May 012018
 
 May 1, 2018  Posted by at 9:00 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Théodore Géricault Prancing Grey Horse 1812

 

The US Just Borrowed $488 Billion, a Record High for the First Quarter (BBG)
The Global Debt Addiction: China’s Out of Control Debt (GT)
Governments Are Nothing Like Households (Coppola)
St. Louis Fed: Bitcoin is ‘Like Regular Currency’ (Fortune)
US Extends Tariff Exemptions For European Union And Other Allies (CNBC)
Brexit Talks At Risk Of Collapse Over Irish Border (G.)
South Korea President Says Trump Deserves Nobel Peace Prize (R.)
Leaked Questions Reveal What Mueller Wants To Ask Trump About Russia (G.)
First Members Of Migrant ‘Caravan’ Enter US Seeking Asylum (R.)
That Collapse You Ordered…? (Kunstler)
Are Our Online Lives About To Become ‘Private’ Again? (BBC)
Food, Clothes, A Mattress And Three Funerals. What Teachers Buy For Children (G.)

 

 

“..spending increased at three times the pace of revenue growth..”

The US Just Borrowed $488 Billion, a Record High for the First Quarter (BBG)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he’s unconcerned about the bond market’s ability to absorb rising government debt after his department said it borrowed a record amount for the first quarter. “It’s a very large, robust market — it’s the most liquid market in the world, and there is a lot of supply,” he said in a Bloomberg TV interview on Monday. “But I think the market can easily handle it.” Earlier on Monday the Treasury said net borrowing totaled $488 billion from January through March, a record for that period and about $47 billion more than it had previously estimated, according to a statement released in Washington. The end-of-March cash balance was $290 billion, compared with an initial estimate of $210 billion.

“By definition supply and demand will equate,” Mnuchin said. “I’m not concerned about that. I think that there are still a lot of buyers for U.S. Treasuries,” he said when asked about the risks of reduced demand for Treasuries and increased supply. The Treasury’s debt-management plans were complicated earlier this year by a political fight that was resolved when lawmakers agreed to suspend the federal debt limit in a two-year budget agreement in February. The U.S.’s need to issue more Treasuries is expected to grow as the fiscal picture deteriorates. The budget deficit widened to $600 billion halfway through the fiscal year, as spending increased at three times the pace of revenue growth in the October-to-March period, according to Treasury figures released earlier this month.

Tax and spending measures approved by Congress and President Donald Trump are expected to push the budget gap to $804 billion in the current fiscal year, from $665 billion in fiscal 2017, and then surpass $1 trillion by 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office. In an accompanying statement about the state of the economy, the Treasury said Monday that tax changes are “poised to underpin near-term consumption and investment” and “the stage is set for a pick-up in growth over the near term.”

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The debt keeps the economy going.

The Global Debt Addiction: China’s Out of Control Debt (GT)

China has developed a craving for consumer goods, the more luxurious, the better. Along with most other countries, China’s credit boom and spending spree are being followed by out-of-control debt. While household debt is spiraling, the Chinese government is pushing to double the size of the economy by 2020 (setting this goal in 2010). This ambitious project will almost certainly entail more lending and increased debts. There is a question as to exactly how much more debt China can handle. China’s debt has been rising steadily, from 141 percent of GDP in 2008 to 256 percent of GDP in 2017. This type of rapidly-increasing debt level has frequently been the precursor of a hard economic fall, and the world is watching China carefully.

While countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. also have large debt-to-GDP ratios, the difference is that both are high-income countries, while China has only reached middle-income status, with only $15,400 in household purchasing power. This is a quarter of the household purchasing power of the US. Getting out of debt on China’s low level of income will be far more difficult than in higher-income nations. [..] China’s economic growth has encouraged widespread home buying and mortgage debts as property prices soar. Mortgage debt has increased by 25 percent in two years. People who have bought during the economic boom are now facing monthly mortgage payments that equal up to half of their monthly income.

Household budgets are stretching to the breaking point. This has forced many to curtail spending elsewhere and putting off other necessary big purchase items. This at a time when the government is encouraging greater consumer consumption.

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“Austerity is for the good times, not the bad times.”

Governments Are Nothing Like Households (Coppola)

Politicians like to describe government as like a household. When you’ve borrowed too much, you cut your spending so you can pay off debt, don’t you? You might be able to get a better-paid job, which helps you to pay it off faster. But you still budget to reduce your debt over time. Going on a spending spree means tightening your belt later. Similarly, if government borrows too much, there must be austerity to pay it down. Stands to reason, doesn’t it? People understand this reasoning. It is politically popular, especially when times are hard. In March 2009, when the U.S. was in the deepest recession since the 1930s, John Boehner, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, said on CBS News that “it’s time for government to tighten their belts and show the American people that we ‘get it.’”

“Government is like a household” can even win elections. At the height of the financial crisis in 2008, David Cameron, then leader of the U.K.’s Conservative party, wrote this in the (now defunct) News of the World: “This [Labour] government has maxed out our nation’s credit card—and they want to keep on spending by getting another. We believe we need to get a grip, be responsible and help families now in a way that doesn’t cost us our future.” He became the U.K.’s Prime Minister in May 2010. Keynesian economists such as Paul Krugman argue that instead of trying to reduce public deficits in a recession, government should increase spending, helping businesses to grow and providing employment. Government debt will rise, of course, but the government can run fiscal surpluses to pay it down when growth returns. Austerity is for the good times, not the bad times.

But this message has not been heard. In the name of “living within our means,” “balancing the books” and “paying down the debt,” governments on both sides of the Atlantic have pursued austerity policies ever since the Great Recession. The terrible story of Greece shows us that harsh austerity is the wrong medicine for a poorly-performing, highly indebted economy. But Greece is merely the worst example. Many Western countries have suffered deep and lasting damage, both from the Great Recession itself and from premature attempts to reduce public deficits.

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“..bitcoin units have no intrinsic value” – but currencies “such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Swiss france . . . have no intrinsic value either.”

St. Louis Fed: Bitcoin is ‘Like Regular Currency’ (Fortune)

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has provided some high-profile validation for a core premise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. A blog post this week based on an earlier Fed research paper said that “bitcoin units have no intrinsic value” – but added that currencies “such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Swiss france . . . have no intrinsic value either.” The post, titled “Three Ways Bitcoin is Like Regular Currency,” doesn’t precisely endorse Bitcoin or cryptocurrency. In another recent report, the St. Louis Fed was critical of Bitcoin’s inefficiency. Cryptocurrency has also become rife with scams since its surge in value last year, and may constitute a global risk because it enables clandestine money laundering, capital flight, and tax evasion.

But the St. Louis Fed has provided a credible rebuttal to one of the most widespread and misguided criticisms of cryptocurrency: That, because it isn’t tied to a particular real-world commodity, it should have a monetary value of zero. As Fed researchers point out, since decoupling from the gold standard in the early 1970s, almost all global reserve currencies rely on nothing but trust to function as a media of value exchange. In the case of the dollar, that’s mostly trust in the U.S. government and economy. For Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it’s trust in computer code and, at least to some extent, developers.

Surprisingly, the Fed’s new statement also echoes one of the predominant arguments that cryptocurrency fans use to disparage government-backed currency – though in a rather roundabout way. The post argues in part that “there’s a limited supply” of both cash and Bitcoin. The libertarian boosters at the heart of the crytpocurrency movement have often argued that Bitcoin is better than government currency because central banks can devalue national currencies through inflation, while Bitcoin has a strictly fixed supply. Though the Fed’s post points out that it doesn’t actually print cash – in the sense of physical notes – it acknowledges its ability to expand the money supply.

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Concessions will be forthcoming.

US Extends Tariff Exemptions For European Union And Other Allies (CNBC)

The May 1 deadline for steel and aluminum tariff exemptions for U.S. allies has been extended, the White House said. Instead, the White House has decided to postpone the decision on some allies, including the European Union, for 30 days to allow further discussions. Those extensions will affect the EU, Canada and Mexico. As for Argentina, Australia and Brazil, a senior White House official said agreements have been reached in principle, and they will also receive a 30-day extension so details can be finalized. South Korea’s exemption from tariffs is permanent because it agreed to quotas as part of a new trade deal. Administration officials have asked other countries what level of quotas they would agree to.

One person briefed by the administration told CNBC: “Quotas are an active part of the discussion with every country on the exemption list.” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is leading the process for country exemptions, except for the European Union, which Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is leading. The Department of Commerce is also spearheading the process for product exemptions. The National Security Council is overseeing the entire process. The May 1 deadline on the tariff exemptions was set in a presidential memorandum on the topic.

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UK says they have a solution, but not what that is.

Brexit Talks At Risk Of Collapse Over Irish Border (G.)

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned that talks are at risk if the UK does not soften its red line on the Irish border issue. Speaking to reporters on his third visit to Ireland since the referendum, Michel Barnier said he was “not optimistic” and “not pessimistic” but “determined” that the two sides can break the current impasse on talks. He repeated recent declarations that unless Britain came up with fresh thinking on how to avoid a hard border by the June EU council summit, further talks were in danger of collapsing. “Until we reach this agreement and this operational solution for Northern Ireland, a backstop [solution], and we are ready for any proposal … there is a risk, a real risk,” he said.

But he hinted that the UK would not have to come up with the final deal for Ireland, describing the June summit as “a stepping stone” to the October deadline for the wider Brexit deal to be completed. The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, said Britain’s “approach to negotiations will need to change in some way” if there is to be agreement over the issue. Appearing alongside Varadkar and his deputy, Simon Coveney, Barnier said the EU was “absolutely united” on the Irish question but wanted to work with the UK to find a practical solution. Coveney warned that there would be “difficulties” at the next EU council summit in June in progressing to wider Brexit talks unless the UK commited to wording for a “backstop” solution for the Irish border.

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It would be fun.

South Korea President Says Trump Deserves Nobel Peace Prize (R.)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said U.S. President Donald Trump deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, a South Korean official said on Monday. “President Trump should win the Nobel Peace Prize. What we need is only peace,” Moon told a meeting of senior secretaries, according to a presidential Blue House official who briefed media. Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday pledged at a summit to end hostilities between their countries and work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. Trump is preparing for his own summit with Kim, which he said would take place in the next three to four weeks.

The Trump administration has led a global effort to impose ever stricter sanctions on North Korea and the U.S. president exchanged bellicose threats with Kim in the past year over North Korea’s development of nuclear missiles capable of reaching the United States. In January, Moon said Trump “deserves big credit for bringing about the inter-Korean talks. It could be a resulting work of the U.S.-led sanctions and pressure”. Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize just months into his presidency, an award many thought was premature, given that he had little to show for his peace efforts beyond rhetoric.

Even Obama said he was surprised and by the time he collected the prize in Oslo at the end of that year, he had ordered the tripling of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. As well as Obama, three U.S. presidents have won the Nobel Peace Prize: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Jimmy Carter. Moon’s Nobel Prize comment came in response to a congratulatory message from Lee Hee-ho, the widow of late South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, in which she said Moon deserved to win the prize, the Blue House official said. Moon responded by saying Trump should get it.

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Nothing leaks like Washington.

Leaked Questions Reveal What Mueller Wants To Ask Trump About Russia (G.)

Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the US election, wants to ask Donald Trump about contact between his former election campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russia, the New York Times reported on Monday. The paper said it had obtained a list of nearly 50 questions that Mueller, investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, wants to put to the US president. More than half relate to potential obstruction of justice. “What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?” is one of the more dramatic questions published by the Times.

The pointed reference to Manafort breaks tantalising new ground, since there was no previous evidence linking him to outreach to Moscow. Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington, tweeted: “This is very interesting – strong evidence that there are still collusion threads that are not yet public.” Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, pleaded not guilty last October to a 12-count indictment accusing them of conspiring to defraud the US by laundering $30m from their work for a Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine. a dramatic insight into the special counsel’s mind and make clear that Trump is a subject, not a mere witness, in the investigation. It is not yet known whether the president will agree to be interviewed.

One batch of questions relates to alleged coordination between the Trump election campaign and Moscow. Donald Trump Jr’s June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York with a Russian lawyer who promised damaging information about rival Hillary Clinton is naturally under scrutiny. Mueller wants to ask when Trump became aware of the meeting; Trump Jr claimed his father did not know about it in advance.

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Set up a program to bring peace to Central America. Kick out the CIA. They will stop coming.

First Members Of Migrant ‘Caravan’ Enter US Seeking Asylum (R.)

The first eight members of a “caravan” of Central American migrants entered U.S. territory to seek asylum on Monday, after a month-long journey through Mexico that drew the wrath of President Donald Trump. The eight women and children walked through a door into the San Ysidro port of entry on the bidding of a customs and border patrol officer, a Reuters witness said, hours after Vice President Mike Pence promised they would be processed in line with U.S. law. About three quarters of claims by Central American asylum seekers are ultimately unsuccessful, resulting in detention and deportation.

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Medium or well-done?

That Collapse You Ordered…? (Kunstler)

I had a fellow on my latest podcast, released Sunday, who insists that the world population will crash 90-plus percent from the current 7.6 billion to 600 million by the end of this century. Jack Alpert heads an outfit called the Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab (SKIL) which he started at Stanford University in 1978 and now runs as a private research foundation. Alpert is primarily an engineer. At 600 million, the living standard in the USA would be on a level with the post-Roman peasantry of Fifth century Europe, but without the charm, since many of the planet’s linked systems — soils, oceans, climate, mineral resources — will be in much greater disarray than was the case 1,500 years ago.

Anyway, that state-of-life may be a way-station to something more dire. Alpert’s optimal case would be a world human population of 50 million, deployed in three “city-states,” in the Pacific Northwest, the Uruguay / Paraguay border region, and China, that could support something close to today’s living standards for a tiny population, along with science and advanced technology, run on hydropower. The rest of world, he says, would just go back to nature, or what’s left of it. Alpert’s project aims to engineer a path to that optimal outcome. I hadn’t encountered quite such an extreme view of the future before, except for some fictional exercises like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. (Alpert, too, sees cannibalism as one likely byproduct of the journey ahead.)

Obviously, my own venture into the fictionalized future of the World Made by Hand books depicted a much kinder and gentler re-set to life at the circa-1800 level of living, at least in the USA. Apparently, I’m a sentimental softie. Both of us are at odds with the more generic techno-optimists who are waiting patiently for miracle rescue remedies like cold fusion while enjoying re-runs of The Big Bang Theory. (Alpert doesn’t completely rule out as-yet-undeveloped energy sources, though he acknowledges that they’re a low-percentage prospect.) We do agree with basic premise that the energy supply is mainly what supports the way we live now, and that it shows every evidence of entering a deep and destabilizing decline that will halt the activities necessary to keep our networks of dynamic systems running.

A question of interest to many readers is how soon or how rapid the unraveling of these systems might be. When civilizations crumble, it tends to fast-track. The Roman empire seems to be an exception, but in many ways it was far more resilient than ours, being a sort of advanced Flintstones economy, with even its giant-scale activities (e.g. building the Coliseum) being accomplished by human-powered work.

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Never again.

Are Our Online Lives About To Become ‘Private’ Again? (BBC)

In May, tough new privacy laws are being introduced across Europe, offering EU consumers far greater control over their data and large fines for firms which break the rules. It is worth pausing to think about how we got to this point. To begin to understand, we must remember that data can easily be copied, shared and collected from multiple sources. Whenever we use digital devices – everything from web browsers, to phones, loyalty cards and CCTV cameras – we create data that allows advertisers, insurers, the police and others to understand aspects of our lives. Only its availability and the ingenuity of its handler limits what it can tell us. This is very different to a traditional commodity that can be bought and sold: a house, for example.

If you sell your house, the buyer might come to understand something of your personality, perhaps through a taste for high-spec kitchens and red carpets. Beyond that, the potential insight into your life is limited – your diaries and photo albums will have moved with you. With data, it is more complicated. Once you sign up for an online service, constant and often seamless data collection starts. Minimal understanding and agreement are often sufficient for this collection to begin: clicking “I agree” to terms and conditions you may or may not have read can be enough. It’s as if, rather than handing over a clean and tidy house, you have invited the buyer to move in with you and start taking notes: how you behave, whom you talk to, who visits you and who spends the night.

Many people never have a clear understanding of how the data they produce is shared, collected and interpreted. It can be combined with data from other sources, and investigated in unpredictable and unforeseen ways to gain in-depth knowledge about our lives, preferences, and likely future behaviours. This knowledge can be used to influence us in subtle but powerful ways. The advertisements, news, and friends we encounter online are often the result of this nudging. And, unlike a house, the data can be copied again and again at little to no cost, reaching an unlimited number of people. It is clear that the risks to privacy with data are substantial. Recognising this, additional safeguards are being introduced.

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The damage being done to Britain is unbelievable.

Food, Clothes, A Mattress And Three Funerals. What Teachers Buy For Children (G.)

In 2014 Gemma Morton, the headteacher of a large secondary school, told Education Guardian her school had helped to pay for the funeral of a student whose family couldn’t afford it, even after they had sold their car. Three years on, she has helped to pay for two more funerals. “When a child dies, nobody’s saved for it,” says Morton. “There is literally nowhere for families to go apart from the people they already know, and most of them are poverty-struck too.” Over the past few years, as austerity has deepened, more schools and individual teachers are bailing out disadvantaged families because they simply can’t say no. The latest government figures show 100,000 more children propelled into poverty in just 12 months.

There are 4.1 million children – nearly a third of the entire child population – living in households on less than 60% of the average income. At Gill Williams’s primary school in the north-west of England, local supermarkets deliver bread and fresh vegetables three times a week, which are placed in the playground for parents to help themselves. There is rarely a crumb left. Williams says it is not so much that poverty is more severe, but that it has spread. “It’s everybody. Your average family is like that now.” The core group of those needing support in her school is three times larger than when she became a head 10 years ago.

Evidence of hungry children is clear, say teachers. “You notice kids borrowing money from friends to buy food, kids falling asleep, kids saying they’ve got a tummy ache, and they didn’t have breakfast because Mummy didn’t have anything in,” says Morton. She has also seen children taking scraps from the school bins. Heads in poor catchments notice a difference when they attend meetings at other schools. “If you go and see kids in two different areas, they’ll be noticeably different heights,” says Morton.

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Apr 052018
 
 April 5, 2018  Posted by at 8:47 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh Le moulin de blute fin 1886

 

The Fed Is Destroying Dollars (Napier)
What Trump Gets Right About Europe’s Trade Problem (Pol.)
“When You’re Already $500 Billion Down, You Can’t Lose!” (G.)
Kudlow Says Trump’s China Tariffs Are Just Proposals Right Now (BBG)
Up To 87 Million Facebook Users’ Data Shared With Cambridge Analytica (Ind.)
Zuckerberg Says Most Facebook Users Will Only Get Privacy ‘In Spirit’ (Ind.)
We Work For Google. Our Employer Shouldn’t Be In The Business Of War (G.)
World’s Most Wanted Bank Whistleblower Arrested for Worst Possible Reason (DQ)
Toronto’s Epic Housing Bubble Turns to Bust (WS)
Tax Trouble For -Certain- Bitcoin Traders (F.)
How Advertising Shaped the First Opioid Epidemic (Smithsonian)

 

 

Good points from Russell Napier. Also says Turkey will default, impose capital controls.

The Fed Is Destroying Dollars (Napier)

Too much debt and not enough money remain a diagnosis for deflation and not inflation. In particular, we need to discuss why fears of inflation persist in a world where the US central bank and the US commercial banking system are now both destroying money. When both these key engines of the reserve currency creation act to destroy money, there will ultimately be a contraction in broad money growth, the first since the 1930s, if nothing changes. This analyst thinks that matters, but few, if any, agree. At this stage the interesting evidence is that this dramatic tightening of monetary policy seems to matter more outside the USA than within.

From its peak in November 2017 the level of US bank credit, when we adjust for the systems acquisition of non-banks, has posted no growth. When a commercial banking system posts no growth in bank credit over four months, it creates no money over that period. It just so happens that this is the same four months during which the Federal Reserve has been contracting its balance sheet. Sticking to the Policy Normalisation Principles (PNP) and their addendum of June 2017, the Fed has been destroying money by shrinking its balance sheet. In the period from August 2017 to February 2018 there has been a shrinkage of US$105.2bn in commercial bank reserve balances: the high-powered money. Based on the PNP, a further US$20bn will have been destroyed in March 2018.

So with a commercial banking system creating no money, and a central bank destroying money, we are looking at one of the tightest monetary policies ever pursued by a central bank. To disagree with that statement is to believe that monetary policy is judged solely by the price of money, without reference to the quantity of money. Such was the belief that led to the Great Depression. At this stage the distress associated with this policy seems to be falling primarily upon non-US companies that have borrowed USD. This has huge consequences for investors.

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EU is winner takes all.

What Trump Gets Right About Europe’s Trade Problem (Pol.)

Donald Trump may prove to be the catalyst for change the eurozone has long been looking for. The protectionist U.S. president is forcing Europeans to face the unsettling problem of their massive current account surplus, which has been the best indicator of everything that’s wrong in the monetary union in the last five years. Forget Trump’s own economic analysis or lack thereof, and forget the attention-grabbing headlines on coming trade wars that may or may not happen. The U.S. president’s attacks on German exports — his Exhibit A that the Europeans aren’t playing a fair trade game — have helped throw a harsh light on the eurozone’s No. 1 problem.

Far from being a sign of economic well-being, the eurozone’s surplus — $380 billion last year or about 3% of the region’s GDP — reflects the monetary union’s deep structural flaws, worsened by the way it addressed its long crisis. [..] For a monetary union’s economy to be balanced, it has to take into account the differences between its respective nations’ different political, economic, and social systems. What happened instead when the euro crisis took everyone by surprise in 2009 was that each member country was told to become more like Germany. But for the system to work, if everyone must become like Germany, then Germany must also become a little bit less German. Surprise — this is not what happened. Countries in trouble were told to cut costs, boost competitiveness and implement austerity policies.

It worked: Imports fell and exports rose. Spain and Italy are now showing significant surpluses. In each of these countries, the balance has improved (from deficit to surplus) by roughly $100 billion since 2009 — the same as Germany’s accounts, which went from a $200 billion to $300 billion surplus. [..]According to European rules that are even less enforced than the more talked-about ones on fiscal deficits, a member country cannot run a surplus higher than 6% of its GDP. Germany’s surplus amounted to 8% of GDP last year, while the Netherlands’ was 8.5%. As long as the narrative of the eurozone crisis keeps making a surplus the moralistic sign of economic virtue, Europeans are unlikely to dare to take steps to tackle a problem that is now the world’s. Here’s hoping that the brutality of Trump’s attack on free trade will force them to spring into action.

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Something will have to happen. But nothing has so far, so why the loud voices?

“When You’re Already $500 Billion Down, You Can’t Lose!” (G.)

Fears that Donald Trump is embroiling America in a global trade war intensified on Wednesday after China imposed on the US and stock markets plunged. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped and then rallied after markets fell in Europe and Asia on worries of an intensifying trade conflict between the world’s two biggest economies – the latest example of Trump taking his appetite for disruption to the global stage. After Washington unveiled plans to impose tariffs on $50bn in Chinese imports Tuesday, China hit back with plans to tax a matching $50bn of US products, including beef, cars, planes, soybeans and whiskey.

The US president has worn stock market success as a badge of honour and proof that, despite myriad controversies, the economy is booming under his presidency. But there are concerns that his aggressive tariffs and “America first” instincts could undermine confidence and cause a slowdown. Trump claimed last month that “trade wars are good, and easy to win”. China is the biggest market for US soy. The American Soybean Association, a lobbying group representing 21,000 producers, warned that China’s proposed 25% tariff on soybeans would be “devastating” to American farmers. It estimated that farmers lost an estimated $1.72bn on Wednesday morning alone as soybean futures tumbled.

John Heisdorffer, an Iowa farmer and the president of the association, said: “That’s real money lost for farmers, and it is entirely preventable.” He called on the White House to scrap its proposed tariffs. The car makers Ford and General Motors also issued statements calling for continued dialogue to resolve the escalating trade tensions. On Wednesday, Trump moved to play down concerns over a damaging trade war. He protested on Twitter: “We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S. Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!” The president added: “When you’re already $500 Billion DOWN, you can’t lose!”

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Did anyone tell the soybeans?

Kudlow Says Trump’s China Tariffs Are Just Proposals Right Now (BBG)

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow stressed U.S. tariffs announced on Chinese goods are still only proposals that might never take effect as the Trump administration sought to tamp down fears of a trade war. “None of the tariffs have been put in place yet, these are all proposals,” Kudlow said in an interview Wednesday with Bloomberg News. “We’re putting it out for comment. There’s at least two months before any actions are taken.” Administration officials throughout the day emphasized the U.S. is willing to negotiate with China, helping to ease concerns among investors about a tit-for-tat trade conflict. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, after falling more than 2% at the market’s open, finished the day up almost 1%.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said China’s response isn’t expected to disrupt the U.S. economy. In an interview on CNBC on Wednesday, he said China’s announcement of retaliatory tariffs against the U.S. “shouldn’t surprise anyone.” He said the U.S. isn’t entering “World War III” and left the door open for a negotiated solution. “Even shooting wars end with negotiations,” Ross said. Earlier Wednesday, China said it would impose an additional 25% levy on about $50 billion of U.S. imports including soybeans, automobiles, chemicals and aircraft. The move matched the scale of proposed U.S. tariffs announced the previous day. The U.S. is allowing 60 days for public feedback and hasn’t specified when the tariffs would take effect, leaving a window open for talks. Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai said Wednesday his country is ready to negotiate.

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Keep that number growing. And when will the press acknowledge this is not about Cambridge Analytica?

Up To 87 Million Facebook Users’ Data Shared With Cambridge Analytica (Ind.)

Up to 87 million people may have had their Facebook data improperly passed to a third-party political firm – and most users’ public profile information could have been collected, the social media company has revealed. Initial accounts estimated the number of people affected at around 50m. But Facebook updated that number to say information from as many as 37m additional users could been shared with Cambridge Analytica. And it warned in a blog post that a now-discarded feature meant “most people on Facebook” could have had their public data scraped by “malicious actors”.

The revelations expanded the scope of a privacy scandal besieging the company just days ahead of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hotly anticipated appearance before Congress. It had already been revealed that researcher harvested information encompassing a vast number of Facebook users and then passed it on to Cambridge Analytica, a company that went on to work for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. The news has sent the company’s stock plunging and stoked a political outcry on both sides of the Atlantic. Facebook said it would inform users if their information had been funnelled to Cambridge Analytica. It said roughly 70 million of those users were in the United States.

And in seeking to reassure users that it was moving to safeguard their personal information, the company made an extraordinary disclosure: chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer said the majority of its users were vulnerable to abuse of a now-disabled feature allowing people to search for other users with phone numbers and email addresses. “Given the scale and sophistication of the activity we’ve seen, we believe most people on Facebook could have had their public profile scraped in this way”, Mr Schroepfer said in the blog post.

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Insane. Will he get some serious questions on Capitol Hill, or can he get away with this sort of thing?

Zuckerberg Says Most Facebook Users Will Only Get Privacy ‘In Spirit’ (Ind.)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that new data privacy laws will only apply “in spirit” to more than three quarters of the company’s users. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will force the social network to comply with strict rules about the privacy of its European users. But Mr Zuckerberg failed to commit to rolling out the protections globally. “We’re still nailing down details on this, but it should directionally be, in spirit, the whole thing,” Mr Zuckerberg said on Tuesday. With only 17 per cent of its 2.2 billion users residing within Europe, the vast majority of Facebook’s users will not benefit from the new rules.

Facebook has faced pressure in recent weeks to better protect its users’ data following revelations that the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica harvested personal information from more than 50 million Facebook accounts in the build up to the 2016 US elections. On Monday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer called for Mr Zuckerberg to resign from his role as chairman of Facebook, adding that data privacy issues represented “a risk to our democracy.” The new data protection law – set to come into effect on May 25 – will give people more control over how companies store and use their personal data.

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Are you kidding? They all are. Stop working there.

We Work For Google. Our Employer Shouldn’t Be In The Business Of War (G.)

Dear Sundar,

We believe that Google should not be in the business of war. Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology. Google is implementing Project Maven, a customized AI surveillance engine that uses “wide area motion imagery” data captured by US government drones to detect vehicles and other objects, track their motions and provide results to the Department of Defense. Recently, Googlers voiced concerns about Maven internally. Diane Greene responded, assuring them that the technology will not “operate or fly drones” and “will not be used to launch weapons”.

While this eliminates a narrow set of direct applications, the technology is being built for the military, and once it’s delivered it could easily be used to assist in these tasks. This plan will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent. Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public’s trust. By entering into this contract, Google will join the ranks of companies like Palantir, Raytheon and General Dynamics. The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn’t make this any less risky for Google. Google’s unique history, its motto “don’t be evil”, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart.

We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties. Google’s stated values make this clear: every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values. Building this technology to assist the US government in military surveillance – and potentially lethal outcomes – is not acceptable. Recognizing Google’s moral and ethical responsibility, and the threat to Google’s reputation, we request that you: 1. Cancel this project immediately. 2. Draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.

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Falciani was assisting the Spanish government, and now they sold him out to get to two Catalonia separatists.

World’s Most Wanted Bank Whistleblower Arrested for Worst Possible Reason (DQ)

Hervé Falciani, the French-Italian former HSBC employee who blew the whistle on HSBC and 130,000 global tax evaders in 2008, has been arrested in Madrid on Tuesday in response to an arrest warrant issued by Switzerland for breaking the country’s bank secrecy laws. He lives in France, which rarely extradites its own citizens. But when Spanish authorities learned that he was in town to speak at a conference ominously titled, “When Telling the Truth is Heroic,” they made their move. If he is extradited to Switzerland he could face up to five years in prison. Falciani worked as a computer technician for HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary. One day in 2008, he left the office with five computer disks containing what would eventually become one of the largest leaks of banking data in history.

According to Swiss authorities, Falciani stole and then attempted to sell a trove of confidential data. Falciani says he was a whistleblower who wanted to expose a “broken” banking system, “which encouraged tax evasion.” When much of the stolen data was leaked to the press in 2015, it revealed, among other sordid things, that HSBC’s Swiss subsidiary routinely allowed clients to withdraw “bricks of cash,” often in foreign currencies of little use in Switzerland. It also colluded with clients to conceal undeclared “black” accounts from their domestic tax authorities and provided services to international criminals, corrupt businessmen, shady dictators and murky arms dealers.

As Falciani would soon find out, snitching on one of the world’s biggest banks and 130,000 of its richest clients does not make you a popular person in a country famed for its banking secrecy. In 2014 he was indicted in absentia by the Swiss federal government for violating the country’s bank secrecy laws and for industrial espionage. A year later he was sentenced by Switzerland’s federal court to five years in prison – the “longest sentence ever demanded by the confederation’s public ministry in a case of banking data theft.”

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All these bubbles will burst.

Toronto’s Epic Housing Bubble Turns to Bust (WS)

After having ballooned for 18 years with barely a dip during the Financial Crisis, Toronto’s housing market, Canada’s largest, and among the most inflated in the world, is heading south with a vengeance, both in terms of sales volume and prices, particularly at the high end. Home sales in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) plunged 39.5% in March compared to a year ago, to 7,228 homes, according to the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), the local real estate lobbying group. This was spread across all types of homes, even the formerly red-hot condo sector: • Detached houses -46.3% • Semi-detached houses -30.6% • Townhouses -34.2% • Condos -32.7%.

While new listings of homes for sale fell 12.4% year-over-year, at 14,866, they’d surged 41% from the prior month, and added to the listings of homes already on the market. The total number of active listings – new listings plus the listings from prior months that hadn’t sold or been pulled without having sold – more than doubled year-over-year to 15,971 homes, and were up 20% from February. At the current sales rate, total listings pencil out to a supply of 2.1 months. The average days-on-the-market before the home is sold or the listing is pulled without having sold doubled year-over-year to 20 days. Both data points show that the market is cooling from its red-hot phase, that potential sellers aren’t panicking just yet, and that potential buyers are taking their time and getting more reluctant, or losing their appetite altogether, with the fear of missing out (FOMO) having evaporated.

Sales volume has been plunging for months while listings of homes for sale have also surged for months. Prices follow volume, and prices have been backing off, but in February they actually fell on a year-over-year basis, the first since the Financial Crisis, and in March, they fell more steeply. This is what the report called a “change in market conditions.” The average price for the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) plunged 14.3% year-over-year to C$784,588. In other words, the average buyer in March a year ago is now about C$130,000 in the hole.

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Better check this out if this is you.

Tax Trouble For -Certain- Bitcoin Traders (F.)

What do you do, come April 17, if you made a ton of money trading crypto last year and have since lost most of it? Panic, probably. A lot of last year’s winners are in deep porridge now. They owe tax on 2017 profits. They’re losing money now, so it’s not easy to come up with the cash to pay off the IRS. As for using today’s losses to offset last year’s gains, these tax naïfs are discovering, too late, that capital loss carryovers run forwards but not backwards. Suppose speculator Bob turned $200,000 into $1 million in last year’s feverish market, trading all the way—in and out of Bitcoin and Ethereum and Ripple and back in again. Now Bob has $800,000 in short-term capital gain to report on Schedule D. The state and federal tax bill is going to be upwards of $300,000.

The 2018 crash has shrunk Bob’s account value, let us suppose, to $300,000. If Bob sells out to pay the tax, he will have a $700,000 capital loss to claim. But he can claim the loss only against future capital gains, not past ones. Small consolation: Bob can use the $700,000 against up to $3,000 a year of ordinary income. If he throws in the towel on cryptocurrencies and goes back to his day job delivering pizzas, it will take him 234 years to catch even. Tyson Cross, an attorney in Reno, Nev. who has built up a specialty in crypto taxation, has been hearing many a sad tale recently. “Some alt coins are down to a tenth or less of their peak value,” he says. “The taxpayers are distraught. They don’t have any way to pay [the tax bill]. There’s only so much we can do.”

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There were no laws. Heroin was candy.

How Advertising Shaped the First Opioid Epidemic (Smithsonian)

When historians trace back the roots of today’s opioid epidemic, they often find themselves returning to the wave of addiction that swept the U.S. in the late 19th century. That was when physicians first got their hands on morphine: a truly effective treatment for pain, delivered first by tablet and then by the newly invented hypodermic syringe. With no criminal regulations on morphine, opium or heroin, many of these drugs became the “secret ingredient” in readily available, dubiously effective medicines. In the 19th century, after all, there was no Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the advertising claims of health products. In such a climate, a popular so-called “patent medicine” market flourished.

Manufacturers of these nostrums often made misleading claims and kept their full ingredients list and formulas proprietary, though we now know they often contained cocaine, opium, morphine, alcohol and other intoxicants or toxins. Products like heroin cough drops and cocaine-laced toothache medicine were sold openly and freely over the counter, using colorful advertisements that can be downright shocking to modern eyes. Take this 1885 print ad for Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for Teething Children, for instance, showing a mother and her two children looking suspiciously beatific. The morphine content may have helped. Yet while it’s easy to blame patent medicines and American negligence for the start of the first opioid epidemic, the real story is more complicated.

First, it would be a mistake to assume that Victorian era Americans were just hunky dory with giving infants morphine syrup. The problem was, they just didn’t know. It took the work of muckraking journalists such as Samuel Hopkins Adams, whose exposé series, “The Great American Fraud” appeared in Colliers from 1905 to 1906, to pull back the curtain. But more than that, widespread opiate use in Victorian America didn’t start with the patent medicines. It started with doctors.

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Apr 042018
 


Martin Luther King

 

US Home Prices Go Through The Roof, Defying Forecast Of Tax-Law Hit (MW)
US Plans Tariffs On $50bn In Chinese Imports To Protest Alleged Tech Theft (G.)
China Hits Soybeans, Aircraft in Counter-Punch to Trump Tariffs (BBG)
China’s Financial Opening Isn’t Quite What It Seems (BBG)
UK Experts Unable To Verify Precise Source Of Novichok (G.)
Russia Says Spy Poisoning ‘Grotesque Provocation’ By UK, US (AFP)
Chemical Watchdog To Meet Over Spy Nerve Agent Claims (AFP)
It’s The Trump Slump – But Don’t Blame The Donald! (Stockman)
Facebook CEO Stops Short Of Extending European Privacy Globally (R.)
Developing Nations To Study Ways To Dim Sunshine, Slow Warming (R.)
Bowhead Whales Are The Coolest Cats (AFP)

 

 

No bubble, 2018 version.

US Home Prices Go Through The Roof, Defying Forecast Of Tax-Law Hit (MW)

Home prices picked up steam in the first few months of the year, according to a report out Tuesday, defying expectations of a slowdown in price growth after years of scorching-hot gains and the industry-damaging effects of a tax bill that reduced preferential treatment for homeowners. The Home Price Index from real estate data provider CoreLogic showed national yearly price growth of 6.7% in February. That’s up from a 6.1% annual price gain in the prior three months, 6.0% annual price gain in the four months before that and 5.9% growth the month before that… you get the idea. Prices aren’t just rising, they’re accelerating. And that stirs uncomfortable questions about how long such gains can go on, what could happen when they end and what it all means for the housing market.

(It’s worth noting that CoreLogic’s findings are corroborated by price data from the National Association of Realtors, which found year-over-year price changes had increased every month since last October.) After so many years of robust home-price growth, CoreLogic considers nearly half of the 50 largest metropolitan areas “overvalued,” it said in a release. “Family income is rising more slowly than home prices and mortgage rates, meaning that the mortgage payment takes a bigger bite out of income for new homebuyers,” said Frank Martell, CoreLogic’s president and CEO. “Often buyers are lulled into thinking these high-priced markets will continue, but we find that overvalued markets will tend to have a slowdown in price growth.”

[..] Some housing analysts think that surging price gains that exceed what normal macro fundamentals call for suggest that the housing market is more dysfunctional than might be apparent. As one industry veteran told MarketWatch last December, everything from homeowners reluctant to sell because they think they’ll never find such a low mortgage rate again, to institutional investors who buy entry-level homes to rent out could be pressuring prices upward in ways that analysts can’t quantify — and that leave buyers frustrated.

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Intellectual property.

US Plans Tariffs On $50bn In Chinese Imports To Protest Alleged Tech Theft (G.)

The Trump administration has raised the stakes in a growing trade showdown with China by placing 25% tariffs on some 1,300 industrial technology, transport and medical products to try to force changes in Beijing’s intellectual property practices. The US announcement targets about $50bn of estimated 2018 imports and is aimed at hampering China’s efforts to upgrade its manufacturing base. The goods include electronics, aircraft parts, medicine and machinery. The move comes a day after Beijing imposed duties on about $3bn in US exports, itself prompted by Donald Trump’s decision to place tariffs on imports of Chinese steel and aluminium.

“The proposed list of products is based on extensive interagency economic analysis and would target products that benefit from China’s industrial plans while minimizing the impact on the US economy,” the office of the US trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, said in a statement. The list identifies roughly 1,300 goods but remains subject to a 30-day public review process before it can take effect. China’s ministry of commerce condemned the US decision. “Disregarding strong representations by China, the United States announced the tariff proposals that are completely unfounded, a typical unilateralist and protectionist practice that China strongly condemns and firmly opposes,” the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday, according to Xinhua.

“We have the confidence and ability to respond to any US trade protectionist measures,” a spokesperson said. “As the Chinese saying goes, it is only polite to reciprocate.” The ministry did not reveal any specific countermeasures, but economists widely view imports of US soybeans, aircraft and machinery as prime targets for trade retaliation.

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Intellectual property and soybeans. An odd couple.

China Hits Soybeans, Aircraft in Counter-Punch to Trump Tariffs (BBG)

China said it would levy an additional 25 percent tariff on imports of 106 U.S. products including soybeans, automobiles, chemicals and aircraft, in response to proposed American duties on its high-tech goods. Matching the scale of proposed U.S. tariffs announced the previous day, the Ministry of Commerce in Beijing said the charges will apply to around $50 billion of U.S. imports. Officials signaled that the implementation of the proposed measures will depend on when the U.S. applies its own after a period of public consultation.

The step ratchets up tension in a brewing trade war between the world’s two largest trading nations, with the Trump administration’s latest offensive based on alleged infringements of intellectual property in China. In targeting high-tech sectors that Beijing is openly trying to promote, the U.S. has provoked furious rhetoric from Beijing and stronger threats of retaliation than many had anticipated. “China’s response was tougher than what the market was expecting – investors didn’t foresee the country levying additional tariffs on sensitive and important products such as soybeans and airplanes,” said Gao Qi, Singapore-based strategist at Scotiabank. “Investors believe a trade war will hurt both countries and their economies eventually.”

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Too big to fail/bail.

China’s Financial Opening Isn’t Quite What It Seems (BBG)

Although trade tensions between the U.S. and China show no signs of abating, there are some reasons for cautious optimism. One is that the Americans have finally gotten around to giving the Chinese a concrete list of demands – and, on at least one score, China is prepared to deal. The Chinese financial market has long been closed to foreign ownership, despite widespread criticism from the U.S. and others. In November, following Donald Trump’s state visit to Beijing, China’s finance ministry announced that this was set to change in 2018, and now the Trump team is pushing China to make good on that promise. The catch, of course, is that the practical impact of this opening will be minimal – and for China, that’s the point.

It will accelerate its financial opening not because the Americans are demanding it, but because foreign financial firms no longer pose much of a threat. Chinese banks are now too big and too dominant domestically for foreign financial institutions to genuinely compete with them. Consider that the four largest banks in the world are all Chinese state-owned institutions. Together they have $11.9 trillion in assets. The world’s next five biggest banks roughly match up to China’s Big Four, accounting for $11.8 trillion, but they represent the largest institutions in four separate countries – Japan, the U.S., the U.K. and France. No single country has financial firepower on China’s scale.

Just taking America’s banking sector – where the concept of “too big to fail” originated – it would require the combined balance sheets of the top 10 lenders to equal the assets of just China’s top four. Within China, foreign firms own slightly more than 1 percent of total bank assets, compared to a full 36 percent owned by the five major state-owned institutions. Similarly, foreign banks account for less than 1 percent of annual earnings, or the equivalent of about 5 percent of the yearly profit made by just the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China. Starting from such a minuscule base, and up against such huge incumbents, foreign banks will always be relegated to the minor leagues in China, whether market restrictions are eased or not.

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The word ‘precise’ is meaningless here, and merely used to keep suspicion alive even as the story fails.

UK Experts Unable To Verify Precise Source Of Novichok (G.)

British scientists at the Porton Down defence research laboratory have not established that the nerve agent used to poison Sergei and Yulia Skripal was made in Russia, it has emerged. Gary Aitkenhead, the chief executive of the government’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), said the poison had been identified as a military-grade novichok nerve agent, which could probably be deployed only by a nation state. Aitkenhead said the government had reached its conclusion that Russia was responsible for the Salisbury attack by combining the laboratory’s scientific findings with information from other sources.

The UK government moved quickly to make it clear that the prime minister, Theresa May, had always been clear the assessment from Porton Down was “only one part of the intelligence picture”. The comments came hours before an extraordinary meeting in The Hague of the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), called by Russia. Speaking to Sky News, Aitkenhead said it was not possible for scientists alone to say precisely where the novichok had been created. He said: “It’s a military-grade nerve agent, which requires extremely sophisticated methods in order to create – something that’s probably only within the capabilities of a state actor.”

He denied Russian claims that the substance could have come from Porton Down, which is eight miles from Salisbury, saying: “There’s no way that anything like that would ever have come from us or leave the four walls of our facilities.” Aitkenhead said: “We were able to identify it as novichok, to identify it was a military-grade nerve agent. We have not verified the precise source, but we have provided the scientific information to the government, who have then used a number of other sources to piece together the conclusions that they have come to.”

[..] two weeks ago Boris Johnson was asked by an interviewer on Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public international broadcaster, how the UK had been able to find out the novichok originated from Russia so quickly. He replied: “When I look at the evidence, the people from Porton Down, the laboratory, they were absolutely categorical. I asked the guy myself, I said: ‘Are you sure?’ And he said: ‘There’s no doubt.’ So we have very little alternative but to take the action that we have taken.”

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The British should demand an explanation from May. Can Boris Johnson keep his job?

Russia Says Spy Poisoning ‘Grotesque Provocation’ By UK, US (AFP)

The head of Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency said Wednesday the poisoning of a Russian former double agent in Britain was a “grotesque provocation” by the British and US security services. “Even when it comes to the grotesque provocation with the Skripals that was crudely concocted by the British and American security services, a number of European countries are in no rush to unquestioningly follow London and Washington but prefer to look into what has happened in detail,” SVR chief Sergei Naryshkin said at a security conference. He also warned that Moscow and the West must avoid the risk of escalating their current standoff to the dangerous levels reached at the height of the Cold War.

“It’s important to stop the irresponsible game of raising stakes and to stop the use of force in relations between states, not to bring matters to a new Cuban Missile Crisis,” he said, referring to the 1962 standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Naryshkin said that for Washington, “fighting the non-existent so-called Russian threat has become a real fixation” comparable in scale to the Cold War era. “It has reached such proportions and developed such ludicrous characteristics, that it’s time to talk about the return of the grim times of the Cold War,” Naryshkin said.

[..] Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a visit to Ankara late Tuesday that Britain’s “theory will not be confirmed in any case because it is not possible to confirm it.” “The British foreign secretary who has made accusations against President Putin, (and) the British prime minister will have to somehow look their EU colleagues… in the eye,” Peskov said. “Somehow they will have to apologise to the Russian side,” Peskov added. “It will certainly be a long story, the idiocy has gone too far.”

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“The meeting comes after Moscow also received and analysed samples of the Novichok agent used in the attack.”

Chemical Watchdog To Meet Over Spy Nerve Agent Claims (AFP)

The world’s chemical watchdog is to meet behind closed doors Wednesday, after a British laboratory said it had not proved that Russia manufactured a deadly nerve agent used to poison a former Russian spy. The talks at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have been requested by Moscow which said it wanted to “address the situation around the allegations… in regards to the incident in Salisbury.” “We hope to discuss the whole matter and call on Britain to provide every possible element of evidence they might have in their hands,” Russia’s ambassador to Ireland, Yury Filatov, told reporters.

On Tuesday, the British military facility analysing the nerve agent used on former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, said it was not in a position to say where the substance had originated. Skripal, who has lived in Britain since a spy swap in 2010, and his daughter have been in hospital since the March 4 poisoning that London and its major Western allies have blamed on Russia. The 41 member states of the OPCW’s executive council are to convene at 10:00 am (0800 GMT) at the organisation’s headquarters in The Hague. The meeting comes after Moscow also received and analysed samples of the Novichok agent used in the attack. “Russia is interested in establishing the whole truth of the matter,” Filatov said.

But Britain’s foreign ministry accused Russia of requesting the meeting to undermine the OPCW’s investigation. “This Russian initiative is yet again another diversionary tactic, intended to undermine the work of the OPCW in reaching a conclusion,” the ministry said in a statement. “Of course, there is no requirement in the Chemical Weapons Convention for the victim of a chemical weapons attack to engage in a joint investigation with the likely perpetrator,” it said.

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“..a distinction without a difference..”

It’s The Trump Slump – But Don’t Blame The Donald! (Stockman)

[..] the Donald is definitely not guilty because he hasn’t been around nearly long enough to take the blame or the praise for anything related to the economy. The phony stock market boom has been gestating for three decades owing to central bank monetary madness; the up-leg since election day reflects nothing more than the final phase of an horribly metastasized financial bubble that has now reached its sell-by date. In fact, our clueless medicine show impresario has confused the last gasp of the robo-machines and dip-buyers for an endorsement of his cockamamie brew of protectionism, nationalism, populism and unhinged Keynesian borrow and spend.

So rather than puncturing the bubble he accurately identified during the campaign, he’ll soon be dripping with implosion splatter from comb-over to toe. Likewise, the market’s post-election rip has nothing to do with a putative Trump economic boom because there hasn’t been one. A 2.0% or lower real GDP growth rate is now virtually baked into the cake for Q1 based on the economic releases to date. That would amount to a $75 billion gain over the Q4 annualized level of real GDP. Accordingly, the first five quarters of the Trump Economy will have generated an average real GDP gain of $102 billion per quarter. Then again, during the previous three years (2014-2016) the quarterly growth rate was $99 billion per quarter.

We’d call that a distinction without a difference. Indeed, the notion that there has been some-kind of Trump fostered economic acceleration is, well, Fake News. In fact, what we have is a plodding business expansion that is freighted down by debt and financial engineering—both gifts of a rogue central bank that has been inflicting harm on the main street economy for decades.

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Your privacy is not up to him to decide. That is just crazy.

Facebook CEO Stops Short Of Extending European Privacy Globally (R.)

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said on Tuesday that he agreed “in spirit” with a strict new European Union law on data privacy but stopped short of committing to it as the standard for the social network across the world. As Facebook reels from a scandal over the mishandling of personal information belonging to millions of users, the company is facing demands to improve privacy and learn lessons from the landmark EU law scheduled to take effect next month. Zuckerberg told Reuters in a phone interview that Facebook was working on a version of the law that would work globally, bringing some European privacy guarantees worldwide, but the 33-year-old billionaire demurred when asked what parts of the law he would not extend worldwide.

“We’re still nailing down details on this, but it should directionally be, in spirit, the whole thing,” Zuckerberg said. He did not elaborate. His comments signal that U.S. Facebook users, many of them still angry over the company’s admission that political consultancy Cambridge Analytica got hold of Facebook data on 50 million members, could find themselves in a worse position than Europeans. The European law, called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), is the biggest overhaul of online privacy since the birth of the internet, giving Europeans the right to know what data is stored on them and the right to have it deleted. Apple and some other tech firms have said they do plan to give people in the United States and elsewhere the same protections and rights that Europeans will gain.

[..] When GDPR takes effect on May 25, people in EU countries will gain the right to transfer their data to other social networks, for example. Facebook and its competitors will also need to be much more specific about how they plan to use people’s data, and they will need to get explicit consent. GDPR is likely to hurt profit at Facebook because it could reduce the value of ads if the company cannot use personal information as freely and the added expense of hiring lawyers to ensure compliance with the new law. Data is central to Facebook’s advertising business, and it has not yet sketched out a satisfying plan for how it plans to comply, said Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser. “I haven’t heard any solutions from Facebook to get ahead of the problem yet,” Wieser said. Failure to comply with the law carries a maximum penalty of up to 4% of annual revenue.

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I would have understood this better if it had been published on April 1. Now I’m thinking: some idiot is actually going to do this.

Developing Nations To Study Ways To Dim Sunshine, Slow Warming (R.)

Scientists in developing nations plan to step up research into dimming sunshine to curb climate change, hoping to judge if a man-made chemical sunshade would be less risky than a harmful rise in global temperatures. Research into “solar geo-engineering”, which would mimic big volcanic eruptions that can cool the Earth by masking the sun with a veil of ash, is now dominated by rich nations and universities such as Harvard and Oxford. Twelve scholars, from countries including Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Ethiopia, India, Jamaica and Thailand, wrote in the journal Nature on Wednesday that the poor were most vulnerable to global warming and should be more involved.

“Developing countries must lead on solar geo-engineering research,” they wrote in a commentary. “The overall idea (of solar geo-engineering) is pretty crazy but it is gradually taking root in the world of research,” lead author Atiq Rahman, head of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, told Reuters by telephone. The solar geo-engineering studies would be helped by a new$400,000 fund from the Open Philanthropy Project, a foundation backed by Dustin Moskovitz, a co-founder of Facebook, and his wife, Cari Tuna, they wrote.

[..] Rahman said the academics were not taking sides about whether geo-engineering would work. Among proposed ideas, planes might spray clouds of reflective sulfur particles high in the Earth’s atmosphere. “The technique is controversial, and rightly so. It is too early to know what its effects would be: it could be very helpful or very harmful,” they wrote. A U.N. panel of climate experts, in a leaked draft of a report about global warming due for publication in October, is skeptical about solar geo-engineering, saying it may be “economically, socially and institutionally infeasible.”

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Article says “..hunted to the edge of extinction..”. Graph says healthy population. Source for both is AFP.

Bowhead Whales Are The Coolest Cats (AFP)

How do bowhead whales in the unbroken darkness of the Arctic’s polar winter keep busy during breeding season? They sing, of course. From late autumn to early spring, off the east coast of Greenland, some 200 bowheads, hunted to the edge of extinction, serenade each other with compositions from a vast repertoire of song, according to a study published on Wednesday. “It was astonishing,” said the lead author, Kate Stafford, an oceanographer at the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Seattle, who eavesdropped on these subaquatic concerts. “Bowhead whales were singing loudly, from November until April” – non-stop, 24/7 – “and they were singing many, many different songs.”

Stafford and three colleagues counted 184 distinct melodies over a three-year period, which may make bowheads one of the most prolific composers in the animal kingdom. “The diversity and inter-annual variability in songs of bowhead whales in this study are rivalled only by a few species of songbirds,” the study found. Unlike mating calls, songs are complex musical phrases that are not genetically hard-wired but must be learned. Only a handful of mammals – some bats and a family of apes called gibbons, for example – vocalise in ways akin to bird song, and when they do it is quite repetitive.

The only other whale that produces elaborate songs is the humpback, which has been extensively studied in its breeding grounds near Hawaii and off the coast of Mexico. The humpback’s melody is shared among a given population over a period of a year, and gives way to a new tune each spring. Bowhead whales, it turns out, are far more versatile and would appear to improvise new songs all the time. “If humpback whale song is like classical music, bowheads are jazz,” Stafford said in a statement. “The sound is more free-form.”

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Dec 122017
 
 December 12, 2017  Posted by at 3:03 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Gustave Courbet Seascape 1874

 

 

Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist was written exclusively for the Automatic Earth by Dr. D and first published as a five-part series there. The Full Story combines these five parts. Given the length and the amount of information, we suggest you might want to save or bookmark it. And you can of course always express your appreciation of the Automatic Earth through Paypal.

 

 

Dr. D: Bitcoin is all the rage today, and as it crosses over $10,000, a 10-bagger for the year, we should look at what it is, what it isn’t, and why it’s become so popular. Note my observations are those of a layman – which may be more useful than those of a programmer – but also those of a skeptic, which I’ll get to at the end.

First, what is Bitcoin? Well, the idea of digital money goes back to the first digits, financial mainframes. In fact, the “money” in use today throughout the financial system have long been no more than virtual 1’s and 0’s on a spinning hard drive somewhere, but the idea of Bitcoin-money, private-money, goes back further still. I mean, what is “money”? At its core, it’s no more than the most-tradable good in a given society, a trading chit we use as a measurement tool, a token recording how much value we created or are owed. Arguably the first money was not gold, not seashells or even barter, but a promise. Let me borrow your net and I’ll give you a couple fish from the work. Why? Because you might break the net or I might use it, so I need to get paid for my risk, reward for my effort in making and storing the net to begin with.

So money at its most austere is simply a promise. But a promise to whom for what? And that’s the problem. No matter what good you use, people place differing values on it, different time-preferences, and most especially ways to cheat, game the system, and renege. This is bad among businesses, banks – who are after all only men – especially bad among governments, but worst of all among government and banks combined. Because, should the banks lie, renege, default, abuse their privilege, who then would hold them to task?

In the past, over and over, groups have created their own “money”. The whole 19th century was marked by general stores extending credit, bank notes issued by thousands of private banks, each with their own strength and solvency and geography and discounted accordingly. In the 20th century, with central banks controlling money, many cities issued local “scrip” – promises to pay – in Detroit in the Depression, or California in the budget crunch of 2009, or “Ithaca Dollars” in NY as a sort of ongoing Ivy League experiment. But the problem with these only highlight the problems with money generally:who can issue them? Everyone? A central authority? Can they deliver goods? And what can they buy, not just in value but in location?

Ithaca Dollars or California Tax Vouchers are not much good to buy oil from Texas or tea from China. People will always prefer a good that is accepted everywhere, with no decay and no discount, because ultimately the money flows away, offshore or to central taxation, which makes local currencies ever-less valuable. But even if successful it leads to a new set of problems: if Detroit or Ithaca Dollars were in high demand, there would be ever-stronger incentive to counterfeit, cheat, and double-spend them. Thus from the Renaissance to now we used reputable banks backed by force of governments, through the Gold standard and the Fiat age until today.

Enter the hackers.

It’s not that these problems are unknown, or haven’t been approached or attempted before. Every generation, when they find the banks + government take a percentage for their costs to insure the system, thinks how can we do away with these guys, who both take too much and end up in an unapproachable seat of power? I mean, aren’t we supposed to be a Democracy? How can we have a fair society if the Iron Bank is both backing all governments at once, on both sides of a war? What good is it to work if compounding interest invariably leads to their winning Boardwalk and Park Place 100% of the time? But despite several digital attempts – some immediately shut down by government – no one had a solution until Satoshi Nakamoto.

We don’t know who Satoshi Nakamoto is, but since several of the well-meaning developers were immediately jailed for even attempting private money on reasons arguably groundless, we can suppose he had good incentive to remain anonymous. And speculation aside, it doesn’t matter: Satoshi’s addition was not “Bitcoin” per se, but simply an idea that made private currency possible. The domain Bitcoin.org was registered in 2008, showing intent, and the open-source code was promoted to a small cryptography group in January 2009. But what was it? What did it solve?

Double-spending. Basically, the problem of money comes down to trust. Trust between individuals, between the system, but also partly trust in non-interference of governments or other powerful groups. Bitcoin is a trust machine.

How does it work? Well, the basic problem of cheating was one of not creating fake, hidden registers of value, as the U.S. Government, J.P. Morgan, and the Comex do every day. If they asked Yellen to type some extra zeros on the U.S. ledger, print a few pallets of $100 bills to send to Ukraine, who would know? Who could stop them? So with Bitcoin, the “value”, the register is created by essentially solving a math problem, akin to discovering prime numbers. Why do something so pointless? Simple: math doesn’t lie. Unlike U.S. Dollars, there are only so many prime numbers. We can be certain you won’t reach 11-digits and discover an unexpected trove of a thousand primes in the row. Can’t happen. However useless, Math is certainty. In this case, math is also limited. It’s also known and provable, unlike the U.S. budget or Federal Reserve accounting.

The second problem of cheating was someone simply claiming chits they did not own. This was solved by having the participants talk back and forth with each other, creating a public record or ledger. In fact, Bitcoin is nothing more than a very, very long accounting ledger of where every coin came from, and how every coin has moved since then, something computers do very well. These accounting lines register amongst all participants using a process of confirmed consensus.

Double-spending is when someone writes a check either against money they don’t have (yet) and round-robin in the money for the one second of clearing, or else write a check against money they DO have, but then cancel the check before it clears, walking away with the goods. In a standard commerce, the bank backfills fraud and loss and the government arrests, tries, and imprisons people, but it’s no small cost to do so. Although there is still a small possibility of double-spending, Satoshi’s plan effectively closed the issue: the ledger is either written, or unwritten. There is no time in the middle to exploit.

 

Great for him, but if I buy coins by Satoshi and the original cryptogroup, won’t I just be transferring all my value to make them rich? Although Bitcoin supply may be limited by mathematics, this is the issuer problem. It is solved because as a free, open source code, everyone has an equal opportunity to solve the next calculation. Bitcoin starts with the original 50 coins mined in 2009, so yes, early adopters get more: but they took more risk and trouble back when it was a novelty valuable only as proof-of-concept. The original cash transaction was between hackers to buy two pizzas for 10,000 BTC ($98M today). Why shouldn’t they get preference? At the same time, we are not buying all 20 Million eventual coins from Satoshi and his close friends, which is arguably the case with the Federal Reserve and other central banks. Bitcoin is bought and created from equal participants who have been actively mining as the coins appear, that is, from doing electronic work.

This leads to the next challenge: why would anyone bother keeping their computers on to process this increasingly long accounting ledger? Electricity isn’t free. The process of “mining” is the recording of Bitcoin transactions. The discovery of coins therefore effectively pays for the time and trouble of participating in a public accounting experiment. Even should that stop, the act of using Bitcoin itself cannot be accomplished without turning on a node and adding lines to process the ledger. So we can reasonably expect that people will keep Bitcoin software “on” to help us all get Bitcoin work done. That’s why it’s a group project: public domain shareware.

What if they shut it down? What if it’s hacked? This leads to the next problem: resiliency. You have to go back a step and understand what Bitcoin is: a ledger. Anyone can store one, and in fact participants MUST store one. If Bitcoin were “shut off” as it were, it would be stored with each and every miner until they turned their computers back on. If it’s “off” there’s no problem, because no one transferred any Bitcoin. If it’s “on” then people somewhere are recording transactions. Think of it like a bowling group keeping a yearly prize of the ugliest shirt. Is there an actual shirt? No, the shirt is not the prize. Is there a gold trophy? No, “prize” is simply the knowledge of who won it. There is no “there”, no physical object at all. Strangely, that’s why it works.

 

This is important for the next problem: intervention. Many private monies have been attempted, notably e-gold within Bitcoin’s own origin. But the problem was, if there was anything real, like a gold bar, it could be encumbered, confiscated, and stolen. You’d have to trust the vault, the owner, the auditor and we’re back in the old system. At the same time, if Satoshi were keeping the Bitcoin record and had any human power over it at all, government could imprison him, pass a law, create a cease-and-desist, or demand he tamper with the record, which they did with e-gold. But Satoshi does not have that power, and no one else does either.

Why? Precisely because Bitcoin DOESN’T exist. It’s not a real thing. Or rather, the only “real” thing is the ledger itself which is already public to everyone everywhere. You can’t demand the secret keys to Bitcoin privacy because it’s already completely, entirely public. What would a government demand? Suppose they ordered a miner to alter the record: the other miners would instantly reject it and it would fail. Suppose they confiscated the ledger: they now own what everyone already has. Suppose they unplugged it: they would have to unplug the entire internet, and everything else on it, or every Bitcoin node, one-by-one, worldwide. If any nodes were ever turned on, all Bitcoin would exist again.

Can they track them down? Not really. In theory, Bitcoin can be written on paper without an Internet. In practice, any public or private keys certainly can be. So even chasing down the Internet it would be very difficult to stop it given sufficient motivation, like the Venezuelan hyperinflation where they are chasing down miners, wallets, and participants, and failing despite overwhelming force.

What about privacy? A completely public ledger recording every person and every transaction seems like a police state’s dream of enforcement and taxation. Is it private? Yes and no. The Bitcoin ledger is not written like “Senator Smith spent .0001 BTC on August 21st, 2015 to buy a sex toy from Guangzhou,” but Wallet #Hash2# transferred .00017 BTC to wallet #Hash3# at UTC 13:43:12 21:11:2017 – or not even that: it’s encrypted. Who is #Hash2#? You can go back, but it will only say #Hash2# exists and was created on Time:Date. Who is #Hash3#? The ledger only says #Hash3# was created a minute ago to receive the transaction. In fact, #Hash2# may have been created solely to mask the coin transferred from #Hash1#. So is it anonymous? Not exactly. Given enough nodes, enough access to the world’s routers, enough encryption, you might see #Hash2# was created in Pawtucket, and if #Hash2# is not using active countermeasures, perhaps begin to bring a cloudy metadata of #Hash2# possible transactions into focus, tying it to Amazon, then a home address, but the time and resources required to break through would be astronomical.

What about theft? Yes, like anything else it can be stolen. If you break into my house and tie me up, you can probably get the keys. This is also true online as you must log on, type a password that can be logged on a screen that can be logged over a network that can be logged, but think again about what you’re doing: does it make sense to break into every participant’s computer one by one? Most Bitcoin is held by a few early adopters, and probably those wallets were lost when their hard drives crashed, the users lost their passwords, or died before this computer experiment had any value. We know for a fact that all of Satoshi’s original coins, 2.2 million of them, have NEVER been spent, never moved on the ledger, suggesting either death or the austerity of a saint.

So even today hacking a wallet, is far more likely to net $1.00 than $1M. Take a page from Willie Sutton: when asked why he robbed banks, he said, “that’s where the money is.” So today. Where is the real money stolen, transferred? From the ’08 bailout, the kiting of fake bonds in the market, the MF Globals, the rigging of LIBOR or the fake purchase of EU bonds. You know, where the money is. At $160B market cap, Bitcoin is still one week’s purchase of central bank bond buying, i.e. a rounding error, no money at all. Hack a home wallet? I guess, but hacking Uber or Equifax once is a lot easier than hacking 100,000 wallets on 100,000 different computers. At least you know you’ll get something.

But MT Gox was hacked and 650,000 coins went missing. Surely Coinbase, Gemini, Poloniex are the same. Well…not exactly.

 

 


Gustave Courbet The wave 1870

 

 

Dr. D: You have to understand what exchanges are and are not. An exchange is a central point where owners post collateral and thereby join and trade on the exchange. The exchange backs the trades with their solvency and reputation, but it’s not a barter system, and it’s not free: the exchange has to make money too. Look at the Comex, which reaches back to the early history of commodities exchange which was founded to match buyers of say, wheat, like General Mills, with producers, the farmers. But why not just have the farmer drive to the local silo and sell there? Two reasons: one, unlike manufacturing, harvests are lumpy. To have everyone buy or sell at one time of the year would cripple the demand for money in that season. This may be why market crashes happen historically at harvest when the demand for money (i.e. Deflation) was highest. Secondly, however, suppose the weather turned bad: all farmers would be ruined simultaneously.

Suppose the weather then recovered: the previous low prices are erased and any who delayed selling would be rich. This sort of random, uncontrolled, uninsurable event is no way to run an economy, so they added a small group of speculators into the middle. You could sell wheat today for delivery in June, and the buyer would lock in a price. This had the effect of moderating prices, insuring both buyers AND sellers, at the small cost of paying the traders and speculators for their time, basically providing insurance. But the exchange is neither buyer, seller, nor speculator. They only keep the doors open to trade and vet the participants. What’s not immediately apparent is these Contracts of Wheat are only wheat promises, not wheat itself. Although amounts vary, almost all commodities trade contracts in excess of what is actually delivered, and what may exist on earth. I mean the wheat they’re selling, millions of tons, haven’t even been planted yet. So they are synthetic wheat, fantasy wheat that the exchange is selling.

A Bitcoin exchange is the same thing. You post your Bitcoin to the exchange, and trade it within the exchange with other customers like you. But none of the Bitcoin you trade on the exchange is yours, just like none of the wheat traded is actual wheat moving on trucks between silos. They are Bitcoin vouchers, Bitcoin PROMISES, not actual Bitcoin. So? So although prices are being set on the exchanges – slightly different prices in each one – none of the transfers are recorded on the actual Bitcoin Ledger. So how do you think exchanges stay open? Like Brokers and Banks, they take in the Bitcoin at say 100 units, but claim within themselves to have 104.

 

Why? Like any other fractional reserve system, they know that at any given moment 104 users will not demand delivery. This is their “float” and their profit, which they need to have, and this works well as far as it goes. However, it leads to the problem at Mt. Gox, and indeed Bear Sterns, Lehman and DeutscheBank: a sudden lack of confidence will always lead to a collapse, leaving a number of claims unfulfilled. That’s the bank run you know so well from Mary Poppins’ “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank”. It is suspected to be particularly bad in the case of Mt. Gox, which was unregulated. How unregulated? Well, not only were there zero laws concerning Bitcoin, but MTGOX actually stands for “Magic The Gathering Online eXchange”; that is, they were traders of comic books and Pokemon cards, not a brokerage. Prepare accordingly.

The important thing here is that an exchange is not Bitcoin. On an exchange, you own a claim on Bitcoin, through the legal entity of the exchange, subject only to jurisdiction and bankruptcy law. You do not own Bitcoin. But maybe Mt.Gox didn’t inflate their holdings but was indeed hacked? Yes, as an exchange, they can be hacked. Now you only need infiltrate one central point to gain access to millions of coins and although their security is far better, it’s now worth a hacker’s time. Arguably, most coins are held on an exchange, which is one reason for the incredibly skewed numbers regarding Bitcoin concentration. Just remember, if you don’t hold it, you don’t own it. In a hack, your coins are gone.

If the exchange is lying or gets in trouble, your coins are gone. If someone is embezzling, your coins are gone. If the Government stops the exchange, your coins are gone. If the economy cracks, the exchange will be cash-strapped and your coins are frozen and/or gone. None of these are true if YOU own your coins in a true peer-to-peer manner, but few do. But this is also true of paper dollars, gold bars, safe deposit boxes, and everything else of value. This accounts for some of the variety of opinions on the safety of Bitcoin. So if Polinex or Coinbase gets “hacked” it doesn’t mean “Bitcoin” was hacked any more than if the Comex or MF Global fails, that corn or Yen were “hacked”. The exchange is not Bitcoin: it’s the exchange. There are exchange risks and Bitcoin risks. Being a ledger Bitcoin is wide open and public. How would you hack it? You already have it. And so does everybody else.

So we’ve covered the main aspects of Bitcoin and why it is eligible to be money. Classically, money has these things:

1. Durable- the medium of exchange must not weather, rot, fall apart, or become unusable.

2. Portable- relative to its size, it must be easily movable and hold a large amount of value.

3. Divisible- it should be relatively easy to divide with all parts identical.

4. Intrinsically Valuable- should be valuable in itself and its value should be independent of any other object. Essentially, the item must be rare.

5. Money is a “Unit of Account”, that is, people measure other things, time and value, using the units of value to THINK about the world, and thus is an part of psychology. Strangely that makes this both the weakest and strongest aspect of:

6. “The Network Effect”. Its social and monetary inertia. That is, it’s money to you because you believe other people will accept it in exchange.

The Score:

1. Bitcoin is durable and anti-fragile. As long as there is an Internet – or even without one – it can continue to exist without decay, written on a clay tablet with a stylus.

2. Bitcoin is more portable than anything on earth. A single number — which can be memorized – can transport $160B across a border with only your mind, or across the world on the Internet. Its portability is not subject to any inspection or confiscation, unlike silver, gold, or diamonds.

3. Bitcoin is not infinitely divisible, but neither is gold or silver, which have a discrete number of atoms. At the moment the smallest Bitcoin denomination or “Satoshi” is 0.00000001 Bitcoin or about a millionth of a penny. That’s pretty small, but with a software change it can become smaller. In that way, Bitcoin, subject only to math is MORE divisible than silver or gold, and far easier. As numbers all Bitcoin are exactly the same.

4. Bitcoin has intrinsic value. Actually, the problem is NOTHING has “intrinsic” value. Things have value only because they are useful to yourself personally or because someone else wants them. Water is valuable on a desert island and gold is worthless. In fact, gold has few uses and is fundamentally a rock we dig up from one hole to bury in another, yet we say it has “intrinsic” value – which is good as Number 4 said it had to be unrelated to any other object, i.e. useless. Bitcoin and Gold are certainly useless. Like gold, Bitcoin may not have “Intrinsic value” but it DOES have intrinsic cost, that is, the cost in time and energy it took to mine it. Like gold, Bitcoin has a cost to mine measurable in BTU’s. As nothing has value outside of human action, you can’t say the electric cost in dollars is a price-floor, but suggests a floor, and that would be equally true of gold, silver, copper, etc. In fact, Bitcoin is more rare than Rhodium: we mine rare metals at 2%/year while the number of Bitcoins stops at 22 Million. Strangely, due to math, computer digits are made harder to get and have than real things.

5. Bitcoin is a unit of account. As a psychological effect, it’s difficult to quantify. Which comes first, the use of a thing, or its pricing? Neither, they grow together as one replaces another, side-by-side. This happened when gold replaced iron or salt or when bank notes replaced physical gold, or even when the U.S. moved from Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents. At first it was adopted by a few, but managed to get a critical mass, accepted, and eventually adopted by the population and entirely forgotten. At the moment Bitcoin enthusiasts do in fact mentally price things in Bitcoins, especially on exchanges where cross-crypto prices are marked vs BTC. Some never use their home currency at all, living entirely according to crypto-prices until home conversion at the moment of sale, or as hundreds or thousands of businesses are now accepting cryptocurrencies, even beyond. For them it is a unit of account the way Fahrenheit is a unit within the United States.

6. Bitcoin has the network effect. That is, it is widely accepted and publicly considered money. It’s in the news, has a wide following worldwide, and exchanges are signing up 40,000 new users a month. It’s accepted by thousands of vendors and can be used for purchases at Microsoft, Tesla, PayPal, Overstock, or with some work, Amazon. It’s translatable through point-of-sale vendor Square, and from many debit card providers such as Shift. At this point it is already very close to being money, i.e. a commonly accepted good. Note that without special arrangements none of these vendors will accept silver coins, nor price products in them. I expect if Mark Dice offered a candy bar, a silver bar, or a Bitcoin barcode, more people would pick the Bitcoin. In that way Bitcoin is more money than gold and silver are. You could say the same thing about Canadian Dollars or Thai Bhat: they’re respected currencies, but not accepted by everyone, everywhere. For that matter, neither are U.S. dollars.

 

Note what is not on the list: money is not a unit created or regulated by a central authority, although governments would like us to think so. In fact, no central authority is necessary or even desirable. For centuries the lack of monetary authority was historic fact, back with medieval markets through to private banks, until 1913, 1933, 1971, and the modern evolution into today’s near-total digital fiat. Besides the technical challenge, eliminating their overhead, oversight, control and corruption is the point of Bitcoin. And right now the government’s response to Bitcoin is a strange mixture of antipathy, ignorance, oppression, and opportunity. At $160 Billion it hardly merits the interest of a nation with a $500 Billion trade deficit, and that’s spread worldwide.

This leads into one of the spurious claims on Bitcoin: that it’s a refuge for drug smugglers and illegal activities. I assure you mathematically, that is not true. According to the U.N. the world drug trade is $435B, 4 times the total, and strictly theoretical value of Bitcoin, coins locked, lost, and all. Besides if you owned $160B coins, who would you transfer them to? You’re the only user. $435B/year can only be trafficked by major banks like as HSBC, who have paid public fines because money flows that large can’t be hidden. This is so well-known the U.N. suggested the drug-money flows may be one reason global banks were solvent in ‘08. Even $160B misrepresents Bitcoin because it had a 10-fold increase this year alone. So imagine $16B total market cap. That’s half the size of the yearly budget of Los Angeles, one city. Even that overstates it, because through most of its life it’s been around $250, so imagine a $4B market cap, the budget of West Virginia.

So you’re a drug dealer in illicit trades and you sell to your customers because all your buyers have Bitcoin accounts? Your pushers have street terminals? This doesn’t make sense. And remember as much as the price of Bitcoin has risen 40-fold, the number of participants has too. Even now, even with Coinbase, even with Dell and Overstock, even with BTC $10,000 almost no one has Bitcoin, even in N.Y.C. or S.F.. So who are these supposed illegal people with illegal activities that couldn’t fit any significant value?

That’s not to say illegal activities don’t happen, but it’s the other half of the spurious argument to say people don’t do illegal acts using cash, personal influence, offshore havens, international banks like Wells Fargo, or lately, Amazon Gift Cards and Tide Detergent. As long as there is crime, mediums of value will be used to pay for it. But comparing Bitcoin with a $16B market cap to the existing banking system which the U.N. openly declares is being supported by the transfer of illicit drug funds is insanity.

Let’s look at it another way: would you rather: a) transfer drugs using cash or secret bank records that can be erased or altered later or b) an public worldwide record of every transaction, where if one DEA bust could get your codes, they could be tracked backwards some distance through the buy chain? I thought so. Bitcoin is the LEAST best choice for illegal activities, and at the personal level where we’re being accused, it’s even worse than cash.

We showed that Bitcoin can be money, but we already have a monetary and financial system. What you’re talking about is building another system next to the existing one, and doubling the costs and confusions. That’s great as a mental exercise but why would anyone do that?

In a word: 2008.

It’s probably not an accident Bitcoin arrived immediately after the Global Financial Crisis. The technology to make it possible existed even on IRC chat boards, but human attention wasn’t focused on solving a new problem using computer software until the GFC captured the public imagination, and hackers started to say, “This stinks. This system is garbage. How do we fix this?” And with no loyalty to the past, but strictly on a present basis, built the best mousetrap. How do we know it’s a better mousetrap? Easy. If it isn’t noticeably better than the existing system, no one will bother and it will remain an interesting novelty stored in some basements, like Confederate Dollars and Chuck-e-Cheez tokens. To have any chance of succeeding, it has to work better, good enough to overcome the last most critical aspect money has: Inertia.

So given that Bitcoin is unfamiliar, less accepted, harder to use, costs real money to keep online, why does it keep gaining traction, and rising in price with increasing speed? No one would build a Bitcoin. Ever. No one would ever use a Bitcoin. Ever. It’s too much work and too much nuisance. Like any product, they would only use Bitcoin because it solves expensive problems confronting us each day. The only chance Bitcoin would have is if our present system failed us, and fails more every day. They, our present system-keepers, are the ones who are giving Bitcoin exponentially more value. They are the ones who could stop Bitcoin and shut it down by fixing the present, easy, familiar system. But they won’t.

 

Where has our present system gone wrong? The criticisms of the existing monetary system are short but glaring. First, everyone is disturbed by the constant increase in quantity. And this is more than an offhand accusation. In 2007 the Fed had $750B in assets. In 2017 they have $4.7 Trillion, a 7-fold increase. Where did that money come from? Nowhere. They printed it up, digitally.

 

 

The TARP audit ultimately showed $23 trillion created. Nor was the distribution the same. Who received the money the Fed printed? Bondholders, Large Corporations, Hedge Funds and the like. Pa’s Diner? Not so much. So unlike Bitcoin, there not only was a sudden, secret, unapproved, unexpected, unaccountable increase in quantity, but little to no chance for the population to also “mine” some of these new “coins”. Which leads to this:

 

 

Near-perfect income disparity, with near-perfect distribution of new “coins” to those with access to the “development team”, and zero or even negative returns for those without inside access. Does this seem like a winning model you could sell to the public? Nor is this unique to the U.S.; Japan had long ago put such methods to use, and by 2017 the Bank of Japan owns a mind-bending 75% of Japanese ETFs:

 

 

So this unelected, unaccountable bank, which creates its coin from nothing without limit or restraint, now owns 75% of the actual hard labor, assets, indeed, the entire wealth HISTORY of Japan? It took from the Edo Period in 1603 through Japan-takes-the-world 1980s until 2017 to create the wealth of Japan, and Kuroda only 6 years to buy it all? What madness is this?

Nor is Europe better. Mario Draghi has now printed so much money, he has run out of bonds to buy. This is in a Eurozone with a debt measuring Trillions, with $10 Trillion of that yielding negative rates. That’s a direct transfer from all savers to all debtors, and still the economy is sinking fast. Aside from how via these bonds, the ECB came to own all the houses, businesses, and governments of Europe in a few short years, does this sound like a business model you want to participate in?

So the volume of issuance is bad, and unfairness of who the coins are issued to is as bad as humanly possible, giving incredible advantages to issuers to transfer all wealth to themselves, either new or existing.

But if the currency is functional day-to-day, surely the issuance can be overlooked. Is it? Inflation is devilishly hard to measure, but here’s a chart of commodities:

 

 

CPI:

 

 

The US Dollar:

 

 

or vs Gold (/silver):

 

 

Does that look stable to you? And not that Bitcoin is stable, but at least Bitcoin goes UP at the same rate these charts are going DOWN. One store coupon declines in value at 4% a year, or may even start negative, while the other gives steady gains to loyal customers. Which business model would you prefer?

But that’s not all.

 

 


Gustave Courbet The wave 1870

 

 

Dr. D: The money, the unaccountable, uninhibited release of tokens can do more than just buy centuries of hard labor in seconds, it‘s also a method of control. Banks, our present issuers of money, can approve or destroy businesses by denying loans. They can do this to individuals, like denying loans to unpopular figures, or to whole sectors, like gun shops. They can also offer money for free to Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, which have no profitable business model or any hope of getting one, and deny loans to power plants, railroads, farms, and bridges as they fall into the Mississippi.

The result is banks and their attending insiders are a de facto Committee of Central Planners in the great Soviet style. What is fashionable and exciting to them can happen, and what they dislike or disapprove of for any reason can never happen. And once on a completely fiat system, this is how capital is allocated through our entire system: badly. What’s worse has been a 20-year turn toward Disaster Capitalism, whereby loans are extended to a business, sector, person, or nation, and then suddenly cut off, leading to the rapid foreclosure and confiscation of companies, assets, or continents by the “Development Team.”

Imagine a Bitcoin where Satoshi could erase your coins in your wallet for giving him a bad haircut. Or because he likes your wife. Nor is there any help for independent nations like Iran, or even nuclear powers like Russia. Both have been cut off, their funds suspended at a whim with no recourse. Even being a fellow insider is no insurance, as the NY banks cut off Lehman from funds they were owed, driving it into bankruptcy to buy the pieces in receivership. Unpopular Billionaires are treated likewise. This is a system with no justice, no order, no rules, and no predictability. Anyone within it is at grave and total risk. And yet before Bitcoin it was the only system we had, short of returning to the 19th century, it was the only way for modern commerce to deliver food, water, power, or function at all.

This is seen in its abuses, but also by its effects. The present system not only controls whether you are a winner or loser, whether you may go or stay, whether you may live or die, but also tracks every purchase, every location, in effect, every action throughout your entire life. These records will describe what books you read, what movies you watch, what associates you have, in real time Already these daily actions are being approved or denied. Take out a variable-rate jumbo loan? We’ll give you 110% of the value, paying you to be irresponsible (we’ll foreclose later). Want to buy gas when driving through Cheyenne 3:30 at night? Sorry, we disabled your card as a suspicious transaction. Sorry about you dying there of crime or of cold; we didn’t know and didn’t care. All your base are belong to us.

 

You say you don’t care if JP Morgan has your pay stubs to disturbing porn sites and Uber purchases to see your mistress? Well the future Mayor of Atlanta will, and he hasn’t graduated college yet. With those records it’s child’s play to blackmail policemen, reporters, judges, senators, or generals, even Presidents. And all those future Presidents are making those purchases right now, the ones that can be spun into political hay, real or unreal. So if you don’t worry what everyone knows about you, that’s fine, but imagine reading the open bank records, the life histories of every political opponent from now until doomsday. Then Don’t. Do. It. The people who have those records – not you – then have not just all the assets, not just all the money, but all the power and influence. Forever.

Are you signing up for that? Bitcoin doesn’t. Bitcoin doesn’t care who you are and with some care can make it very difficult to track you. And without tracking you, it makes it impossible to boycott you. And without a central repository, it’s impossible to march in with tanks and make them give you the records, turn money on or off, to make other people live or die and bend to your will by violence.

No one will care about that, because no one cares about it now unless, like Russia or China, it’s directed at them personally and then it’s too late. The real adoption of Bitcoin is far more mundane.

The long-term interest rate is 5%. Historically banks would lend at 8%, pay at 4%, and be on the golf course by 5. No one thought much about it because like a public utility, banking was a slow, boring affair of letting business do business. You know, farming, mining, manufacturing, all that stuff we no longer do. For decades, centuries even, banking was 5%-15% of a nation’s GDP, facilitating borrowers and lenders and timescales, paying for themselves with the business efficiencies they engender.

 

 

 

 

All that changed after WWII. Banks rose in proportion to the rest of the economy, passing the average, then the previous high, then when that level reached “Irrational Exuberance”, Greenspan started the printing presses, free money was created, and Senators and Presidents whose bank records were visible suddenly repealed Glass-Steagall. An economy stretched to breaking with free, centrally-allocated and misallocated money crashed and shrank, yet the banks– now known as the FIRE stocks: Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate – kept growing. How can banks and finance keep growing with a shrinking economy? By selling their only product: debt.

How do you sell it? Reduce the qualifications past zero to NINJA-levels, and use your free money to FORCE people to take it via government deficits and subsidized loans. No normal economy could do this. No normal business model could do this. Only a business now based on nothing, issuing nothing, with no restraint and no oversight. And the FIRE sector kept growing, through 15%, 20%, 25% until today most of U.S. GDP is either Finance selling the same instruments back and forth by borrowing new money or GDP created by governments borrowing and spending.

Remember when we started, banks paid 4% and charged at 8%. Now they openly take savings with negative interest rates, and charge at 30% or higher on a credit card balance averaging $16,000. And still claim they need bailouts comprising trillions a year because they don’t make money. The sector that once facilitated trade by absorbing 5% of GDP is now 5x larger. There’s a word for a body whose one organ has grown 5x larger: Cancer. Unstopped, it kills the host.

 

What does this have to do with Bitcoin? Simple. They’re charging too much. They’re making too much both personally and as a group. They’re overpriced. And anything that’s overpriced is ripe for competition. And the higher the markup, the more incentive, the more pressure, the more profit there is to join the upstart. Bitcoin can economize banking because what does banking do? It saves money safely, which Bitcoin can do. It transfers money on demand, which Bitcoin can do. It pays you interest, which mining or appreciation can do.

It also can lend, register stocks and ownership, rate credit risks, and allocate capital which other non-Bitcoin Tokens can do. In short, it can replace the 25% overpricing of the financial sector. If it could reduce the overhead of outsized profit, the misuse of expensive brainpower, of Wall Street and London office space, and reduce financial costs to merely 10% GDP, it could free up 20% of GDP for productive purposes. Why did you think Detroit and Baltimore fell in on themselves while N.Y. and D.C. boomed? That’s the 30% they took, $4B a year, from every other state, every year for 40 years.

That money and that brainpower could be much better allocated elsewhere, but so long as the Finance sector can print free money and buy free influence, they will never stop on their own. Only an upstart to their monopoly can cure the cancer and bring them back to a healthy size and purpose. Bitcoin can do this only because they charge too much and do too little. Of course, they could go back to paying 4% and charging 8% with a CEO:employee pay ratio of 20:1 but history says it will never happen. Only a conflict, a collapse, or competition can reform them, and however long it takes, competition is by far the best option.

 

 

So why would people pick Bitcoin? It costs less and does more. Amongst adopters, it’s simpler and more direct. It pays the right people and not the wrong ones. It rewards good behavior instead of bad, and can help producers instead of parasites. It’s equitable instead of hierarchical. What else? While not Bitcoin proper, as a truth machine Blockchain technology is the prime cure for the present system’s main problem: fraud. There is so much fraud at the moment, libraries of books have been written merely recording the highlights of fraud since 2001. But merely recording the epic, world-wide, multi-trillion dollar frauds clearly does not cure it. Like other human problems, no one cares about your problems, only your solutions, and Blockchain has the solution.

While the details of fraud are complex, the essence of fraud is quite simple: you lie about something in order to steal it. That’s it. It could be small or large, simple or complex, but basically fraud is all about claiming what didn’t happen. However, the Blockchain is all about truth, that is, creating consensus about what happened, and then preserving it. Take the Robosigning scandal: accidental or deliberate, the mortgage brokers, banks, and MBS funds lost the paperwork for millions of houses. A house could be paid off could be foreclosed, as happened, or it could be owned 5 times, as happened. Like the Sneeches, no one knew which one was who, and the only certainty was that the official authority – county courthouses – did not know because to register there would have cost Wall Street and inconvenient millions or billions in shared tax stamps.

The system broke down, and to this day no one has attempted to define ownership, choosing instead to usher all the questionable (and therefore worthless) material into the central bank and hiding it there until the mortgage terms expire, forcing the taxpayers to bail out a multi-trillion dollar bank fraud at full value. And this is just one messy example. The S&L crisis was not dissimilar, nor are we accounting for constant overhead of fees, mortgage transfers, re-surveys, and title searches nationwide.

 

With Blockchain it’s simple: you take line one, write the information, the owner, title, date, and transfer, and share it with a group. They confirm it and add mortgage #2, then #3 and so on. It’s a public ledger like the courthouse, but the system pays the fees. It also can’t be tampered with, as everyone has a copy and there is no central place to bribe, steal, and subvert as happened in 2006 but also in history like the 1930s or the railroad and mining boom of the 1800s. If there are questions, you refer to the consensus If it’s transferred, it is transferred on the ledger. If it isn’t on the ledger, it isn’t transferred, same as the courthouse. Essentially, that’s what “ownership” is: the consensus that you own something. Therefore you do not have a mortgage due disappear, or 4 different owners clamoring to get paid or take possession of the same property, or the financial terrorism of shattering the system if you even attempt to prosecute fraud.

It’s not just mortgages: stocks have the same problem. Since the digital age began, the problem of clearing stock trades has steadily increased. Eventually, the NYSE trading volume was so large they couldn’t clear at all, and the SEC let trading houses net their internal trades, only rectifying the mismatches between brokerages. Eventually, that was too large, and they created the DTCC as a central holder and clearing house. Yet, in an age of online trading and high-frequency trading mainframes, it became apparent there was no way to clear even residual trades, and they effectively no longer try, and the SEC, instead of forcing them to compliance, lets them. There are 300M failed stock trades a day and $50B a day in bond failures, or $12 Trillion year in bonds alone. And so? If you sell your stocks and bonds, the brokerage makes it come out whole, so what?

 

 


Gustave Courbet The wave 1871

 

 

Dr. D: Well, all parts of the system rely on accurate record-keeping. Look at voting rights: we had a security company where 20% more people voted than there were shares. Think you could direct corporate, even national power that way? Without records of transfer, how do you know you own it? Morgan transferred a stock to Schwab but forgot to clear it. Doesn’t that mean it’s listed in both Morgan and Schwab? In fact, didn’t you just double-count and double-value that share? Suppose you fail to clear just a few each day. Before long, compounding the double ownership leads to pension funds owning 2% fake shares, then 5%, then 10%, until stock market and the national value itself becomes unreal. And how would you unwind it?

Work backwards to 1999 where the original drop happened? Remove 10% of CALPERs or Chicago’s already devastated pension money? How about the GDP and national assets that 10% represents? Do you tell Sachs they now need to raise $100B more in capital reserves because they didn’t have the assets they thought they have? Think I’m exaggerating? There have been several companies who tired of these games and took themselves back private, buying up every share…only to find their stock trading briskly the next morning. When that can happen without even a comment, you know fraud knows no bounds, a story Financial Sense called “The Crime of the Century.” No one blinked.

But it doesn’t stop there. You don’t only buy stocks, you sell them. And you can sell them by borrowing them from a shareholder. But what if there’s no record of delivery? You can short or sell a stock without owning any. And the more you sell, the more it drives the price down and the more money you make. In fact, profits are infinite if you can sell enough that the company goes bankrupt: you never have to repay the stock at all. And this “naked” short selling can only occur if there’s openly bad recording and enough failures-to-deliver to hide it. You could literally own nothing, borrow nothing, post nothing, and with no more than insider access to an exchange, drive a company out of business. That’s how crucial recording is.

And while for appearance’s sake, they only attack and destroy small plausibly weak stocks, Overstock.com with a $1.45B market cap fought these naked short sellers for years. Publicly, openly, vocally, with the SEC. Besides eroding their capital, besides their legal fees, besides that e.g. Amazon could pay to have their competition run out of business with fraudulent shorting, the unlimited incentive to short instead of long on small companies could suppress the entire stock market, indeed the national wealth and GDP. It may account for some of the small caps underperforming their potential for years, and why an outsized portion of stock value to be in just the 5 protected FAANG or DOW 30 stocks. …We don’t know, because we have no honesty, no accounting, and nothing to compare it to. But no one cares, because it’s been going on for 20 years, and if they cared, they’d do something about it. Again, no one cares about your problems, only your solutions. Even if the nation falls.

 

Look at it from their point of view: if you’re a business owner, now you can’t rationally list your corporation. Your stock could be manipulated; your business could be bankrupted for no reason at all. We’ve seen the NYSE shrink as businesses start to list in more honest jurisdictions, and even Presidents can’t convince them to come back. Traders and Fund Managers retire in public interviews, telling the world there is no longer any sense or price discovery, and therefore there is market madness.

Yet we just said that to clean up the market would discover 10%, 20%, 40% fake shares, fake business values, fake pension values, therefore fake GDP values, and fake GDP to Debt ratios, and therefore would perhaps lead to an accurate Debt to GDP of 140%, which would crash the U.S. dollar and possibly the nation. Would a complete U.S. financial collapse lead to a nuclear war? And it all goes back to fraud we didn’t stop 20 years ago. How do you solve the problem? The only way out without collapse is to build an honest system parallel to the existing system and slowly transfer assets from the rotten, sinking ship to the new one. The captains of the old ship may not like it, but look at the incentives. No one can tolerate the old ship except the pirate captain; even the crew, the stock traders, don’t want or control it any more.

However, what if you created an honest stock market Blockchain that actually had the stock certificates and actually transferred them, cheaply and reliably without false duplication? This is what is happening in the Jamaican Stock Market. A new company can choose to list on the stock Blockchain and avoid the old system. Other companies or even the whole exchange can clean up the books, slowly, stock by stock, and move it to the new honest system. Because they’re honest? No way! No one cares about truth or honesty, clearly. Because they can sell their stock exchange as superior, solving the existing problems. Stopping fraud, theft, the stealing or crippling of companies, fake voting, depression of Main Street and outsiders in favor of Wall Street and insiders, this is what Blockchain can do. In short, it would work better, cheaper.

What else can Blockchain do?

Blockchain is just software written by programmers so it’s as versatile as any other software. So why not program things into it with a “Smart Contract”? Suppose you make a bet: IF the Packers beat the Lions on November 12, 2017, THEN I will pay you $50. You set up the contract, and the bot itself can look for the headlines and transfer the money when the conditions are met.

That’s pointless but how about this: You run a jewelry business on Etsy and need to buy $500 in beads from Hong Kong. Normally, you would need to pay an importer, a currency exchange, bank account, tire transfer, escrow account, and a lawyer, or their proxies within the system, plus two weeks’ clearing time. That’s a lot of overhead for a small transaction. In contrast, a smart contract such as Ethereum could post the value of the coin (escrow), and when Long Beach or FedEx confirms delivery, releases the Ethereum, a coin of value, to the seller in Hong Kong. Instantly. Why? The existing financial system is charging too much and doing too little. That’s a huge incentive to get around their slow, overpriced monopoly.

 

Once you cut the costs, have a more direct method, and reduce the time to minutes, not weeks, the choice is obvious, which may explain why Microsoft, Intel, and others are deep in ETH development. Why overpay for bad service, and support the overpriced bonuses of men who will use their power to turn on or shut off your livelihood at will? Blockchain costs less and does more. Being just software, there are many other software products serving hundreds of other business plans. These use-coins are generally called “Tokens”, whereas“Coins” are meant to be pure currencies. There are Tokens for a wide variety of business purposes: online gambling? Yes. Tokens to buy marijuana in certain states? Sure.

But how about a Token like Populous that contains the credit information of small businesses worldwide, so you can make modest income lending against their accounts receivable? You get more income, business worldwide gets better service and lower costs. Why? The existing financial system is charging too much and doing too little. How about a Token like Salt for personal loans and perfecting collateral? They will lend cash against your Cryptocurrencies, because if your loan falls short, they can sell your collateral instantly. No foreclosures, no repossessions, no overhead.

This is what banks do when they hold your savings and checking accounts, yet sell you a personal loan. But the banks are giving you no interest on savings, while charging origination fees and high interest. They’re charging too much and doing too little. Well, you say, this sounds too good to be true: a parallel system to replace our existing corrupt, broken, overpriced one. One that doesn’t have to confront existing power or reform the system, but beyond price appreciation has its own incentives to join? Surely there are problems.

Oh, yes. So many problems. The first is often mentioned: it’s fine that Bitcoin is a finite commodity with only 22M coins, and if Bitcoin were the only coin, that would work. But there are over 1,000 coins now, and more every day. Isn’t that just another avenue to unlimited issuance and inflation by unlimited, unregistered people? Well, yes and no. It’s true that anyone can start their own Bitcoin – Litecoin for example is a faster duplicate of Bitcoin – but it’s also true that anyone can start their own Facebook. MySpace certainly did.

 

So why don’t they? Basically because of financial inertia, the Network Effect, a coin you start and only you use is worthless. The value is in the belief that other people will use it. Without that, you’re banished to MySpace Siberia. Still, with a 1,000 coins, don’t they all compete? Yes, and that’s a good thing, not bad. This is no different than the competing Bank Notes of the 19th century. If you like this bank and believe in them, you prefer their notes to others. Or you might use one note in Missouri and another in Louisiana. So with Cryptos. You might choose Bitcoin, with slow traffic and high costs to pay for a house. But you would choose Litecoin to pay for coffee.

You already do this, no different than using cash to buy a hot dog, your debit card for groceries, and a bank transfer for a car. It’s overlooked because they’re all called “dollars,” but they’re not. One is currency, one is a short-term credit, and one is a banking ledger. Because of the Network Effect, you can’t have 1,000 equal coins and have them all work. The market will prefer some over others until there are only a few, just as AskJeeves and Infoseek gave way to Google, which may someday give way to someone else. Just as you can’t start a new Google today, there are only a few top coins, easily updated, and little space for new coins.

In addition, the “1,000 coins” are not actually coins. Most of the new coins are Tokens, which are not “currencies” like Bitcoin and a means of exchange, but business models and services. Like Bank Notes, the market is self-limiting, but evolving. But if there are a variety of coins, and like Litecoin they can suddenly appear and change, what reassurance do you have that your Bitcoin “money” is worth anything? Like 19th century Bank Notes or AskJeeves, your responsibility is to be aware of the market and the changing values and react accordingly. And in a mature market, “everyone knows” the histories and reputations, but in a young market, like Dell and Gateway in 1992, no one knows. But that’s also why there is more profit now as well as more risk. But we’re also watching volatility and risk in Pounds, Lira, Gold, or even outright defaults like Argentine Pesos or Rubles. We already carry that risk, but it’s familiar and taken for granted.

If coins can just “change” and “fork” whenever they want, then isn’t it like buying Australian Dollars, then waking up and finding they’re Yen? Yes and no. Like other cryptos, Bitcoin is just software written by men. So a group of developers may think Bitcoin should remain the same while the old team thinks it should be improved so much that they do the work, write the updates, and release it. Well you have a “fork”, but what happens next is the Network Effect. So you’re a miner and a user of Bitcoin. You now have a choice: do you use the new software, the old software, or both? Everyone expected one to be adopted, and the old one to wither into oblivion. Since a Fork gives you one unit of each, the eventual outcome was a wash within the user group. But that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Ethereum forked, and Ethereum Classic still exists, and trades steadily but far less. Bitcoin Cash Forked and although 1/10th the price, both are trading briskly. No one knows what will happen, because it’s never existed before. So yes, you could wake up and find you don’t like what Bitcoin decided to do, just as you could wake up and not like your new bank manager or CFO of Dell, and then you sell that asset and choose another. That’s your responsibility. That’s competition.

Besides unexpectedly finding both forks have value, there is an upside to the downside. If some new advance in speed or encryption appears in Litecoin or Dash, Bitcoin can also adopt it. This not only improves the market, but reduces sudden upsets as new advances shouldn’t unseat popular coins but are adopted by them. Indeed, this was the purpose of Bitcoin Cash fork: to improve speed and cost. Yet now they both exist for different purposes in the market. Another objection is that cryptos depend on electricity and an expensive, functioning Internet. True. But while I’m no fan of technology, which is full of problems, so does everything else. Without electricity, the western world would stop, with no water, no heat, and no light.

Without Internet, our just-in-time inventory halts, food and parts stop moving, banking and commerce fail. You’re talking Mad Max. TEOTWAWKI. That’s a grave problem, but not unique to Bitcoin.

 

 


Gustave Courbet Sunset on Lake Geneva 1876

 

 

Dr. D: Bitcoin can be stolen. Although “Bitcoin” can’t be hacked, it’s only software and has many vulnerabilities. If held on an exchange, you have legal and financial risk. If held at home, you could have a hard drive fail and lose your passwords. If it’s on a hardware fob like a Trezor, the circuits could fail. For a robust system, computers themselves are pretty fragile. You could write down your passwords on paper, and have a house fire. You could print out several copies, but if any of the copies are found, they have full access to your account and stolen without you knowing. You could have your passwords stolen by your family, or have a trojan take a screen or keystroke capture.

Hackers could find a vulnerability not in Bitcoin, but in Android or AppleOS, slowly load the virus on 10,000 devices, then steal 10,000 passwords and clear 10,000 accounts in an hour. There are so many things that can go wrong, not because of the software, but at the point where you interface with the software. Every vault has a door. The door is what makes a vault useful, but is also the vault’s weakness. This is no different than leaving blank checks around, losing your debit card, or leaving cash on your dashboard, but it’s not true that there are no drawbacks. However the risks are less obvious and more unfamiliar.

Bitcoin isn’t truly anonymous. If someone, the NSA, wanted to track your drug purchases on SilkRoad, they could follow the router traffic, they could steal or work out your keys, they could eventually identify your wallet, and from there have a perfect legal record of all your transactions. Defenders will say that wallets are anonymous, that like Swiss accounts, we have a number, but not a name, and you can create new numbers, new wallets endlessly at will. Fair enough, but if I can see the transfers from the old to the new, it can be tracked. If I can get your account number by any means, I can see the flows. To some extent it’s speculation because we don’t know what technology they have available to crack codes, to see into routers, Internet traffic and servers.

Could there be a hidden exploit not in “Bitcoin” but in AES256 or the Internet itself? Maybe. Are there secret code-breaking mainframes? Possibly. But given enough interest, we can be sure that they could always get a warrant and enter your house, hack your computer, and watch your keyboard. However, this is no different than cash. If necessary, they can already track every serial number of every bill as it leaves an ATM or a drug sting. Then you follow those serial numbers as they are deposited and reappear. I expect Bitcoin is not very different, and like cash, is only casually anonymous. But is this a problem with cash? Or with Bitcoin? Your intent as a citizen is to follow the law, pay your taxes, and not hurt others. If government or other power centers are willing to expend that much effort to track you, perhaps the problem should be addressed with proper oversight on warrants and privacy.

Bitcoin is slow and expensive. Very true. Bitcoin Core has gotten so outsized from its origins that it may soon cost $5 to buy a $1 coffee and 48 hours to confirm the purchase. That’s clearly not cheaper, faster, OR better. It’s worse: far, far worse. Nor can it improve. Since Blockchain writes the ledger, the longer the ledger, the bigger it is. Technically, it can only clear a few transactions per second. This problem may not doom it, but it would relegate it to only huge, slow transactions like moving container ships. That is, a form of digital gold note. We don’t actually ship gold or whatever to pay for transactions; it just sits in the background, an asset. Per Satoshi, Bitcoin is a “Digital Asset.”

 

And the core team seems to like this more secure, higher value direction, where these obstacles are acceptable. But without a larger, deeper market, it’s the plaything of billionaires and then who sets the price? It becomes another experiment, an antique. Luckily, the story doesn’t stop there. Because it’s only software, you can always change it if you can convince the participants to use the new version. Bitcoin Cash is a fork that it larger, faster, and cheaper, reducing the limitations for now. And it can become Segwit2 or Cash2 later if the community agrees. But by design Bitcoin is not meant to be instant nor free, and probably never will be. Like gold, it is meant to be expensive, vaulted, and rarely moved. If you want fast and cheap, LiteCoin, Dash, and many others are vying to be the digital silver or digital payment card. That’s not very different from the gold standard, or even payments today.

Bitcoin is a huge electric and Internet drain. This is true. However, it’s also misrepresented. What is the electric overhead of every bank, every terminal, every mainframe on the NYSE, every point-of-sale card machine, every cash register and router in retail? Don’t we use an awful lot of electric to keep those running? What about their cost, the repairmen, the creation of new systems every year from mine to market, from idea to update release, to replace them? We also personally have our computers and routers, the whole Internet on and idling. What’s the base cost? Is it fair to compare as if it were a pasture before Bitcoin arrived?

We built the existing system this way because it gained efficiency. Time in the clearing, price in not running typewriters and mail worldwide, and of course taxes. We’re talking about creating a parallel financial system here. If the old one is replaced, is the new one better, or worse? Mining takes a lot of power, but the math in Bitcoin is meant to get increasingly harder to compensate for increasing computer speed. The computers are supposed to be on to confirm transactions. That means that the more people use it, the more power consumed, but that’s true of everything. The more people that drive cars, the more gas is used. So is the car doing something useful and being used well? Is it replacing a less efficient horse, or just wasting energy better used elsewhere? These are complex questions.

At the least, Bitcoin uses far, far too much energy in the design, and because of the speculation, far too many people are mining it without using it. However, all of the subsequent coins were concerned about this, and their power consumption is far, far less. As Bitcoin is near its hardest stage and stops at 22 Million, power consumption is near peak, but should stabilize, or even fork to a low-energy proof-of-stake model. As Bitcoin is not well-suited to worldwide transactions, it should be replaced with less-power intensive alternatives, and because of this, may get smaller. And if it replaces some of the existing system, it can generate an offset. But yes, if it uses too much power, is too inefficient by design, it will be too expensive, abandoned, and fail.

 

Are Cryptos a scam? Probably not: we pointed out some legitimate uses above for both coins and tokens. But there’s one coin that arguably is a Ponzi, a dozen coins that are scams, scores that are terrible ideas like Pets.com and will fail, and another dozen good, well-meaning tokens that are honest but ultimately won’t succeed. Yet, like the .Com 90’s, there are probably some like Apple that rise far more than it seems they should, and by surviving, effectively give 16% compounded returns for 40 years, front-loaded. That’s the nature of business. But are many coins and tokens open scams that run off with your money? Yes. Are others worthless? Yes. It’s also true of the stock and bond market and can’t be helped. Buyer beware.

Is Bitcoin a Ponzi? It’s not a Ponzi by definition because there is no central thief, nor are new investors paying off old investors. So is it a fraud, misrepresenting a few hours of electricity as worth $10,000? Well, that depends on what you think its value is. Is it providing value, a service? If so, what is that service worth to you? We already said it has the operational elements of money, with the addition of being extremely transmissible and transportable. If that has value to you, fine, if not, perhaps gold or bonds are more appropriate. But that’s the problem of what gives Bitcoin value.

A stock or bond you can look at the underlying asset, the profit or income flows, the book value. But Canadian or New Zealand dollars? What gives them value? They’re also backed by nothing. What gives gold value? It has no income, just popularity. Likewise Bitcoin: what gives it value is that other people want it. If they stop wanting it, it has no value, but that’s psychological and can’t be directly measured. With that in mind, is its fair value $1K or $1B? No one knows. Can its value fall from $10k to $5k? Yes, and it has many times. Only the market, that is, we can decide what it’s worth to us, and the market is small and immature, with no price history and prone to wild swings.

Shouldn’t the exchanges set the price? Yes, and they do, but how is that accomplished? We already said the Exchanges do internal trading off-ledger, outside Bitcoin. So aren’t they setting the price on the exchange instead of the people setting the price peer-to-peer? It would seem so. So aren’t they subject to market manipulation? Although at the moment they have a fairer design, and smaller pipelines to the larger market of money, yes. So if they launch a Bitcoin future, a tracker, a triple-short ETF, internally inflate their holdings, wouldn’t that make it subject to corruption and thus back into the existing system?

No one knows: it’s never been done before. I suspect not, but only because the people want Bitcoin specifically because it is Outside-system, Anti-fraud and watch these things carefully. But it’s run by humans and reflect human nature: that means over time some new form of exchange and corruption can grow up around it as before. While the ability to rig Bitcoin is limited because the quantity of Bitcoin is limited and riggers must first buy Bitcoin fairly, the Exchanges and the price-setting are an issue, and especially into the future.

 

Central Banks and existing powers can outlaw or replace it. Bitcoin is still small, almost irrelevant, yet it has been driven down or outlawed in several places, for example North Korea, Venezuela, and New York. That’s right New York, you’re in proud company. North Korea outlaws everything and there is little internet access, so that’s no example. New York is simply regulating Bitcoin which creates business obstacles, but is still available via the few companies willing to do extensive paperwork. Venezuela, however, is actively suppressing Bitcoin which competes with the Bolivar, and is in fact seeking out and shutting down miners.

They do this on the premise that Bitcoin is consuming valuable (and free) national electric that could be better used powering a small town. Point taken. However, Bitcoin users are able to defend themselves against a terrible, lingering hyperinflation that is starving the nation to death, cutting off food, medicine, and services. Mining Bitcoin with national electric – or even having any – can be the difference between life or death. With Bitcoin, you can order food and medicine on Amazon. Without it, you can’t. So a ferocious national government has attempted to halt Bitcoin at gunpoint from both the users and the vendors. Like other currency oppressions, the USD in Zimbabwe for example, it hasn’t worked. Bitcoin is suppressed, but when the need for commerce is high enough, people make a way.

So maybe they will replace it with their own coin. Go ahead: this is a free market, freely competing. Banks already made a coin called Ripple, which trades in volume on exchanges, but is not open and public. If people choose it, I can’t stop them. Suppressing Bitcoin may make the incentives to choose the legal option far higher. But ultimately the point of Bitcoin is to be open, fair, and uncontrolled. A coin that is closed, controlled, and operated by some untrustworthy men has no incentive. But it can happen: people have chosen against their better interest before.

And that’s my real reservation. Suppose Bitcoin works. Suppose it replaces currency. Suppose it is adequately private. Suppose it can be made fast enough, cheap enough, and slim enough. Suppose the old system fades and we all get used to having our lives entirely on the Blockchain. Your every post is perfectly recorded and provably yours on Steemit. Your every photograph is saved and stamped to you. Every medical experience is indelibly written. Every purchase, every trade, it’s all on a blockchain somewhere. And even suppose it’s private. What then? I mean, isn’t this the system we had in 1900, under the former society and former gold standard? So what happened?

Being comfortable and familiar with Blockchain ledgers, taking them as for granted as Millennials do Facebook, and someone says, “Hey, rather than waste power on this inefficient, creaking system of writing everywhere for a fraction of the power the Federal Reserve Block can keep it for you. Think of the whales.” Sound silly? That’s exactly what they did in 1913, and again in 1933 – replace a direct, messy, competitive system with a more efficient one run by smarter men. The people didn’t protest then any more than they do now, so why would we expect them to in 2050 or 2070? No one cares about corruption and murder: we’re only moving to this system now because it’s better and cheaper. If the Fed Reserve Block is cheaper, won’t we move then?

 

I can’t solve the next generation’s problems. We’ll be lucky to survive our own. But I can warn you that even now this generation will never accept a digital mark without which you cannot buy or sell, not voluntarily and not by force. It’s too far to reach and social trust is too compromised. But could they get us halfway there and just make it official later, when everything’s fixed again? I think absolutely.

Once that’s in, you can finish all the plans written in the bank and government white papers: perfect, inescapable taxation. Perfect, indelible records of everyone you talked to, everything you said, everything you bought, everywhere you were, everyone you know. Not today, but in the future. And that is the purgatory or paradise they seek today. The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance. The system we have wasn’t always bad: a small cadre of bad men worked tirelessly while complacent citizens shirked their duty. So when we move to a new system softly, without real purge, real morality, real reform, what makes you think the same thing won’t happen to your new system? Only far, far more dangerous. But I can’t prevent that. Think, and plan accordingly.

 

 

Dec 102017
 
 December 10, 2017  Posted by at 2:33 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Gustave Courbet Sunset on Lake Geneva 1876

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 3 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 3

Chapter 4 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 4

Next up: all 5 chapters combined in one big essay.

 

 

Dr. D: Bitcoin can be stolen. Although “Bitcoin” can’t be hacked, it’s only software and has many vulnerabilities. If held on an exchange, you have legal and financial risk. If held at home, you could have a hard drive fail and lose your passwords. If it’s on a hardware fob like a Trezor, the circuits could fail. For a robust system, computers themselves are pretty fragile. You could write down your passwords on paper, and have a house fire. You could print out several copies, but if any of the copies are found, they have full access to your account and stolen without you knowing. You could have your passwords stolen by your family, or have a trojan take a screen or keystroke capture.

Hackers could find a vulnerability not in Bitcoin, but in Android or AppleOS, slowly load the virus on 10,000 devices, then steal 10,000 passwords and clear 10,000 accounts in an hour. There are so many things that can go wrong, not because of the software, but at the point where you interface with the software. Every vault has a door. The door is what makes a vault useful, but is also the vault’s weakness. This is no different than leaving blank checks around, losing your debit card, or leaving cash on your dashboard, but it’s not true that there are no drawbacks. However the risks are less obvious and more unfamiliar.

Bitcoin isn’t truly anonymous. If someone, the NSA, wanted to track your drug purchases on SilkRoad, they could follow the router traffic, they could steal or work out your keys, they could eventually identify your wallet, and from there have a perfect legal record of all your transactions. Defenders will say that wallets are anonymous, that like Swiss accounts, we have a number, but not a name, and you can create new numbers, new wallets endlessly at will. Fair enough, but if I can see the transfers from the old to the new, it can be tracked. If I can get your account number by any means, I can see the flows. To some extent it’s speculation because we don’t know what technology they have available to crack codes, to see into routers, Internet traffic and servers.

Could there be a hidden exploit not in “Bitcoin” but in AES256 or the Internet itself? Maybe. Are there secret code-breaking mainframes? Possibly. But given enough interest, we can be sure that they could always get a warrant and enter your house, hack your computer, and watch your keyboard. However, this is no different than cash. If necessary, they can already track every serial number of every bill as it leaves an ATM or a drug sting. Then you follow those serial numbers as they are deposited and reappear. I expect Bitcoin is not very different, and like cash, is only casually anonymous. But is this a problem with cash? Or with Bitcoin? Your intent as a citizen is to follow the law, pay your taxes, and not hurt others. If government or other power centers are willing to expend that much effort to track you, perhaps the problem should be addressed with proper oversight on warrants and privacy.

Bitcoin is slow and expensive. Very true. Bitcoin Core has gotten so outsized from its origins that it may soon cost $5 to buy a $1 coffee and 48 hours to confirm the purchase. That’s clearly not cheaper, faster, OR better. It’s worse: far, far worse. Nor can it improve. Since Blockchain writes the ledger, the longer the ledger, the bigger it is. Technically, it can only clear a few transactions per second. This problem may not doom it, but it would relegate it to only huge, slow transactions like moving container ships. That is, a form of digital gold note. We don’t actually ship gold or whatever to pay for transactions; it just sits in the background, an asset. Per Satoshi, Bitcoin is a “Digital Asset.”

 

And the core team seems to like this more secure, higher value direction, where these obstacles are acceptable. But without a larger, deeper market, it’s the plaything of billionaires and then who sets the price? It becomes another experiment, an antique. Luckily, the story doesn’t stop there. Because it’s only software, you can always change it if you can convince the participants to use the new version. Bitcoin Cash is a fork that it larger, faster, and cheaper, reducing the limitations for now. And it can become Segwit2 or Cash2 later if the community agrees. But by design Bitcoin is not meant to be instant nor free, and probably never will be. Like gold, it is meant to be expensive, vaulted, and rarely moved. If you want fast and cheap, LiteCoin, Dash, and many others are vying to be the digital silver or digital payment card. That’s not very different from the gold standard, or even payments today.

Bitcoin is a huge electric and Internet drain. This is true. However, it’s also misrepresented. What is the electric overhead of every bank, every terminal, every mainframe on the NYSE, every point-of-sale card machine, every cash register and router in retail? Don’t we use an awful lot of electric to keep those running? What about their cost, the repairmen, the creation of new systems every year from mine to market, from idea to update release, to replace them? We also personally have our computers and routers, the whole Internet on and idling. What’s the base cost? Is it fair to compare as if it were a pasture before Bitcoin arrived?

We built the existing system this way because it gained efficiency. Time in the clearing, price in not running typewriters and mail worldwide, and of course taxes. We’re talking about creating a parallel financial system here. If the old one is replaced, is the new one better, or worse? Mining takes a lot of power, but the math in Bitcoin is meant to get increasingly harder to compensate for increasing computer speed. The computers are supposed to be on to confirm transactions. That means that the more people use it, the more power consumed, but that’s true of everything. The more people that drive cars, the more gas is used. So is the car doing something useful and being used well? Is it replacing a less efficient horse, or just wasting energy better used elsewhere? These are complex questions.

At the least, Bitcoin uses far, far too much energy in the design, and because of the speculation, far too many people are mining it without using it. However, all of the subsequent coins were concerned about this, and their power consumption is far, far less. As Bitcoin is near its hardest stage and stops at 22 Million, power consumption is near peak, but should stabilize, or even fork to a low-energy proof-of-stake model. As Bitcoin is not well-suited to worldwide transactions, it should be replaced with less-power intensive alternatives, and because of this, may get smaller. And if it replaces some of the existing system, it can generate an offset. But yes, if it uses too much power, is too inefficient by design, it will be too expensive, abandoned, and fail.

 

Are Cryptos a scam? Probably not: we pointed out some legitimate uses above for both coins and tokens. But there’s one coin that arguably is a Ponzi, a dozen coins that are scams, scores that are terrible ideas like Pets.com and will fail, and another dozen good, well-meaning tokens that are honest but ultimately won’t succeed. Yet, like the .Com 90’s, there are probably some like Apple that rise far more than it seems they should, and by surviving, effectively give 16% compounded returns for 40 years, front-loaded. That’s the nature of business. But are many coins and tokens open scams that run off with your money? Yes. Are others worthless? Yes. It’s also true of the stock and bond market and can’t be helped. Buyer beware.

Is Bitcoin a Ponzi? It’s not a Ponzi by definition because there is no central thief, nor are new investors paying off old investors. So is it a fraud, misrepresenting a few hours of electricity as worth $10,000? Well, that depends on what you think its value is. Is it providing value, a service? If so, what is that service worth to you? We already said it has the operational elements of money, with the addition of being extremely transmissible and transportable. If that has value to you, fine, if not, perhaps gold or bonds are more appropriate. But that’s the problem of what gives Bitcoin value.

A stock or bond you can look at the underlying asset, the profit or income flows, the book value. But Canadian or New Zealand dollars? What gives them value? They’re also backed by nothing. What gives gold value? It has no income, just popularity. Likewise Bitcoin: what gives it value is that other people want it. If they stop wanting it, it has no value, but that’s psychological and can’t be directly measured. With that in mind, is its fair value $1K or $1B? No one knows. Can its value fall from $10k to $5k? Yes, and it has many times. Only the market, that is, we can decide what it’s worth to us, and the market is small and immature, with no price history and prone to wild swings.

Shouldn’t the exchanges set the price? Yes, and they do, but how is that accomplished? We already said the Exchanges do internal trading off-ledger, outside Bitcoin. So aren’t they setting the price on the exchange instead of the people setting the price peer-to-peer? It would seem so. So aren’t they subject to market manipulation? Although at the moment they have a fairer design, and smaller pipelines to the larger market of money, yes. So if they launch a Bitcoin future, a tracker, a triple-short ETF, internally inflate their holdings, wouldn’t that make it subject to corruption and thus back into the existing system?

No one knows: it’s never been done before. I suspect not, but only because the people want Bitcoin specifically because it is Outside-system, Anti-fraud and watch these things carefully. But it’s run by humans and reflect human nature: that means over time some new form of exchange and corruption can grow up around it as before. While the ability to rig Bitcoin is limited because the quantity of Bitcoin is limited and riggers must first buy Bitcoin fairly, the Exchanges and the price-setting are an issue, and especially into the future.

 

Central Banks and existing powers can outlaw or replace it. Bitcoin is still small, almost irrelevant, yet it has been driven down or outlawed in several places, for example North Korea, Venezuela, and New York. That’s right New York, you’re in proud company. North Korea outlaws everything and there is little internet access, so that’s no example. New York is simply regulating Bitcoin which creates business obstacles, but is still available via the few companies willing to do extensive paperwork. Venezuela, however, is actively suppressing Bitcoin which competes with the Bolivar, and is in fact seeking out and shutting down miners.

They do this on the premise that Bitcoin is consuming valuable (and free) national electric that could be better used powering a small town. Point taken. However, Bitcoin users are able to defend themselves against a terrible, lingering hyperinflation that is starving the nation to death, cutting off food, medicine, and services. Mining Bitcoin with national electric – or even having any – can be the difference between life or death. With Bitcoin, you can order food and medicine on Amazon. Without it, you can’t. So a ferocious national government has attempted to halt Bitcoin at gunpoint from both the users and the vendors. Like other currency oppressions, the USD in Zimbabwe for example, it hasn’t worked. Bitcoin is suppressed, but when the need for commerce is high enough, people make a way.

So maybe they will replace it with their own coin. Go ahead: this is a free market, freely competing. Banks already made a coin called Ripple, which trades in volume on exchanges, but is not open and public. If people choose it, I can’t stop them. Suppressing Bitcoin may make the incentives to choose the legal option far higher. But ultimately the point of Bitcoin is to be open, fair, and uncontrolled. A coin that is closed, controlled, and operated by some untrustworthy men has no incentive. But it can happen: people have chosen against their better interest before.

And that’s my real reservation. Suppose Bitcoin works. Suppose it replaces currency. Suppose it is adequately private. Suppose can be made fast enough, cheap enough, and slim enough. Suppose the old system fades and we all get used to having our lives entirely on the Blockchain. Your every post is perfectly recorded and provably yours on Steemit. Your every photograph is saved and stamped to you. Every medical experience is indelibly written. Every purchase, every trade, it’s all on a blockchain somewhere. And even suppose it’s private. What then? I mean, isn’t this the system we had in 1900, under the former society and former gold standard? So what happened?

Being comfortable and familiar with Blockchain ledgers, taking them as for granted as Millennials do Facebook, and someone says, “Hey, rather than waste power on this inefficient, creaking system of writing everywhere for a fraction of the power the Federal Reserve Block can keep it for you. Think of the whales.” Sound silly? That’s exactly what they did in 1913, and again in 1933 – replace a direct, messy, competitive system with a more efficient one run by smarter men. The people didn’t protest then any more than they do now, so why would we expect them to in 2050 or 2070? No one cares about corruption and murder: we’re only moving to this system now because it’s better and cheaper. If the Fed Reserve Block is cheaper, won’t we move then?

 

I can’t solve the next generation’s problems. We’ll be lucky to survive our own. But I can warn you that even now this generation will never accept a digital mark without which you cannot buy or sell, not voluntarily and not by force. It’s too far to reach and social trust is too compromised. But could they get us halfway there and just make it official later, when everything’s fixed again? I think absolutely.

Once that’s in, you can finish all the plans written in the bank and government white papers: perfect, inescapable taxation. Perfect, indelible records of everyone you talked to, everything you said, everything you bought, everywhere you were, everyone you know. Not today, but in the future. And that is the purgatory or paradise they seek today. The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance. The system we have wasn’t always bad: a small cadre of bad men worked tirelessly while complacent citizens shirked their duty. So when we move to a new system softly, without real purge, real morality, real reform, what makes you think the same thing won’t happen to your new system? Only far, far more dangerous. But I can’t prevent that. Think, and plan accordingly.

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 3 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 3

Chapter 4 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 4

Next up: all 5 chapters combined in one big essay.

 

 

Dec 092017
 
 December 9, 2017  Posted by at 12:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Gustave Courbet The wave 1871

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1 .

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 3 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 3

Chapter 5 will follow shortly. And after that, all 5 chapters combined in one big essay.

 

 

Dr. D: Well, all parts of the system rely on accurate record-keeping. Look at voting rights: we had a security company where 20% more people voted than there were shares. Think you could direct corporate, even national power that way? Without records of transfer, how do you know you own it? Morgan transferred a stock to Schwab but forgot to clear it. Doesn’t that mean it’s listed in both Morgan and Schwab? In fact, didn’t you just double-count and double-value that share? Suppose you fail to clear just a few each day. Before long, compounding the double ownership leads to pension funds owning 2% fake shares, then 5%, then 10%, until stock market and the national value itself becomes unreal. And how would you unwind it?

Work backwards to 1999 where the original drop happened? Remove 10% of CALPERs or Chicago’s already devastated pension money? How about the GDP and national assets that 10% represents? Do you tell Sachs they now need to raise $100B more in capital reserves because they didn’t have the assets they thought they have? Think I’m exaggerating? There have been several companies who tired of these games and took themselves back private, buying up every share…only to find their stock trading briskly the next morning. When that can happen without even a comment, you know fraud knows no bounds, a story Financial Sense called “The Crime of the Century.” No one blinked.

But it doesn’t stop there. You don’t only buy stocks, you sell them. And you can sell them by borrowing them from a shareholder. But what if there’s no record of delivery? You can short or sell a stock without owning any. And the more you sell, the more it drives the price down and the more money you make. In fact, profits are infinite if you can sell enough that the company goes bankrupt: you never have to repay the stock at all. And this “naked” short selling can only occur if there’s openly bad recording and enough failures-to-deliver to hide it. You could literally own nothing, borrow nothing, post nothing, and with no more than insider access to an exchange, drive a company out of business. That’s how crucial recording is.

And while for appearance’s sake, they only attack and destroy small plausibly weak stocks, Overstock.com with a $1.45B market cap fought these naked short sellers for years. Publicly, openly, vocally, with the SEC. Besides eroding their capital, besides their legal fees, besides that e.g. Amazon could pay to have their competition run out of business with fraudulent shorting, the unlimited incentive to short instead of long on small companies could suppress the entire stock market, indeed the national wealth and GDP. It may account for some of the small caps underperforming their potential for years, and why an outsized portion of stock value to be in just the 5 protected FAANG or DOW 30 stocks. …We don’t know, because we have no honesty, no accounting, and nothing to compare it to. But no one cares, because it’s been going on for 20 years, and if they cared, they’d do something about it. Again, no one cares about your problems, only your solutions. Even if the nation falls.

 

Look at it from their point of view: if you’re a business owner, now you can’t rationally list your corporation. Your stock could be manipulated; your business could be bankrupted for no reason at all. We’ve seen the NYSE shrink as businesses start to list in more honest jurisdictions, and even Presidents can’t convince them to come back. Traders and Fund Managers retire in public interviews, telling the world there is no longer any sense or price discovery, and therefore there is market madness.

Yet we just said that to clean up the market would discover 10%, 20%, 40% fake shares, fake business values, fake pension values, therefore fake GDP values, and fake GDP to Debt ratios, and therefore would perhaps lead to an accurate Debt to GDP of 140%, which would crash the U.S. dollar and possibly the nation. Would a complete U.S. financial collapse lead to a nuclear war? And it all goes back to fraud we didn’t stop 20 years ago. How do you solve the problem? The only way out without collapse is to build an honest system parallel to the existing system and slowly transfer assets from the rotten, sinking ship to the new one. The captains of the old ship may not like it, but look at the incentives. No one can tolerate the old ship except the pirate captain; even the crew, the stock traders, don’t want or control it any more.

However, what if you created an honest stock market Blockchain that actually had the stock certificates and actually transferred them, cheaply and reliably without false duplication? This is what is happening in the Jamaican Stock Market. A new company can choose to list on the stock Blockchain and avoid the old system. Other companies or even the whole exchange can clean up the books, slowly, stock by stock, and move it to the new honest system. Because they’re honest? No way! No one cares about truth or honesty, clearly. Because they can sell their stock exchange as superior, solving the existing problems. Stopping fraud, theft, the stealing or crippling of companies, fake voting, depression of Main Street and outsiders in favor of Wall Street and insiders, this is what Blockchain can do. In short, it would work better, cheaper.

What else can Blockchain do?

Blockchain is just software written by programmers so it’s as versatile as any other software. So why not program things into it with a “Smart Contract”? Suppose you make a bet: IF the Packers beat the Lions on November 12, 2017, THEN I will pay you $50. You set up the contract, and the bot itself can look for the headlines and transfer the money when the conditions are met.

That’s pointless but how about this: You run a jewelry business on Etsy and need to buy $500 in beads from Hong Kong. Normally, you would need to pay an importer, a currency exchange, bank account, tire transfer, escrow account, and a lawyer, or their proxies within the system, plus two weeks’ clearing time. That’s a lot of overhead for a small transaction. In contrast, a smart contract such as Ethereum could post the value of the coin (escrow), and when Long Beach or FedEx confirms delivery, releases the Ethereum, a coin of value, to the seller in Hong Kong. Instantly. Why? The existing financial system is charging too much and doing too little. That’s a huge incentive to get around their slow, overpriced monopoly.

 

Once you cut the costs, have a more direct method, and reduce the time to minutes, not weeks, the choice is obvious, which may explain why Microsoft, Intel, and others are deep in ETH development. Why overpay for bad service, and support the overpriced bonuses of men who will use their power to turn on or shut off your livelihood at will? Blockchain costs less and does more. Being just software, there are many other software products serving hundreds of other business plans. These use-coins are generally called “Tokens”, whereas“Coins” are meant to be pure currencies. There are Tokens for a wide variety of business purposes: online gambling? Yes. Tokens to buy marijuana in certain states? Sure.

But how about a Token like Populous that contains the credit information of small businesses worldwide, so you can make modest income lending against their accounts receivable? You get more income, business worldwide gets better service and lower costs. Why? The existing financial system is charging too much and doing too little. How about a Token like Salt for personal loans and perfecting collateral? They will lend cash against your Cryptocurrencies, because if your loan falls short, they can sell your collateral instantly. No foreclosures, no repossessions, no overhead.

This is what banks do when they hold your savings and checking accounts, yet sell you a personal loan. But the banks are giving you no interest on savings, while charging origination fees and high interest. They’re charging too much and doing too little. Well, you say, this sounds too good to be true: a parallel system to replace our existing corrupt, broken, overpriced one. One that doesn’t have to confront existing power or reform the system, but beyond price appreciation has its own incentives to join? Surely there are problems.

Oh, yes. So many problems. The first is often mentioned: it’s fine that Bitcoin is a finite commodity with only 22M coins, and if Bitcoin were the only coin, that would work. But there are over 1,000 coins now, and more every day. Isn’t that just another avenue to unlimited issuance and inflation by unlimited, unregistered people? Well, yes and no. It’s true that anyone can start their own Bitcoin – Litecoin for example is a faster duplicate of Bitcoin – but it’s also true that anyone can start their own Facebook. MySpace certainly did.

 

So why don’t they? Basically because of financial inertia, the Network Effect, a coin you start and only you use is worthless. The value is in the belief that other people will use it. Without that, you’re banished to MySpace Siberia. Still, with a 1,000 coins, don’t they all compete? Yes, and that’s a good thing, not bad. This is no different than the competing Bank Notes of the 19th century. If you like this bank and believe in them, you prefer their notes to others. Or you might use one note in Missouri and another in Louisiana. So with Cryptos. You might choose Bitcoin, with slow traffic and high costs to pay for a house. But you would choose Litecoin to pay for coffee.

You already do this, no different than using cash to buy a hot dog, your debit card for groceries, and a bank transfer for a car. It’s overlooked because they’re all called “dollars,” but they’re not. One is currency, one is a short-term credit, and one is a banking ledger. Because of the Network Effect, you can’t have 1,000 equal coins and have them all work. The market will prefer some over others until there are only a few, just as AskJeeves and Infoseek gave way to Google, which may someday give way to someone else. Just as you can’t start a new Google today, there are only a few top coins, easily updated, and little space for new coins.

In addition, the “1,000 coins” are not actually coins. Most of the new coins are Tokens, which are not “currencies” like Bitcoin and a means of exchange, but business models and services. Like Bank Notes, the market is self-limiting, but evolving. But if there are a variety of coins, and like Litecoin they can suddenly appear and change, what reassurance do you have that your Bitcoin “money” is worth anything? Like 19th century Bank Notes or AskJeeves, your responsibility is to be aware of the market and the changing values and react accordingly. And in a mature market, “everyone knows” the histories and reputations, but in a young market, like Dell and Gateway in 1992, no one knows. But that’s also why there is more profit now as well as more risk. But we’re also watching volatility and risk in Pounds, Lira, Gold, or even outright defaults like Argentine Pesos or Rubles. We already carry that risk, but it’s familiar and taken for granted.

If coins can just “change” and “fork” whenever they want, then isn’t it like buying Australian Dollars, then waking up and finding they’re Yen? Yes and no. Like other cryptos, Bitcoin is just software written by men. So a group of developers may think Bitcoin should remain the same while the old team thinks it should be improved so much that they do the work, write the updates, and release it. Well you have a “fork”, but what happens next is the Network Effect. So you’re a miner and a user of Bitcoin. You now have a choice: do you use the new software, the old software, or both? Everyone expected one to be adopted, and the old one to wither into oblivion. Since a Fork gives you one unit of each, the eventual outcome was a wash within the user group. But that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Ethereum forked, and Ethereum Classic still exists, and trades steadily but far less. Bitcoin Cash Forked and although 1/10th the price, both are trading briskly. No one knows what will happen, because it’s never existed before. So yes, you could wake up and find you don’t like what Bitcoin decided to do, just as you could wake up and not like your new bank manager or CFO of Dell, and then you sell that asset and choose another. That’s your responsibility. That’s competition.

Besides unexpectedly finding both forks have value, there is an upside to the downside. If some new advance in speed or encryption appears in Litecoin or Dash, Bitcoin can also adopt it. This not only improves the market, but reduces sudden upsets as new advances shouldn’t unseat popular coins but are adopted by them. Indeed, this was the purpose of Bitcoin Cash fork: to improve speed and cost. Yet now they both exist for different purposes in the market. Another objection is that cryptos depend on electricity and an expensive, functioning Internet. True. But while I’m no fan of technology, which is full of problems, so does everything else. Without electricity, the western world would stop, with no water, no heat, and no light.

Without Internet, our just-in-time inventory halts, food and parts stop moving, banking and commerce fail. You’re talking Mad Max. TEOTWAWKI. That’s a grave problem, but not unique to Bitcoin.

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1 .

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 3 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 3

Chapter 5 will follow shortly. And after that, all 5 chapters combined in one big essay.

 

 

Dec 072017
 
 December 7, 2017  Posted by at 12:25 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Gustave Courbet The wave 1870

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1 .

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 4 will follow shortly.

 

 

Dr. D: The money, the unaccountable, uninhibited release of tokens can do more than just buy centuries of hard labor in seconds, it‘s also a method of control. Banks, our present issuers of money, can approve or destroy businesses by denying loans. They can do this to individuals, like denying loans to unpopular figures, or to whole sectors, like gun shops. They can also offer money for free to Amazon, Facebook, and Tesla, which have no profitable business model or any hope of getting one, and deny loans to power plants, railroads, farms, and bridges as they fall into the Mississippi.

The result is banks and their attending insiders are a de facto Committee of Central Planners in the great Soviet style. What is fashionable and exciting to them can happen, and what they dislike or disapprove of for any reason can never happen. And once on a completely fiat system, this is how capital is allocated through our entire system: badly. What’s worse has been a 20-year turn toward Disaster Capitalism, whereby loans are extended to a business, sector, person, or nation, and then suddenly cut off, leading to the rapid foreclosure and confiscation of companies, assets, or continents by the “Development Team.”

Imagine a Bitcoin where Satoshi could erase your coins in your wallet for giving him a bad haircut. Or because he likes your wife. Nor is there any help for independent nations like Iran, or even nuclear powers like Russia. Both have been cut off, their funds suspended at a whim with no recourse. Even being a fellow insider is no insurance, as the NY banks cut off Lehman from funds they were owed, driving it into bankruptcy to buy the pieces in receivership. Unpopular Billionaires are treated likewise. This is a system with no justice, no order, no rules, and no predictability. Anyone within it is at grave and total risk. And yet before Bitcoin it was the only system we had, short of returning to the 19th century, it was the only way for modern commerce to deliver food, water, power, or function at all.

This is seen in its abuses, but also by its effects. The present system not only controls whether you are a winner or loser, whether you may go or stay, whether you may live or die, but also tracks every purchase, every location, in effect, every action throughout your entire life. These records will describe what books you read, what movies you watch, what associates you have, in real time Already these daily actions are being approved or denied. Take out a variable-rate jumbo loan? We’ll give you 110% of the value, paying you to be irresponsible (we’ll foreclose later). Want to buy gas when driving through Cheyenne 3:30 at night? Sorry, we disabled your card as a suspicious transaction. Sorry about you dying there of crime or of cold; we didn’t know and didn’t care. All your base are belong to us.

 

You say you don’t care if JP Morgan has your pay stubs to disturbing porn sites and Uber purchases to see your mistress? Well the future Mayor of Atlanta will, and he hasn’t graduated college yet. With those records it’s child’s play to blackmail policemen, reporters, judges, senators, or generals, even Presidents. And all those future Presidents are making those purchases right now, the ones that can be spun into political hay, real or unreal. So if you don’t worry what everyone knows about you, that’s fine, but imagine reading the open bank records, the life histories of every political opponent from now until doomsday. Then Don’t. Do. It. The people who have those records – not you – then have not just all the assets, not just all the money, but all the power and influence. Forever.

Are you signing up for that? Bitcoin doesn’t. Bitcoin doesn’t care who you are and with some care can make it very difficult to track you. And without tracking you, it makes it impossible to boycott you. And without a central repository, it’s impossible to march in with tanks and make them give you the records, turn money on or off, to make other people live or die and bend to your will by violence.

No one will care about that, because no one cares about it now unless, like Russia or China, it’s directed at them personally and then it’s too late. The real adoption of Bitcoin is far more mundane.

The long-term interest rate is 5%. Historically banks would lend at 8%, pay at 4%, and be on the golf course by 5. No one thought much about it because like a public utility, banking was a slow, boring affair of letting business do business. You know, farming, mining, manufacturing, all that stuff we no longer do. For decades, centuries even, banking was 5%-15% of a nation’s GDP, facilitating borrowers and lenders and timescales, paying for themselves with the business efficiencies they engender.

 

 

 

 

All that changed after WWII. Banks rose in proportion to the rest of the economy, passing the average, then the previous high, then when that level reached “Irrational Exuberance”, Greenspan started the printing presses, free money was created, and Senators and Presidents whose bank records were visible suddenly repealed Glass-Steagall. An economy stretched to breaking with free, centrally-allocated and misallocated money crashed and shrank, yet the banks– now known as the FIRE stocks: Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate – kept growing. How can banks and finance keep growing with a shrinking economy? By selling their only product: debt.

How do you sell it? Reduce the qualifications past zero to NINJA-levels, and use your free money to FORCE people to take it via government deficits and subsidized loans. No normal economy could do this. No normal business model could do this. Only a business now based on nothing, issuing nothing, with no restraint and no oversight. And the FIRE sector kept growing, through 15%, 20%, 25% until today most of U.S. GDP is either Finance selling the same instruments back and forth by borrowing new money or GDP created by governments borrowing and spending.

Remember when we started, banks paid 4% and charged at 8%. Now they openly take savings with negative interest rates, and charge at 30% or higher on a credit card balance averaging $16,000. And still claim they need bailouts comprising trillions a year because they don’t make money. The sector that once facilitated trade by absorbing 5% of GDP is now 5x larger. There’s a word for a body whose one organ has grown 5x larger: Cancer. Unstopped, it kills the host.

 

What does this have to do with Bitcoin? Simple. They’re charging too much. They’re making too much both personally and as a group. They’re overpriced. And anything that’s overpriced is ripe for competition. And the higher the markup, the more incentive, the more pressure, the more profit there is to join the upstart. Bitcoin can economize banking because what does banking do? It saves money safely, which Bitcoin can do. It transfers money on demand, which Bitcoin can do. It pays you interest, which mining or appreciation can do.

It also can lend, register stocks and ownership, rate credit risks, and allocate capital which other non-Bitcoin Tokens can do. In short, it can replace the 25% overpricing of the financial sector. If it could reduce the overhead of outsized profit, the misuse of expensive brainpower, of Wall Street and London office space, and reduce financial costs to merely 10% GDP, it could free up 20% of GDP for productive purposes. Why did you think Detroit and Baltimore fell in on themselves while N.Y. and D.C. boomed? That’s the 30% they took, $4B a year, from every other state, every year for 40 years.

That money and that brainpower could be much better allocated elsewhere, but so long as the Finance sector can print free money and buy free influence, they will never stop on their own. Only an upstart to their monopoly can cure the cancer and bring them back to a healthy size and purpose. Bitcoin can do this only because they charge too much and do too little. Of course, they could go back to paying 4% and charging 8% with a CEO:employee pay ratio of 20:1 but history says it will never happen. Only a conflict, a collapse, or competition can reform them, and however long it takes, competition is by far the best option.

 

 

So why would people pick Bitcoin? It costs less and does more. Amongst adopters, it’s simpler and more direct. It pays the right people and not the wrong ones. It rewards good behavior instead of bad, and can help producers instead of parasites. It’s equitable instead of hierarchical. What else? While not Bitcoin proper, as a truth machine Blockchain technology is the prime cure for the present system’s main problem: fraud. There is so much fraud at the moment, libraries of books have been written merely recording the highlights of fraud since 2001. But merely recording the epic, world-wide, multi-trillion dollar frauds clearly does not cure it. Like other human problems, no one cares about your problems, only your solutions, and Blockchain has the solution.

While the details of fraud are complex, the essence of fraud is quite simple: you lie about something in order to steal it. That’s it. It could be small or large, simple or complex, but basically fraud is all about claiming what didn’t happen. However, the Blockchain is all about truth, that is, creating consensus about what happened, and then preserving it. Take the Robosigning scandal: accidental or deliberate, the mortgage brokers, banks, and MBS funds lost the paperwork for millions of houses. A house could be paid off could be foreclosed, as happened, or it could be owned 5 times, as happened. Like the Sneeches, no one knew which one was who, and the only certainty was that the official authority – county courthouses – did not know because to register there would have cost Wall Street and inconvenient millions or billions in shared tax stamps.

The system broke down, and to this day no one has attempted to define ownership, choosing instead to usher all the questionable (and therefore worthless) material into the central bank and hiding it there until the mortgage terms expire, forcing the taxpayers to bail out a multi-trillion dollar bank fraud at full value. And this is just one messy example. The S&L crisis was not dissimilar, nor are we accounting for constant overhead of fees, mortgage transfers, re-surveys, and title searches nationwide.

 

With Blockchain it’s simple: you take line one, write the information, the owner, title, date, and transfer, and share it with a group. They confirm it and add mortgage #2, then #3 and so on. It’s a public ledger like the courthouse, but the system pays the fees. It also can’t be tampered with, as everyone has a copy and there is no central place to bribe, steal, and subvert as happened in 2006 but also in history like the 1930s or the railroad and mining boom of the 1800s. If there are questions, you refer to the consensus If it’s transferred, it is transferred on the ledger. If it isn’t on the ledger, it isn’t transferred, same as the courthouse. Essentially, that’s what “ownership” is: the consensus that you own something. Therefore you do not have a mortgage due disappear, or 4 different owners clamoring to get paid or take possession of the same property, or the financial terrorism of shattering the system if you even attempt to prosecute fraud.

It’s not just mortgages: stocks have the same problem. Since the digital age began, the problem of clearing stock trades has steadily increased. Eventually, the NYSE trading volume was so large they couldn’t clear at all, and the SEC let trading houses net their internal trades, only rectifying the mismatches between brokerages. Eventually, that was too large, and they created the DTCC as a central holder and clearing house. Yet, in an age of online trading and high-frequency trading mainframes, it became apparent there was no way to clear even residual trades, and they effectively no longer try, and the SEC, instead of forcing them to compliance, lets them. There are 300M failed stock trades a day and $50B a day in bond failures, or $12 Trillion year in bonds alone. And so? If you sell your stocks and bonds, the brokerage makes it come out whole, so what?

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1 .

Chapter 2 is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 2

Chapter 4 will follow shortly.

 

 

Dec 062017
 
 December 6, 2017  Posted by at 12:24 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Gustave Courbet The wave 1870

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series by Dr. D is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1

Chapter 3 will follow shortly.

 

 

Dr. D: You have to understand what exchanges are and are not. An exchange is a central point where owners post collateral and thereby join and trade on the exchange. The exchange backs the trades with their solvency and reputation, but it’s not a barter system, and it’s not free: the exchange has to make money too. Look at the Comex, which reaches back to the early history of commodities exchange which was founded to match buyers of say, wheat, like General Mills, with producers, the farmers. But why not just have the farmer drive to the local silo and sell there? Two reasons: one, unlike manufacturing, harvests are lumpy. To have everyone buy or sell at one time of the year would cripple the demand for money in that season. This may be why market crashes happen historically at harvest when the demand for money (i.e. Deflation) was highest. Secondly, however, suppose the weather turned bad: all farmers would be ruined simultaneously.

Suppose the weather then recovered: the previous low prices are erased and any who delayed selling would be rich. This sort of random, uncontrolled, uninsurable event is no way to run an economy, so they added a small group of speculators into the middle. You could sell wheat today for delivery in June, and the buyer would lock in a price. This had the effect of moderating prices, insuring both buyers AND sellers, at the small cost of paying the traders and speculators for their time, basically providing insurance. But the exchange is neither buyer, seller, nor speculator. They only keep the doors open to trade and vet the participants. What’s not immediately apparent is these Contracts of Wheat are only wheat promises, not wheat itself. Although amounts vary, almost all commodities trade contracts in excess of what is actually delivered, and what may exist on earth. I mean the wheat they’re selling, millions of tons, haven’t even been planted yet. So they are synthetic wheat, fantasy wheat that the exchange is selling.

A Bitcoin exchange is the same thing. You post your Bitcoin to the exchange, and trade it within the exchange with other customers like you. But none of the Bitcoin you trade on the exchange is yours, just like none of the wheat traded is actual wheat moving on trucks between silos. They are Bitcoin vouchers, Bitcoin PROMISES, not actual Bitcoin. So? So although prices are being set on the exchanges – slightly different prices in each one – none of the transfers are recorded on the actual Bitcoin Ledger. So how do you think exchanges stay open? Like Brokers and Banks, they take in the Bitcoin at say 100 units, but claim within themselves to have 104.

 

Why? Like any other fractional reserve system, they know that at any given moment 104 users will not demand delivery. This is their “float” and their profit, which they need to have, and this works well as far as it goes. However, it leads to the problem at Mt. Gox, and indeed Bear Sterns, Lehman and DeutscheBank: a sudden lack of confidence will always lead to a collapse, leaving a number of claims unfulfilled. That’s the bank run you know so well from Mary Poppins’ “Fidelity Fiduciary Bank”. It is suspected to be particularly bad in the case of Mt. Gox, which was unregulated. How unregulated? Well, not only were there zero laws concerning Bitcoin, but MTGOX actually stands for “Magic The Gathering Online eXchange”; that is, they were traders of comic books and Pokemon cards, not a brokerage. Prepare accordingly.

The important thing here is that an exchange is not Bitcoin. On an exchange, you own a claim on Bitcoin, through the legal entity of the exchange, subject only to jurisdiction and bankruptcy law. You do not own Bitcoin. But maybe Mt.Gox didn’t inflate their holdings but was indeed hacked? Yes, as an exchange, they can be hacked. Now you only need infiltrate one central point to gain access to millions of coins and although their security is far better, it’s now worth a hacker’s time. Arguably, most coins are held on an exchange, which is one reason for the incredibly skewed numbers regarding Bitcoin concentration. Just remember, if you don’t hold it, you don’t own it. In a hack, your coins are gone.

If the exchange is lying or gets in trouble, your coins are gone. If someone is embezzling, your coins are gone. If the Government stops the exchange, your coins are gone. If the economy cracks, the exchange will be cash-strapped and your coins are frozen and/or gone. None of these are true if YOU own your coins in a true peer-to-peer manner, but few do. But this is also true of paper dollars, gold bars, safe deposit boxes, and everything else of value. This accounts for some of the variety of opinions on the safety of Bitcoin. So if Polinex or Coinbase gets “hacked” it doesn’t mean “Bitcoin” was hacked any more than if the Comex or MF Global fails, that corn or Yen were “hacked”. The exchange is not Bitcoin: it’s the exchange. There are exchange risks and Bitcoin risks. Being a ledger Bitcoin is wide open and public. How would you hack it? You already have it. And so does everybody else.

So we’ve covered the main aspects of Bitcoin and why it is eligible to be money. Classically, money has these things:

1. Durable- the medium of exchange must not weather, rot, fall apart, or become unusable.

2. Portable- relative to its size, it must be easily movable and hold a large amount of value.

3. Divisible- it should be relatively easy to divide with all parts identical.

4. Intrinsically Valuable- should be valuable in itself and its value should be independent of any other object. Essentially, the item must be rare.

5. Money is a “Unit of Account”, that is, people measure other things, time and value, using the units of value to THINK about the world, and thus is an part of psychology. Strangely that makes this both the weakest and strongest aspect of:

6. “The Network Effect”. Its social and monetary inertia. That is, it’s money to you because you believe other people will accept it in exchange.

The Score:

1. Bitcoin is durable and anti-fragile. As long as there is an Internet – or even without one – it can continue to exist without decay, written on a clay tablet with a stylus.

2. Bitcoin is more portable than anything on earth. A single number — which can be memorized – can transport $160B across a border with only your mind, or across the world on the Internet. Its portability is not subject to any inspection or confiscation, unlike silver, gold, or diamonds.

3. Bitcoin is not infinitely divisible, but neither is gold or silver, which have a discrete number of atoms. At the moment the smallest Bitcoin denomination or “Satoshi” is 0.00000001 Bitcoin or about a millionth of a penny. That’s pretty small, but with a software change it can become smaller. In that way, Bitcoin, subject only to math is MORE divisible than silver or gold, and far easier. As numbers all Bitcoin are exactly the same.

4. Bitcoin has intrinsic value. Actually, the problem is NOTHING has “intrinsic” value. Things have value only because they are useful to yourself personally or because someone else wants them. Water is valuable on a desert island and gold is worthless. In fact, gold has few uses and is fundamentally a rock we dig up from one hole to bury in another, yet we say it has “intrinsic” value – which is good as Number 4 said it had to be unrelated to any other object, i.e. useless. Bitcoin and Gold are certainly useless. Like gold, Bitcoin may not have “Intrinsic value” but it DOES have intrinsic cost, that is, the cost in time and energy it took to mine it. Like gold, Bitcoin has a cost to mine measurable in BTU’s. As nothing has value outside of human action, you can’t say the electric cost in dollars is a price-floor, but suggests a floor, and that would be equally true of gold, silver, copper, etc. In fact, Bitcoin is more rare than Rhodium: we mine rare metals at 2%/year while the number of Bitcoins stops at 22 Million. Strangely, due to math, computer digits are made harder to get and have than real things.

5. Bitcoin is a unit of account. As a psychological effect, it’s difficult to quantify. Which comes first, the use of a thing, or its pricing? Neither, they grow together as one replaces another, side-by-side. This happened when gold replaced iron or salt or when bank notes replaced physical gold, or even when the U.S. moved from Pounds and Pence to Dollars and Cents. At first it was adopted by a few, but managed to get a critical mass, accepted, and eventually adopted by the population and entirely forgotten. At the moment Bitcoin enthusiasts do in fact mentally price things in Bitcoins, especially on exchanges where cross-crypto prices are marked vs BTC. Some never use their home currency at all, living entirely according to crypto-prices until home conversion at the moment of sale, or as hundreds or thousands of businesses are now accepting cryptocurrencies, even beyond. For them it is a unit of account the way Fahrenheit is a unit within the United States.

6. Bitcoin has the network effect. That is, it is widely accepted and publicly considered money. It’s in the news, has a wide following worldwide, and exchanges are signing up 40,000 new users a month. It’s accepted by thousands of vendors and can be used for purchases at Microsoft, Tesla, PayPal, Overstock, or with some work, Amazon. It’s translatable through point-of-sale vendor Square, and from many debit card providers such as Shift. At this point it is already very close to being money, i.e. a commonly accepted good. Note that without special arrangements none of these vendors will accept silver coins, nor price products in them. I expect if Mark Dice offered a candy bar, a silver bar, or a Bitcoin barcode, more people would pick the Bitcoin. In that way Bitcoin is more money than gold and silver are. You could say the same thing about Canadian Dollars or Thai Bhat: they’re respected currencies, but not accepted by everyone, everywhere. For that matter, neither are U.S. dollars.

 

Note what is not on the list: money is not a unit created or regulated by a central authority, although governments would like us to think so. In fact, no central authority is necessary or even desirable. For centuries the lack of monetary authority was historic fact, back with medieval markets through to private banks, until 1913, 1933, 1971, and the modern evolution into today’s near-total digital fiat. Besides the technical challenge, eliminating their overhead, oversight, control and corruption is the point of Bitcoin. And right now the government’s response to Bitcoin is a strange mixture of antipathy, ignorance, oppression, and opportunity. At $160 Billion it hardly merits the interest of a nation with a $500 Billion trade deficit, and that’s spread worldwide.

This leads into one of the spurious claims on Bitcoin: that it’s a refuge for drug smugglers and illegal activities. I assure you mathematically, that is not true. According to the U.N. the world drug trade is $435B, 4 times the total, and strictly theoretical value of Bitcoin, coins locked, lost, and all. Besides if you owned $160B coins, who would you transfer them to? You’re the only user. $435B/year can only be trafficked by major banks like as HSBC, who have paid public fines because money flows that large can’t be hidden. This is so well-known the U.N. suggested the drug-money flows may be one reason global banks were solvent in ‘08. Even $160B misrepresents Bitcoin because it had a 10-fold increase this year alone. So imagine $16B total market cap. That’s half the size of the yearly budget of Los Angeles, one city. Even that overstates it, because through most of its life it’s been around $250, so imagine a $4B market cap, the budget of West Virginia.

So you’re a drug dealer in illicit trades and you sell to your customers because all your buyers have Bitcoin accounts? Your pushers have street terminals? This doesn’t make sense. And remember as much as the price of Bitcoin has risen 40-fold, the number of participants has too. Even now, even with Coinbase, even with Dell and Overstock, even with BTC $10,000 almost no one has Bitcoin, even in N.Y.C. or S.F.. So who are these supposed illegal people with illegal activities that couldn’t fit any significant value?

That’s not to say illegal activities don’t happen, but it’s the other half of the spurious argument to say people don’t do illegal acts using cash, personal influence, offshore havens, international banks like Wells Fargo, or lately, Amazon Gift Cards and Tide Detergent. As long as there is crime, mediums of value will be used to pay for it. But comparing Bitcoin with a $16B market cap to the existing banking system which the U.N. openly declares is being supported by the transfer of illicit drug funds is insanity.

Let’s look at it another way: would you rather: a) transfer drugs using cash or secret bank records that can be erased or altered later or b) an public worldwide record of every transaction, where if one DEA bust could get your codes, they could be tracked backwards some distance through the buy chain? I thought so. Bitcoin is the LEAST best choice for illegal activities, and at the personal level where we’re being accused, it’s even worse than cash.

We showed that Bitcoin can be money, but we already have a monetary and financial system. What you’re talking about is building another system next to the existing one, and doubling the costs and confusions. That’s great as a mental exercise but why would anyone do that?

In a word: 2008.

It’s probably not an accident Bitcoin arrived immediately after the Global Financial Crisis. The technology to make it possible existed even on IRC chat boards, but human attention wasn’t focused on solving a new problem using computer software until the GFC captured the public imagination, and hackers started to say, “This stinks. This system is garbage. How do we fix this?” And with no loyalty to the past, but strictly on a present basis, built the best mousetrap. How do we know it’s a better mousetrap? Easy. If it isn’t noticeably better than the existing system, no one will bother and it will remain an interesting novelty stored in some basements, like Confederate Dollars and Chuck-e-Cheez tokens. To have any chance of succeeding, it has to work better, good enough to overcome the last most critical aspect money has: Inertia.

So given that Bitcoin is unfamiliar, less accepted, harder to use, costs real money to keep online, why does it keep gaining traction, and rising in price with increasing speed? No one would build a Bitcoin. Ever. No one would ever use a Bitcoin. Ever. It’s too much work and too much nuisance. Like any product, they would only use Bitcoin because it solves expensive problems confronting us each day. The only chance Bitcoin would have is if our present system failed us, and fails more every day. They, our present system-keepers, are the ones who are giving Bitcoin exponentially more value. They are the ones who could stop Bitcoin and shut it down by fixing the present, easy, familiar system. But they won’t.

 

Where has our present system gone wrong? The criticisms of the existing monetary system are short but glaring. First, everyone is disturbed by the constant increase in quantity. And this is more than an offhand accusation. In 2007 the Fed had $750B in assets. In 2017 they have $4.7 Trillion, a 7-fold increase. Where did that money come from? Nowhere. They printed it up, digitally.

 

 

The TARP audit ultimately showed $23 trillion created. Nor was the distribution the same. Who received the money the Fed printed? Bondholders, Large Corporations, Hedge Funds and the like. Pa’s Diner? Not so much. So unlike Bitcoin, there not only was a sudden, secret, unapproved, unexpected, unaccountable increase in quantity, but little to no chance for the population to also “mine” some of these new “coins”. Which leads to this:

 

 

Near-perfect income disparity, with near-perfect distribution of new “coins” to those with access to the “development team”, and zero or even negative returns for those without inside access. Does this seem like a winning model you could sell to the public? Nor is this unique to the U.S.; Japan had long ago put such methods to use, and by 2017 the Bank of Japan owns a mind-bending 75% of Japanese ETFs:

 

 

So this unelected, unaccountable bank, which creates its coin from nothing without limit or restraint, now owns 75% of the actual hard labor, assets, indeed, the entire wealth HISTORY of Japan? It took from the Edo Period in 1603 through Japan-takes-the-world 1980s until 2017 to create the wealth of Japan, and Kuroda only 6 years to buy it all? What madness is this?

Nor is Europe better. Mario Draghi has now printed so much money, he has run out of bonds to buy. This is in a Eurozone with a debt measuring Trillions, with $10 Trillion of that yielding negative rates. That’s a direct transfer from all savers to all debtors, and still the economy is sinking fast. Aside from how via these bonds, the ECB came to own all the houses, businesses, and governments of Europe in a few short years, does this sound like a business model you want to participate in?

So the volume of issuance is bad, and unfairness of who the coins are issued to is as bad as humanly possible, giving incredible advantages to issuers to transfer all wealth to themselves, either new or existing.

But if the currency is functional day-to-day, surely the issuance can be overlooked. Is it? Inflation is devilishly hard to measure, but here’s a chart of commodities:

 

 

CPI:

 

 

The US Dollar:

 

 

or vs Gold (/silver):

 

 

Does that look stable to you? And not that Bitcoin is stable, but at least Bitcoin goes UP at the same rate these charts are going DOWN. One store coupon declines in value at 4% a year, or may even start negative, while the other gives steady gains to loyal customers. Which business model would you prefer?

But that’s not all.

 

 

Chapter 1 of this five-part series is here: Bitcoin Doesn’t Exist – 1

Chapter 3 will follow shortly.

 

 

Dec 052017
 
 December 5, 2017  Posted by at 12:14 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Gustave Courbet The wave 1869

 

 

A while ago, I asked a regular commenter at the Automatic Earth, who goes by the moniker Dr. D, to try and write an article for us. Not long after, I received no less than 31 pages, and an even 12345 words. Way too long for today’s digital attention spans. We decided to split it into 5 chapters. After we work through those 5, we’ll post it as one piece as well. Dr. D, who insists on sticking with his nom de plume, picked his own topic, and it’s -fittingly- bitcoin. A topic about which one can cover a lot of ground in 12345 words.

Now, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t throw in my own two Satoshis: Dr. D claims that “..everyone has an equal opportunity to solve the next calculation..”, but while that may perhaps have been sort of true at the very start, it isn’t now. It’s not true for the computerless or computer-illiterate, for those too poor to afford the electricity required by bitcoin mining, and for various other -very large- groups of people.

The equal opportunity idea sounds nice, but I think bitcoin runs the risk of creating just another set of elites, while reinforcing existing elites, who can afford to either buy bitcoin at whatever price at some point in time, or spend large sums to build mining ‘installations’ in locations where electricity is cheap. And sure, there will be losers among elites too, but inequality itself will not change; only the faces of winners and losers will, while the world’s real losers will remain just that.

It’s nothing new of course, inequality is our society’s middle name, but maybe that is precisely the problem. Maybe bitcoin should have come with an inbuilt way to spread wealth, not just shift it around.

Then again, it may all just be a giant bubble. Or a bubble inside a bubble inside a bubble.

 

Here’s your Dr.:

 

 

Dr. D: Bitcoin is all the rage today, and as it crosses over $10,000, a 10-bagger for the year, we should look at what it is, what it isn’t, and why it’s become so popular. Note my observations are those of a layman – which may be more useful than those of a programmer – but also those of a skeptic, which I’ll get to at the end.

First, what is Bitcoin? Well, the idea of digital money goes back to the first digits, financial mainframes. In fact, the “money” in use today throughout the financial system have long been no more than virtual 1’s and 0’s on a spinning hard drive somewhere, but the idea of Bitcoin-money, private-money, goes back further still. I mean, what is “money”? At its core, it’s no more than the most-tradable good in a given society, a trading chit we use as a measurement tool, a token recording how much value we created or are owed. Arguably the first money was not gold, not seashells or even barter, but a promise. Let me borrow your net and I’ll give you a couple fish from the work. Why? Because you might break the net or I might use it, so I need to get paid for my risk, reward for my effort in making and storing the net to begin with.

So money at its most austere is simply a promise. But a promise to whom for what? And that’s the problem. No matter what good you use, people place differing values on it, different time-preferences, and most especially ways to cheat, game the system, and renege. This is bad among businesses, banks – who are after all only men – especially bad among governments, but worst of all among government and banks combined. Because, should the banks lie, renege, default, abuse their privilege, who then would hold them to task?

In the past, over and over, groups have created their own “money”. The whole 19th century was marked by general stores extending credit, bank notes issued by thousands of private banks, each with their own strength and solvency and geography and discounted accordingly. In the 20th century, with central banks controlling money, many cities issued local “scrip” – promises to pay – in Detroit in the Depression, or California in the budget crunch of 2009, or “Ithaca Dollars” in NY as a sort of ongoing Ivy League experiment. But the problem with these only highlight the problems with money generally:who can issue them? Everyone? A central authority? Can they deliver goods? And what can they buy, not just in value but in location?

Ithaca Dollars or California Tax Vouchers are not much good to buy oil from Texas or tea from China. People will always prefer a good that is accepted everywhere, with no decay and no discount, because ultimately the money flows away, offshore or to central taxation, which makes local currencies ever-less valuable. But even if successful it leads to a new set of problems: if Detroit or Ithaca Dollars were in high demand, there would be ever-stronger incentive to counterfeit, cheat, and double-spend them. Thus from the Renaissance to now we used reputable banks backed by force of governments, through the Gold standard and the Fiat age until today.

Enter the hackers.

It’s not that these problems are unknown, or haven’t been approached or attempted before. Every generation, when they find the banks + government take a percentage for their costs to insure the system, thinks how can we do away with these guys, who both take too much and end up in an unapproachable seat of power? I mean, aren’t we supposed to be a Democracy? How can we have a fair society if the Iron Bank is both backing all governments at once, on both sides of a war? What good is it to work if compounding interest invariably leads to their winning Boardwalk and Park Place 100% of the time? But despite several digital attempts – some immediately shut down by government – no one had a solution until Satoshi Nakamoto.

We don’t know who Satoshi Nakamoto is, but since several of the well-meaning developers were immediately jailed for even attempting private money on reasons arguably groundless, we can suppose he had good incentive to remain anonymous. And speculation aside, it doesn’t matter: Satoshi’s addition was not “Bitcoin” per se, but simply an idea that made private currency possible. The domain Bitcoin.org was registered in 2008, showing intent, and the open-source code was promoted to a small cryptography group in January 2009. But what was it? What did it solve?

Double-spending. Basically, the problem of money comes down to trust. Trust between individuals, between the system, but also partly trust in non-interference of governments or other powerful groups. Bitcoin is a trust machine.

How does it work? Well, the basic problem of cheating was one of not creating fake, hidden registers of value, as the U.S. Government, J.P. Morgan, and the Comex do every day. If they asked Yellen to type some extra zeros on the U.S. ledger, print a few pallets of $100 bills to send to Ukraine, who would know? Who could stop them? So with Bitcoin, the “value”, the register is created by essentially solving a math problem, akin to discovering prime numbers. Why do something so pointless? Simple: math doesn’t lie. Unlike U.S. Dollars, there are only so many prime numbers. We can be certain you won’t reach 11-digits and discover an unexpected trove of a thousand primes in the row. Can’t happen. However useless, Math is certainty. In this case, math is also limited. It’s also known and provable, unlike the U.S. budget or Federal Reserve accounting.

The second problem of cheating was someone simply claiming chits they did not own. This was solved by having the participants talk back and forth with each other, creating a public record or ledger. In fact, Bitcoin is nothing more than a very, very long accounting ledger of where every coin came from, and how every coin has moved since then, something computers do very well. These accounting lines register amongst all participants using a process of confirmed consensus.

Double-spending is when someone writes a check either against money they don’t have (yet) and round-robin in the money for the one second of clearing, or else write a check against money they DO have, but then cancel the check before it clears, walking away with the goods. In a standard commerce, the bank backfills fraud and loss and the government arrests, tries, and imprisons people, but it’s no small cost to do so. Although there is still a small possibility of double-spending, Satoshi’s plan effectively closed the issue: the ledger is either written, or unwritten. There is no time in the middle to exploit.

 

Great for him, but if I buy coins by Satoshi and the original cryptogroup, won’t I just be transferring all my value to make them rich? Although Bitcoin supply may be limited by mathematics, this is the issuer problem. It is solved because as a free, open source code, everyone has an equal opportunity to solve the next calculation. Bitcoin starts with the original 50 coins mined in 2009, so yes, early adopters get more: but they took more risk and trouble back when it was a novelty valuable only as proof-of-concept. The original cash transaction was between hackers to buy two pizzas for 10,000 BTC ($98M today). Why shouldn’t they get preference? At the same time, we are not buying all 20 Million eventual coins from Satoshi and his close friends, which is arguably the case with the Federal Reserve and other central banks. Bitcoin is bought and created from equal participants who have been actively mining as the coins appear, that is, from doing electronic work.

This leads to the next challenge: why would anyone bother keeping their computers on to process this increasingly long accounting ledger? Electricity isn’t free. The process of “mining” is the recording of Bitcoin transactions. The discovery of coins therefore effectively pays for the time and trouble of participating in a public accounting experiment. Even should that stop, the act of using Bitcoin itself cannot be accomplished without turning on a node and adding lines to process the ledger. So we can reasonably expect that people will keep Bitcoin software “on” to help us all get Bitcoin work done. That’s why it’s a group project: public domain shareware.

What if they shut it down? What if it’s hacked? This leads to the next problem: resiliency. You have to go back a step and understand what Bitcoin is: a ledger. Anyone can store one, and in fact participants MUST store one. If Bitcoin were “shut off” as it were, it would be stored with each and every miner until they turned their computers back on. If it’s “off” there’s no problem, because no one transferred any Bitcoin. If it’s “on” then people somewhere are recording transactions. Think of it like a bowling group keeping a yearly prize of the ugliest shirt. Is there an actual shirt? No, the shirt is not the prize. Is there a gold trophy? No, “prize” is simply the knowledge of who won it. There is no “there”, no physical object at all. Strangely, that’s why it works.

 

This is important for the next problem: intervention. Many private monies have been attempted, notably e-gold within Bitcoin’s own origin. But the problem was, if there was anything real, like a gold bar, it could be encumbered, confiscated, and stolen. You’d have to trust the vault, the owner, the auditor and we’re back in the old system. At the same time, if Satoshi were keeping the Bitcoin record and had any human power over it at all, government could imprison him, pass a law, create a cease-and-desist, or demand he tamper with the record, which they did with e-gold. But Satoshi does not have that power, and no one else does either.

Why? Precisely because Bitcoin DOESN’T exist. It’s not a real thing. Or rather, the only “real” thing is the ledger itself which is already public to everyone everywhere. You can’t demand the secret keys to Bitcoin privacy because it’s already completely, entirely public. What would a government demand? Suppose they ordered a miner to alter the record: the other miners would instantly reject it and it would fail. Suppose they confiscated the ledger: they now own what everyone already has. Suppose they unplugged it: they would have to unplug the entire internet, and everything else on it, or every Bitcoin node, one-by-one, worldwide. If any nodes were ever turned on, all Bitcoin would exist again.

Can they track them down? Not really. In theory, Bitcoin can be written on paper without an Internet. In practice, any public or private keys certainly can be. So even chasing down the Internet it would be very difficult to stop it given sufficient motivation, like the Venezuelan hyperinflation where they are chasing down miners, wallets, and participants, and failing despite overwhelming force.

What about privacy? A completely public ledger recording every person and every transaction seems like a police state’s dream of enforcement and taxation. Is it private? Yes and no. The Bitcoin ledger is not written like “Senator Smith spent .0001 BTC on August 21st, 2015 to buy a sex toy from Guangzhou,” but Wallet #Hash2# transferred .00017 BTC to wallet #Hash3# at UTC 13:43:12 21:11:2017 – or not even that: it’s encrypted. Who is #Hash2#? You can go back, but it will only say #Hash2# exists and was created on Time:Date. Who is #Hash3#? The ledger only says #Hash3# was created a minute ago to receive the transaction. In fact, #Hash2# may have been created solely to mask the coin transferred from #Hash1#. So is it anonymous? Not exactly. Given enough nodes, enough access to the world’s routers, enough encryption, you might see #Hash2# was created in Pawtucket, and if #Hash2# is not using active countermeasures, perhaps begin to bring a cloudy metadata of #Hash2# possible transactions into focus, tying it to Amazon, then a home address, but the time and resources required to break through would be astronomical.

What about theft? Yes, like anything else it can be stolen. If you break into my house and tie me up, you can probably get the keys. This is also true online as you must log on, type a password that can be logged on a screen that can be logged over a network that can be logged, but think again about what you’re doing: does it make sense to break into every participant’s computer one by one? Most Bitcoin is held by a few early adopters, and probably those wallets were lost when their hard drives crashed, the users lost their passwords, or died before this computer experiment had any value. We know for a fact that all of Satoshi’s original coins, 2.2 million of them, have NEVER been spent, never moved on the ledger, suggesting either death or the austerity of a saint.

So even today hacking a wallet, is far more likely to net $1.00 than $1M. Take a page from Willie Sutton: when asked why he robbed banks, he said, “that’s where the money is.” So today. Where is the real money stolen, transferred? From the ’08 bailout, the kiting of fake bonds in the market, the MF Globals, the rigging of LIBOR or the fake purchase of EU bonds. You know, where the money is. At $160B market cap, Bitcoin is still one week’s purchase of central bank bond buying, i.e. a rounding error, no money at all. Hack a home wallet? I guess, but hacking Uber or Equifax once is a lot easier than hacking 100,000 wallets on 100,000 different computers. At least you know you’ll get something.

But MT Gox was hacked and 650,000 coins went missing. Surely Coinbase, Gemini, Poloniex are the same. Well…not exactly.

 

 

Check in for Chapter 2 tomorrow.