap of Visa. And this has all happened in only eight years’ time.

So why do I say cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum are Money 3.0? And what are Money 1.0 and Money 2.0?

First what is Money? It is amazing how few people can give a definition, other than pulling out a bill from their wallet, or referring to the numbers in their checking account statement. And how does money get created in our modern economy? Very few actually understand the process. Most people say government creates it. Governments can, and do, but most money is not created directly by the government. What the government does is validate money, they define a single type of money for their nation. They print currency, but most money today is digital, residing in bank balance sheets, and most money creation occurs as banks issue new loans.

Throughout history there have been many forms of money, but two forms have dominated. The first form, Money 1.0, was the dominant form for millennia. It was coins made of precious metals, in particular gold and silver, and ‘base’ metals such as copper and bronze. According to the St. Louis Federal Reserve, money must have six properties: durability, portability, divisibility, uniformity, limited supply,  and acceptability.

They sound a bit like goldbugs when they write it that way. These are all useful attributes of the thing that is used for money, be it gold or paper. But it doesn’t quite get to the most essential three properties of money. It must serve as:

1. A unit of account

2. A store of value, and

3. A medium of exchange

Money is whatever can be used as a socially agreed upon unit of account and medium of exchange. It also should retain its value, not depreciate quickly, so that it can be used next month and next year as well. Notice I say socially. Societies agree upon what is used as money, and nation states in recent centuries have taken the lead in that definition. In order to be conveniently exchanged, then the six properties above come into play. Durability and limited supply allow the retention of value. Portability and divisibility make it easier to exchange. Uniformity makes it a useful unit of account, as does acceptability.

We all have to more or less agree on what the accounting unit is. That is actually the starting point for money, agreeing on the standard measure. The government can decree the accounting unit, and can demand taxes be paid in that unit. That is government fiat, and can apply for either coined money of precious or base metals (Money 1.0) or paper money (Money 2.0).

Roman gold Solidus coin. York Museums Trust. CC-BY-SA 4.0

The US dollar was originally defined to contain a certain weight of silver, and aligned to the Spanish dollar (originally Austrian  thaler) or ‘pieces of eight’ that was widely used in New World trade. The US dollar has also been defined against gold, with an official act in 1900 following nearly 3 decades of defacto gold standard following the Civil War. Of course the gold standard is now entirely gone after being discarded in two phases, under Roosevelt in 1933 and Nixon in 1971. The remnants of the bimetallic standard of the late 19th century remain in present-day dimes and quarters that used to contain silver even until 1965, retain the color, but have been entirely debased.

No nation remains on a Money 1.0 standard of precious metals, all have moved to Money 2.0, fiat paper money. If they did they would lose their gold, and they prefer to melt it into bars and store it in central bank vaults as a reserve. So as Warren Buffet says, we dig it up in mines, melt it down into bars, and bury it again in vaults.

With paper money, there must be fiat, as nobody wants pieces of paper that have no value. The days of gold certificates and silver certificates as circulating currency are long gone, although I remember silver certificate dollar bills from my youth. The value comes from the legal tender requirements that the paper be accepted by businesses, be used for taxes, and from the government’s printing process to make counterfeiting difficult plus the government’s overall management of the money supply (usually through interest rate policies) to limit loss of value due to inflation.

The technology of high quality paper engraving, augmented with serial numbers, threads and holograms, and the technology of central banks, allow fiat money to work. The vast majority of nations have central banks to lend to the commercial banks in times of crisis and to manage the banking system and money supply indirectly.

So those are Money 1.0 and Money 2.0. In summary:

Money 1.0 – Public or private, asset-based, intrinsic value, coins or bars of precious metal

Bureau of Engraving and Printing, U.S. Dept. of Treasury

Money 2.0 – Public and sovereign, debt-based, no intrinsic value, paper and digital.

Most Money 2.0 is digital, with the circulating currency representing a small percentage. Money mostly comes into circulation not through the printing press, but when banks make new loans. If a bank creates an auto loan, it credits the checking account of its customer digitally. Banks are allowed to make new loans within the limits of their central bank authority determined reserves and equity capital requirements.

Note as an aside that Money 1.0 and Money 2.0 can coexist. We mostly have Money 2.0 in the United States, but there was a small amount of silver coinage money circulating alongside up until the 1960s. This is an important principle, since we are beginning to see the coexistence of Money 2.0 and Money 3.0.

What about Money 3.0? Cryptocurrencies are purely digital, whereas Money 2.0, fiat and debt-based money, is mostly digital.

Why Money 3.0? Technologists and advocates of non-fiat money were concerned about the risks of centralized monetary systems dominated by central banks and by money center banks engaged in fraudulent activities around mortgages and other lending with derivatives including CDOs, CDSs and more. The corrupt system lead to the Great Recession of 2008. Everyone in the society suffered, but the banks were bailed out by enormous government loans.

There were more than 50 attempts at creating a digital crypotcurrency prior to the year 2000. None succeeded. One was gold-based and known as e-gold. It was shut down in 2009 by the US government, because it ran afoul of stricter money laundering regulations. It was also subject to repeated thefts of accounts from Russian and other criminal hackers.

A successful non-fiat cryptocurrency must provide a single secure ledger of entries to protect against counterfeiting and double spending. It must have a method of commiting a single instance of a transaction to this secure ledger that is publicly shared, and is known as the blockchain. It must have a built-in automated “central banking” function that determines the money supply.

Satoshi Nakamoto’s brilliance was to combine a number of existing ideas around public/private key cryptography, distributed ledgers, and a mining algorithm with “proof of work” that rewarded miners for solving a difficult cryptographic hash problem. Transactions are signed with private keys. All bitcoins reside in the distributed ledger. The owner has a wallet with the key that allows them to transfer bitcoin in arbitrary amounts to someone else and thus confers ownership.

The supply is limited with a maximum at 21 million bitcoins that will not be reached until well into the 22nd century. New bitcoin comes into existence in conjunction with the mining of blocks of transactions. The successful miner is rewarded with an allocation of new coins, presently 12.5 coins per block of approximately 2000 transactions. So here we have the central banking function and a digital minting or mining process for the ‘coins’ which are really just ledger entries.

We describe this Nakamoto consensus algorithm and the mining process in more detail at orionx.net/podcast.

Now we have not just Bitcoin, but Ethereum, Bitcoin Cash (which is a recent fork of Bitcoin with large block size), Ripple, Litecoin and hundreds more cryptocurrencies. We have new coins being created rapidly in conjunction with new applications and ICOs – initial coin offerings.

The largest of these, those with market caps in the billions of dollars, meet the three requirements for money. Unit of account. Medium of Exchange. Store of value. Their limitations at present relate to the latter two attributes. They are accepted as medium of exchange in some environments, but relatively few compared to existing fiat currencies. And as a result of that their value is less stable and determined more by investment and speculative demand. Their ultimate value will be determined by the cryptocurrency economy as uses cases, applications, and acceptance grow.

They are child currencies, developing and growing, but far from the maturity of an existing national fiat currency. The value should continue to grow for the long term, however since transaction volumes are increasing very rapidly.

So now we have in the world:

Money 3.0 – Private and globally distributed, asset-based, digital only.

Money 3.0 holds much promise. It can remove a lot of cost and friction from the financial system. Trying sending a check or ACH transfer to your sister and having the transaction complete on the weekend. Send her some bitcoin? She will get it even on Sunday at 3 am around an hour or so after you send it. Bitcoin is 24 by 7 by 365. And with very limited fees within the Bitcoin economy. Most of the cost is in moving Bitcoin to fiat or vice versa.

It is not based on debt, so does not have the instability of debt or counterparty risk. The only real risk is security, which holds as well for your banking balances. The other risk is to the value as governments and politicians feel threatened. But at the end of the day, they can only regulate it, but not eliminate it. The technology is too widely available to anyone.

Money 3.0 is not poised to replace Money 2.0 anytime soon, although in a number of ways it is superior. They will coexist. At some point a small country will convert their currency to Money 3.0, by building a blockchain-based peso or some such. A number of central banks, large and small, are already studying this issue.

Many have talked about global currencies in the past. The US dollar has global impact for trade and the price of key commodities, but you have to exchange it when you cross borders. The Euro has been a boon for commerce, trade, and travel in many countries within Europe. Gold historically had a global role but was difficult to move and verify as to weight and purity.

Bitcoin has no weight and purity issues. It transcends borders. It, Ether, and the other cryptocurrencies are indeed the first global currencies.