Bitcoin.com’s new “Trading Platform” really just for online gambling?

No KYC?? Yikes! Risky. That is just thumbing your nose at the FBI isn’t it?

 

Bitcoin.com recently launched a new trading platform. Bitcoin.com Trading
Except that they don’t list it as a trading platform, as that would fall under the new FINCEN guidelines, and potentially land them in trouble with the law.

 

Even if we believe Bitcoin.com’s pitch that his exchange is for trade, it is probably more useful for unlicensed betting. Why?

From their own FAQ:

https://local.bitcoin.com/faq

Oracle needs only to decide offline who the “winner” is. The oracle cannot arbitrate a settlement or change the payout of the escrow in any way.  Bitcoin.com is calling this “Blind Escrow” service, where the ‘escrow’ is not really custody of any funds, they just decide the winner of the pot.  This is not escrow at all.  This is bookmaking, just thinly disguised.  This is allowing online betting in a trust-less way. (or not having to trust the bookie… or do you? More on this later)

As an escrow-ed exchange service, Bitcoin.com’s trading platform is not any better than standard escrow contracts.  So it is a POOR replacement for the service that they are ostensibly trying to put themselves off as.

  1. Why? Think of this example:
  2. Alice agrees with Bob to buy 100 DASH for 10 BCH.
  3. Alice locks up 10 BCH into Bitcoin.com’s blind escrow contract.
  4. Bob never pays Alice the DASH, but tells Bitcoin.com that he did
    Bitcoin.com (oracle) investigates and asks Alice if she received the the 100 DASH

    1. If she has (and bob has paid): (ignoring for a moment how she can prove this) then the oracle signs the txn and gives to Bob
    2. If she has NOT: (once again, ignoring the problem of proving this) then the oracle signs the txn and gives it to Alice.
  5. Alice OR Bob, gets the FULL 10 BCH, that is the only 2 outcomes…. OR IS IT?
  6. The third outcome is that Alice refuses to sign the txn to Bob, AND the Oracle is given a cease and desist order to stop signing txns as it is acting as an unlicensed exchange market operator, which means it cannot sign. This means Alice’s 10 BCH LOST FOREVER

Compare this to the standard Escrow contract in Bitcoin, (using Multi-sign or thresholds sigs) where if the escrow company is shut down for whatever reason, the 2 parties (despite their dispute, may be able to broker a compromise and send the 10BCH to a new Escrow company who can arbitrate a mutual settlement between Alice and Bob. There are countless reasons why Bob may refuse to pay the full original agreed amount of 100DASH to Alice…. perhaps the market crashed and Alice delayed the trade, perhaps there was a fork, and Bob doesn’t want to send pre-fork coins. etc. etc. etc. In these cases, it may be necessary to renegotiate the amount that is paid to which party, as well as perhaps pay a new escrow additional fees.

The real world is full of agreements that need to be renegotiated everyday. Bitcoin.com’s exchange does not allow for that.

The way they have it currently setup, even though they advertise it as ‘trust-less’ ironically means that the seller has to bear the risk of trusting that the trading platform is not forced to stop their service in the middle of a transaction that has gone bad.  Which will limit the amount of legitimate uses for this system.  The kind of activities or actors which won’t be too fussed about this? You guessed it, illegal actors, gamblers, money launderers.  They will be willing to take the risk, because they have no where else to go to be served.

In truth, the PROPER way to handle this type of peer-to-peer swapping is via an atomic on-chain swap which swaps the keys on both sides at the same time, coupled with a timed refund txn. (one of nChain’s patents).  If the deal were to go bad, then the parties can always seek a licensed escrow to provide an arbitration service, for a fee.

More on that next time.

/EOL

/begin Metanet

“End the Fed”? — Maybe Learn What the Fed Does First!

I was recently lurking on one of the online crypto forums where a bunch of ‘connectors’ and social media mavens use to bring developers and venture capitalists together with people who want to get involved in crypto but are not sure what they can do to help.

The topic turned (as it often does) to how we should ‘take down’ the fiat money system.  *sigh*. This is quite often the battlecry used by the crypto mavens to galvanize support from developers and armchair anarchists, as the anti-establishment theme seems to be able to rouse the most revolutionaries to action. (That, and free pizza seems to work equally as well).  The discussion spiraled into a lecture where I very calmly, coldly, explained how the Fed system of money works and why fiat money was already digital to people who didn’t understand how our money system works and was hell-bent on ‘fixing’ it with crypto money, because it was digital, and therefore, modern, new, and definitely what we want for Christmas. *sigh* (again).

The problem with the crypto space in general that has become very apparant to me is that people don’t really understand how the existing money system works, and yet, they proprose to have great solutions for it.  It’s likely listening to a fengshui guru try to design and architect your house for you.  He has neither the experience or qualifications to do any sort of structural engineering or design, but he thinks that this window definitely needs to face southwest otherwise your life will certainly suffer ruin and misfortune.

Making matters worse, a lot of the misinformation comes from people who have ostensibly worked in the financial sector, albeit likely were IT in a financial tech company like Bloomberg or some other ancillary industry to the finance sector.  Unfortunately, due to the speed at which the industry of crypto has grown, there are way too many instantly rich ‘lucky fools’ to who are the new breed of venture capitalists, and an even larger cohort of ‘lucky idiots’ who found themselves involved in crypto not because of their contributions to the art, but because they got into the space early enough to be seen as ‘experts’.

Take it from me, the ratio of true experts to charlatans in crypto is a very very small fraction.  Most of the experts in the field don’t have time to write blogs, lurk on forums and prostelitize on reddit.  (Which incidentally explains why the rate at which my blogs are updated these days has fallen drastically in recent months).  But I digress.  This blatent affront on the fiat system by charlatans which clearly did not understand anything about how the money system worked demanded that I rouse myself from my productive work to explain.  After I was done, I realized that perhaps it wasn’t all the fault of the mavens who speak as if they know but know not what the speak… maybe it was the simple fact that not many people know how banking and money really works. I thought back to how I learned about this, and it was through my own research while working at Goldman Sachs, coupled with a colleague who I worked with at JPM who worked as a treasury trader.  Certainly not the kind of information or experience that is easily digestable by laypeople.

So I thought, maybe it was high time that somebody explained, in SIMPLE terms, the basic misconceptions about our money system.

Firstly, know this: Although all its operations and structure of the Federal Reserve is public information, they don’t go out of their way to teach the general public about how money works.  This is, I believe, part of the design. If too many people knew how the money system works, then they would likely find fault and think it wasn’t totally fair to [some special interest group or demographic].  So when desiging a money system that is based on the general trust and belief that money is worth something of value, then it behooves the designers not to explain the details to everyone, as faith is much stronger a motivator than logic.

But you knew this already, otherwise you wouldn’t be a reader of my blog. You want the logical facts. You want to make up your own mind about things.  Good. So here comes the firehose. Brace yourself.

I will structure this lesson as a series of commonly misunderstood things about the fiat money system.

Misunderstanding #1 – The central banks (Fed) prints money. That is how fiat is created.

Truth: Not really. Well, that isn’t how most money is created anyhow.

Contrary to popular belief the Fed while actually creating the notes and bills that represent money, (literally printing the physical bills) they don’t actually CREATE the money it represents whenever they feel like it. Money is created by the Treasury Dept (government) selling bonds to the Fed, which creates money in order to buy them. So the government is the ones actually creating money from nothing (the hallmark of a fiat money system) when they decide to print and sell more bonds to the Fed. (usually because they need to fund government spending that taxes isn’t enough to cover).  The Fed actually makes a profit from the interest on these bonds, which is shared among the Fed’s shareholding banks. The Federal Reserve system (or simply central banking system for other countries) is that banks can have a lender of last resort, in case they find themselves in a shortfall for their liabilities.  This prevents economic downturns from making banks go bankcrupt, which may have a domino effect and cause more issues for other banks, causing a meltdown.

Misunderstanding #2 – The Fed is run by the Government

Truth: No. The Fed is actually a privately owned bank, which is owned by shareholder banks and some super secret entities (cue tin hat conspiracy theories here). They operate on a government mandate, but they are their own masters.  The only pull the gov has over the Fed is that the president gets to nominate the Chairman of the Board of the Fed. Effectively assigning its “CEO”.  But the shareholding parties also have their own governing board members and it acts very much like a bank.  Other central banks around the world may have different setups, but they are generally not directly controlled by the government.

Misunderstanding #3 – The government creates most of the money we use.

Truth: No. Actually your local bank that you get a loan or mortgage from is how most of the money in the system is created.

Both retail and commercial banks are the only ones that create money outside of the Gov issuing treasury bonds.  They do this by creating loans.  Every bank is allowed to have outstanding loans as a ratio to the actual cash reserves that they have on hand at their reserve bank accounts (an account which is held at a local Reserve Bank which is part of the Federal Reserve system). In accordance to this, e.g. if they accept $100 worth of deposits from customers they are allowed to create $900 of outstanding loans.  This 900 dollars is created from thin air, added as a cash credit to the borrowers account, and added as a loan asset on the banks balance sheet, balanced by a liability for the borrower.  This is how MOST money is created in the economy.  So the banks create money in response to the market’s demand for loans. This is a good thing, as it ensures that money is always ‘available’ to fund developments.  It is a bad thing, when too many banks given out loans to people to can’t actually repay them, which was the case in the financial crisis of 2007.

What? You mean banks can just create money they need to lend to people? But what about inter-bank loans? Overnight swaps? LIBOR swaps? And the whole FX market of derivatives? How can they just create all this ‘fake’ money? This leads us to the next one…

Misunderstanding #4 – Investment Banks and Commercial Banks are the same

Truth: False. Ever since the Glass Steagall act, they cannot be the same company. In fact, they were only licensed equally because of the obvious benefits of being the lender of money and also the facilitator of fund raising for companies.  Investment Banks cannot create money. Commercial Banks can.  Investment banks (the guys like Goldmans) who engage in the securities market activities have their primary purpose hedge risk, raise funds, and to do M&A and IPOs, acting as a ‘facilitator’ for businesses who need capital. Even though some of Glass Steagall has been since repealed, and the same company can be both a commercial bank and an investment bank, the point is still that the commercial banks are the parts that can create money via loans. Not the investment bank businesses. So banks cannot create money to pay for their debts to other banks.  They have to borrow money from other banks in order to fufill their daily cash settlement demands. This is one of the reasons why an overnight swap, spot, and forward markets exist (among others). Because if any bank (or company for that matter) cannot settle their daily liablitities, then they are technically in insolvancy. Not a fun place to be if you are a bank. (or any entity for that matter).

Misunderstanding #5 – Fiat money isn’t digital

This is actually how the debate on the online forum started.  Some person was adament that fiat money wasn’t digital.  They likely took an old Economist magazine front page headline a bit too literally. (and didn’t have the wherewithal to realize it).
Actually this is even where most people who you would think know better (even ones that worked in the industry) get it wrong.  Fiat money is >90% digital.  M0, which is the classification of money that is in the form of notes and coins, makes up for less than 10%.  And of that M0, 2/3 lives outside of the US.  All other forms of USD, live in bank account balances, which is reconciled up to the the top level Fed accounts.  Therefore, fiat currency is very much digital.  It’s just not cryptographically secured, nor is the supply of it metered by some algorithmic process as is the case with cryptos such as Bitcoin.  Instead the Fed system uses a hierarchical tree of double entry accounting books to reconcile from your bank account at your local bank all the way up to the accounts at the Fed and other central banks around the world.  The way this is structured is that each bank in addition to keeping the books for their clients must keep accounts for other banks they have dealings with.  This is the system of NOSTRO and VOSTRO accounts and it is necessary that each bank in order to have a banking license in a country must have a NOSTRO account at a bank further up the chain, ending with a bank that has an account with the Fed (central bank) itself.  Normally this layering is only 2 levels deep for the big banks, but smaller regional banks may have to bank with a larger bank who in turn will have a NOSTRO account with a bank which is directly part of the Federal Reserve network.  This is how all daily reconciliations are done, so that every penny is counted and the system is ties out. The only potential source of error to this balanced accounting system is due to the paper notes and coins that could be counterfeit or lost to the system.  Which is the reason why banks want to reduce the use of physical bearer instruments such as notes and coins as much as they can.  You can go look up the Fed’s balance sheet which is public and see for yourself, but knowing you are likely too lazy to click on the link and find it I’ll put it here for your convenience. You see that number under liabilities labelled “Federal Reserve notes in circulation”? that is the exact number of M0 money of USD that exists in the world, (excluding the exceptions mentioned). Yep. You read right. That is 1.6 trillion dollars in cash floating around in the system.  How can the fed possibly come up with this number in a reliable fashion if it were not reported back up to the Fed by the Reserve banks who have their master accounts at the Fed themselves?

Which leads us to the last one…

Misunderstanding #6 – Banks are evil because they can create money when they want to make loans, while at the same time when they need money they can always borrow from the Fed

Well, this is somewhat true.  Banks which are part of the Fed system that have accounts with the Fed directly CAN borrow money from the Fed through what is called the Discount Window.  This is supposed to be the lender of last resort. As such, the discount rate (interest charged) is not attractive nor meant to be.  Instead banks borrow from each other through what is called the Fedfunds rate. This is somewhat controlled (through a market process) by the Fed board of governors, but in practice this is just the average rate that depository institutions will lend to each other.  If too much or too little lending is happening at a given rate, then the Fed will step in with open market operations (buying or selling of treasury bonds or other instruments) to reduce or increase the amount of money in the system so that the Fedfunds rate move closer to what is targeted by the Fed’s board of governors.  What is borrowed needs to be repaid with interest, so it isn’t in a banks best interest to borrow more than they need, or to hoard cash and not lend.  Banks that borrow too much, or make too many bad loans and end up not being to meet their obligations will go bust.  (or should go bust).

The last point is really the main problem with the central banking system.  Banks need to be allowed to go bust if they, through the process of making too many bad business decisions, end up not being able to make their interest payments.  That, and simply the fact that by centralizing the management of money, a single failure in a system of highly inter-dependant banks, stands to have large scale systematic effects if any bank large enough (thus having many liabilities owed to other banks) were to fail.

Crypto may have some part to play in improving the system.  But I believe it will be more on the aspect of making financial transactions transparent, and accountable. Not simply from the fact that it will make things digital or more readily reconciliable.  The current system is already pretty good at accounting and keeping balances straight.  All that is needed is to make the system more transparent, and perhaps reintroducing the notion that banks should once more be in the business of raising capital, instead of simply creating it when needed.

/EOL

Update:

It works now!

Ripple and Lightning Networks: The Nuts and Bolts

Last time, I spoke about how the bread and butter use case of Ethereum was going to be soon challenged by Bitcoin Cash, when the missing op-codes are re-enabled in the upcoming May 16th upgrade.  Today, I will discuss more about the other use cases which BCH is going to challenge, as a payment system and the biggest challengers in that space.  Yes, many expert bitcoiners will recognize that Bitcoin Cash is aiming to be CASH first and foremost, but that doesn’t preclude its use as a payment rail as a secondary use case.

Firstly, it will be good to explore exactly what is the difference between a payment network and cash.  Most simply, cash is an asset.  It is something that cannot be taken away from you without force, because you solely have the ownership of it, and you solely decide when to keep it or when to give it away.  A payment network is simply a system by which transfers of ownership rights can be tracked, requested, processed, and settled.  SWIFT is the most popular payment system among first world banks today, and among consumers VISA is a payment network that allows you to pay for things with credit extended to you by a credit issuer.  It is important to note that while Bitcoin can be thought of as a payment network, (given the nature that all the assets are publicly visible and moved on the blockchain) it is first and foremost an asset ownership ledger.  And Bitcoin (the coin) is an asset, not just a utility token.**

The biggest players in the digital payment network space these days are Lightning Network (built on top of the Bitcoin asset blockchain), and Ripple.  Both have a ‘usage token’ that you have to buy to use it, BTC and XRP respectively, but these networks have a very different approach to solving the same problems.  And, I will argue, these problems don’t exist in the Bitcoin Cash blockchain.

Lightning in a Bottle

First off Lightning Networks. I first spoke about it back in Oct 2016, when the developers first said that they were ready to deploy the network real soon.  The problems I saw were not so much the technical issues (because there were so many technical issues that it wasn’t worth getting too deep into the details at that early stage) but more the economic problems –IF the network were to be adopted at scale.  Those issues have not changed, and we will re-iterate on them later in this post.  Let’s first discuss the matter of trying to “Fix something that isn’t broken”.  The best way to think about LN technically is through an analogy in the physical world.  In the world of motorcycles, there are many types of experimental steering mechanisms.

This is what Lightning developers think they are building:

LN is betting that their technology is both sorely needed and will revolutionize the industry

For those not into bikes, the way a motorcycle steers is very different from how a car does.  Basically, you have to move the handlebars in a direction which is opposite to the direction that you want to turn.  This is called counter-steering.  In addition, the front wheel due to its role in steering has been traditionally mounted using a fork system.  This means that the wheel is held between 2 shock absorbers, which joins the main frame of the bike at the headstock, or the pivot point of the steering system.  This wheel mounting configuration, while most common and simple, combines the steering system, with the braking system, and the suspension system.  This has some disadvantages however, which I won’t get into here, as this is a financial technology blog, and not a motorcycle one (though I’m happy to go into for the riders out there). Very much like Bitcoin, the LN developers and many of those who support the legacy version of Bitcoin (the one disabled with 1mb maximum blocks and segwit) they see these self imposed issues needing to be fixed and LN seems to be the solution.  The bizarre bike in the following figure is how they see the LN network becoming:

LN developers think they are going to ‘fix’ Bitcoin with revolutionary technology

Keep in mind: this is IF the dream of LN can be realized without any complications or fundamental bugs.  In the best case scenario, we will get something like the Bimota Tesi, a beautifully engineered, overly complicated, and expensive motorcycle that looks bizarre and exotic, sure to turn heads, but is very rarely seen on the road as a performance bike because the complicated steering removes all the ‘feel’ and control out of the steering.  Needless to say, for all its purported benefits, no rider of MotoGP has ever taken a Tesi to the track in a serious race.  That pretty much says it all.  However, this was in the best case.  In reality, the LN technology at present looks more like the following bike experiment:

LN: the current state of the technology

An overly engineered experiment that suffers from having to solve engineering problems that it introduced itself due to its overly complex fundamental design.  The world doesn’t really need a hub-steering, 2-wheel drive, diesel powered motorcycle.  Well, not presently anyhow.  The other critical point is the matter of ownership. Recall that I mentioned that Bitcoins are assets.  And that having total and complete control of your assets (or having the option for complete control) is part of the rights of the owner of an asset.  In LN, you are forced to put your asset (Bitcoins) into what is effectively a bank account.  This bank account is a weird jointly owned bank account that you have opened with another peer, which LN folks call a payment channel.  Your Bitcoins locked in such a channel can only go to or from the peer that you opened the channel with, so in order to fix that problem LN network is developing a massive IOU balancing/routing system to make sure that if you need to pay somebody or get paid that it can be done through one of your existing payment channels if possible.  Even if this were all to work, the fact of the matter is that your Bitcoins are still locked in channels, and even though you can technically remove them all if you wanted to that would require many transactions to do so in practice for any decent sized wallet, which would be costly. In addition, there are also new attack vectors that are introduced where a thief can try to steal your locked coins in the hope that you aren’t watching the channel.  Don’t take my word for it (though I DID warn about all these things back in 2016, but you probably don’t remember) read it from the LN Dev blog yourself!  If you manage to get through the post without being totally confused, then at least you will have an impression of all the extra complications that using LN coins will involve.  I would rather not peg my Bitcoins into the LN network if I could just use bitcoins directly.

In practice, LN is exactly like the existing banking system.  Yes, you put your money in the bank and it is ‘technically’ still yours, and yes, you CAN take your money out when you wish, and 99.9% of the time that is fine.  But just like in a banking system, the 0.01% the ownership of your property can be violated, as those who had money in Cyprus Banks found out in 2013, when the banks basically bailed in themselves with their own customers money.  LN seems very similar to this system.

 

Ripple: The network that tried to bootstrap itself with its own tokens

With Ripple, the situation is slightly different.  They were originally a IOU passing network, which wanted to have everyone issue their own IOU tokens on the network, and to manage the transfer of these IOUs on a standard platform.

Ripple’s original network was designed to be an IOU passing network

That standard platform would be a shared ledger with a common consensus protocol, which is what most people call the Ripple network today.  The token XRP was created from nothing, and was originally intended as a spam prevention measure, as to send increasingly more transactions to a node would mean that it would cost more and more XRPs.  Also the intent was that every transaction would destroy a small amount of XRPs so that increased use of the network would slowly appreciate the value of XRP, due to fixed number of them in existence.  It may surprise most people to learn that Ripple actually existed before Bitcoin was released, though it should be mentioned that the Ripple network today looks very different from the original one.  Ripple didn’t like the concept of doing work to earn the inflation of the coin, and thus it had a distribution problem.  Where PoW in Bitcoin made the distribution of the coins very simple (you spend time and energy to mine, you earn coins, whoever you are), Ripple created all 100,000,000,000 XRPs and granted it to themselves a non-profit foundation, early investors, and struggled to figure out how to get them distributed down the pyramid to regular people.  The way XRP was distributed harkens back to how money in a central banking system is distributed.  It is printed by the central bank, then it is sold to large investment banks, which then pass it onto regional banks, and finally to the regular people through loans.

Their approach brought about it some self-induced problems that they then had to solve.  How do prevent some of the large early holders of XRP from hoarding their distribution?  How much should be kept aside to pay for development? How much XRP should be burned on each transaction?  And most importantly, if all the tools and applications look like they are useful, what is to prevent a rival network from just forking the code and running their own version of XRP with a NEW distribution of funds?  These are big issues with the Ripple business model, which requires that they sell the technology to large banks first, which ostensibly want a payment system that costs less than the existing SWIFT payment systems.  To this strategy Ripple is developing trading interfaces and applications to make exchanging IOUs (which may represent fiat currencies or other tokens) to/from XRP easier.  The strategy that they are now pursuing is to position XRP as a bridge currency for FX speculators to hold in order to reduce the volatility of marking markets in low liquidity currencies such as Venezuelan Bolivars or Israeli Shekels.

The issue with the strategy is that many times in economic history people attempted to create a stable bridge currency for the banks of the world and have failed.  The original attempt was proposed by Maynard Keynes, the bancor, and was a failure (no relation to the recent ICO called Bancor, which was also a colossal failure).  The second more recent attempt in the last couple decades is the SDRs proposed by the IMF, which is based on a basket of the G8 currencies, also largely a failure.  Something about having to use a complex instrument controlled by a 3rd party to hedge your own foreign currency risks didn’t appeal to the central banks of the world.  After all, every central bank had a different unique set of problems they are faced with, which necessitates a different hedging strategy.  For instance, a country in South America may do most of its trade with the US, which means it would want to hedge its balance of trade risk with a heavier weight put on USD instead of say, EUR.  At the end of the day, hedging FX with a specific central bank non-negotiable instrument wasn’t as straightforward as just holding the foreign currencies yourself (and less useful).  That is the problem with the “XRP as a bridge currency” strategy.  Why hold XRPs when you can just hold the USD, JPY, EUR yourself?  Which means XRP becomes nothing more than an necessary evil, in order to use the payment network, to put a cost to DDoS attacking the network with many transactions.  But if the network is going to be a wall-gardened curated network and used only by registered banks, then the risk of attack is minimal.  Leaving XRP’s only true value as a speculative instrument that is loosely and informally tied to the usefulness of the Ripple network itself, and the applications that Ripple Labs is creating for it.  Astute readers will note that this is also the same base value proposition as Bitcoin. (that its value is related to the usefulness of the blockchain itself) but the difference is that Ripple created all the XRP out of thin air themselves, and they themselves decided how to distribute the tokens.  Who knows if they played favourites.  Also creating the tokens ex nihilo means that they may very likely be treated as a security by the SEC.  As only securities are created in this way, (well currency is as well, but the central banks have the exclusive license to create those), so there may be complications for those that raised funds by granting XRP to investors.  Furthermore, if XRP were to be considered a security that would severely limit its trade in US and other first world countries further limiting its use as a bridge currency for FX liquidity providers.

Lastly, the problem with XRP comes back to the beginning statement where I posited that Bitcoin is an asset, which means you own it, and nobody else. This is achieved in Bitcoin through both asymmetric key cryptography (you own the knowledge of your private keys), and the decentralization of the mining ecosystem itself. Mining is its own business, and the business of the miners isn’t to run a payment system.  The unique fusion between a commodity extraction business that is concerned more about cheaper greener power generation and the processing of a financial payment system is what gives Bitcoin its power, and Satoshi’s true innovation.  If you build a token market on top of BCH, trying to steal peoples assets, or to freeze their BCH would be very costly and not guaranteed to work.  In comparison, if Ripple at its hypothetical apex, when all central banks were to use it for its inter-bank transfers, and you were a liquidity provider who have been stockpiling XRPs in order to make profit from the imbalance of flows between North Korean Won to the US dollar, you could be denied access to your XRP if all the central banks of the world just refused to listen to the nodes that broadcast your transactions.  Where Ripple uses similar cryptographic security to enforce proper signing of transactions, unlike Bitcoin, a Ripple that banks will use will only trust transactions from each other.  You will not be able to submit a transaction that the banking consortium disapproved of***.  And the banking consortium would not allow a trusted validator into their cartel without ensuring that they were going to play by their rules.  So the difference between Ripple’s decentralization strategy vs Bitcoin’s is that Ripple has a trusted server list (called the UNL) and transactions received from the list are assumed ‘blessed’ (assuming they are valid).  Transactions received from outside the list are not treated the same.  Basically in Ripple, anyone can connect to the network and send transactions, but unless your txn is acknowledged somewhere down the line by the main validators, it won’t make it into their ledger.  And membership to the main validator pool is similar to a cartel formation.  “I’ll put you on my trusted list if you put me on yours”.  Every bank using Ripple will certainly guard its UNL list and ensure that only other licensed banks are on their lists.  Contrast this to Bitcoin, where nobody can stop anyone else from participating in mining, — that is the true key to decentralization.

It is going to be an exciting next few months, as more and more features of ‘speciality Altcoins’ stand to be usurped by BCH as the true power of the original Bitcoin design starts to come to fruition.

For the industry to grow and expand in order to reach the maximum number of humans on the planet,  therefore ensuring its survival through future regulatory and political pressures, it needs to be simple, elegant, and functional.  So despite the above experiments in technology being very cool for bike geeks like myself, I would much rather just have the original and best:

Bitcoin – The original and best. Simple, elegant, beautiful, efficient

/EOL

** this stems from the fact that Bitcoins require energy to be burned on creation.  Which means they are at least worth the value of the cost of mining them when they are granted.  Utility tokens, on the other hand, like all tokens, have no intrinsic value, and are created ex nihilo.

*** well, you could submit it, but it will never make it into their ledger.  It may make it into yours if you reduced your UNL list to only have validators which were not part of the banking cartel, but in that case, you have effectively forked off into a parallel ledger.

Lightning network: will it save Bitcoin? Or break it?

Lightning network has been heralded as the way to scale Bitcoin into the future, but as it is starting to become apparent that two very separate camps with differing opinions on how to scale Bitcoin are starting to draw lines in the sand, it’s worth taking a pragmatic look at this technology, seeing as it seems to be shaping up that once adopted, it will be very difficult to back out¹

First off, I want to say that Lightning as a concept is pretty interesting.  I think that it will have many uses in the world of Bitcoin.  Yes, I have read the white paper (both long and short version) and I believe I have pretty good understanding of how it works.  A disclaimer, as most of the development is happening behind closed doors via BifFury, it’s hard to comment on any of the new yet unreleased progress, such as developments on the routing algorithm.

Let’s examine the pros and cons of the Lightning overlay network.

  1. Unlimited txn/s
  2. Secure from double spends
  3. Requires Bitcoin to use

Continue reading

On Ponzi’s, Equity Derivatives, and Ethereum

Charles_Ponzi

Many people will talk about ponzi schemes without actually thinking about what that actually means. They say that Ethereum will fail because it was founded on and funded by lies. But when it comes down to it, how are these different from that of the current central banking debt based fiat money system?

Fund first, ask questions later

Ethereum was a project funded with 18m USD of value mostly in BTC. After writing a whitepaper and creating a proof of concept prototype, they hired developers to write it. Most of them were loaned money and worked for free but were promised exorbitant 20% bonuses after the crowd-sale.  They made a windfall after selling ETH before the blockchain was even in operation in what is called an initial coin offering or ICO to the public. Once the money was raised they patted themselves on the back, and all the developers who were promised pay in stock options (ETH) simultaneously breathed a sigh of relief and cheered.

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Is Money the Same as Currency? — The True Nature of Money

It’s a simple question.

But it is one that 95% of people will answer wrong. Don’t feel bad. I would have as well if you were to have asked me 10 years ago.

Ans: They are not the same thing.

Those in power would like you to think of them as the same thing. In fact, we have been taught since we were children that they were the same. That is, if you were lucky enough that they taught you anything at all about money in school (more than just recognizing coins and dead presidents faces that is).

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Bitcoin the Global Reserve Currency, and our Multi-coined Future

So long as we are careful, we can learn from our past mistakes

So long as we are careful, we can learn from our past mistakes

Last time, I was detailing the reasons why Bitcoin requires a constitution, or a corpus of its own, in order to avoid any such existential debates about its vision in the future.  If we can avoid excessive hard forks, then we can surely safely lower the ‘jump to default’ risk of the Bitcoin network.  Any other type of risk would surely happen slowly and gradually, whether it be a slowing of adoption, or an increase in transactions.  This is not to say that we should be ignorant of those risks, but just that if we are all cognizant of them, we won’t be boiled like all of the other frogs in the kettle.

This is not a radical new view, many in the core dev group feel the same way, as you can see in Jeff Garzik’s prelude to his BIP100 proposal.  He clearly defined the dangers of both action and inaction within the context of block size limits.  He also quite succinctly commented on the lack of a clear definition of what Bitcoin is.  I agree with this opinion, and it drove me to appeal to the core devs on revisiting the dialog about creating a manifesto or a constitution for Bitcoin.  Having such a guide for all future protocol changes would only serve to make such discussions easier, for everyone can agree on what Bitcoin’s priorities should be.

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Greece Crisis (again) -How can you help?

Given the turmoil that Greece has been in the last little while and in light of the July 5th referendum, I felt it necessary to explain a couple of things as it turns out that many international onlookers may not understand the situation fully.  What’s clear is that a large part of the population in the country which invented democracy is ready to take it back, by force, if necessary.

Tsipras made a brilliant strategic move of calling for a referendum to see if Greeks want to give in to the ECB and EU demands. Or to choose NO and leave the monetary union.  In this way he has, as Pontius Pilate did, washed his hands of the responsibilty, and allayed any suspicions that he (unlike his predecessors) may be under the influence of the international bankers.  He is no longer in the picture. He has removed himself from the equation.  He is no longer a target for bribes. He has truly given the power to the people and for that he was brave.

Still, many misconceptions float around the international community about the situation. Some see Greece as freeloading homeless people begging for handouts.  Others see them as unfortunate victims of international banks and the Statists.  I think it best to format this as a FAQ info session. So here it goes.

How did we get here?

Answers will vary depending who you ask but generally a lot of false promises were made and some numbers massaged so that Greece could make it into the Eurozone back in 2001.  My former employer ran the deal and was paid handsomely for it. I’m sure the Greek officials at the time took home their share of the finish-line prize as well. There were champagne parties, and libations.  Everyone celebrated the triumph of capitalism and European Statism. Those parties and politicians have long since gone and perhaps most of the money along with it.

The potential productivity of the Greek economy was exaggerated.  Now they are a net liability to the rest of Europe (mostly Germany).  And the Greek people are worse off as they are now working harder and for less just to pay back the loans that were given the country but “disappeared” through the cracks of bureaucracy and corruption.

Who does Greece owe?

Greece ended up borrowing a lot of money. The creditors are other euro countries (notably Germany, Italy, Spain, UK, Portugal) and international banks, and the IMF. A total of about 352 billion Euros to various parties.  Their debt to GDP ratio is 180%.

What do the Greek people want?

To stop the endless cycle of paying off present debts with more future loans and more austerity measures.  The average Greek has a yearly salary of only 7000 euros.  A pool boy it Canada makes more than that.  The tax burden on the poor has risen 337% and their incomes cut by over 87%.  Incomes on the rich has only been cut by 9%. Of course it’s tough to tax the rich too much as they have the means to just leave the country. But this is the result of the austerity measures.  The rich run away with the loan cash and the poor are stuck with the bill because they can’t afford to run away.

Young people want out of the EU.  They have nothing to lose and have lost most of their income and hope due to austerity.

Old people want to stay in. They depend on pensions and cannot afford to leave.  They are retirees mostly and probably feel that kicking the can down the road won’t matter too much to them because they won’t live enough to see the Keynesian “long run eventuality” anyhow.

What are the demographics?

Most of Greece is reduced to service industry and tourism, some exports in cheese and olive oil.  Most of these industries would benefit from a depreciation of currency that would come with the introduction of drachma.  They have a lot of state assets like ports and islands that almost got sold to China.  But violent public backlash against selling off its ‘mother Gaia’ to foreigners has made capitalizing on these assets difficult.

How can you show Global support?

Normally I end my posts with a request for donations. This time I’m asking you to donate to Greece instead. Show the geek people that the global community supports their stance against the banks and for the rights of the people to decide their own future.  Checkout the Indiegogo campaign started below:

Greece Bailout No strings attached!

It is an attempt to show solidarity with the Greek people. It is a chance to show Greeks that the world is behind them if they want to say “enough is enough” and take back their country for themselves.  You don’t pay if the target is not reached. If it is the money will be donated to the Greek government to do with it what it will, no strings attached.

Do I think that the target will be reached? Probably not, but it’s a social experiment on how many people really care about helping their fellow man, versus those who just want to talk a lot about it.  It also says something about how many people really want to do something about injustice, vs those who are happy to just their elected officials make all the big decisions for them.  We live in the internet age now, there really isn’t a need to delegate a lot of these traditional things to ‘smarter’ people in governments anymore.  Besides, most of the time, they aren’t much smarter than that pool boy in Canada anyhow.

Do I think that 1.6billion will make a difference in repaying their debts? NO.  Of course not!  But I think it would convince some Greeks to feel a bit better about voting NO to Euro and roughing it out on their own, they have a lot of pensions to pay, civil servants like garbage men and judges to payroll, and they have to back the new drachma with something, why not use that donation to buy 1.6 billion euro worth of gold ? (Or Bitcoin?)

Vote with your money. Vote to support Greece in their fight for independence from the international bankers.  The people of Germany don’t want them here,  Greek people don’t want to be here, you have to ask yourself, who really needs Greece in Euro anyway?

Your support may just help more Greeks believe in themselves enough to vote a resounding NO this July 6th.  And that will be a vote that will be heard around the world. One that Leonidas and the Spartans at Thermopylae would be proud of.

[edit: corrected the total debt numbers, 180 was the debt to GDP ratio, not the total outstanding debt which is a lot more]

Legal hurdles facing crypto currencies

As Bitcoin becomes more and more popular as a form of payment, there are still governments that would rather people stayed away from it altogether. Left wing activists would have us believe that this is due to governments scheming with their totalitarian doctrines, but I believe mostly this is just due to the less sinister reason that the government must maintain some regulation over its own economy.

I remember when I was about 6 years old my mother introduced me to the banking system. She helped me gather all the coins and new bills I had saved up from Chinese New Year red packets, rolled them up and took me to the bank to open a bank account. I remember not really grasping what was going on, but I do recall the strange notion that I had just “lost something” when all I got back for my troubles was a little book that had a number printed on it. That feeling, that the banking system was essentially taking something of value from me and I had to trust it to keep it safe was something that took a while to get accustomed to. Indeed, owning that trust, or credit is something that the banking system has been very protective of as it is the bases of their business model. The government on the other hand, not being a for-profit entity, has a more high level goal of maintaining economic growth and stability. Part of doing that successfully means controlling the flow of wealth into and out of the country. As banks being linked to a national central bank system have a record of all deposits, withdrawals and transfers within the system, you can see why the banking business and government have both a natural proclivity to work together to achieve their individual ends.

So what does Bitcoin represent that is such a threat? Well with any large scale connected money system, the danger is that funds obtained by illicit means have a large ecosystem in which to resurface as clean money. Which of course allows for criminal elements to become organized and grow as quickly as legal businesses. This is the basis of Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and money transmission regulations. The idea of course is to identify and prevent the movement of money which come from the proceeds of crime. This creates a deterrent to the business of crime and presumably makes the society a safer place for law abiding citizens.

I digress; back to why Governments are apprehensive about Bitcoin –because Bitcoin is the first successful implementation of electronic cash, and governments have been trying to get rid of cash since the advent of the central banking system. This is because cash is difficult to track and therefore essentially “invisible” to the government. The only saving grace is that moving around a lot of cash is difficult (1million USD weighs 20 pounds). Bitcoin allows the equivalent amount of wealth to be brought across borders as simply as one can bring a smartphone or even a piece of paper, so on the surface, governments have a reason to be apprehensive.

Regulation therefore should be at the points where fiat currencies are exchanged for Bitcoin, as exchanges are well equipped to keep a watchful eye for suspicious transactions the same way they have been doing all along. At the end of the day, everyone has to pay their taxes so there will always be an intrinsic demand for fiat. For Bitcoin to Bitcoin transactions industry watchdogs or government funded agencies can keep watch on the movement of illicit wealth through the system. Merchants can register their addresses or use BIP32 wallets in order to report their transactions to authorities when demanded of them. There is no legitimate reason behind the “criminal element” argument, and yet governments keep on harping on this. Why? Opinions vary, but my money is on the fact that it sounds sufficiently scary enough to ward away people from using Bitcoin. One saying that has become very near to my heart having worked with traders on Wall Street for over 14 years; “When in doubt, follow the money”. In this case the money happens to be RMB and it’s leading us right to the largest bitcoin trading volumes in the world, China.

China has been openly negative towards Bitcoin, and one doesn’t have to dig too far to find out why. China’s currency is being artificially suppressed in order to keep the competitive advantage of Chinese labour. This point has been a contentious issue with US lawmakers for the better half of the last decade. As the currency is being artificially kept weak that implies that the black market rate for RMB is much higher than the official rate, giving a strong incentive for the wealthy and well-to-do in China to try to move their wealth overseas. Bitcoin’s strong suit, is in its electronic cash like qualities which helps facilitate this movement of capital. At it’s base, Bitcoin is the freedom of money and in countries where the freedoms of the people are tightly controlled, Bitcoin is a clear and present threat to that control.

So if governments who control their citizen’s freedoms stand to lose the most from Bitcoin usage, one must take a long hard look at US lawmakers stance on Bitcoin, and decide whether it is really being driven by a desire to protect the greater stability and good of the economy or is it more to protect the existing or potential government controls and agendas?

As President and founder of Bittoku, one of the reasons why I founded the company in Japan is because I firmly believe that being placed in between the political influences of China and US, lawmakers in countries like Japan and Korea will be able to find the pragmatic happy middle ground for Bitcoin, and make the choices that benefits the greater economy and freedoms of people. Having lived in Japan for over 10 years and having family in Korea, I can say that Japanese and Koreans tend to favour efficiency and practicality over political rhetoric.

I hope that taking a strong political lead on Bitcoin is something that Japanese lawmakers can do, which will set an example for other countries which may not have the best interests or 和 of the community that they serve in mind.