While I would have preferred a gold or platinum coin with Harriet Tubman I think putting Harriet Tubman on the $20 is a fine idea and should be done without delay.
The $20 bill would have honored Ms. Tubman and reminded everyone how far the United States has progressed–going from having slave owners such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington on money to emancipated slaves like Harriet Tubman on money.
Harriet Tubman was a woman who didn’t wait for emancipation, she escaped from slavery and risked her life and her liberty to help others to escape as well.
However, I view the whole Harriet Tubman $20 bill outrage as just virtue signaling and/or political posturing. Maybe Donald Trump is a racist even though no one accused him of being racist prior to his run for president.
Frankly I think Trump is stupid for NOT putting Harriet Tubman on the $20. It’s not worth the optics of not doing it. But given my views of the United States dollar, I think that Harriet Tubman would be better honored via other methods.
Why is Jackson on the $20 Anyway?
I strongly suspect Andrew Jackson would have been horrified if he knew he was on a Federal Reserve Note.
I’m not a huge Andrew Jackson fan, but he was very much opposed to a central bank (a topic on which we agree), so it is ironic he was ever “honored” by being put on a Federal Reserve Note in the first place.
President Andrew Jackson actually shut down the United States Bank that was a predecessor to the Federal Reserve Bank the US is stuck with now.
Were the central bankers getting back at Jackson by plastering his visage on the $20? I don’t know but it is ironic either way.
A Better Way to Honor Harriet Tubman
As previously noted, Harriet Tubman was a woman who risked her life, and risked being forced back into slavery to save others.
You don’t put this kind of tough woman on a piece of paper. I think an even better approach would be to issue a gold coin in her honor.
Whatever vestigial link between US dollars and gold ended after Bretton Woods was terminated on 15 August 1971. The classic gold standard was abolished long before in 1933 when the despotic executive order of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt that made it illegal for citizens in the land of the free to own gold.
There are periodic calls to return to a gold standard as a way to reign in government spending. The return to a pre-1933 gold standard would be a huge step in the right direction.
A true gold standard uses gold as money. A true gold standard in the US would redefine dollars as a quantity of gold. A true gold standard is NOT saying that gold is worth $35 per ounce as was the case in Bretton Woods.
It sounds click-baity to me too, but Jim Rickards is predicting $10,000 gold as the result of a currency reboot. The link above is to a sales page (which I get zero benefit from and considered not linking to) that explains in his own words why Rickards thinks Trump will return the US to a “gold standard”.
James G. Rickards is a New York Times bestselling author who appears on networks like RT, CNBC and Bloomberg. He’s testified in front of congress, he’s done some consulting on currency for the CIA and Pentagon. So there are some reasons to listen to what he says and at least evaluate his rationale and his arguments.
If I can quickly summarize his argument it’s that the US is deeply in debt, debt has crushed the middle class, a gold standard is one of the keys to “Making America Great Again” and so President Trump going to move the US back onto a gold standard. Rickards also claims he has some inside information that gives him additional reason to believe a return to such a gold standard is likely.
I agree the US is deeply in debt. I also agree the economy is broken and stacked against the middle class in favor of the super-wealthy. I also agree that a return to a classic gold standard similar to what existed pre-1933 would help America.
There is also some evidence that Trump is receptive to the gold standard.
Would Trump Support a Gold Standard?
Trump hasstated to GQ: “Bringing back the gold standard would be very hard to do, but boy would it be wonderful. We’d have a standard on which to base our money.” In the same montage of questions he also stated that Justin Bieber shouldn’t be deported and that he’s not a fan of Man Buns.
Trump has also tweeted this:
Remember the golden rule of negotiating: He who has the gold makes the rules.
As far as I can tell Donald Trump is not a systematic thinker. He doesn’t have a set of principles with which he evaluates problems and situations. I think Trump’s “philosophy” is basically “I’m a smart guy with good business sense. So I’m going to use my gut and my experience to make ad hoc judgments about what to do.”
Although he probably wouldn’t use the term ad hoc.
So could Trump be in favor of a gold standard? Who knows? Even if he was in some way at some point in the past who knows what he would decide today. Just look at his 180 turn on the war in Afghanistan as one example of his fickleness.
Where does Rickards get $10,000?
Rickards uses a fairly basic calculation based on what he thinks the world money supply will be, how much gold there is and a 40% backing to get $10,000 gold.
Rickards writes that the US government would keep the price at this level by simply conducting some “open market operations” in gold:
The Federal Reserve will be a gold buyer if the price hits $9,950 per ounce or less and a gold seller if the price hits $10,050 per ounce or higher
And this is really the rub. Such a price peg is not a return to a true gold standard. It would not change the US government’s fiat monetary system in any meaningful way.
Dollar to Gold Price Pegs are not a True Gold Standard
The plan Rickards describes is essentially the same as a bill that was proposed in 2013. Mises Institute fellow Joseph T. Salerno explains how such a fake gold standard would not help at all. A true gold standard defines dollars (or other currency) as a certain weight of gold. For example, the definition of a dollar used to be 1/20th of an ounce of gold (roughly). A $20 bill was not the money per se but a claim to one ounce of gold.
The “gold standard” Rickards speaks of is simply fixing the price of gold in dollars.
I Would Like Gold at $10,000
All else equal I would like gold at $10,000. Sure, if I wanted to add to my holdings it would be cost prohibitive, but since I already own some gold a price increase to $10,000 via Federal Reserve open market operations would be of benefit to me.
However, if the dollar collapsed and a loaf of bread costs $10,000 I’m probably not better off. After all no sane person would want to be a millionaire in Zimbabwean dollars in 2008.
This fake gold standard Rickards is predicting certainly wouldn’t help the US economy at large. As I mentioned above, it would not be any significant change to the fiat monetary system. A price peg of gold in terms of dollars is NOT a gold standard. If anything I think it would be horrible optics for the US government and shake the world’s confidence in the dollar. It would effectively be a revaluation down of the dollar, at least relative to gold, and the Fed’s balance would very likely have to massively expand in order to bid gold up to $10,000.
A Return to the Gold Standard Seems Unlikely
A return of the United States to a true gold standard seems very unlikely. A fake gold standard as described by Rickards is more likely than a return to a true gold standard–but still a long shot. I do believe gold is a fantastic long term investment but I also believe it will take the market waking up to the problems of the global financial system and not an act of government.
A hard fork in cryptocurrencies is when one cryptocurrency effectively becomes two and the number of units of currency is effectively doubled, albeit existing in two separate, incompatible blockchains. This has already happened to the second largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization: Ethereum.
Ethereum underwent a hard fork back in 2016, so there are now two blockchains, Ethereum and Ethereum classic, which both trace their origins back to the 30 July 2015 launch of Ethereum in a modern day Ship of Theseus paradox.
More correctly, cryptocurrencies are not very limited in supply.
There are currently 16,475,250 BTC in circulation and that number will continue to grow by design until 21 million are mined, at which point the supply of BTC will cease to grow.
So while only 21 million Bitcoins will ever exist on a given Bitcoin blockchain because of how the cryptocurrency is programmed, if Bitcoin forks, there will eventually be 21 million units of Bitcoin A and 21 million units of Bitcoin B.
In one sense the number of Bitcoins that will exist is 42 million. Now certain places might only accept Bitcoin A and not accept Bitcoin B and the price of Bitcoin B could drop to a low value and no one uses it. So in that sense there are still only 21 million Bitcoins. But when a cryptocurrency hard forks, some people favor one fork over the other and the price is lower than it otherwise would be if there was only one blockchain.
If Ethereum had not forked there would only be around 93 million ETH in existence right now. But because Ethereum did hard fork there are now 93 million ETH and 93 million ETC. The market capitalization of ETH is currently around $18.3 billion and the Market cap of ETC is around $1.3 billion. It’s beyond the scope of this article to posit how much the hard fork impacted the price of ETH, but I think it is logical to believe that the price of ETH would be higher if not for the hard fork.
Bitcoin Hard Forks
On August 1st Bitcoin is also going to fork, forming two separate and incompatible blockchains: Bitcoin (BTC) and Bitcoin Cash (BCH).
The market does not seem to care and Bitcoin is trading near all time highs around $2,800.
Time will tell what kind of impact this will have on the network and the price of the cryptocurrencies. If the hard fork does not go well and the network is adversely impacted I could see short term price drops. It’s possible (although I would guess unlikely) that Bitcoin Cash becomes more popular than Bitcoin and overtakes it in price. It’s also possible (and in my opinion much more likely) that it becomes a somewhat niche cryptocurrency like Ethereum Classic.
Bitcoin currently has a market capitalization of $46,622,650,965. It’s certain that after the fork both Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin will not both have a $46.6 billion market capitalization.
While we wait and see what unfolds I’ve taken one important step. I had my modest BTC holdings at Coinbase. Coinbase is NOT supporting the hard fork.
So I’ve moved my BTC to Kraken. Kraken IS supporting the hard fork. By moving my BTC to an exchange that does support the fork I will get Bitcoin Cash in addition to Bitcoin.
The reason for this is because if one were to hold one BTC (Kraken uses the abbreviation XBT) at Kraken during the hard fork, Kraken will award the holder of that BTC one BTC as well as one BCH. Whereas if BTC is held at Coinbase no BCH will be credited.
I like Coinbase and I plan to move my BTC back to Coinbase after the hard fork takes place.
If you don’t currently own any Bitcoins and are interested in purchasing some, check out my easy to use walkthrough guide How to buy Bitcoins on Coinbase. Using my affiliate link when buying Bitcoins on Coinbase to get $10 worth of bitcoins free when you buy at least $100 worth of Bitcoin.
However, today I’d like to write about why I like cryptocurrencies (and blockchain technology). I don’t see these views as contradictory, simply pragmatic.
If you aren’t already familiar with terms like blockchain, cryptocurrency or Bitcoin check out this explanation: What is Bitcoin?
Let me give you an example to illustrate why it doesn’t really matter if there are things I dislike about cryptocurrencies. If you know a lot about art this won’t work. Lets say I created the following piece of artwork. Say it’s something I painted when I was in seventh grade.
I try to sell it. How much do you think it would go for?
I’m guessing somewhere between nothing and a few bucks. Personally I don’t think it is very good. I don’t like it that much. The paint and canvas could be purchased for a few dollars but they might be worth more unused.
But guess what, it’s actually a Pablo Picasso painting called “Femme Assise” and someone paid $63.7 Million for it in 2016.
I don’t particularly care for this piece of art but people are willing to spend millions for it. So If I knew a lot about art and spotted an original Picasso at a garage sale for $20 I would buy it knowing I could sell it to someone else for much higher.
Just because I don’t particularly like much of Picasso’s artwork doesn’t mean it isn’t highly valued by other people. Just because I think there are fundamental flaws with cryptocurrencies that prevent it from being a good long term store of value doesn’t mean they won’t rise in price–at least in the short to medium term.
Whenever money is pouring into a sector or industry that is an opportunity for profit. And so I view cryptocurrencies as a speculation rather than an investment. But given all of that there are several things I like about cryptocurrencies.
1) Cryptocurrencies are great for Speculation and Trading
On 28 April 2013 the market cap of all cryptocurrencies was $1.59 billion. It’s currently nearly $28 billion.
That is a tremendous inflow of money in a period of just four years. Cryptocurrencies are a rapidly growing market and it’s easy to pick a winner when everything is going up, wether it is stocks or cryptocurrencies.
The price of cryptocurrencies also tends to fluctuate dramatically and that sort of volatility is great for trading.
2) Cryptocurrencies aren’t Controlled by the Government
I’m sure some people go into government because they want to do good and make a positive change in the world.
However, on the whole government, at least in the United States, seems to mainly work to perpetuate itself. One way the US government has been able to stay in power is by going into debt and printing money.
While I think most cryptocurrencies are fairly centrally controlled the people in control of these cryptocurrencies have motivation to work for the long term good of the currency and technology since there are hundreds of other cryptocurrencies out there that people could easily adopt instead.
I think the inspiration and popularity of cryptocurrencies is at least in part due to this reckless government spending which is itself inflation and the cause of price inflation.
Many (but not all) of the cryptocurrencies including the largest, Bitcoin, are designed to be deflationary in nature.
3) Potential Widespread Adoption
A cryptocurrency or blockchain technology could be widely adopted as a replacement for one or more parts of the legacy financial system.
A Replacement for Dollars or Euros or Yen…Etc
While billions of dollars have flown into cryptocurrencies over the past several years there still isn’t widespread adoption by consumers. You don’t go into the local quick mart to pay for gasoline with DASH or Bitcoin. Amazon.com doesn’t accept Monero or Zcash as payment.
Spending dollars online and in the brick and mortal world using technology like Paypal or simply a credit card works great. The technology for spending fiat currency is mature and works fine in most use cases.
An Outside Catalyst
For some reason the average consumer in America (and perhaps people around the world too) doesn’t really about inflation, at least not directly. They care their rent goes up each year and things are getting more expensive, but they don’t think about the cause of rising prices (other than unfairly blaming “greedy business owners”).
Right now inflation is “only” 2-8% per year. Even though that represents a tremendous loss of purchasing power over time it is low enough that people aren’t really concerned about it. As long as price inflation is relatively low and stable I think people will continue to use government issued fiat currency.
But if inflation really started to take off (as I think it will some day) I anticipate the appeal and adoption of cryptocurrencies would take off as well and with it the price.
Weakest Elements of the Legacy Financial System
However international wire transfers are rather slow and somewhat expensive. And I’m not aware of an online cash-like payment system that existed before Bitcoin. So international settlements and online cash-like transactions are two areas within the legacy financial system that leave room for cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology to step in as a superior alternative.
Blockchain technology like Ripple, which has been sponsored by numerous large banks around the world, could very well replace certain elements of the international financial system.
Cryptocurrencies like Zcash and DASH, which are better than Bitcoin when it comes to speed and privacy, could very well gain large marketshare as a way to make cashlike transactions online.
4) Blockchain technology
In addition international settlements there are a variety of other applications for which Blockchain technology, one of the fundamental technologies behind cryptocurrencies, could be transformative. Areas like stock ownership, smart contracts, digital voting, and cloud storage could be revolutionized by blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain Technology
I don’t see these technologies going anywhere. They could very well revolutionize many sectors in the financial world.
For all the reasons I’ve listed before, I don’t know that buying into a cryptocurrency is going to be a good long term store of value.
However, the technology itself is powerful and there is the potential for profit if one makes some daring (and correct) speculations.
But it isn’t there because it’s the best. It’s there because it was first.
There is something to be said for the network effect but Bitcoin has several fatal flaws that leave it vulnerable to being overtaken by newer and better technology.
Bitcoin Transactions take “forever”
A screen capture from bitcoin.org. I don’t consider 10-30 minutes fast unless we’re talking about glaciers or the the average US bureau of motor vehicles
If I buy something digital online I want to be able to download it instantly.
Imagine buying a song on iTunes but having to wait 10-30 minutes to start downloading it. If Apple used bitcoin instead of credit cards that’s probably how long you’d have to wait.
Or what if you want to buy a latte on the way into work? Would you want to wait 10-30 minutes in the coffee shop before you can leave with your drink?
But why is Bitcoin so slow?
Bitcoin takes 10 minutes per block. A block is a set of transactions. So at best Bitcoin takes 10 minutes to confirm a transaction. Most vendors however, require 2-3 confirmations before they consider the bitcoin transferred, which means 20-30 minutes of waiting.
Bitfinex requires 3 confirmations before it considers Bitcoin transferred
You need a Trusted Third Party to make Fast Payments
Websites like Overstock.com accept Bitcoin as payment. However, they do so by utilizing a trusted third party, like Coinbase, to serve as a middleman.
No doubt they do this to avoid the issue of double-spending, refunds and transactions taking thirty minutes.
But the fact that overstock.com uses a trusted third party pours cold water on the idea Bitcoin has “Fast peer-to-peer transactions”.
Bitcoin has Scalability Problems
In addition to confirmations being slow, Bitcoin has issues with scalability of the network, or the number of transactions the network can process. There are competing camps about how to resolve this issue but there has been much more debate than action.
This could lead to hard forks of the cryptocurrency. More on that later.
Bitcoin Transactions aren’t Anonymous
One of the previously oft touted benefits of Bitcoin was anonymity in transactions. While Bitcoin transactions are pseudonymous, unless you buy bitcoins in cash from someone on the street, there are links back to the exchanges and thus bank accounts.
I’m sure there are ways to purchase Bitcoins anonymously but it’s not easy or safe. If you know how to do this I’d value your input in the comments section below.
Bitcoin is Centralised and the Centralised Powers don’t have Their Act Together
A screen capture from the Bitcoin Foundation (bitcoinfoundation.org) website
Despite propaganda that Bitcoin is decentralised–it is in fact controlled by the Bitcoin Foundation in conjunction with the Bitcoin Core developers and the larger miners who can afford the expensive application specific integrated circuit hardware required to successfully mine Bitcoin.
In sort of an Orwellian double-speak both the Bitcoin Core developers and Bitcoin Foundation talk about how they keep Bitcoin decentralised.
The Bitcoin Core development team is not very big.
I don’t see how a group of 3 “maintainers” and a dozen or so contributing developers is “decentralised”.
If I wanted to be really mean I would compare the Bitcoin Foundation to the Federal Reserve and the miners to the big wall street banks.
But I won’t do that.
The main advantage Bitcoin has over the Federal Reserve is that the number of Bitcoins that will be created is fixed at 21 million whereas there is no limit to how many dollars the Federal Reserve can conjure from within the shady halls of the Eccles Building.
A screen capture of a written statement from bitcoin.org/en/bitcoin-core/
However, if Bitcoin forks, like Ethereum did, then the number of Bitcoins will effectively double.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with a cryptocurrency being centrally controlled.
While I have a general bias towards decentralisation and subsidiarity (when possible)–I think that a benevolent dictatorship can be good–provided it is easy to jump ship if the centralised power becomes corrupt.
Bitcoin is Squandering it’s First Mover Advantage
But despite large issues with Bitcoin the Bitcoin Foundation and the Bitcoin Core developers haven’t gotten it together to make progress in fixing the aforementioned systemic issues with Bitcoin.
Could these problems be fixed? Sure. Smart, motivated individuals working together towards a common goal can accomplish amazing things. But I don’t see the Bitcoin community taking these problems seriously.
For these reasons I believe that Bitcoin is not the future of cryptocurrencies.
Bitcoin is the largest cryptocurrency but there are hundreds of others as well. If you’re not familiar with Bitcoin I provide some background here: “What is Bitcoin?”
What I Dislike About Cryptocurrencies
Cryptocurrencies are better than government controlled fiat. But I don’t accept that being better than the disaster that is government fiat currency is good enough and I’m not going to pretend like cryptocurrencies solve all the problems of government controlled fiat money.
I’ve presented what I think are superior alternatives such as Goldmoney.
I touched on what I don’t like about cryptocurrencies in my gold versus bitcoin article but I wanted to dedicate an article solely to the elucidation of what I don’t like about cryptocurrencies.
My dislikes fall into three main categories.
1) They are centrally controlled
2) There are no natural limits on the quantity of cryptocurrencies
3) Cryptocurrencies have very low (or no) non-monetary use
Cryptocurrencies are Centrally Controlled
I am skeptical of the claim that cryptocurrencies like bitcoin are decentralised
The holdings of the cryptocurrencies are concentrated in the hands of the early adopters.
It is estimated that the mysterious creator(s) of Bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, holds between 4-6% of all Bitcoin.
Vitalik Buterin owns a large number of Ether. Evan Duffield owns a large quantity of DASH.
Ripple intends to hold onto 50% of all Ripple cryptocurrency. There are similar situations for altcoins as well.
I think it is fine and good that early adopters and founders reap more reward for investing in a technology–my point is that cryptocurrencies are not actually as decentralised as cryptocurrency advocates would like you to believe.
This control isn’t limited to who holds the cryptocurrencies.
The control also extends to how the cryptocurrency technologies will function moving forward.
The Bitcoin Foundation, Bitcoin core developers and the largest miners control Bitcoin. The Ethereum Foundation and Vitalik Buterin control Ethereum.
People try to make arguments that cryptocurrencies aren’t centrally controlled and I’m not swayed by any of them.
At the end of the day cryptocurrencies are controlled by a small group of computer programmers.
What happens when cryptocurrencies actually behave in a decentralised manner? You get forks, like Ethereum Classic. Which brings me to my next point.
There are no natural limits on the quantity of cryptocurrencies
Like water in the desert, things that are both limited in supply and desirable tend to be valuable
I don’t have the knowledge or time to delve into the code of the Bitcoin algorithm but I accept on faith that because of how the bitcoin algorithm is written only 21 million Bitcoins will ever exist.
So in that way the quantity of Bitcoins are limited.
However, there is no limit to the number of “altcoins” or other cryptocurrencies that can be and are created.
I’m all for competition and choice but when I’m investing in something as a long term store of value I want it to be limited in supply.
Furthermore, if the cryptocurrencies actually behave in a decentralised manner, you sometimes get hard forks.
There is a cap on the maximum number of Ethereum that will ever be in circulation–but after a hack related to the “DAO” Ethereum forked and a new cryptocurrency was created called Ethereum Classic. This fork effectively doubled the number of Ethereum in existence.
Hard forks effectively result in double the number of units of that particular cryptocurrency
As a brief background, someone the “DAO” which was one of programs on the Ethereum network and stole a lot of Ether.
This caused an outcry, some people wanted to reverse that transaction so the thief wouldn’t get away with it. Some people didn’t want to reverse the transaction because it would mean Ethereum transactions weren’t irrevocable.
Ultimately a hard fork ensued and people who didn’t want to reverse the transaction got Ethereum Classic and those that followed the Ethereum Foundation and Vitalik Buterin remained on what is called Ethereum.
There is also talk of a fork in Bitcoin which would have a similar result: two different flavors of Bitcoin when before these was only one. In effect a doubling of the number of Bitcoins.
Cryptocurrencies have Very Low (or no) Non-Monetary use
I’m not going to flat out say that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have zero non-monetary use.
Although if you wanted to round down zero would be accurate.
Some people probably purchased Bitcoin as a political statement or way of saying that they didn’t want to be a part of a government controlled currency system. That is a non-monetary use.
But I think that use value is fairly low. Physical US dollars have non-monetary uses, like kindling or tacky wallpaper, but again that use value is very low and there are much better alternatives that accomplish the same thing.
Some people don’t think it matters that cryptocurrencies have little to no non-monetary use. For a time it probably doesn’t matter. People can subjectively value whatever they want. Otherwise you can’t explain why some works of modern “art” are sold for such high prices. But the question is will that subjective valuation be likely to hold?
Fiat currencies have little to no non-monetary use and how have they fared?
The value of Fiat currencies throughout history have eventually gone to zero. The fiat currencies that exist today did not exist 300 years ago.
The British pound Sterling, founded in 1694, is the oldest fiat currency in existence at 317 years. Most fiat currencies don’t last long.
Gold has been valued for the past 3,000 years. What is the difference between gold and government issued fiat currencies? Gold has non-monetary use and non-monetary properties that have, for the past 3,000 years and up to this day, caused people to value it.
I don’t see how cryptocurrencies, that have very little non-monetary use, will fare better than government issued fiat over the long term.
Summing it Up
Some of the other shortcoming of cryptocurrencies are related to security and ease of use but I think those issues are sufficiently manageable.
I just don’t think the coins themselves are a good long-term store of value.
I choose to own both gold and cryptocurrency–I just choose to own more gold.
Just because there are things I don’t like about cryptocurrencies doesn’t mean I won’t use them and profit by them.
I own several flavors of cryptocurrency because I believe that they will be worth more in the future than what I paid for them. I also like to take advantage of the price differences on different exchanges.
I will be writing a future article entitled “Why I Like Cryptocurrencies” where I go into more detail about what I do like about cryptocurrencies.
What do you think of cryptocurrencies? Do you currently own any?
(29 July 2017: In a previous version of this article I claimed that cryptocurrencies are not scarce. I’ve updated the article with more precise language. At the time I first published this article there were over 100 cryptocurrencies with a market capitalization over $1 million, I’ve updated this number to nearly 100 cryptocurrencies with a market capitalization over $20 million.)
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.