Blockchain & International Political Economics

Abstract

Cryptocurrency is a trailblazing digital technology that has unleashed the ability to drastically transform the policy and procedures concerned in domestic and international banking, commerce, and regulation.  Developed by sudo – “Satoshi Nakamoto” in 2008, Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that facilitates the connection of billions of individuals around the world and constructs a new decentralized, globalized, digitized economy. Nakamoto’s framework for this peer-to peer-network and global economy has become known as “blockchain technology.”  The introduction to Nakamoto’s transparent, verifiable platform for trading value kickstarted a new movement of decentralized power in regard to currency, trade, wealth, property and individual liberties. This paper provides a brief overview of (1) the significance of cryptocurrency, (2) Bitcoin/blockchain technology, (3) alternative use-cases for blockchain, (4) aid for the unbanked economy/groups w/ blockchain, (5) ideas how blockchain can improve the global economy, and (6) adoption implications for blockchain in the international political economy. To actualize these economic modifications, mass adoption of blockchain as a technology standard is pinnacle! Global citizens will need to renovate the way they function in conjunction with how they generate/store/trade value. Though blockchain technology offers a multitude of advantages, mass adoption and tenure is yet to be determined. This report explains the value of blockchain currently and delves into the future opportunities of a blockchain enabled international political economy. Though I attempted to take an objective approach to research, I strongly advocate for the global adoption of blockchain technology and opportunities it holds for the world economy.

Keywords: blockchain, bitcoin, cryptocurrency, cryptoeconomics, globalization, international political economics, political economy, training, commerce, empowerment,


"Bitcoin is not a currency for government; it is a global currency for the people.”  

Wences Casares


Why Cryptocurrency?

As far back as history is written people have been trading each other for goods and services. In the United States, we previously used gold and silver to account for a unit of value, we later transitioned to paper fiat currency (backed by gold), and soon ditched the gold to replace it with lines of credit lent by banks. In the 1970s, fiat currency became void of any hard backing under President Nixon. Financial institutions were blessed to loan individuals and businesses on fractional reserves, creating a volatile “house of cards like” monetary system. Banks started to generate tremendous gains on lending. They began to over-extend themselves and loan out more funds than they had the fractional reserves to support, which resulted in the need for the government to print more cash to cover their loans to keep the U.S. economy afloat and creating inflation. This pattern propagated quickly as financial institutions profited greatly from interest on the loans, which ultimately crashed the economy multiple times (Founder Playbook, 2017).

Currently, the U.S. increases the cash supply amount 5% annually to support lending, while innovation and productivity also increases. A bright mind would deduce that the costs of goods should decrease as technology improves and processes become streamlined. Yet, inflation remains at a “fairly consistent” 2% a year. So, where does this 7% of newly minted cash and inflation go? Dejectedly, it appears that most of this money returns to the banks and financial institutions via collected interest on the credit they extend. In addition to this madness, banks tend to incompetently balance the accounting for the massive loans they make. They continue to over-lend beyond their fractional reserve rate and put the national financial economic system in turmoil. We saw an example of this in the housing crash of 2008, when citizens were required to bailout the banks in tax dollars to remedy this issue -  all on the account of the banks’ poor arithmetic skills. This deceptive chaos and greed of the financial industry made tax paying citizens irate and sent them in search of a new way of exchanging their hard-earned money, resulting in innovations such as cryptocurrency. Specifically, Bitcoin – the first blockchain technology. (The Bitcoin Gospel, 2017).

Satoshi Nakamoto’s cryptocurrency project, Bitcoin was the first successful digital alternative currency to subtract government/financial institutions from the exchange processes. It offers an online solution that eliminates middle men from siphoning huge percentages of individuals/businesses money in forms of: transaction fees, interest, international exchange rates, remittances. An individual exchanging cryptocurrency no longer needs to pay high transactions fees to spend and collect their money in exchange for the use of payment orchestration and infrastructure reach (The Bitcoin Gospel, 2017).


What is Bitcoin/Blockchain?

Per Nakamoto’s initial whitepaper (2009), Bitcoin is a purely peer-to-peer networked platform for the creation and exchange of digital currency. It provides the technical infrastructure for the traversal of electronic payments from one party to another without necessitating a financial establishment. What separates Bitcoin from previous digital currencies are the digital signatures it employs and an underlying technology that inhibits users from spending the e-currency more than once. Nakamoto offered a networked platform that timestamps all exchanges by hashing them (cryptographically) and adding them to an unending chain. This “blockchain” is supported by a decentralized group of miners constantly running randomized hashing software to find thr solution to a cryptographic puzzle that facilitates a proof-of-work and creates an irrefutable ledger of all transactions. This blockchain cannot be changed or altered and this collaborative network warrants nominal infrastructure and little governance. Unlike current private financial institutions, all communications are broadcast to mining machines/contributors for review, and anyone who desires can get involved. Users may enter and leave the network at any time, and the chain reveals the transparent data regarding all transactions previously negotiated (Nakamoto, 2009).

how_the_bitcoin_blockchain_works.jpg

Figure 1: The evolving focus of blockchain technology

Apart from Bitcoin and blockchain technology – the cost of trading and moving money internationally is astronomical. PayPal, credit cards, and Western Union remittances are incredibly expensive to use and many central banks limit the amount of foreign currency their citizens can buy on an annual basis. It appears that fusion of burdensome financial regulations and monetary institutions that take a cut from individuals and businesses of all sizes continues to breed an “anti-establishment” frustration around the world (Vigna & Casey, 2015).

Little is needed to become a user of Bitcoin. Utilizing the network and its less than 1% transaction fee (rather than the 3% cost of most credit card transactions) is simple. Coins are stored electronic wallets housed on a mobile device, tablet, or computer. One does not need to be screened or approved to own a wallet. Ownership candidacy does not depend on your age, sex, social status, or credit score for approval. All one needs to be a part of the Bitcoin economy is a device that connects to the internet (Ciaian et al, 2016).

To define the currency aspect, Bitcoin also uses cryptography to control the creation of coins. Unlike U.S. fiat currency, there is a limited number of coins available for circulation; so, inflation is a non-issue. A fixed number of coins will be issued at a constant, consistent, decreasing rate until 2140.  Upon that year, the development of new coins will cease and the circulation of Bitcoin will forever be 21 million. It is believed that Bitcoin’s value will continue to appreciate and merchants/users will price and spend at lower ratios for goods and services (Ciaian et al, 2016).

Adoption of Bitcoin has been growing exponentially since Nakamoto’s initial project was launched in 2009. Now, it can be used to buy goods or services around the globe, on condition that the merchant accepts Bitcoin as a form of payment. Research tells that the community of merchants and enterprises that approve Bitcoin as an acceptable form of currency has grown to over 100,000 (Ciaian et al, 2016). As blockchain technology has advanced and multiplied, the number of blockchain based wallets has also been increasing worldwide. A report released by Statista in Q2 of 2017, announced there were nearly 15 million blockchain wallets open in July 2017 and exponential growth is projected in the nearing future, (Statista.com, 2017a).

Number of Blockchain wallet users worldwide from 1st quarter 2012 to 2nd quarter 2017.PNG

Figure 2: Number of Blockchain wallets worldwide from 1st quarter 2011 to 2nd quarter 2017

Investing.com created a timeline narrating the rise of Bitcoin. Per its account, July 18, 2010, the first Bitcoin wallet, Mt. Gox opened for business. That day, Bitcoin was selling for $0.07. Today is August 17, 2017, each Bitcoin is worth $4,334.02. That is an increase of 61.914% in the past 8 years. Last week, a soaring record high, the Bitcoin price was $4,489 (Coinbase.com, 2017). Interestingly, this has not been a gradual value increase pace, it’s value has just began to soar just this summer. Bitcoin’s value has multiplied itself four times in this year, primarily in the month of August – roughly 55%.  This upsurge in value transfers into a total market cap of $73 billion and has rallied optimism and adoption (99bitcoins.com/price-chart-history, 2017).

Bitcoin price history.png

Figure 3: History of Bitcoin Prince 2012 through August 2017 –  Coindesk.com

Hitesh Malviya (2017) believes that Bitcoin’s huge increase in price over the past year has been directly proportional to businesses accepting it as international unit of value. He believes the price will continue to increase as more merchants become members of the Bitcoin family/ecosystem (Itsblockchain.com, 2017).

Below is a list of organizations large and small that are accepting Bitcoin as payment for their products and services internationally:

·          Overstock.com – A company that sells big ticket items at lower prices due to overstocking

·          WordPress.com – An online company that allows user to create free blogs

·          Subway – Eat fresh

·          Microsoft – Users can buy content with Bitcoin on Xbox and Windows store

·          Reddit – You can buy premium features there with bitcoins

·          Virgin Galactic – Richard Branson company that includes Virgin Mobile and Virgin Airline

·          OkCupid – Online dating site

·          Tigerdirect – Major electronic online retailer

·          Namecheap – Domain name registrar

·          CheapAir.com – Travel booking site for airline tickets, car rentals, hotels

·          Expedia.com – Online travel booking agency

·          Gyft – Buy giftcards using Bitcoin

·          Newegg.com – Online electronics retailer now uses bitpay to accept bitcoin as payment

·          1-800-FLOWERS.COM – United States based online floral and gift retailer and distributor

·          Dell – American privately owned multinational computer technology company

·          Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopedia with 4 570 000+ article

·          Steam – Desktop gaming platform

·          The Internet Archive – web documatation company

·          Bitcoin.Travel – a travel site that provides accommodation, apartments, attractions, bars, and            beauty salons globally

·          Pembury Tavern – A pub in London, England

·          Old Fitzroy – A pub in Sydney, Australia

·          The Pink Cow – A diner in Tokyo, Japan

·          The Pirate Bay – BitTorrent directories

·          Zynga – Mobile gaming

·          Tesla – The car company

·          4Chan.org – For premium services

·          EZTV – Torrents TV shows provider

·          Mega.co.nz – The new venture started by the former owner of MegaUpload Kim Dotcom

·          Lumfile – Free cloud base file server – pay for premium services

·          Etsy Vendors – 93 of them

·          PizzaForCoins.com – Domino’s Pizza signed up – pay for their pizza with bitcons

·          Whole Foods – Organic food store (by purchasing gift card from Gyft)

·          Bitcoincoffee.com – Buy your favorite coffee online

·          Grass Hill Alpacas – A local farm in Haydenville, MA

·          Jeffersons Store – A street wear clothing store in Bergenfield, N.J

·          Helen’s Pizza – Jersey City, N.J., you can get a slice of pizza for 0.00339 bitcoin by pointing             your phone at a sign next to the cash register

·          A Class Limousine – Pick you up and drop you off at Newark (N.J.) Airport

·          Seoclerks.com – Get SEO work done on your site cheap

·          Mint.com – Mint pulls all your financial accounts into one place. Set a budget, track your                goals and do more

·          Fancy.com – Discover amazing stuff, collect the things you love, buy it all in one place                      (Source: Fancy)

·          Bloomberg.com – Online newspaper

·          Humblebundle.com – Indie game site

·          BigFishGames.com – Games for PC, Mac and Smartphones (iPhone, Android, Windows)

·          Suntimes.com – Chicago based online newspaper

·          San Jose Earthquakes – San Jose California Professional Soccer Team (MLS)

·          Square – Payment processor that help small businesses accept credit cards using iPhone,                    Android or iPad

·          Crowdtilt.com – The fastest and easiest way to pool funds with family and friends 

·          Lumfile – Server company that offers free cloud-based servers

·          Museum of the Coastal Bend – 2200 East Red River Street, Victoria, Texas 77901, USA

·          Home Depot – Retail supply store

·          Kmart – Retail products store

·          Sears – Clothing and household products, electronic store

·          Gap, GameStop and JC Penney – have to use eGifter.com

·          Etsy Vendors – Original art and Jewelry creations

·          Fight for the Future – Leading organization finding for Internet freedom

·          i-Pmart (ipmart.com.my) – A Malaysian online mobile phone and electronic parts retailer

·          curryupnow.com – A total of 12 restaurants on the list of restaurants accept bitcoins in SF.

·          Dish Network – An American direct-broadcast satellite service provider

·          The Libertarian Party – United States political party

·          Yacht-base.com – Croatian yacht charter company

·          Euro Pacific – A major precious metal dealer

·          CEX – The trade-in chain has a shop in Glasgow, Scotland that accepts bitcoin

·          Straub Auto Repairs – 477 Warburton Ave, Hastings-on-Hudson, NY 10706

·          PSP Mollie – Dutch Payment Service

·          Intuit – an American software company that develops financial and tax preparation 

·          ShopJoy – An Australian online retailer that sells novelty and unique gifts

·          Lv.net – Las Vegas high speed internet services

·          ExpressVPN.com – High speed, ultra-secure VPN network

·          Grooveshark – Online music streaming service based in the United States

·          Braintree – Well known payments processor

·          MIT Coop Store – Massachusetts Institute of Technology student bookstore

·          SimplePay – Nigeria’s most popular web and mobile-based wallet service

·          SFU bookstore – Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada

·          State Republican Party – First State Republican Party to accept bitcoin donations                              (http://www.lagop.com/bitcoin-donate)

·          mspinc.com – Respiratory medical equipment supplies store

·          Shopify.com – An online store that allows anyone to sell their products

·          Famsa – Mexico’s biggest retailer

·          Naughty America – Adult entertainment provider

·          Mexico’s Universidad de las Américas Puebla – A major university in Mexico

·          LOT Polish Airlines – A worldwide airline based in Poland

·          MovieTickets.com – Online movie ticket exchange/retailer

·          Dream Lover – Online relationship service

·          Lionsgate Films – The production studio behind titles such as The Hunger Games 

·          Rakutan – A Japanese e-commerce giant

·          Badoo – Online dating network

·          RE/MAX London – UK-based franchisee of the global real estate network

·          T-Mobile Poland – T-Mobile’s Poland-based mobile phone top-up company

·          Stripe – San Francisco-based payments company

·          WebJet – Online travel agency

·          Green Man Gaming – Popular digital game reseller

·          Save the Children – Global charity organization

·          NCR Silver – Point of sales systems

·          One Shot Hotels – Spanish hotel chain                  (Itsblockchain.com, 2017).


Alternative Use-cases for Blockchain

In their book, Blockchain Revolution, Don and Alex Tapscott (2017) explain how blockchain technology is challenging how the world conducts business. Tapscotts argue that blockchain technology will pioneer a rising era of opulence in areas of: finance, business, identity, education, insurance, healthcare, governance, and beyond (Tapscott & Tapscott, 2017). Since the release of their book in 2016, insurer AIG collaborated with IBM to develop a smarter insurance policy infrastructure that utilized blockchain technology to manage international coverage and complex instances. They completed a test pilot utilizing blockchain and smart contracts and multi-national policy for Standard Chartered Bank PLC.  The use-case employs blockchain to enable distribution of real-time data for a given policy established in the UK, but executed in their varying nations with diverse insurance regulations: U.S., Kenya, and Singapore. This project depicts how blockchain simplifies complex content with transparency and availability. IBM continues to collaborate with other industry leading organizations in differing verticals to further the development, execution, and adoption of blockchain technology (Barlyn, 2017).

Another recent example of the varied blockchain application is supplied by Allen (2017) is the secure storage of medical records and patient data. Per his report, the Delaware Medical Society dedicated time and focus to using blockchain for pre-authorization of medical information. DMS aims to increase the speed at which care can be administered by eliminating steps in pre-authorization (e.g. medical history, provider/insurer access to chronological and cohesive patient information). They have initiated the test their product and are confident that their proof of concept will be valuable and lay the foundation for streamlining blockchain in the healthcare space (Allen, 2017).


Blockchain for the Unbanked Economy

In their book, The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and the Blockchain are Challenging Global Economic Order, financial Wall Street journalists, Vigna and Casey (2015) conducted an extensive investigation concerning the breath of blockchain based technology. Amidst their study they found that roughly 2.5 billion adults of the world do not have access to banking of any kind. They refer to this group of ostracized individuals as “the unbanked”. These people cannot open checking/savings accounts, hold credit cards, or open lines of credit. By only utilizing today’s traditional modern banking architecture for commerce, engaging the global economy is far too expensive and these individuals are cut off from trade and community. They cannot buy or sell outside of their geographic sphere of influence and must stick to fiat currency for trade payment (Vigna & Casey, 2015).

Many of these unbanked individuals live in remote areas where financial institutions cannot make much profit, so banks simply do not go there. Others belong to cultures that do not allow them to take ownership of money based on their sex, female. It is common knowledge dictates that in some areas of the Middle East, women are subhuman to their male counterparts. They are often treated as property and cannot, therefore, own their own. Vigna and Casey enthusiastically lobby for integrating cryptocurrency into these regions because it allows currency exchange and ownership for these groups and empowers women who previously had no access to the money they work for (Vigna & Casey, 2015).

What is awesome about blockchain enabled cryptocurrency is, you do not need a lot of stuff to make it work. All you need is a mobile phone that connects to the internet. To the fortune of the unbanked, mobile internet has infiltrated the daily habits of the world. Smartphones and lightweight connected tablets have unintentionally created the perfect platform for the exchange of cryptocurrency via blockchain technology. This makes the goal of reaching these groups more easily attainable. In 2016, the Pew Research Center revealed 50% of adults own a smartphone globally. Currently, wireless mobile devices are responsible for 49.74% of worldwide internet traffic with these numbers projected to increase by 7 times between 2016 and 2021. As of 2017, there should be about 5 billion mobile phones in use globally with the number expected to increase as they become more available in remote areas (Statista, 2017a,b,c,d,e). Educating the unbanked world citizens on the opportunity to partake in the global economy via mobile blockchain technology is not trivial, neither is it impossible.

By exemplifying productive instances of Bitcoin adoption such as: empowering women in Afghanistan who could not previously own currency and crafters in the Caribbean who now import and export artisan goods at a fraction of the cost, Vigna and Casey demonstrate how Bitcoin and other blockchain technologies have sparked enormous advancement for the emerging global economy. They use real-life examples to display the personal/professional/domestic development of unbanked and emerging economies/groups. They also advocate for the incredible unlocked potential in including the unbanked in the global economy via mobile blockchain technology (Vigna & Casey, 2015).


Blockchain: Improving the Global Economy

Blockchain technology’s peer-to-peer infrastructure and irrefutable ledger not only offers financial freedom to the unbanked and disparaged or developing economies; it allows them the infrastructure to generate economic growth without necessitating organized regulation or state run institutions. A list of examples of where blockchain is actively being utilized to enable impoverished and unbanked economies/groups includes:

1)      Remittances – for immigrants living abroad, sending money home is ridiculously expensive. The World Bank published that $500 billion was sent through remittances in 2016. Previously, wire transfers transacted over the old banking rails and required high transaction fees – Western Union averaging 8.5% and MoneyGram at almost 10% (Vigna & Casey, 2015). CASHAA, a blockchain based cash transfer service now provides means for mobile transactions internationally with zero transaction fees. Though their reach is limited currently, but they aim to be the global cash supplier as blockchain becomes more widely accepted (CASHAA.com, 2017).  

2)      Fund tracking – Tracking and accounting for donation funds can be challenging in remote areas. How can donors be sure the correct group receives their aid? Aid:Tech uses a blockchain ledger transparency to ensure the delivery of funds and services to the correct underserved population. They are working in with Syrian refugees to allow them to purchase food and supplies (Aid.Technology, 2017). Another organization addressing this issue is Disburse, they remedy the mismanagement of aid funds with blockchain and have projects in Swaziland, Uganda, and the Philippines (Disberse.com, 2017).

3)      Identity – Blockchain offers unbound opportunity for identity and world census information.  The World Identity Network presses to aid the 2 billion undocumented world citizens and supply them with an electronic global identity via blockchain (Win.systems, 2017). Another pioneer for identity is Bitnation’s Emergency Response program – their aid supplies identity and financial services for those suffering from the European Refugee Crisis. Bitnation has also entered into an agreement with the Estonian government to provide a ledger for “e-residency system” to its citizens (Refugees.bitnation.co, 2017).

4)      Land registry - Ghana is an incubator for testing blockchain solutions for land registry. BenBen’s facilitates the search, verification, management, and land documents necessary for land ownership. It includes: mortgages, land surveys, and contracts. BenBen plans to expand to: Nigeria, Mozambique, and Colombia (benben.com.gh/, 2017). Another leader in this area is Bitland, they aim to develop a universal ledger that avails ownership of undocumented areas. They currently are running pilots in 28 African communities and are training citizens in blockchain. They hope to eliminate corruption and exploitation of land ownership ambiguity (bitlandglobal.com, 2017).

5)       Energy trade -  SOLshare offers a peer-to-peer platform utilizing blockchain that facilitates trade of solar electricity between communities in Bangladesh (me-solshare.com, 2017). Similarly, Australian Power Ledger give means to trade renewable energy and electricity with their neighbors to offset on capital investment of renewable infrastructure (powerledger.io, 2017).

6)      Supply chain - Bext360 uses blockchain to negotiate market prices of coffee and cherries via automated kiosks. After doing so, they pay in their suppliers digitally payments for all parties in their supply chain in the Dominican Republic and Columbia (bext360.com, 2017).  Provenance offers transparency for all steps in a supply chain, specifically verification of food origin. They provide transparency on things such as Asian tuna supply, fare trade certification, labor laws, sourcing, and are working on their own certifications and regulations of the vendors they work with (provenance.org, 2017).


The New Global Economy - Blockchain Implications For IPE

Blockchain is more than just in information technology innovation – if offers a new way to organize economics and governance. Because a transparent, distributed ledged can support the disruption of any centralized institution that coordinates valuable data, the technology unarguably is powerful!. Davidson, Flippi, and Potts (2016) suggest two new approaches to economics are proposed within the institution of blockchain. The first being technical innovation centered and the second being governance centered. They find that transformation of governance is most influential to the global economy as it challenges institutional economics with public choice economics.  Because blockchain technology allows for new spontaneous organizations to govern themselves, it stimulates previously impractical types of economies and opportunities for growth and application (e.g. self-governed organizations and types of economies). Davidson believes that the economics of blockchain is evolutionary to the roles of institutions, organizations, and governance (Davidson et al, 2016).

Centralized governance is often expensive, dishonest, and abused. Citizens are bound by monopoly and oligopoly and often do not have an exit option. Blockchains are catallaxies – a group of individuals living by an agreed upon set of standards. They can coordinate a distributed group and give individuals the power to exit an unjust system. Blockchains orchestrate a community of mutual understanding and uphold those terms cryptographically.  Davidson explain this well as, “the mechanism of cryptosecession is partial, non-territorial, and permission-less exit from incumbent institutions and enables us to build a new political economy of blockchains” (Davidson et al, 2016).

Now, cryptocurrency and blockchain technology are in competition with banks, government institutions, enterprises, and business professionals who gain a profit from the users of their network. However, cryptoeconomist believe that competitive organizations will incorporate blockchain technology into their current business models to stay relevant.  With this token, institutionalized transaction fees will need dramatically decrease and transaction fees to compete and keep their customers.  This theory suggests that previous monopolies and oligopolies will be working on the terms of their customers, because they will have the choice to leave or source their services elsewhere (Davidson et al, 2016).


Conclusion

So how do we get here? How do we achieve this new political economy that alleviates citizens from financial abuse, empowers the unbanked, offers countless opportunities for improving the global economy and the founding of new microeconomics? The answer is education and mass adoption.

A new-found passion for blockchain technology has developed a new wave of missionaries trekking the globe and preaching the opportunities and value of that blockchain withholds. This has become known as “techno-libertarian evangelism.” For example, Africa Youth Peace Call organized a blockchain tech/entrepreneurship camp in Ghana in 2015, they taught natives about principals of blockchain, land registration, free-market thinking and skills. Bitnation offers blockchain to refugees in the form of ID cards and Bitcoin debit cards and educates their users on the importance of blockchain to their freedoms. The multiplication of groups such as these are essential.

"Not since the Web itself has a technology promised broader and more fundamental revolution than blockchain.”   Hyperledger Project

While the freshness and innovation of blockchain is exhilarating, eliminating error prone humans from the process of exchange can be frightening. If cryptocurrency and blockchain economics were unanimously adopted globally, many professionals and trades would be destitute, and many industries will dissolve. However, I feel that the advantages of utilizing the technology will outweigh the disadvantages. Nonetheless, serious caution and consideration for the ecology of a blockchain economy is critical before implementation. I propose that if executed appropriately, crypto-economics and blockchain technology could allow global citizens the tools to trade, govern, and engage transparently with equal opportunity around world. This is the new political economy of blockchain.


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