Searle’s Chinese Room Argument always seemed dumb to me:
The Chinese Room Argument contains two fallacies:
First, it conflates a composition of elements with a single element:
Is a plank of wood a ship? No, but a whole bunch of them are. You can’t say that you can never sail across the ocean because a wood plank isn’t a ship.
No, the message operator in the room doesn’t speak Chinese. But the room *as a system* does speak it. Are the individual neurons in your brain conscious? No, they are simple machines. But you as a whole are sentient. Likewise, software may be sentient even if individual lines of code are not.
The second fallacy is a trick: it compares a one-rule operator to 100 billion neurons in your brain. The hidden argument is that a simple rule engine cannot compete with a 100-billion rule network. The hidden implication is that a “simple” system can never do the job of an ultra-complex one like the brain. But no one claims that sentience can be replicated with a simple system. Perhaps 100 billion neurons are the minimum needed for intelligence, and that’s fine. In fact, GPT-4 has about the same number of neurons as the human brain.
When most people think of AI as a threat, they imagine a malevolent AI. That isn’t very likely, so they dismiss the threat entirely.
But that’s not the danger of AI. The real danger is super-competence in the wrong hands. This is a difficult idea to convey because “super-competence” does not exist yet, so it takes some imagination to consider the risks it could bring.
I say “super-competence” instead of “super-intelligence” because we don’t have a firm grasp of intelligence, much less “super”-intelligence in a non-human context. “Super-competent AI” is just software with a versatile utility function, without the baggage of self-awareness, the question of a soul, etc. Everyone accepts that computers are super-competent in some narrow contexts. They can solve math problems much faster, search large amounts of data, land rockets on a dime, etc. These are all forms of narrow competence — algorithms that are good at very specific things.
Of course, with ChatGPT, we have an example of competence in a broader context. GPT4 can solve problems in almost any domain of human knowledge, even if not very well (yet).
I predict that within the next 10 years, we will have super-competent AI (which could be augmented humans) that can provide superhuman results in a wide array of problems. It doesn’t have to be a chatbot. It might be an oil rig builder that can handle everything from finding oil to building a pipeline. The initial domain doesn’t matter because once we figure out how to make more adaptive AI tools, they will spread to every human endeavor. Most likely, it will be an informational tool of some kind (like a kids’ cartoon generator) because language models have already proven superhuman talents in this field.
Once we have super-competent tools, one of three disasters will inevitably happen:
1: A do-gooder will tell an AI algorithm something dumb like “design an airborne viral cancer cure” and the AI will decide that the most effective way to cure cancer is to kill the hosts.
2: Some malicious human will use AI towards malicious ends. The most likely way this will happen is that the world gets so scared of AI that it bans all research, and that only parties without regard for the law or AI safety continue the work.
3: An AI really will develop a mind of its own and decide that the carbon in our bodies would be more useful in building more compute nodes. I consider this the least likely, or rather likely to be a risk long after the first two risks.
So far as I can see, the only way I could be wrong is if (1) super-competent AI is not possible, either because technological progress stalls, or because human intelligence is at the apex of what is possible or (2) we find a way to align software with human values, such as by integrating super-intelligence into everyone’s minds or perhaps creating an AI overlord with human values that can stop any possible disasters.
My confidence in the timeline of AI progress comes from both the state of AI research and the nature of information systems (such as human civilization), which tend to produce more complex iterations in ever shorter cycles. I do not think “no one will do anything dumb or malicious” is a realistic option because given 8 billion+ humans, all of whom will eventually have access to these tools, it is a certainty that some will be smart enough to be dangerous, but too dumb or malicious to know better.
So what’s the solution? As I mentioned, banning AI will only make a disaster more likely. I think the first step is to develop a consensus about AI’s existential risks, rather than, for example, worry that someone will trick ChatGPT into saying something racist. The second step is to fund AI safety research on a scale proportional to AI research itself. The third step is to develop future-oriented safety protocols. (AI safety protocols exist, but they are backward-looking and completely inadequate for the scale of the problem.)
See Insights and Ads2Blake Williams and Fred Smiszek Jr.
As a kid, your options seem limitless. Whether you want to be an astronaut, build the next supercar, or win a national championship, your possibilities seem limitless. Yet, as you got older, days seem to get shorter. You set out to accomplish one thing, but at the end of each day, ten other things pulled at you, and the goal you are aiming at is still just as far away. Your youthful optimism has been replaced by the realization that your talent and potential are very limited indeed — by time, intellect, innate biology, and luck of the draw.
As adulthood approaches, you adjust your expectations. Maybe you won’t get that Olympic medal after all. Perhaps instead of a mansion a middle-class home and a steady job will suffice. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden in 1854: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” In other words: we settle.
And yet, not everyone settles. Some people do achieve greatness. While cynics may attribute success to luck, the fact is that many great men and women reach success not just once, but again and again. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Jack Dorsey reinvented themselves and built empires in unrelated fields. (I’m a fan of tech moguls, but pick your own field, and it will hold heroes.) I am convinced there is a method to success, and while mastering it won’t necessarily make you a billionaire, you don’t have to settle for mediocrity either.
Later in Walden, Thoreau writes: “That man who does not believe that each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired of life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way.” To me, that “sacred and auroral hour” is an aspiration that when I sit down to work the next day, it will be with a renewed vision for my future, a single-minded focus on my chief goal, and untainted optimism that despite the limited time I have, I will yet accomplish my highest goals.
The “secret” to success is deceptively simple: daily progress. The primary reason for failure is not a lack of talent, intelligence, or bad fortune, but perseverance. As midcentury radio speaker Earl Nightingale wrote “most people live a life of quiet mediocrity and never achieve the success they truly desire because they get impatient. They want easy success or none at all. They see the path to success as a frustration, an impediment. Each day spent short of the ultimate goal is viewed as a time of failure and as an annoyance. As such, they get distracted by hundreds of little things that each day try to get us off our course. Yet the successful among us know the truth.”
Last week was the Jewish holiday of Simhat Torah, which celebrates the conclusion of the annual cycle of Torah readings. Jews celebrate this day by collectively unwrapping the Torah (a single scroll containing the first five books of the bible) around the temple, as the rabbi reads the highlights, starting with Genesis and ending with the death of Moses. Just as the Torah tells the story of the Jewish people, I imagine my life as a scroll that contains my own trials and tribulations. As I wander through the time and space of life, I work towards a single goal: the perfection of my soul. In this mission, I have two aims: to discover the Good and to integrate it fully into myself and my world.
I believe that life ought to be a mission, a destination, and I must stay focused on my Grand Journey to move consistently toward my destination. You are on this journey whether you accept it or not. The only choice you have is whether to choose a destination and make daily progress towards it or to wander aimlessly, circling around to the same place again and again.
Your Great Journey has a beginning and an end, but what is your destination? Psychologist Kurt Goldstein thought it was “self-actualization” — the achievement of your full potential. I see it as the building of one’s soul — from an immature and imperfect one, to one that maximizes the flourishing of all the aspects of being human — social, romantic, parental, professional, and material.
The only aspect of life we ever have total control over is our mind, but the way we perfect our mind is through our actions — which become our habits. Therefore, I make big plans, while focusing on daily habits that move me towards them one day at a time.
In short, this is my advice for fellow travelers: in the journey of life, you will face a daily struggle. Don’t become so immersed in it that you forget to choose a destination. Make big plans, and then take small but consistent steps toward them, and you will reach them.
I will conclude with a quote from 19th-century architect Daniel Burnham:
Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Think big.
Bitcoin is decentralized, censorship-resistant money. It is an immutable bearer instrument, meaning that possession of the key entitles the holder to dispose of the value of Bitcoin, and no entity in the world can do anything to stop that. It is an asset, not a security, meaning that it does not represent debt, derivative, or equity in any enterprise. It has no shareholders, no corporation, organization, CEO, nor any other kind of administrator who can make unilateral changes to it. It has an entirely fair distribution, which is to say that it was worthless for years before it had any value, and no one involved in the project had any special bitcoin allocation. It has always been the top cryptocurrency by monetary usage, market capitalization, and ecosystem adoption. It requires no special hardware or permission to run, and anyone with a regular computer can run a full Bitcoin node.
No other leading crypto asset meets any of these criteria, much less all of them. None of the 20,000 other crypto projects meet all of these criteria. The vast majority of “crypto” projects are scams, created solely to enrich the founders. The few well-meaning projects are securities promising a future payoff, but few practical applications today. No other project can be said to already serve millions of users’ needs for non-speculative purposes. The “crypto” space is dominated by scammers, grifters, and ignorant sycophants who believe their lies because they’ve been sucked into a shitcoin cult and because they can only profit as long as they keep finding other suckers. The actual founders of these projects typically put all their profits back into Bitcoin or fiat as soon as they can get away with it. The sooner you understand that Bitcoin is unique, the sooner you can get away from pump and dump schemes and put your wealth into the asset most likely to safeguard your wealth. Bitcoin is not “crypto.”
Below, I will break down the ways in which Bitcoin is unique, critique some of its competitors, and then answer some of the criticisms made against Bitcoin.
The root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that’s required to make it work. The central bank must be trusted not to debase the currency, but the history of fiat currencies is full of breaches of that trust. Banks must be trusted to hold our money and transfer it electronically, but they lend it out in waves of credit bubbles with barely a fraction in reserve.
Unlike the vast majority of “cryptos,” Bitcoin solves a real problem, the problem of modern civilization: fiat money. Why is fiat a problem? The US government and our economy are being kept afloat by a giant “everything bubble” that assumes that the world will keep buying dollar-denominated debt. When the bubble pops, the dollar will collapse, and the world will need a new reserve currency. In other countries, the bubble has money has already collapsed, and Bitcoin is already a lifeline. The corrupting influence of inflationary fiat money has infiltrated and ruined every aspect of society – I highly recommend Saifedean Ammous’ book “The Bitcoin Standard” for the gory details.
Unlike shitcoins, Bitcoin solves a real problem affecting billions of people – and that is why it has the most real-world adoption.
Why promote maximalism now?
Warren Buffett: Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.
The crypto-bear market is upon us. Many scams and vaporware projects have failed, and many people are getting turned off crypto assets entirely, which is why it’s a good time to remind you that Bitcoin is not crypto. Speculators who are here for a quick buck will come and go, but Bitcoin is here for the long run. Now is the time to highlight this fact.
Bitcoin is not a security The U.S. Supreme Court’s Howey test: “an investment contract exists if there is an “investment of money in a common enterprise with a reasonable expectation of profits to be derived from the efforts of others.” Nearly every other crypto asset is a security: it’s a project run by a centralized team, with the goal of making a profit. Token buyers are investors, hoping to earn a reward from the work of that team.
When you buy a crypto token, you’re betting that the team that runs the token will beat 10,000 other projects and make you a profit. Often, they are backed by millions in venture capital, which they use to sell their investment. Bitcoin is different. There is no one in charge, no “Bitcoin CEO” or marketing team, no venture capital, and no securities token. Bitcoin is truly decentralized, and all decisions are made by a community consensus process. We can see evidence of centralization the fact that other networks can simply reboot their blockchain when they have a bug, or the fact that Ethereum’s supply schedule changes more often than the weather. There will only ever 21 million Bitcoin, and there is no group or charismatic leader in charge who can ever change that.
Bitcoin has no demagogues
Cory Klippsten, the CEO of Swan Bitcoin:
“Why is Bitcoin not a Ponzi scheme? The big difference is that there is no entity or group of people that control Bitcoin who are marketing Bitcoin to be able to dump it. If anything, most Bitcoiners that promote Bitcoin are just buying and holding as much as possible — and people who love it the most are the people who never sell.”
Bitcoin has a fair distribution
Bitcoin is the only blockchain that has a credible claim to a truly fair distribution: * No premine (Satoshi didn’t grant himself any coins) Satoshi gave a 2 month heads up before launching the network (no sudden release and no mining before release) * Coins had no value for 1.5 years so they circulated freely (it’s not even possible for an altcoin to replicate this) * Satoshi never cashed out (unlike every altcoin founder in history and I bet it stays that way for eternity)
By contrast, Ethereum launched with 12 million ETH for the developers, and 60 million ETH for sale as an “initial coin offering” during the presale.
Bitcoin is #1
All other cryptocurrencies only exist because of Bitcoin: Bitcoin enabled an instant global payment network and final settlement for other digital assets. If you own another cryptocurrency, there is a good chance you bought it with Bitcoin. If you hear about any other project, it’s because of a marketer/promoter, whereas Bitcoin’s growth is organic.
Whether it’s a private entity or the government doing the censorship, it’s still wrong and harmful, and for some of the same reasons.
Government censorship is far worse than private censorship because it eliminates your ability to speak on any platform.
But the value of free speech is a universal principle, not a just political one. Human progress requires open debate. This is one of the key principles of the Enlightenment responsible for the surge of progress and human development in the modern era. Toleration of disagreement is essential for the pursuit of knowledge.
A platform committed to the principle of free speech has a moral obligation to maximize the speech it tolerates, even if that speech is wrong or repulsive to the operators. That doesn’t mean that platforms must allow disruptive or illegal speech. All platforms must have some policies to restrict disruptive behavior like spam or illegal behavior like crime.
A platform is not the same as a social community. A community is a group of people committed to common values or interests. Communities often need to restrict speech to facilitate their mission. For example, a marine biology community can’t have outsiders promoting day trading schemes. A social networking platform is a host of communities and has a moral obligation to maximize the range of speech it tolerates.
One of the primary problems with social media censorship is confusion about the concept of “harm.” Illegal behavior like threats of violence are disruptive of speech and should be banned by social platforms. However, the intellectual elite no longer differentiates between physical harm and harm to emotions, or often simply wrong ideas. If harming emotions is prohibited, then all speech is vulnerable, since we cannot be responsible for other people’s feelings. We pay lip service to freedom of speech, but we no longer understand what it is. The Enlightenment has drawn to a sad end.
In the last three years, we’ve seen censorship of speech using the wrong pronouns, censorship of speech that contradicted government health advice, censorship of speech that represented government health advice at one time, but was changed later, censorship of speech because people of the wrong nationality commented on another country’s politics, and censorship of speech for no reason at all, because the AI trying to censor wrongthink is easily confused. On the other hand, when someone on Facebook threatened to literally murder me, Facebook told me it reviewed the message and found nothing wrong, demonstrating where its priorities lie. Too bad he did not misgender me or told me not to take a vac**ne, or call me a politically-incorrect slur.
In short, censorship has been weaponized to push the political agenda of the group in power, and the elites are seeing just how far they can push thoughtcrime.
By the way, even as the elites trust our ability to tell truth from falsehood less and less, the intellectual and material tools we have to evaluate the truth for ourselves are better than ever. We have the intellectual tools of the scientific method, statistical science, and empirical knowledge of the world. These tools would be awe-inspiring to the natural philosophers of the past. We have the material tools of the Internet, engineering, and mass-produced scientific instruments making the truth more accessible than any time in history. Yet our intellectual elites have responded to the mass-accessibility of truth with an unprecedented wave of censorship and intolerance.
Today is the start of Hereticon, an annual conference that celebrates heretical ideas. Why celebrate thoughtcrime? According to Hereticon:
While our culture is fascinated by the righteousness of our historical heretics, it is obsessed with the destruction of the heretics among us today
Most of the heretics of the past were wrong, just like today’s heretics. But history teaches us that leaps in human progress usually start with radical new ideas that are rejected by “experts.”
Ignaz Semmelweis, the Hungarian doctor who discovered the importance of handwashing in 1847, was universally ridiculed and forced into a mental asylum for advocating his views. Today, handwashing is one of the least controversial positions imaginable, but there is no shortage of radical ideas that will get you “canceled.”
While many blame “woke cancel culture”, “big tech”, or “big government, ” the root of hostility to heretical ideas is in our epistemology – our understanding of the origin of knowledge. To nurture radical new ideas, we need a marketplace of ideas that values both dissent and rationality. I believe that Bitcoin will play a major role in making these new marketplaces possible.
What Is The Problem?
The problem with “Big Tech Censorship” is not that big tech is run by the left. It’s that the enlightenment idea of objective truth has been replaced by tribalism. “Truth” is determined by group identity, not the relation of your ideas to reality. If a “majority” of “experts” say something is true then that is true.
Reality is objective – it exists independently of our opinions. The only way to obtain knowledge is through empirical evidence and a valid epistemological process – what we call “the scientific method.” The means to discover the truth are available to everyone with an Internet connection today. The problem is that intellectuals on both sides of the political divide no longer believe people to be capable of evaluating facts for themselves. They think that we believe whatever the groups we identify with tell us to think. If it is impossible to have a rational discussion about truth, then force is the only way that we can establish the “truth.”
The Importance of Dissent
Moral and intellectual progress requires all issues to be open to debate.
We should value disagreement because we believe that every bold new idea begins as a radical thought by a single individual. An open marketplace of ideas is required for the best ideas to flourish. Just as material markets require the freedom to adapt to a constantly changing world, so does the marketplace of ideas. Any society that forbids open debate faces stagnation, decline, and ultimately ruin. This has nothing to do with whether the entity doing the censorship does so through government censorship or through “community standards.”
It is fine for a community to exclude some views. A “community” is a group of people with like-minded ideas interests, and it is necessary to exclude disruptive individuals from such a group. But social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TokTok, etc are not “communities.”
A social network is a platform for communities. Not allowing the communities within a platform to decide which views are acceptable leads to the decline of the entire platform. When such censorship is embraced by all social platforms, it leads to the decline of a society.
(Note: Politicians in democracies don’t like to censor directly, but they often employ the threat of censorship with Congressional hearings and the like. It’s usually impossible for users to tell whether a private platform censors of its own volition or under duress.)
More Closed Platforms Are Not A Solution
There are three reasons why it’s hard to compete with a Facebook or a YouTube:
First, 99% of the content that people want to post does not violate their rules. Of the 1% that is blocked, most is worthless, but .1% is vital commentary. It’s that .1% that we need to protect. It’s impossible to compete with Big Tech because that 99% of content has too much network lock-in for an alternative to succeed. (Sorry Parler, MeWe, Gettr, etc).
A second problem is that any alternative to Big Tech platforms will start with users who Big Tech rejected. The alternative platform will require those users to survive. By virtue of being rejected by Big Tech, the alternative will be banned by Big Tech for refusing to censor “unacceptable” content. They will be kicked out of app stores, their payment provider will cancel, their web hosts will cancel, their SMS, auth, email, KYC, DNS, firewall, CDN, messaging, and every other service provider will cancel. As a CTO, I depended on over a dozen different services to power my organization, and over the course of 2020, most of them updated their terms of service to justify censorship of politically incorrect customers.
The third problem is that running a platform is expensive. To pay for the platform, you need advertising. But if most (or any) of your content is what Big Tech rejected, you will find it difficult to attract advertisers. If you try to get users to pay for your service, your payments processor will fire you, as OnlyFans found out.
The Need For Decentralized Alternatives
The more intolerant the legacy networks become, the more motivation and expertise will flow into decentralized alternatives like Mastodon, PeerTube, ActivityPub, and Diaspora.
However, content is not enough. To enable an alternative, we need to decentralize the content layer, the Feed, and the value layer.
IPFS is a peer-to-peer protocol for censorship-resistant content storage.
Decentralizing The Feed
The Feed is the personalized list of Facebook posts, Instagram photos, Twitter Tweets, & TikTok/YouTube videos you see to discover new content on each platform. The Feed can never be neutral or objective. The Feed is tailored to your interests, but it depends on both machine learning and product managers’ opinions about what you like. Because there is always far more content created than you can consume, each platform has to decide how to filter that content to maximize the appeal of their platform. This is necessarily a subjective process – should you see more news posts or posts from friends? Should you see more inspirational, graphical, or factual content? What content should be excluded entirely? These questions are data-driven, but ultimately humans decide on the tone of each platform. The Feed is very good at being addictive and is one of the main reasons why second-tier platforms cannot compete. The Feed is expensive to maintain, but being customized also makes it very valuable.
I would like to see Content separated from Feed. Search engines are examples of Feeds competing for the same content, but we don’t have an equivalent for social networks. You should be able to create Content once, then choose what Feed service to use to discover other’s content. If a Feed becomes too intolerant or allows too much spam, I could switch to another Feed to find my content. My friends would discover my content through several Feeds, tailored to their vision of content discovery.
Decentralizing The Value Layer with Bitcoin
Until we have a censorship-resistant Internet, we cannot have censorship-resistant social networks. To have a censorship-resistant Internet, we need censorship-resistant money, because running social networks is expensive, and centralized payment services are single points of failure. Space on the feed has enough value to pay for decentralized networks, but we need censorship-resistant money for advertisers to pay for space on the feed. Bitcoin can fulfill this role.
What Can I Do?
Support decentralized payments by using Bitcoin
Use Brave browser, or another browser with built-in support for decentralized content hosting like IPFS.
Publish content on blockchain-powered content platforms like Steemit
My survey of 2500+ crypto scam victims identified some key signs that a crypto project is a scam. Whether it’s a scam from the start, or just doomed to fail and waste all your money, here are six ways to tell if a crypto project is a scam:
1: Does this project have a legitimate profit model?
There are a few legitimate ways to make a profit in crypto, such as mining, lending, staking, and yield farming. Learn what each means to so can evaluate if an opportunity is legitimate. Never invest money in projects whose business model is not disclosed or that you do not understand.
Legitimate CeFi platforms clearly state what they do with customer funds, list their fee schedule, and expected returns. DeFi platforms should list token allocation, a link to the whitepaper, and smart contract source code. Never invest in Defi projects without a whitepaper or documentation stating the tokenomics.
2: Is this project feasible and sustainable?
Even if a project is legitimate, it needs to have a business model that is scalable and sustainable. For example, many projects aim to create coins for very narrow niches, like a token to pay your dentist. Such a project will never achieve a very large market cap. It’s also not sustainable because the token doesn’t add any value to its target market, and so it will never pay off for investors.
3: Does this project have independent verification or third-party certification?
Be extremely careful about platforms that offer to trade your money. There are only a few legitimate ways for businesses to trade customers’ money. In the US, they must be either a hedge fund or registered brokerage. They will be licensed with a regulatory body such as FINRA & SIPC or the SEC (via FORM D filings). Be aware that scammers are impersonating licensed financial professionals, so it is necessary to independently verify their contact information via FINRA BrokerCheck, LinkedIn, etc.
Note that hedge funds are not even legally allowed to directly advertise their services, so if someone is messaging you via Instagram and asking for deposits in anonymous crypto payments, it is 100% a scam.
In DeFi, services like RugDoc rate the legitimacy of financial platforms. RugDoc will tell you if a project has passed independent security audits like Certik. Never invest in a DeFi project without a security audit, or if rated as high risk by RugDoc.
4: Can you independently verify this token or platform?
A common scam in crypto is to impersonate a legitimate platform or token. To avoid this scam:
1: Always access crypto services through their official website and never trust “support” links found through search engines or social media. Scammers are placing search ads that fool you into thinking their fake website is a legitimate platform.
2: Be very careful of social media recommendations. Always check independent sources like RugDoc (for DEFI) or FINRA (for CeFi)
3: If buying a token, confirm the contract ID matches at CoinMarketCap.
5: Is this project run by a reputable team?
Many DeFi projects are anonymous, but CeFi projects should always disclose their management team. Always check that the bio on the project page matches what you can find on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Launching a cryptocurrency exchange is an incredibly technical endeavor. Does the management team have the required technical experience or are they just paid celebrities? Do not simply look at the number of Twitter followers they have, as that is easy to buy.
Conclusion: Signs of a crypto scam:
According to my survey of 2500+ scam victims, fraudulent schemes have a few things in common: unrealistic returns, high-pressure tactics, sales pitches via messaging platforms, no mention of fees, & lack of reputation.
Scammers have deployed thousands of bots on social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Telegram, and Twitter to push their platforms or pump up their tokens. Never trust social media recommendations, even from a friend, as scammers are hacking profiles to push their scams. Check to see if a project has a legitimate community on Reddit or Discord.
Gold and Bitcoin are fungible, durable, portable, divisible, & scarce. Both have limited acceptance today: there are few goods & services you can buy directly with gold or bitcoin.
But Bitcoin has six advantages over gold:
1: Bitcoin is far more portable than gold. You can send it anywhere in the world instantly for a trivial fee.
2: Bitcoin transactions can be instantly and remotely verified. It’s impossible to fake a Bitcoin transaction. Verifying receipt of gold bullion is an expensive, error-prone, and physical process that requires either trust or expertise in gold assaying.
3: A bitcoin is divisible into 100 million satoshis. Gold bullion can be expensive or impractical to split into tiny fractions.
4: The supply of Bitcoin is completely independent of the price. The creation of Bitcoin follows a fixed schedule with a hard limit of 21 million. The supply of monetary gold increases when the gold price goes up, due to increased mining and redirection from industrial use.
6: Bitcoin currently has limited vendor acceptance, but you can use Bitcoin debit cards with point of sale conversion to fiat. Gold can be used as a store of value, but in most of the world, it involves much effort to be exchanged for goods. There is already one country that uses Bitcoin as legal tender (El Salvador) and this number is likely to grow.
So Why is Gold More Valuable Than Bitcoin?
Gold does have one important advantage over Bitcoin:
Gold has been used as a store of value for all of human history, all over the world. Bitcoin is only 13 years old. This is why the market cap of above-ground gold is currently 10x that of Bitcoin. On the other hand, the fact that Bitcoin has grown nearly 200% per year to a market cap of nearly $1 trillion demonstrates that it is rapidly gaining credibility.
Over the long run, I expect the fundamental advantages that Bitcoin has over gold to be reflected in their relative market caps.
The Intercept story has more holes than swiss cheese, but I want to rebut the central thesis of the article. Is inflation bad? Spoiler: the worst aspect of inflation is not rising prices or eroding savings, but the censorship of price signals required for a thriving economy.
Demand-Pull Theory Doesn’t Explain Inflation
The unstated theory of the author and the mainstream economic model that guides the monetary policy of the world’s central banks is Keynes’ model of Demand-Pull Inflation. The theory goes like this: when aggregate demand exceeds the value of aggregate supply, producers raise prices. In response, governments can raise interest rates to reduce demand, slow economic growth, and end inflation. Problem solved!
If the master planners at the Federal Reserve simply need to pull a few levers to fix the economy, why has the global economy had a series of boom-bust cycles ever since the Fed was founded in 1913? The usual excuse is that the government simply hasn’t imposed enough regulations to stop the pesky capitalists from screwing up their central planning.
The Austrian economic school provides a comprehensive response to Keynes’ economics. Say’s law (Jean-Baptiste Say, 1803) provides a simple refutation of Keyne’s demand-pull theory. In order for someone to buy goods, he must first produce something of value to obtain the money needed to pay for those goods. Production is the source of all economic growth, not consumption. Economic growth is an increase in supply, not an increase in consumers demanding more. To consume the product of others’ labor, you must first produce something they find valuable. Government edict can change what goods are produced, but it cannot magically command new workers, factories, and materials into existence.
Since Covid 19 began, the M2 supply has jumped from $15 trillion to almost 20 trillion dollars. Quick quiz: if the same amount of economic activity is served by 40% more dollar bills, what will happen to prices? It’s not a question of if but when.
The question of why the government had to print so much money is a long and shameful tale, but the ultimate result is inevitable: massive inflation.
Inflation is much worse than the official numbers suggest:
Second, the United States has been able to hide away most inflation, mostly by exporting dollars as a global reserve currency.
Third, the official deficit numbers are misleading because much government spending (like government-backed student loans and mortgages and quantitative easing) doesn’t end up on the books.
What we are seeing now is not the beginning of a period of higher inflation, but an unprecedented expansion of the money supply causing the Fed to lose control of the narrative and have to admit it in official indexes.
So Why Is Inflation Bad?
The problem is not that prices are going up. If prices merely increased by some steady amount each year, we could adapt to them, just as employees expect a 3-4% base salary raise every year to match inflation. Likewise, producers and lenders would have no problem adapting to a universal increase in the price level.
The problem with inflation is that it’s not a universal increase in price. Inflation is what happens when politicians print new money to hand it out to their constituents instead of raising taxes. Raising taxes is hard but running printing presses (physical or digital) is easy.
To understand why inflation is harmful, we need to understand what prices are: prices are signals about which activities are valuable to people. When the price of a good goes up, producers direct more resources into the production of that good. When the wage of a job goes up, more workers are directed to that industry. This “invisible hand” of the market continually optimizes human activity to direct human effort to the most valuable activity.
The main evil of inflation is that it corrupts this information flow. Inflation begins when governments give new money to favored groups. The recipients of new money spend it at the current price, whereas the downstream users of that money spend it at a higher, inflated price. Instead of prices signaling which activities are socially valuable, they signal activities supported by the government’s printing presses. Inflation corrupts the economic harmony that directs resources to their most valuable use.
If you remember one thing, it should be this:
“Fiat” is another word for “decree” or “edict.” It’s called “fiat money” because governments force people to use their money by decree. Through inflation, fiat money forces people to allocate their lives to the causes the government’s money benefits instead of those they would voluntarily choose for themselves.
Inflation Is A Hidden Tax
All taxes are signals which force people to produce goods they would not voluntarily produce. But taxes are different from inflation in that both the tax burden and the recipients of tax income are generally auditable by the electorate. Inflation is a hidden tax that subtly changes the incentives throughout an economy to erode its ability to produce wealth.
Because it’s hidden, inflation is highly addictive to the political system. Government programs depend on printing money to a far larger extent than official deficit numbers suggest. Even if there was suddenly a broad awareness of the harms of inflation and a political movement to curtail it, moving to a sound money system absent a complete collapse of the dollar regime would still be outside the realm of possibility.
Inflation Wrecks The Structure Of Production
Why is the economy suffering from shortages of seemingly everything? It has nothing to do with a “chip shortage,” or the Suez canal blockage, or just-in-time manufacturing. These are only the symptoms. The root cause of the “everything shortage” is the government’s manipulation of the money supply.
One of the main disagreements of the Austrian school with Keynesian economics is the emphasis it places on the structure of capital. Capital is not a monolithic blob of “aggregate supply”, but a hierarchy of lower and higher-order goods. In order to produce consumer goods, capital must be employed. To make your Venti Frappuccino (first-order good), a barista uses an espresso grinder (second-order good). The grinder requires steel and microchips (third-order goods).
When the government created new money for the stimulus programs, that money first went to consumers, who voted with their wallets to shift the structure of capital from the production of higher-order (production) goods to lower-order (consumption) goods. Inflation robbed producers with low time preference and redistributed the loot to consumers with a higher time preference. The shortages were a result of inflation eating the “seed corn” of capital needed to maintain and expand production.
So what should happen when an external shock (such as pandemics and lockdown policies) constrains production and changes demand patterns? The economy needs to re-structure to rebuild the structure of production to reflect the new reality. Uncertainty causes consumers to save more, which frees up higher-order capital to shift to new demand trends. Capital can focus on producing PPE, webcams, home exercise equipment, and consumer groceries rather than restaurant supplies, office buildings, airliners, etc.
The inflation-powered stimulus packages attempted to “freeze” the economy in pre-pandemic spending levels and thus crippled the adjustment to the new reality. The rest was inevitable.
The Myth of Idle Capital
President Biden claims that the “Build Back Better” stimulus package will reverse inflation by “reducing bottlenecks” in the economy. This thinking is straight of out Keynes’s General Theory (1936). Keynes believed that government spending is needed to put “idle” resources to work and stimulus the economy.
William H. Hutt refuted this idea in “The Theory of Idle Resources” (1939). Politicians cannot create new capital and labor. They can only force people to do the government’s bidding rather than what individuals believe is in their best interest. If some capital is idle, it’s because it currently provides no economic value to people. “Build Back Better” is just the latest version of the belief that the government’s central planning is more efficient than the price mechanism of the free market. Though Mises, Hutt, and many others refuted these ideas in the 1930s, the backdoor of fiat money allows politicians to try the same failed policies without consequences.
Does Inflation Help The Poor?
The Intercept claims that inflation is good for the poor because it will make debts easier to pay off. Supposedly, rich lenders will suffer while the poor are granted a reprieve.
Do you really believe the elites suffer more under any economic policy? While banks may lose some money, they are also the first recipients of new government money!
* A far larger percentage of poor households’ income is used for basic needs.
* The wealthy get most of their income from inflation-protected assets like real estate, business interest, and stocks.
* The prices of basic goods increase faster than luxury goods.
* Families with low incomes will be pushed into poverty, while the middle and upper classes can cut down on luxuries.
* Debt is a wealth-maximizing strategy for the wealthy, while it’s a survival strategy for the poor.
* Although existing mortgages and student debt will depreciate, interest rates on new debt will go up dramatically!
Though the very idea that inflation helps the poor is absurd on its face, it’s not the fundamental error of the article. The central problem is the idea that high inflation is just the price we pay for economic growth. If you have understood the above description of inflation, you should understand that this is another way of saying that government central planning of the economy is more efficient than the market. If you believe that, look up the thriving economies of the USSR, North Korea, Venezuela, or Cuba.
But for every crypto scheme which is outright theft, there are ten trash crypto-assets created mainly to take your money and run. Each project has a story of why they are a great investment. But dig deeper and the business model is a mirage. What the founders really want to do is create as much momentum as possible and sell at the top before the illusion of value vanishes.
Sometimes you don’t have to dig very deep. For example, “BabyCake” is an explicit Ponzi scheme, if you look beyond their promises of “bringing passive income into people’s lives.” It’s one of the first tokens to have a Ponzi scheme built right into the smart contract. I count 63 other “baby” named pyramid schemes.
Usually, though, the catch is buried deeper and requires understanding the crypto ecosystem. Let’s review why there are so many scams and trash coins in crypto and how to avoid them.
Why are there so many crypto scams?
Cryptocurrencies are only pseudo-anonymous. It’s impossible to know who owns some coins from an address alone. But if you interact with the legacy financial system, for example, by cashing out your gains for fiat, your identity can sometimes be found. If you commingle your funds by moving them together, it’s possible for a chainanalysis algorithm to link activity to an identity. When I try to help victims of fraud, I can often follow the transaction trail to the cold-wallet of some exchange where the crooks traded Bitcoin for a local currency.
I think the bigger problem is that our legal systems aren’t adapted to deal with crypto fraud. Our legal institutions don’t take small-scale crypto fraud as seriously as fraud with “real” money. Lack of international cooperation means that even if I know which exchange was used to cash out stolen crypto loot, they are unlikely to cooperate with local law enforcement.
Bleeding Edge Technology
Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are still very new. The tools needed to secure Bitcoins are still evolving and rough around the edges. I predict that in a few years, we will carry credit-card-sized devices with biometric readers that make storing and using Bitcoin both safe and foolproof. Until then, the tools for storing and transacting cryptocurrencies are rapidly evolving. There are safe methods to keeping your crypto safe (like hardware wallets, multi-sig, and steel seed backups), but many people aren’t aware of the proper techniques. Accidental and malicious loss of funds is, unfortunately still common.
A bigger reason for fraud in crypto is that crypto transactions are irreversible for almost all coins. In the legacy financial system, a fraudulent credit card charge, bad check, or unauthorized wire transfer can usually be reversed. If the theft is big enough and your lawyers are good, the legal system will tend to intervene on the victim’s side. In the crypto space, however, no matter how unjust the theft, there is nothing that can be done.
(Keep in mind though that government theft of savings through inflation and taxes is a far bigger problem than theft of crypto. While this is unfortunate for victims of theft, transaction finality is one of the primary reasons why Bitcoin is so revolutionary: it is impossible to conduct legal plunder of people’s wealth.)
A Free-Market Alternative to Wall Street
“Wall Street” (i.e. traditional securities markets) is often portrayed as the epitome of capitalism. The reality is that the government has regulated most of the profits out of securities available to the non-elite. Crypto-assets and exchanges allow novice investors access to venture capitalism for the first time since the Securities Act of 1933 limited investments in unregistered securities to “accredited” investors. Initial Coin Offerings offer normal people the ability to invest in startups without having to be worth or put up millions of dollars. DeFi (decentralized finance) exchanges operate using smart contracts, without any centralized entity to regulate. With DeFi, anyone to mint and create a market for a new token, outside the ability of any government to regulate.
The flip side is that just because everyone can create and sell their token does not mean they have a viable business model or any technical skills. All you need to be able to do is market your coin, not do anything useful with it. The vast majority of crypto projects trend back to a value of zero.
Bitcoin’s Success Inspires Copycats
Most crypto scams are not outright theft but an attempt to make a quick buck by riding on Bitcoin’s coattails. Profiting from Bitcoin’s rise requires an initial buy-in and patience. Want to make billions with an investment of zero? Too impatient for a mere doubling of your money each year? Just copy Bitcoin’s code, change a few parameters (invent some justification why they are needed) and launch your own altcoin. Repeat the scheme a few more times and get 12,881 crypto-assets tracked by CoinMarketCap.
Many projects start out well-intentioned. The founders may want to be revolutionaries just like Satoshi Nakamoto or they might have some justifiable disagreements with the team that maintains Bitcoin. However, the decentralized nature of crypto assets means that once a coin is out there, speculators will run with it. Quite often, the founder exits early with a small fortune and the project evolves in a completely different direction. The founder of Dogecoin sold everything to buy a used Honda Civic. His coin now has a $32 billion market cap.
Buy And Hold Your Entire Crypto Portfolio In Bitcoin
The only guaranteed way to avoid falling for a crypto scam is to keep 100% of your crypto portfolio in Bitcoin. Investors fall for crypto scams when they try to beat the returns of Bitcoin through a variety of other coins and schemes.
Let’s analyze objections to a 100% Bitcoin portfolio and how it gets investors in trouble:
Objection #1: Bitcoin’s returns are not good enough
No other cryptocurrency can match Bitcoin’s track record. Consider Ethereum, which has beaten Bitcoin over the last 4 years. But this assumes you had the foresight to participate in Ethereum’s ICO. Ethereum is up 2.7x since its 2017 high, whereas Bitcoin is up 3.3x. The point is that you’re not missing out by not buying the latest hot altcoin. By the time you hear about it, any potential for astronomical returns is long gone. If you had bet on Ripple when it was #2 In 2017, you would only have 1/3rd of your portfolio left.
The only way to become a successful long-term investor is to study the fundamentals of an asset, not its price. Bitcoin is the future of money. No other altcoin comes close to Bitcoin as money. Bitcoin’s top competitors are smart contract platforms of various kinds. Their usefulness for real-world business models is currently unproven.
Objection #2: You heard some altcoin is better than Bitcoin
Novice Bitcoin traders want to be above-average investors. Of course, we can’t all be above average. But many nonetheless try to add some extra alpha to their portfolio by buying a hot new coin or timing the market.
Those familiar with the efficient market hypothesis understand the difficulty of consistently beating the market. The prices of assets reflect all current information known by participants. Unless you can consistently evaluate the fundamental value of assets more accurately than others, you won’t beat the average. When you try to time the market, your emotions work against you, urging you to buy after an asset goes up, and sell when the asset is low.
Of course, if you invest in Bitcoin, you’re already disagreeing with the vast majority of investors who have little or no exposure to it. Why not disagree a little more and buy some altcoins? Here is the difference:
Bitcoin has a simple business model (“Hard Money You Can’t F*ck With”) and a 12-year track record. Altcoins are all either a technical variation on Bitcoin (fba vs proof of work, or dag vs blockchain) or an entirely different business model (smart contracts). It’s much more difficult to understand the technical merit and value proposition of these assets. None have Bitcoin’s track record.
As a managing partner of a cryptocurrency hedge fund, it is my full-time job to research and write about cryptocurrencies. Yet the vast majority of my crypto portfolio is in Bitcoin because I do not feel qualified to judge the technical merits of various projects. I have a background of 17 years in software development and architecture. I personally designed a Bitcoin exchange. Do you think you can do better based on YouTube and Twitter personalities?
For example, even if Dash is technically better than Bitcoin, is it going to beat Bitcoin’s network effects? What’s to stop Bitcoin from adding whatever killer feature Dash offers? Are you qualified to make these judgments, or are you buying based on the rumor mill?
If you are personally involved in a crypto project, I understand your decision to invest. But don’t expect to beat Bitcoin based on scrolling crypto news sites.
Once you master the advanced trading screen, you feel like you have the key to mastering the markets. By taking a few online courses, you can develop a unique system that consistently earns you profits. During a bull run, when everything is going up, it’s easy to conclude that you are in fact a pro.
It is possible to earn a consistent edge in crypto – just not by you. Crypto markets are manipulated by whales (big traders) with powerful marketing machines. There is no way to predict their actions, but they will use your emotions against you. They also pay lower trading fees than you, while your profits are eaten up by fees.
Objection #4: You want to diversify your crypto portfolio
One of the main reasons people hold a basket of crypto assets is that they don’t know which will be successful in the long run. This is a reasonable concern. In practice, however, choosing which assets should go into your portfolio is very difficult.
The principle behind diversification is that by holding uncorrelated assets, you can reduce the volatility of your portfolio while maintaining the rate of return. Diversification works great for the stock market because the profit margin tends to be the same across different sectors. Also, the stock market has 120+ years of precedent to predict future trends.
The same isn’t true of the cryptocurrency market. The price of crypto is based almost entirely on anticipation of future demand, not current demand. Bitcoin’s price depends much more on speculation than current demand as money. Furthermore, money is a natural monopoly, so it’s likely that only a single coin will emerge dominant. (Likewise for smart contract platforms.)
If we assume that a single asset will emerge dominant, which one do we choose? One option is to look at the total market capitalization of each coin (hence CoinMarketCap.com being the #1 crypto site). But this is misleading. If I create a token called “Veksler Coin” with a supply of 1 billion and sell a single coin to my friend for $1, I instantly have a $1 billion dollar market cap with a $1 inflow. MarketCap rankings are key for adoption, so there is extremely strong pressure to manipulate them. Even though Bitcoin has less than a 50% market cap, the vast majority of fiat inflows go to Bitcoin. In short, there is no reliable metric for market capitalization.
Some organizations advocate automatically rebalancing your portfolio in response to market cap changes. My fund does that to an extent, though we only trade coins that our research has vetted. However, if you are managing your own portfolio, are you prepared to continually rebalance your portfolio — and pay the capital gains tax on any profits?
Objection #5: You want to earn passive income from staking/yield-farming/crypto lending
Many Bitcoin investors believe that it isn’t enough to hold Bitcoin. You don’t just sit on your cash, right? You invest it in a productive enterprise to earn a return. Just holding an asset is speculation, and that’s bad, right?
There are two problems with this reasoning:
First, Bitcoin is fundamentally different from fiat money. The problem with fiat money is that it’s an inflationary asset. You have to put your money to work just to preserve your wealth. By contrast, when the quantity of money is fixed (as with hard money like gold or Bitcoin), a growing economy means that the share of wealth represented by each unit keeps increasing. Furthermore, the adoption and therefore demand for Bitcoin is rapidly increasing. Bitcoin is not just a static asset like cash or gold. It is also a money transmission network that provides ongoing value to people. Simply holding Bitcoin is an investment into the future of money.
Is a few extra percent return on top of Bitcoin’s 200% average worth risking your principal?
The second issue with many “crypto-investments” is their inflationary design. Consider staking. Cardano staking returns a 5.x% APY reward rate. Cardano also has a 5.7% inflation rate. You must stake to preserve your wealth. This is Cardano’s way of motivating users to delegate their ada to trustworthy stake pools. Staking may be a legitimate way to secure a crypto asset, but it isn’t a legitimate income stream.
More egregiously, consider coins like CAKE, which has a 73% APR (previously 450%+) in the Auto CAKE Syrup Pool. How is PancakeSwap able to offer those returns? There is a handy chart here. Clear as mud? The supply of CAKE is completely arbitrary and the reward rate is a combination of investor subsidies, high growth rate, and high inflation that changes day by day completely at the whim of the CAKE governance process. It’s fun to gamble with, but should you trust your life savings with this scheme?
Objection #7: You want to trust an expert (or algorithm) to trade your crypto
Never expect other people to be smarter with your money than you.
Many people will give you advice on how to invest your money. But just because someone made a lot of money managing other people’s money, doesn’t mean they did their customers a favor. Extensive research shows that index funds perform better than actively managed funds. Crypto isn’t any different.
Keep in mind that the volume numbers of many exchanges on CoinMarketCap are fake. It is much easier to manipulate the prices of crypto assets than you would think. Twitter, Telegram, and YouTube are filled with pump and dump schemes. If an investor finds a consistent advantage in the market, he will not give it up by publicly sharing it. Only those who can’t make a living by trading run YouTube channels about it.
The only reputable actively traded crypto funds are crypto hedge funds. They are open to accredited investors and have minimums of $50K and up. Be very clear on the value they are providing over you just holding Bitcoin before you decide to invest in one.
Conclusion: to avoid buying trash crypto that wastes your money, stick with Bitcoin
The crypto space moves fast. Dozens of new coins go live daily. The top 10 coins today look very different than five years ago. I can’t promise you who the leaders in this space will be in the future. What I do believe in is that fundamental value is what drives long-term trends. The asset that has the most universal business model, can scale to meet consumer demand, has the biggest real-world network, and the most robust community is Bitcoin. If that changes, I’ll be the first to let you know.