Will Bitcoin crash and resurrect?

NOT BITCOIN but better.

One use of Bitcoin is for anonymous transactions, i.e., as a substitute for ordinary cash or bank notes.

The problem is that the currently available bitcoins fluctuate in value. The ideal is a bitcoin that is stable for at least a certain determinate or even indefinite time against a major currency, such as the US dollar. In short, we want or need an alternative bitcoin that is like a dollar banknote. We imagine this alternative works better than keeping banknotes under the mattress or in a safe deposit box, because it avoids thievery and the transaction costs of going to the safe deposit box.

It can be done. The easiest is for the US Fed to do it. It would allow anyone to buy something we might call the official bitcoin dollar in exchange for a guarantee that bitcoin dollars are exchangeable into US banknotes. If this works, it will be because it would reduce the costs now paid by the central bank for printing currency and going after counterfeits. In this scenario, the blockchain ensures that counterfeit official bitcoins cannot exist.

Another way is for a major private bank to ‘create’ its bitcoin dollar. Imagine that Chase does it, and calls it the Chase bitcoin dollar. All it is is a special debit card account where Chase guarantees to make the Chase bitcoin dollar exchangeable for cash. The guarantee is in effect a promise that Chase will honor Chase bitcoin dollar liabilities ahead of its any other liabilities. To ensure such a guarantee, Chase would enter into a ‘currency board’ arrangement with the US Fed by maintaining Fed fund balances in a separate special account solely for the purpose of redeeming Chase bitcoin dollars. In short, the fractional nature of the private banking system will not apply to bitcoin dollars.  

The blockchain also allows Chase to ensure that no other entity can create Chase bitcoin dollars. The ‘supply’ of Chase bitcoin dollars will always be the same as the demand for such dollars.

Any other private bank would be allowed to participate in a ‘branded’ bitcoin currency. I can imagine HSBC issuing special debit cards for HSBC bitcoin dollars, HSBC bitcoin euros, or HSBC bitcoin yen. They may be allowed to compete through enhancements on convenience of use, allowing for fee-free global transfers, or even the payment of interest.  

One important enhancement would be US consumer protections against fraud now being given to users of credit cards. Any merchant declining to honor a bitcoin debit card would be presumed to be up to no good.

The similarity with bank notes will have to be carried to an extreme that meets certain anonymity and privacy standards. The issuer of a bitcoin dollar will have to honor the bearer of the account provided that said bearer satisfies identity requirements. 

At the same time, the use of such accounts will have to be protected by bank secrecy rules, but subject to money-laundering limits. For example, bitcoin dollar transactions in a particular account cannot exceed $10,000 per day, and a bank cannot allow a depositor more than one bitcoin dollar account. A maximum-balance limit of, say, $100,000 per account, could be imposed, in parallel with limits now applied under existing deposit insurance schemes.
Central banks could also impose limits on how many bitcoin dollar accounts an individual can have. To protect banks from money-laundering, bitcoin dollar accounts would not be available to corporations.

Will the advent of such official or private bitcoin dollars kill the existing bitcoins? It could, especially if bitcoins continue to be more attractive as speculation vehicles than as means of payment.

But bitcoin exchanges could create ‘hybrid’ bitcoins whose ‘mining’ or supply-side arrangements are fully transparent, and whose value could be stabilized in some fashion desired by the bitcoin holder. In short, there could be different bitcoins for different purposes. Caveat emptor and ‘know your customer’ rules would still be needed. However, such bitcoins would remain without guarantees similar to deposit insurance, and they may still be vehicles for speculation.

My best guess: Bitcoins will evolve, i.e., the fittest will survive. The Dutch tulip variety will become extinct. As of now, they’re pretty much as primitive as Dutch tulips.

Living the lousy life of a telecom consumer

Remedies against monopoly

You can almost see  the present system of announced prices, with unannounced promos maintained by the telecoms, as a form of price discrimination, a concept familiar to students of economics.

The two aren’t quite monopolies. But for the sake of discussion only, imagine that they are a two-piece cartel, a bikini in nosebleed-speak.

What can consumers do to foil a price-discriminating monopolist/cartel?

Any interesting answers out there?

Bitcoin as money

BITCOIN Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 10.04.16 AM

The following is a note found on Facebook.

Random ideas on what makes money money
by Kermit Kefafel,  Friday, January 29, 2016

Is money a public or private good? It is a private good imbued with public interest. The public goods that attach to money are the safety of the banking system and price stability, as conventionally promised by a central bank.

What are cryptocurrencies? They act as substitutes for the use of cash in untraceable transactions, the idea of Bitcoin. You can even buy bitcoins at your local 7-Eleven.

The market for Bitcoin has lately been shaken with the arrest of one of its principals; there is talk that it could collapse. Will other cryptocurrencies have the same problems?

I suspect that for a cryptocurrency to become viable, it must hurdle the trust problem — its users and holders must be assured that its supply and valuation are, in some sense, sacrosanct. That its price could bubble up and down like a financial asset is a negative. Even fiat-currency central banks pay some kind of lip service to exchange stability under the current system of floating exchange rates.

Because of the public-goods aspect of money, a stateless currency requires an enforcement mechanism that is private but viable. Does such an enforcement mechanism exist?

Or, are cryptocurrencies just another Ponzi scheme?


For reference, see Lawrence White’s article in the Cato Journal.

The central bank (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas) has issued an advisory regarding the lack of regulation on virtual currencies.

A recent assessment predicts continued growth of Bitcoin in the Philippines.



Econ 12 – Assignment No. 4 due Feb. 10, 2015

Prepare, individually, short written answers to the following questions, and submit them to me by e-mail (oroncesval@gmail.com) on or before February 10, 2015. Most of the answers can be found in Chs. 8, 9, 10, and part of Ch. 13 of the Backhouse textbook. You should also do some independent research using other sources.

1.Summarize the ideas and theories in institutional economics. Include the economic thought of Veblen, Commons, Wesley Mitchell, and Galbraith.
2.What is the Tragedy of the Commons? Explain. (Here, you may consult: http://www.sciencemag.org/site/feature/misc/webfeat/sotp/pdfs/162-3859-1243.pdf.)
3.What is Keynesian economics? What is the role of ‘animal spirits’ in Keynesian economics?
4.What is the so-called neoclassical synthesis between neoclassical economics and Keynesian economics?
5.What is the main difference between the ideas in Keynesian economics and the so-called New Classical Macroeconomics?
6.What is general equilibrium theory, and what’s wrong with it?

Please bring hard copies of your submissions for giving out to me and your classmates when we meet again on February 11.

‘Free’ markets and ‘fairness’

There’s a new good book by John Tomasi, an even better review by Deirdre McCloskey, and a so-so-reply.

Methinks the point can be (perhaps overly) simplified to a Schumpeterian one:  A ‘free’ market is one that incites innovation, and ‘fairness’ comes out at the back end as an unintended consequence, though not in the sense set up by Adam Smith and taught in economics.

Perhaps there’s another point too.  ‘Fairness’ can be divorced from efficiency, but efficiency can be helped by understanding the public-vs.-private goods distinction, and the role of institutions (market vs. non-market) in this regard.

Global warming and Al Gore – a Facebook conversation

Note: With permission from a friend at Facebook, I reproduce below an edited conversation on global warming. (The interchange may make more sense when read with my other post on Ronald Coase.)

If Al Gore is right, the beach today will be gone tomorrow. Because the ice will melt, and there is a constant amount of water out there. But wait-a-minuut.. What if the H’s don’t want to date the O’s anymore? And are the amounts of H and O constant? In short, it is possible Al G is dead wrong, yet he gets a Nobel?

A friend of mine thought perhaps I was just peeved, asking what Al G did to me. So I had to continue the thread.

Continue reading “Global warming and Al Gore – a Facebook conversation”

Ronald Coase on global warming

Railroads used to spark

Global warming is an issue that resurrects that old debate between Ronald Coase and A. C. Pigou.

Let me accept that carbon use induces global warming. I’m not so sure about this, but for discussion let’s take this as given.

Warming as externality

One way to look at the issue is to consider that warming, like pollution, is an externality.  Ronald Coase’s solution is to give property rights to the use of carbon (either to the one who likes it cold, or to the one who likes it hot).  Coase demonstrated that the efficient solution is the same regardless of who gets the property right, but of course the distribution of wealth differs.  If you give the right to the one who likes it hot, the one who wants it cold has to pay; and vice versa.

Continue reading “Ronald Coase on global warming”