Sorry, but at the moment...
...electronic money is worth the platter it's stored on.
Tired of bad press, Bitcoin advocates have launched a new foundation aimed at both promoting the electronic currency and funding infrastructure to maintain its momentum. The Bitcoin Foundation is the brainchild of Gavin Andresen, who says he modeled it after the Linux Foundation, the non-profit organization that "promotes, …
Well, yes on the whole banks are more trustworthy. There were a few cases of totally unacceptable bonuses, which weren't linked to performance, but the vast majority of bonuses (in terms of amount of numbers of staff receiving them) were demonstrably well earned. I had to spend two years working for RBS with people telling me that I wasn't worth what I earned and I was on the gravy train, people I'd never met before who had no idea what I did would tell me I was scum. I designed data storage.
Bitcoin is not some "stick it to the man" ideal, it's a poorly thought out charter for money laundering and tax avoidance. There are reasons that financial services have regulation and bitcoin needs to be part of it.
Notice how the emphasis on banking regulation has gradually shifted from protecting the customer against banking rackets to policing the customer? Including in the name of "preventing terrorism" and other such canards. Thus, banking has become another tool for the state to control people. And one of the things bitcoin is, is a backlash against just that. Not everyone who chooses privacy automatically has nefarious things to hide. They could be unnefarious things and still need hiding. People in government and the industry for that matter have pretty much lost sight of that. And of the customer.
Beyond that, there's arguments to be made to turn the whole problem space on its head and instead of trying to clamp down ever more, make the incentive go away to the behaviours that the clamdowns are a reaction and ineffective remedy to. But that, that's anathema to people whose only hammer is "control" and whose mindset is the expectation that everyone else will just obey and follow the rules, however outrageous the rules might be, with the automatic assumption that the tiniest failure to obey must necessarily be proof of being possessed of a blackened soul and deserving of anything they can throw at them. As policymaking goes, that's rather inflexible, and could be more effective. It could be far more cost-effective, too, and eventually trickle down to lower taxes.
And lower taxes means a more competetive government, inviting other governments to follow suit. What, free market to taxes? Yes, why not? Isn't that what the trend to unify enables? Then why continue with what for corporations would be unacceptable monopolist and cartel-forming racketeering practices?
If bitcoin enables that, well, go for it. Yes, the world will change. No, it doesn't have to be for the worse.
Notice how the emphasis on banking regulation has gradually shifted from protecting the customer against banking rackets to policing the customer?
It's not a binary thing. It's possible - and I'd suggest desirable - to police both sides of a banking transaction is it not? If we expect our bank's dealings with us to be honest, and want that "policed", then they have to expect the same from us customers.
Have you forgotten that bankers are the middle men? With law enforcement looking over their shoulders?
Bankers provide a service that has become so vital you cannot do without, worse, often are not allowed to do without, so they'd better provide it honestly, and there should be a fall-back for the customers should the bank fail somehow. But that does not imply that it is also desirable to screen the intent behind every transaction --neither end of which usually are bankers-- for possibly being vaguely connected with often themselves very vaguely worded possible threats that may or may not be figments of scared politicians' imagination. This already goes much further than certain governments routinely slurping up the entire SWIFT transaction data stream for data mining.
And who said anything about binary? I say the emphasis has shifted, and I also say the pervasive government control that's clearly being strived for, is going much too far for a free society already.
I'm personally for customers being policed - it's important to make sure that money laundering isn't happening, that people on the list of EU sanctions don't have inappropriate access to banking, etc.
I still note, however, that no-one has manged to cite a source for inappropriate policing of customers, just vague suggestions about it...
What, pray tell, is this thing?
Why should somebody not be allowed access to banking services, while others would? What makes banking inherently different than, say, being able to buy a newspaper or transportation or food or clothing or housing or medical attention or anything else? Short of actual incarceration, and even then.
Especially seeing how plenty of governments are actively promoting doing away with cash (because "dangerous", because not as easily tracked and policed) in favour of payment cards and the long strings of middlemen and complex machinery behind all that, which increasingly means that depriving someone of the means to pay electronically deprives someone from the means to pay at all, thus also of the means to obtain even basic necessities legally.
And when you're at that point, the government is effectively creating its criminals. Do you really want to go there? Do you really want to move away from a clear reason to mark somebody a criminal, like he's done someone provable harm, and move into the realm of "you're a criminal because we don't trust you"? We've seen it takes amazingly little for governments to suddenly distrust their every citizen.
Or, for that matter, other governments' citizens. That's what the EU and even more the USoA are doing with their "sanctions". They're effectively overstepping their respective jurisdictions. That is thin ice, legally speaking. And, of course, wether at home or abroad, it does away with this little thing "innocent until proven guilty".
I don't want to go there. So I say, there is no such thing as inappropriate access to banking. Thus, basically all measures that require the customer to justify whatever he is doing with those services are naturally inappropriate.
I might make exceptions for trying to deliberately abuse or game the banking system itself, if there was no other way to detect and remedy that, and if you'd like to use transaction records as supporting evidence in some case or other, well you can ask a judge for permission to obtain them. But for money laundering to be an issue, there must have been a crime, first. Go after that, first, too.
That is all quite different from pre-emptively slurping up all the data (as the USoA does with SWIFT, indubitably their own ACH and others too), from making up arbitrary criteria as to what transactions are "suspect" and requiring bankers to report them, from requiring bankers to summon their clients and going through all the transactions and demanding justification (happens if you're monied enough, you apparently aren't), from various international "treaties" and blacklists and things used to impose banking regulations on smaller countries, from a host of other requirements that demand every transaction be pinned to a certain person (giving rise to money mules and various forms of identity theft), in short a large chunk of contemporary banking regulation.
It's not that nobody can point you to it. It's because there's so much of it it's hard to start somewhere. "Follow the money" has been all the rage for a while now, and it's become perchance more important than going after actual crime. Which is sheer law enforcement lazyness, it is. And of course, you're so used to it that you've effectively closed your eyes and gagged down the kool-aid. It's all the best intentions, I'm sure, but it's also prettily paving the road to hell.
I say, pecunia non olet, and thus there is no such thing as "inappropriate access to banking". For if there is, why stop there, why not define "inappropriate access to (food|medical attention|newspapers)"?
Have you ever tried explaining the notion of money as it currently exists, as if to a man from Mars? One thing is certain: most people don't have a clue, and also don't have a clue that they don't have a clue.
So being too complicated for most folks to understand ought not to be a barrier to adoption. Consider also computers, mobile phones, airplanes, automobiles.
The bitcoin peeps went over to Brazil for some conference, and along the way asked coke dealers they met what they thought of bitcoin. None of them had even heard of it. It's not unusual for politicians to spout populist fearmongering tripe from their ignorance and counting on everybody else's ignorance to get a few votes, at the cost of lingering legislation that doesn't actually solve anything at best.
As for botnets mining for bitcoins, since apparently lots of people don't even notice their computers becoming part of a botnet in the first place, why should that botnet abusing their cycles for bitcoin be a separate problem? It's all theft of service, whether it's for mining bitcoins, sending spam, waging DDoSes, and so on. And stealing the resources to mine for bitcoins doesn't taint the resulting bitcoins. The only trouble would be to try and recover them when apprehending the crooks (if ever); forfeiture to the state mightn't be a problem if the state knew what to do with the coins. If they don't, or they mishandle the wallets, or similar malarky, which is more than a bit likely, well, the bitcoins will vanish, driving up the scarcity of what's left.
And bitcoin itself? Well, it's by its very nature hard to regulate, and so you can't just shout for them politicians to give you some laws, for great salvation. Or well, you can, but it won't help you. So, beyond the integrity of the bitcoin system itself, you'll have to learn to secure your wallet yourself, and be careful which exchanges you want to trust. Of course, with enough bitcoins in circulation you need the exchanges less.
So I don't really see the problem apart from ignorance and all the stupid things that makes us say and do. In that sense, this initiative isn't a bad idea. Now for seeing what they're going to do.
"The bitcoin peeps went over to Brazil for some conference, and along the way asked coke dealers they met what they thought of bitcoin"
Really? I find it highly unlikely that the bitcoin people would meet with cartel financiers and even more unlikely that those financiers would say "yes, we launder all our money with bitcoin."
"Bitcoin-mining botnets are big business for fraudsters. Most recently, Sophos estimated that the ZeroAccess botnet could potentially bring in more than $100,000 per day."
That's a fine example of the "inaccurate reporting" the Foundation is talking about. Sophos' estimate refers mostly to the clickfraud perpetrated by ZeroAccess. Although the zombies of the botnet can be configured to mine bitcoins, there is no way in hell anyone or anything - not even a botnet as large as ZeroAccess - can make $100k per day by mining bitcoins. Anybody implying that simply doesn't understand how bitcoin mining works.
Even if they did create $100,000 per day, that's not a fraud from bitcoin's point of view. This is the way it's designed, it's meant to be created! The fraud is to do with misuse of property, unauthorised access etc. But if there's a bitcoin angle then bitcoin gets the blame.
The next paragraph was about "Stories of hacks and heists" dogging the currency. Yes, the stories have dogged the currency because it's been reported as a flaw in the currency by ignorant reporters who should know better. El Reg continues with a story about an exchange being hacked. The educated reporter knows this should reflect badly on the exchange but not at all on bitcoin. Why make the bitcoin connection other than through ignorance?
"And while El Reg can speak to neither ignorance nor inaccurate reporting..." Fortunately for you, I can speak to it: you're ignorant.
Even if they did create $100,000 per day, that's not a fraud from bitcoin's point of view. This is the way it's designed, it's meant to be created!
Is it any surprise people see bitcoins as no more sensible than using pebbles and rock as currency? Anything whose headline attribute includes 'a license to print money' should instinctively be seen as snake oil.
When I hear bitcoin advocates singing their praises I'm always reminded of bankers telling me how junk bonds and toxic derivatives are such great things and I'd be a fool not to be in on those. That their legitimacy is justified in a manner that is near impossible to comprehend suggests the wool is being pulled over our eyes or there's something missing in the small print we haven't spotted yet.
If people want to play with their digitally certified Monopoly Money then that's fine by me and if I can generate money from nothing then I might be spending that one day but I'd be far less likely to accept it.
What, you mean like how various governments do exactly that, print money with gay abandon? And not even on paper these days?
The bankers trying to sell you "financial products" (they're not products, they're not even services, they're promises) have a clear incentive: Sell the "products", take the money, and run, er, do it all over again. They can because they're so big, they can hold governments ransom.
The people talking up bitcoin have a different incentive: Get the thing more widely accepted. They gain from expanding the circulation of their currency. Their gain is your gain is getting away from the established and thorougly dysfunctional currency system. However well or poorly they explain themselves.
And what does it matter in the end, whether we pay each other with numbers representing bits of colourful paper representing not even a promise of a few specs of gold these days, or with jumbles of bytes representing a certain amount of computational effort and thus electricity spent to find that jumble?
The pebbles the bitcoin system uses are byte strings just like any other except for that one well-defined property that makes it in fact quite hard to find another like it. You can even calculate just how hard it is, how much effort it will statistically take. As far as justification goes, bitcoin doesn't need an army and a navy.
Excellent point, doctor. I hadn't bothered to do the math before, but in fact $100,000 worth of bitcoins mined by botnets is completely impossible. There should be on average 7200 bitcoins mined each day (50 every ten minutes), which would be worth only $88,000 or so at current prices.
I think part of the problem is, like any new monetary system, systems of trust and audit have to be put in place to make the currency transfer stand up to legal scrutiny. I don't know how it is in the UK, but in the US, BitInstant seems to have the easiest way to go. You receive a bill from a firm associated with them which you can then in turn pay through services like MoneyGram (which is nationwide--just look for a 7-Eleven, for example). When the bill is paid, the currency (minus commission) is converted and sent to your B-wallet. Not the neatest way in the world, but it's getting close. I went ahead and used to put a minor amount into my wallet because I'm seeing an increasing number of e-commerce sites taking the currency. Mostly depends on where you go, but not all of it is seedy or illegal: just rather novel and without the financial backing to work with a bank and handle real currency or credit cards. IMO, it wouldn't hurt to have some small amount of Bitcoin (maybe 1 or 2, which is about $20 worth today) just so you have the flexibility to try something out in future should you see it. And if it tanks, well you eat cheap one night; oh well.
And probably because in practice it's likely to be hellish difficult to use Bitcoins in a genuinely anonymous manner. But in the unlikely event that Bitcoins were to become routinely and highly anonymous enough to be usable (e.g. with help from Tor and chained VPNs using hired Bots) to create an assassination market , then governments will have to come down very hard on visible parts of this network. Well, OK, as a Dutch Tulip kind of bubble currency there aren't any underwriters in the conventional sense and threats to continued existence come from other sources, so the authorities (if they ever have to) will go after the exchanges instead - like the operators of Mt Gox who exchange Bitcoins for $US both ways at margin. Such visible representatives, and anyone associated with the Bitcoin Foundation will find themselves obliged to discontinue support, at risk of being stripped of all findable assets, and finding themselves in cages wearing orange suits surrounded by barbed wire fences on a militarised island without access to legal rights.
Besides legitimate technical questions about their scalability, it is obvious that BitCoins were designed by somebody of complete and utter economic ignorance. Namely, the expansion curve was chosen very badly. It was too steep at the beginning, leading to a large unfair advantage for those that "got in on the ground floor", and it leveled off far too soon, ensuring that massive deflation will be required for BitCoins to be anything other than a niche geek toy.
Hints for would-be currency designers:
- It's NOT a good thing when your "currency" wildly fluctuates in value in relation to something you actually want to buy. That can be a good thing for an investment, but you want currency to remain relatively stable, or, barring that, utterly predictable, with a nod towards mild inflation, if anything. (Why do you want inflation vs. deflation? Because interest rates below zero mean no functioning credit market; an inflationary cushion helps to ward off the far more harmful deflation.)
- If you want a fixed expansion curve, fine. But you need to build in planning for an increase in the size of your "economy." If you don't, you guarantee your economy won't increase to a significant size because of the completely predictable deflation required for it to get it there. As a side note, the near-impossibility of predicting the future size of an economy is why pretty much every single modern economy uses fiat currency.
Not to mention that unlike most other currencies, Bitcoin doesn't establish a hard and fast minimum unit of denomination. It's not uncommon to perform transactions in the thousandths of Bitcoin (or even millionths, though usually it falls somewhere in between, like say 432μB). The current Bitcoin client goes to about 8 decimals (I think that's down to 10nB).
FRB doesn't exist - the loans are created before the reserves are found. The transferable debt created in the loan process is the real money and the "cash" is just a way of holding the debt outside a double-entry system. The paper currency is not the basis of the system, which is how the FRB "theory" describes it. MMT describes it properly if you want a fuller description.
Such a system is unlikely to arise with Bitcoin as its basis because the need for off-site storage of wealth and the sort of transfers which institutional double-entry bookkeeping enables is catered for wholly by the currency itself. If you have a bitcoin wallet you don't need to have a BTC-denominated bank account; if you don't have a bank account then you can't accept bank credit as payment.
But you need a bank (or some other aggregator) to provide Bitcoin financial services like loans. At its base, the bank leverages deposits from customers to enable services that require larger sums like construction loans. Thing is, Bitcoin is somewhere between a fiat and a hard-standard market. Like a fiat market, its value against other currencies fluctuates according to market forces. However, unlike a fiat currency, there is no way to "inflate" the market besides a well-recognized formula (one which incidentally includes a hard maximum), so it's more like a hard currency. Basically put, the kinds of banking tricks one could do with true fiat currency (like fractional reserves) can't be done in Bitcoin. Bitcoin banks can exist, but they'd have to be "old school" banks like in the old days, and even then the nature of Bitcoin's public transaction records and such might force some alternate ways of thinking.
For now, though, the currency is still too novel, so more traditional currency services aren't as necessary as yet.
So don't diss Bitcoin out of hand. After all, some of the greatest ideas started out as seemingly too strange. Some healthy skepticism is fine, but I wouldn't be afraid to dip a toe in the water just in case it gains traction.
Lets be serious for a minute. Organised criminals have outlets to launder their money already and these obviously work, otherwise they wouldn't be able to spend it.
Bitcoins doesn't sound like the sort of thing they are suddenly going to jump all over as dirty money usually originates as cold hard cash. Try things with "legitimate" large cash throughput like taxi firms, nightclubs, tanning salons, amusement arcades, hotels and petrol stations first...
Sorry, but that's not the case. The cold hard dirty cash needs to be made into nice clean electronic cash, in order to be of much use. This requires you to get it into the system, hide where it came from and move it into a "legitimate" account. Now, if you have bitcoins, there is no bank running anti-money laundering or any of the other internationally mandated checks, you act as your own bank and you can transfer any amount of money anonymously without checks and balances. This system couldn't have been designed to launder money in a better way.
The system isn't entirely anonymous. In fact, the transaction history is public. It just doesn't necessarily have any names attached. Oh woe, there's not even a fake name or a "banking passport" to blame!
Yeah, well, just go back to catching crooks the old fashioned way, eh. The monetary gains are but a side show, the real problem is that instead of dealing properly with whatever the problem originally was, some symptoms got banned, in effect creating an illicit market. Because the existing market didn't go away, it just got marked "illicit". This creates wonderful opportunities for respectable people to get their knickers in lots of twists, and hey it creates lots of jobs for overseeing bureaucrats and such, next to all those crooks illicit markets attract for the risk premiums being illicit usually demands, but it doesn't actually solve any problems. It costs a pretty penny in overhead, as well as additional crime, though.
The overarching problem governments have is that they're essentially one trick-ponies, suckers for the "ban this" argument, and control junkies. Very respectable, of course, but not very effective. And now some upstart monetary system comes along and figures a way to bypass all those artificial controls. Money transfers suddenly are quick, and cheap, and easy, and don't require long strings of middlemen, and aren't tied down in red tape, and oh noes! Holy withdrawal symptoms, Batman!
In the long run this might force governments to find policies that are effective instead of merely oppressive, which is altogether a more elegant way of governing. But I don't expect so; we've seen some examples but they remain few and far between.
"The cold hard dirty cash needs to be made into nice clean electronic cash, in order to be of much use"
I've never found it difficult to spend cash.
The main reason you'd find it difficult to eg buy a house or car with cash is due to money laundering regulations mandating the reporting of large cash transactions... if you didn't have that it would be perfect for money laundering too. So on that basis, apply such laws to bitcoin transactions and you'd have sorted your problem out.
Personally I quite like the idea of a currency that I can spend without having to run it by the government first. I guess your view point on that will differ based on whether you view the concept of government as essentially benign (with politicians devoted to work for the good of the people) or whether you view government as essentially malign (with politicians working for their own interests). I tend to hold the second view point - I've travelled the world and lived in several countries, and in most (including supposed democracies) those ruling seem to do a fair bit better than those they rule.
I looked into Bitcoins a couple of months ago and was left so confused I gave up. Talk of losing all your coins if you don't follow the correct procedure when making transactions hardly helped!
I consider myself fairly tech-literate but all the tech-talk combined with economic-talk (which I'm not really much good with) left me with no idea how it works or why I'd want to buy any, beyond some vague talk about them being a good investment as they'd increase in value (which they might but as has been shown, they can also decrease quite substantially).
So I'm not sure this Foundation's going to achieve much other than give Andresen more money in the form of a wage.