China creates a Bitcoin buy opportunity

When governments seek to inhibit, retard or ban a grassroots movement, it almost always has the opposite effect. Official acts of suppression tend to fuel publicity and growth by shining a light on the activity or venue that some wish to suppress.

The US government apparently knows this. Perhaps that is why a Justice Department official said on November 18 that Bitcoins can be a “legal means of exchange” at a U.S. Senate committee hearing.

  • Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general at the department’s criminal division, told the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs “We all recognize that virtual currencies, in and of themselves, are not illegal”.
  • Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Ben Bernanke, told the Senate committee that the U.S. central bank has no plans to regulate the currency. He wrote to lawmakers: “Although the Federal Reserve generally monitors developments in virtual currencies and other payments system innovations, it does not necessarily have authority to directly supervise or regulate these innovations or the entities that provide them to the market”.

Of course, as with any monetary authority, the US government needs to preserve public faith in the dollar, and also avoid an exodus to digital currencies, even if used only for online transactions. But rather than attempting to ban individuals from investing in Bitcoin or using it as a currency, the US subtly discredits Bitcoin by placing fear and doubt in the minds of would be traders. For example, in this interview, former fed chairman, Alan Greenspan, explains with remarkable clarity why he believes it is foolish to accept Bitcoin as a currency.

Dr. Greenspan is smarter than me and I am certain that he believes what he says. But I respectfully disagree that trust comes only from the Aristotle doctrine of intrinsic value. Even without the backing of a trusted government or bank, investment value can arise from a combination of provable scarcity and widespread recognition.

Short term investment?  —  or
Long term exchange medium?

I prefer to study Bitcoin as an emerging global currency rather than as an investment vehicle. But even as an investment, its potential is inextricably linked to the likelihood that it will catch on as a currency—at least in some sectors or in some countries. So, let’s look at this possibility…

The long term viability of Bitcoin as a currency depends upon sustained trust by a large number of vendors and consumers. That is, buyers and sellers must feel that there will be broad or growing audience to accept the coins that they accrue, and that the value of their savings—or even of daily receipts—will not be eroded by inflation or a sudden lack of faith. (I am not too concerned with wild swings in exchange value during early adoption. These tend to be overlooked by “bleeding edge” adopters or at least the significant fraction of them that have a strong stomach).

Why is Bitcoin falling?

Bitcoin_pullbackThe short answer: it’s not falling for long. It is adjusting in response to politics, but it almost certainly will return to its historical trend.

The upward path of Bitcoin is already the stuff of legend. The exchange rate with the US dollar rose from nothing to $12 in the first 2 years of trading. This year, it peaked at $1240 on Thanksgiving Day in late November, but then pulled back as low as $650 over the next week. The fall was precipitated by a warning from the Chinese government to its citizens. Their announcement did not ban owning or trading Bitcoins, but it warned citizens that it was a very risky investment and also that it must not be used as currency in any transactions.

After pausing at around $700 for a day, it returned to a range of $850~1050 for most of December. But there was another sudden drop last night, on December 17. It pulled all the way into the high fours before settling between $550 and $600. (This posting was written on Dec 18).

But what happened last night? What caused the second nosedive in this graph?

China_effect_on_Bitcoin

Answer: China is at it again. It is using direct engagement rather than subtle persuasion in an attempt to block gradual adoption of a decentralized, uncontrollable phenomenon. Last night, China’s biggest Bitcoin exchange was barred from accepting new Yuan deposits. But it was not shut down. Citizens can continue to sell and trade Bitcoins that are already in their account and the exchange can still accept cash from outside the country.

Some would say that the downward pressure is a natural response to law and public policy. Wild Ducks augment this argument by pointing out that the fall is a temporary and technical effect. More to the point—we see it as a buying opportunity.

Of course, I acknowledge the short term risk and I continue to downplay the role of Bitcoin as an investment. But I can’t shake the notion that early adoption leads to appreciation over the course of a maturing commodity. I also can’t shake extreme excitement over a property of Bitcoin that places it head-and-shoulders above government and bank-backed currencies: The supply is capped. It simply cannot be printed, inflated, or used as a political tool. It also resists efforts of governments to attack personal wealth as the basis for mandatory redistribution, at least without full and wholehearted consent of the governed.

Given the choice of using it as currency later or owning it earlier, why not do both?

Further reading:

Ellery Davies is acting technology editor for AWildDuck. He dabbles in law, economics, and public policy and has been fascinated with Bitcoin for years.

Debt, Obamacare & Recurring Fiscal Crisis

Senator Ted Cruz leands an assault on Obamacare

Senator Cruz: Assault on Obamacare

There are a plethora of opinions about the latest fiscal crisis. Take your pick. Senator Ted Cruz certainly has an opinion, and he will toss America down a hole to prove it.

Actually, the senator and I share significant common ground. We are both deeply concerned about debt and uncontrolled spending. But, beyond these fundamentals, the senator’s foot-shooting tactics, including a quasi-filibuster, doesn’t inspire confidence.

How, do you suppose, that our creditors view these spams of democratic process? Do you think that they worry about default? Do they care if our economy recovers?  I suspect that – like consumer creditors – they attempt to influence behavior and policy to achieve both a payment stream and a long term outcome that is, foremost, favorable to the creditor? Just as with Greece, creditors are certainly entitled to call the shots.

Today, Forbes contributor, Eamonn Fingleton offered an analysis and explanation of the creditor decision process that I find refreshingly clear. It is, quite probably, an accurate prediction of cause and effect as applied to our current fiscal crisis.

Perhaps the reason that Americans lack the intestinal fortitude to ride out a long term investment is because, as a nation, we have been debtors for too long to recall what it is to be an investor!

Americans delude themselves with the fantasy that that a massive debtor has cards to play. They imagine that a creditors’ need for (the debtor’s) continued solvency and unabated consumption gives them strength. But those things aren’t as critical as Americans think. They can always find new customers elsewhere.

It’s a big world and trade barriers are coming down everywhere. The American dream can still be achieved—even with a roaring, world class economy. But to get there from here, we must recognize that we borrowed against our future while the Chinese produced and lent and while the Arabs sucked down our borrowed cash to satisfy our self-imposed oil addiction.

Those events have consequences. Like it or not, the Chinese have earned the upper hand. Today, they hold thousands of dollars of debt over every one of us. This turn of events is not “unfair”. In fact it is wholly fair. That debt is inherent in your TV, smart phone, shoes, toys, auto parts and underwear. Throughout the 90s and 00s, we moved our manufacturing, infrastructure and innovation off shore. All the while, we soaked up Chinese toys, clothes, gadgets, and raw materials and – of course – Mideast oil. We remained faithful to our post war credo:  Consume, consume, consume!

We must stop thinking of ourselves as entitled to anything other than our freedoms, the separation of powers, Hollywood, the Internet and our past glory as historical capitalists (up through the first ⅔ of the 20th century). We are also entitled to our pretty, foreign-made gadgets adorned with American logos. We got these things, because we handed a pawn broker our marker. He trusts us, because he respects the family name. But he is surprised that we keep bowering to pay the bill. In fact, we aren’t really paying the bill. We are simply racking up debt and ignoring the principal.

Now, it’s time to pay our bills. President Obama wants to begin this process while also ensuring that we include universal access to heath insurance. Well, O.K. it’s not really universal access it’s mandatory buy in. Does Obamacare represent socialiaztion of health care? Probably, Yes! Is it the right move in a down economy? Who knows? Do most people support it? I don’t think that we can get a clear answer to that last question, but it certainly seems split across party lines.

But here’s the deal, Congress. Obamacare is a fact! The act was passed and the law was upheld by the highest court. Since then, it has survived dozens of attempts to overturn it. It’s time to apply your remarkable energy to the people’s business!

The US Congress behaves like a whiny child who wants to grab the soccer ball, furlough the players and shut down the stadium. It’s time to accept defeat without using terrorist tactics to make a point. Few Americans want a socialist economy, but through due process, we have chosen to socialize health insurance. Let’s review the logic:

  • I feel that the time for due process is over.
  • You are determined to spend all of your time and resources trying to overturn a done deal.
  • I think that you are crazy.

And it’s very unsettling to lose confidence in our elected officials.

Ellery on ObamacareListen up, Congress! We, the people, don’t like debt. We get your point of digging in. The constant debt increase is not a merry-go-round. It is more like a falling roller coaster with no tracks ahead. We must apply the brakes, and very soon. We get it! But there are two things that we cannot avoid: Paying creditors and accepting political defeat on just how a reduced budget is put together.

Get over it! Accept that you cannot defund a program that was passed and approved. One way or another, we must still deal with the spiraling cost of health care. Now get to work, dammit! Tell us where we must cut the fat and get the job done!

After years of buying from China, time to pay the bill

I wrote this in April 2011 as feedback to this article in PC World.
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After decades of buying from China, it’s time we paid the bill.

Step back from rhetoric & ideology. What, exactly, do we expect the Chinese to buy with all the dollars that they’ve amassed? What happens if we try to dictate their options? –Making available just a few items at the bazaar?

Most Americans want balanced trade. Trade is balanced by encouraging foreigners to return dollars to America. That means purchasing goods & services or investing (purchasing equity or debt). But purchasing debt isn’t real balance. It postpones and magnifies a trade imbalance.

The Chinese have built vast quantities of products that we consumed for more than 30 years. For whatever reasons, they have built them cheaper and responded quickly to consumer demand, and with sufficient quality and style that we loved acquiring them.

Now China has pockets stuffed with dollars. There are so few places that want those dollars, the logical recourse it to spend before it depreciates. That’s logical. Getting them to use those dollars is what we want.

The US exports movies, airplanes, weapons & software, and we charge foreigners to attend our Universities. On the international stage, that about sums our brag sheet. But when we consume trillions from foreigners, do the promissory notes that we issue (“dollars”) limit them to these few commodities? What else can the Chinese purchase that isn’t manufactured closer to home, better, and in larger quantities? They export the really big ticket items themselves–like skyscraper contracting, oil drilling, nuclear technology!

When a foreign corporation or government wants to purchase something significant from the US, suddenly we stop yelling “Buy American” and we start yelling “Security Threat!”. Poppycock! If we create such enormous red tape that international telecom players cannot acquire or invest in one another, we reduce liquidity and further weaken our dollar. Face it: Our start up companies are commodities as certainly as a retail copy of Windows, a Boeing jet or a patent portfolio. When we turn up our nose at healthy interest in intellectual trade or infrastructure acquisition, we are not protecting our interests. We are simply informing trading partners that they were fools to trust us, and that the dollars they stockpiled can be redeemed only in Hollywood films.

It’s natural to be skeptical. China is controlled by an authoritarian dictatorship. Citizens lack social & political freedom. But don’t be misguided about their economy – both within and abroad. It is lubricated by capitalism and is more adaptive and free-wheeling than our own. Whatever their shortcomings, we accepted these when they were selling. We must also allow them to buy. Our technology plays are the only thing on our menu.

Conclusions:

  • A) If we refuse to allow the Chinese to repatriate dollars or offer them only the local goods of our choosing – typical of a Banana Republic – then they will dump our dollars and also stop buying our debt. It would crush our economy in a heartbeat.
  • B) If we allow those with large stockpiles of our dollars to use them as they see fit, the dollars will return to build factories, create jobs, and produce good, old fashioned innovation. But this won’t happen with newly printed dollars. It doesn’t work that way, because that weakens both parties and makes our factories unattractive. It must be the dollars that we willingly handed over for TVs, computers, shoes, toys and even building materials. We must accept that we owe China—big time! For decades, we passed off pictures of George & Ben in exchange for tangible goods. We knew the Chinese crafted high tech goods for less and that the political system was repressive. But we looked the other way. We really wanted those things! Whether you like their government or not, we promised to expend future time and resources supplying their children with commensurate goods.


Why does China say “America works for us”
Click image to learn why (video = 1min)

This video was commissioned in an effort to defeat Obama’s 2010 universal health care bill. It has terrific shock value. It depicts what China believes to be our economic weakness. I won’t comment here about health care or stimulus economics. It’s unrelated to my point. But the video also depicts what Chinese believe to be their imminent destiny, perhaps at America’s expense.

They deserve all of the positive things they have earned. Although it’s natural to whine and complain about an uneven playing field, and our past glory (Automobile assembly, television, the moon landing and the Internet), China is winning in the global economy and any trade in which we engage is, by definition, fair. In fact, the only uneveness in the playing field of international trade is just the opposite of popular perception: It has been tipped in our favor for the entire 20th century!

We must get it through our heads that capitalism is not a contest! This simple truth is often overlooked. The emergence of China as an economic superpower is a good thing. Not just for the Chinese, but for every American. If we keep our own ship in order, the result will be an abundance of goods and services from both sides because we will have affluent trading partners, broader access to labor and markets, and eventually, democratic trading partners.

– Ellery Davies|
Ellery clarifies law and public policy. He is a frequent columnist and TV commentator.

Beijing to Impose Encryption Disclosure Rules

I originally wrote this piece in April 2010 as feedback to this article in The Wall Street Journal.
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Another reader, Felix Wyss, correctly points out that this WSJ article is unclear on the information demanded by Chinese authorities. Every open or public key encryption standard is based on a disclosed algorithm. That’s the whole point. It is the complexity of reversing that algorithm that makes the encryption secure…

If the Chinese government wants more information about the algorithm used to encode data for transmission or archival – For example, to ensure that it is secure – then I say, “Absolutely! Get all the information you like”. But if they want a key escrow or back door, they are barking up a dead tree stump. Been there. Done that. Our own government tried this. In the words of Dana Carvy: “Not Gonna Happen.

Even under communist rule, that wouldn’t be encryption at all. And with the growing clout of economic success, Chinese companies won’t stand for it. The Party would do better by demanding that routers or firewalls force users to create two keys: One for the end user and one for the network admin. That would promote good business practice. Of course, turning over the 2nd key to anyone outside of the immediate work group  or family would require active user consent and compliance.

Hey China! Let’s face it: The days of suppressing free speech or forcing products to snitch on their users is coming to an ignoble end. The secret police of Romania, East Germany, the Soviet Union and Iraq have all disbanded – or at least redirected to classic gum shoe detective work and intelligence gathering. Terrorism is the new enemy and not the private business and political activities of your own citizens. You have shown a remarkable ability to emerge as an economic superpower, making things that people like, exporting quality products, all while raising the standard of living for your population. Ultimately, this helps all countries. But now you have some very ugly skeletons to sweep out of your closet. Modern 1st world countries cannot forever suppress political and religious freedom.

Grow up. We really do want you to enter the community of nations some day.

– Ellery Davies
Ellery Davies clarifies law and public policy. Feedback is always welcome.