John Oliver explains Bitcoin, Blockchain & Crypto (with precision & clarity)!

John Oliver is a crossover who bridges the art of a comedian with the reporting and perspective of a liberal political pundit. Even detractors acknowledge that Oliver addresses serious issues with unusual wit and humor.

I never thought Oliver could (or would) tackle the topic of cryptocurrency—at least not with value to the viewer. It is too geeky, and too esoteric. (It also cuts into my mission of evangelism and education). 🙂

He did, and he sparkles! Feel free to jump past the fluff. The Bitcoin tutorial starts at 3:40. Of course, my friend, Shechter, in Long Island New York will bust a gut over what Oliver says at 9:40. It is not only clear and concise, it is accurate and terribly funny!

Whether you are a Bitcoin newbie or a seasoned blockchain coder, this is the video you have been looking for. This one is durable.

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Building a Bitcoin ATM is easy, but…

…But offering or operating them engulfs the assembler in a regulatory minefield!

A photo of various Bitcoin ATMs appears at the bottom of this article. My employer, Cryptocurrency Standards Association, shared start-up space at a New York incubator with the maker of a small, wall mounted ATM, like the models shown at top left.

What is Inside a Cryptocurrency ATM?

You could cobble together a Bitcoin ATM with just a cheap Android tablet, a camera, an internet connection, and [optional]: a secure cash drawer with a mechanism to count and dispense currency).* A receipt printer that can also generate a QR code is a nice touch, but you don’t really need one. You can use your screen for the coin transfer and email for a receipt.

Of course your programming and user interface will make all the difference in the world. Your ATM must interface with an exchange—your own or a 3rd party.

If your plan is to sell Bitcoin and not exchange it for cash, then you don’t need a currency dispensing component at all. You only need a credit card swipe-reader and an RFI tap reader. Some models are smaller than a cookie and sell for under $30. They can be attractively embedded into your machine. In fact, some bank card processors offer them without cost.

I Have Built a Prototype. Now What?

Desktop ATM. No cash dispensed

Once you have a working prototype, you will need to test it with focus groups (alpha test) and at prospective public sites (beta test). You must also harden the production model against tamper and theft and find paying businesses or property owners, so that you can achieve economies of scale. (A reasonable business model requires that you produce dozens of devices each month).

Parts Cost: Bill of Materials

At scale, you can achieve a unit production cost of less than $200. But that’s for a desktop unit that does not accept or dispense cash. A high-quality and attractive machine that accepts cash and is free standing or ready for outdoor installation into a building exterior might cost you $650. You could sell these for $2,500 plus recurring fees to the property owner, depending on venue, or you might simply lease them, just as Xerox did in the early days of office copiers. (In a hotly competitive market, such as Las Vegas, you may need to pay a portion of your profits to the site, rather than profiting from ‘renting’ the ATM).

A Threat to Your Business

But wait! Before you run off and create an ATM venture of your own, with visions of a 350% profit margin, all is not as easy as it seems!…

Cryptocurrency ATMs intersect with a minefield of regulatory licensing and compliance standards. In many regions, they are not even legal for placement in a public area.

In most countries (including all of USA), you must be a registered Money Transmitter. You will need separate state licensing and—since you are moving cash in or out of the banking system—you must be partnered with a federally chartered bank. You will also need to post a hefty insurance bond—perhaps even for each machine and each municipality in which it is placed! These laws convey liability to both your clinet (the property owner) and to you. Many courts will hold the manufacturer of financial or medical products accountable for ensuring that their customers are licensed and compliant with regulations. That is, you may not be able to legally sell your ATM to organizations that have not demonstrated that they qualify to operate one.

Why is There a Camera in my ATM?

In all cases, you must capture photographs of your user and their state-issued ID, because you are required to know your customer and adhere to a slew of anti-money laundering practices. For example, with transactions larger than $2,000 (from anyone who is not known to you and a regular client), you must generate a Suspicious Activity Report. For transactions larger than $10,000, you must comply with RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). This requires a camera, interview, and reporting process. You will be generating forms with data supplied by your user and possibly even a real-time verification of the facts they provide.

If you wonder why you needn’t do these things this when buying or selling your own cryptocurrency, it is because: (a) You are trading your own assets and are not the custodian of customer accounts; and (b) You are a consumer. It is likely that the exchange is required to do all of these things.

With Regulations, Can Bitcoin ATMs Generate Profit?

For the reasons described above, the operational cost of deploying and operating an ATM network (or your equipment for sale or rent) is significantly higher than the up front hardware cost. When you add the need to protect your venture from legal claims arising from process glitches or users that claim they lost cash or Bitcoin, you may arrive at an operational cost that makes your business model unworkable.

Of course, Bitcoin ATMs are profitable in some cases. I have consulted with a few start ups that operate them successfully in Las Vegas casinos, a few airports and race tracks, and at large outdoor fairs. But, for everyday use, the heyday of ATMs is most likely 5 or 10 years off. Before this happens, we need a more uniform and functional regulatory & insurance framework, and a higher volume of users per ATM.

Check out various Bitcoin ATM models below. Few manufacturers turn a profit. In the end, it boils down to location (high volume sites with the right people) and location (legal jurisdiction).


* One ATM startup found inexpensive hardware for dispensing currency by recycling mechanisms from bill-change machines used in game arcades or in hotels next to vending machines. These machines are being discarded, because newer vending machines accept credit cards and smart phone payment. But again, if you only plan to accept a credit or debit instrument for Bitcoin, then you don’t need a cash counter or dispenser.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences around the world. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

Multisig Wallet: Protect Bitcoin in case of death or forgetfulness

UPDATE (April 2018): See footnote regarding Coinbase multisig vaults.* The feature will be retired this month, because it interferes with plans to improve support of Bitcoin forks.

Legacy Method of Inheriting Assets

Many Bitcoin owners choose to use a custodial account, in which the private keys to a wallet are generated and controlled by their exchange—or even a bank or stock broker. In this case, funds are passed to heirs in the usual way. It works like this…

An executor, probate attorney, or someone with a legal claim contacts the organization that controls the assets. They present a death certificate, medical proxy or power-of-attorney. Just as with your bank account or stocks and bonds, you have the option of listing next of kin and the proportion of your assets that should be distributed to each. These custodial services routinely ask you to list individuals younger than you and alternate heirs, along with their street addresses, in the event that someone you list has died before you.

Of course, Bitcoin purists and Libertarians point out that the legacy method contradicts the whole point of owning a cryptocurrency. Fair enough.

Multisig to the Rescue

Using multisig would be far easier, if wallet vendors would conform to standards for compatibility and embed technology into hardware and software products. Unfortunately, they have been slow to do so, and there are not yet widely recognized standards to assure users that an implementation is both effective and secure. But, there is some good news: It’s fairly easy to process your ordinary account passwords and even the security questions with a roll-your-own multisig process. I’ve done it using PGP and also using Veracrypt—two widely recognized, open source encryption platforms.

This short article is not intended as an implementation tutorial, but if the wallet vendors don’t jump up to home plate, I may release a commercial tool for users to more easily add multisig to their wallets. It really is safe, simple and effective. (If readers wish to partner with me on this? I estimate that it will take $260,000 and about six months).

What is Multisig and How Does it Protect your Wealth?

Multisig allows anyone with credentials to an account, wallet or even a locked safe to create their own set of rules concerning which combinations of friends and relatives can access their assets without the original owner. The owner sets conditions concerning who, when, how much and which accounts can be accessed — and the heirs simply offer passwords or proof of identity. If implemented properly, it doesn’t matter if some of the heirs have forgotten passwords or died before the original owner.

This can be illustrated in an example. I am intentionally describing a complex scenario, so that you consider a full-blown implementation. Although the ‘rules’ listed below appear to be complex, the process for creating the associated passwords is trivial.

The last 2 rules listed below do not use Multisig technology, but rather Smart Contracts. It enhances an owner’s ability to dictate terms. Here, then, is the scenario…

I want heirs to have access to my assets
at banks, brokers, exchanges or other ac-
counts–but only under certain conditions:

  • If any 4 of 11 trusted family and friends come together and combine their passwords (or an alternate proof-of-identity), they may access my wealth and transfer it to other accounts
    • But, if one is my husband, Fred, or my daughter, Sue, then only two trusted individuals are needed
    • —But not Fred and Sue together (At least one must be an outsider)
  • If any account has less than $2500, then it goes to my favorite charity, rather than the individuals I have listed
  • None of my accounts can be unlocked by my heirs, until I have not accessed them with my own password for 3 months. Prior to that, the Multisig will fail to gain access.

Again, the decedent’s wishes are complex, but executing and enforcing these rules is trivial. In my presentations, I describe the method on two simple PowerPoint slides. Even that short description is sufficient to show anyone who has used common cryptography apps to weave their own multisig add-on.

Of course, each individual will need to locate their own secret password, but a biometric or other conforming proof-of-identity can be substituted. Even if several survivors cannot recall their credentials, the multisig method allows other combinations of individuals to access the assets across all accounts.

This article may leave you wondering about the legal process—and this is where I agree with the Libertarian viewpoint: Sure! The courts have a process and heirs should document their access and decisions for tax purposes and to assure each other of fair play. But a key benefit of cryptocurrency and the disintermediation offered by the blockchain is the personal empowerment of access with impunity and without waiting for any legal process.

Let the courts to what they do, while you honor the wishes of your dearly departed.

If this article generates sufficient interest, I may prepare a short tutorial on how to split off your own Multisig passwords, regardless of which wallet or hosted services you use. It will work with any vendor, app or gadget —or— Perhaps, I will refine my homespun solution and offer it as an add-on app that can be used with any wallet, bank account or exchange. Simple, ubiquitous and effective multisig should have been available to even traditional banking customers years ago!


* History of Coinbase support for a multisig vault

Oct 29, 2014 — Coinbase adds Multisig Vault
                           Multisig rule: (3) private keys created. 2 are required to access coins:

  1. User Key
  2. Coinbase Key
  3. 2nd Coinbase Key but only user has passsword

Aug 31 2017 — No more NEW Multisig vaults

April 19 2018 — Sunset of Multisig vaults (and announced earlier, on Mar 20)

Sunset on Multisig vaults: They make it difficult to support forks. A new tool will still support withdrawls after multisig vaults are retired.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the Bitcoin Event and presents at Crypto Conferences around the world. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

Have there been successful Transaction Malleability attacks?

First, let’s get some basics out of the way…

What is Transaction Malleability?

Here are 2 explanations of transaction malleability: [Coindesk] [TechTalk]

In a nutshell, Transaction Malleability is a weakness in the original Bitcoin implementation that enables a bad actor to change the unique ID of a bitcoin transaction before it is confirmed on the Blockchain. Such a change makes it possible for someone to pretend that a transaction didn’t happen, if all necessary conditions are in place.

As the Coindesk article points out, a successful attack requires certain conditions that make a successful attack difficult or even unlikely. Many analysts referred to it as a bug that should eventually be fixed, rather than an urgent issue.

Was This Flaw Addressed

Transaction malleability was addressed (for Bitcoin) with the introduction of Segregated Witness (SegWit) in August 2017. 1, 2

But Was There a Successful Attack?
Attack? Yes. Successful? It’s doubtful…

In March 2017, five months before SegWit was implemented, a mining pool that administers 2% of worldwide activity launched a malleability attack. No one lost money – and some individuals believe that they did this to emphasize urgency and hasten the adoption of SegWit.

What About Lightning Network?

The Lightning Network is a ‘Level 2’ network overlay, currently being adopted by miners (depending on the service or exchange, it is being incrementally activated in the first months of 2018). To function properly, it requires that transaction malleability be solved. But, in the event that a miner is not SegWit compliant, it can resolve the malleability problem in other ways.

1 SegWit should not be confused with SegWit2x, an upgrade process that was cancelled a few months later in November. 2017

2 In the TechTalk article linked above, the author concludes:

“Transaction Malleability is fixed with Segregated Witness by no longer taking into account signatures when calculating the transaction’s fingerprint. Fixing Transaction Malleability means that the Lightning Network can work smoothly.”


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the Bitcoin Event and presents at Crypto Conferences around the world. Book a presentation or consulting engagement.

Would an ethical government surrender control of monetary policy?

Godfrey Bloom is a member of the British Parliament. His in-your-face style of educating and shocking his peers has made him a controversial politician. He has occasionally been escorted out of the assembled parliament because of his rowdy rhetoric.

Consider the video below. Bloom offers a critical, but simple and clear explanation of the Fractional Reserve banking system used in the US and Europe. This gets to the heart of the matter! [continue below video]…

Conclusion (mine, and not Mr. Bloom’s): It is in the interest of governments to use a form of money that they cannot manipulate, print, spend, hide or lend without first earning, taxing or legitimately borrowing — and then balancing the books, openly.

Bitcoin is such a currency. Any country that adopts an open source, permissionless, and completely transparent monetary instrument will demonstrate to citizens and taxpayers that they respect their constituents and that they commit to balance their books like any state, corporation, NGO or household.

Would an ethical government surrender control of its own monetary policy? H*ll, yes! This is how a government avoids rampant inflation and the burden of non-consensual debt to future generations. It is also how a government makes taxation, redistribution and spending transparent and accountable. It is how a government restores trust.

We have been raised with centuries of dogma that teach us to accept inflation, and a constantly escalating public debt. Sometimes, the path forward is not immediately obvious. But history doesn’t lie. When trusted nations with large economies manipulate interest rates, borrow without a lender, or inflate a nation out of a crisis (what the US calls “quantitative easing”), the long term effect is certain to be no different than Argentina, Zimbabwe, Venezuela or Germany between the wars. It is a recipe for disaster. It places every citizen and their future children into debt-bondage.

Moving away from the Gold Standard in the 1970s was a risky maneuver. The risk was not abandoning a precious metal with intrinsic value—but rather it placed the full faith and credit of our economy in the hands of transient politicians, rather than in a capped commodity with certain and immutable properties.

Bitcoin is the new gold. It is capped, transparent, open-source, vetted and without a mechanism for quick or covert manipulation (the US calls this “raising the debt ceiling” and they do it every few months!). We may not move to an economy based on Bitcoin today or tomorrow, but that day is coming. Thankfully, it’s coming!

Thoughts on a “Korea Krash”

If you are reading this on January 16, 2018, then you are aware that Bitcoin (and the exchange rate of most other coins) fell by 20% today. Whenever I encounter a panic sell-off, the first thing that I do is try to ascertain if the fear that sparked the drop is rational.

But what is rational fear? How can you tell if this is the beginning of the end, or simply a transient dip? In my book, rational fears are fundamental facts like these:

  • A new technical flaw is discovered in the math or mining
  • A very major hack or theft has undermined confidence
  • The potential for applications that are fast, fluid and ubiquitous
    has dropped, based on new information*

Conspicuously missing from this list is “government bans” or any regulation that is unenforceable, because it fails to account for the design of what it attempts to regulate. Taxes, accounting guidelines, reporting regulations are all fine! These can be enforced. But banning something that cannot be banned is not a valid reason for instilling fear in those who have a stake in a new product, process, or technology.

Ellery’s Rule of Acquisition #1:

Drops triggered by false fears present buying opportunities

At times like this, you must make a choice: If you can’t afford to stay in the market and risk a bigger drop, then cash out and live with it. But if you believe in crypto and the potential for a digital future that dis-intermediates your earning, spending and savings, then this drop in dollar value presents opportunity.

This downturn will pass, because the cryptocurrency fundamentals have not changed or been undermined by recent events. There is no new technical flaw or hack. The potential for cash transactions and future applications get rosier every day (let’s assume that Bitcoin will finally add Lightning Network and that miners will stop fighting with developers)*

The current 20% drop is not a big deal. It takes us back to an exchange rate that we saw just one month ago in early December. It was triggered by saber rattling in South Korea. But, let’s face it: Governments have as much influence over trading or spending cryptocurrency as they do over the mating of squirrels in your backyard. Do you think fewer squirrels would mate, if the government banned them from mating?

If you can answer that question—and if you can afford to stay in the game—then relax. 1 BTC has the same value today as it had yesterday and the day before. It is worth exactly one bitcoin. The current dip in exchange rate with other currencies was sparked by fear; and that fear is misguided or irrational.

[click below for perspective]…

* Bitcoin has a serious limitation in transaction throughput and transaction cost. The problem is serious and it frustrates users, developers, miners and vendors. But it is not new, and the consensus about its likelihood of being corrected has not suddenly changed. These limitations are unrelated to today’s large drop in exchange value.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. He is keynote speaker at the Cryptocurrency Expo in India this month. Click Here to inquire about a presentation or consulting engagement.

Is Cruptocurrency Good for Government?

Today, editors at Quora asked me to answer a seemingly simple question:

“Is cryptocurrency good for government?”

This is a terrific question, and one that I write about frequently. The question gives me a chance to summarize the key facets of widely mistaken fears.

In the first phase of cryptocurrency adoption (we are in the midst of this now), there is an abundance of skepticism: Misunderstanding, mistrust, historical comparisons that aren’t comparable, government bans & regulatory proposals—and a lot of questions about intrinsic value, lack of a redemption guaranty, risky open source platforms, tax treatment, etc, etc.

Out of the gate, few individuals and governments paid attention to Bitcoin. That was when it traded under $100. It was complicated to understand, and it seemed to be nothing more than gaming money coveted by nerds and geeks. But with each wave of adoption, or the crash of a major exchange, or the shutdown of Silk Road, public interest has piqued. And, of course, the price of Bitcoin has shot up from nothing to almost $20,000 in the past few years.

It’s natural that governments watch developments closely, and sometimes weigh in with guidance, licensing or regulations. But consider the underlying concerns: Why should governments care about this activity? Is cryptocurrency good for government?

Very often, we hear of government restrictions or “bans” on trading bitcoin. The justification typically hinges on a belief that cryptocurrency leads to bad things:

  1. Leads to widespread tax evasion
  2. Facilitates criminal activity (because of anonymity)
  3. Causes citizens to lose faith in their own government
  4. Interferes with a nation’s ability to control its own monetary policy
  5. Reduces liquidity of (government-backed) national currency
  6. Causes a deflationary economy. People will delay spending and stop investing

The first three concerns are patently false and the last three concerns raise an interesting question: Might it benefit a government to surrender control over its own monetary policy? We’ll explore this, below…

Let’s look at each of these fears. I won’t try to analyze or defend each statement below. You can find the justifications throughout this blog.

1. Gradually, governments are coming to recognize that the first three concerns are false. If cryptocurrency gains widespread traction as a payment instrument—or even as cash itself—governments are not weakened in their ability to tax, spend, or enforce tax collection. This myth arises from a lack of education, experience and familiarity.

2. We have seen some spectacular news stories involving very serious criminal activity that accepts bitcoin. In each case, the bad guys were caught—and they were caught because they foolishly accepted bitcoin.

In fact, cash is a far better tool of crime than cryptocurrency. Pre-paid debit cards are even worse.

Bitcoin is not anonymous. It is what cryptographers call pseudo-anonymous. I call it “a fool’s anonymity”! Although Bitcoin allows users to create anonymous wallets, anyone selling drugs or committing a notorious deed can be tracked. A million armchair analysts (anyone who uses and follows Bitcoin), can follow the money trail—through VPNs and mixers—all the way until something is spent in the real world. At some point, someone buys a tennis ball or gets braces for their kid, or buys a book at Amazon. That’s when it all unwinds.

3. Far from cryptocurrency undermining trust in government, it does just the opposite. It demonstrates to citizens that the government shares an obligation to balance its books, just like every individual, corporation, NGO, city or state.

In effect, governments must raise the dollars that they intend to spend. In an emergency, they can borrow, of course, but only if they can find creditors that truly believe in their ability to repay the debt.

This trust yields phenomenal results:

  • Creditors no longer wonder if a nation will attempt to turn on the printing press (like Argentina, Venezuela, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Greece or Germany between the wars).
  • Citizens no longer fear that their transient elected officials will constantly raise the debt ceiling (This is a euphemism for “hoisting debt on future generations”, and destroying credibility with debtors at the same time).
  • Redistribution of wealth through wacky tax laws is still possible, but it is more likely to require the consent of taxpayers, because suddenly, governments can’t hide expenses behind the opaque barrier of a printing press, nor can they use inflation as a mechanism of social policy. Instead, they must create clear, 2-entry line items for each social welfare expense: Who gets the money? —and Where does it come from?

4, 5 and 6: Now, we arrive at the least understood concerns…

#4 and #5 are true. But as we discuss in #3, loss of control over monetary policy is a very different thing than losing control over fiscal policy.

It took decades to discover that decoupling a country from its delivery service and telephone companies resulted in a remarkable boost to industries, services and productivity. Likewise, decoupling a nation from its currency is a really, really good thing. No one can play games, trust is restored. Our kids aren’t born into debt of the nations that purchase our government bonds.

#6 is perhaps the most difficult to accept. Some economists still insist that a small amount of inflation is critical to getting people to spend and invest. But a growing number of experts are discovering that this just isn’t so. Deflation is often associated with unemployment, war, recession and a loss of liquidity and investment. In fact, deflation can be triggered by these things, but when it is the result of a trusted and capped-but-divisible money supply, it doesn’t lead to any of these things.

The concern about people not spending is a linguistic trick. Another way to say the same thing is that a capped money supply encourages people to save for big expenses and for retirement. Since when is that a bad thing?

I have been answering questions about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency since Satoshi was at the helm. Talk to me. Ask about it! Then, think for yourself. Stay engaged.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. He is keynote speaker at the Cryptocurrency Expo in India this month. Click Here to inquire about a presentation or consulting engagement.

Should we ‘out’ Bitcoin creator, Satoshi?

Everyone likes a good mystery. After all, who isn’t fascinated with Sherlock Holmes or the Hardy Boys? The thirst to explore a mystery led us to the New World, to the ocean depths and into space.

One of the great mysteries of the past decade is the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin and the blockchain. Some have even stepped forward in an effort to usurp his identity for fame, infamy or fortune. But in this case, we have a mystery in which the subject does not wish to be fingered. He prefers anonymity.

This raises an interesting question. What could be achieved by discovering or revealing the identity of the illusive Satoshi Nakamoto?…

The blockchain and Bitcoin present radically transformative methodologies with far ranging, beneficial impact on business, transparency and social order.

How so? — The blockchain demonstrates that we can crowd-source trust, while Bitcoin is much more than a payment mechanism or even a reserve currency. It decouples governments from monetary policy. Ultimately, this will benefit consumers, businesses and even the governments that lose that control.

Why Has Satoshi Remained Anonymous?

I believe that Satoshi remains anonymous, because his identity, history, interests and politics would be a distraction to the fundamental gift that his research has bestowed. The world is still grappling with the challenge of education, adoption, scaling, governance, regulation and volatility.

Some people are still skeptical of Bitcoin’s potential or they fail to accept that it carries intrinsic value (far more than fiat currency, despite the absence of a redemption guaranty). Additionally, we are still witnessing hacks, failing exchanges and ICO scams. Ignorance is rampant. Some individuals wonder if Satoshi is an anarchist—or if his invention is criminal. (Of course, it is not!).

Outing him now is pointless. He is a bright inventor, but he is not the story. The concepts and coin that he gave us are still in their infancy. Our focus now must be to understand, scale and smooth out the kinks, so that adoption and utility can serve mankind.

Related Ruminations:


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and kicked off the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai. Click Here to inquire about a live presentation or consulting engagement.

Is Bitcoin a store of value?

Bitcoin has many characteristics of a currency. It is portable, fungible, divisible, resistant to forgery, and it clearly has value. Today, that value came close to $20,000 per coin. Whether it has ‘intrinsic value’ is somewhat of a moot question, because the US dollar hasn’t exhibited this trait since 1972. Today, economists don’t even recognize the intrinsic value of gold—beyond a robust, international, supply-demand network.

Lately, Bitcoin is failing as a viable currency, at least for everyday consumer transactions. The settlement of each transaction is bogged down with long delays and a very high cost. The situation has become critical because of squabbling between miners, users and developers over how to offer speed transactions or lower the cost of settlement. Bitcoin forks and altcoins such as Dash and Bitcoin Cash demonstrate that these technical issues have solutions. Since Bitcoin is adaptable, I believe that these issues are temporary.

But an interesting question is not whether Bitcoin will eventually become a consumer currency. It is whether Bitcoin can distinguish itself as a store of value, rather than just an instrument for payment or debt settlement. After all, a Visa credit card, a traveler’s check and an Amazon gift card can all be used in retail payments, but none of them have value unless backed by someone or something. US Dollars on the other hand are perceived as inherently valuable. They carry the clout and gravitas of institutions and populations, without users questioning from where value arises. (This is changing, but bear with me)…

What about Bitcoin? Does owning some bitcoin represent a store of value? Yes: It absolutely does!

Bitcoin is a rapidly maturing two-sided network. Despite a meteoric rise in exchange value and wild fluctuations during the ride, it is the epitome of a stored value commodity. Regardless of government regulation, adoption as a consumer payment instrument, or the cost and speed of transactions, it has demonstrated stored value ever since May 22 2010, when Laszlo, a Bitcoin code developer, persuaded a restaurant to accept 10,000 BTC for 2 pizzas.

The “currency” accepted by the pizza parlor wasn’t a gift card. It was not backed by a government, a prior deposit, dollars, gold, the promise of redemption, or by threat of force or blackmail. When a large community of individuals value, exchange, and can easily authenticate something that has none of those underpinnings, that thing clearly has stored value.

In this case, value arises from its scarcity and a robust supply-demand-network. Because its value is not tied to a government or to other commodities, its exchange rate with other things will be bumpy, at first. But as it is recognized, traded and adopted as a stored value token, the wild spikes will smooth out.

A tipping point will precipitate rapid adoption when…

  • when some vendors begin to quote prices in Bitcoin (rather than national currency)
  • when some of these vendors retain a fraction of their bitcoin-revenue for future purchases, payments or debt settlements—rather than converting revenue to fiat/national currency with each sale

Bitcoin is clearly a store of value, and it is beginning to displace gold and the US dollar as the recognized reserve currency (it is gradually becoming the new gold standard). But before Bitcoin can serve as a widely adopted everyday currency (i.e. as a payment instrument—with or without the stored value of a currency unto itself), it must first incorporate technical improvements that speed transactions and lower cost.

This is taking longer than many enthusiasts would have liked. But, that’s OK with anyone who keeps their eye on the big picture. Democracy is sometimes very sloppy.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. Last month, he kicked off the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai. Click Here to inquire about a live presentation or consulting engagement.

Spell it Out: What, exactly, backs Bitcoin?

On August 1 2017, the value of a Bitcoin was at $2,750 US dollars. Today, just over one month later, it is poised to leap past $5,000 per unit. With this gain, many people are asking if Bitcoin has any genuine, inherent value. Is it a pyramid scheme? —Or is it simply a house of cards ready to collapse when the wind picks up?

In a past article, I explained that Bitcoin fundamentals ought to place its value in the vicinity of $10,000.* (At the time, it was less than $450, and had even fallen to $220 in the following year).

For many consumers viewing the rising interest in Bitcoin from the stands, there is great mystery surrounding the underlying value. What, if anything, stands behind it? This is a question with a clear and concise answer. In fact, it has a very definitive and believable answer—but it is easiest to understand with just a little bit of historical perspective.

At one time, G7 fiat currencies were backed by a reserve of physical Gold or the pooling or cross-ownership of other currencies that are backed by gold. That ended in 1971 when the Bretton Woods agreement was dissolved by president Richard Nixon in Ithaca NY.

Today, US currency is backed by “The good faith and credit of the American worker” (This is the government explanation of intrinsic value). But in truth its future value is loosely tied to one simple question: Does the typical vendor or consumer (for example, someone accepting a $20 bill in exchange for a movie ticket or 2 large pizzas) expect it to buy these same things in the next few months?

A considerable number of speculative components contribute to the answer. For example:

  • Debt: This is the elephant in the room. A house built on debt cannot thrive forever—without a fresh stream of exports and productivity. These are the measures of a nation’s income and its balance sheet. Here, then is the key question: Is new money being printed without a commensurate added value to GDP? After all, this is how a nation repays its debts.
  • Public Trust: Good faith goes beyond debt. Can consumers and creditors be certain that a change of government won’t cause rampant inflation or a willful failure to retire future debt? Can they be assured that their fellow workers will continue to produce and export manufactured goods in ever increasing quantity?
  • Guns & Tanks: Citizens are compelled by law to pay their taxes in official state currency. Even for those who attempt to fly under the wire or use alternate currencies during the tax year, this ultimately forces fiat currency to be recognized and honored.
  • Geopolitical Stability: The US has been a debtor nation for decades and it has significant political and economic disputes with its largest creditors (China and nations of oil-rich gulf states). What would be the effect of these trade partners (a) moving away from the dollar as their reserve currency, or (b) investing the trillions of dollars they have earned in some other country—or within their own borders?

This list is not exhaustive, but each constituent boils down to two fundamental concepts: Supply-and-demand –and– How long will demand last?

The dollar is an invention of a transient government. Even with a long history of stability and a complex banking framework, it is no more real than Bitcoin. Supply and demand for any commodity is based on popular recognition, anti-counterfeit features, innate desire and public goodwill. The real question is: What contributes to the desire to own or spend Bitcoin?

The answer is that Bitcoin is backed by something far more reliable and trustworthy than the transient whim of elected legislators. It is backed by something that carries more weight than the US government. What could possibly guaranty the value of a Bitcoin? After all, it does not convey ownership in gold, and it has no redemption guarantee. There is no picture of Caesar on the coin. (In fact, there is no coin at all!)…

Answer: Bitcoin is backed by math, a firm cap, a completely transparent set of books, and the critical mass of a two-sided network. Although it can be taxed (like any asset), it can be owned and transferred with impunity and without recourse. These may not seem like critical components of intrinsic value, but they are. In fact, they define intrinsic value in the modern era.

Related:


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, produces The Bitcoin Event, edits A Wild Duck
and is keynote at this year’s Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Wallet Security: Cloud/Exchange Services

3½ years ago, I wrote a Bitcoin wallet safety primer for Naked Security, a newsletter by Sophos, the European antivirus lab. Articles are limited to just 500 hundred words, and so my primer barely conveyed a mindset—It outlined broad steps for protecting a Bitcoin wallet.

In retrospect, that article may have been a disservice to digital currency novices. For example, did you know that a mobile text message is not a good form of two-factor authentication? Relying on SMS can get your life savings wiped out. Who knew?!

With a tip of the hat to Cody Brown, here is an online wallet security narrative that beats my article by a mile. Actually, it is more of a warning than a tutorial. But, read it closely. Learn from Cody’s misfortune. Practice safe storage. If you glean anything from the article, at least do this:

  • Install Google Authenticator. Require it for any online account with stored value. If someone hijacks your phone account, they cannot authenticate an exchange or wallet transaction—even with Authenticator.
  • Many exchanges (like Coinbase) offer a “vault”. Sweep most of your savings into the vault instead of the daily-use wallet. This gives you time to detect a scam or intrusion and to halt withdrawals. What is a vault? In my opinion, it is better than a paper wallet! Like a bank account, it is a wallet administered by a trusted vendor, but with no internet connection and forced access delay.

Exchange and cloud users want instant response. They want to purchase things without delay and they want quick settlement of currency exchange. But online wallets come with great risk. They can be emptied in an instant. It is not as difficult to spoof your identity as you may think (Again: Read Cody’s article below!)

Some privacy and security advocates insist on taking possession and control of their wallet. They want wealth printed out and tucked under the mattress. Personally, I think this ‘total-control’ methodology yields greater risk than a trusted, audited custodial relationship with constant updates and best practice reviews.

In case you want just the basics, here is my original wallet security primer. It won’t give you everything that you need, but it sets a tone for discipline, safety and a healthy dollop of fear.


Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & Bitcoin Event, columnist & board member at Lifeboat, editor
at WildDuck and will deliver the keynote address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Bitcoin closes in on (US) $2000; Why it matters

At the beginning of 2016, Bitcoin was fairly steady at $430. Richelle Ross predicted that it would finish the year at $650. She would have been right, if the year had ended in November. During 2016, Bitcoin’s US dollar exchange rose from $433 to $1000. In the past 2 months (March 24~May 20, 2017), Bitcoin has tacked on 114%, rising from $936 to $2000.  [continue below image]…

If this were stock in a corporation, I would recommend liquidating or cutting back on holdings. But the value of Bitcoin is not tied to the future earnings or property value of an organization. In this case, supply demand is fueled—in part—by speculation. Yes, of course. But, it is also fueled by a two-sided network built on the growing base of utilitarian adoption. And not just an adoption fad, but adoption that mirrors the shift in our very understanding of bookkeeping, trust and transparency.

Despite problems of growth, governance and regulation, Bitcoin is more clearly taking its place as the future of money. Even if it never becomes “legal tender” in any country—and is used only as a mechanism of payments and settlement, it is still woefully undervalued. $2000 is not an end-game. It is a beginning.

Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & The Bitcoin Event. He is a columnist & board member at Lifeboat Foundation,
editor at WildDuck and is delivering the keynote address at the 2017 Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Distributed Consensus: Beyond POW or POS

At the heart of Bitcoin or any Blockchain ledger is a distributed consensus mechanism. It’s a lot like voting. A large, diverse deliberative community validates each, individual user transaction, ownership stake or vote.

But a distributed consensus mechanism is only effective and faithful if the community is impartial. To be impartial, voters must be fairly separated. That is, there must be no collusion enabled by concentration or hidden collaboration. They must be separated from the buyer and seller; they must be separated from the big stakeholders; and they must be separated from each other. Without believable and measurable separation, all sorts of problems ensue. One problem that has made news in the Bitcoin word is the geographical concentration of miners and mining pools.

A distributed or decentralized transaction validation is typically achieved based on Proof-of-Work (POW) or Proof-of-Stake (POS). [explain]. But in practice, these methodologies exhibit subtle problems…

The problem is that Proof-of-Work can waste an enormous amount of energy and both techniques result in a concentration of power (either by geography or by special interest) — rather than a fair, distributed consensus.

In a quasi-formal paper, C.V. Alkan describes a fresh approach to Blockchain consensus. that he calls Distributed Objective Consensus. As you try to absorb his mechanism, you encounter concepts of Sybil attacks, minting inequality, the “nothing-at-stake” problem, punishment schemes and heartbeat transactions. Could Alkan’s distributed consensus mechanism be too complex for the public to understand or use?…

While I have a concern that time stamps and parent-child schemes may degrade user anonymity, the complexity doesn’t concern me. Alkan’s paper is a technical proposal for magic under the covers. Properly implemented, a buyer and seller (and even a miner) needn’t fully understand the science. The user interface to their wallet or financial statement would certainly be shielded from the underlying mechanics.

Put another way: You would not expect a user to understand the mechanism any more than an airline passenger understands the combustion process inside a jet engine. They only want to know:

• Does it work?  •  Is it safe?  •  Is it cost effective?  •  Will I get there on time?

So will Alkan’s Decentralized Objective Consensus solve the resource and concentration problems that creep into POW and POS? Perhaps. At first glance, his technical presentation appears promising. I will return to explore the impact on privacy and anonymity, which is my personal hot button. It is a critical component for long term success of any coin transaction system built on distributed consensus. That is, forensic access and analysis of a wallet or transaction audit trail must be impossible without the consent and participation of at least one party to a transaction.


Ellery Davies co-chairs Cryptocurrency Standards Association and The Bitcoin Event. He is columnist & board member at
Lifeboat Foundation, editor of AWildDuck and will deliver the keynote address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Can Bitcoin Flourish with a Capped Supply?

The answer may be counter-intuitive: Not only can Bitcoin be widely adopted under a supply cap, its trust and integrity are a direct result of a provably limited supply. As a result, it will flourish because it is capped.

Everyone Can Own and Trade a Limited Commodity, IF…

…if it is both measurable and divisible. Bitcoin has a capped supply just as gold has a capped supply. Although both assets will be mined for some time into the future, there is only so much that will ever be uncovered. Thereafter, the total pie cannot grow.

But the transaction units will continue to grow as needed, because the pie is divisible into very, very tiny units:

There will eventually be 21 million BTC and each coin is divisible into 108 units. This yields (21 million * 100 million), or 21 trillion exchangeable units. And, it can be divided further by consensus.

As Bitcoin is adopted—whether as a simple payment instrument, an investment asset or even as national currencies around the world—each unit of the limited supply simply rises in value. If thought of as a currency, with a value established by supply & demand, it leads to a deflationary economy.

But, Isn’t Deflation Bad for the Economy?

It’s common to associate deflation with economic ills. One need only glance back at the the last century to conclude that deflation coincides with wars, joblessness, recession and a crippling concentration of wealth. Perhaps, just as bad, the tools used to pull a nation out of deflation often force governments to cherry pick beneficiaries of stimulus spending.

But it is important to note that deflation plays no role in causing these things. On the contrary, it is an effect rather than a cause… In fact, when a supply cap is introduced as a designed control input for monetary policy, all sorts of good things follow. I address these in various answers at Quora. Dig in:

Ellery Davies co-chairs Cryptocurrency Standards Association. He was host and producer of The Bitcoin Event in New York.

Can Bitcoin be defeated by legislation?

The question breaks down into two parts:

  1. For what public benefit?     —and—
  2. No, it cannot be achieved in this way

Governments are in the business of regulating certain activities—hopefully in an effort to serve the public good. In the case of business methods and activities, their goal is to maintain an orderly marketplace; one that is fair, safe and conducive to economic growth.

But regulation that lacks a clear purpose or a reasonable detection and enforcement mechanism is folly. Such regulation risks making government seem arbitrary, punitive or ineffective.

QR Code_CRYPSA-001«—  This is money. It is not a promissory note, a metaphor, an analogy or an abstract representation of money in some account. It is the money itself. Unlike your national currency, it does not require an underlying asset or redemption guarantee.

Bitcoin is remarkably resistant to effective regulation because it is a fully distributed, peer-to-peer mechanism. There is no central set of books, no bank to subpoena, and no central committee to pressure (at least not anyone who can put the genie back into the bottle). In essence, there is no choke point or accountable administrative party.

Sure—it is possible to trace some transactions and legislate against ‘mixers’ and other anonymization methods—but there is no way to prevent a transaction before it occurs or to know the current distribution of assets. Bitcoin can exist as a printed QR code and it can be transmitted from a jail cell with a blinking flashlight. Sending bitcoin from Alice to Bob has no intermediary. Settlement requires only that one of the parties eventually has access to the Internet. But, there is no credit authority or central asset verification.              [continue below image]…

feral_cat_mating-02-ts

If you are thinking of legislating against the use of Bitcoin, you might as well pass laws to ban the mating of feral cats or forbid water from seeping into underground basements. These things are beyond the domain of human geopolitics. You can try to shape the environment (e.g. offer incentives to cats and water levels), but you cannot stop sex or seepage.

Fortunately, Bitcoin is not a threat to governments—not even to spending or taxation. A gross misunderstanding of economics and sociology has led some nations to be suspicious of Bitcoin, but this improper perception is abating. Governments are gradually recognizing that Bitcoin presents more of an opportunity than a threat.

I have written more extensively on this issue:

Ellery Davies is co-chair of The Cryptocurrency Standards Association, MC for The Bitcoin Event in NY and monetary systems board member for Lifeboat Foundation. This fall, he will teach Cryptocurrency and The Blockchain in Massachusetts.

Governments head toward Bitcoin without realizing it

This weekend, Ecuador joined at least 5 other countries in walking toward a future that replaces paper and coins with cryptocurrency. But, are these national experiments likely to lead to the future that comes to mind when we think of Bitcoin?

AWildDuck offers this 2-sentence analysis:

  • Most governments and national banks that experiment with cryptocurrency have no intention of empowering citizens nor decoupling their monetary supply from political control
  • But in the end, that’s exactly where they are headed

Ecuador 5000 SucreThese national experiments are fascinating. Including Ecuador, there are at least 6 national efforts to embrace cryptocurrency around the world, including two in Africa, two in Latin America, Iceland and Israel.

It’s unfortunate that each potentate has created a disparate, internal and proprietary currency. Most of these territorial adopters have adopted neither a mathematical supply cap nor a permissionless blockchain. They buy into the legacy ‘wisdom’ that controlled inflation is necessary to stimulate spending and grow an economy.

Perhaps they see cryptocurrency as a an evolutionary mechanism to lower the production and distribution cost of coins and bills and thwart counterfeiting—just as  many countries have switched from paper bills to plastic. That’s a limited view of a very positive revolution in the making. The leaders and central banks of many countries seem to miss the point. It’s not just about new technology. It’s about free markets, limited supply, public trust and citizen empowerment. In fact, it’s all about growth, free markets and the expansion of wealth.

Hopefully, these experiments are just a step toward combining monetary policy with an open digital currency while fostering a grass roots revival of public trust… Eventually, governments will recognize that properly implemented cryptocurrency—one that is free to usurp the national mint—leads to increased faith in government. At least, if one’s  government demonstrates a willingness to decouple politics from monetary policy.

Ellery Davies is a founding member of CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency
Standards Association. He is also chief editor at AWildDuck. Catch
all of his Bitcoin articles here.

Why are Governments Against Bitcoin?

bitcoin_accepted_here-aI contribute to LinkedIN community discussions on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. That’s because in my day job, I am a principal at the standards organization that defines and promotes a framework of best practices and safety valves for this rapidly growing community.

You might think that a digital currency standards organization is comprised of Bitcoin miners, economic anarchists, Geeks and “bleeding-edge” adopters. If you do, then you would be mistaken. Our founders come from a background of compliance, anti-money laundering and Internet services. Interest from prospective members points to a broad cross section of government, academia, banks, brokers and exchanges.

Today, the event host for an industry forum posed this question (abbreviated version):

Why are regulators and governments afraid of Bitcoin?

Based on the elaboration, it seems that he is focused primarily on the US government.

I may be a minority voice in this particular discussion, but for what it is worth, I respectfully disagree with the fundamental assumption in the question…

Certainly, in some countries governments are concerned that Bitcoin presents a threat to banks, the reserve mechanism, commercial and consumer protection, and the centralized control of monetary policy & supply. But the US is not among these countries. The few official policies that have hit the streets advise caution (especially among banks and speculators), but recognize that Bitcoin is an asset—and in some states, even a currency. A few regulators have even suggested that in the long term, cryptocurrency may represent more of an opportunity than a threat.

Banks, card service collaboratives and regulators are warming up to Bitcoin. The evidence is legion. Influential individuals are tentatively embracing Bitcoin or waiting with an intent to jump in when they sense an alignment of interests, education, regulatory guidance and safety mechanisms.

These individuals are among the strongest voices calling for standards and well defined practices. Standards—even ones that are voluntary but verifiable—are the key to safety, and thereby to adoption and growth.

CRYPSA is an independent standards organization gaining attention within business and government. It is moving quickly on a plan that does not exclude anyone. In fact, the voluntary standards and applications that CRYPSA produce will not weaken the allure of Bitcoin to early adopters, including “Libertarians” or those who value privacy above the rule of law. That is, new standards and mechanisms do not force disclosure or impose rules on P2P transactions between trusted parties.

WildWest-3But what CRYPSA and other best-practices organizations hope to achieve is added trust, security, and even insurance—by demonstrating standards compliance in real time. Ultimately, they will make Bitcoin safe for the rest of us.

It’s not very different from the wild west. Gold, minerals, buffalo and opportunity abounded. But, in the early days, plucking this bounty was limited to the most strident thrill seeker. For all others, the risk of becoming a homesteader was too high. Threats came from all directions: Natives, rattlesnakes, gunslingers, stage coach gangs, and scam artists.

Gradually things change. The wild west was tamed.

The federal government deployed a network of sheriffs and marshals. Risk abated and productivity spread across the west. With Bitcoin, the solution won’t come from the federal government, because one of the key tenants of Bitcoin is a inherent decentralized and personally-empowering architecture. But the government is not blind to this, and a surprising number of politicians even recognize that an empowered consumer can be an asset to national financial health. For this reason, regulators are gradually moving from “wait-and-see” to “How can we help?”

WildWest-1For some, these observations defy the popular conception of government, because governments typically try to consolidate, regulate and enforce. But with Bitcoin, the CRYPSA staff is finding that representatives of government are generally receptive, and even acknowledging that the role of a Federal Reserve or of central banks may be greatly transformed in the next decade.

As with many of the members, I was surprised with the open and friendly nature of discussions. My conclusion is that a popular conception of government with its head it he sand—or one that is unwilling to work with “facts on the ground”—does not apply to US policy makers and regulators. The people in these roles are prepared to embrace change and they want to facilitate the process for everyone’s benefit.

So, the top-line question, “Why are governments (or regulators) against Bitcoin?” is a bit like asking “When will you stop beating your mother?” It is not possible to answer, because in my opinion, the question is based on a false assumption. Bitcoin is gaining steam, and legitimate objections are rapidly falling away.

WildWest-2