Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, once masqueraded as the regulation-friendly face of the crypto markets. SBF was known for his openness to regulation and willingness to work with lawmakers; he not only wanted to graciously assist our elected officials in Washington with guiding policy but was also “socially conscious”. Sam was a vocal proponent of effective altruism and possessed a Benthamite concern for maximizing social benefits to help the most people. This wunderkind 30-year-old was too good to be true
Whether it was Bankman-Fried donating large sums of money to the Democratic party (the purported political advocate for the economically disadvantaged) or his views on veganism and charity, it was all a façade, a thin veneer masking his actual conduct. Per Reuters:
“… The turmoil at FTX has seen at least $1 billion of customer funds vanish from the platform, sources told Reuters on Friday. Bankman-Fried had transferred $10 billion of customer funds to his trading company, Alameda Research, the sources said.
New problems emerged on Saturday when FTX’s U.S. general counsel Ryne Miller said in a Twitter post that the firm’s digital assets were being moved into so-called cold storage “to mitigate damage upon observing unauthorized transactions.”
Cold storage refers to crypto wallets that are not connected to the internet to guard against hackers…”
As investors fled the platform and Binance pulled the plug on bailing out FTX, it is clear that SBF misrepresented the financial health of the exchange and its business practices. All of these developments are reminiscent of the Enron scandal. A corporation rubbing elbows with congress to engage in regulatory capture and foster a positive public image. While concurrently; creating a smoke screen obscuring the company’s off-color conduct.
The economist Bruce Yandle’s theory of Bootleggers and Baptist (1983) coalitions perfectly describes the Machiavellian tactics utilized by Mr. Bankman-Fried. After all, perception is what matters. If investors were not distracted by his social advocacy and success, they might have spotted the red flags. As observed by Yandle, there is often a demand for regulation. Often from parties that prima facie would oppose such measures (p.13). Why? This gives industry elites the to help shape rules that will benefit their bottom line and yield good publicity. Frequently, these scenarios are win-win for the firms involved. SBF proposed a licensing system for Defi (decentralized financial technology); per Erik Vorhees:
“..self-enforced rules and blacklists would only serve established exchanges that could afford to pay for compliance…”
SBF simultaneously worked to craft regulation that FTX would benefit from while appearing to share some of the concerns of crypto-phobic politicians like Elizabeth Warren. Progressive politicians are the Baptists in this scenario. SBF’s arrogance ended up being his own Achilles Heel, ultimately revealing his true colors, those of a covert Bootlegger (p.190).
Standard Cryptocurrency vs. The Midas of Digital Money
The most notable difference between Bitcoin and a stablecoin like Tether Gold would be the value proposition. Jeffery Tucker was bold enough to claim that the use-value of Bitcoin was a combination of trust (immutable transaction and a public ledger )and a universally applicable payment system structure. Tucker’s interpretation of the Austrian Regression Theorem (p. 407) is audacious, but can a concurrent use-value be equated to a past use value? Such an inquiry may be obtusely pedantic. However, what if a form of money could not only have the trust of a blockchain and internationally fluid payment system conjoined with the storied prior use history of gold? This may very well prove to be a superior form of money.
Beyond the intrinsic value of a gold collateralized cryptocurrency, the price stability of gold is far superior to that of Bitcoin, the highest valued digital coin on the market. As previously mentioned uncollateralized cryptocurrencies are highly volatile( 81 percent annualized for Bitcoin), with wildly fluctuating values. Some commentators have claimed that established gold-backed stablecoins such as Pax Gold have a lower degree of volatility when compared to unbacked cryptocurrencies. However, the degree of price fluctuation can also be attributed to how the currency is managed by the firm holding the gold. It would be shrewd of consumers to look for purveyors of stablecoins offering full reserve (1:1) redemption policies or limits on the capacity (to avoid depreciation). Even if an institution has lower reserve requirements, judicially implementing option clauses to prevent bank runs can help maintain customer confidence.
Gold-Backed Stablecoins and Gold ETF Funds
Gold Stablecoins are frequently compared to Gold ETF Funds which are the darling of derivatives markets. Despite the criticisms of experts, there are some advantages that gilded Stablecoins hold over ETFs. Gold ETFs are essentially investment funds possessing gold-related assets. One key attribute distinguishing ETFs from their blockchain-based cousins is the fact that “..most ETFs, upon redemption, do not pay out by providing the precious metal; they instead provide an investor with a cash equivalent..”. In terms of liquidity, this may be a bit more simplified than cashing out a share of a gold-backed stablecoin token, as most stablecoins redeem in gold specie. However, if the point is to obtain money of “high intrinsic” value, the ETFs have to trade easy liquid for lesser money (fiat currency), in return. It would be dishonest not to bring up that gold-tied stablecoins do have counterparty risks, but that is a chance anyone takes with any third party holding precious commodities in their care.
ETFs are purely intended to function as a speculative asset, while in contrast, the smooth settlement and distributed ledger and nationally agnostic nature of blockchain structure make tokens like Pax Gold or Tether Gold better suited for use as a medium of exchange. In all honesty, this will probably best bet for re-establishing a gold standard in the post-Bretton Woods era. The political interests of Federal Reserve officials, banks, and politicians are too embedded in the empty promises of easy money policies of the post-2008 U.S. Monetary regime. The temptation lurks for utilizing Quantitative Easing, bent beyond purely macroeconomic objectives (full employment, price stability), to fund the ends of fiscal policy. (Fiscal QE). The temptation of gesturing such a powerful bargaining chip such as open purse strings would make the idea of a fixed money supply more of an obstacle than a virtue. The number of people who stand to benefit from the current monetary policy of using collateralized debt as money makes a gold standard wide-eyed opium dream. Any transition to gold-backed currency; must come from a private currency; no government would ever revert to such a barbarous relic. It doesn’t matter even if the “End the Fed” crowd gets Ron Paul or Dave Smith in the Whitehouse, a meat grinder of the political process will drown out any monetary reforms.
The Benefits Over Physical Gold
Beyond the benefits of tokenized gold lending itself as a medium of exchange from blockchain technology, it is worth noting that most transactions are now digital. The ease, portability, and divisibility of a digital version of gold are hard to beat; versus lugging around cumbersome bars or pressed coins or employing costly storage solutions. Like ETF exchanges, gold exchanges or reputable storage facilities may not be accessible in rural areas. There is an affordability factor; instead of buying by the gram, ounce, bar, or coin, investors can purchase a fraction of a coin for as little as $1. They are reducing the logistical and monetary costs of investing in gold.
In mid-June, the value of Bitcoin sunk below $20,000.00, reaching a two-year low; in late 2020. After a slight rebound on June 20th, Bitcoin had still lost 55% of its value for the year and 35% within the month of June. However, Bitcoin was not the only digital currency to suffer turmoil amid this downturn in the market; several other commonly traded cryptocurrencies also experienced a decline in value. As with any speculative assets, there are multiple factors; commentators cited as causing the recent meltdown in the crypto markets. Some commentators suggest that macroeconomic factors such as high inflation and interest rate hikes are potentially to blame. Others claim slumps in trading volume and the failure of several major crypto projects (collapse of Terra-Luna and Celsius) have agitated the market. The recent trouble in the crypto space most likely cannot be attributed to one sole factor but will not be persuading any crypto-skeptics to get on the bandwagon anytime soon.
Although there may be a digital currency alternative that is not only less volatile but still possesses the benefits of blockchain technology, that is commodity-backed stablecoins. More specifically, stable coins collateralized by gold reserves and gold-pegged money seemed politically impossible since President Nixon closed the gold windowback in 1971. Now it is feasible to have gold-backed private money that blends the advantages of cryptocurrency with the value stability and historical salability of gold. In the debate between gold aficionados and crypto enthusiasts, this is the ultimate compromise and is a far better alternative to fiat currency. In this series, I will detail the benefits of gold-backed stable coins and suggest that despite the volatility in the cryptocurrency market, tying digital assets to a valuable asset might strike a balance to create a better form of money.
Many people hold the misconception that cryptocurrency offers total anonymity in financial transactions. There are multiple reasons why the belief that this decentralized private digital money does not conceal the identities of transacting parties. For one, the perception of complete anonymity is illusory because all transactions on the blockchain are accessible to the public. Since most blockchain environments “..have transaction structures that show the sender and receiver addresses explicitly. Because of this property of openness, a large proportion of the users can be re-identified..” (p. 18). These concerns pale in comparison to the legal resources at the disposal of government agencies with broad objectives ranging from tax collection, criminal investigation, and to even surveillance. This disproportionately impacts new entrants in the space that use exchanges and lack the technological illiteracy to hold their digital token in self-hosted wallets, as exchanges are subject to KYC and AML laws.
There are many various laws, judicial constructs, and conferred powers government actors utilize to relinquish our financial privacy. These tactics extend beyond semantical word games over what constitutes “…persons, houses, papers, and effects..” in the digital age (Amend. IV). One of the best-known doctrinal assaults against economic privacy invoked by law enforcement is the third-party doctrine. A judicial doctrine that strides a thin line, between the state interests; and regulating illegal activities (p.3). Although, the third-party doctrine has remained in use since the 1970s it has been a subject of controversy. The decision in United States v. Miller (1976) spurred the passage of the Right to Financial Privacy Act (1978), a feeble attempt to stifle the reach of the doctrine. The law was riddled with numerous exceptions to warrant requirements.
What is the Third-Party Doctrine?
Legal scholar Orrin S. Kerr provides a succinct definition of the doctrine:
“…The “third-party doctrine” is the Fourth Amendment rule that governs the collection of evidence from third parties in criminal investigations.’ The rule is simple: By disclosing to a third party, the subject gives up all of his Fourth Amendment rights in the information revealed (p.563)..”
The extent to which the doctrine is a rule and not an exception is a matter of debate among civil libertarians and privacy purists. Any information disclosed to a financial intermediary is not out of the reach of government officials. This also includes information provided to a third party that the customer believes will “remain private” ( Hoffa v. the United States) (p.9).
The nascent roots of the third-party doctrine lay within the test established in Katz v. the United States (1967). What has become known as the “Katz Privacy Test”; weighs privacy interests against the interests of the state. The case established a two-part judicial test for distinguishing when a private citizen has a reasonable expectation of privacy. 1.) An individual must have a subjective expectation of privacy. 2.) Society must accept these circumstances as being reasonable. Both standards are abstract and murky, making it a hindrance to derive clear and consistent guidance from such disputable and open-end criteria.
It is not until nearly a decade later that the doctrine emerged when the Katz Test applied to a case regarding financial privacy. This seminal case was no other than the infamous United States v. Miller (1976). The case involved Mitch Miller charged with producing untaxed liquor. In the process of collecting evidence, the ATF (Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) issued several subpoenas to collect Miller’s banking records. (p.12). Miller was never informed that his banks had been summoned to supply his records to the ATF. As luck would have it, the lower courts saw that the ATF “…had unlawfully circumvented the Fourth Amendment by first requiring the banks to maintain the customer records for a certain period and second by using the insufficient legal process to obtain those records from the bank..”(p.13). The high court reversed the previous decision citing that “…bank kept copies of personal records that he gave to the bank for a limited purpose and in which he retained a reasonable expectation of privacy under Katz..” (p. 13). The SCOTUS reasoning :
“…checks are not confidential communications, but negotiable instruments to be used in commercial transactions, and all the documents obtained contain only information voluntarily conveyed to the banks and exposed to their employees in the ordinary course of business. The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the obtaining of information revealed to a third party and conveyed by him to Government authorities….”
Ultimately, the court ascertained that information provided to banks was not subject to Fourth Amendment protection. After all, the information we are willing to disclose to an intermediary may not be so confidential. Ideally, we would never choose to convey such information. We also trust financial institutions to exclude the gruesome details of our purchasing decisions, regardless of the legality. All because a purchase was legal does not mean it was not embarrassing. For example, frequent outings at fast-food restaurants, pornography, and scoring BTS tickets are all legal transactions, but all ones that should not be scrutinized by the judging eyes of stuck-up government employees. It is not just the bad guys who are seeking the prying eyes of government officials.
The case to advance the third-party doctrine was Smith v. Maryland (1979), adjudicated a few years after Miller further reinforced this hideous obstruction to individual privacy. In this case, the telephone company installed a pen register “…to record the numbers dialed from the telephone at.. the home the suspect of robberies. This scenario would be considered a Fourth Amendment exception since the phone companies already have access to and record phone records.
Another landmark case in the judicial history of the doctrine was United States v Jones (2012).The defendant was arrested on drug charges after a law enforcement official attached a GPS tracker to her vehicle for 24-hour surveillance and all without a warrant. The Supreme Court viewed the warrantless attachment of a GPS tracking device as a Fourth Amendment violation. That covert tracking constituted a trespass and a violation of the reasonable expectation of privacy.
For any faithful civil libertarian, Jones might have been a glimmer of hope in the arena of the right to privacy. The logic in Riley v. California (2014) we have the illusion of hope regarding privacy matters. Riley was a member of a San Diego gang that opened fire on a rival and subsequently drove away. He was then pulled over for expired tags while operating another vehicle and was searched before being impounded; officers intercepted contraband. The responding found two guns and called in the gun unit to analyze Riley’s phone depicting the suspect making gang signs. The ballistics tests tied Riley to the previous shooting direct toward rival gang members. The court ruled in favor of Riley in this case; digital data presents no immediate harm to investigation officers, but phones operate as “minicomputers”, holding a plethora of personal information. Therefore, a warrantless search may be acceptable in exigent circumstances (which Riley did not present).
“… Expectations of privacy in this age of digital data do not fit neatly into existing precedents, but tracking person’s movements and location through extensive cell-site records is far more intrusive than the precedents might have anticipated…”
Essentially, utilizing the tracking capabilities of smartphones veers into a territory that infringes upon our enumerated right to privacy. Paralleling, the situation in Jones warrantless tracking regardless of the method is unconstitutional. In many ways using a smartphone is analogous to strapping a tracking device to a motor vehicle.
Crypto and The Third-Party Doctrine
The byproduct of the Carpenter decision has opened a new chapter in the Jurisprudence of the third-party doctrine. Per Fourth Amendment Orrin Kerr “… Carpenter “recasts a lot of doctrine in ways that could be used to argue for lots of other changes.” (p.226). So far, the courts appear to have analogized transactions occurring on cryptocurrency with those of traditional financial institutions (banks). The first case to apply the doctrine to cryptocurrency transactions was United States v. Gratkowski (2020).
The case involved a federal investigation into a child-pornography website and officials subpoenaed Coinbase’s transaction records; defendant Richard Gratkowski was suspected of patronizing the website under investigation through the exchange. (p.1-2). Gratkowski attempted to suppress the information procured in the investigation”.. the government violated the Fourth Amendment by using a subpoena to obtain his information instead of a warrant…” (p.127). The defendant foolishly argues this point without much consideration of the stare decisis substantiating the doctrine. After all, voluntarily disclosed information, in most instances (p.1), is immune from warrant requirements. The court found paralleling cryptocurrency transactions to phone records (Carpenter) was not an equal comparison. As phone logs are far more intrusive “window into a person’s life”(p 129).
Beyond the concerns regarding the degree to which disclosure of transaction histories could be construed as intrusive, in the eyes of the law, the defendant has already consented to the visibility of his financial activity. The court perceived that Gratkowski did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy as Coinbase not only has public records of all transactions but also is subject to the Bank Secrecy Act (1970) (p. 130). Per the letter of the law, the assumption of anonymity is illusory when conducting business with an intermediary such as Coinbase since it is an institution that fits within the purview of the BSA. (p.131).
In a hail Mary attempt, Gratkowski’s defense team tried to invoke the logic of Kyllo v. the United States (2001). In Kyllo, an agent of the Department of the Interior utilized thermal-imaging technology to detect Danny Kyllo’s marijuana grow operation. The Fifth Circuit felt as if extrapolating Kyllo to Gratkowski’s circumstances was inappropriate as even if thermal imaging was equal to traceable record transactions, the cited case is only applicable to searches within the home (p.132).
Per the current case law, it is indisputable that the third-party doctrine extends to cryptocurrency transactions that occur on an exchange. This does not ethically justify the application of this egregiously invasive judicial construct to financial surveillance. In balancing state and individual interests, the right to privacy implied in the Fourth Amendment was effectively sullied. An individual using banking or investment services should not have to be concerned about the trespasses of government agents on their transactional histories. Even if an individual has committed no crime, they still have a right to privacy. Do you want the judgmental eyes of an overpaid government employee criticizing your recent purchases of tickets to a BTS concert or a treasure trove of goodies at the local sex shop? Some purchases and investment decisions are downright humiliating and should remain out of the view of external individuals. All because stare decisis sides with the third-party doctrine, does not mean that it is faithful to the contextual interpretation of the Fourth Amendment. Especially, when in the digital age the perception of “…persons, houses, papers, and effects…” (Amend. IV) has shifted into a sphere of intangible media.
While it is disturbing that the technologically illiterate must restore to using crypto exchanges subject to the legal logic of the doctrine. Unfortunately, self-hosted wallets are not safe from the encroaching hand of the state. While regulators are now seeking to target self-hosted wallets for AML and KYC, we know that the Juris prudence will most likely extend the insidious third-party doctrine to these private methods of cryptocurrency storage. Soon cryptocurrency transactions will fully be under the surveillance and auspices of the government. The best we can hope for is that the high court will realize the error of this perverted doctrine and call it out for the Fourth Amendment violation that it is.
Trust is one of the guiding principles of any business relationship. It is the proverbial glue that has spurred the interest in decentralized digital currency over the past decade. Most people lack the technical literacy to mine Bitcoin or navigate the complexities of blockchain transactions without a middleman, a cryptocurrency exchange. Hence the surge in the popularity of FTX, Crypto.com, Kraken, etc. One of the earliest entrances to the crypto exchange market, Coinbase, revealed in its first-quarter earnings report that it could hold on to user assets in the event of bankruptcy. Per Fortune:
Coinbase said in its earnings report Tuesday that it holds $256 billion in both fiat currencies and cryptocurrencies on behalf of its customers. Yet the exchange noted that in the event it ever declared bankruptcy, “the crypto assets we hold in custody on behalf of our customers could be subject to bankruptcy proceedings.” Coinbase users would become “general unsecured creditors,” meaning they have no right to claim any specific property from the exchange in proceedings. Their funds would become inaccessible.
Only subverting the property rights of the investors utilizing the exchange, but it also sullies the image of one of the pioneers of this nascent investment market. In the absence of trust and reliability, there is no reason for patrons to continue doing business with Coinbase. With no guarantee that their investments are secure with the exchange, customers will seek alternative service providers. In effect, Coinbase’s own internal bankruptcy policy has created a Prisoner’s Dilemma. By implementing a policy that would not allow the user to claim their assets in the event of the firm’s financial demise, Coinbase is veering away from the interests of its customers. A foolish decision, but a defection. Patrons will reciprocate this defection by transferring their assets to either cold storage or other reputable crypto exchanges. The unfortunate consequence is that trust in the crypto community will be eroded. Cryptocurrency was founded on the principles of permissionless, immutable, and decentralized transactions and this culture will lose traction due to the infidelity of unscrupulous service providers. Especially considering the absence of trustworthy exchanges, the technical literacy required to participate in the crypto sphere is far too high for anyone without a programming or financial background. Effectively puts the whole claim of cryptocurrency being a path to financial inclusion into question.
The enduring axiom of fintech and digital asset regulations and taxes; barriers to entry benefit the legacy banking system. Because legal restrictions and taxes reduce incentives to participate in the financial services markets. There may be other parties that benefit from placing limitations on cryptocurrencies. Ultimately, the banking establishment enjoys diminution in competition. Many factions within the pro-regulation coalition, advocate for the regulation of cryptocurrencies and fintech services, often under the veil of consumer protection. For example, Elizabeth Warren likened Bitcoin to the 2008 Housing Bubble. Whether Warren stands to gain or not from regulating cryptocurrencies is immaterial; such behavior is merely doing all the dirty work for the Federal Reserve and the large banks with Fed fund accounts. That is to help mold public opinion to be receptive to crypto regulation. Ironically, she is unwittingly aiding and abetting the same banking system she purportedly to wants to reform. Most consumer protection measures pick winners and losers. Regulating crypto arguably picks the wrong set of winners that would not stand a chance of victory in the face of natural market pressures.
The decentralized governance on many cryptocurrency networks can be advantageous. Especially, when compared to the centralized authority of the legacy banking and monetary systems. There is a caveat; blockchains have well-touted advantages outside of crypto circles, but what about the design of the consensus mechanism? How transactions are validated can have a litany of ramifications rippling outside of the bounds of the DAO (Decentralized Autonomous Organization). For example, the environmental impact of proof-of-work validation, the consensus protocol used most notably by Bitcoin. Because this consensus mechanism requires several crypto miners to utilize large amounts of electricity as they race to validate the transaction on the blockchain and create a new block in the chain, Bitcoin has naturally become a target environmentalist.
One solution to the energy consumption conundrum is to shift the consensus protocol from proof-of-work mining to proof-of-stake validation. Several sources have noted that proof-of-stake consensus reduces energy consumption. In proof-of-stake blockchain operations, validating the new block by the machines of token holders, their holdings function as collateral for the ability to confirm the transaction. The validator is randomly selected based, avoiding the competition to finalize the new block. Even the popular cryptocurrency Ethereum is looking to transition to a proof-of-stake protocol. Are there any potential drawbacks to this governance model? One major issue that can arise from the proof-of-stake method of transaction consensus; is highlighted in the Juno Network’s Proposition 16 controversy.
The incident occurred back in October 2021, when the Cosmos Network launched the new token Juno. Cosmos initiated a stakedrop, similar to a cryptocurrency airdrop where coins of a new digital currency are sent to “.. wallet addresses to promote awareness of the new..” digital assets. Except, a stakedrop entails awarding individuals a sum of new tokens for holding an existing cryptocurrency on the blockchain network. At the time, Cosmos had an original coin offering, ATOM; the network matched an individual’s ATOM holdings with Juno with a ceiling of 50,000 tokens. One of the “whales” or entities that hold a large amount of ATOM on the blockchain contrived a crafty remedy to game the asset drop limitations. The “Whale” portrayed itself as but an investment group, acting as multiple individuals, and divided wallet addresses across several users and funneled it back to a single coin wallet.
By voting yes on this proposal, you agree to reduce the gamed whale address to 50k (Whalecap set per entity before genesis).
Note: The facts are that the Juno genesis stakedrop was gamed by a single entity. Willingly or unwillingly is not relevant to this matter. The whale gamer poses a growing risk to the network and the stakedrop error may be corrected. Gamed funds were consolidated into 1 address right after genesis which proves that 1 entity had custody over all addresses (linked below). This considerably broke the stakedrop rules of having a max 50k ATOM: 50k JUNO per entity. At the time of the genesis stakedrop, there was no way for Core-1 to pro-actively counteract this behavior. If this information would have been known before launch, 51/52 of those addresses would have been removed entirely.
Effectively, the resolution aimed to confiscate all but 50,000 tokens of the Whale’s Juno tokens. The Whale’s holding exceeding the cap has three consequences: a concentration of on-chain voting power (proof-of-stake consensus mechanism the more you hold the decision-making authority you possess), the Whale can bribe other validators on the blockchain, and this entity can wipe out all the liquidity in the exchange. This has resulted in a Prisoner’s Dilemma. Instead of negotiating a compromise, both parties acted in their interests by defecting.
The Whale initially defected by attempting to violate the terms of the drop. The network defected by seizing the purported collectives’ coins. The results have been lackluster; this policy transgresses against one of the core pillars of blockchain currencies, the “immutability” of the blockchain. Some pundits have expressed that this move could shake the confidence of prospective investors. There is some fear that other networks adopting similar policies without any impartial due process. Madison’s “tyranny of the majority” problem assumes its most modern incarnation, perhaps? Aside from this issue, what if Whale acted as middleman holding assets for other investors? Is it just for innocent third parties to suffer? If this entity was a consortium or an investment firm, the commandeered funds did not even truly belong to the Whale.
One of the hot topics in global discourse aside from the Ukraine conflict is research into CBDC (Central Bank Digital Currency). Several countries are researching deploying a CBDC and some have even implemented trial run experiments with centralized digital monies. Back in January, the US Federal Reserve published its CBDC white paper Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation (2022). Hypothetically, if initiated, the Fed would distribute retail CBDC through private intermediaries (primary dealers). Per George Selgin: “Those private intermediaries would then be responsible for managing customers’ central bank digital currency (CBDC) holdings and payments…”. Allowing the Fed to avoid managing the front-end customer service concerns (something government entities typically handle very poorly) and reallocate this function to private firms.
The overall rhetoric surrounding CBDC has been cautiously optimistic. Especially, when squared against the comparisons made between CBDCs and stablecoins. Federal Reserve Chair, Jerome Powell, has backtracked on his anti-stablecoin stance. Presumably, he still is championing a central bank currency over. Despite the institutional tensions between stablecoins and CBDC, the Fed; could be considered a Dual-Role Actor in the Bootleggers and Baptists (1983); if it is not categorically correct to deem them Baptists. There is a strong possibility that the Federal Reserve and all affiliated employees stand to gain from curbing the success of privately issued digital currencies but also sincerely believe in the virtues of the United States issuing its own. There are several arguments in favor of a government-backed digital currency supported by Fed economists and academics alike. For example, it would make assessing taxes on purchases made with digital currencies easier to determine (p.156). Also, many experts claim that a CBDC would achieve price stability, an attractive feature when you consider the historical volatility of various well-established private cryptocurrencies. It would be easier to combat money laundering and financing for terrorist activities(p.11). Probably one of the more laudable arguments for a CBDC is the argument of financial inclusion for the unbanked (p.157). All of these claims have a moralistic tone, making the Fed and CBDC friendly economists potential Baptists.
Labeling Fed officials as the Bootleggers is analogous to shooting-fish-in-a-barrel and makes for linear analysis. Plus, yes, the United States central bank and all of its economists have much to gain through promoting a CBDC; however, it is not entirely evident that they are disinterested in the moral arguments for protecting the public from the purported dangers of a private digital currency and the cause of financial inclusion. But there is a group of beneficiaries that are much less obvious to the superficial observer; hackers. A CBDC would be highly centralized, making it more likely that there could be a single point of failure in a security breach (p.17). Even though the public and permissionless blockchains are only quasi-anonymous on distributed ledgers of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, they are trusted, specifically for these validation channels in the consensus protocol are decentralized. In contrast, a CBDC would need to comply with KYC and AML requirements making it necessary to “…store personal data..” on specific nodes; “… highly likely to be exposed to a single point of failure, which can result in the indirect leakage of personal data..” (p.18). Due to the legal provisions outlined in financial monitoring laws, turns CBDCs into an aggregated database for financial and personal information if improperly designed.
One concern regarding fiat currency that is appurtenant to inflation is the occurrence of Cantillon Effects. What are Cantillon Effects? The observation is that introducing new money into the economy has “… distributional consequences that operate through the price system…”. Essentially this means that inflation does not occur all at once and does not evenly flow throughout the market. Individuals that receive the money first avoid experiencing price inflation, validating the previous point. Therefore, dispelling the misconception held by the English philosopher John Locke that the nature of money is neutral. Locke suggesting that introducing more money into the economy merely has a numerical impact on prices. The suggestion being that printing more money has little influence on economic behavior. A 17th-century precursor to the contemporary notion of “inflation doesn’t matter”. From a praxeological standpoint, this assumption is wholly false. If it were true, people would not adjust their behavior to account for the inflationary depreciation of their national currency. People would not be investing in gold, silver, or Cryptocurrencies as an alternative to hedge against government money.
This phenomenon was first observed by Irish-French Political Economist Richard Cantillon, providing its namesake. Cantillon expounds upon the mechanics of such inflationary effects on money through the example of gold mining in his book An Essay on Economic Theory. Cantillon asserts that the point of injection of new currency and the velocity of circulation play a role in its impact. As described below:
If the increase of hard money comes from gold and silver mines within the state, the owner of these mines, the entrepreneurs, the smelters, refiners, and all the other workers will increase their expenses in proportion to their profits. Their households will consume more meat, wine, or beer than before. They will become accustomed to wearing better clothes, having finer linens, and having more ornate houses and other desirable goods. Consequently, they will give employment to several artisans who did not have that much work before and who, for the same reason, will increase their expenditures. All these increased expenditures on meat, wine, wool, etc., 0necessarily reduces the share of the other inhabitants in the state who do not participate at first in the wealth of the mines in question. The bargaining process of the market, with the demand for meat, wine, wool, etc., being stronger than usual, will not fail to increase their prices. These high prices will encourage farmers to employ more land to produce the following year, and these same farmers will profit from the increased prices and will increase their expenditure on their families like the others. Those who will suffer from these higher prices and increased consumption will be, first, the property owners, during the term of their leases, then their domestic servants, and all the workmen or fixed-wage earners who support their families on a salary. They all must diminish their expenditures in proportion to the new consumption, which will compel many of them to emigrate and to seek a living elsewhere. The property owners will dismiss many of them, and the rest will demand a wage increase to live as before. It is in this manner that a considerable increase of money from mines increases consumption and, by diminishing the number of inhabitants, greater expenditures result from those who remain (p.148-149).
It is important to note that Cantillon Effects occur with currencies with a fixed supply. In Cantillon’s example above, he uses the mining of gold ore to describe the disparate impact of inflation on prices. A similar consequence is also observable as a byproduct of Bitcoin mining. However, these examples of Cantillon effects are far less pronounced than those resulting from creating more fiat currency. These disturbances are temporary (p.28) and are not indicative of permanent debasement of either commodity. A continual depreciation of money with no longitudinal guarantee of appreciation makes a currency a poor store of value. Gold, cryptocurrencies, and silver have the possibility of increasing in value. Therefore, neutralizing the short-run inflation generated by a new gold discovery. Fiat currency collective continues to depreciate across time, thereby displaying the validity of the Humean Price-Specie-Flow Mechanism model. Essentially disturbances in the gold supply would naturally adjust and levitate back to equilibrium with no further intervention. Above all demonstrating, that any disparities would be temporary under fixed-money supply standards such as gold. Effectively weakening the validity of the objections that gold is an ineffective policy tool for combating the harmful effects of inflation. Including Cantillon Effects.
The above passage from Cantillon demonstrates how individuals with close geographic or institutional proximity to the point of monetary injection enjoy the benefits. The modern-day equivalent would be working in the financial district of New York City. Financiers on Wall Street may even have connections with staff working at the New York Federal Reserve. Well-connected social networks in the financial sector are advantageous when it comes to acquiring access to money. Even beyond the social networks of well-connected financiers, the privileged position of those benefitting from Cantillon Effects starts with the Central Banks. Upon wielding newly printed money, they possess a profound amount of “.. unearned purchasing power..” (cannot find source) analogous to a counterfeiting operation. The currency flows from the Federal Reserve to the Medium and Large-sized banking institutions that “maintain reserve accounts” at various Fed locations throughout the United States. Smaller banks (e.g. local credit unions) obtain their money supplies from correspondent banks that have accounts with the Federal Reserve. These larger banks supply smaller banks charge the smaller banks a service fee for distributing their allocation of currency. This distribution dynamic illustrates how patrons of neighbor banks are at a clear disadvantage. From a temporal standpoint, the large corporate banks are among the first institutions to receive the newly printed money. Providing access to the new currency to the employees and patrons of these larger well-connected banks. Individuals living in rural regions of the united states are either unbanked or needing travel great distances for banking services. The disparate effect of this geographical allocation of new money is made worse by the higher poverty rates experienced by rural areas of the U.S. The individuals afflicted the most by poverty are the ones who suffer the most from price inflation. Serving to substantiate the consequences of Cantillon Effects as a form of regressive taxation. By the time the rate of inflation has caught up to consumer goods, the government has already funded the programs the politicians wanted to implement. Those with institutional ties closer to point of entry have already invested or spent the money before inflation is reflected in higher nominal costs of consumer goods.
August 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Nixon administration ending the Bretton Woods Agreement. The conferenced strived to establish a stable global monetary regime in the post-World War II era. Through centering fixed exchange rates around a gold-backed U.S. Dollar. The U.S. permanently closed the gold window in 1971. A gold standard made the money supply inflexible, thus making it impossible to fund the Vietnam War and other government initiatives. Instead of tightening spending when faced with a lack of gold reserves. Nixon declared us all Keynesians, forever divorcing the U.S. dollar from gold for good.
The Bretton Woods Agreement was not flawed. A clear departure from the classical gold standard (1834-1933) in America; it was still better than a pure fiat standard. The fixed supply of gold in the vaults provides hardline constraints on inflation and government spending, a lesson learned by cryptocurrency creators. Limiting the amount of money produced helps it retain its value. Helping us refrain from reducing our currency to being a worthless piece of “Monopoly money” (think Weimar Germany). Some argue that the threat of hyperinflation in the United States is hyperbole; it is crucial to remember how much the dollar has depreciated since eliminating the fixed-gold standard. Since 1971, the dollar has suffered from a rate of cumulative inflation of 570.90%! Now might be the ideal time to start arguing for a return to the gold standard. This argument is not merely a knee-jerk reaction to the 2008 financial crisis.