Does decentralized currency thwart crisis intervention?

Here is another economics/policy question that I was asked to address at Quora.

The US used quantitative easing to deal with one monetary crisis, and a bailout of the automotive and banking industry to deal with another. If nations, economies or individuals begin to embrace a decentralized currency, they will inevitably shift away from government issued money. Won’t this hinder a nation’s ability to intervene in a crisis?

Answering this question goes to the very heart of the ethics and politics of cryptocurrency.

Yes. Without centralized control over monetary policy, government options for intervention in a money crisis would be severely limited. But this fact may lead to a false impression…

First, most money crises begin with government, and so there are likely to be far fewer monetary emergencies.

Here’s how the options would be limited:

  • Governments would have fewer ways to manipulate a public resource. They will still have the ability to budget, tax, borrow, build infrastructure and even wage war. But…
  • Governments could no longer amass debts that outstrip their ability to be accountable. That’s because they can no longer covertly tax via rampant printing of money.
  • They could not “raise the debt ceiling” without demonstrating fiscal responsibility, because they no longer control what everyone uses as money.
  • Government spending (and intervention, such as quantitative easing) would have to be balanced by revenue. Borrowing would be limited to creditors who truly believe in their will and ability to repay debt.

All of these “limitations” are good things—even for the governments and banks involved. It only seems limiting, because our understanding of what is money is tainted by millennia of authoritarian systems.

A capped, open source, transparent, traceable, immutable, decentralized, distributed and permissionless money supply is both fair and more robust than Fiat paper, promises or credit.

Let’s explore that last bullet, above. The point is subtle—yet, it is the key to answering your question…

Every individual, household, business, state and NGO must balance its books. If one cannot cover bills, they must find a creditor who believes in their ability to get back to fiscal health. Even nations are eventually forced to balance their books or seek a bail-out from neighbors.

But, this is not the case for the United States. We have had an ability whitewash our largess and declining industrial productivity by printing more money. How has this been possible while retaining a strong dollar?

The US dollar has been the world’s reserve currency for 47 years. This development was one of the most clever, yet potentially damaging developments of the post war order. It led other nations and consumers to treat it like gold (even though the link to any underlying asset or promise was severed by Richard Nixon in 1972).

Now that other nations are shifting this special status away from the US, we are gradually becoming just as susceptible to a house-of-cards collapse as Venezuela, Argentina, Zimbabwe, or Germany between the wars. Our massive consumer market cannot protect us. Eventually, we must ship the fruit of our sweat and intellectual bounty to serve others. After all, for more than a half century, we have been giving them pieces of paper (dollars or treasury bonds) for their TVs, underwear, sneakers, toys and sheet rock.

This unbalanced trade must be reversed. Building walls at the boarder and stiff tariffs are desperate acts that fail to recognize cause or containment. They are certainly not the way to restore a robust economy. There must be a better way for nations to get their houses in order. Fortunately, there is.

A distributed currency built on math, trust and transparency—rather than the integrity of transient elected officials from one nation is far less susceptible to manipulation, inflation or any form of shock. It won’t solve all problems immediately, be it will prevent us from getting further mired in a debt that blows up like a balloon.

The decoupling of a money supply from government will yield benefits that are difficult to imagine today. Money doesn’t need authoritarian oversight like airline safety. The situation is more analogous to the deregulation telephone and package delivery services. Without those blockbuster decisions of the 1980s, we would not have Smartphones or the internet today.

Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and is keynote speaker at Cryptocurrency Conferences. He sits on the New Money Systems board of Lifeboat Foundation. Book a presentation or blockchain consulting.

A backward glance at Ron Paul

Here at A Wild Duck, politics is one of our Raison d’être. It appears on every page in the masthead, above the menu bar.

But regular ducks know that we never push a candidate. They also know that our social opinions lean sufficiently to the left (privacy, personal freedom, pro-choice) such that we would probably have little to say about the Republican Party presidential nominee in the US race for president.

But Ron Paul is no regular Republican. In fact, it’s not clear that he is a Republican at all. Other than a penchant for fiscal restraint, he doesn’t talk-the-talk or walk-the-walk.

My father died late last year. He was in his mid 90s. In his last months, we talked about the coming 2012 US presidential election. As it became gradually more difficulty to get out of bed, we watched a lot of political interviews and wonks.

Dad voted for Obama in 2008, but more recently, he was a Ron Paul supporter. He didn’t feel that Paul had a chance, and so he was also very interested in the Republican debates. Could one of the other Republican candidates counter his concern that Obama, an articulate man of integrity and principles, was leaning too much toward a socialist view of economics?

Dad felt strongly that despite Ron Paul’s appearance at the debates, the networks were shutting him out of the spotlight: Less discussion of his ideas and fewer interviews & features than warranted for a US Representative serving on and off for 35 years.*

Ron Paul was offered a speaking slot at the RNC, but he refused the two conditions of his invitation: That he give Mitt Romney his full-fledged (unqualified) endorsement and that his script be vetted by the Romney campaign. He refused, of course. Ron Paul can’t be bought, bribed, cajoled, or won over. What he stands for is clear, unwavering and is stated with surprising simplicity.

What does Ron Paul stand for?  Check out this RNC tribute video.

Ron Paul: Consistent on the deficit and a need for limited government

Ron Paul is a strict constitutionalist. He has always stood for smaller government, lower taxes, less redistribution of wealth, dismantling the Federal Reserve Bank and respect for individual privacy. He believes that the US is too quick to borrow, tax, spend and raise the debt ceiling.

He doesn’t associate with the “conservative-right” blending of religion and intolerance that is baked into the RNC platform, but there is controversy about his failure to denounce support from white supremacists, xenophobes and other racists groups. (Links omitted intentionally–Readers can Google these issues). This is apparent in a Newsletter that he published early in his political career, but that he now claims was written without his supervision.

Then, there is Israel…Paul wants to cut off aid to the American ally completely. But then, he is an isolationist in general. He doesn’t want US taxpayers to support any extra-territorial missions. Finally, his staff members state that he is very uncomfortable in the presence of homosexuals, but feels strongly that they should be able to live with the same privileges and freedoms that all Americans take for granted.

If Ron Paul were still in the running for a party nomination, the possibility of latent racism or anti-Semitism would merit serious digging. On his economic positions, he shines. He embodies the Holy Grail that–for me–has always been so elusive: Paul is an economic conservative and a social liberal.

The video tribute includes one of my favorite Ron Paul quotes: “Living beyond our means forces us to live beneath our means.” It also includes a statement by his son, US Senator Rand Paul. He explains that Washington lobbyists don’t stop by Ron Paul’s House office, because they know that he can’t be bought. If true, it makes a powerful point about lobbyists. I would hope that at least a few of them believe in the legitimacy of their arguments and the nobility of purpose. Why don’t they visit their own representative simply to present a persuasive argument based on its merits and their own sense of duty, logic or emotions?

I don’t know if Ron Paul could ever be US president. Even if his message resonates 4 years from now, his age would certainly be a negative factor in the 2016 election. But I wish that he were the current Republican candidate running against Obama. Paul -vs- Obama. Both candidates are articulate, with clear principles, and yet a profound difference in beliefs. That would be a very interesting contest!

Here at A Wild Duck, we still don’t endorse candidates. That’s why we held back this OpEd until the Republican National Convention. But we certainly like Ron Paul. Here is a man who stands for something on which most Americans agree, and yet few of their representatives have the backbone to explain with its full ramifications. At a time when China and Arab countries are owed so much from future generations, isn’t it time to sound the alarm bell? Isn’t it time to suck in the gut, hunker down and take personal responsibility for our debts and productivity?

* Ron Paul has been a member of the US House of Representatives during 4 decades: 1976-77, 1979-85, 1997-present.

Ellery Davies is chief editor of A Wild Duck. He hasn’t discussed a Republican candidate or politician since the Reagan era—perhaps to avoid personal attacks on character or platform.      -g.a.

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.

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.


  • 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.