Blog post by Dave Peck and the PSL team. Some issues they discuss:
Very few categories of data belong on-chain …
Today’s smart contract programming models are deeply flawed …
Smart contracts can’t reference the “real-world”. They can only reference the blockchain itself. This is known as the “oracle problem” and it makes blockchains a necessarily closed system. This may sound like a trivial problem, but it is actually profound. For instance, it forces smart contract developers to jump through hoops to build “price oracles” when they want their on-chain code to reference real-world asset prices. Companies like Chainlink act as oracles,
Smart contracts can’t be upgraded …
Smart contracts require complex distributed systems to run, effectively, forever.
Distributed consensus technology could change radically in the next decade.
The Marshall Islands CBDC project moves forward. Algorand, the project partner, reports that
blockchain for the world’s first national digital currency, the Marshallese sovereign (SOV), will be built using Algorand technology. The SOV will circulate alongside the US dollar and help the Marshall Islands efficiently operate in the global economy.
Different aspects of the Libra proposal that various authors have emphasized:
Jameson Lopp on OneZero: A “database of programmable resources;” Move; “[p]erhaps the network as a whole can switch to proof of stake, but in order for the stablecoin peg/basket to be maintained, some set of entities must keep a bridge open to the traditional financial system. This will be a persistent point of centralized control via the Libra Association”; not a blockchain, the “data structure of the ledger history is a set of signed ledger states”; initially, 1,000 payment transactions per second with a 10-second finality time; technical aspects.
Laura Noonan and Nicholas Megaw in the FT: Gaining regulatory approval (in each US state, as well as in many countries) is burdensome even if Carney signals “open mind but not open door”; ING declined to be part of consortium; how can merchants be brought onboard?
James Hamilton on Econbrowser: Currency board; currency competition.
JP Koning on Moneyness: Competition for national banking systems; new unit of account; global monies (or languages) never worked out.
Stephen Williamson on New Monetarism: Narrow bank or mutual fund; why “krypto” or “blockchain?” [T]ere’s never been a successful banking system that didn’t have a strong regulatory hand behind it.
Corinne Zellweger-Gutknecht and Dirk Niepelt in NZZ, Jusletter: Role of resellers; regulation in Switzerland.
In the FT, Robert Armstrong reports about the new “JPM coin” launched by JP Morgan.
“JPM Coins” will be transferable over a blockchain between the accounts of the bank’s corporate clients, who will purchase and redeem them for dollars at a fixed 1:1 ratio, making them “stablecoins” in the crypto-jargon.
The technology will facilitate near-instantaneous settlement of these money transfers and will, according to the bank, mitigate counterparty risk.
According to my reading, the coins are essentially bank deposit that live on a blockchain which is managed by JP Morgan and accessible by the bank’s clients. I doubt that a coin will be redeemable for US dollars issued by the Federal Reserve (as opposed to deposits issued by JP Morgan).
In the FT, Jamie Smyth reports that the Australian Securities Exchange plans to introduce a blockchain based equity clearing and settlement system.
ASX will operate the system on a secure private network with known participants. The participants must comply with regulation, according to the ASX, which said its system had nothing to do with blockchain technology deployed by cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.
Bordo and Levin favor an account-based CBDC system (managed or supervised by the central bank) rather than central bank issued tokens in the blockchain.
They emphasize the Friedman rule and the fact that interest paying CBDC affords the possibility to satisfy the rule:
These … goals – … a stable unit of account and an efficient medium of exchange – seemed to be irreconcilable due to the impracticalities of paying interest on paper currency, and hence Friedman advocated a steady deflation rather than price stability. But the achievement of both goals has now become feasible using a well-designed CBDC.
Interest paying CBDC would imply—payments to account holders. Bordo and Levin do not discuss the political economy implications. They are also silent about the transition from the current system with deposits to a new system with interest bearing CBDC in which demand for deposits would drastically fall.
Bordo and Levin favor abolishing cash to render monetary policy most powerful. Eliminating the option to withdraw cash would also eliminate the lower bound on nominal interest rates and would render unnecessary any “inflation buffer” of 2 percent or so. Monetary policy thus could move from positive inflation targets to a price level target.
Their paper contains a long list of useful references.
Many ICOs are designed to finance applications that will make use of the blockchain … In some cases, the “coins” can be exchanged for services on the site. In a way, this is like selling air miles in a startup airline; investors can either use the miles for flights or hope they can trade them at a profit. For the business, it is also a way of creating demand for the product they are selling.
But in plenty of cases, an ICO is just a way of raising capital without all the hassle of meeting regulatory requirements, or the burden of paying interest to a bank.
On bankunderground, Simon Scorer reminds us that a central bank issued digital currency (CBDC) need not operate on a distributed ledger platform. The two do not have much to do with each other.
Scorer suggests a series of technical requirements for a CBDC:
And he concludes that a distributed ledger does not meet all requirements.
It’s unlikely that all of the above attributes could be perfectly met with today’s technology; you may need to make compromises between features – e.g. the trade-off between resilience and privacy …
CBDC is far from just a simple question of technology; any central bank contemplating CBDC will need to answer a host of fundamental economic questions, as well as considering how feasible it is to achieve all the required features and what type of technology might enable this.
On Bloomberg view, Matt Levine discusses the recent bitcoin fork. The handling of long and short positions on Bitfinex, a bitcoin exchange, created an arbitrage opportunity, until Bitfinex changed its mind.
Bitfinex announced a policy to deal with the fork, people took advantage of the policy, and Bitfinex changed its mind after the fact. Each of its decisions was rational, and quite plausibly the fairest option available to it. None of those decisions were required by, like, the nature of bitcoin, or of short selling: There is no single obviously correct solution to these issues. Instead, each decision was sort of weird and contingent and reversible: not the immutable code of the blockchain, but just humans sitting around and trying to figure out which approach would cause the fewest complaints. …
The blockchain has a certain stark logical completeness, but it doesn’t address all of the actual human uses required of it. And so it has become encrusted with other human institutions. And those institutions turn out to be unsurprisingly human.
every user is acting as a bank by granting credit lines to friends they trust. This allows to issue people powered money between friends and facilitate secure payments between strangers, by sending payments along a chain of trusting friends.
Think of IOUs or cheques and netting in the blockchain.
In the FT, Martin Arnold reports about a new cross-border payment method tested by the Bank of England. The “interledger” program transfers money “near-instantaneously and without settlement risk.” The Bank of England
set up two simulated RTGS systems on a cloud computing platform, using the Ripple interledger to simultaneously process “a successful cross-border payment”.
This is not necessarily good news for the blockchain community. The Bank of England’s proof of concept is
“about connectivity between central bank systems rather than replacing the central bank systems with the blockchain,” [according to] Daniel Aranda, head of Europe at Ripple.
On Alphaville, Izabella Kaminska comments on the pecking order induced by initial coin offerings (ICOs).
All of this raises an important point about actual shareholder rights within these structures. Say a legally-incorporated institution with actual shareholders dishes out an uncapped amount of tokens promising a share of revenues or dividends via the ICO process. Do shareholders’ rights to those revenue/dividends trump rights of the token holders? And if so, how does that square with the way risk is distributed through these systems? As Unseth notes, more often than not, it’s the token holders taking the bulk of the early concept risk, yet the inferiority of their ranking relative to shareholders kind of sees the latter receiving a free lunch.
The Economist reports about government initiatives aimed at using blockchain technology in the public sector.
Possible uses include land registries, identity-management systems, health-care records, or elections.
Proponents expect the technology to improve efficiency and transparency and foster trust.
Adoption requires significant investments.
According to a survey “nine in ten government organisations say they plan to invest in blockchain technology to help manage financial transactions, assets, contracts and regulatory compliance by next year.”
Sweden tests a blockchain-based land registry; Dubai’s government wants to completely shift to blockchain technology by 2020; Estonia stores health records and protects its shared government systems using blockchain-like technolog; Georgia’s land registry uses blockchain technology and has processed 160,000 transactions; Ukraine wants to become “one of the world’s leading blockchain nations,” not least to build trust between government and citizens.
On the FT’s Alphaville blog, Izabella Kaminska points to a paper by Italian academics arguing that the Ethereum technology tends to incubate Ponzi schemes.
The uniqueness of the “smart Ponzi” is its capacity to protect the identity of the initiator but also its ability to persist even after being exposed. Since contracts are unmodifiable and thus unstoppable there is no central authority to terminate the execution of the scheme or force the initiator to refund victims. What’s more, the inability to shut it down means victims can be led to believe the scheme will last forever.
On the FT’s Alphaville blog, Izabella Kaminska questions the value of decentralization (and thus, blockchain technology) in intermediation.
Decentralisation is, in almost all cases, not an efficiency. To the contrary, it’s a cost that adds complexity and creates an unnecessary burden for both users and operators unless centralised layers are added on top of it — defying the whole point. …
At the end of the day, there are only two groups of people prepared to go to costly lengths to decentralise a service which is already available (in what is often a much higher quality form) in a centralised or conventional hierarchal state. One group is criminals and fraudsters. The other is ideologues and cultists. …
It’s not privacy, because a centralised system can be encrypted just as much as a blockchain-based one.
On Bloomberg, Yuji Nakamura and Lulu Yilun Chen report about conflicting views in the Bitcoin community on how to address capacity limits in the blockchain.
Bitcoin Unlimited is essentially a software upgrade to the blockchain. Years ago, bitcoin’s early developers imposed a cap on the amount of data it could process. While that slowed down the network, it was seen as a necessary safety measure against potential attackers who could overload the system. Now, Unlimited supporters say the blockchain is robust enough that it doesn’t need any limit at all.
While most agree the blockchain is stronger, critics … say that removing the data cap is a risky move which will leave bitcoin vulnerable to governments and global banks. Without a limit, large organizations would use their resources to out-muscle smaller miners and effectively take control of the blockchain and bitcoin itself.
On Wired, Andy Greenberger discusses Monero, Dash, and Zcash, krypto currencies that provide more privacy than bitcoin and its derivatives.
Unlike commercial services like PayPal, Bitcoin allows anyone to spend money online without providing identifying details. But if someone’s Bitcoin address is linked with their real identity, any transaction from that address is entirely visible on the public blockchain … Hiding those transactions requires taking extra steps, like routing bitcoins through “tumblers” that mix up coins with those of strangers—and occasionally steal them—or using techniques like “coinjoin,” built into some bitcoin wallet programs, that mix payments to make them harder to trace. “If I pay my rent in Bitcoin, it wouldn’t be that hard for the landlord to figure out how much money I earned if I don’t take extra precautions” …
Monero … implements a few features that Bitcoin still can’t offer. It uses a technique called “stealth addresses” to generate addresses for receiving Monero that are essentially encrypted; the recipient can retrieve the funds, but no one can link that stealth address to the owner. It employs a technique called “ring signatures,” which means every Monero spent is grouped with as many as a hundred other transactions, so that the spender’s address is mixed in with a group of strangers, and every subsequent movement of that money makes it exponentially more difficult to trace back to the source. And it uses something called “ring confidential transactions,” which hides the amount of every transaction.
Monero isn’t the first cryptocurrency designed to offer a financial privacy panacea: Dash, formerly known as Darkcoin, integrates the “coinjoin” technique that allows bitcoin users to mix their transactions with a few other spenders in what Todd calls a weaker form of anonymity than Monero offers. More recently, Zcash debuted with the strongest anonymity promises yet—it uses cryptographic tricks designed to make tracing a transaction not only unlikely, but mathematically impossible. Zcash has yet to be integrated into dark web markets, though, and still requires wielding the command line to use.
NZZ, November 29, 2016. HTML, PDF. Longer version published on Ökonomenstimme, December 14, 2016. HTML.
Central banks are increasingly interested in employing blockchain technologies, and they should be.
The blockchain threatens the intermediation business.
Central banks encounter the blockchain in the form of new krypto currencies, and as the technology underlying new clearing and settlement systems.
Krypto currencies bear the risk of “dollarization,” but in the major currency areas this risk is still small.
New clearing and settlement systems benefit from central bank participation. But central banks benefit as well; those rejecting the new technology risk undermining the attractiveness of the home currency.