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Bitcoin is a new payment application available on the internet since January In a way, by virtue of its open source publication, it is similar to the World Wide Web, the hugely successful internet application of the internet that now enables so many others. Much like the WWW has redefined the way mankind produces and shares knowledge, bitcoin transforms the social code underlying money supply to bring about a new degree of economic freedom. Can it be seen as a new monetary reform vehicle?
The relevance of complementary currencies is acutely underlined by the emergence of a global economy dominated by the rules of finance where state sponsored currencies are competing for growth and trade surplus.
Until , ideas for a monetary reform could revolve only around money supply mechanisms orchestrated by governments and the banking system. With the inception of a universal currency harnessing the transforming power of the web, new avenues may be explored for economic and social changes: The bitcoin protocol specifies how to build and maintain a distributed database of transactions on the internet.
Transactions are published and signed electronically using asymmetric cryptography and key pairs. The protocol enforces confirmation of every transaction by the network nodes. Signatures by private keys ensure the title of property to any given amount of bitcoins: The bitcoin transaction database holds all the necessary information for an address owner to receive and spend any amount of bitcoin: Moreover, the bitcoin protocol specifies a money supply mechanism.
Bitcoins are generated gradually by the network until a maximum quantity of 21 million bitcoins is reached. The house existed before the loan. The bank essentially created the money in its ledger out of thin air: Even top bankers and economists, including Nobel Prize winner Maurice Allais, call it magic. If only because of the continued effects of the financial crises, Bitcoin allows us to experiment with a new concept for money. Bitcoin, as a new universal currency, is a true innovation, building on numerous prior attempts to create a sustainable currency and doing so independently of any state or centralized organization.
Some bankers I spoke with shrug off Bitcoin on the somewhat circular logic that it cannot be backed by any assets in the real world. Well, thanks to merchants accepting bitcoins and to online exchanges trading bitcoins just like any other currency, a Bitcoin economy is emerging. If the economy of the euro or the dollar collapses, the expectation of a backing by the central banks is based on the assumption that a government has unlimited taxation power over said economy. The current financial crisis in Greece or, to a lesser extend in the US, demonstrates that actual use of this theoretical power is a stretch of economic reality.
There are over state sponsored currencies in use across the world today. The innovative feature of bitcoin that truly sets it apart from anything that existed before is simple: As such, it is making other forms of cash transaction comparatively less convenient. Removing the necessity does not affect the usefulness of a third party in some cases.
Transaction processing between merchants and their customers will always entail some kind of dispute resolution system, regardless of the currency that is being used for payments. E-gold, as a tentatively universal currency backed by gold, was created in and failed mainly because it relied on a central organization to manage an inventory of gold. The quantity of gold needed was supposed to grow with the e-gold economy, which was impractical, dangerous and fundamentally useless in a digital age.
Another shortcoming of e-gold was the lack of a specific protocol: Bitcoin money supply mechanism simulates the extraction of a rare metal with a mathematical model, using a clever recipe proven in electronic signature schemes and hashing algorithms that can be found today as ingredients in most banking systems.
One can think of bitcoin as a currency backed not by gold but by a metaphoric substitute of gold, since the quantity of bitcoins is limited by design: Like gold, bitcoins can be seen as bonds that never mature but unlike gold, bitcoins bear virtually infinite divisibility and liquidity with no vaulting costs.
They are consistent with the market capitalization of Visa, Inc. Buying bitcoins today is like buying stocks of a new global electronic transaction network. The supercomputer would stay idle, acting as a deterrent to any seller of bitcoin, waiting for the intruder to back away. In other words, to mitigate this risk, the new operator himself or herself would have had to acquire a large amount of bitcoins beforehand to keep the bitcoin economy running after the takeover, in the hope that more sellers would return after the more or less chaotic transition.
Additionally, by the time the attack is ready, it is unclear whether said supercomputer would be able to match the majority of the hashing power of the current nodes while this cumulative power is going up day after day.
The uncertainty surrounding the outcome of this kind of hostile takeover makes it more likely that a rational investor would simply buy bitcoins much in the same way he or she would buy stocks in a start-up venture. By joining a mining pool, a miner aims at gaining a share of the steady flow of bitcoin expected with a large amount of aggregate hashing power. The share is prorated according to the hashing power contributed by the miner. Statistically, the expected rewards are the same though, only the income flow is steadier in a pool.
Hence a miner would have no incentive to stay with a pool under the control of a hostile investor. He or she would simply switch to another pool or start mining solo. This analysis remains true even after all the bitcoins have been minted.
Anyone with a personal computer and a graphic card GPU can join in and start participating in this giant transaction processing pool that defines the bitcoin network.
However, a Web of Trust requires a central authority to manage trust certificates and to prevent fraud, raising lots of practical issues: Bitcoin proof of work protocol avoids the need for a secure web of trust, relying instead on the assumption that a majority of the computing power is in the hands of honest participants: This concept of cloud computing applied to the confirmation of transactions is very consequential: Taking over the network today with such a powerful machine would not prevent the network from operating but would disturb transaction confirmations until participants find a way to overcome the attack and regain control of the operations.
Recovery strategies could be applied to resume operations normally thereafter. In other words, even assuming that a government or a large organization would be able to harness so much computing power to engage in such heavy-weight counter measure against the bitcoin network, its expected outcome is uncertain at best. This property makes bitcoin as resilient as a transaction network can be. A universal currency like Bitcoin, which is using digital signatures and asymmetric cryptography, has the interesting additional property that it can go back and forth from digital to fiduciary status.
The old boundaries between electronic transactions and cash transactions are blurred: Let us say the public key is left apparent and the secret key is hidden underneath a cover: In doing so we have created a new e-note containing the bitcoins received on the public address that cannot be spent until the secret key is revealed. The e-note can be traded as long as it is not tampered with.
The amount received on the public address can be printed also in a tamper-proof process: When the cover of the secret key is removed, the e-note amount in bitcoins can be redeemed electronically for any payment using bitcoins. In further contrast with old notions of fiat money, e-notes without denomination are also possible: By definition, a truly decentralized universal currency must start without a central authority regulating its money supply mechanism: Such systemic correlation would yield endless discussions between the users, hence requiring a governing body capable of moderating the discussion and enforcing the rules by some yet unknown universal democratic standards.
For the same reason, the new transaction software must be free software to escape the limitations and opacity of proprietary software. As Richard Stallman summed it up in his now famous statement: To a large extend, state sponsored currencies like the euro or the dollar are created in a black box, with a lot of media attention focused on interest rates rather than money supply. A central organization promoting a currency system based on proprietary software would not be a game changer.
Therefore the money supply mechanism must be hard coded and published in the specifications from the outset, with little or no room for the currency to wiggle out of it to its possible demise. In the same logic, it is neither possible nor necessary to predict the rate of adoption and growth of the user base for the new currency: The money supply model is therefore deflationary, defining a maximum quantity, unless the rules of generation are bound to the number of users by a user authentication protocol.
This requirement is not compatible with an objective to design a decentralized currency since user authentication requires issuing identity certificates either in a web of trust or with a certification authority.
The Bitcoin specifications not only fulfill the requirement for a limited money supply but also make provisions for transaction fees to provide a sustainable incentive for miners to keep mining even after the rewards for the generation of new bitcoins have dwindled to zero. Because Bitcoins are traded electronically, unlike gold, they are infinitely divisible and enjoy a high velocity, so a deflationary spiral can only reduce the scope of bitcoin to the function of a store of value, a more practical process than is used for gold.
In fact, the deflationary spiral would have adverse economic consequences only if bitcoins were the exclusive currency in a given territory. Prices will most likely be expressed in local currencies.
In an electronic online transaction, the price expressed in a universal currency can be easily adjusted in real time for exchange rate variations. Only for off line transactions, price stability is a strong requirement for a new universal currency. In short, deflation will augment the attractiveness of bitcoins as a store of value and will only marginally affect its application as a trade currency.
Where do we go from here? In a global economy, the inception of one or more universal currencies is bound to happen as soon as technology permits it. Bitcoin, as the first, is paving the way for new applications.
Bitcoin can leverage the generalization of mobile phones in developing countries to enable a money transfer directly to the recipient, bypassing all state bureaucracies and banking intermediaries. The institution or non-governmental organization responsible for the transfer could simply assign bitcoin addresses to recipients and their local merchants then fulfill the money transfers and payments in bitcoins.
By analogy, it is worth noticing that the World Wide Web does have a governing body, namely W3C, a non-profit organization made of more than members among the largest companies in the high tech sector. Clearly, any leverage applied by a government to one of its constituents in W3C can be balanced out by the others if it does not fit the bill of the general interest.
Because this principle holds successfully for the technology enabling new ways of producing and sharing as valuable an asset as knowledge, one is permitted to hope that a similar organization can also deal one day with the Bitcoin protocol specifications at a technical level to maintain its immunity from the hazards of macro-economic measurements.
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The Cambrian explosion of blockchains. Today, there is a real curiosity, but above all, a need for education on the subject of Bitcoin and Ethereum protocols, as well as blockchain technology. Thank your for your subscribe.