Book Review: “Popping the Crypto Bubble”

Last year a friend sent me a copy of “Popping the Crypto Bubble.” I read the first few chapters before life got in the way and recently re-discovered it while unpacking and finally finished reading it.

This is a book I should have liked, after all, for years I have been labeled as a “crypto critic” or as a “no-coiner” terms that I thought were inaccurate or even slurs.1

In fact, for several years I wrote a private newsletter that was circulated among many now prominent anti-coiners. So if there is someone who should have wanted this book to be great, it is me. But it is not. It is actually a bad book.

I have formally written eight book reviews for “blockchain-related” books and I would rank this at the bottom. Part of it is the poor editing which has been highlighted by at least one other commentor. For example, the bibliography section is out of sync and is missing an entire chapter.2

But the bulk of the feedback is that the chapters are sloppily assembled with a hodgepodge of polemical rants. The substance comes across as a broken record of anger and angst.

In addition, the book is typically associated with a singular author, Stephen Diehl, but there is no unified voice throughout the book. Instead, many passages read as though they were carved out in a Google Doc by one of his two co-authors (co-workers actually).

As a result, a reader will find themselves ploughing through some semi-technical explanation of a financial product only to hear Diehl’s voice wedge itself at the very end, claiming it was all a scam or fraud or both. It is tiring because it happens so often.

Before diving into the book, worth mentioning that unlike virtually every other book on this topic, the authors do not provide their background or motivation in any section, although the tone is clear as early as page 1.

For readers unfamiliar, the three co-authors worked together at a US-based company called Adjoint, a tech firm I was introduced to in July 2017 when it was involved in doing something with smart contracts which Diehl has removed from his LinkedIn bio.3 Adjoint announced “Uplink” a couple months after that call.

WBB of Adjoint’s now deleted Press Release from October 2017 regarding Uplink.

Obviously it is okay for people to change their minds. Some people do not like the local sports team when they move to a different state or province. Some people fall out of love for avocado toast. Some people like working on “the next generation of distributed ledgers.”

So what changed Diehl’s mind between 2017 and 2022? According to Diehl’s presentation in December 2017 he was all-in on blockchains; then in a group presentation in April 2018, the co-founders were still on-board the blockchain train. It is not clear from the book (perhaps he has said somewhere else?) but he leaves no doubt that he is not a fan of cryptocurrencies or blockchains or smart contracts or web3.

Below is a breakdown of issues with each chapter. Note: all transcription errors are my own.

Chapter 1: Introduction

In the second paragraph on p.1 the authors write:

The overarching idea of cryptocurrency is based on a complex set of myth-making built on a simple unifying aim: to reinvent money from first principles independent of current power structures.

Where is the citation or source to back up that claim? Perhaps some Bitcoin maximalists hold that core view as their raison d’être to “reinvent money” but if we were to say, use the title of popular conference panels, it isn’t actually as common in 2023 or probably even June 2022 when the book was published. However the onus is on Diehl et al., to provide evidence for the claim and it is not presented.

Grammar: in the same paragraph there is a glaring grammatical issue on the first page of the book. It was also highlighted by one Amazon review:

Source: Amazon review

On the same page the authors write:

While a software is political, some software is more political than other.

Not only is there a missing “s” at the end, but it is not really clear what this means even with the following sentences related to the 2007-2009 Global Financial Crisis. Is Solitaire political? Is Excel political?

The concluding sentence of that same paragraph concludes:

The divisions over cryptocurrency are based on a philosophical question: Do you worry more about the abuse of centralized power, or about anarchy?

Again, no citation or anything to surmise why this is the philosophical question.

For instance, there seems to be a range of motivations for why a regulated financial institution operates a trading desk involved in the cryptocurrency world, or why that same organization might have a different business unit that builds a custodial product for their tokenization efforts. I have sat in meetings with these types of entities and I do not recall hearing anarchy mentioned, but maybe my sample size is too small or outdated.4

Chapter 2: The History of Crypto

On p. 3 the authors put in a pullquote:

Cryptocurrencies were intended as a peer-to-peer medium of payment but have since morphed into a product whose purpose is almost exclusively as a speculative investment.

Perhaps Bitcoin and some of its immediate clones were intended for payments (at least according to the original whitepaper) but again, no citation for the latter claim about speculative investment. Maybe that is true. Either way, later in the book the authors change their tune and say that cryptocurrencies are a reimaging of money. There is little consistency from beginning to end.

The first couple pages describing “the Cypherpunk Era” are okay but the authors slip up stating:

In the 21st century, most money is digital, represented as numerical values in databases holding balance sheets for bank deposits.

This may seem pedantic but the authors do not state what part of the world they are describing in the 21st century. If it is the U.S. then they probably mean to use “electronic” not “digital.” There are no digital dollars in circulation yet as the Federal Reserve has not issued a central bank digital currency (CBDC).

Instead, users are often left with siloed representations of non-fungible dollars “issued” by a menagerie of entities, typically intermediaries such as commercial banks. The e-Cash Act and STABLE Act were a couple of proposals to move in that direction, but as of this writing we do not currently have a “digital dollar” in the U.S.

On p. 5 the authors write:

To most consumers today, this is transparent, although it was first, in the early 2000s that, consumers became aware of the digitization of their money in the form of increasing online banking.

Who are these consumers, where are they based? If the authors are describing the U.S. a future edition of the book should be specific.

Continuing on p. 5 they write:

However, in the early days of e-commerce, there was still apprehension around receiving and making payments over the internet with credit cards. To fill this gap, PayPal emerged as a service to support online money transfers, which allowed consumers and businesses to transact with a single entity that would process and transmit payments between buyers and sellers without the need for direct-to-bank transfers.

On the one hand it is clear why PayPal was used as an illustration for this evolving time period, yet it should not be trotted out as a “success story.”

As highlighted by legal scholars such as Dan Awrey, PayPal has always operated as a “shadow bank” and “shadow payment” provider.5 Its management shoe horned the company into the bedrock of U.S. e-commerce all while dodging banking regulators calls for the erection of a state or national-chartered bank.

While some readers may be okay with that outcome, Diehl et. al., explicitly deride this specific type of behavior from pegged coin issuers (stablecoins). Incidentally, in the process of writing this review, PayPal announced the release of a pegged, centrally-issued stablecoin – PYUSD – on the Ethereum network. How does PayPal operate now? The same as it always has: which happens to be very similar to how centralized stablecoin issuers.

Source: Twitter

On p.7 they write:

The mechanism described in the bitcoin whitepaper proposed a novel solution for the double-spend problem, which did not require a central trust authority.

This part of the chapter is fairly straightforward and dry and lacks any of the hysterical commentary. Since there is no unified voice, perhaps it was written by one of the two fellow co-authors?

Either way, it is not explored or mentioned in this chapter (or anywhere else) but of the eight references in the Bitcoin whitepaper, three of them cite the works of Haber & Stornetta, whose digital signing concepts illustrate that there are indeed “useful” things that the blockchain world has contributed (see slides 22-24). Of course that would be contrary to the narrative this book is attempting to defend.

Worth mentioning that the writers typically use lower case b and e for both bitcoin and ethereum even when they are discussing the networks and protocols. This is a little confusing because conventionally, it is fairly common to use lowercase b to describe the unit-of-account, whereas uppercase B to describe the network or code.

For instance on p. 8 they write:

Moreover, the bitcoin algorithm took a particularly interesting approach to consensus by attempting to create a censorship-resistant network where no participants is privileged. The consensus process was eventually consistent and tied the addition of new transactions to the solution of a computational problem in which computers that participated in the consensus algorithm would need to spend a given amount of computational work to attempt to confirm the writes. This approach, known as proof of work created what is known as a random sortition operation in which a network participant would be selected randomly and probabilistically based on how much computational power (called hashrate) was performed to attempt consensus.

A couple of nitpicks:

(1) There is no singular “bitcoin algorithm.” Arguably the best explanation of the moving parts that Bitcoin uses is from Gwern Branwen: Bitcoin is Worse is Better. This is not the only time the authors incorrectly describe a bundle of technology.

(2) The authors should be clearer that “proof of work” itself is a concept that pre-dates Bitcoin by more than a decade (Dwork & Naor 1993). Over the past five years, more of the technical-inclined papers on this topic typically refer to the way proof-of-work is used in Bitcoin as Nakamoto Consensus. The authors mention Nakamoto Consensus a few chapters later however they are strangely very thrifty when it comes to footnotes or citations so a second edition should include this nuance.

On p. 8 they write:

Therefore the bitcoin architecture created a computational game mechanic in which the computers in this network (called miners) competed to perform consensus actions and successfully confirming a block of transactions gave a fixed reward to the first “player” to commit a set transactions.

This is not quite right. A phenomenon called “orphaning” (similar to uncles in Ethereum) occurs when more than one miner simultaneously solves (discovers) a block. At some point one of the branches is orphaned (pruned) when other miners build on one but not the other tree.

This is part of the reason why a hardcoded 100 blocks (roughly ~17 hours) is required before a miner can issue themselves a block reward (e.g., the coinbase transaction has a block maturity time box).

A typo occurs on the last sentence of that paragraph:

The critical ideas encoded in the protocol are the predetermined release schedule, fixed supply, and support for those protocol changes that have support off a majority of participants.

This has a typo: off –> of

On p. 8 the authors write:

One of the core algorithms used in most blockchains is a hash function.

While reading this it was:

(1) unclear why they used ‘algorithm’ and;

(2) which blockchain does not use a hash function?

On p. 9 they discuss difficulty adjustments:

This mechanism allows the difficulty of bitcoin mining to be artificially adjusted proportionally to the rewards.

It is not quite clear what “artificial” means here. In Bitcoin, the supply schedule for the issuance of new bitcoins halves roughly every four years (actually less than four years but we will discuss that later).

Those with commit access could theoretically modify the fixed rewards / supply schedule, and miners could update their node software to increase or decrease that amount. But none of this action is artificial, so why use that word?

We could argue that chronologically early miners received a disproportionally higher amount of rewards relative to the frequent empty blocks they built and processed for the first ~5 years. Is that fair? Probably not. Is it artificial? Probably not.

On p.9 they discuss censorship resistance:

The censorship resistance of this algorithm was the critical improvement over existing eCash systems which previously had a single legal point of failure, in that the central register or central node would have to be stored in a single server that could be targeted by governments and law enforcement. In this trustless peer-to-peer (P2P) model–the same mechanism that powered Napster and BitTorrent–all computers participated in the network, and removing any one node would not degrade the availability of the whole network. Just as previous P2P networks routed around intellectual property laws, bitcoin routed around money transmitter laws.

There are a few issues with this:

(1) Which algorithm are the authors referring to as an “algorithm,” the entire Bitcoin codebase circa 2009?

(2) Napster was quasi-centralized, it provided an index of files and that is why it was a relatively easy target for lawsuits by the music industry (RIAA) and law enforcement.

(3) The authors have a habit of wading into legal and regulatory territory without providing much in the way of definitions or what jurisdictions they are describing.

For instance, in the last sentence they are probably referring to the U.S. In the U.S., each individual state has laws and regulations around money service businesses (MSB), of which money transmission (MTL) is a subset of. Some states do not. At the federal level some entities are required to register with FinCEN which enforces the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA). A second edition should include specific jurisdictions to strengthen the authors arguments.

(4) This may be perceived as pedantic, in section 1 of the original Bitcoin whitepaper it describes the motivation of building a network for participants to engage in online commerce without having to rely on financial institutions. Conventionally this is more of a stab at know-your-customer (KYC) collection gathering requirements.6

On p.10 they write about how Bitcoin was first marketed, stating:

This new era marks a rapid expansion of a cottage industry of startups and early adopters who would build exchanges, mining equipment, and market network to proselytize the virtues of this new technology. The culture around the extreme volatility of the asset created a series of memes within the subculture of HODL (a portmanteau of the term “holding,” standing for “hold on for dear life”), which encourages investors to hold the asset regardless of price movement.

Couple of issues:

(1) It is clear later in the book that the authors have a gripe about how blockchains are proselytized. I deeply sympathize with their disdain towards shilling. I violently agree with them in some parts. But, like in the rest of the book, they miss the opportunity to provide the reader with specific examples.

(2) I have pointed this out in several other book reviews but the etymology, the genesis of “hodl” did not originate as an acronym or portmanteau. It came from a drunk poster on the BitcoinTalk forum, there are many articles discussing this. However, what the authors describe “hodl” to mean is correct.

On p.11 they start a new section on the “grifter era,” stating:

In addition to bitcoin, a series of similar technologies based on the same ideas emerged in the 2011-2013 era. The first movers were Litecoin, Namecoin, Peercoin, and a parody token known as Dogecoin based on an internet meme.

Several issues with this:

(1) Why did the authors use uppercase for four cryptocurrencies instead of lowercase?

(2) A second edition should probably arrange the first three by chronology or alphabetized. For instance, Namecoin was an evolution of BitDNS (a project that was spun up just as Satoshi stopped formally contributing to Bitcoin). It was launched in April 2011 and due to its utility usually is not placed in the same category as Litecoin or Dogecoin.

In the same paragraph they note that:

As of August 2018, the number of launched cryptocurrency projects exceeded 1600.

It is unclear why the authors chose that specific time frame. For instance, according to CoinGecko, they have identified 10,052 coins as of this writing. The infrequently updated “Deadcoins” database lists 1729 entries as of January 2023.

The next sentence is a little quizzical:

In 2015 a significant extension to the bitcoin model called the ethereum blockchain was launched with the aim to build a “world computer” in which programmable logic could be expressed on the blockchain instead of only simple asset transfers.

It is only eleven pages into the book but we still have not been provided a clear definition of an “algorithm” versus a “model” versus a “protocol.”

Ethereum (which the authors do not capitalize either) is significantly different than Bitcoin so to call it an extension is a bit of a stretch.

Also, Bitcoin uses a transaction model called unspent transaction outputs (UTXOs) whereas Ethereum uses a different model called Accounts. The former is unable to actually transfer assets per se, hence the creation of “colored coin” schemes starting in 2012 to enable other assets to be created (nearly all of the original “colored coin” efforts have disappeared and heterogenous assets that use the Bitcoin blockchain are currently conductible via the Ordinals protocol).7

Two sentences later the authors change the capitalization again:

In addition to fully visible transaction models of previous tokens, chains such as Monero and Zcash would incorporate privacy-enhancing features into the design, allowing participants to have blinded transactions that would obscure the endpoint details for illicit transactions with no public audit record.

A second edition needs to explain why the authors flip capitalization around. Is it only uppercased if the chain is mentioned just once?

Later in the book the authors do go on to describe some of the privacy and confidentiality approaches but only with the context of criminogenic behavior. It could be helpful for readers to have some citations of relevant papers or articles since the topic intersects with securing accounts, assets, and transfers in traditional finance.8

The next paragraph jarringly switches gears to proof-of-work mining (without mentioning PoW):

Early entrepreneurs realized that they could gain an advantage over traditional server farms if they built faster and more specialized hardware to compute these hashes. These entrepreneurs began to build ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuit), custom hardware circuits that could do the computations required for the bitcoin network more efficiently than traditional CPUs offered by companies like Intel and AMD.

For some reason this section omits two intermediate steps between CPU mining and ASIC mining. These would be GPU mining and FPGA mining. More importantly it misses the opportunity of pointing out that Satoshi herself was surprised and sullen when she learned that miners had figured out how to scale GPU mining the way ArtForz and Laszlo Hanyecz revealed.

A few sentences later they dive into mining pools:

These mining pools became a centralized and very lucrative business for early investors. An example is, the Chinese company BitMain, which began to centralize most of the computational resources, resulting in 70% of all bitcoin mining being concentrated in mainland China by 2019.

The authors skip a few years and neglect to mention key figures in the creation of commercialized ASICs such as Yifu Guo. Nor do they mention, in dollars or some other figure, how lucrative these pools were. Or which the first public ones were (Slush and Eligius were among the first).

This section also conflates mining hardware (used in farms) with pools which provide the block building itself for an aggregation of mining farms. Lastly, the capitalization of BitMain is incorrect (the company markets the hardware in either all caps – BITMAIN – or Bitmain).

On p. 12 they write:

The underutilization of coal-fired power production and Chinese capital restrictions on renminbi outflows offered a unique opportunity for enterprising Chinese citizens to move capital outside of the mainland beyond government controls. In 2018 the Chinese government officially declared cryptocurrency minig an undesirable activity. The same year, Bloomberg reported $50 billion of capital flight from the Chinese state using the Tether cryptocurrency.

This is not the correct chronology. Because the authors do not provide many citations it is unclear what they were referring to in 2018. A quick googling found a possible related article but the actual real big ban took place in two separate actions in May and September 2021. As their book was published in mid-2022, the authors could have used more recent figures here.

Note: later in Chapter 25 they do reference a more up-to-date story. They also not explain the specific legal and regulatory woes that miners faced in China which led them to move hardware overseas in the second half of 2021.

In addition, the authors only mention energy generation in passing but neglect to mention a key culprit for why Bitcoin (and other PoW-based coins) flocked to specific regions of China: subsidized electricity from hydroelectric dams due to overcapacity / overproduction of dams. This has been widely documented by others.9

Some of the miners literally packed up their machines onto trains after the rainy season was over and decamped for provinces in the north such as Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia, where coal-fired plants powered their wares for the remainder of the dry season. A crazy phenomenon and one the authors should consider adding in the next edition.

On p. 12 they write:

The Grifter Era period also saw the introduction of stablecoins such as Tether, aiming to be a stable cryptoasset with its price allegedly pegged to the US dollar and theoretically backed by a reserve of other assets. This is followed by a 2019 period of market volatility and market consolidation of cryptocurrencies, during which many unfounded ideas fell off and left a handful of 20 projects which would dominated trading volume and developer mindshare.

In this section the authors never really define what time the “Grifter Era” takes place. Based on the actual words they wrote up until this point we have years: 2011-2013, 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019. Yet they specifically mention a “stable cryptoasset with its price allegedly pegged to the US dollar” which sounds like a “stablecoin” such as Tether (USDT). But Tether was actually launched as Realcoin in 2014.

Also, the authors do not mention any of the “20 projects” which dominated volume and mindshare. Seems like a curious omission. Does that include Binance and Cosmos then?

The chapter comes to an abrupt end, with the final paragraph:

In 2021 China outright banned all domestic banks and payment companies from touching cryptoassets and banned all mining pools in the country. At the same time, the United States continued to be hit by an onslaught of cyberterrorism and ransomware attacks that began to attack core national infrastructure and the country’s energy grids.

What is the reader supposed to take away from this chapters concluding remark? Later in the book the authors dive into ransomware but readers are not provided any citations or sources for where we can learn more about these specific cyberattacks.

For example, prior to being blocked by him on Twitter, I briefly corresponded with Diehl regarding ransomware. I even agreed (and still agree) with some of his points he has made on the specific topic. Yet here he misses the opportunity to connect liquidity (and banked-trading venues) with ransomware payouts. The next edition to clarify the current non sequitur.

Chapter 3 Historical Market Manias

This is one of their stronger chapters. It succinctly discusses the history of past manias and subsequent crashes including the South Sea Bubble, the Mississippi Bubble, the Railway Mania, Wildcat banking, the 1929 stock market collapse, Albanian pyramid schemes, Enron, and others.

While most of the prose is in a unified voice, at the tail end of the Wildcat section on p. 26 they write:

The wildcat banking era is an important lesson to learn from the past, given the recent fringe efforts to return to a digital variant of private money with stablecoins and cryptoassets.

It is followed by three citations all related to the topic at hand. Yet the authors fail to distinguish – as they fail to distinguish later in the section on stablecoins – that in the U.S. all commercial banks issue the equivalent of private money and credit.

In fact, it is the expansion of this credit (and leverage) by private banks and other lending institutions that often leads to booms and busts in the modern era. During this time frame both M1 and M2 aggregates – publicly money – basically grew linearly apart from the recent COVID-era emergency responses.

This distinction is important because to be consistent, the authors should recognize that in the U.S. credit expansion from non-banks and certain fintechs like PayPal, fall under the umbrella of “shadow banking” and “shadow payments” which predates the creation of Tether (USDT) and other centralized pegged coins by decades.

Source: Wikipedia

To be consistent, the authors need to update their priors and at a minimum reconcile for the audience what they prescribe all “shadow banking” and “shadow payments” should be required (or not) to do. Singling out “private money” without recognizing the very important nuance that most money and credit retail users interact with is private, is disingenuous.

While talking about the history of Beanie Babies, on p. 33 they write:

Buyers of Beanie Babies could never find the whole collection in one store, and the artificially limited supply meant it always appeared that the products were selling out. By limiting the distribution channels, creating the toys as part of a broader collection and simultaneously creating a variable artificial scarcity within the collection, the company bootstrapped a collectible item seemingly based on a small children’s toy which had very little intrinsic value unto itself–Not unlike the crypto market for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) today.

This is not necessarily a bad example but there are two more germane examples with respect to collectible NFTs:

(1) In the U.S., baseball card production is a licensed activity based on I.P. that Major League Baseball (MLB) has a monopoly on.10 The manufacturing arrangement effectively states who can and cannot produce the likeness of players, coaches, teams, logos, etc. on memorabilia.

Over the past several decades, collectible card manufacturers have remained relatively static yet these manufacturers (such as Topps and Fleer) created a glut of cards in the lates ’80s and early ’90s.11

Coincidentally, in the process of writing this review, MLB sued Upper Deck, “accusing it of trademark infringement for using its logos on trading cards without permission.”

(2) Getty Images. While they do have some non-commercial, royalty free stock galleries, Getty acquires the I.P. of images and uses an army of lawyers to sue anyone who violates or infringes on those rights. They attempt to artificially restrict the usage of easily reproducible imagery. 12

On p. 24 the discuss the Dot-com bubble of 1995-2001, stating:

The most recent bubble in living memory was is the dot-com bubble in the 1990s.

Two issues with this sentence:

(1) Grammar or typo with “was is”

(2) The very next page they discuss the subprime mortgage crisis which seems to be chronologically at ends with “most recent bubble” for the dot-com bubble. Which is the most recent?

On the final sentence of p. 24 they write:

Shortly after that, the use of the web for private commercial applications exploded. The era saw the rise of Google, eBay, PayPal, and Amazon coupled a vast Cambrian explosion of both technologies and new business models.

While all four of these technically co-existed during the time frame stated, only two of them went public before the end of 2001, the timeframe they gave.

Also, it is unclear why these Big Tech companies repeatedly receive a free pass throughout the section and the whole book. Apart from one subsection later on Occupy Wall Street and a small passage in the Conclusion, one consistency throughout the book is that the authors seem to be okay with the status quo and incumbency of both legacy financial institutions and Big Tech companies.

This seems at odds with the view of holding entities such as pegged-coin issuers accountable since cloud providers are largely unaccountable systemic utilities.

For instance, academics such as Lee Reiners have argued that cloud providers – such as AWS and Google Computer – should be regulated under Dodd-Frank Title VIII. Likewise another scholar, Vili Lehdonvirta, has argued that these cloud empires are as powerful as states yet unaccountable.

Both Reiners and Lehdonvirta are typically categorized (incorrectly?) as anti-coiners yet both of them provide a much more even handed treatment of systemic risks, such as large commercial banks, than the authors of Popping the Crypto Bubble.

Source: Twitter

On p. 37 they discuss the subprime mortgage crisis of 2003-2008, writing:

In the decade of real estate euphoria, the amount of mortgage-derived credit increased from $900 billion to $62 trillion.

That seems like a pretty big change over time, but there is no citation for readers to learn more. A second edition should provide one.

On p. 39 they describe the venture capital bubble of 2010-present, discussing WeWork and Uber blitzscaling, writing:

While these companies did achieve scale, they became mired in controversy and scandals as a direct results of their predatory and unsustainable business model. Although both WeWork and Uber went public, neither company was able to become profitable and is now trading at fractions of their inflated private valuations.

In mid-2022, when the book was published, part of that closing statement was untrue. WeWork pulled its IPO in 2019 and merged with a SPAC for a direct listing in October 2021.13

The authors missed the opportunity to dunk on SPACs which screwed over retail investors.14

Source: Bloomberg

On p. 41 the authors wrote about the Crypto Bubble 2016-present, a lot of which I agreed with. However one passage quickly falls into a rant, on p. 42 they write:

The simple undoing of this idea of a new financial system is that there is no economy in crypto; because it can never function as a currency. Nothing is priced in crypto. No commerce is done in crypto. No developed economy recognizes crypto as legal tender or collects taxes on it. The price of crypto simply oscillates randomly, subject to constant market manipulation and public sentiments of greed and fear, detached from any activity other than speculation. Crypto is a pure casino investment wrapped in grandiose delusions. As an investment, it is almost definitionally a bubble because crypto tokens have no fundamentals, no income, and correspond to no underlying economic activity.

A second edition could reword and cut out half of the rant and turn it into a much stronger statement all without using broad sweeping a priori cudgels.

For instance, saying “never” implies the authors know the future. But they, like the readers, cannot know the future of every cryptocurrency or blockchain to come. We need to use the facts-and-circumstances, an evidence-based approach, to determine which cryptocurrency (or token) currently has legs and which ones do not. Saying they all cannot is sloppy and lazy polemics. It is soothsaying.

Another area for improvement: in 2014 Yanis Varoufakis may have been the first economist to articulate – in long form – that a cryptocurrency like bitcoin (with an inelastic supply) will unlikely to be part of a circular flow of income. The authors could add that reference to make their argument stronger, after all, they are no stranger to Varoufakis who they cite in the next chapter.

They could also make the distinction between an anarchic cryptocurrency such as bitcoin or litecoin, which have inelastic supplies versus Dai or Rai, which are only minted when collateral is deposited into a contract. This would take an additional explanation of dynamic supply via collateralized debt positions (CDP) but would help inform the reader that there is another world beyond fixed supply coins such as bitcoin and its antecedents.

Another example they could use to buff up their argument is to provide references of jurisdictions that did attempt to accept cryptocurrencies as a form of payment for taxes, but then later stopped the effort. Ohio is one example of this occurrence.

Chapter 4 Economic Problems

The first few pages of this chapter start off strong. I even found myself nodding in agreement when the pointed out on p. 46 the euphemism some coin promoters use “cryptoassets” in lieu of “cryptocurrencies” to make the former more palatable. We highlighted that in the book review of an equally bad book, Cryptoassets by Burniske and Tatar.

But then it begins to go off the rails, again, starting on p. 52 they write:

In addition, without any nation-state recognizing cryptocurrencies as its sole legal tender, there is no demand for the currency to pay one’s taxes. The demand for cryptocurrency is only based on either criminality or speculation.

The book is full of these opinions stated as facts.

Again, if there is one person who wants to agree with Diehl et. al., it is me. I have written a slew of posts and papers, most of which are linked to on this site, which have attempted to dive into these very topics. But they are not doing themselves any favors by being so stingy on citations or explaining how they arrived at only two categories: criminality or speculation.

And this hurts their credibility because their claims could be stronger by simply googling or asking experts if they know of a citation they could add. Right now, their bold confidence comes across identically as coin promoters who claim – without evidence – the central banks are going to collapse in the face of Bitcoin’s choo-choo-train.

To both groups of people we can respond with Hitchen’s razor: what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence. And unfortunately for Diehl et. al., a large portion of the book could simply be dismissed due to a lack of evidence (or citations).

While discussing deflationary assets, they write on p. 52:

The US dollar has the deepest and most liquid debt markets mainly because the dollar has a relatively predictable inflation rate on a long time scale, and its monetary parameters remain predictable up to the scale of decades. Thus the risk of servicing loans is readily quantifiable, and banks can build entire portfolios of loans to their communities out of their reserves.

A future version should explain that specifically the authors (likely) mean the market for U.S. Treasury bonds, not dollars themselves.

On p. 53 they write:

Unlike in the fiat system, where the market conditions for debt products organically determine the supply of money in circulation relative to demand, a cryptocurrency must determine both supply and demand prescribed in unchangeable computer code. This would be like if the United States Federal Reserve decided what the monetary policy of the United States would be from their armchair in 1973 and into the future, regardless of any future market conditions, pandemics, or recessions.

This is a bit of a strawman and lacks needed nuance.

(1) In the U.S. the majority of money and credit expansion (and contraction) comes from private, commercial banks and other lending institutions, not just the Federal Reserve.

(2) The authors criticism is valid with respect to coins with fixed supplies that are purposefully attempting to replicate “money” but not every cryptocurrency or token is attempting to do that. In fact, as mentioned above, both Dai and Rai are dynamically issued based on collateral deposited, there is no fixed supply of either.

(3) There seems to always be debates around “unchangeable computer code” but most of this ideological debate has been sidestepped by issuing new smart contracts with upgrades (or downgrades or sidegrades).

Either way, the authors could strengthen at least one of their arguments by referencing David Andolfatto’s 2015 presentation (at the time, Andolfatto was a vice president at the St. Louis Federal Reserve).

On p. 55 they write:

A positive-sum game is a term that refers to situations in which the total of gains and losses across all participants is greater than zero. Conversely, a negative-sum game is a game where the gains and losses across all participants sum is less than zero, and played iteratively with increasing participants, the number of losers increases monotonically. Since investing in bitcoin is a closed system, the possible realized returns can only be paid out from funds paid in by other players buying in.

Even though I largely agree with what they wrote here (and throughout much of the chapter), the authors introduce a new concept (a ‘closed system’) without defining what that is. And then they move on to the next thing to rail against.

It is frustrating because they could have explained to readers how, in proof-of-work networks such as Bitcoin, value leaks from the ecosystem: to state owned energy grids and semiconductor companies who typically do not reinvest the value (capital) back into the network.

Occasionally you will hear about a mining operator sponsoring a Bitcoin Core developer or helping with a lightning implementation, but by and large, the block rewards in Bitcoin are value that is extracted from the network by non-participants, or dead players.15 The authors do so somewhat later, but this would be a good place to drop a foreshadow towards that section, or at the very least define what a “closed system” is.

On p. 56 the authors inexplicably alternate between writing “a cryptoasset” and “crypto assets” within one paragraph.

Another example of a rant that takes away from the story they have built up through the chapter, on p.56 they write:

Crypto assets are completely non-productive assets; they have no source of income and cannot generate a yield from any underlying economic activity. The only money paid out to investors is from other investors; thus, investing in cryptoasssets is a zero-sum-game from first principles. If one investor bought low and sold high, another investor bought high and sold low, with the payouts across al market participants sum to zero. Crypto assets are a closed loop of real money, which can change hands, but no more money is available than was put in. Just as a game of libertarian musical chairs in which nothing of value is created, participants run around in a circle trying to screw each other before the music stops. This model goes by the name of a greater fool asset in which the only purpose of an investment is simply sell it off to a greater fool than one’s self at a price for more than one paid for it.

The voice of this author does not flow with the voices of the other authors. It sounds a lot like a long tweet and should be excised due to is repetitiveness. We get it, you hate cryptocurrencies / cryptoassets. It was clear the first dozen times you said it.

Another issue with this particular rant is that it inappropriately uses the term “first principles” when they probably should have used something like axiomatically. Or “by definition” which they have previously used. In addition, and more importantly, it is empirically incorrect.

There are blockchain projects, such as Onyx from JP Morgan that serve as a counterfactual to the a priori argument laid out above. A future edition either needs to reconcile with the fact that there are non-self-referential blockchain projects alive and in production, or excise the rants altogether.

On p. 58 they write:

Many economists and policymakers have likened cryptoassets to either Ponzi schemes or pyramid schemes, given the predatory nature of investing in cryptoassets. Crypto assets are not a Ponzi scheme in the traditional legal definition. Nevertheless, they bear all the same payout and economic structure of one except for the minor differentiation of a central operator to make explicit promises of returns. Some people have come up with all manner of other proposed terms of art for what negative-sum crypto investments might be called:

  • Decentralized Ponzi scheme
  • Headless Ponzi scheme
  • Open Ponzi scheme
  • Nakamoto scheme
  • Snowball scheme
  • Neo-Ponzi scheme

It would be nice if the authors came to consensus on whether it was spelled “crypto assets” or “cryptoassets.” Also, it is unclear who came up with the descriptive names above, however, it is likely that Preston Byrne should be credited with “Nakamoto Scheme.”

I currently think a decent description of Bitcoin itself is how J.P. Koning categorizes it as a game akin to a decentralized chain letter:16d

Source: J.P. Koning

Overall this chapter sounds a bit too much like a rehashed version of BitCon from Jeffrey Robinson. It could easily be improved by removing the repetitious everything-is-a-fraud refrain and adding relevant references.

Chapter 5 Technical Problems

This chapter is tied with Exchanges for probably being the weakest in the whole book. Part of the problem is the authors conflate scaling limitations that Bitcoin specifically has, with the rest of the blockchain world. There is no nuance, they make a number of inaccurate statements, and the chapter itself is assembled in a haphazard fashion.

For instance, on p. 59 they write:

The fundamental technical shortcomings of cryptocurrency stem from four major categories: scalability, privacy, security, recentralization, and incompatibility with existing infrastructure and legal structures.

That is at least five categories. Yet the book subsections include four: scalability, privacy, security, and compliance. There is no specific section on ‘recentralization’ as most of it is mentioned within scalability.

Continuing, on p. 59 they write:

In computer science scalability refers to a class of engineering problems regarding if a specific system can handles the load of users required of it when many users require it to function simultaneously. However regarding this problem, the technological program of bitcoin carries the specific seed of its own destruction by virtues of being tied to a political ideology. This ideology opposes any technical centralization, and this single fact limits the technical avenues the technology could pursue in scaling.

The entire chapter should be re-titled “Technical limitations of Bitcoin” because currently it is filled with strawmen. It appears that the authors have spent almost no time with blockchains beyond Bitcoin and Ethereum. Blockchain engineers and architects are well aware of these limitations and some have launched faster, more scalable “layer 1” blockchains in responses.

Note: these are not endorsements. Some examples include Algorand, Avalanche, Cosmos, Near, Polkadot, and Solana. All of these existed prior to the publication of their book.

Others have built “layer 2” rollups that sit-atop a layer 1 blockchain; these L2s are often significantly faster than the L1 they reside on top of. This includes Arbitrum, Base, Optimism, and zkSync. Even though both optimistic rollups and zk-rollups concepts existed prior to the publication of this book, yet they get barely a passing mention on page 63.

Continuing on p. 60 they write:

The bitcoin scalability problem arises from the consensus model it uses to confirm blocks of pending transactions. In the consensus model, the batches of committed transactions are limited in size and frequency, and tied to a proof of work model in which miners must perform bulk computations to confirm and commit the block to the global chain. The protocol constrains a bitcoin block to be no more than 1MB in size and a single block is committed only every 10 minutes. For comparison, the size of doing an average 3-minute song encoded in the MP3 format is roughly 3.5 MB. Doing the arithmetic on the throughput results in the shockingly low figure that the bitcoin network is only able to do 3-7 transactions per second. By comparison the Visa payment network can handles 65,000 transactions per second.

Working backwards, even though I agree with their point – and have even used Visa as an example – once again the authors do not provide any citations for anything above. There is no reason to be stingy across 247 pages.

But the bigger issue is that the authors fail to see how even forks and variants of Bitcoin itself – such as Bitcoin Cash – have successfully increased the block size to 32 MB, so it is possible to do it. With faster block times and a move over to proof-of-stake, block throughput on a future iteration of Bitcoin could be considerably faster than it is today.17

The problem that the authors almost identified is that between 2015-2017 prominent Bitcoin maximalists purged the Bitcoin Core community of “bigger block” views which then ossified Bitcoin development. Even so, the authors should have included the fact that SegWit and Taproot – both of which were locked in prior to the publication of this book – effectively allow for larger block sizes (to more than 2 MB).

On p. 61 they write:

An appropriate comparison would be the Visa credit card network, whose self-reported figures are 3,526 transactions per second. Most credit card transactions can be confirmed in less than a minute, and the network handles $11 trillion of exchange yearly. Credit cards and contactless payments are examples of a success story for digital finance that have become a transparent part of everyday life that most of us take for granted. The comparison between bitcoin and Visa is not perfect, as Visa can achieve this level of transaction throughput by centralizing transaction handling through its own servers that has taken thirty years of building services to handle this kind of load. The slow part of transaction handling is always compliance, ensuring parties are solvent, and detecting patterns of fraudulent activity. However, for the advocates proposing that bitcoin can handle retail transactions loads on a global scale, this is the definitive benchmark that must be reached for technical parity.

There a singular citation provided, but nothing from Visa itself. But the biggest problem with this passage is that it defends rent-seeking incumbents. In the U.S., Visa and Mastercard operate a duopoly that is good for their shareholders.

The next edition of this book needs to include an honest and frank conversation about the friction-filled payment infrastructure that allows private companies to extract rents on retail users in the U.S. For instance, two months ago a bi-partisan bill was introduced in both the House and Senate: “the Credit Card Competition Act, which would require large banks and other credit card issuers with over $100 billion in assets to offer at least two network choices to process and facilitate transactions, at least one of which must not be owned by Visa or Mastercard.”

Perhaps the bill goes nowhere, but the grievances it highlights are relevant for this book. For example, the E.U. capped interchange fees in 2015. Should Americans be granted lower fees as well?

Note: we are fortunate that public infrastructure upgrades, such as FedNow, will lower the costs to users across the country, however that is not intended as a point-of-sale or even retail-facing infrastructure (FedNow is an upgrade to the back-end). Plus its adoption may be slow.

This conversation could also discuss how commercial banks historically suffer from vendor lock-in from core banking software providers (such as FIS, Fiserv, Jack Henry), a cost that is eventually passed down to users as well.18

Also, it is worth pointing out that despite the authors celebratory mood towards Visa and Mastercard, according to the Bank of Canada many merchants do not actually like them:

Lastly, the only people who are still claiming that “bitcoin can handle retail transactions loads on a global scale” are Bitcoin maximalists. While very vocal on social media, fortunately they represent a small minority of the fintech world.

Yet the authors repeatedly build strawmen arguments to counter the maximalist viewpoint without (1) identifying an specific examples; (2) without acknowledging that there is more to the blockchain universe than an orange memecoin that is ossified.

On p. 61 they write:

The scalability issues of the bitcoin protocol are universally recognized, and there have been many proposed solutions that alter the protocol itself. Bitcoin development is a collaboration between three spheres of influence: the exchanges who onboard users and issue the bulk of transactions, the core developers who maintain the official clients and define the protocol in software, and the miners who purchase the physical hardware and mine blocks. The economic incentives of all of these groups are different, and a change to the protocol would shift the profit centers for each of the groups. For example, while the exchanges would be interested in larger block sizes (i.e., more transactions), the miners (who prioritize fee-per-byte) would have to purchase new hardware and receive less in mining rewards for more computational work and thus incur significant electricity cost. This stalemate of incentives has led to mass technical sclerosis of the base protocol and a situation in which core developers are afraid of major changes to the protocol for fear of upsetting the economic order they are profiting from.

There are plenty of good arguments to be made about challenges and issues surrounding Bitcoin, this is not one of them.

For starters, there is no citation for “bulk of transactions.” In the past, some centralized exchanges have attempted to bulk release transactions on-chain, however the authors do not give us any idea what percentage as of mid-2022.19

Chain analytics companies such as Elliptic and Chainalysis likely have some idea, it is unclear if anyone reached out to discuss it with them.20

Strangely the authors do not use a single chart or image throughout the book which is somewhat weird considering how many visuals could help their arguments.

For instance, above is a line chart from Bitinfo Charts showing the daily on-chain transaction usage of Bitcoin over the past three years. The black vertical line is the date the book was published. We can see that up until this past spring, on-chain transaction volume fluctuated roughly between 250,000 and 350,000 transactions per day.

The recent uptick in late April this year is due to the popularity of Ordinals, a new NFT-focused protocol that uses Taproot (an “upgrade” implemented about two years ago).

Furthermore, and most importantly: an increased block size does not force miners to purchase new hardware and receive less mining rewards and higher electricity costs. This is not even an argument that “small block” proponents such as Luke-Jr have made.21 It is just plain wrong.

Recall that “mining blocks” for proof-of-work networks has split the “mining” job into two separate organizational efforts: (1) mining farms, which operate hashing equipment; (2) mining pools, which aggregate the work generated by mining farms, into a block.

Larger block sizes do not create any new difficulty or work for mining farms, the entities who have to deal with changing electrical costs. Rather, block makers (mining pools) have to spend an extra few seconds validating and sorting transactions.

This is why the “small(er) block” argument was fundamentally wrong and why other blockchains, especially proof-of-stake based ones, have successfully increased block sizes and reduced block intervals. Mining farms typically only purchase new hardware when their current gear is no longer profitable to mine with, a larger block size is not one of those reasons.

Also, it is unclear which developers the authors spoke with but usually most developers that earn a salary or “profit” off of Bitcoin development are those that work at a company that operates mining equipment, such as Blockstream.

On p. 62 they discuss the overhyped lightning network, writing:

The lightning network itself introduces a whole new set of attack vectors for double spends and frauds as outlined in many cybersecurity papers such as the Flood and Loot attack. This attack effectively allows attackers to make specific bulk attacks on state channels to drain users’ funds. The lightning network is an experimental and untested approach to scaling, with progress on this scaling approach having stagnated since 2018. According to self-reported lightning network statistics, less than 0.001% of circulating bitcoin were being managed by the network, and transactions volume has remained relatively flat after 2019. No merchants operate with the lightning network for payments and as of today it is nothing more than a prototype.

I tend to agree with the authors views that lightning is mostly vaporware. Yet there are probably more accurate arguments than theirs. For starters, lightning is not “untested.” It is has been live and in the wild for years.

Second, according to Bitcoin Visuals, both nodes and channels were increasing during the first half of 2022 when this book was published. Specifically it is the network capacity and capacity per channel that have stagnated or declined (something the authors could mention). However, one counter-point that a lightning promoter could rightly make is that a small amount of bitcoin (sats) could in theory be used in a high velocity (high turnover) manner.

For instance, even though the velocity of M2 has declined over the past several decades yet we would not consider the U.S. economy as having declined over the same period of time. However we do not know what the velocity of sats is on lightning at this time. Perhaps it is negligible.

And lastly, I too am tired of the lightning promoters who used to say “it is only 18 month away.” Either way, the authors could use some other data and charts to back-up their thesis.

Source: The Block

For example, the line chart (above) is from The Block which shows the capacity of lightning measured in USD and BTC over the past three years. The vertical green line is approximately when the book was published. As we can see, while the amount of BTC has increased about 20% since the book was written, as measured in real money (USD), the value locked-up on lightning has not really changed much in the past couple of years.

Source: DeFi Llama

For comparison, above is a line chart from DeFi Llama. It shows the total value locked up (TVL) on Ethereum for the past five years measured in USD. The vertical dashed line is the date the book was published.

You can visibly see how the collapse of Terra (LUNA and UST) six weeks prior had immediate knock-on effects, sending the coin world into a bear market (as measured in USD).

On p. 63 they write:

Outside of the bitcoin network, there are similar problems in other cryptocurrencies. The bitcoin meme of technical indirection through Layer 2 solutions have been translated to other systems and their development philosophies. This perspective views the base protocol as being only a settlement layer for larger bulk transfers between parties, and those smaller individual payments should be handled by secondary systems with different transaction throughputs and consistency guarantees. The ethereum network has taken a different set of economic incentives in its initial design. At the time of writing, this network is still only capable of roughly 15 transactions per second. There is a proposed drastic protocol upgrade to this network known as ethereum 2.0 which includes a fundamental shift in the consensus algorithm. This project has been in development for five years and has consistently failed to meet all its launch deadlines, and it remains unclear when or if this new network will launch. Since this new network would alter the economics of mining the protocol, it is unclear if there will be community consensus between miners and developers that the protocol will go live or whether they will see the same economic stalemate and sclerosis that the bitcoin ecosystem observes. The ethereum 2.0 upgrade is unlikely to ever complete because of the broken incentives related to its development and roll-out.

Even in mid-2022 when this book was published, this fortune telling was a big L. Why? Because in December 2020 the proof-of-stake mechanism for Ethereum was successfully launched. It was called the Beacon Chain. Two months after the book was published, “The Merge” successfully occurred in which the proof-of-work function (and mining) were completely shut off.

Now you might be thinking that it is unfair to ding the authors and give them a loss on this prediction. But prior to The Merge, there were already about a half a dozen public Ethereum testnets that successfully transitioned from PoW to PoS. In either case, the authors should at the very least hedged their strong language.

It is worth pointing out that one of the anti-coiners that Stephen Diehl has endorsed (and cited) is Hilary Allen, who used the Financial Times to push a similar set of inaccurate predictions regarding Ethereum around the same time frame. This non-empirical, a priori approach does not help the credibility of their arguments. Reconsider citing them.22

For instance, on p. 63 they write:

The broader cryptocurrency community has seen a zoo of alternative proposed scaling solutions, these proposals going by the technical names such as sidechains, sharding, DAG networks, zero-knowledge rollups and a variety of proprietary solutions which make miraculous transaction throughput claims. However the tested Nakamoto consensus remains the dominant technology. At the time of writing, there is little empirical evidence for the viability of new scaling solutions as evidenced by live deployments with active users. Central to the cryptocurrency ideology is a belief that this technical problem must be tractable, and for many users, it is a matter of faith that a future decentralized network can scale to Visa levels while maintaining censorship resistance and avoiding centralization.

There are a few issues with this including the fact that the authors lump a bunch of technical names together without providing any context. This is a disservice to the reader who should google them to understand the nuances of say, sharding and zero-knowledge rollups.

Secondly, the authors introduce “Nakamoto consensus” for the first time without providing any context or definitions. Recall that pages ago this was noted as term that is conventionally used in long-form writing. It is good that they are aware of the term, but it is unfortunate that it came this far into the book and without any context.

Lastly, not every single cryptocurrency project or even blockchain effort is explicitly targeting “Visa levels.” Some blockchains that can process a few hundred transactions per second (TPS) are not trying to be a universal settlement layer. This is a strawman argument.

In addition, not that it should matter but Visa itself has both invested in blockchain-related companies for at least seven years and has partnered with other blockchain-related projects and even conjured up a way to pay for ETH gas fees with credit cards.23 Blockchains can be used for more than just money and payments, the authors should hedge their a priori mantra in the next edition.

For what it is worth, I am also skeptical that some of the L2s that have been announced for Ethereum will see a large amount of active users anytime soon. But it is disingenuous to throw the baby out with the bath water like the authors routinely do.

For instance, L2Beat is a frequently updated site that illustrates the total value locked (TVL) across more than two dozen L2s. It is worth keeping an eye on because TVL is one piece of evidence to back up a claim.

On p. 64 they write:

However, the inescapable technical reality is that every possible consensus algorithm used to synchronize the public ledger between participants are all deeply flawed on one of several dimensions: they are either centralized and plutocratic, wasteful, or an extraneous complexity added purely for regulatory avoidance.

This false dichotomy could easily be turned on the authors: guess who also operates centralized ledgers? Too big to fail banks. Are the participants also plutocratic and wasteful? This is not really the place to turn the tables on the authors but it is clear, one-third into the book, they have it out for public chains due to an ideology that regularly provides incumbents a free pass.

Why is that? It is possible to be both critical of cryptocurrency zealotry and also systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs). It is not one or the other. Why carry water for High Street banks? Let us not cherry pick favorites.

On p. 64 they write:

A consensus system that maps wasted computation energy to a financial return, both in electronic waste and through carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels to run mining data centers, is Proof of Work. Proof of work coins such as bitcoin is an environment disaster that burns entire states’ worth of energy and is already escalating climate change, vast amounts of e-waste, and disruption to silicon supply chains (see Environmental Problems). The economies of scale of running mining operations also inevitably result in centralized mining pools which results in a contradiction that leads to recentralization.

I agree with the authors, and have written so elsewhere.

However, a nitpick, the centralization of mining pools arose due to variance in mining rewards, and are not related to running mining farms. Pooling hashrate helps smooth out payouts much like pooling lottery tickets does in an office lottery pool.

On p. 64 they write:

The alternate consensus model proof of stake is less energy-intensive; however its staking model is necessarily deflationary; it is not decentralized, and thus results in inevitably plutocratic governance which makes the entire structure have a nearly identical payout structure to that of a pyramid scheme that enriches the already wealthy. This results in a contradiction that again leads to recentralization, which undermines the alleged aim of a decentralized project. The externalities of the proof of stake system at scale would exacerbate inequality and encourage extraction from and defrauding of small shareholders.

What is the source for everyone one of those claims? It is unclear.

The authors do provide a single reference from David Rosenthal attached to the final sentence of the paragraph. Rosenthal’s post primarily focuses on maximal extractable value (MEV) which is not a topic that comes up in this chapter or anywhere in the book.

It is possible that the authors were referring to Ethereum for some of their arguments.

For the sake of brevity, let us assume the authors are 100% correct about Ethereum having all of the failing listed above. But Ethereum was not the only public chain using proof-of-stake in mid-2022. Which of say, the top 20 PoS networks was decentralized? The authors do not even provide a metric for readers to measure or understand what is or is not decentralized.

For instance, the authors could have created a table that provides how many validators and/or validating pools per chain, or the distribution of tokens, of the percentage of token supply that is staked, and so forth.24

How are readers supposed to get on board and agree with the authors when the authors spend every other page ranting rather than providing coherent, evidence-based arguments?

On p. 64 they write:

Any Paxos derivative, PBFT, or proof of authority systems are based on a quorum of pre-chosen validators. In this setup, even if they are permissionless in accepting public transactions, the validation an ordering of these transactions is inherently centralized by a small pool of privileged actors and thus likewise involves recentralization. Any other theoretical proposed system that is not quorum-based and requires no consumption of time/space/hardware/stake resources would be vulnerable to Sybil attacks which would be unsuitable for the security model of a permissionless network.

The only reference the authors provide a single link regarding Sybil attacks to a presentation from David Rosenthal.

What is Paxos? What is PBFT? What is proof of authority? Once again the authors throw these acronyms and terms at the audience without even briefly describing them anywhere. What is proof of time or proof of space? Readers can clearly google after the fact, and find things on Chia or Bram Cohen, but why did the authors not feel compelled to provide any context?

The final sentence itself can be chucked out the window due to Hitchen’s razor: that which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence. This book has not created credibility for the authors, rather, just the opposite.

On p. 64 they conclude:

The fundamental reality is that cryptocurrency currently does not scale and cannot adapt itself to fit the existing realities of how the world transacts. The technology can never scale securely without becoming a centralized system that undermines its very existence.

One of the citations is to an article about how almost no one uses bitcoin for commerce – a comment I tend to agree with. The other reference is to another presentation from David Rosenthal. Even if Rosenthal endorsed their views it is still an a priori claim.

And more importantly: the onus is on the party making the positive claim. Their strident language “never scale securely” leaves no wiggle room and is tantamount to fortune telling.

On p. 66 they have dived into the privacy section, writing about Bitcoin:

This features means that while accounts are anonymous, the global transaction data can be used to infer specific properties about when, with whom, and in what amounts an address is transacting.

This is not quite true for other chains. A user (or organization) can run a node or a bunch of nodes scattered around the global and may be able to infer some information. But once the activity goes off-chain, into a custodian like a centralized exchange, then inferences become guesses without direct access.

On p. 66 they write:

The tracking and tracing of bitcoin involved in criminal activities has emerged as a standard practice in law enforcement and emerging companies such as ChainAnalysis have been able to deduce quite a bit of implied information simply from public information. Unlike with bank accounts, law enforcement does not require a subpoena of public information for an ongoing investigation. Notoriously many users of darknet services such as the Silk Road were caught because of a misunderstanding about the transparency of the bitcoin ledger used by these actors.

Couple of issues:

(1) Spelling: ChainAnalysis should be corrected to read Chainalysis

(2) While the authors are probably correct, the last sentence needs a citation or reference. For instance, a highly cited relevant paper is: A Fistful of Bitcoins: Characterizing Payments Among Men with No Names by Meiklejohn et al.

On p. 67 they discuss traditional banking, writing:

When a wire transfer is issued by a company whose corporate account is at HSBC in London to Morgan Stanley in New York City, the metadata contained within that transaction could contain commercially sensitive information. For example, if a British company is sending large amounts of funds to a newly created American division, it may indicate the intent for the company to expand into the American market. There are cases where the constellation of transactions between known entities could be used to deduce confidential information about the parties. However, this fact poses an existential question about the efficacy of cryptocurrency networks as an international payment system if pseudonymous accounts leak information.

Perhaps Flashboys is a little out-of-date but it could be worth mentioning the role high-frequency trading firms play(ed) in this scenario. This type of scenario exists in the cryptocurrency world too, as analytics firms provide granular on-chain data to trading firms (and sometimes the trading firms themselves build a boutique set of tools).25

On p. 69 they write about security:

In addition, these exchanges are some of the most targeted entities on the planet for hackers. In 2019, twelve major exchanges were hacked and the equivalent of $292 million was stolen in these attacks. Over time and in conjunction with bubble economics, these events have only increased in severity and frequency.

This could be true but where is the citation for the final sentence? Do the authors mean to also include decentralized exchanges (such as automated market makers) as well as bridges?

On p. 69 they write:

While some best practices can mitigate this risk, the fundamental design of bitcoin-style systems is that the end-user is responsible for their own keys and wallets by safeguarding their cryptographic secrets. This can be done through several strategies. So-called cold wallets are wallet key stored in physical objects such as paper and not connected to electronic devices.

Couple of questions:

(1) What is a “bitcoin-style system”? Do the authors mean blockchains in general or forks of Bitcoin or UTXO-based blockchains?

(2) Why do they say “so-called”? Private key management has been an ongoing area of trial-and-error since at least the invention of public key cryptography by Martin Hellman, Ralph Merkle, and Whitfield Diffie.

On p. 70 they write:

There are many news stories of ransom, kidnapping, and murder of crypto asset holders who attempted to safeguard their wallets personally.

Any chance they could refer to or cite one of them in a future edition?

On p. 70 they conclude with:

Of course, the natural solution to this would simply be that most users should not be their own bank; instead, they should use a “cryptobank” which holds their funds and provides them access. However, this is ultimately just recreating the same centralized authority system which cryptocurrency advocates attempted to replace. Providing cryptocurrency security for the masses either introduces more social problems that thee technology has no answer to or results in a recentralization that undermines its own idological goals. After all, we already have centralized banks and existing payment systems that work just fine.

While I agree with the first part of this passage, that a considerable amount of effort and resources has recreated the same sorts of centralized organizations but with less accountability and recourse, there are at least three problems with their patronizing tone:

(1) Typo “thee” should be “the”

(2) What jurisdictions are they writing about?

(3) Most importantly: the authors explicitly defend incumbents and legacy organization. They are defending a financial cartel without presenting any reasons to do so.

For example, because of implicit bail out expectations in the U.S., commercial banks are able to rent-seek off of society, as do private payment systems via usurious fees. While the authors pay some lip service in a section on “Occupy Wall Street” and in the “Conclusion” at the very end, it bears mentioning that executives and board directors at too big to fail (TBTF) institutions were not held directly accountable after massive bailouts in 2008-2009.

In point of fact, systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs) have become more concentrated since Dodd-Frank was passed in 2010. In the U.S., the deregulation of “midcap” regional banks in 2018, partially led to the subsequent collapse of several high profile commercial banks eight months ago, including Silicon Valley bank, Silvergate bank, and Signature bank. All of which required FDIC assistance to wind down.

Clearing houses (CCPs) are larger than ever and their systemic importance creates an implicit government bailout expectation which results in an ongoing moral hazard situation.26

In the U.S., not only are retail users stuck with a duopoly that extract rents but users are expected to regularly provide third parties with personally identifiable information (PII) to improve the user experience of sending funds in real time via fintech apps (like Venmo). This includes, normalizing man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks through apps like Plaid, which integrate with retail banks.

I personally do not think most cryptocurrency projects or efforts solve any of these issues, but there is no reason to carry water for the status quo like the authors repeatedly do. Again, it is possible to critique both the world of blockchains as well as traditional finance. They are not mutually exclusive.

On p. 70 they start discussing compliance, writing:

The movement, storage, and handling of money are regulated, and most countries have laws on the international movement of funds. Showing up at an airport in Berlin with undeclared cash above €10,000 will and one in quite a bit of trouble.

What kind of trouble? Jailtime? No one knows because the authors drop that warning in the middle of a paragraph and go along.

On p. 72 they discuss cross-border payments and international money transfers, stating:

The inability to move money from a country is ultimately one of domestic internal infrastructure development and external international relations, rather than technical limitations Moreover, the proposed use case for cryptocurrency as a mode of international remittances is fundamentally limited because of a lack of a coherent compliance story. Even if we were to use cryptocurrency as a hypothetical international settlement medium, this system has not removed financial institutions from the equation. The system’s entry and exit points would have to perform the same checks of outgoing and incoming money flow required by many international agreements.

In general this is accurate and I even agree with the thrust of their argument. However it still lacks nuance because they do not specify which cryptocurrencies they are discussing.

For instance, SaveOnSend has chronicled the rise and fall of “rebittance” companies (Bitcoin-focused remittance providers) for years. And the graveyard for such startups is deep and wide.27

But the nuance the authors should make is that there is a clear distinction between Bitcoin (with a fixed supply) and a pegged stablecoin such as Dai or LUSD (from Liquity) which are dynamically minted, there is no fixed supply. Whether Dai or LUSD are used for international payments is something they could discuss, maybe neither are?

The passage also lacks any specifics or citations. A future edition could discuss the costs and frictions associated with correspondent banking and SWIFT’s decision to deploy gpi as a reaction to blockchain euphoria.28

Lastly, and perhaps importantly, it does not include discussions around real world asset-linked peggedcoins such as USDC and USDT.

Source: Twitter

Without detracting too much from the book itself, it is worth pointing out that the idea of commercial banks directly issuing “stablecoins” has been a topic of discussion since at least 2015.

At R3, some banks that participated in Project Argent later joined IBM’s now defunct endeavor called World Wire which used Stellar. One of the challenges that frequently surfaced during these experiments and deployments involved the legality of granting interest to token holders.

This is still a touch-and-go hot potato as we can see with the roll out of the European Union’s Markets in Crypto-Assets (MiCA).29 A second edition could also discuss this possibility in the CBDC section later on.

And since the authors seem very focused on the U.S., they might want to discuss the recent supervisory actions from the Federal Reserve regarding how domestic banks can transact with pegged stablecoins. But enough of doing their homework for them.

On p. 73 they conclude, stating:

Of course, like all cryptocurrency arguments, the counterargument is ideological: compliance is a non-issue because nation-states should not exist and should not have capital controls. This ideological goal is inexorably embedded in the design of cryptocurrency, making it an unscalable and untenable technology for any real-world application where sanctions, laws, and compliance are an inescapable part of doing business in financial services.

The sole citation is to a decent paper from Brian Hanley, about Bitcoin and just Bitcoin. The authors once again created a strawman and used it to broadly smear all cryptocurrency-related projects, even those unrelated to Bitcoin. This is lazy.

While I agree with some of their conclusions, an empirical-based investigation for arguing their position would be to tediously dissect the issues and challenges of other blockchains too. Look at the facts-and-circumstances for each, just like public prosecutors do.

Chapter 6: Valuation Problems

On p. 76 they discuss asset classification, writing:

Transactions on speculative crypto tokens such as bitcoin and ethereum are considerably more expensive than credit card networks and wire services. More over, as we know they do not scale to national level transactions volumes, and lack the most basic consumer payments protections found in nearly every traditional payment system. No economy trades in crypto, no large-scale commerce is completed in the currency, and no goods or services are denominated in crypto because of its hyper volatility. Crypto payments are uniformly worse than any other payment mechanism except perhaps for illegal purchases. Let us therefore consider these aspect separately through a number of different theories.

There is a bit to digest here:

(1) Typo: “transactions” should be “transaction”

(2) It is a bit odd that for all the water they carry for traditional finance, Diehl et al. do not provide many citations that strengthen their argument.

For instance, in December 2016, the Federal Reserve published its widely cited “DLT” paper. On p. 3 the authors of Fed paper wrote about payment, clearing, and settlement (PCS) systems: “In the aggregate, U.S. PCS systems process approximately 600 million transactions per day, valued at over $12.6 trillion.”

The authors of the Fed paper also included a citation for that figure: Average daily volume and value were calculated using 2014 data on U.S. retail and wholesale PCS systems and were approximated based on the number of business days in the year. See Committee on Payment and Market Infrastructures (2015), Statistics on Payment, Clearing and Settlement Systems in the CPMI Countries.

Yet Diehl et al. do not mention real time gross settlement (RTGS) systems at all in the book. This would help strengthen their arguments and improve their credibility in certain sections.

(3) The authors do not provide specific dollar or euro amounts for how much more expensive it is to use bitcoin or ethereum versus credit card networks and wire services. They could be right but providing specifics would strengthen their argument.

(4) Overall the paragraph comes across as being highly opinionated – especially when using subjective words like “worse,” please provide evidence next time.

On p. 77 they discuss the theory of the greater fool, writing:

Crypto tokens have no such use or organic demand and exist purely to speculate on detached from any pretense of use-value. Cryptoassets are speculative financial assets with neither use-value nor any other fundamental value, while not being monetary; and can therefore not be commodities or currencies. The demand for a crypto asset is not generated by any use-value but rather from a narrative and the the greater fool theory. A financial asset that behaves like a commodity — by virtue of a lack of underlying cashflows – but whose demand is derived purely from its self-referential exchange value or sign value, rather than use-value, is sometimes in academic literature referred to as a pseudo-commodity.

There are at least six problems with this passage:

(1) The first two sentences are fairly repetitive, they could be condensed into one.

(2) The authors use “cryptoassets” but not “crypto assets” — there is no consistency.

(3) The authors could have done a literature review to see if anyone else previously had created an ontological analysis of cryptocurrencies. They would likely find a handy paper titled: “Bitcoin: a Money-like Informational Commodity” by Jan Bergstra and Peter Weijland.

Why? Because this particular book section feels like Diehl et al., are fumbling around in trying to create categories for something like Bitcoin, especially the last sentence regarding a “pseudo-commodity.”30

(4) I do not have any strong views as to what cryptocurrency (or cyptoasset) is or is not a commodity but specific regulators in specific jurisdiction do. Why did the authors fail to include any definitions or views from relevant bodies, like the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)?

(5) Next, regarding “pseudo-commodity” the authors do not provide any references to any academic literature. A quick googling found this entry:

Source: Wikipedia

Were Diehl et al. referring to Karl Marx’s definition of “pseudo-commodities”?

(6) Lastly, later in the book they swap “greater fool theory” with Keynesian Beauty Contest. It is unclear why they use one versus the other. Either way, the authors claims still lack nuance due to the actual usage of real world assets (RWA) such as pegged stablecoins.

While I have been critical of some of these parasitic tokens, a few do in fact exist and do in fact represent legal claims to actual (off-chain) value. This is important because by failing to recognize the existence of RWA, the authors do a disservice to their stronger argument (self-referential value). A future edition should include a discussion on different types of RWAs separate from cryptoassets such as bitcoin.

On p. 80 they conclude, writing:

Crypto assets are quantitatively a completely irrational investment, and theoretically treating them as a sensible asset class necessitates irrational assupmtions of infinities or introductions of absurdities that contradict all of established economic thought. We are thus left with the most obvious conclusion: crypto is a bubble much like tulips, Beanie Babies, and other non-productive curio that humans have manically speculated on in the past. It is a financial product whose only defining property is random price oscillations along a path that inevitably leads to its ruin.

There are three issues with this:

(1) Once again the authors flip back to “crypto assets” instead of “cryptoasset.”

(2) In the second sentence they insert a word “curio” that doe not make sense. What is a curio?

(3) Lastly, they predict a future “ruin,” they are fortune tellers. That which is presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Chapter 7: Environmental Problems

For long-time readers of this website it is probably easy to guess that I am sympathetic towards arguments surrounding the negative environmental externalities created by proof-of-work cryptocurrencies. So I should be a fan of this chapter. And I mostly am.

But one of the quibbles upfront is that as this book progresses, the chapter lengths get shorter and shorter. For instance, this chapter is less than six pages long. An editor would likely have recommended combining similar themes together, and/or truncating longer chapters. The next edition could probably combine this with Ethical Problems since there is some overlap.

With that said, there are a few issues in this chapter. On p. 81 they write:

The technical inefficiencies of cryptocurrencies are the mark of a technology that is over-extended and not fit for purpose. However, what is even more concerning is the environmental footprint these technologies introduce into the world. Bitcoin and currencies that use proof of work consensus scheme require massive energy consumption to maintain their networks. This feature is central to their operation and is the mechanism that allegedly “builds trust” in the network. No network participant has any privileged status except in the amount of energy they expend to maintain the consistency of the network itself. The amount of energy spent in this global block lottery results in an expected direct return per watt, which is statistically predictable. In a nutshell, the premise of mining is to prove how much power one can waste, and the more power one can waste, the more resources one receives in return. The system is fundamentally inefficient in its design.

While I agree with the thrust of this paragraph, it still needs some nuance. In addition, an “s” should probably be added to the word “scheme.”

What nuance is needed?

For starters, a new and even old PoW network does not automatically require massive energy consumption. Rather, what happens in practice is that miners will deploy capital (hardware) up to the point where marginal costs equals the marginal value (MC=MV) of the block reward.

That is to say, when bitcoin was trading for $10 per coin, rational miners were spending no more than $10 to mine a coin.31 If bitcoin’s value measured in USD dipped below the marginal cost of mining, it would be more rational to turn off the machines and purchase the coins themselves. Were all miners rational during the time period of say, 2011 when the prices fluctuated around that level? This dovetails into conversations around edge cases for why a miner would unprofitably farm a PoW coin (such as for virgin coins).

At any rate, in 2011 when the price of bitcoin was around $10, a block reward (of 50 bitcoins) would be worth $500 (sans transaction fees). On average roughly 144 blocks are mined per day. Thus rational miners in aggregate would spend at most $72,000 per day, this includes both hardware and operational costs.

Annualized this would amount to roughly $26.2 million in capital. That is still a lot of money, but is significantly less than the costs to maintain and operate the Bitcoin network when the value of each bitcoin is $30,000 like today.

In other words, “massive energy consumption” is not an iron clad rule. It just happens that we know the resources deployed (consumed) to maintain a PoW network grow (or fall) in direct proportion to the coin value. This same phenomenon occurs in other industries, such as mining for physical commodities including petroleum or gold.

A quick googling shows there are a couple of papers on this topic of “siegniorage” that the book could possibly cite.

Lastly, while Bitcoin’s money supply schedule is fixed, there are two reasons why returns are not statistically predictable:

(1) According to Bowden et al., actual block propagation (arrivals) do not follow the (theoretical) homogenous Poisson process that was expected upon its release in 2009. This is one of the reasons that halvenings do not fall precisely every four years but have instead been “compressed” and are slightly accelerated.32 In theory the halvings should occur on odd years during January, but the next halving will actually occur about eight months ahead of schedule.

(2) No one can accurately predict or know the future price of bitcoin. And it is the future price that determines how much additional capital miners will deploy (in aggregate) which then shapes the difficulty level. This is one of the reasons why executives at Bitcoin mining companies have to publicly put on a “bullish” persona: future price is existential to their hashing operations.

One other paragraph that should be refined is on p. 85, where they discuss environmental horrors:

Whether bitcoin has a legitimate claim on any of society’s resources is a question that does not have a scientific answer, it is fundamentally an ethical question. There are many activities where humans burn massive amounts of fossil fuels for entertainment activities or activities that do not serve any productive purpose. For example, Americans burn 6.6 TWh annually for holiday lightning. The software industry must ask whether we should sustain a perpetually wasteful activity in perpetuity.

Starting in reverse, the authors actually did a self-whataboutism. Pretty rare. Recall that a whataboutism is a technique to deflect blame or responsibility by pointing out something unrelated that is also bad.

The authors do not need to compare Bitcoin’s resource usage with anything besides other public chains attempting to provide disintermediated payments (like a proof-of-stake chain). There are a lot of activities that humanity (purposefully) wastes resources on, such as nuclear weapons research and development. But nuclear weapons R&D has nothing to do with running a pseudonymous peer-to-peer payment network. That is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Similarly, holiday lighting, like leaf blowing, wastes resources. But holiday lighting is not an apples-to-apples comparison with running a payments network. The authors have the upperhand in this chapter but sabotage themselves midway by incorporating the logic of Bitcoin maximalists like Nic Carter.33

The bulk of the chapter does cite and use references to peer-reviewed research, which is something that should be replicated across the whole book in a future edition.

Chapter 8: Cryptocurrency Culture

This chapter could have been a lot stronger than it was. It was an okay chapter but it missed the opportunity to really dive into the crazy cult of Bitcoin maximalism. At fifteen pages it felt short but still makes some decent observations, primarily with the history and background of cypherpunks.

With that said, there are still some issues that could be ironed out. For instance, on p. 87 they write:

The intellectual center of cryptocurrency culture is the premise to reinvent money from first principles independent of existing power structures. The cryptocurrency phenomenon can therefore be viewed as a political struggle over the fundamental question of “who should exercise power over money” in a world idealized by its acolytes. There is a great insight to learn about the movement from their manifestos: How a group describes their path to utopia gives a great deal of insight into their mind and values.

They then refer to a paper from Sandra Faustino. So what is the issue with this introductory paragraph?

They unintentionally use the revisionist history and language of Bitcoin maximalists.

Not every cryptocurrency project is attempting to reinvent money. Furthermore, with Bitcoin itself, the word payment (not money) is mentioned 15 times in the original whitepaper.

In fact, Samuel Patterson went through everything Satoshi ever wrote. Unsurprisingly Satoshi discussed payments significantly more than a “store of value.”

Source: Twitter

This distinction is important because it actually hurts Diehl et al. argument, that “cryptocurrency culture is the premise to reinvent money” because that empirically is not the case as we can see with many tokens unrelated to money.

On p. 93 they write about technoliberarianism, stating:

At the same time, questions concerning digital assets and what ownership meant in a world of bytes instead of atoms were being explored. The technology to copy and disseminate files freely became available was effectively a solved problem by 2010. These technologies marked the move toward censorship-resistant platforms, where information could be shared resiliently against removal by external actors.

The paragraph continues on but readers are never provided with a citation or reference for the year 2010. What exactly happened by that year?

Are the authors referring to streaming services? Perhaps they are thinking about digital rights management (DRM)? Or oppositely, are they casually suggesting anyone can share files via a protocol like BitTorrent? Who knows.

On p. 95 they write:

A malaise has descended over Silicon Valley as an unexpected dystopia has unfolded in the wake of the hopeful disruption. In the absence of advancement in the field, many developers have retreated into technolibertarin fantasies that center around pipe-dream decentralized technologies as a panacea to the world’s problems.

On the one hand I agree with the authors observation. I worked and lived in the Bay Area for five years, my wife even worked in the semiconductor industry in Santa Clara, right at the center of it. But for all of the talk about “Silicon Valley” being head over heals for cryptocurrencies, the reality was very different in 2014-2015.

For instance, during this time frame representatives from Pantera Capital, such as Johnny Dilley, were openly antagonistic towards anything that was not Bitcoin.34

Source: Twitter

In a now-deleted tweet, Brian Armstrong (co-founder and CEO of Coinbase) exuded what was the feeling du jour in the Bay Area.35

On p. 95 they ironically dive into Austrian Economics, stating:

Austrian economics had already gained some prominence in the late-19th and early-20th century from the studies of philosophers and economists Ludwig von Mises, Friederich von Hayek, and Murray Rothbard.

The authors should tweak the chronology here because two-out-of-three did not rise to any prominence in the English-speaking world until after World War II. Rothbard was not even born until 1926.

More to the point: why is it that these authors ironically dove into Austrian economics? Because some anti-coiners, such as the book authors, often use non-empirical means to arrive at a conclusion: a priorism is their cudgel.

For instance, they write on p. 96:

The school of Austrian economics differs from orthodox economics in its methodology. Instead of proceeding from an empirical framework of observations and measurements, Austrian economics is a presuppositional framework that attempts to create a model to describe all human economic activity by purely deductive reasoning.

This is a little too bit on the nose because that is precisely what the authors do in chapter after chapter, eschewing empiricism for a priorism.

As I have pointed out on this website and on social media: the Horseshoe Theory of non-empiricism between Bitcoin maximalism and anti-coiners, both regularly use a priori arguments rather than provide empirical evidence.

Diehl et al., like Michael Goldstein and Elaine Ou before them, cannot claim to be evidence-driven while simultaneously using deduction to arrive that “all cryptocurrencies are useless.”36

On p. 96 the authors twice mention this modus operandi:

The Austrians call this line of reasoning praxeology, a pure axiomatic-deductive system that its founder Mises claims can be knowable and derived independent of experience, in the same way that mathematics can be known.

And:

Mainstream economics arises out of the empiricism philosophy in which all knowledge is derived from experience, where true beliefs derive their justification from measurements, observations, and coherence to scientific models which make falsifiable claims.

This last quote is a doozy because Diehl et al., regularly make falsifiable claims because we know empirically there are non-self-referential blockchain projects and smart contracts that actually work.

It is incredulous to trot out a strawman and deductively claim that every cryptocurrency on the planet, even future iterations, cannot work. Lord give us the confidence of strident a priorism.

On p. 99 they write about fiat money, stating:

Just as the gold supply on Earth is limited, the number of bitcoins is similarly constrained by a fixed supply.

While a lot of Bitcoiners like to make this analogy, it is untrue. The supply of gold is somewhat elastic, limited by the cost of recovery (and mining). Whereas the supply of bitcoin is perfectly inelastic.

On p. 101 they mention in passing that:

Nevertheless, cryptocurrency advocates have repackaged the Austrian arguments and rebased them with bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies as their center. Trade books central to the bitcoin movement (such as The Bitcoin Standard) proceed from an exclusively Austrian perspective to posit the notion of bitcoin as a basis for a new global reserve currency to displace the US dollar and an alleged improvement on gold.

This would have been the perfect time to discuss the antics of specific Bitcoin maximalists, such as Saifedean Ammous.

Speaking of which, earlier in the book (p. 79) the authors mentioned a paper by Nassim Taleb. Yet what went unmentioned was that in 2018 Taleb wrote the foreword to Ammou’s book, The Bitcoin Standard. Two years ago Taleb would have a public change of heart.

To tie this back to the beginning of this book review, when did Diehl et al., have a change of heart following the launch of Uplink? Was there any “last straw” moment?

On p. 101 the authors discuss Financial Nihilism, writing:

While the ideologies and ideas around crypto vary, the most common worldview held by most crypto investors is simply a complete lack of any worldview. In normal philosophy, this perspective is called nihilism: the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.

Citation needed. How do the authors know what “the most common worldview held by most crypto investors”?

Did they conduct a survey at a conference? What can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Chapter 9: Ethical Problems

This chapter could have been one of the stronger ones – after all, not a month goes by without some crazy high profile hack – but instead it felt a bit like a worn shoe due to repetitive polemics.

For example, on p. 103 they write:

Slot machines are a technology, yet it is a technology that is purpose-built for financial exploitation. In many ways, cryptocurrency carries the same moral character as slot machines. Cryptocurrencies are purpose-built for avoiding regulation and facilitating illicit financing, effectively enabling a dark network for payments in which illegal transactions external to the technology can be achieved within the system. There are several major categories into which the inescapable harm of cryptocurrencies falls.

Contra Diehl et al., not every cryptocurrency, or blockchain project is the same, nor are all purpose-built for avoiding regulation and facilitating illicit financing.

The clearest examples – although boring as they may be – are the permissioned blockchains used by enterprises. 37 A non-exhaustive list includes Project Ion from the DTCC, Onyx from JP Morgan, and BSTX (powered by tZERO).38 Maybe none of these projects grow beyond a small niche market, but they each serve as an empirical counter-example to the a priori argument made directly above. Readers are encouraged to follow Ledger Insights for more in this arena.

On p. 104 and again on p. 133 the authors mention a “FATF blocklist” but that does not exist. What they are probably referring to is the FATF “black list.”

On p. 105 they discuss selling snake oil, writing:

Day-trading cryptocurrencies can negatively affect the mental health of individuals involved in this activity. The stress and anxiety associated with attaching one’s life savings and well-being to an unnaturally volatile market can be both exhilarating and exhausting. The mental energy required to maintain a portfolio exposed to this level of risk requires a great deal of time, focus, and discipline that many retail investors lack and that in the long term may have a deleterious effect on mental well-being.

The authors provide a reference to a good article from Vice that interviews specific participants. A reader might ask, how is day-trading cryptocurrencies different than day-trading other assets? This is not answered because the authors immediately move on to the next topic, illicit activity.

On p. 107 they discuss illicit activity, stating:

Even more sophisticated launders use a technique known as chain hopping in which value in one cryptocurrency is swapped in a trade with the equivalent value in another cryptocurrency and then swapped back. This technique further obscures the origin of funds commonly using privacy coins such as Monero and ZCash.

A few issues with this statement:

(1) Misspelling, it should be “launderers” not “launders”

(2) The first sentence should state that the user switches value from one cryptocurrency to a different liquid cryptocurrency. It is unclear how often this type of swap happens and the authors do not provide any stats (likely because the precise figure is based on data from centralized exchanges). 39

(3) How “common” is the swap to Monero and ZCash? They reference a paper from 2018 and on p. 40 the author, Anton Moiseienko, describes the mechanics of “chain-hopping” but no stats are provided as to how frequently it occurs. So can it really be said this commonly occurs or not?

On p. 107 they write:

In addition, self-service laundromats such as tornado.cash provide automated money laundering services on the ethereum blockchain and require no technical expertise. These services are used to launder funds stolen from ransomware attacks using chain hopping techniques.

There are a couple of inaccuracies in this paragraph:

(1) For users of Ethereum, there is no native on-chain privacy or confidentially function, everything is public by default. It is not clear how many users used Tornado Cash to launder funds but anecdotally there appears to be many people who tested out the dapp without attempting to do anything nefarious.

How do we know? Because roughly two months after the book was published, OFAC, (a unit of the U.S. Treasury department) sanctioned Tornado and there were knock-on effects that impacted bystanders who received small amounts of ether (ETH) that had originated from Tornado. OFAC later revised the sanctions guidance to make a carve-out for the bystanders who received this ‘dust.’

(2) Tornado Cash did not have the ability to do anything with chain hopping, this is factually incorrect. Users of Tornado may have moved ETH to an exchange or a bridge and then swapped the ETH for a different asset, but Tornado did not have “chain hopping” capability. Note: over the years other developers deployed clones of Tornado on other chains, these were not linked or bridged to one another.

(3) It is worth skipping to p. 245 wherein the authors make some unfounded claims about privacy. Someone needs to ask the authors: are developers allowed to create confidentiality or privacy-enhancing tech on public chains? If not, why not?

On p. 107 the authors also write about Crypto Capital, regarding Bitfinex, and Yakuza crime syndicates in Japan. Both paragraphs are good concise explanations of what occurred but neither one included any citations or sources. A second edition should provide at least one.

On p. 108 they misspell “Stellar” as “Steller.”

On p. 109 they wrote:

In 2019 an early developer on the ethereum project was arrested by the FBI for allegedly providing technical instructions to the North Korean on the technical mechanisms to launder money through the ethereum network between North and South Korea.

There are a couple of issues with this:

(1) Grammar: rewrite “to the North Korean” instead it should probably read: “to the North Korean government”

(2) This is not a fair description of what Virgil Griffith was accused of doing. The transaction between North Korea and South Korea was intended to be a symbolic peace gesture and my understanding was that Griffith’s intent was for the South Korean government to approve it. This is a poor example by the authors because North Korea was going to violate sanctions in significantly worse ways. For instance, according to Chainalysis, North Korean hackers stole around $2.2 billion in cryptocurrency during 2022. Griffith’s demonstration did not bolster the hackers capabilities.

On pgs. 109-111 they discuss the unbanked, overall this was a decent section. However there are not many citations or references. Highly recommend citing a new paper from Olivier Jutel, “Blockchain financialization, neo-colonialism, and Binance.”

On pgs. 111-113 the authors discuss the MMM Ponzi, it was well-written. However, the second to last paragraph states:

Cryptocurrency is not standing on some moral pillar, nor is it acting as some technological Robin Hood. Instead it is simply removing all the processes protecting both sides of transactions and distributing those trust mechanisms to those parties. Bitcoin ATM operators are now forced to step in to prevent the vulnerable from scams where banks would have generally served as the safeguard. Instead of protecting the vulnerable against fraud, cryptocurrency now pushes this obligation on individuals themselves.

I tend to agree with most – if not all – of this passage. But it should be written to include a couple of nuances:

(1) Not all cryptocurrencies are the same and the authors should give specific examples. After all, there are at least 10,000 coins and tokens floating around, do the know for certain each is marketed or advertised as “some technological Robin Hood”? No, this is hyperbolic.

(2) Banks are probably not the best example to use here.

Why not? Because in the U.S., commercial banks are frequently fined and penalized over abusive conduct they have towards their customers. For instance, last month Bank of America agreed to pay $250 million in fines and compensation to cover “junk fees” it had levied on customers. Last December, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) fined WellsFargo $3.7 billion for rampant mismanagement and abuse of customer accounts.

A future edition should just scrub reference of banks in this paragraph because it does not help their argument.

Chapter 10: The Cult of Crypto

This chapter is one I was looking forward to. I had hoped they would dive into the seedy world of coin lobbyists and maximalists. Instead readers are given a pretty vanilla description across six pages. A second edition should build on this foundations. For instance, they mention just one of Michael Saylor’s crazy quotes when we could probably fill an entire book with his loony toons.

For instance, on p. 115 they introduce the section thusly:

Cryptoassets are inherently negative-sum and, as such, consistently hemorrhage money.

This is factually untrue. Perhaps proof-of-work coins are negative sum (for reasons discussed a few times already) but real world assets (RWA), tokens representing off-chain claims on tangible goods, are not necessarily hemorrhaging money. Their histrionics are all so tiresome.

Squid Game, but on a blockchain!

On p. 116 they discuss the golden calf, writing:

They cryptocurrency movement shares many aspects of economically-based new religious movements such as Scientology. Crypto is fundamentally a belief system built around apocalypticism, the promise of utopia for the faithful, and a process for discrediting external critics and banishing heretical insiders.

The authors provide two citations. A paper about Bitcoin from Vidan and Lehdonvirta and then a very strange article from the Financial Times.

Why is the FT article strange? Because it frames Chris DeRose as a victim when in reality he is often the predator. For example, DeRose, and his podcasting co-host Joshua Unseth, are very public about their misogyny, they denigrate women and have attacked them online.

For instance:

Source: Twitter

DeRose and Unseth have subsequently deleted their twitter accounts and started new ones.

Prior to his outspoken mysoginy, DeRose – who just happens to be a vocal Bitcoin maximalist – frequently attacked me.

For example:

Source: reddit

Eight years ago, Chris DeRose (aka brighton36) attempted to smear me on reddit (see above). He purposefully used a screenshot of a presentation, without linking to the presentation. Fortunately sanity prevailed and the world eventually learned what the maximalists (and anti-coiners) both seem to try and coverup: there are other blockchains beyond Bitcoin.

But back to the specific paragraph on p. 116: parts of it are accurate. There are purity police that purge heathens who recommend larger block sizes and propagandists who fund bot armies to dog pile perceived adversaries. But it is not fair to say that “crypto is fundamentally a belief system built around apocalypiticsim.” There certainly does appear to be a great deal of overlap between some Bitcoiners and perma-doomer communities like Zero Hedge.

But anecdotally, looking through the various projects appearing on DeFi Llama, many do not appear to use “apocalyptical” oriented language on their landing pages. Again, the onus is on those making the positive claim: the authors need to backup this view in a future edition.

On p. 117 they write:

A key differentiating factor of the crypto ideology is that it lacks a central doctrine issued by a single charismatic leader; it is a self-organizing high control group built from individuals on the internet who feed a shared collective together. An organic movement it has arisen, evolved, and adapted to be a more viral doctrine of maintaining faith in a perceived future financial revolution in which the faithful view themselves as central. The inevitability of cryptocurrency’s future is dogma that is sacred and cannot be questioned.

This is a pretty good passage and anecdotally seems to jive with my own experiences. Worth pointing out that the authors crib a bit of that content from an article written by Joe Weisenthal.

Ironically the same toxic behavior occurs within the anti-coiner community too. Several of the prominent figureheads regularly block any criticism or feedback, this includes Diehl himself.40

From pgs. 117-121 they discuss trust believers. It is a pretty good section. They also note an interesting etymology. Writing on p. 118:

The communities and ideologies for the cryptocurrency subculture are fostered through mediums such as Twitter, Telegram groups, 4chan messages boards, Reddit, and Facebook groups. In cryptocurrency culture, promoting a specific investment is shilling for the coin. The term shilling comes from casino gambling, where shills are casino employees who play with house money to create the illusion of gambling activity in the casino and encourage other suckers to start or continue gambling with their own money.

The passage continues but it was very helpful context considering how frequently people are accused of shilling for this or that coin or token. They also reference an interesting article from Vice detailing how much coin shills are paid to shill.

Near the end of the chapter they write on p. 120:

The cryptocurrency ideology provides a psychological, philosophical, and mythmaking framework that, for many believers, provides sense-making in a world that seems hostile, rigged against them, and out of their control. They crypto movement fits all the textbook criteria of a high control group: it provides a mechanism for determining an in-crowd and an out-crowd (nocoiners vs. coiners).

The passage but this part is ironic for a couple of reasons. First there is some truth to it: in 2014 there were entire threads on reddit and Twitter discussing a “bear whale” that must be slain. Someone even drew a painting of it. Cultish behavior. The authors provided two citations, one to William Bernstein’s The Delusions of Crowds and the other a relevant paper from Faustino et al.

Yet something big and important is missing: the authors use the term “nocoiner” for the first and only time. They do so without providing any explanation or definition for what it is. And this is where their credibility suffers.

The etymology of “nocoiner” arose in late 2017, coined by a trio of Bitcoin maximalists who used it as a slur. I was on the receiving end of coinbros lobbing the unaffectionate smear for years. The fact that Diehl and other prominent “anti-coiners” use it as a way to identify themselves is baffling because it is the language of an oppressor. Do not take my word for it, read and listen to the presentations from those who concocted it.

If there is one take away from this book: do not willingly use the term “nocoiner” to describe yourself.

Overall this chapter was so-so but it also has the most future potential since the antics and drama-per-second are non-stop in the coin world.

Chapter 11: Casino Capitalism

This was another short chapter (just six pages) and the tone came across as if it was written by just one of the trio. It is dry and pretty straightforward. If we were to guess, it probably was not written by whomever uses “greater fool” like it is going out of fashion.

For example, on p. 125 there is a perfect time to use it:

However, many self-described “investors” are indistinguishable from gamblers. They may be driven by the same thrill-seeking and irrational behavior in picking stocks, just like they would pick numbers on a roulette wheel. One type of this investing is known as speculation which is investing in an asset for the sole reason that one believes that someone else will buy it for a higher price, regardless of the fundamentals.

The rest of the chapter is fairly vanilla. They introduce the term LIBOR but do not mention the infamous LIBOR scandal or how LIBOR was phased out in 2021-2022.

There are still a couple areas for improvement. For instance, on p. 128 they write:

Despite pathological examples of casino capitalism in the world, these types of behavior and products are overwhelming the exception and not the rule. When companies have positive quarterly earning statements, their stock prices rises, and in contrast their stock price falls when they have negative earning statements.

This is not a natural law or something universal. In fact, forward guidance can often impact share prices too. As can euphoria that the authors described in Chapter 3.

A future edition should employ an editor to cut down on the repetition. This statement has already been made several time prior with the highlighted or italicized word being “greater fool.” Pages later, they will inexplicably use the term “Keynesian Beauty Contest.”

Chapter 12: Crypto Exchanges

Because of how many successful hacks and scams have occurred this chapter should have been a slam dunk. Instead this six page chapter was once again miserly on citations leaving the readers with little to trust besides the words of the authors.

On the first paragraph of p.131 they write:

The vast majority of investors in the crypto market go through a centralized business known as a cryptocurrency exchange.

How much is “vast majority”? We are not informed. In addition, the authors do not explain the difference between a banked exchange and a bankless exchange. Probably a more accurate intro sentence would be: Apart from miners and merchants, virtually all retail users on-board through a few dozen banked exchanges.

At the bottom of p. 131 they write:

Customers deposit funds with the exchange either through credit card payments, ACH, or international wire transfers to the exchange’s correspondent banking partners. Ostensibly crypto exchanges make money by charging transaction fees, offering margin trading accounts, and taking a percentage of withdrawals from their accounts. However, in practice, these exchanges engage in all manner of predatory behavior and market manipulation activities – a far more lucrative business.

How lucrative is market manipulation? They do not provide that answer.

And the one reference they provide is to a story by Matt Ranger that seem to use a number of spurious correlations. Putting that aside, the authors attempt to describe a banked centralized exchange (CEX). In perusing the current list of spot exchanges on CoinGecko, several dozen CEXs appear to be unbanked or bankless.

That is to say, users can move “crypto-in-and-out” but there is no way to convert or withdraw the asset balances into real money via a bank. It would be interesting to know what percentages of spot volume take place on banked versus bankless exchanges.

On p. 132 they write:

Cryptocurrency exchanges are extraordinarily profitable, as they serve as the primary gateway for most retail users to interact with the market.

Exactly how profitable they are? Who knows, we are not provided that detail.

For instance, what about the dozens of now defunct exchanges listed at Cryptowiser? Were they not profitable?

Continuing on p. 132:

The largest exchanges by volume have set up outside of jurisdictions where the bulk of their customers’ cash flow originates. There are a small number of regulated exchanges. Still, the major exchanges as a percentage of self-reported volume are unregulated and located in the Caribbean Islands and Southeast Asia.

How do they know where the bulk of an exchange cash flow originates? They do not provide a citation for that claim.

Perhaps it is true but what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.

Also the authors provide a list of 9 specific jurisdictions: but only one is in Southeast Asia, four are in and around Europe, three are in the Caribbean, and one is in the Indian Ocean. So they should probably revise how state where the “major exchanges as percentage of self-reported volume” are located.

On p. 133 they write:

Many of the CEOs and founders of these exchanges are regularly seen in jurisdictions on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) blocklist, interacting with sanctioned persons. Most personally avoid traveling to both the European Union and the United States for fear of prosecution.

How many is most? How many altogether? Any specific example of who that might be? Changpeng Zhao (CZ), founder of Binance? Kyle Davies, co-founder of Three Arrows Capital? Who knows.

As mentioned previously, they mistakenly state “FATF blocklist” when the actual term is “FATF black list.”

On p. 134, they write:

There is no regulation preventing any exchange employees from trading on non-public information or prioritizing their personal trades, manipulating the construction of the exchanges’ order book, or interfering with clients’ orders. Indeed, the ability to insider trade is seen by employees as one of the perks of working for a crypto exchange.

This chapter could have been a lot stronger if the authors simply provided specific names. It is pretty easy to do.

For instance, just before its direct listing in 2021, Coinbase paid $6.5 million to settle a suit with the CFTC over a Coinbase employee – Charlie Lee – who used his key position to wash trade. Two weeks before the book was published, the Department of Justice charged Nathaniel Chastain for insider trading while employed at OpenSea.

Enforcement may be uneven and perhaps lax, but it can and does occur depending on jurisdiction.

Also, how do the authors know that “the ability to insider trade is seen by employees as one of the perks of working for a crypto exchange”? Perhaps that is true, but where is the source?

On p. 135 they write:

However, many crypto exchanges over margin accounts allow up to 100 or 125 times, figures that are deeply predatory, and unseen in traditional markets.

There are at least two issues with this:

(1) Typo: “over” should be “offer”

(2) Perhaps in the equities market 100x or 125x leverage is uncommon but foreign exchange (FX) market trading venues frequently offer even higher rates. According to Benzinga, at least three FX platforms allow higher than 125x leverage. Is this good or bad? I do not have a strong view, and am using this as an counterexample that high leverage is unseen in traditional markets.

On p. 135 they write:

Many exchanges profit from liquidating some accounts as well as taking transaction fees on top of these insanely risky positions. Several class-action lawsuits filed in the United States allege exchange involvement. In a class-action lawsuit brought against several exchanges in the US, the plaintiffs allege:

[The defendant] acts like a casino with loaded dice, manipulating both its systems and the market its customers use for its own substantial financial gain.

Which lawsuits were these? What were the outcomes? Did the defendants (exchanges) lose and/or settle?

A quick googling discovers that the quote above came from a lawsuit naming BitMEX as the defendant. It is unclear what the status of that lawsuit but it was filed over three years ago.

Even though it is repetitive, I do agree with part of their concluding paragraph:

Crypto exchanges, just like casinos, entice customers with false promises of financial windfalls and get-rich-quick schemes. And they often omit the unspoken truth that the intermediary company sitting between investors and sellers is often a dodgy network of shell entities with predatory intentions and which could disappear with a moment’s notice – leaving customers with no legal recourse.

It is not accurate to say all crypto exchanges entice customers in that manner but putting that aside, it is unfortunate the authors previously used this same sort of verbiage many times before it finally lands.

In fact, eight years ago I gave a speech at a BNY Mellon event that highlighted some of the same issues mentioned in the chapter. Hopefully the authors publish a second edition because this chapter could be the bedrock of a good set of arguments.

Chapter 13: Digital Gold

Another short chapter (seven pages) that unfortunately only superficially looks at some important narratives.

Writing on p. 139 they state:

In the absence of cryptocurrency’s efficacy as a peer-to-peer electronic payment system, the narrative around the technology has shifted away from he use case outlined in the original paper and onto a new proposition: cryptocurrency is “digital gold” or a “store of value.”

This is revisionist history from a Bitcoin maximalist. As mentioned above, Samuel Patterson went through everything Satoshi ever wrote.

Source: Twitter

But this is besides the point: not every cryptocurrency or cryptoasset is attempting to be a new form of money or payment. CoinGecko tracks more than five dozen unique categories besides “money” or “payments.” Maybe all of the projects fail. Maybe none of them are interesting to the authors.

But the existence of these categories (and projects) serve as an empirical counterexample that nullifies the authors sweeping claims.

On p. 139 they write about fools gold:

The argument of crypto promoters is that cryptocurrency can be a store of value suitable for the world at large and form an economic basis for global economies on a long time scale.

Which promoters? Name names. Dan Held, Peter McCormack, and a slew of other maximalists might make that claim. Are their views representative of all “crypto promoters”? The second edition should be nuanced because this is tiring.

On p. 140 they write a very long paragraph, midway they state:

Cryptocurrencies are the purest exemplar of speculative investment and are one of the most volatile assets ever conceived. Cryptocurrencies have seen ludicrous price movements in response to global events such as the 2019 coronavirus outbreak, regulatory clampdowns, and exchange hacks. Drawdowns of 40-50% of value regularly occur with seemingly no underlying reason for the movements.

Is there a way to measure volatility? How about compared with say FX or a specific equity index? The authors could be right (and probably are here) but by not providing any reference or citation, readers are left in a lurch.

On p. 141 they write:

To all but the most faithful, the question “Do you see your grandchildren storing their savings in bitcoin?” is difficult to answer. A sensible answer would be probably not. To those who believe in the continuation of rapid technical progress, it is difficult to predict technology trends two to three years in advance, much less decades. As a thought experiment, if we believe in the bitcoin-maximalist (or any maximalist vision) rhetoric that “there can be only one global token,” that first-mover advantage dominates all other factors, this precludes any competitors from ever existing. In this model, the bitcoin ledger is the final authoritative store of value whose continuity is eternal.

This is the first and only time the authors mention “bitcoin maximalism.” Yet even here they do not succinctly define what it is.

Furthermore, the authors state that it is “difficult to predict technology trends two to three years in advance” yet they repeatedly not only make bold predictions in each chapter but they a priori claim that all cryptocurrencies inherently fail, are scams, cannot work, ad nauseam. This is a contradiction.

If the authors who wrote the paragraph above agree with their inability to predict the future then the next edition needs edits that reconcile with the multitude of contradictory claims.

On p. 141 they write:

Thus all subsequent technologies will either build on top of bitcoin sidechains or are fundamentally heretical in their vision.

What are sidechains? Who knows, the authors just lob it in there. For what it is worth, it is actually a topic we have discussed for nearly 9 years on this blog. Here is a slightly dated comparison.

On p. 141 they write:

The non-maximalist view argues against any single cryptocurrency universality. If we play devil’s advocate and assume cryptocurrency technology is not a technical dead end, then cryptocurrency markets can be seen as an economy of ideas in which the best and most technically efficient solutions attract the most investment. Rational investors will choose to store the most value in proportion to their merits. However, in this model, anyone’s current token can and will be replaced by a better one at some point, and this must repeat ad infinitum. Unless there is a continuity of account states between evolutions of the technologies, then the value held in deprecated chains will eventually be subject to flight to safer and more advanced chains. Under this set of assumptions, we again conclude that any one cryptocurrency cannot be a store of value. Their structure is identical to stock in companies that rise and fall tethered to humans activity and is inconsistent with the store of value model.

Working backwards, what is “the store of value model”? The authors do not say.

Furthermore, if we take a “screenshot” of any technology vertical decades apart there are shifts of who the industry leader is. From PCs, to printers, to scanners, to spreadsheet vendors. An entire category – smartphones – did not exist twenty years ago.41

Why is it so hard to fathom that there can be more than one blockchain in existence at one time? There are dozens of RTGSs deployed around the world, despite the existence of Visa and Mastercard… because they do different things.

The problem with this hypothetical illustrates how the Horseshoe Theory of non-empiricism that ties Bitcoin maximalism together with nascent anti-coin ideology. If you are a priori anti-cryptocurrency in any form, then by definition it does not matter what empirical evidence someone provides as a counterexample.

Thus the existence of more than one operational blockchain in the same time and space is futile to reconcile by definition.

On p. 142 they discuss bugs:

An advance in the mathematics of elliptic curves could theoretically yield a more efficient factoring technique that would render the specific choice of primitive used in historical wallets vulnerable to attack. While there is currently no known attack on the particular curved used in bitcoin, but however alternative technologies like IOTA have chosen combinations of specific, unverified primitives that have been proven unsound.

What unverified primitive were these? Who knows, the author does not provide a reference. A quick googling revealed that it may be a vulnerability with a hash function, Curl, that the IOTA developers created.

Speaking of bugs, if they write a second edition the authors could zero in on CVE-2018-17144, a bug that was first discovered by Bitcoin Cash developers in the summer of 2018. Bitcoin Core developers (who act as the de facto gatekeepers of Bitcoin) kept the severity of the bug under wraps until it was patched.

On p. 143 they write this whammy:

A standalone against cryptocurrency as a store of value is purely statistically. The exchange value of most cryptocurrency markets is highly correlated. As bitcoin moves, so does the whole crypto market. Both ethereum and bitcoin have a correlation coefficient of 0.9. Buying into any cryptocurrency besides bitcoin means one’s investment is overwhelming exposed to bitcoin’s extraordinary volatile price movements. Given bitcoin’s dominance and its distinction in driving the price of all other tokens, there is little reason to invest in anything but bitcoin.

Ta-da. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the anti-coiners who are actually Bitcoin maximalists. Re-read the paragraph above slowly.

Source: CoinMarketCap

The line chart (above) illustrates the market value of approximately 10 different cryptoassets starting in January 2016 to August 2023. While Bitcoin (BTC) typically does hover around 40-50% mark, there is no ironclad rule that says it always will. 42

Furthermore, this book review will not say what assets you should or should not buy. Will traders see higher returns over the long run by investing in a cryptocurrency that is not Bitcoin?

Unlike the authors of the book, we cannot predict the future. But you should definitely invest everything into PTK.

On p. 144 they discuss entities in control of >50% of voting/mining power:

Blockchains such as the ETC chain have recorded these events, and we have seen successful attacks frequently occur in the wild. This kind of attack would be expensive and energy-intensive. However, given the mining centralization it is already the case that four companies on the Chinese mainland control over 60% of the bitcoin hash power. This context represents a situation where four Chinese executives potentially are a social attack vector. The continuity of their interests is inexorably linked to bitcoin’s proposition as a store of value.

There a few issues with this passage:

(1) The authors do not say what ETC stands for, this is the first time it is presented to the reader. It is Ethereum Classic.

(2) How many times has ETC been successfully attacked? Who knows, the authors do not provide any details or references. A quick googling finds a news story stating that Ethereum Classic was hit by at least three successful 51% attacks in the month of August 2020. Yikes, that sounds like some evidence that could help bolster the authors claims, why did they not include it?

(3) Just above this paragraph the authors identify nine blockchains that have 1-4 entities in control of more than 50% of voting or mining power. They claim Dogeoin has 4 and Litecoin has 3.

But this hurts their credibility because Dogecoin has used “merge mining” with Litecoin since September 2014. I know this because I wrote an (accurate) prediction saying Dogecoin would eventually need to merge mine with Litecoin.

And guess what, Dogecoin’s existence is still driven by Litecoin’s existence. Dogecoin is fully dependent on Litecoin’s infrastructure. The article should be updated to include this type of information.

(4) Lastly, even when this book was published (June 2022) the aggregate hashrate coming from China-based mining farms had dropped well below 60%. The authors provide no citation so it is unclear when they were researching or writing this chapter.

For example, according to an article from May 2022, it was estimated that China-based mining farms generated ~21% of the network hashrate.

On p. 144 they write:

Additionally blockchains governed by standard consensus algorithms have regularly seen the emergence of so-called forks. A fork is when a subset of miners and participants diverge on their use of a single chain of blocks, resulting in two historical ledgers with different spending activities. Most major cryptocurrencies have seen forks, including bitcoin, which has bitcoin cash, bitcoin SV, bitcoin gold, while ethereum has ethereum classic. Economically this is an extraordinary event since the holders of wallets have active accounts on both chains, and their tokens now have two historical accounts of their provenance.

At least two issues with this:

(1) What are “standard consensus algorithms”?

Recall back in Chapter 2 they regularly swapped wordings between protocol and algorithm. And only described Nakamoto Consensus. What other consensus algorithms are there?

In Chapter 5 they casually mentioned Paxos and PBFT in passing but never conveyed any information to readers. So who knows what they are thinking here.

(2) Why do the authors have an issue with capitalizing the word bitcoin or ethereum? No one in any media writes “bitcoin SV” or “ethereum classic” because these are proper nouns. An editor would have helped them.

On p. 144 they write:

Physical commodities cannot “split” and have multiple version of themselves that pop into existence from nowhere.

This is a strawman because blockchains are not physical. Some lawyers have argued – and some regulators like the CFTC have made the case that certain (all?) cryptoassets might be “commodities.” This book review does not have the space to discuss the different external views from legal experts.

How do hardforks impact RWAs – such as pegged stablecoins – that reside on the chain?43 Are hard forks similar to “stock splits” in traditional finance?

Maybe this is something the authors could discuss in the next edition. Perhaps they can start by looking at how at least one student thinks hard forks should be taxed.

On p. 145 they discuss potential attack vectors:

State-level actors who thought bitcoin was a threat to sovereignty would be capable of causing mass disruptions or even destroying the network. If not fatal, such an attack would likely cause a massive movement in price that could effectively annihilate global liquidity. The most likely actor to engage in this kind of attack in terms of capacity and incentive is the People’s Republic of China.

Honestly, you have to use movie-voiceover-guy for that last sentence. And the authors do not provide any citation or reference to back up this cunning plan from the Chicoms!

On p. 146 they write:

Source: Breaking Bad

The question of bitcoin as a store of value in these catastrophic events is threefold: whether they are possible on short time scales, whether they are possible on long time scales, and on what time scales is the destruction of value possible. The externalities of nation-states failing or quantum computers are irrelevant to the continuity of physical commodities value. No process could cause all land, precious metals, or stones in all of the world to devalue simultaneously.

Gold’s historical claim as a store of value are a complex mix of factors: its industrial uses, decorative uses, long history of price stability, non-perishability, maintenance-free storage, and its millennia spanning narrative and collective fiction. Crypto advocates want to declare bitcoin as their new “digital gold” and yet all they bring is a weak fiction detached from the other necessary properties of a store of value.

Cryptocurrencies can never function as a store of value or digital gold. Instead, they are purely speculative volatile assets whose intrinsic value is built on nothing but faith in an expanding pool of greater fools that must expand infinitely and forever.

Is it appropriate to use the Breaking Bad diner scene template for the concluding paragraphs on chapter 13? Yes.

The authors cannot stop talking about bitcoin in a book called “Popping the Crypto Bubble.” It is not even clear who or what they are arguing with since they do not quote anyone or anything on this entire page.

Who is this rant directed at?

No other chain really exists apparently. No other use case exists beyond the one they build the strawman for (money/payments). It is all so tiring. But don’t worry, there is 100 pages more!

Chapter 14: Smart Contracts

The authors try out some “gotchas” but academic lawyers have beaten them to the punch by 5+ years.

For instance, at the beginning of p. 147 they write:

Smart contracts are a curiously named term that has sparked a great deal of interest due to the confusion of its namesake. Like many blockchain terms, a smart contract is a semantically meaningless term in the larger corpus of discussion, and its usage has been defined to mean great many different things to a great many people.

Strangely, the authors do not cite anyone or anything in the first few pages of this chapter. Yet there are “intro to smart contracts” at various law schools across the country, dozens of legal papers discussing ideas like “Code is not law” or what a “smart contract” might represent in a specific jurisdiction.44

Where is the cursory introduction to the history of “smart contracts”? The key figures or dates? Nada. Instead the authors take a deliberately dismissive tone. Because it is easier to dismiss out of hand a priori than do a literature review.

On p. 148 this is the pullquote:

Smart contracts have absolutely nothing to do with legal contracts.

Maybe that is true, where is the rigorous explanation or citation? Oh there is not any.45

On p. 150 after discussing Solidity and the EVM, they write:

Solidity was meant to appeal to the entry-level Javascript developer base, which uses coding practices such as copying and pasting from code aggregator sites like Stack Overflow. As a result, Solidity code generally has a very high defect count and has resulted in a constant stream of high-profile security incidents directly related to coding errors. Some studies have put the defect count at 100 per 1000 lines.

Which studies? Which high-profile security incidents? Who knows, there are no citations.

On p. 151 they write:

Moreover, smart contracts introduce a whole other dimension of complexity to the problem by forcing developers not only to verify the internal consistency and coherence of their software logic but also to model any and all exogenous financial events and market dynamics surrounding the price of the casino tokens used in the software. This hostile execution environment turns a pure computer science question into a composite question of both finance and software and expands the surface area of the problem drastically. At some point in the future, our theoretical models may be able to tackle such problems, but likely not for a long time as these problem are of a truly staggering complexity.

A couple of issues with this:

(1) Is there any number or percentage the author can give to illustrate how “truly staggering” the complexity is?

(2) Do some dapps have a large surface attack, yes. Do DeFi-related hacks still occur on a monthly basis, yes.

Imperfect as they may be, according to DeFi Llama there are a sundry of complex dapps that secure $24 billion of TVL on Ethereum right now, many of which were launched prior to the publication of the book. This include automated market makers such as Uniswap as well as lending protocols such as Aave and Compound.

These serve as illustrations, examples that the authors “long time” is already in the present. Their prediction was wrong.

Unsurprisingly, none of these dapps are mentioned in the book.

On p. 152 they write:

Meanwhile, the reality is that today smart contracts are an unimaginably horrible idea and it is a genuinely horrifying proposition to base a financial system on these structures. Smart contracts synthesize brittle, unverifiable, and corruptible software with irreversible transactions to achieve a result that fails in the most violent way possible when the wind blows even slightly the wrong way. They further lack a key component that most software engineering deployed in the wild requires, a human-in-the-loop to correct errors in the case of extreme unforeseen events such as fraud and software failure.

And what were the authors citations and references in the rant above?

Zilch. It is just their opinion.

I actually want to agree with them on a couple of points but each sentence has something fundamentally wrong with it, notwithstanding the hysterical language.46

The rant continues on the next paragraph:

Thus the very design of smart contracts and blockchain-based assets is entirely antithetical to good engineering practices. The idea of smart contracts is rooted in libertarian paranoia concerning censorship resisters and ignoring externalities instead of a concern for mitigating public harm.

And what are good engineering practices? The authors provide no citation or explanation, it is just their opinion.

Furthermore, recall that the authors worked on Uplink six years ago – which involved using smart contracts – was that idea ‘libertarian paranoia’?

On p. 152 they write:

The most catastrophic smart contract was undoubtedly the DAO hack. The DAO was an experimental, decentralized autonomous organization that loosely resembled a venture fund. Exampled simply, it is a program that would allow users to invest and vote on proposals for projects to which the autonomous logic of the contract would issue funds as a hypothetical “investment.” It was a loose attempt at building what would amount to an investment fund on the blockchain. The underlying contract itself was deployed and went live, consuming around $50 million at the then exchange rate with Ether cryptocurrency. The contract contained a fundamental software bug that allowed an individual hacker to drain DAO accounts into their accounts and acquire the entirety of the community’s marked investment. This hack represented a non-trivial amount of the total Ether in circulation across the network and was a major public relations disaster for the network. The community controversially decided to drastically roll back the entire network to a previous state to revert the hacker’s withdrawal of funds and restore the contract to regular operation.

In the last sentence they cited the 2017 The DAO report from the SEC.

There are at least four issues with it, working backwards:

(1) It is missing “the” between with and Ether in the 5th sentence.

(2) The community is not defined here, there were a number of key participants who were discussed in several books, including one I reviewed last year. This chapter is ten pages long, there is ample space to discuss the “most catastrophic smart contract” in more depth.

(3) How do they define “most catastrophic smart contract”? Do they mean by ETH or USD lost?

(4) Strangely, the authors do not mention that a hardfork took place and two separate networks emerged: Ethereum Classic (which was the original chain that the “DAO hack” still existed on) and Ethereum, where the hack was effectively smoothed over. Seems like a glaring omission.

On p. 153 they write:

The grandiose promise of smart contracts was for applications that build decentralized Internet applications called dApps. These dApps would behave like existing web and mobile applications but counter interface with the blockchain for persistence and consume or transmit cryptocurrency as part of their operations.

There is a big typo that make the 2nd sentence unintelligible: “but counter interface.” What does that mean? An errant “counter” in the middle?

Continuing in the same paragraph:

Much of the smart contract narrative is built around phony populism and the ill-defined idea that there is an upcoming third iteration of the internet (a Web 3.0) that will interact with smart contracts to provide a new generation of applications. In practice, none of that has manifested in any usable form, and the fundamental data throughput limitations of blockchain data read and write actions make that vision impossible.

You will never have guessed it but Stephen Diehl was a co-organizer for the anti-Web3 letter that circulated two weeks before his book was published. Imagine that, what an amazing marketing coup.

And guess what, he never defines what Web 3.0 is in that letter nor do the authors do so in this book. This despite the fact that Gavin Wood articulated one in 2014.

Sure they can disagree with Wood and other Web 3.0 promoters, but it is misleading to claim it is an “ill-defined idea.”

Furthermore, everything in their second sentence is falsifiable, they cannot make the claims a priori and just walk away.

For instance, there are a group of developers attempting to push a “Sign-in with Ethereum” (SIWE) movement, allowing users to authenticate with off-chain services by signing a message. This is one attempt to reduce the dependence on the oligopoly of single-sign-on from Big Tech firms. One live implementation comes from Auth0 and Spruce.

Don’t like SIWE? Fine, but it existed last year when the authors said nothing did any any usable form.

But how were the authors supposed to know? That is the whole point of market research and due diligence.

The authors continue on p. 153:

Most live smart contracts instead fall into a limited set of categories: gambling, tumblers, NFTs, decentralized exchanges, and crowd sales. The vast majority of code running on the public ethereum network falls into one of these categories, with a standard set of open-source scripts driving the bulk of the contract logic that is evaluated on the network. However, there is a wide variety of bespoke scripts associated with different ICO companies and high-risk gambling products that are bespoke logic and act independently of existing community standards and practices.

How many citations and references did the authors provide for each of the claims? Zero. That which is presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Maybe they are right on all accounts, but they need to bring evidence for each claim.

Furthermore, how do the authors reconcile the handful of categories they state as fact are where “the vast majority of code” can be bucketed as, versus the wider set of categories tracked by Coin Gecko and DeFi Llama?

On p. 153 they write:

The most common script is an ERC20 token, a contract that allows users to issue custom token crowd sales on top of the ethereum blockchain.

And exactly how common is it? What percentage were ERC20 token “scripts” (as they call them) in a specific year. Maybe they are right.

A quick google finds that according to Alex Vikati, in May 2018, that half of the top 100 contracts (by transaction count) were ERC20. The top non-ERC20 contract was Idex, a decentralized exchange.

Fast forward to 2022, according to Cryptoslate, Uniswap V3 was by a wide margin, the most widely used contract in terms of gas used. We should charge the authors for finding relevant citations.

On p. 154 they write about ERC20 tokens:

The total supply of these tokens in any one of these contracts was a custom fixed amount, and by interacting with the ERC20 contract, the buyers’ tokens were instantly liquid and could be exchanged with other users according to the rules of the contract. This is the standard mechanism that drove the ICO bubble and related speculation, and this token sale contract is overwhelmingly the most common use case for smart contracts.

They could be right but a citation needed for that last claim.

Later on the same page they write:

Another class of projects is the digital collectibles and digital pets genre. One of the most popular is CryptoKitties: a game in which users can buy, sell, and breed cartoon kittens.

The authors might want to rethink using CryptoKitties as an example because even in 2022 and definitely 2023 the project was a thing of the past.

Source: NFT Stats

It is too bad the authors eschewed any use of charts because they could have used public price charts such as the one above. As we can see, over the past three months trading activity CryptoKitties is pretty much for the birds, like the rest of the art and collectible NFT market.

On p. 154 they write:

Gambling products overwhelmingly dominate the remaining set of contracts.

What is their source? Citation needed.

On p. 155 they write:

The ICO bubble marked a significant increase in the interest in smart contracts arising from outlandish claims of how cryptocurrency ventures would disintermediate and decentralize everything from the legal profession and electricity grid to food supply chains. In reality, we have seen none of these visions manifest, and the technology is primitive, architecturally dubious, and lacking in any clear applications of benefit to the economy at large. The ecosystem of dApps is a veritable wasteland of dead projects, with none having more than a few hundred active users at best.

Oh?

The authors of the book on a road trip

I actually agree with at least half of what they said above but they do not provide any citations at all.

Where do they get the dapp users numbers? Maybe they are correct, but what is the source of information?

For example:

Source: DappRadar

A quick googling found an article from last year from DappRadar. The colored lines (above) shows the Number of Unique Active Wallets interacting with dapps. According to DappRadar, in Q1 2022, 2.38 million daily Unique Active Wallets connected to blockchain dapps on average.

You might disagree with DappRadar but the authors of the book did not present any source at all. Do better next time.

On p. 155 they write:

The very design of a smart contract is to run on an unregulated network which prevents it from interfacing with external systems in any meaningful fashion. This confusion around the namesake of smart contracts has been exploited by many parties to sell products and services.

Surely since it has been “exploited by many parties” the authors would be able to provide a citation or reference? Nope.

Maybe they are right but they also seem to be making up things as they go along. Don’t trust, verify is the motto, right?

Also, what exactly did Adjoint do with smart contracts in 2017-2018 time frame? Were they one of the entities trying to sell products and services around smart contracts via Uplink?

On p. 155 there is a pullquote:

Smart contracts claim to not trust external central authorities, but they cannot function without them. Thus the idea is doomed by its own philosophy.

I think there is some merit to the arguments they make around oracles in this chapter but the pullquote itself is just too sweeping and lacks nuance.

For instance, AMMs such as Uniswap use a TWAP oracle which is not an external oracle. The authors are wrong.

On p. 156 they write:

Within the domain of permissioned blockchains, the terminology has been co-opted to refer to an existing set of tools that would traditionally be called process automation. In 2018 so-called enterprise “smart contracts” were the buzzword du jour for consultants to sell enterprise projects.

Are Diehl et al., speaking from first hand experience? See also Evolving language: Decentralized Financial Market Infrastructure.

Continuing they write:

These so-called enterprise smart contracts had very little to do with their counterparts in public blockchains and were existing programming tools such as Javascript, Java, and Python rebranded or packaged in a way that would supposedly impart the “value of the blockchain” through undefined and indeterminate means. Indeed one of the popular enterprise blockchain platforms, IBM Hyperledger, provides a rather expansive definition of smart contracts.

There are a couple issues with this:

(1) The authors are describing “chainwashing” a term I coined more than six years ago. Thanks for the credit guys!

(2) The authors lack attention to detail. There was no such thing as “IBM Hyperledger” and the sole citation they provide confirms that.47 In the end notes for Chapter 14 they cite Hyperledger Fabric Documentation.

IBM is not the same thing as Hyperledger.

The umbrella Hyperledger Project is a branch of the Linux Foundation. IBM is a contributor and sponsor of some of the projects. The fact that the authors conflate the two does not help their credibility.

In fact, there is more than one base-layer blockchain currently incubated within the Hyperledger umbrella including Iroha and Besu. Besu is an independent implementation of Ethereum based on code contributed from ConsenSys called Pantheon.

Continuing on p. 157 they write about Dfinity:

Both these meaningless paragraphs are the embodiment of the blockchain meme. It is an extension of the terminology to include “infinite use cases” through a meaningless slurry of buzzwords. Smart contracts simply are not useful for any real-world applications. To the extent they are used on blockchain networks, smart contracts strictly inferior services or are part of gambling or money laundering operations that are forced to use this flawed system because it is the only platform that allows for illicit financing, arbitrage securities regulation, or avoids law enforcement.

Oh?

Again, even though I may personally agree with some of their opinions, that is all they are, opinions. They need to provide citations otherwise their claims can be dismissed.

Surely the rants will stop now?

Continuing on p. 157 they write:

The insane software assumptions of smart contracts can only give rise to a digital wild west that effectively turns all possible decentralized applications into an all-ports-open honeypot for hackers to exploit and manifests the terrible idea that smart contracts are just a form of self-service bug bounty. These assumptions give rise to an absurd level of platform risk that could never provide financial services to the general public given the level of fraud and risk management required to interact with it.

Oh?

Getting a lot of mileage out of the meme template generator and we still have 90 pages to go. And yes, still no citations.

Their concluding paragraph to the chapter states:

Append-only public data structures, permissionless consensus algorithms, and smart contracts are all exciting ideas; however, combining all three is a nightmare that could never be a foundation for a financial system or for handling personal data. The technology is not fit for purpose and cannot be fixed. To put it simply, smart contracts are a profoundly dumb idea.

They did provide a citation – for ‘nightmare’ – to a paper by Ryan Clements. But it is about algorithmic stablecoins and not about smart contracts.

We have nine chapters left and at this pace, may run out of meme templates.

Also, what is an “append-only public data structure”? The authors throw in a new term without defining or describing it in the very last paragraph of the chapter.

As we all remember from writing class: thou shall not introduce new concepts in the conclusion.

Okay, so two can play that game!

In September 2016, Adjoint put out a press release discussing how it was great honor to be selected for EY’s blockchain challenge.

A quote from Diehl:

So at what point was working on smart contracts bad? Just not during the time Adjoint was involved?

Chapter 15: Blockchainism

This is another chapter I should have liked because it describes chainwashing. But it is five pages long and lacks many examples.

On p. 160 they write:

The alchemy of blockchainism is a concept rooted in the mystique and misunderstanding of the nature of bitcoin’s original approach to establishing trust between otherwise unrelated parties over an untrusted network. Bitcoin has a partial answer to this problem for a specific data structure of a particular application. The core fallacy of blockchainism is extrapolating that cryptocurrency has solved trust in generality rather than specificity. What “solving trust” means will depend on context, but this is central to many books, including Real Business of Blockchain, Blockchain Revolution, The Trust Machine, The Infinite Machine and dozens more books.

I agree. I wholeheartedly agree with this paragraph.

In fact, I wrote two lengthy book reviews of both Blockchain Revolution as well as The Trust Machine. Both were not good but for different reasons than why this book is not good. At least the other two books had an editor go through and sync up the bibliography with the book chapters.

For instance, at the bottom of p. 160 they write:

Professor at Stanford Roy Amara once said of the software field that “we overestimate the impact of technology in the short-term and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

I believe the authors need to add at least one comma before and/or after Roy Amara.

On p. 161 they write:

In this “game-changing” paradigm shift, any existing process that requires a single authoritative source of truth has now found the ultimate vehicle for storing that single source of truth without the authority component. The blockchain (often referred to in singular form) will decentralize power and disintermediate the global economy unlocking new opportunities and building international reciprocity and trust. The seductive marketing around this cliché is that without cryptocurrency, the blockchain itself could convey the same disruptive power as bitcoin for any domain.

The last sentence references an op-ed from Bruce Schneier.

I have re-read this paragraph multiple times. In the margins of the book I wrote “What does this mean?” Is the last sentence a compliment to blockchains? Or were they saying, you could make a blockchain without bitcoin?

Also, there was a “movement” in mid-2015, led by Bitcoin maximalists (and lobbyists and VCs who only invested in or lobbied for Bitcoin) to use a singular form of “blockchain” with the explicit connotation that they were referring to the Bitcoin blockchain, the only one that mattered (to them).

For example, here is one of my all time favorite (now deleted) tweets from a coin lobbyist:

Source: Twitter

They continue on about clichés but it is all too tiring to address so let us move on to the next page.

On p. 162 they write about the blockchain meme. The section overall is good but there is something problematic with the first sentence, writing:

The form of technology that many of these ventures may build is not novel at all; cryptographic ledgers and databases that maintain audit logs have been used since the early 1980s.

This is the type of cherry-picking that maximalists such as Chris DeRose frequently used in 2015-2017. And it was wrong then and it was wrong in 2022 and it is wrong now.

Why? Because “cryptographic ledgers and databases” have not stayed stagnate since the year the Sega Genesis hit toystore shoelves. It is like saying, what is the big deal about SpaceX, Wernher von Braun launched a V-2 into space in 1944.

This type of criticism is lazy cynicism because it assumes the readers are incapable of remembering anything after the Berlin Wall came down.

For example: not all blockchains are identical to Bitcoin and even Bitcoin has moving parts invented between the time David Hasselhoff serenaded East Berlin and Lehman Brothers collapsed.

On p. 163 they write:

Considering trade journalism and press releases from 2018, we see blockchain proposed by many seemingly sensible people as the solution to everything from human trafficking, refugee crises, blood diamonds, and famines to global climate change. This despite most technologists having minimal experience working with vulnerable groups or understanding the political complexities.

100% agree with this point. Unfortunately we still see marginalized groups used for “pulling on the heartstrings” marketing efforts today.

Continuing in the same paragraph they write:

This kind of thinking that blockchain somehow has the answers to our problems has infected consultants, executives, and now even politicians. The one group of people who are not asked about the efficacy of blockchain is programmers themselves, for whom the answer is simple: just use a normal database.

The authors cite a short related blog post from Leif Gensert.

But the authors do not any kind of survey of programmers. We see this same kind of claim in Chapter 25 at the end of the book too. The authors could be correct, but they do not provide any source, it is just their opinion.

The reoccurring problem is Diehl et al. forgot that there are empirical ways to test their thesis.

For example, the line chart (above) shows three types of developers tracked by Electric Capital based on commits to public repos for public chains. In their words: “Only original code authors count toward developer numbers. Developers who merge pull requests, developers from forked commits, and bots are not counted as active developers.”

When the book was published, roughly 8,000 full-time active developers were working on public chains. Is that a lot or a little?

Has anyone asked these developers about the efficacy of a blockchain? Do they have views about whether a project or organization should use “a normal database”? I do not know but it would be disingenuous for me to reject the developers Agency.

On p. 163-164 they write:

The charitable interpretation of this phenomenon is that this is simply an inefficiency in human language that results from civilization collectively defining new terminology and expanding its understanding of technology. However, the terminology itself lends credibility to a domain that primarily consists of gambling, illicit financing, and financial frauds.

This is a bad faith argument. And it is identical to the argument that a Financial Times reporter – the same one who frequently quotes Diehl – recently made regarding central bank digital currencies (CBDC).

We have not even gotten to the CBDC section yet, but the FT article brings an a priori argument to a empirical-based debate. How dare anyone provide nuance and evidence that contradicts your priors!

A disappointing chapter overall, and we still have 80 pages.

Chapter 16: Frauds & Scams

This chapter was eight pages long but could have been a few hundred considering just how many fraudulent projects and scammy endeavors have occurred over the past decade.

On p. 166 they write:

In advanced economies, fraud is always a possibility, but it is usually a tail risk that occurs with a low probability compared to the bulk of routine transactions. Fraud controls and rigorous due diligence are expensive relative to the likelihood of the fraud and, unless other required by law, are many times discard for the sake of saving cost.

Do the authors provide a citation about how common or uncommon fraud is?

Or how often due diligence is discarded or glossed over? Nope.

A typo on p. 166: “tech” should probably be fully written out to “technology.”

A missing letter on p. 167 “onsidering” should be “Considering”

On p. 168 they write the concluding paragraph to the fraud triangle subsection:

The opportunity for cryptocurrency fraud is pervasive simply because the lack of regulatory checks and controls on these ventures is relatively lax or non-existent. In an environment where a single user can abscond or run away with large amounts of investor money, seemingly with little risk to themselves, it will create an environment that will attract less scrupulous individuals. Cryptocurrency businesses are the perfect storm in the fraud triangle, and crypto fraud is today’s most straightforward and widespread form of securities fraud.

I think most of this paragraph is correct, though they cited a book from 1953 that appears to be more about social psychology than cryptocurrencies.

Either way, they showed their hand in the very last two words of the final sentence: everything is securities fraud to these authors, they say so at least a dozen times.

On p. 168 there is a spelling mistake: “swidler” should be “swindler”

On p. 170 they write:

Pump and dump schemes were rampant leading up to the Great Depression and became illegal in the United States in the 1930s after the passing of the Securities Act.

This may be true, but that is a lot of inside baseball for readers outside the U.S.

For instance, what is the Securities Act? What section of the (1933) Securities Act deals or discusses pump and dumps? Since pump and dumps were rampant prior to 1933, any rough figures on how common they were?

On p. 170 they write:

A study of pump and dump schemes has found that 30% of all cryptocurrencies are used in 80% of pump and dump schemes. Once used on a particular crypto successfully, it is very likely that another pump and dump will be done on that same coin again. More importantly, studies show that pump and dump crypto schemes occur with low volume coins with significant wealth transfers from outsiders to insiders, and resulting in detrimental effects on market integrity and price formation.

Good news and bad news. Good news is, they cite six relevant papers. The bad news, they barely paraphrased two of them.

For example, from a blog post from Kamps and Kleinberg:

We found that similarly to the traditional penny-stock market variant, the cryptocurrencies most vulnerable to this type of attack were the less popular ones with a low-market cap. This is due to their low liquidity making them easier to manipulate. We also found that around 30% of the cryptocurrency pairs we analyzed accounted for about 80% of the exhibited pump-and-dump activity.

From the abstract of Li et al.:

The evidence we document, including price run-ups before P&Ds start, implies that significant wealth transfers between insiders and outsiders occur.

The authors did not even paraphrase Kamps and Kleinberg correctly. Notice that K&K said that “around 30% of the cryptocurrency pairs we analyzed” whereas Diehl et al., write “30% of all cryptocurrencies.”

That is not a minor difference. Maybe next edition should just use the actual quotes?

At least the authors are finally citing, right?

On p. 173 they are concluding the chapter:

In many jurisdictions, directors of the company are explicitly banned from touting the expected returns of the investment. However, if one constructs an anonymous community in which others (outside the company) market the token’s investment opportunity, this can be sufficient to drum up market interest in the security. A digital pyramid scheme structure can be encoded indirectly into the computer pogram that dictates the network’s payouts, and this can create indirect kickbacks and incentives for early promoters. This decentralized and self-organizing fraud leaves the directors’ hand completely clean as low-level employees and outside actors purely perform the actions.

Possibly two issues with this paragraph:

(1) Did the authors mean to write “encoded directly” or “indirectly.” The context reads as if they meant to say “directly.”

(2) What they seem to describe here and on the previous page (regarding “distributed control”) might be pursuable via RICO statutes. Five years ago I mentioned that angle in an op-ed. To-date it does not appear that – at least in the U.S. – any RICO-related lawsuits or charges have been filed.

This chapter should have been an amazing slam dunk – it could have included a hundred different scams and/or fraudulent efforts but instead the authors could not even properly paraphrase from a couple papers they cited. A disappointment.

Chapter 17: Web3

I did not fully appreciate how good the authors – and Diehl in particular – were at marketing until I read this book.

I will mention more in the Final remarks later below, but recall that two weeks before this book was published, a gaggle of vocal anti-coiners got a variety of mainstream publications to cover their anti-web 3.0 letter?

Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of overlap between this chapter and the 741-word page letter. To their credit, the authors of the book at least spent 9 pages brewing the soup, let us see how it tastes.

On p. 175 they write:

In recent years, the cryptocurrency project experience something of a public relations problem; leading various actors to choose to refer to cryptocurrency under a different name, “web3”. The narrative of web3 is somewhat intentionally amorphous and open to a wide variety of interpretations. Therein lies the rhetorical power of ambiguous buzzwords in that it acts like an aspirational Rorschach test where everyone will see something different, but everyone assumes it means something positive.

So in 2014 I wrote how “Bitcoin’s PR challenges” and then a year later “The great pivot, or just this years froth?” In the latter I pointed out how VCs such as Adam Draper were telling their Bitcoin-related portfolio to rebrand as “blockchain” companies. This is chainwashing.

The same can definitely be said about the “web3” rebrand to some extent. But. And hear me out: Gavin Wood write up a definition and narrative for “Web 3.0” back in 2014.

You may think Wood was naïve but that specific point is one the authors are incorrect on.

Continuing on p. 175 they write:

While web3 may not be well-defined, five technology categories loosely correspond to some new crypto products that are being marketed under the web3 umbrella term: NFTs, DAOs, Play-To-Earn, DeFi, and the Metaverse.

In the margins of the book I wrote: “What is your definition of web3? And unsurprisingly the authors did not provide one.

They also did not provide a definition of “web3” in the anti-web3 letter last year. Surely it can be done in a nine page chapter?

On p. 176 they write about NFTs:

A significant pat of the web3 ecosystem is creating digital assets known as NFTs. Unlike cryptocurrencies, which are fungible, any individual assets are interchangeable with other digital assets. NFTs are a specific type of smart contract which lives on one of the ethereum or other blockchains that allow programmable blockchain logic.

You might not believe me but not once in this entire chapter or book do they ever write out what the full acronym stands for: non-fungible tokens.

And this omission is important because NFTs existed before CryptoKitties. They existed before the construction of Ethereum.

NFTs first existed as “colored coin” frameworks on Bitcoin but have evolved onto other blockchains, including permissioned chains. The conventional term for all of these efforts is “tokenization.”

The authors can throw shade all day long regarding tokenization efforts of real estate or precious medals, but these are technically “NFTs” — a world that is much broader than the strawman they concoct in this chapter.

This notable omission hurts their credibility, especially since they do not bother explaining the history of the concept.

Source: ChainLeftist

On p. 176 they write:

An NFT is a tradable cryptoasset that internally contains a URL, like those typed into a browser (e.g., https://www.google.com), which points to an external piece of data. This external piece of data could be a document, a file, or an image, but it is stored externally to the NFT itself. Since the image or data associated with an NFT is stored on a public server, any member of the public can “right-click” on the data to access the information independent of the blockchain.

The “right click and save” critique of art and collectible-related NFTs is partially valid.

For example, Cryptopunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) are examples of collections reliant on off-chain 3rd parties, for what the authors describe.

But the authors fail to recognize that there are exists art and collectible NFTs that are generated and live fully on-chain. A non-exhaustive list includes: ArtBlocks, Autoglyphs, Avastars, Chain Runners, Anonymice, and OnChainMonkey (see Slide 7).

On p. 176 they continue:

Some NFTs are even purely conceptual and do not link to any data. In these situations, abstract notions and contextual narratives about the NFT are the products being sold to investors. This setup may be done as a piece of performance art or as a thinly veiled way of raising money on an unregistered secruity investment as a proxy for illegal equity raise in a common enterprise by disguising it as an “NFT project.”

The authors cite the cringey Dan Olsen video published last year. Are the authors lawyers? Not sure. Are they specialists in securities laws? Not sure.

Did they quote or cite a lawyer specialized in securities laws? Nope.

Therefore, what is presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Peter van Valkenburg has something in common with Lionel Hutz

On p. 176 they write:

Buying an NFT is conceptually similar to Name-A-Star registries in which a person pays another person to record their name in a registry, allegedly associating their name to an unnamed star in the sky. The registry conveys no rights, obligations, or rewards, but it is an artificially scarce commodity based on a collective belief in the supposed value of the registry. It is like a tradable receipt with no physical good or rights attached, which only signifies a proof of purchase based on some bizarre and logically self-inconsistent redefinition of ownership or to signal sign value or class status as a form of conspicuous consumption within the crypto community. Many people who sell NFTs are willing to make the conceptual leap that this registry with a smart contract somehow conveys some abstract digital notion of “ownership.” However, this premise has several technical, legal, and philosophical problems.

The authors cite two papers, one from Joshua Fairfield and the other from Aksoy and Üner.

While they both highlight some of the same problems the authors do, neither paper comes to the same conclusions that the authors of the book do. These are real issues but not insurmountable problems.

In fact, companies such as Mintangible have been attempting to help NFT issuers utilize existing copyright licenses to protect their users.

Another edition should not leave the readers under the impression that actual I.P. lawyers are sitting on the sidelines, this is gaslighting.

Also, what does “logically self-inconsistent redefinition” mean? Did the authors add an errant “self” in there?

On p. 177 they write about the duplication problem:

NFTs have been criticized for having no way of guaranteeing the uniqueness of the datum or hyperlink. Since multiple NFTs can be created that reference the same artwork, there is no canonical guarantee of uniqueness that an NFT purchased is “authentic”. It remains unclear what “authentic” would mean regarding infinitely reproducible hyperlinks.

Apart from its polemical zealotry, one of the books core weaknesses is that the authors clearly did not conduct much market research, they certainly did not canvas outside experts to solicit answers some of their questions. It is often tedious to do, but even asking an open question about this on Twitter (now X) would probably have helped their misunderstandings.

For example, marketplaces like OpenSea and Magic Eden allow NFT issuers to become “verified” which help reduce some of the counterfeiting that takes place. Block explorers such as Etherscan allow the general public to inspect all transactions to determine the veracity of provenance; the public can look at the metadata and track the transaction history. You could even do a reverse-image lookup on Google.

On p. 178 they write about the multiple chain problem:

The NFT definition of “ownership” has been criticized as having no single source of trust since multiple blockchain networks can be created and operated in parallel, all of which can give rise to independent and potentially conflicting suppositions of ownership for the same piece of data. The same NFT can be minted on the Tezos blockchain and the Ethereum blockchain, with the same content but with two competition definitions of “ownership.” Give this contradiction in the design, there is no canonical way to say a priori which blockchain network represents the base concept of ownership. This premise presents an intractable logical contradiction a the heart of the definition of NFT redefinition of “ownership”. Having something multiply-owned in different contexts with different sources of truth introduces an irreconcilable multiplicity to the idea of ownership, which results in a philosophical contradiction.

The authors are either straight up lying – or more likely – have never interacted with counterfeit collectibles before.

For instance, my wife and I own a Frederic Remington “Mountain Man” bronze sculpture we got at a garage sale. On the bottom it says it is unique, one of 97 made. But we all know someone who owns one. Ebay is filled with replicas. And Remington himself clearly did not make a million busts during his lifetime.

Yet according to the hyperbolic authors of this book, this replica situation results in a ‘philosophical contradiction.’

The hypothetical scenario that the authors concoct is presents their superficial understanding of how provenance can be traced on a chain.

For instance, auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s are able to quickly determine which digital collectible is the “real” one simply by using a block explorer such as Etherscan.

Lastly, it is worth repeating that the authors use a strawman at the very beginning of this paragraph. They do not provide a single reference or citation for which definition. All around tomfoolery on their part.

On p. 179 they write about market manipulation:

Finally, NFTs have been criticized for excessive amounts of market manipulation and, in particular, significant cases of wash trading that are now expected and normalized in the market. These phenomena make it challenging to ascertain what (if any) of the price formation is organic versus the work of a coordinated cartel attempting to create asymmetric information.

I agree with most of this. I was even quoted saying it was hypothetically possible. But the authors mention that there are “significant cases of wash trading.” What is their reference?

On p. 179 they write about play to earn games:

Some video game company executives saw the popularity of play-to-earn game startups, and announced that they would be creating copycat games or incorporating NFTs into their titles. Major game publishers such as Ubisoft, EA, Square Enix, and others have expressed interest in including such NFT items in their games. The backlash has been tremendous, as serious gamers see it as a shameless unethical money grab. With graphics cards pricing spiking due to crypto miners’ demand, this only added fuel to the flames. The backlash from gamers has been swift with publicly announcing their contempt for NFT and NFT-based games, which led to many apologies and reversals from these gaming companies’ executives.

How many citations and references did the authors provide? Zero.

It is hard to know how much of the public feedback was real versus manufactured anger from anti-coiners who went out of their way to tell reporters the same sort of half-truths he does in this book.

I should know, because I was quoted in a few of the articles. Which articles? Oh now you want references. Too bad, you will need to comb through my archives and google my name and scroll through my tweets.

Note: two months after the book was published the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) was at one point the most popularly traded NFT, surpassing BAYC. A year later, ENS reached the official Google cloud blog:

Source: Google Cloud

On p. 181 they write “Democratic Republic of North Korea” but the formal name is “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” — the government in North Korea does not use the word “North” just like the South Korean government does not use the word “South” to describe itself.

On p. 181 they write about DAOs:

DAOs are a form of regulatory avoidance which attempt to recreate the regulation of creating voting shares in corporations. DAOs place this practice outside the regulatory perimeter and have no recourse for shareholders in the case of embezzlement or fraud. They are best understood as shares in a common enterprise run by potentially anonymous entities and with no restrictions on the provenance of funds held by the “corporation.” However, they may be attached to an enterprise attempting to solve a complicated public goods problem such as fixing climate change or providing universal basic income.

This is one of the few times in the entire book when the authors write something with hedged language.

With that said, the very first sentence is confusingly written. What does “recreate the regulation of creating voting shares” mean?

Did the authors mean to say that DAOs recreate the trappings of a corporation, such as voting shares? Any other examples or references?

The authors write on p. 181:

The notion that we should create unregistered corporate structures whose assets can be transferred to anonymous entities with no corporate reporting obligations is somewhat challenging from a fraud mitigation perspective, especially in a post-Enron world. It remains unclear what the killer use case is for anonymously controlled governance structures around slush funds, other than crime or projects that need avoid regulation.

Couple of things:

(1) There is a missing word in the last sentence, likely needs to insert “to” between need and avoid. Also add an “s” at the end of need.

(2) A second edition should incorporate some of the criticisms of DAOs from legal practitioners such as Gabriel Shapiro. Shapiro has written extensively on this topic.

Note: the authors cite Angela Walch’s novel paper, Software Developers as Fiduciaries in Public Blockchains. I have previously cited Walch’s works, including this paper. But it does not really back-up what the authors are asserting here. They cited it after “fraud mitigation perspective” — what part of Walch’s paper do they think helps their argument?

On p. 182 they write about DeFi

Defi is a broad category of smart contracts that loosely correspond to digital investment schemes running on a blockchain that allows users to create loans out of stablecoin and have side payouts in so-called governance tokens.

A few issues:

(1) They need to capitalize the “f” of DeFi in the first sentence (the use ‘DeFi’ throughout the remainder of this section)

(2) While there may be various definitions for “DeFi” even back in mid-2022 the authors could have easily found several overlapping definitions, maybe in the next edition they can provide one as an example.

(3) The authors probably should add an “s” to the end of “stablecoin”

(4) Not every DeFi project uses “stablecoins” for collateral. In fact, it is possible to collateralize a project in a non-pegged coin.

Lending protocols such as Aave and Compound have white-listed collateral, most of which – even in mid-2022 – is not a pegged coin. 48

(5) What are governance tokens? Who knows. They only mention it here in passing and never return to it.

On p. 182 they write:

DeFi generally refers to a collection of services that offer lending products offered by non-banks and which exist outside the regulatory perimeter as a form of regulatory arbitrage and to fund margin trading activities to speculate on cryptoassets.

The authors cite a relevant paper from Barbereau et al. In a second edition the authors could build from this foundation, because one of the weakest areas is highlighted in this specific paper: failure to achieve political decentralization (e.g., end up with a plutocracy run by a handful of venture capitalists).

On p. 182 they discuss an interview with Sam Bankman-Fried on Odd Lots, but without mentioning his name.

One of the strangest phenomenon from anti-coiners this past year is the victory laps they take when some scam is revealed, as if they helped take down the fraudsters. “See I told you so!” they type out victoriously on Twitter.

Actually, no you did not. The authors of this book – like the rest of the industry – were completely oblivious to the actual crimes committed by SBF. If they make this claim, be sure to ask for receipts.

On p. 183 they dive into the Metaverse:

The metaverse is another intentionally ambiguous term for an alleged new technology. On October 21, 2011 Facebook after having been mired in whistleblower leaks, scandals, and a near-constant press cycle of relentless adverse reporting, decided to pivot away from its controversial social media business and build what they called The Metaverse.

A couple of issues with this passage:

(1) The authors got the year wrong, it was 2021 not 2011.

(2) While Facebook did rebrand to “Meta” and allegedly went all-in on “the metaverse” — they never actually did a full pivot: the did not close down their major products (such as Instagram and Facebook). That is not really a quibble with the authors, as Mark Zuckerberg himself has mentioned a pivot (which they did again). Rather, the audience should be informed of what a pivot typically is.

The next sentence is missing punctuation, as they write:

The metaverse itself is an idea first postulated in the science fiction novel Snow Crash by In the novel, the metaverse refers to a virtual world sperate from the physical one, which is accessible through virtual reality terminals. Stephenson describes a bleak cyberpunk…”

Grammar issue: the authors should add “Neal Stephenson” after “by” and then a period.49

In the concluding paragraph of this chapter, the authors write on p. 184:

The post hoc myth-making that has emerged around the metaverse and crypto synthesis is that somehow digital assets such as NFTs will become tradable assets in Facebook’s virtual worlds and that their alleged utility in virtual reality will become a way to generate income in the metaverse, which supposedly and necessarily, needs to be denominated in crypto. The myth of the metaverse has captivated the media, who have written no end of vapid think pieces feeding the vaguely colonialist rhetoric of a new virtual frontier for a new generation to colonize and capitalize. Many tech startups have since spun up companies based purely around virtual land grabs, in which plots of land in digital spaces are auctioned based on some narrative about their perceived utility in some distant future. The irony of this premise is that virtual worlds do not suffer from any concept of scarcity, except the ones their developers artificially introduce. Even if we accept the far-fetched premise of the existence of new virtual worlds, why should those worlds inherit the same hypercapitalist excesses as our present world?

Working backward, that is a fantastic question guys! Where were your hot takes during Second Life’s heyday? Or any MMO for that matter?

Are you aware that developers still create artificial scarcity in a host of games in order to sell power ups of all kinds?

Source: Newzoo

Are the authors against digital wares by video game developers? Or only against the sale of digital wares if the acronym NFT is involved? Their inconsistency is tiring.

I personally agree with some of their skepticism of user adoption of token-based economies in future games, but they do not give a lot of reasoning as to why readers should be up in arms about it.

The two references they provide – one by Paris Marx and the other from Alice Zhang – do not add much to the authors unwavering bravado.

For instance, six months before publishing this book, Paris Marx interviews Diehl in a podcast entitled: Web3 is a Scam, Not a Revolution. It all comes across as being strong opinions, yelled loudly.

Chapter 18: Stablecoins

This six page chapter was disappointing because apart from a blurb on CBDCs at the end, it only discussed Facebook’s Libra project. It did not explain the history of pegged stabelcoins and it did not mention who other centralized issuers were.

This is strange because Libra never launched. Yet today at the time of this writing both USDT and USDC – the largest issuers of USD-pegged stablecoins – account for around 90% of all USD-pegged stablecoin supply.

Source: The Block

You would think the authors might write about how Tether Ltd – and its parent company iFinex – had been sued and settled with both the CFTC and the New York Attorney General. And how during those investigations the prosecutors learned that Tether LTD – and iFinex – executives publicly lied about their reserves. Easy slam dunk, no?

Who knows why they focused on a project that never launched, perhaps it is because David Gerard – one of their fellow anti-coiners – wrote a book about Libra during this time frame too? 50 It is an enigma!

On p. 185, their introductory paragraph states:

In the digital age, whoever owns the world’s data owns the future. To that end, in 2018, American social media company Facebook announced it was launching a cryptocurrency project known as Libra, which would form the basis of the singularly most extensive surveillance system outside of government.

The paragraph continues but they even got the timeline wrong. While there had been rumors – for months – that Facebook was doing something with cryptocurrencies and blockchains – the formal announcement did not take place until June 18, 2019.

On p. 186 they discuss “the idea of stablecoins” without mentioning the elephant in the room (Tether / USDT). Instead they state:

Facebook is its core advertising company, and its advertising business is enormously lucrative. The microtargeting of ads to consumers generated $70.7 billion in 2019. However, as a public company there are only so many sectors that would satiate the company’s expected growth. The company’s expansion into the financial services sector was the natural choice given the relative stagnation of the social media market.

There are a few errors:

(1) The authors need to include “at” between is and its in the first sentence.

(2) How do we know it was the “natural choice”? Is this speculation on the part of the authors? Are financial services the terminus for all technology companies?

(3) The authors should be clearer that Facebook generated $69.6 billion of revenue from ads in 2019. The current wording is only correct insomuch as they are detailing total revenue.

On p. 187 they write:

The degree of public scrutiny came in full force after the company announced its intentions with Libra. The project was widely criticized for its overreach, lack of compliance with existing regulations, and threads to the sovereignty of existing nations to control their currencies. European representatives nearly universally denounced the project, and several United States senators issued veiled threats to the Libra consortium members to withdraw from the project. The consortium members caved to these demands, and the more respectable companies such as PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard all withdrew from the project.

Most of the information is true but the authors do not provide any citations. In fact, David Marcus – then head of the Libra team – testified in front of a Senate committee a month after Libra was announced. And Mark Zuckerberg – the CEO and co-founder of Facebook – appeared before a congressional hearing four months after Libra was announced.

Both Marcus and Zuckerberg were publicly questioned about Libra and that is not mentioned in the book.

While that omission is strange, unsurprisingly the authors call “PayPal, Visa, and Mastercard” more respectable companies. That seems consistent with their earlier views.

As we have pointed out in this review: PayPal has operated like a centralized stablecoin issuer since it was created. And both Visa and Mastercard operate a rent-seeking duopoly in the U.S.

Speaking of which, Raj Dhamodharan EVP of Blockchain at Mastercard recently did a podcast explaining how Mastercard regarding stablecoins, bank deposits and CBDCs. Is this a scam – because it involves cryptocurrencies – or is it okay since Mastercard is working on it?

On p. 188 they write:

The mechanism proposed for maintaining consensus of the Libra ledger state was significantly revising the models found in public cryptocurrency projects. Bitcoin allows any user running the protocol to connect and participate in the consensus state and submit transactions. However, Libra being run as a business created a context in which only large corporations would be invited to maintain the consensus state and run the servers to maintain the network. These corporations would all maintain legal contracts with the Libra entity and theoretically run individual nodes of software that Facebook provided them. The governance model of the Libra consortium was a performative farce, and the engineering behind the protocol reflected the same level of theatricality.

This is incorrect in a few areas:

(1) There comment regarding Bitcoin needs clarification; in practice “participate in the consensus state” is distinct from “submit transactions.”

For example, while anyone can run a Bitcoin “mining client” on their computer at home, they will likely not generate the correct value to build a block (e.g., ‘solo’ mining is not typically profitable). While a user can run a full node at home – and certainly submit transactions – it is not really the same thing as building a block which “pools” do today.

(2) It is unclear how the authors evaluated the engineering talent and protocol itself since they do not provide any citations. Labeling everything a scam or fraud is not an argument, it is an opinion.

On p. 188 they write:

Instead of a consensus model like proof-of-work, which would have been unsuited and inefficient for the Libra case, Facebook invested in a not-invented-here form of a classical consensus algorithm known as Paxos; and named their derived implementation HotStuff. The goal of this setup served no purpose other than giving the appearance of decentralization. A closed network in which a fixed set of corporate validators maintained a faux-decentralized state was, for all intents and purposes, equivalent to a centralized setup of replicated servers. This performative decentralization permeates all levels of the Libra codebase and the project. In all aspects, the codebase is trying very hard to convince you it is like other public blockchain projects when it bears little similarity in practice.

Oh?

The authors ranted about HotStuff and were wrong.

HotStuff was created by engineers at VMware in March 2018. See the paper from Yin et al.

HotStuff is not based on Paxos but instead is based on PBFT. Some of the VMware team were hired by Facebook and others hired away by other blockchain teams, such as ChainLink and Ava Labs (the group behind Avalanche).

The authors also fail to produce a single reference for what part of the codebase was trying hard to convince you it was not a public blockchain. Perhaps the github repository was acting weird, but readers are left in the dark about what it was.

Also worth pointing out that the Sui and Aptos public blockchain projects absorbed some of the talent from the Libra / Diem team that disbanded after it was shutdown in January 2022. And Silicon Valley Bank purchased some of Diem’s (Libra) I.P. assets. All of this was concluded before the publication of the book.

Lastly, the authors still do not explain what Paxos is or what “not-invented-here” means. A second edition needs to explain what these “classical” consensus mechanisms are, at least at a high level.

On p. 189 they write:

Facebook Libra was a project of paradoxes, contradictions, and gross mismanagement, which ultimately led to its failure. However, if the project had launched, it would have enabled Facebook to engage in predatory pricing, self-dealing, and the capacity to annex adjacent markets, all while not subject to Bank Holding and Secrecy acts that protect consumers deposits by virtue of being a technology company dealing in its own allegedly “sovereign” currency. Nevertheless, Facebook remains a deeply unethical company that attracts the most deranged and opportunistic employees with no regard for the integrity of democracy or public well-being. Facebook is a company that is the very embodiment of corporate irresponsibility and depravity at every level.

I am sure there are many readers who would like to dance on Facebook (Meta’s) grave too, but at least get the facts straight.

For instance, what ultimately led to Libra (Diem’s) failure was that its banking partners (specifically the custody banks) were pressured to not support its launch.

For example, Diem had deployed a public testnet during its lifetime and the throughput numbers were considerably higher than other public blockchains, yet politically in the U.S. it was unpalatable. Which is part of the reason why some of those engineers went on to build Sui and Aptos, which are high-throughput chains.

Moving along, what is the “Bank Holding and Secrecy acts”? Do the authors mean the Bank Holding Company Act of 1956 and the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970? Which parts of the act(s) was Libra (Diem) subject to?

Lastly, the authors should probably add an “s” to the end of Facebook in the first sentence. And a second edition should briefly explain the name changes (Facebook -> Meta and Libra -> Diem) all of which occurred prior to the publication of the first edition.

Over a mere three paragraphs the authors write about Central Bank Digital Currencies, starting on p. 190:

The Facebook project and its implication as a threat to countries’ national sovereignty has given rise to a recent digital transformation trend for central banks to explore similar ideas. These projects are known as central bank digital currencies. The proposition is simple and based on the fact that central banks typically have enormous balance sheets of their lending activities and hold the accounts for many entities that interact with the Federal Reserve or the European Central Bank. Several central banks, including the People’s Bank of China and the Boston Federal Reserve, are exploring projects to this end.

There are multiple problems with this:

(1) The history is completely incorrect. Experiments and pilots with CBDCs occurred long before Libra existed.

For example, Project Jasper was a project involving the Bank of Canada and R3; phase 1 was accidentally leaked to the public in 2016. As I mentioned previously, Project Argent (another R3-led effort) partially spun-off into World Wire.

The Utility Settlement Coin consortium was launched by UBS and Clearmatics in 2015; it grew to over a dozen commercial banks and multiple central bank participants before spinning off into Fnality International in May 2019 (formalized just before the Libra announcement).

There were other separate, independent efforts taking place simultaneously around the globe. In fact, the term “Fedcoin” (created by J.P. Koning) pre-dates all of these ideas by multiple years.

A second edition should pay closer attention to these examples.

(2) The authors do not mention that there are multiple different CBDC models, some focused specifically on “retail” uses and some on “wholesale” uses.

Source: CBDC Tracker

For instance, the map (above) comes from CBDC Tracker. Each dot represents a pilot, trial, or even production implementation of a CBDC. In some cases they use a blockchain, in others, they do not.

The authors could peruse the literature from the Bank for International Settlement (BIS) as well as the Bank of England, both of which have produced research on this topic prior to the advent of Libra.

For instance, the “Money Flower Diagram” was published in a BIS publication in 2017:

Note: CADcoin was the name given to the digital asset used in Project Jasper; this was about three years before Libra was announced.

On p. 190 they write:

Advocates have generally embraced Libra and CBDCs as an “on-ramp to cryptocurrency” and praised the project for its illusory legitimacy to unrelated projects like bitcoin. However, Facebook and central banks are not building cryptocurrencies, and at best, digitizing existing accounting and payments systems. These proposed solutions bear no resemblance to bitcoin or any cryptocurrencies although and use this confusion is used as part of the blockchain meme to confuse the public.

There are at least five problems in this passage:

(1) Can the authors give us an example of an advocate who embraced both Libra and CBDCs who did not also work for Libra?

(2) Facebook’s Libra (Diem) project had closed its doors about five months before this book was published, so they should have at least put the second sentence it in past tense.

(3) Since the authors do not define or provide any model for what a CBDC is, it is clear in their 2nd sentence they are making it all up. Claiming that “at best” it is “digitizing existing accounting and payments systems” is wrong. They should consult an actual expert next edition.

(4) The last sentence is wrong because there are dozens of CBDCs proposals and implementations, some of which do share and use Ethereum-related infrastructure. The only people confused are the authors, and the Financial Times who for some reason quotes them.

(5) Lastly, there is some grammatical issues with the final sentence. Do they mean to use “although” or “use”?

On p. 190 they continue in their concluding paragraph:

Digital currencies are not synonymous with cryptocurrency, especially when a central issuer offers it. Digital currencies and payment rails are an essential part of public infrastructure that – especially in the United States – needs to transition from slow legacy batch systems that operate 3-4 times a week to real-time payment systems that other developed economies regularly use. These efforts are separate and entirely unrelated to cryptocurrency. Distributed ledger technology has nothing to offer central bank digital currencies as a central bank by definition, centralizes the architecture.

Every single sentence in this paragraph has an issue:

(1) Why is it “especially” when a central issuer offers it? The authors had the chance to explore centralized pegged-coins in this chapter but only focused on a project that never launched, Libra.

Are USDC and USDT not considered part of the “cryptocurrency” world because they are centrally issued? Maybe that is the case, but they did not bother to spell it out.

(2) FedNow was publicly announced August 5, 2019. Six weeks later there were congressional hearings about real-time payments on September 25-26 2019. That is nearly three years before the publication of this book. The authors did not fully describe how often “batch systems” operated in the U.S. during that time or why that aspect was important.

(3) Some of the efforts, such as FedNow, are indeed unrelated to CBDCs, but not every RTP and CBDC project around the world are mutually exclusive.51

(4) This is the first time the authors mentioned “distributed ledger technology” and they do not define it for the audience. And just two paragraphs above they mention the Boston Federal Reserve is exploring projects (Project Hamilton) and guess what the Boston Fed is using? A derivative of Bitcoin.

Overall everything in this subsection is wrong. Yet, strangely enough the authors (twice!) cite a solid paper from Kiff et al. That paper mentions “blockchain” 22 times and “smart contracts” 25 times. Did the authors even read it?

Lastly, the authors had a big miss, not predicting at least one of the problems facing centralized pegged-coin reliant on commercial banks as custodians: a credit event for the custody bank.

For example, two years ago I explained potential credit events with Signature Bank and Silvergate Bank (which Circle used as custodians to hold reserves backing USDC):

Where is Diehl et al. prediction? Nothing specific was mentioned in this chapter or book. They also missed the opportunity to discuss collateral-backed assets such as Dai and Rai.

If you are still reading this review it is worth taking a break because we still have more than fifty pages to go and the errors continue.

Chapter 19: Crypto Journalism

This chapter could have easily been filled with public antics from coin reporters who have gone out of their way to promote specific cryptocurrencies or even acted as sycophants to coin personalities, like SBF.

Instead readers are provided less than five pages of content, and only one that mentions disclosures.

On p. 192 they write:

The confusion about trade journalism as a reliable source is unfortunately common in the absence of authoritative mainstream reporting on cryptocurrency. Government bodies and financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, United States Securities and Exchange Commission, and FinCEN regularly cite cryptocurrency trade journalism as the basis for public policy.

If by “regularly cite” the authors mean, the IMF, SEC, and FinCEN will refer to a coin zine in the footnotes, then yes they do. Is that good or bad? It depends on the facts-and-circumstances.

Unfortunately the authors do not provide a single example so we have no idea what they think.

Continuing on the next page they write about the ICO bubble:

This process of credibility purchasing, exploitation of transitive trust, and stoking a “fear of missing out” was a core part of the engine that drove the ICO bubble and was a lucrative enterprise for those participating in it. Several unethical publications silently pulled their articles touting tokens that were later the subject of lawsuits or criminal investigations.

Which publications? Which tokens? What lawsuits and criminal investigations? We have no idea because there is no citation.

On p. 193 they write:

The articles pushed by these outlets vary from the mundane to the bizarre, but several trends are apparent headline trends across most outlets. The first narrative is an almost pending corporate adoption of bitcoin or blockchain technology.

Can we get an example? A reference?

In the same paragraph they write:

The content of the articles will cherry-pick quotes from seemingly mundane internal report on emerging trends in financial services to support whatever position the outlet is looking to promote. The contents of these reports rarely ever support any research and hesitation.

Can we get an example? A reference?

The only citation for the whole paragraph (which is even longer than what was quoted above) is to a very short Financial Times blog post about Terra.

At the bottom of p. 193 they discuss news about Venezuela and Zimbabwe, stating:

The narrative pushed by cryptocurrency outlets is that the citizens of these nations are fleeing their domestic currencies in favor of digital currencies as a flight to safety. While it is true that there are some users of cryptocurrencies in these nations, as there are in most internet-connected countries, there is absolutely no macro trend of citizens towards bitcoin as a means of exchange.

They cite a relevant article from Reuters regarding Venezuela. But it is worth highlighting that once again, in the last part of the final sentence, the authors cannot stop talking about bitcoin. It lives rent-free in their minds.

Yet the world of cryptocurrencies and blockchains is much larger than the orange memecoin.

On p. 194 they write:

During the height of the ICO bubble, investigative journalists looked into the price for journalists to promote a given ICO project at various cryptocurrency outlets. Shockingly the investigation found the prices of an article from a low of $240 to a high of $4500.

Hurray, they finally provided a relevant citation! This is what the chapter should have included, similar stories.

Throughout this chapter – and in particular this section – I kept wondering what were you guys doing in 2017-2018?

Did you warn the public about what you perceived as scammy ICOs? This would have been a good spot for the authors to provide some bonafides.

Chapter 20: Initial Coin Offerings

This chapter has one of their strongest sections and also has some of their worst prose and arguments. at 16 pages it could definitely serve as the foundation for a new edition.

On p. 197 they write:

During 2017-2019 there was a massive secondary bubble on top of the cryptocurrency bubble in which fledgling blockchain companies used the ethereum blockchain as part of crowd sale activities to sell custom tokens representing alleged ownership in new enterprises.

This is not 100% accurate. Not every ICO during that time frame only used Ethereum.

For instance, in July 2017, Binance conducted its ICO that raised $15 million, split between BTC and ETH. That same month Tezos raised around $232 million from approximately 66,000 BTC and 361,000 ETH. The authors do not provide any examples. Also, not every ICO claimed the tokens represented ownership in new enterprises. That is something the authors made up.

On p. 197 they write:

The simple fact remains that no company that raised funds under an ICO model has taken any profitable product to market.

That is probably true, but they do not provide a reference. An outlier for sure, but an example of one company that did was Binance, which operates the largest centralized exchange by spot volume. 52

On p. 197 they write:

The first ICO was in 2013 for a small project called Mastercoin. The project raised $2.3 million by selling a custom digital token for a specific exchange amount of bitcoin and ethereum per new token issued.

While Mastercoin (later rebranded as Omni) is widely considered to have conducted the “first” public ICO, the authors are incorrect on at least one detail: Ethereum did not even exist at this time.53

Nor did anyone participating in the Mastercoin ICO ever exchange ETH for the new token because Mastercoin lived on top of Bitcoin (it was similar to other “colored coin” projects at the time). I wrote a paper on this topic nearly eight years ago, feel free to use the works cited.

On p. 198 they write:

For ICO exit scams, the strategy is straightforward. You construct a fantastical prospectus that makes wild claims about a product or business imply or outright state that investment will increase in value over time and incur massive returns for early investors. Then you raise the money and then hop on a plane to a country without an extradition treaty and launder the money into the local currency. This is known as a exit scam or rug pull.

This was an enjoyable paragraph to read. To their credit they did cite a New York Times article that provides some examples. Yet a second edition should clarify that it is “an extradition treaty with the U.S.” (or a relevant jurisdiction) Also, probably need to use “an” instead of “a” in front of exit scam.

On p. 198 they write:

This is the simplest and most common form of ICO business model. The best example of this is the April 2018 Vietnamese scam for two companies named Ifan and Pincoin. The two firms are alleged to have misled approximately 32,000 investors and stolen upwards of $660 million.

I recall that sad story, even mentioned it in the private newsletter (mentioned earlier):

Source: Post Oak Labs newsletter

The authors say it is the most common form of ICO business model. Do the authors have a percentage or other figure to determine how common it is?

On p. 199 they discuss the Telegram ICO involving the The Open Network (TON) token. The authors use the date of 2020 but the references they cited actually refer to the year 2019. The authors should revise the language because the lawsuit was in October 2019.

On p. 199 they write:

The secondary economic question pertains to the fact that the overwhelming majority of these companies have produced nothing of value. The lack of any marketable blockchain artifacts raises some existential questions about the utility of this sector.

That may be the case but the authors are trying to have it both ways. On the one hand they demand evidence, on the other hand they a priori dismiss all blockchains and cryptocurrencies as utility-free. They need to be consistent.

On p. 200 they write:

The question remains where did all this money go? Not all of it was spent on Lamborghinis, parties, and cocaine (although a fair amount was).

There is no citation, so how do the authors know “a fair amount was”?

Continuing in the same paragraph:

While it is true that these companies have created jobs, however, this kind of job creations is the equivalent to paying employees to dig ditches and then fill it back up again. The parable of the broken window is an economic thought experiment regarding whether a child breaking a window is a net win for the economy simply due to the window having to be replaced. The activity of replacing the window has unseen costs that, when netted over all of the participants, are in aggregate negative over the opportunity costs of other productive activities. ICOs, simply put, are a society-level misallocation of capital that incurs a massive opportunity cost in the number of productive things and companies that could be built with said capital.

That is probably true – in fact I agree with the thrust of this passage – but they do not provide any example to strengthen their position. Frédéric Bastiat’s parable that they dutifully summarize can be explored in a second edition; the authors could explain what the ICO funds could have been spent on instead. Although this is tangential to the broader issues around consumer (and investor) protections.

On p. 200 they write:

For coins that are neither exit scams nor thinly-veiled pump and dump schemes, there is another class of projects with slow-burn failures. This class of ventures stems from the inability to deliver on unrealistic business defined by the whitepaper. These whitepapers typically involved appeals to vague buzzword and aspirations to build software built around “decentralization” memes and vague terms such as: Immutable, Decentralized, Trustless, Secure, Tamper-proof, Disintermediated, Open/Transparent, Neutral, Direct transfer of value.

I agree with the authors because what they are basically describing is chainwashing. But the problem is they are throwing rocks at glass houses because Adjacent did something similar back in 2016-2018. Just look through the direct quotes from Diehl and his colleagues during that time frame.

For what it is worth, I think it would have been consistent for them to criticize using these phrases all while explaining they have first hand experience in the industry (which Diehl has removed from his online biography).

On p. 200 they write:

Several jurisdictions became ICO-friendly to encourage innovation and job growth, to collect taxes, and to expand the possibilities of having homegrown domestic startup success stories. The most popular choices for jurisdictions were the Swiss canton of Zug and the island of Malta. The Swiss banking culture of client confidentiality encouraged many ICO companies to incorporate in the Zug region and then use the Swiss or Lichtenstein banking system to convert their bitcoin and ethereum into Francs and enter the traditional financial system. These funds could then be distributed to British offshore trusts, often set up in Gibraltar, to hide the funds from taxation and lawsuits.

The authors provide a reference to a note by Julianna Debler. While it discusses jurisdictional issues, it does not mention anything about Switzerland, Malta, or Lichtenstein.

How do we know these were the most popular jurisdictions? How do we know the funds were setup in Gibraltar? The authors may know something but did not provide a citation for it.

On p. 202 they write:

The average Series A for an American startup is around $13 million. However, these ICO funds raised capital 10-100 times that of a typical Series A round.

There is definitely a lot of blame to go around, but there is no reason to make up anything when publicly known facts seem incriminating.

For instance, what source do the authors derive the average Series A figure? When I lived in the Bay area the average Series A was typically between $2m – $5 million. According to Carta, in Q1 2023 the median cash raised for a Series A was $6.4 million.

But let us assume that the authors are correct, that the figure is closer to $13 million. They are also saying that “these ICO funds” raised $130m – $1.3 billion. Which funds were they referring to? Only a couple dozen ICOs raised more than $100m. A few outliers, like EOS, raised more than $1 billion.

On p. 202 they write:

There was an unusual pattern of ICO-backed tech ventures founded entirely by lawyers and social media influencers with no technical leadership. From a technical perspective, many of these slow-burn companies attempted to build the software proposed in their initial whitepaper only to find that the underlying technology stack they initially proposed was simply too slow, immature, or impossible to support their product pitched. Many companies overpromised the capacity of so-called smart contracts to build arbitrarily complex financial products and were quickly hit by the hard limitations shortly after investigating the technology. In the absence of experienced technical leadership, many of these companies attempted to remedy the immaturity of the software themselves and hired repeated iterations of teams unsuccessfully to build what they had initially promised.

Anecdotally I have heard similar stories but the authors should provide examples or a reference.

On p. 203 they write about Crazy Coins. This is one of the most interesting sections in the book. However it is worth pointing out that very few of them were actual ICOs.

On p. 207 they discuss celebrity endorsements, writing:

On the back of the speculative bubble of coin offerings, many entrepreneurs recruited a variety of people to promote these investments. These included many celebrities such as rappers and Hollywood actors who used their influence and social media presence to tout unregistered securities.

The authors do not mention if they are licensed lawyers or consulted lawyers yet many chapters are littered with accusations such as “tout unregistered securities.”

That may true but the accusation has to be proven in a court. So a future edition should add hedging words like “alleged” or “possible.” Or they could quote a securities attorney.

On p. 208 they discuss court cases, starting with the SEC lawsuit with Telegram. While the authors seem to do a good job summarizing the case, they miss one minor detail: The Open Network eventually launched. Telegram users can transfer Toncoin (the token) to other users on the app itself.

On p. 210 they write:

This model appeals to entrepreneurs as it increase the addressable investor pool to include international and unaccredited individuals who may not otherwise be able to participate.

This may or may not be true. Either way, the authors never explain what an accredited versus unaccredited individual is or what jurisdiction they are referring to (likely the U.S.).

On p. 210 they write:

Companies that engage in this sale often create a Theranos-style long firm whose premise is based on increasingly large token sales on top of a company that is either empty or fraudulent. For these companies, statement is simple: the token is the product.

There are a couple of grammatical issues. What is a “Theranos-style long firm”? What does “statement is simple” mean?

The authors reference an interesting and relevant paper from Paul Momtaz. However the Momtaz paper does not mention Theranos at all.

At the top of p. 211 they write:

Regulars are given many additional political tools to enforce rulings, however, the primary mechanism of action is to bring suits against the worst violations after the fact. Under-resourced regulators will simply often go after the top 20% of worst cases that will result in clear legal precedence and prevent future violations, but on the whole, the system lacks the resources to pursue every case.

There are a couple of issues:

(1) They misspell “regulators” in the first sentence (“Regulars” -> “Regulators”)

(2) Where do they refer the “top 20%” of worst cases? Where does that figure come from?

On p. 211 they write about tokens as illegal securities, writing:

The economic crises of the 1920s and 1930s led to a new variety of laws to curb the excesses of wild speculation that had created the crises.

Which crises were the authors referring to in the 1920s? The Great Depression? Was the Great Depression caused by speculative excesses or were there other contributors?

The authors should probably refine their statement to say something like, “In the U.S., the fallout from speculative excesses and mania that came to a head in late 1929 paved way for the passage of laws such as the Securities Act of 1933.”

On p. 212 they write about the Howey test:

A product is considered a security under US law when it shares the following three characteristics.

Yet later on p. 234 they mention Howey test has four characteristics. They should probably talk to a licensed lawyer to reconcile the wording. For instance, the authors should chat with Todd Phillips, who recently wrote a relevant op-ed in their favorite periodical, the Financial Times.

On p. 212 they say “During the 2016-2018 ICO bubble…” yet in the ICO section on p. 203 they mention “the 2017-2020 bubble.” Are these dates referring to different bubbles?

On p. 213 they write:

The other method around the securities laws is the use of dual-purpose tokens, which can be redeemed for services within a network and traded speculatively. In many of these dual-use token cases, the smoking gun is the presence of prominent venture capital investors where the expressed purpose of their investment vehicle is to return on the investment on their fund. If a messaging app offered a token that granted the alleged “utility” of being able to purchase in-app stickers, it is implausible that a fund of this size’s intent is to buy hundreds of millions of dollars of stickers for its own use. Instead, they intend to use their capital and information asymmetry to gain an advantage in trading the tokens for a return after the presale. The alleged utility is simply a very thin legal cover to hide their real intent.

A couple of issues with this statement:

(1) Which jurisdiction are the authors referring to? The U.S.? Which specific securities laws are they referring to?

(2) That could all be true – and I a sympathetic to their general argument during the ICO bubble years – but the authors do not provide any examples of a specific fund that did this. They basically sound like self-deputized prosecutors.

Overall this chapter has a number of areas the authors can build a strong foundation from, specifically the areas of “crazy coins.”

But even the title of that subsection makes you wonder: how do the authors determine what are crazy and non-crazy coins? They definitely should include direct quotes from actual licensed attorneys because some of their arguments probably have merit but right now it comes across as opinions of news clippings.

Chapter 21: Ransomware

This is a four page chapter that abruptly ends. It could have been much stronger if it included the history of “data kidnapping” in the 1990s. With that said, the authors do provide several specific examples and even a timeline, so that is a good start.

On p. 215 they write:

Most bitcoin use outside of speculation is not in payments but in financial black market activities and malware.

Source? Citation?

Surely just a little googling can help back-up the argument. For instance, according to Chainalysis, illicit use of cryptocurrencies hit a record $20.1 billion during 2022. Yet earlier this month an expert with CipherTrace says: Chainalysis data contributed to ‘wrongful arrest’ of alleged Bitcoin Fog founder. That seems like something readers might like to learn about.

On p. 217 they write:

In late 2019 there was an attack on the University of California San Francisco research department performing COVID-19 vaccine development, which locked servers by epidemiology and biostatistics departments.

The authors do not provide a reference to that UCSF story and a quick googling shows the date is incorrect. The hacking event – and subsequent ransomware demand – was in June 2020.

On p. 217 they write:

With cryptocurrency enabling ransomers, it allows these criminals to proliferate behind the scenes with very little chance of getting caught.

I sympathize and mostly agree with this statement. However it is missing a very important word – liquid cryptocurrency.

Why? Illiquid cryptocurrencies can be difficult and expensive to quickly move in and out of.

For instance, if Diehl issued his own token – Diehlcoin – its mere existence does not a priori enable ransomers. Rather, a deep and liquid cryptocurrency is necessary to expedite the process at scale. That is one of the reason that J.P. Koning recommended focusing on the payments leg of ransomware.

On p. 218 they provide eight dates that are not ordered chronologically, a new edition should order them by-date or at least explain that the ordering is done by ransomware amount.

Lastly, the very final sentence includes “a $5.2B/year industry” — the authors should spell out “billion” instead of abbreviating it.

Chapter 22: Financial Populism

This six page chapter should have been longer or at least spent longer discussing the fall-out of the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

It only plays lip services to the frustrations and concerns highlighted by protestors within the Occupy Wall Street movement.

For instance on p. 220 they write:

However, the genuine grievances percolating about the American zeitgeist were not bracketed purely to leftists groups; the events of the global financial crisis were indiscriminate and universal in the damage they caused the public, regardless of political affiliation. Movements on the right, such as the Tea Party, also adopted financial populist language as a reaction against the perceived injustice of the Obama administration’s bailout package and recovery plans. It was a rare moment in America where both the left and the right were, for equally legitimate reasons, furious at the fact that the public had been swindled by reckless Wall Street speculation – much of which was entirely based on crimes that would be later uncovered by post-crisis financial journalism.

Any specifics about the bailout packages and recovery plans? Wasn’t TARP legislation passed in the final months of the previous (Bush) administration?

Either way, the authors moved on without mentioning anything about the existence of systemically important financial institutions (SIFIs) during that time period which is a big omission; nor do they mention important legislation like Dodd-Frank.

Instead, they say these folks were naïve simpletons, writing on p. 221:

A valid criticism of the Occupy movement was that, in hindsight, the campaign had no clear goals or vision of what success or positive change would entail. Occupy was primarily a youth movement made up of individuals who overwhelmingly did not understand the complexity of the global financial system, regulation, or the principal causes of the financial crisis but were personally impacted by all these factors. The campaign was a reactionary movement against a not-well-understood injustice that had been exacted against them but which almost none of them could articulate the actual problem or proposed solution. The exposition of the movement’s ideas led to many misconceptions and debatably amounted to little tangible change in regulation or policy.

Perhaps this is all true but up until this point, apart from two pages in chapter 3, the authors do not spend any time discussing the GFC; nor the tangible changes in regulation and policy (such as Dodd-Frank).

Later in the chapter they mentioned TARP but do not mention how – in the U.S. – are still left with a highly concentrated financial system that privatizes profits and socializes losses.

Perhaps the youthful participants in the Occupy movement were ignorant, but the patronizing tone of this paragraph and the book seems like projection.

A reader could substitute “Occupy” with “anti-coiners” and arrive at the same conclusion as the authors did about the veracity of anti-coiners inability to articulate the actual problems facing the financial system. For example, in this book the authors show they do not understand how PayPal actually operates (e.g., as a shadow bank).

On p. 221 they discuss WallStreetBets and Bitcoin

The political imagination of Satoshi – and many crypto apostles who followed his vision – was that the financial system could not be reformed. Nothing less than the wholesale destruction of corrupt financial institutions would achieve their goals.

That may or may not be true, is there a citation or source for that?

The sole reference is to a paper from Carola Binder. The paper does not mention anything about cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin. Is this another strawman by the authors?

On p. 222 they write:

The American public’s rage toward Wall Street and the elected officials are, in many ways, highly justified. In response to the financial crisis, the American government created the Trouble Asset Relief Program (TARP) in the form of a $7000 billion government bailout to purchase toxic assets from financial institutions to stabilize the economy. While, in hindsight, the package may have been necessary, it only reaffirmed the notion that the financial sector plays by a different set of rules than the public; rules that encourage risk-taking because public taxpayer money is always available whenever the situation becomes too dire. Economists use the term moral hazard to describe conditions where a party will take risks because the cost incurred will not be felt by the party taking the risk. The clearest example of these excesses was when in 2009, a year after the bank rescue program, Goldman Sachs paid out $16.7 billion in bonuses to bank employees, seemingly as compensation for their extreme risk-taking leading up to the crisis. These bonuses paid out, seemingly on the back of the taxpayer, enraged the public. Despite all the public anger, the Obama administration did not prosecute any of the high-level executives involved in the events leading up to 2008. Instead the courts prosecuted a single executive, Kareem Serageldin, who was sentenced to 30 months in prison for conspiracy to falsify books and records at Credit Suisse. In what many perceive to be an affront to justice, the rest of the sector was graciously given a bailout and a slap on the write despite the public outcry for the Obama administration to collect banker scalps.

While the authors pay some lipservice to injustice that carries on to today, their 270 word exposition contains no mention of market structure, specifically how single points of failure (SPOF), single points of trust (SPOT), and systemically important financial infrastructures are still hanging over our heads.

Will blockchains or cryptocurrencies “solve” SIFIs? Maybe, maybe not. But the authors do not even attempt to discuss a scenario of decentralized financial market infrastructures (dFMI). Yup, I co-authored a paper on that topic too.

A couple of other quibbles about that passage:

(1) They do not explain why TARP was necessary. At the time, others argued for alternatives and even no bailouts at all. A second edition should explain the pro-TARP position.

(2) Courts are venues where litigation occurs and as such do not ‘prosecute,’ it is prosecutors who prosecute entities. Worth revising the wording the sentence about Kareem Serageldin.

On p. 223 they discuss the Reddit forum WallStreetBets, writing:

Despite the narrative of a populist uprising, the so-called Gamestop Revolution had little effect on the broader market. Instead, the vast majority of retail investors who chose to participate in the Gamestop bubble ended up losing money, as is characteristic of other historical bubbles. In the aftermath of the bubble popping, the Wall Street Journal report that many of the brokers and market makers made outsized profits off the increased volume in trades; the Journal wrote that “Citadel Securities executed 7.4 billion shares of trades for retail investors. That was more than the average daily volume of the entire U.S. stock market in 2019”. It also reported that Wall Street investment bank Morgan Stanley “doubled its net profit in the first quarter of 2021 to $41. billion” At the end of the day, the real winners of the GameStop bubble were the same entrenched institutions as before, and the public learned the hard lesson that day trading is not an effective means of protest against the financial establishment.

Several issues with this:

(1) This is the first – and only – time that the authors acknowledge “entrenched institutions.” Up until this point we have highlighted how the authors implicitly carry water for incumbents and legacy institutions. A second edition should build beyond the single reference they provide, to a paper from Jonchul Kim.

(2) A second edition could also discuss the role Robinhood played in this faux populism. And specifically, the constraints in the financial plumbing.

For instance, Robinhood had to raise $1 billion and throttle trades at one point due to clearing and settlement bottlenecks with the DTCC.54

(3) The authors should be consistent with how they write “Gamestop” or “GameStop” because they use both.

On p. 224 they write:

Financial populism is a reaction to this fundamental economic shift that can be framed in terms of six key components of the ideology.

The authors only list five components, where is the sixth?

Chapter 23: Financial nihilism

What expectations do you have for five pages in a chapter called financial nihilism?

On p. 227 they write:

Crypto is a symptom of the problems of our era, of a post-truth world awash in crackpottery, and a breakdown of trust in our institutions. For the first time in a generation, Americans feel the economic crunch like never before. Now well into their thirties, the millennial generation has been hammered by both the 2008 financial crisis and the coronavirus pandemic. Study after study confirms that Americans are more atomized, lonely, depressed, and desperate. At a certain level, the psychological state of market participants also begins to alter the markets and the fabric of the financial landscape itself.

Which studies? Any example? And what is threshold for “a certain level”?

On p. 228 they write about alienation:

Nihilism is an anti-philosophy, an intellectual dead-end from which no other observations can be derived. The financial form of nihilism takes these ideas and applies them to the concept of value and markets.

Hey, I think I know where their story might be headed…

Source: Twitter

Thanks for the credit guys! Don’t forget to cite Colin Platt too.

On p. 229 they write about the subjective theory of value:

A radical reading of the subjective theory of value asserts that any objective measure of value cannot exist, and the subjective preferences of the buyer entirely determine that market value and the seller, revealed through the autonomous operation of the free market. Dogecoin, diamonds, and dollars all have the same intrinsic value of zero because everything has zero intrinsic value. Markets simply trade in memes, some more popular than others, but none having any objective status or corresponding to any truth. Any investment scheme is thus assumed to be a grift a priori. After all, it is an attempt to get others to believe in some collective delusion which is assumed to be a Ponzi structure because everything is a Ponzi. The entire economy is thus nothing more than a Keynesian beauty contest for collective delusions. The role of the individual in late capitalism is to be nothing more than a maggot eating the corpse of civilizations while the world boils itself to death in an orgy of greed and corruption.

Oh?

In re-reading the passage above, while the authors were purposefully exaggerating the bleak worldview of the “nihilist” it is clear that the two camps share at least one common cudgel: the grift of a priorism.

We have documented around two dozen examples – so far – of the authors eschewing empiricism for an a priori approach.

Their argument immediately falls apart because prosecutors (which the authors have deputized themselves as) must use facts-and-circumstances, evidence, to prosecute a case. Not oration.

On p. 229 they mention there “in a world of zero interest rates” but the world of ZIRP – at least in the U.S. – ended several months before this book was published. The Fed began hiking rates in March 2022.

On p. 230 they write about how everything is a Ponzi:

Instead of a 401k, a diversified portfolio of mutual funds, and a mortgage, for a nihilist it is an entirely natural alternative to constructing a portfolio of CumRocket, Shibu Inu, SafeMoon, and a hundred other blatant scams in the hope that one of the scams works out.

Let us be pedantic: while some readers may know what a 401k is, not everyone might, so a future edition should probably explain what a 401k is or what a diversified portfolio of mutual funds are.

The authors should probably also explain why an investor pays management fees that mutual funds charges (versus an index fund that might not). Also, the authors might want to explain what type of mortgage they are thinking of too (they are not all the same in every country).

Also, since they do not provide any evidence for why CumRocket, Shibu Inu, or Safemoon are scams, then we can dismiss their claim without any evidence.

In the concluding paragraph of this chapter they write:

The world has a structure to it, and through the capacities of reason and science, we can understand both the world and the human condition, and through reason, we can improve our condition to build a better future. While democracy is not perfect, it is perfectible. Even if none of this were true, it is still better to labor under a delusion of misplaced hope and optimism than to wallow in aimless despair. Financial nihilism is a worldview that, although understandable, can be outright rejected.

Like most concluding paragraphs in the book, this is just rhetoric and polemics. The chapter does not actually cite anything about despair, is there a study on the level of despair of degen coin nihilists?

Chapter 24: Regulation

We have mentioned this before but it bears repeating: an editor would have helped consolidate similar topics together. This nine page chapter has some new ideas and concepts but it also regurgitates a number of topics that have already been semi-addressed elsewhere. It is also filled with more rants which are tiring to hear over and over again.

On p. 233 they write:

We live in a new golden age of fraud. Never since the 1920s has financial fraud and grifting been so ingrained in public as today. Yet, the cryptocurrency bubble is entirely built on a single foundation: securities fraud. The investment narrative of cryptoassets derives from an uncomfortable truth; selling unregulated financial assets to unsophisticated investors is a great way to raise large amounts of money quickly and with little overhead and oversight. In the 1920s, people raised money from the public on the back of promises of “easy money” from non-existent oil wells, distant gold mines in foreign countries, and snake oil cure-alls. And yet nothing has changed. Today, we have promises of investments to build financial perpetual motion machines created on the back of promises of decentralized networks, a new digital economy, and blockchain snake oil cures for whatever problem one sees in the world.

The authors cite a relevant paper from Boreiko and Ferrarini and a book from Michèle Finck. Both primarily focus on blockchain-related regulations in Europe.

But as they have in previous chapters: the authors also keep interchangeably using “securities fraud” with the sale of “unregulated financial assets.”

I am not a lawyer, are the authors? Who is being defrauded in their mind? Are they sure they do not mean “financial assets that should be regulated” or “financial assets that have been regulated in different ways depending on the jurisdiction”?

A second edition should clarify what exactly they mean when they use these words and more importantly what jurisdiction(s) they had in mind.

On p. 233 they write:

The Securities Framework put in place by our grandparents following the Market Crash of 1929 is based on universal truths about the nature of capitalism.

Look we all probably agree with the thrust of this particular page but it comes across heavy-handed in places. And more importantly, the argument presents “The Securities Framework” as if it was handed down by Moses and cannot be changed.

Apart from having semi-endorsed the STABLE Act and e-Cash Act, I do not currently have a strong view about any of the proposed legislation on the docket in the U.S. at the state or federal level. But that is not why you came to read this book review either.

On p. 234 they mention “the initial coin offering bubble of 2018” which is yet another date format. Previously they have said 2016-2018 and 2017-2020. A second edition should reconcile and harmonize these.

This full paragraph is enjoyable:

The initial coin offering bubble of 2018 gave us the most unambiguous evidence of how crypto creates a criminogenic environment for fraud. By allowing potentially anonymous entrepreneurs to raise crypto-denominated capital, from all manner of international investors, with no due diligence, reporting obligations, registration requirements, or fiduciary obligations to their investors, we saw exactly what one might expect: a giant bubble of outright scams. Some studies put the number of outright ICO scams at 80%. These companies had no pretense of any economic activity, and the founders simply wanted to abscond with investor money. The rest of the 20% merely fall under the category of illegal securities offerings, companies that sold digital shares as a proxy for equity in a common venture to American investors.

I actually agree with some of what they wrote, but it is how they wrote it – hyperbolic! – that is problematic. With the amount of alleged fraud and scams that took place in that era, there is no reason to exaggerate or get sloppy or lazy about references.

Where do the get the 80% and 20%? There are no citations.

Did they make it up? A quick googling found a 2018 report from Satis Group which claims that: Over 70% of ICO funding (by $ volume) to-date went to higher quality projects, although over 80% of projects (by # share) were identified as scams.

Is this what the authors had in mind? Do the authors agree with Satis’s methodology? If so, add it to the bibliography in the next edition.

How do we know the remaining 20% are “illegal securities offerings”? The authors do not explain why there are only two categories. What about ICOs that did not solicit Americans?

The remaining portion of this subsection is hard to take seriously since, as mentioned previously, they do not have a consistent view on how many prongs the Howey test is.

On p. 235 they write about shadow equity and securities fraud, specifically around venture capital firms. They do not provide any citations yet state that: “The venture investing model is an integral part of the United States tech economy and an engine for enormous prosperity and growth.”

Maybe it is, what is the reference?

Continuing on the same page:

However, in the post-2018 era, the outsized venture returns seen in the previous era have largely fallen by the wayside. The unicorns-companies valued at over $1 billion – that were once darlings of Silicon Valley, Peleton, WeWork, Uber, and Lyft have not performed like the giants of the dot-com era when IPOing; the unicorn stampede has become a bloodbath in the public markets.

A few issues with this:

(1) They probably should add a colon after “Silicon Valley”

(2) They misspelled Peloton (not Peleton)

(3) While we all probably understand the gist of what the authors are trying to say – that recently listed unicorns have underperformed since they IPO’ed – the comparison with “dot-com era giants” is not the best one.

In fact, in Chapter 3 they specifically highlighted the “The Dot-Com Bubble”. What are we supposed to do with this conflicting information?

For example, the authors do not mention specific “dot-com era giants” but we can probably assume they would include Amazon since it was mentioned in Chapter 3. Its first five years after listing were pretty dicey.

(AMZN) Source: Yahoo Finance

A future edition could simply say something like, some high-profile unicorns have underperformed since being publicly listed.

Continuing in the same paragraph they write:

Venture capitalists chasing the double-digit yields of the past have turned into increasingly more bizarre, risky, and unsustainable business models as part of their portfolio building. For venture capitalists dipping their toes into crypto investing, this has increasingly meant not investing in equity in their portfolio companies but instead investing in crypto tokens as a proxy for equity, a controversial mechanism known as shadow equity.

What is shadow equity? The authors do not provide a formal definition. What does Google say?

So the authors create a new term – shadow equity – do not provide a definition for the readers and it turns out there is already another working definition that is not the same thing as what the authors were describing.

A second edition should either drop the term “shadow equity” or find another term industry participants use to describe whatever it is the authors had in mind.

Continuing on p. 236 they write:

However, with shadow equity companies are not effectively issuing shares represented by cryptoassets or smart contracts, which are securities yet receive none of the investor protections of regular equity. Instead of a traditional equity raise, venture capital firms approach founders of crypto companies and do backroom deals that exchange capital for a percentage of the tokens that the company will issue in a sale known as a pre-mine. For instance, if a company issues 30 million shadow equity “share” tokens, it might allocate 20% or more of these tokens to its investors before selling them directly to the public.

There are several issues with this, including:

(1) Despite how common this allegedly is, the authors provide no specific examples or citations.

(2) It technically is only a “pre-mine” if there is actual mining taking place (such as a proof-of-work coin). There are other industry terms for non-proof-of-work coins but why should we do all the homework for the authors?

(3) Anecdotally I have heard of different types of retention and compensation models, but the one they describe for “shadow equity share tokens” is new. Where did they hear that?

On p. 237 they use the word “tieing” but the correct spelling is “tying”

On p. 237 they write:

Since the rise of the “web3” marketing campaign, many high-profile venture capital firms, although not all, have engaged in mass securities fraud to juice the returns on their portfolio.

Did the authors provide a single example? Nope. Perhaps they are correct but that which is presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Continuing in the same paragraph:

Investors’ returns on shadow equity are directly offering these investments to the public far faster than any other traditional form of venture investment. A typical web3 company can have a pre-mine sale, raise $50 million, offer the token to the public in a giant marketing push, and watch the price temporarily soar 10-20x in value in a massive pump while insiders take their profits, and before it all collapses down to peenies on the share; and all this before any pretense of a product is event built.

Did the authors provide a single example? Nope. Perhaps they are correct but that which is presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

On p. 238 they write about industry lobbying efforts. But they do not mention a single lobbying organization which is a real disappointment because lobbying organizations like Coin Center white wash the negative externalities of proof-of-work mining.

For instance, they write:

All the while, the cryptocurrency industry has been lobbying lawmakers left and right, attempting to pass beneficial laws which all them to circumvent securities laws and create loopholes for them to continue the gravy train perpetuated by open and ubiquitous fraud. The revolving door between government agencies and crypto companies has been prolific in the last few years. Currently, the government risks falling into an irreparable state of regulatory capture where agencies are run by the entities they allegedly regulate.

I agree with the general thrust of this but you know what the authors are missing? Specific examples and evidence.

For instance, five years ago Lee Reiners wrote the first long-form article diving into the “revolving door.” A second edition must include that. In addition, Nathaniel Popper was the first mainstream reporter who covered how specific venture firms were actively lobbying specific regulatory agencies in the U.S., asking for “carve outs.”

It is worth pointing out to readers that a number of anti-coiners have shown open disdain with Popper despite the fact that he was covering this space long before the anti-coiners decided to care about it. The fact that Popper’s coverage is not cited reduces the credibility of these authors who have not done diligence.

For instance, where were the authors when Popper was reporting on the misdeeds of Centra?

On p. 239 the authors present a framework for discussion (with regulators) and propose five questions. These are good questions.

On p. 240 they present a “path forward” which includes:

Cryptoassets are clearly securities contracts. They meet both the legal and practical qualifications for being regulated, just like any other investment contract. To investors, they present with much the same presentation of opportunity: to generate a return based on the efforts of others, but with far more extreme risk. The existing securities framework would vastly mitigate these risks and protect the public from harms that have been well-understood by economists and lawyers for 100 years now.

All cryptoassets are “clearly securities”? What supporting evidence to the authors provide to back up this claim? Nothing. That which is presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Continuing on p. 240 they write:

The amount of pump and dumps and market manipulation present in crypto markets is unprecedented and is primarily created and done by exchange operators themselves. Massive amounts of non-public asymmetric information, economic cartels, and manipulation are not conducive to either capital formation or financial stability.

How unprecedented are the pump and dumps? How do they know these are primarily created by exchange operators?

What supporting evidence to the authors provide to back up this claim? Nothing.

That which is presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Also, this is the first and only time the authors complain about cartels. They missed the opportunity to discuss them in Chapter 3 regarding the financial industry during and after the 2007-2009 crisis.

On p. 241 they propose to “ban surrogate money schemes derived from sovereign currencies.” This is not a bad idea per se, Rohan Grey has kind of discussed something similar. But this would impact PayPal, is that something the authors are aware of?

Continuing, they write:

As found in many stablecoin projects, surrogate money schemes attempt to create dollar-like products that mimic public money. However, the products are not backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government, and in many cases not even back by any hard assets. Stablecoins are subject to extreme risk of runs, much like we saw in bank runs in the Great Depression, an event not seen in the United States in 90 years.

It is too bad the authors did not take the opportunity to flesh out their arguments – in full – in the chapter 18. Such as, what is the definition of a “stablecoin”?

In this chapter they still do not provide specific examples of stablecoins that they perceive to be bad actors.

Furthermore, what do the authors mean by “bank runs”? Does this mean customers of banks standing outside the physical branch while the bank goes under?

Source: FDIC

As mentioned in the review of Chapter 18, the authors only discuss Libra (Diem). They do not mention specific banks, which is a big miss because others – including myself – specifically predicted the commercial banks that could collapse.

They need to do better with providing evidence, they had ample space in 247 pages to do so.

Continuing they write about money market mutual funds (MMMF):

The creation of stablecoins in almost precisely the same system, but instead backed by even riskier assets like Chinese commercial paper and other cryptoassets, which take the run risk of MMF and expand it exponentially.

The authors do not provide any evidence or references regarding Chinese commercial paper.

They could strengthen their argument if they – for example – explained how the New York Attorney General sued and settled with Tether Ltd (USDT). And during this investigation the NYAG discovered that Tether Ltd had at one point held securities issued by a couple of Chinese banks including ICBDC and CCB. Why not include these helpful details?

Also, why is it riskier to own these Chinese assets and what makes the run risk exponential? Perhaps both are true, but that which is presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

Continuing in the same paragraph:

On top of this, the proliferation of private money simply weakens the dollar’s strength both domestically and abroad. Stablecoins are the financial product for which the upside is entirely illusory, and the downsides are catastrophic. The proliferation or integration of stablecoins is not in the interest of the United States from both a financial stability and foreign policy perspective.

This is a weird argument. In some ways, it is very similar to pro-pegged stablecoin legislators make:

Source: Twitter

Also, if the authors are actually against the “proliferation of private money” then they should be shaking their fists at the entities responsible for the creation of the vast majority of “private money” in the U.S., commercial banks.

Their next recommendation is to “firewall cryptoassets away from the banking sector and the broader market”

Writing on p. 241:

The Glass-Steagal Act, put in place after the Great Depression, set “firewalls” between different divisions of the banks.

They misspelled Steagal (should be Steagall). While I agree with parts of their proposal they could have mentioned that Glass-Steagall was eventually repealed in 1999. Is that good or bad? Seems like a good future discussion to have in a book.

Their final recommendation is a “complete ban.” Writing on p. 242:

Alternatively, the United States could consider a path similar to what China recently enacted or to the historical American Executive Order 6102, which forbade ownership of gold. Despite the rhetorical claims to “not throw the baby out with the bathwater,” there is, after 13 years of crypto, very little evidence that there is any baby at all.

The authors do cite a relevant article from the WEF regarding the 2021 bans in China. Why they waited until the very end of the book to cite this is unclear. Why not reference it in earlier chapters regarding China? What parts of the bans do the authors agree with? All of them?

Also, it is clear that throughout the book, the authors did not put much effort into finding evidence to even support their own claims, let alone conduct market research that provides evidence that contradicts their a priori cudgel.

It is worth pointing out that the copy/paste Twitter account – Web3 Is Going Great – conducts similar behavior as the authors: they both cherry-pick news that is favorable to their narratives. It is disingenuous and dishonest.

Continuing in the same paragraph:

Introducing completely non-economic digital speculative “playthings” introduces nothing to an economy other than slightly more exotic gambling games. In fact, there is a strong argument that such activities may come at an enormous opportunity cost, in the capital and talent that get diverted to ever-more extravagant ways to financialize digital nothingness. We can create an entire industry speculating on the volatility of nothingness and turn every fictional thing into a tradable token, but should we?

That is a good question! What evidence did the authors provide or refer to to reinforce their strong argument? Nothing.

I actually agree with one of their points here (regarding opportunity costs) but without evidence it is just another random opinion. A future edition could also cite the musings of John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard and creator of the index fund. He often characterized the excessive speculation that benefited financial intermediaries as the “croupier’s take.”

The final paragraph of the chapter reads:

The only overall outcome of this program is the equivalent of digging digital ditches and filling them up again. Perhaps our society has better things to do than digging deeper and deeper ditches and filling them up again. And quite possibly, the Americans should simply ban crypto and play intellectual catchup with what seems like the rather sensible policy the Chinese have concluded on for the same universal common-sense financial and public harm mitigation reasons.

What would a ban entail? That no Americans in America can have a digital wallet on their phone? That no Americans in America can install software that runs a blockchain validator? What is the plan?

Also, the authors do not actually explain what China banned. For instance, private individuals can still own cryptocurrencies in China. Do the authors want to replicate that too?

All-in-all this chapter is a disappointment because it should have come earlier in the book, it should have been more comprehensive, it should have had more citations and references, and most importantly: it should have been vetted by experts in their fields including at least one licensed lawyer.

Chapter 25: Conclusion

The final four pages are basically a long rant, so let us dive in.

On p. 243 they write:

Crypto is a gripping story full of sound and fury, hope and fear, hype and noise, greed and idealism, yet despite all that, it is a tale signifying nothing in the end. Crypto is not just an experiment in anarcho-capitalism that did not work; it is an experiment that can never work and will never work. Crypto was promised as the technology of the future, yet it is a technology that can never escape its negative externalities or its entanglement with the terrible ideas of the past. Crypto is not the future of finance: it is the past of finance synthesized with the age-old cry of the populist strongman, To Make Money Again.

There are a few issues with this:

(1) The authors erect a strawman but empirically we know not all “crypto” projects are attempting to ‘make money again.’ Nor do all blockchains use proof-of-work. In fact, in looking at the current list of Layer 1s on CoinGecko, the majority are based on proof-of-stake. What are the negative environmental externalities of proof-of-stake?

(2) Yet again, the authors use an a priori argument to predict the future: “an experiment that can never work and will never work.” How can they know the future with such certainty? This is soothsaying.

Continuing on p. 243 they write:

While our existing financial system is undeniably profoundly flawed, not optimally inclusive, and sometimes highly rigged in favor of the already wealthy; crypto offers no solution to its problems other than to create an even worse system subject to unquantifiable software risk, profound conflicts of interest, and an incentives structure that would exasperate wealthy inequality to levels not seen since the Dark Ages. Put simply, Wall Street is bad, but crypto is far worse.

When I tried to explain to friends that this book unnecessarily carries water for incumbents, this is the reoccurring meme that came to mind.

There is no reason the authors have to defend incumbents or the a cartel that regularly is fined for the very activities that the authors abhor. Guess who invented all of these criminogenic concepts in the first place?

Rather, it is possible to critique both the coin world and the traditional financial world. You do not have to join one camp or the other.

In fact, real researchers should attempt to be neutral, or at the very least, provide some kind of nuance. There is no nuance in this book. To their credit, they did cite a Bitcoin-specific article from 2013 in referring to the Dark Ages. Too bad for them, the coin world in June 2022 was more than just the orange memecoin.

On p. 244 they write:

At all levels of sophistication and from all walks of life, every type of investor needs to be given truthful, fair, and full information about their investments and protected against fraud and unnecessary risk by our public institutions. Crypto’s very design is entirely antithetical to building or improving any of our existing markets and only serves to add more opaqueness, systemic risk, and fraud.

Oh, now they authors finally care about systemic risk. It only took 244 pages.

To their credit, they do cite a few external sources. The first is Hanley’s paper on Bitcoin (and only Bitcoin). The second reference is to a three-person interview that meanders around, why did the authors add it? The third is a reference to a blog post from Ed Zitron’s whose hyperbolic rant sounds nearly identical to the authors. Opinions are not evidence, they are opinions. Maybe there is some evidence but… what can be presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

On p. 244 they continue:

All scientists and engineers are duty-bound to our profession and our communities that the public good is the central concern during all professional computing work. As a technologist, cryptoassets present our industry with an immense challenge and fundamental questions about the nature of responsible innovation.

Did Diehl – or one of the other authors – just break the fourth wall? Do the authors have a monopoly on who gets to represent “the technologist”? I have worked for tech-related companies for years, are my opinions weighted any differently than theirs?

They do cite two references, one is the same presentation from David Rosenthal and the other is a hyperbolic presentation from Nicholas Weaver. Are these challenges insurmountable? According to the authors and Weaver, that would be an a priori no.

On p. 245 they write:

Despite thirteen years of development, there is widespread debate over the proposed upside of cryptoassets from technical and financial considerations. While the aspirations of technologies may be genuine, the reality of the technology and its applications are vastly overstated and not in line with what is possible. Blockchain-based technologies have severe limitations and design flaws that preclude almost all applications that deal with customer data and regulated financial transactions. Real-worlds applications of blockchain technology within financial services are sparse and ambiguous as to whether they are an improvement on existing non-blockchain solutions. Most senior software engineers now strongly reject the entire premise of a blockchain-based financial system because the idea rests on both economic and technical absurdities.

Let’s walk backwards for a moment. Recall from Chapter 14 that we are all taught in writing class not to introduce new concepts or ideas in the conclusion of a story. The authors not only do it again, but they do not provide any citation.

For example, did the authors conduct a survey to determine that “most senior software engineers now strongly reject.”

Guess what? We all know what the proper response is to this.

The authors also showed their direct contributions as at least one of the co-authors of the anti-Web3 letter that was published two weeks before this book. How do we know?

The letter has a passage that sounds identical to the remark above:

After more than thirteen years of development, it has severe limitations and design flaws that preclude almost all applications that deal with public customer data and regulated financial transactions and are not an improvement on existing non-blockchain solutions.

Coincidence. Not at all.

At the time, I pointed out that the first web browser (appropriately called the “WorldWideWeb“) was launched in 1990. It was not until 2004 that Google revealed Ajax-based Gmail followed by Google Maps.

If the authors are trying to make the claim that anything (everything?) useful should have been invented in 13 years then they should hold other tech initiatives to the same standard. Besides, most blockchains themselves are much younger than 13 years too.

For instance, Ethereum’s mainnet launched 8 years ago and has undergone extensive changes over the past several years.

Lastly, what are “existing non-blockchain solutions”? This is the type of argument that Bitcoin maximalists such as Chris DeRose frequently used: just use a database. Okay, which one? Are you a database expert now too? Can other experts have a difference of opinion or is your view the final word?

Continuing on p. 245 they write:

The catastrophes and externalities related to crypto are neither isolated nor are they growing pains of a nascent technology; instead, these are the violent throws of a technology that is not built for its purpose and is forever unsuitable as a foundation for large-scale economic activity.

There is something wrong with the grammar in the middle of this rant: “these are the violent throws of a technology that is not built for its purpose”. What does that mean? On the margin of the book I wrote, “Did the authors meant to say ‘not fit for purpose’?” but even that does not make sense there.

Either way, by claiming “is forever unsuitable” the authors are once again trying to predict the future a prori.

Continuing on p. 245 they write:

Technologies that serve the public must always have mechanisms for fraud mitigation and allow a human-in-the-loop to reverse transactions. Blockchain technology, the foundation of all cryptoassets, cannot, and will not, have transaction reversal or data privacy mechanisms because they are antithetical to its bae design. The software behind crypto is architecturally unsound, and the economics are incoherent.

This is factually untrue. An RTGS such as Fedwire has irreversible transactions. There are no “human-in-the-loop” on purpose. In order to negate one transaction a subsequent transaction must be sent. This is true for cases such as bankruptcy too.

Do not take my word for it, here is what the Federal Reserve actually says:

We see this in other systemically important financial infrastructure too, such as CLS. CLS was setup after the collapse of a German bank giving rise to what we now know as Settlement risk or Herstatt risk.

I have patiently tried explaining these ideas – around SIFIs – to various anticoiners and Bitcoin maximalists and they frequently just pretend that “irreversibility” is a characteristic of blockchains and nothing in traditional finance. 55

Lastly, when the authors say that cryptoassets cannot and will not have “data privacy mechanisms” is there any existing confidentiality or privacy-related effort that they are okay with? They dunked on Tornado Cash earlier in the book, and they singled out both Monero and Zcash as well.

Are the authors okay with developers attempting to create new confidentiality or privacy-related technology or is it just not allowed in the universe the authors live in?

Continuing they write:

The theoretical upsides of every crypto project are entirely illusory. It is a solution in search of a problem. Its very foundations are predicated on logical contradictions and architectural flaws that more technology cannot fix and will never be resolved.

The authors are once again predicting the future with a lot of certainty: Will never be resolved. This is an a priori argument and once again, can be rejected because it does not have any evidence. The only thing they cite is another op-ed by Ed Zitron. A scientist should sit down and explain to the authors – and many of the people they cite – and explain the difference between a priori arguments and a posteriori arguments.

Continuing they write:

The impact of crypto’s externalities is massive and becomes more more pronounced every day it is allowed to continue to exist. Crypto is a project that will always create more net suffering by its very design because its design is antithetical to both the rule of law and the foundations of liberal democracy. Technologies working on cryptoassets and web3 are not building a brighter and more egalitarian future; they are only creating a path back to serfdom, where the landed elite are now tech platforms that control the means of communication, the money supply, and the levers of the state itself.

It took 246 pages but now the authors are finally critics of “tech platforms that control the means of communication.”

Are the authors critical of Big Tech for this type of centralized ownership and control or because “crypto” might be involved in some way? Who knows.

What we do know is that the authors believe that crypto “will always create more net suffering by its very design”.

Lacking any citations this can be classified as an opinion.

The final paragraph of the chapter, states:

A tech-led plutocracy is not a future we want to build, and despite the inevitability rhetoric of its supporters, crypto does not have to be part of our future. Crypto has no physical existence; it is a meme, an idea-and an incoherent one at that-which is no more eternal or permanent than the notion of the divine right of kings to rule once was. Crypto is an idea that is as senseless and ephemeral as every other collective delusion throughout history that has since passed into the intellectual dustbin of history, and this time is not different.

Can we talk about “inevitability rhetoric” for just a moment? The authors use this exact rhetoric over and over in each chapter. It is tiring. And it is not an adequate substitute for an evidence.

Obviously coin promoters should also be held to the same standard and if you read my other book reviews, I point out the same sorts of issues.

That is their conclusion, were we expecting something less polemical and more substantive?

Chapter 26: Acknowledgements

This is not an actual chapter but it now helps sync up the out-of-sync bibliography. It is worth looking at really quickly:

Many thanks to all those who helped with editing, citations, and research. Adam Wespeiser, Brian Goetz, Ravi Mohan, Neil Turkewitz, James King, Alan Graham, Geoffrey Huntley, Rufus Pollock, Paul Hattori, Grady Booch, and Dave Troy. And to the many other crypto critics who laid the intellectual foundation myself and others to follow.

Did Diehl – or one of his co-authors – break the fourth wall again? Who is “myself”? The same person who was referring to themselves in the Conclusion as “a technologist”?

It is not a huge coincidence that many of the people the authors acknowledge also happen to be co-signers of the anti-web3 letter that was published two weeks prior to the books publication.

Overlapping names include: Adam Wespeiser, Alan Graham, Geoffrey Huntley, Rufus Pollock, Grady Booch, and Dave Troy. Two of the co-authors of the book – Darren Tseng and Stephen Diehl – also sign the letter.

Nearly all of the works cited overlap as well. Guess who probably had a heavy hand in drafting that totally-organic-anti-web3 letter?

Book review final remarks

This is probably the worst book I have reviewedBlockchain Revolution and both of Michael Casey’s books are pretty close to the bottom of the barrel however Popping the Crypto Bubble is basically a long winded blog post filled with evidence-free assertions.  The authors fail at providing a modicum of supporting references beyond endless rants.

What makes this particular book extra cringy is how much playtime the Financial Times has given it.56 Not only do some of its reporters seem to have a direct line to Stephen Diehl, they even did a softball interview with him without having read the book.

Where did it go wrong?

The best illustration: Chapter 18 is entitled “Stablecoins.”  It is six pages long.  Five pages discuss Libra – a project that was never launched – and the final page briefly covers CBDCs without diving into specific CBDC models.  One of the authors – Diehl – spends a great deal of energy on social media regarding “stablecoins” but could not spend a minute discussing the history of pegged stablecoins or what stablecoins exist today.  The authors could not even bother quoting arguments that strengthened their views – such as lawsuits from the CFTC and NYAG.  While they said the word “Tether,” they did not mention USDT or USDC at all. Why the omission? 

What is another example of weaknesses?  In Chapter 24 they have a subsection on “coin lobbying.”  But they do not mention any specific lobbying organizations or shills in congress.  How hard is it to provide supporting details?

Tim, you are just angry they did not cite you!

Undefinied acronyms and undeserved victory laps

The authors do not define NFTs or explain their history.  They repeatedly use a metonym – Sand Hill road – yet the casual reader may not understand it refers to Silicon Valley.

The authors could have but did not interview anyone inside or outside the industry. They could have done some original first-hand reporting. Instead we are served with a compilation of a stories from third parties. This is the same laziness that the copy/paste Twitter account – Web3 Is Going Great – suffers from; a lack of authentic research.

Anti-coiners should hold themselves to the same standard they frequently criticize the coin industry with, and that includes providing evidence and citations. For all of their claims around “fraud” and “scams,” the authors only made generalized forecasts and did not make any specific predictions around say, FTX or Terra. They missed out on describing the implosion of centralized lenders altogether. 

After all the pump and rah-rah books, the world needs a solid detox. The market needs a book about blockchains and cryptocurrencies with a critical, yet nuanced, eye. This is not that book.  

Endnotes

  1. As described in The Tribes of maximalism, the etymology of “no-coiner” comes from three vocal Bitcoin maximalists, Michael Goldstein, Elaine Ou, and Pierre Rochard who used it as a smear. []
  2. For instance, Chapter 9 covers “Ethical Problems” but in the Bibliography “Ethical Problems” is Chapter 10. The root problem is the authors skip Chapter 1 altogether in the Bibliography: in the book, Chapter 1 is a two page introduction and Chapter 2 is a ten page History of Crypto. The bibliography mislabels Chapter 1 as Chapter 2 and it has a knock-on effect for the remainder of the bibliography. []
  3. While at R3 I was introduced to Diehl via Simon Taylor, one of their advisors. []
  4. At the time of its publication, one of my popular (older) posts was: Archy and Anarchic Chains. I attended and participated in dozens of formal meetings with regulated financial institutions between 2015-2019, the word “anarchy” may have been mentioned in jest a couple of times. []
  5. PayPal is mentioned 67 times in Dan Awrey’s law review paper: “Bad Money.” []
  6. This dovetails into the motivations behind why Bitcoin was created, with some arguing it was built following the challenges facing the online gambling industry which had difficulties maintaining persistent banking access; Caribbean-based ones were frequently debanked. []
  7. There have been a wide-range and wide-variety of tokenization efforts unrelated to the euphoria around digital art collectibles. Coincidentally I wrote a paper on this topic in 2015: Watermarked tokens and pseudonymity on public blockchains. []
  8. In 2017, while at R3 I helped co-edit a relevant paper with experts from Blockseer and the Zero Electric Coin company (creators of Zcash): Survey of Confidentiality and Privacy Preserving Technologies for Blockchains (pdf). []
  9. I wrote about Bitcoin mining in China in May 2014. []
  10. Decades ago, the Supreme Court exempted Major League Baseball from antitrust laws. []
  11. This is a topic I wrote about at length in a newsletter several years ago; it discussed the sub-industry of collectible trading conventions and even price guides (such as Beckett). []
  12. Contra anti-coiner insistence: it is not a scalable business model for a one-person studio, expecting an artist – that wants to use NFTs as a distribution and royalty collection mechanism – to start suing perceived violators en masse. []
  13. While writing this review, WeWork warned it had “substantial doubt” that it could continue as a business. []
  14. After a decade, Uber finally did finally post a profitable quarter, but that was a year after the book was published. []
  15. I have previously argued that proof-of-work-based networks actually can be negative sum since the mining activity introduces negative environmental externalities. []
  16. One reviewer of this review commented: I don’t agree that JP is calling crypto an early bird game. It doesn’t have to generate returns for the earlier entrants. What is wrong with viewing it as a superficial commodity like gold or diamonds? []
  17. This is unlikely to occur due in part to the implicit control that Bitcoin miners and their maximalist enablers have on the BTC ticker symbol. Previously, several prominent maximalists such as Samson Mow and Adam Back have used their sway via Blockstream, to push miners in specific directions. []
  18. Perhaps the hooks will be underutilized but several of the vendors for core banking software – including Fiserv and Jack Henry – have production-ready hooks with blockchain-related integrations for clients. []
  19. Early efforts towards creating “clearing” or “settling” networks between exchanges eventually led to now defunct SEN and Signet (Silvergate Exchange Network and Signature Network). This relatively centralized infrastructure allowed participants (such as exchanges) to settle trades around the clock irrespective of weekends or holidays. And they could do so without trades having to be transferred on-chain, forgoing the fees and time delays. Note: according to Fortune, Signet was a white-label version of TassatPay, a private, blockchain-based solution currently operational at five other banks. []
  20. I was a formal advisor to Blockseer which provided similar on-chain analytics services before its acquisition by DMG Blockchain. Both Elliptic and Chainalysis typically post quarterly and annual reports that includes this type of information for public consumption. []
  21. Luke-Jr is a prominent Bitcoin Core developer who was a central propagandist for smaller blocks during the “block size civil war” primarily between 2015-2017. One of the hurdles he personally faced was that his internet connection in Florida was relatively slow and he used it as a barometer for how home validators should be able to upload and download a block. In the past he has voiced disdain for developers attempting to use OP_Return and recently threatened to spam the network to ban Ordinals. []
  22. Also, there is no reason to carry water for any of these chains but if you are going to critique them at least use consistent verbiage. []
  23. Visa was an investor in Chain.com back in September 2015 when the startup pivoted from Bitcoin API services to enterprise blockchain infrastructure. []
  24. A quick googling revealed a couple of papers published before the book was made public: DQ: Two approaches to measure the degree of decentralization of blockchain by Lee et al., and The Importance of Decentralization by Muzzy and Anderson. []
  25. Several of the large data and analytics providers have service contracts with trading entities that can flag events, e.g., when specific addresses become active. A recent example is when Arkham, an analytics firm, mistakenly reported that bitcoins connected to Mt. Gox and the U.S. government were on the move, the errant news temporarily resulted in a large selloff. []
  26. I have pointed this out to maximalists and anti-coiners over the years and the response is deafening. For example, nearly two years ago I did an interview with Aviv Milner who is podcaster. For some reason he would twist any criticism of the traditional financial industry – specifically concentration risk – as… not a valid criticism. Anti-coiners such as the authors of this book and several podcast series seem uninterested in holding traditional financial organizations to the same standard as the coin world they attempt to investigate. It is okay to find warts in both of them! []
  27. I have written about them several times, primarily in the 2014-2016 era. []
  28. The germination of ISO 20022 arose from some of those early blockchain-related conversations as well. Worth pointing out that in this case, it was specifically unrelated to cryptocurrencies; although a number of cryptocurrency efforts currently market themselves as “ISO 20022 compliant.” []
  29. The banking lobby in Europe is opposed to interest-bearing stablecoins in part because in theory it could dent their deposit base, just as narrow banks could. []
  30. In fact, I liked the Bergstra and Weijland paper so much that in 2014 I used the title for a short book I wrote on the same topic. []
  31. Put it another way, how many bitcoins does it cost to create a bitcoin? For miners to be profitable, the aspiration is less than 1 bitcoin. []
  32. Credit to Kevin Zhou who first pointed this out in 2014 while at Buttercoin. Yes, the same Kevin Zhou who accurately predicted the demise of Terra. []
  33. While Carter tries to place himself front-and-center of this specific topic, it was Andreas Antonopoulos who first prominently used the holiday lighting example. []
  34. It was not a coincidence that Dilley would later join Blockstream as their first chief strategy officer. []
  35. In fact, Coinbase would not list any other asset besides Bitcoin until 2016 because the executive team and early investors were prominent Bitcoin bulls. Listing Ethereum Classic (ETC) was a “newsworthy” event in 2018. []
  36. Michael Goldstein, Elaine Ou, and Pierre Rochard – are prominent Bitcoin maximalists and were co-creators of the term “no-coiner” and “pre-coiner” in late 2017-early 2018. The term “no-coiner” was intended to be an insult, a slur. []
  37. I have some bona fides in this as I authored the most widely cited paper on the topic back in 2015: Consensus-as-a-service: a brief report on the emergence of permissioned, distributed ledger systems []
  38. I have mentioned these specific examples to both Bitcoin maximalists and anti-coiners alike, and again, the goal posts shift. For instance, Jorge Stolfi, a computer science professor and Aviv Milner, the podcaster mentioned above, both ignored the existence of such projects or dismissed them out of hand. I even tried to help introduce Stolfi to a director at the DTCC so he could ask specific questions, which he did not. []
  39. Eight years ago I corresponded with a reporter at Fusion regarding the possibility of litecoin (LTC) being used for illicit activity (regarding chain hopping). []
  40. There is a clear insular clique that only engages with one another, much like certain coin tribes do (such as IOTA). []
  41. Early touchscreen-based personal data assistants (PDAs) included Palm Pilot, Apple Newton, and Blackberry from RIM. []
  42. Maybe as RWAs are deployed to Ethereum less attention will be paid to an ossified chain like Bitcoin, lowering Bitcoin’s marketcap below 30%. Who knows, maybe the opposite occurs. Being a cheerleader on specific price points based on ideology seems foolish. []
  43. This question initially stumped Libra / Diem managers. Anecdotally, one of the managers I spoke to early on in that project assumed that the custody bank would decide which fork to recognize. []
  44. A simple googling resulted in numerous papers including: Smart Contracts and the Cost of Inflexibility by Sklaroff, Towards user-centered and legally relevant smart-contract development: A systematic literature review by Dixit et al., and Smart Contracts, Blockchain, and the Next Frontier of Transactional Law by McKinney et al. Were those authors wrong? Sounds like the job for Diehl et al. to read and determine. []
  45. If you scroll back to the top of this book review and click on Diehl’s presentation and talks in 2017 and 2018, his thinking does not seem to incorporate or recognize what has gone on. []
  46. For instance, a variety of enterprises including regulated financial institutions have built and deployed smart contracts for a bevy of experiments, some that are still in pilot mode. Maybe these enterprises should be laughed out of the room but this is an empirical, evidence-based activity, the conclusions are not predetermined beforehand. []
  47. There is a lot of confusion over the origins of “Hyperledger,” here is a brief backstory. []
  48. This was a weakness in Hilary Allen’s own writings, specifically the DeFi Shadow Banking paper they cite in Chapter 12. Allen’s paper incorrectly states that lending protocols will accept any collateral, it was one of many technical inaccuracies in that paper. []
  49. Coincidentally, in the process of writing this review Lamina1 – a new layer-1 blockchain advised by Neal Stephenson – launched a beta of the metaverse-focused network. []
  50. The cited Gerarad’s book – Libra Shrugged – as reference number 2 in the bibliography for that chapter. []
  51. As part of a literature review the authors could look at the Bank of England’s new RTGS. Section 6 of the roadmap specifically mentions DLT and Section 3 of their Consultation paper discusses CBDCs. []
  52. At the time of this writing the management team is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. []
  53. While not usually categorized as “ICOs,” there were some Bitcoin-related projects that did crowdsale / crowdfunding raises in 2012-2013 coordinated on the BitcoinTalk forum. []
  54. Coincidentally, Nathaniel Popper, a former reporter with The New York Times left the newpaper to write a book on the topic of financial populism. He had a good command of how cryptocurrencies and blockchains worked, yet anti-coiners attacked him for the cardinal sin of recommending nuance. []
  55. The authors also cite Hilary Allen who is not a credible authority on this particular topic. Rosen uses identical techniques and opinion-filled arguments in her writings, and frequently cites Diehl. Demand evidence from them. []
  56. It is not fair to blame the entire team at the Financial Times, some of their reporters did a stellar job chronicling the FTX collapse. []

Presentation: 8 areas for PMF and IMF with blockchains*

This past week I gave a new presentation at the 2nd annual Soranomics event (last year I presented on a related topic: pegged coins aka “stablecoins”). It includes a number of illustrations to discuss product market fit and infrastructure market fit.

Below is a copy of the deck as well as the A/V. Note: there are citations and references in the speaker notes. Note: I am to publish a long-form version based on this content.

Not all algorithmic stabilization mechanisms are the same

We (the ‘royal we’) have previously discussed various flavors of pegged coins, “stablecoins,” as well as CBDC proposals. This short, non-comprehensive post will look into the rise and rapid fall of the Luna and UST, two cryptocurrencies native to the Terra blockchain.1

What are the separate categories that the “stablecoin” idea can be bucketed into?

Figure 1 Source: Robert Sams based on the model by Klages-Mundt et al.

Above is a helpful taxonomy created by Klages-Mundt et al. and adapted by Robert Sams.2 One of the commonalities among all of these efforts above is that they are intended to administer an elastic money supply (as opposed to fixed, deterministic, or inelastic supplies used in many cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin).

Most analysis on this topic lacks the important nuances separating custodial and non-custodial “stablecoins” as well as those that depend on exogenous collateral versus endogenous collateral.

We are not going to dive into each one of the projects above. Furthermore, the usage of a name or logo is not an endorsement of a particular company or project.

So what happened to Luna and the UST this past week?

To answer that we need to quickly explain what the Terra blockchain is and how and why there are more than one layer 1 token such as Luna, UST, KRT (Korean Won) and SDT (an SDR token). 3

Brief history

Launched just over two years ago – in April 2019 – the Terra blockchain incorporated elements of the “Seigniorage Shares” idea with a couple of twists. Whereas several other projects attempted to collateralize (back stop) a single stabilized asset through a mint/burn mechanism, Terra enabled arbitrageurs to burn Luna (the volatile, staking token) and mint one of several different pegged coins, the most prominent of which is UST. UST was marketed as being stable relative to the USD. That is to say, through an automated on-chain program, a trader could burn $1 worth of Luna (at Luna’s prevailing market price) and receive 1 unit of UST (irrespective of the prevailing market price of UST), and vice versa: a trader could exchange 1 unit of UST and receive $1 worth of Luna.4 In theory.

You might be asking yourself, what guarantees that traders will be able to redeem $1 of either at any point in time? Terraform Labs (TFL) is the main developer behind the the Terra blockchain. One of the ways TFL attempted to architect guaranteed redemption and simultaneously mitigate a “death spiral” (an existential crisis that multiple “algo stablecoins” have crashed into), was by capping the daily minting of UST.5 The exact amount has changed over time but the goal was to help throttle the unbounded risk of an oversupply of UST (or some other pegged coin).

Why is this important?

Because as mentioned above: UST (and the other pegged coins that can be minted) were explicitly uncollateralized — although there has been an implicit acknowledgement that the aggregate UST (and other minted currencies) needs to remain below the marketcap of Luna which is the key conduit for redemptions. An imbalance, or “flippening,” could (and did) result in a crisis of confidence and collapse.

Figure 2 Source: Coinmarketcap

The chart (above) shows the aggregate market caps of both UST and Luna over the past 12 months. At their height last month, they together represented almost $60 billion in (paper) value. Today that has dropped to just over $1 billion.6

Why did things go wrong?

Before we answer that, let us look at when “the flippening” occurred.

The chart (above) shows the aggregate UST marketcap relative to Luna’s marketcap over the course of a single day. At around 1am SGT on May 10th, UST’s marketcap overtook Luna for good.

What is another way to visualize this?

The chart (above) shows the same aggregates but over the course of the past 6 weeks.

What does this mean? Due to the “macro” bear market in cryptocurrencies (the aggregate coin market is more than 50% off its all-time high from last year), Luna’s market cap saw a rapid decline that quickly became a vicious cycle due to the Why.

While there are a bunch of mostly cliché conspiracy theories as to which traders took advantage of the knowledge and conditions to short Luna (and UST), the conditions that led to UST’s rapid ascent (relative to Luna) seen in Figure 2, are pretty pedestrian.

What was the key reason for this ascent starting in November? The popular Anchor dapp on the Terra blockchain. What is Anchor?

Launched in March 2021, Anchor is an all-in-one asset management dapp that allowed traders to deposit their Luna as collateral and borrow UST against it. Often traders would go to an exchange and convert the UST into Luna, depositing the Luna into Anchor and lever up several more times. Its ease of use led to rapid growth, with total-value-locked (TVL) growing from zero to $6 billion within six months. The loan-to-value (LTV) ratio shifted over time but was northward of 70% when UST overtook Luna this past week.

Why did TVL grow so fast on Anchor?

The main reason was the dapp subsidized both lenders and borrowers through the emission of a governance token called ANC. For over 6 months, Anchor marketed itself as being able to provide 19.5% APY on all UST deposits via a blended combination of Luna staking emission and reoccurring ANC airdrops.7 Both sophisticated and unsophisticated investors, believing that $1 UST was redeemable at par with $1 USD, deposited large quantities of $UST (which others could then borrow as well). Anecdotally we have heard of startups at incubators and seasoned fintechs in emerging markets offering retail users access to this high yield product. The yield was unsustainable and developers knew it so various interest groups (including several high profile investors) proposed ways to reduce the ANC yield each month depending on economic indicators.

But by the time the downward adjustment was implemented it was too late. This relatively high yield had turned UST into a “hodl asset,” a “store of value” — something that the uncollateralized system was not properly designed to absorb.8

Prior to the collapse of Luna and UST, the development teams behind Terra and Anchor recognized this shortcoming and this past February announced the Luna Foundation Guard (LFG) and organization that would accumulate exogenous collateral to defend the $1 USD peg.

Recall that at the very top in Figure 1, Terra was categorized as using endogenous collateral, that is capital native to the protocol itself (e.g., Luna, UST). As part of the initial LFG announcement, the organization aspired to accumulate large quantities of exogenous coins starting with bitcoin and later others (such as AVAX, and even both USDC and USDT). At its height, LFG’s reserves tallied over $3.5 billion and as of this writing it has shrunk to around $80 million (sans some squirrelly BTC).

Anchor aweigh

Even without Anchor the fundamental problem is that the underlying collateral is volatile, so what is over-collateralized can become under-collateralized very quickly (whether it is endogenous or exogenous).9

Those who argue that the solution for decentralized stablecoins is to be “fully backed” are still kind of missing the point. If these protocols are all using the same 3-5 major coins as collateral, you can get the same ‘death spiral’ scenario materializing if the stablecoin supply grows large vis-à-vis the collateral marketcap. After all, even LFG’s liquidation of $1.6 billion BTC moved the largest coin cap.

So who is the buyer-of-last resort? If it is actually decentralized, it can only be the parties who can liquidate or redeem the collateral. CDP systems like Maker have the incentives for this behavior, but suffer from the coin supply side being driven by lending and no mechanism to equilibrate that supply to the demand side (the mechanism is the stability fee and savings rate, but that is set by governance, not the market)

The root problem for UST and Luna, (as Kevin Zhou, Matt Levine, and others have mentioned), was that neither had any source of value independent of the other. If the market decided to sell both, there was nothing to give you confidence that they would recover. UST was built on Luna and for the past 6 months Luna was built on essentially Anchor yield savings. Even a large “stabilization fund” – with a transparent and automated mechanism for how it would be deployed – would not prevent the Luna/UST market cap from growing to dwarf the LFG backstop, thus a sequence like this past week was always a risk.

We could spend pages describing alternate plans and paths the development teams, users, traders, and other interest groups could have taken to stymie the collapse. Instead we wanted to highlight one final chart that we found interesting.

Divergence

The chart (above) shows the intraday prices each day over the course of a week between Luna (in dark pink) and bLuna (in blue).

What is bLuna? bLuna is a liquid staking mechanism managed by Lido in a partnership with Anchor.10 Liquid staking is actually an interesting concept. Most readers are probably vaguely familiar with staking on a proof-of-stake network: users deposit their coins to an address on-chain and receive some form of remuneration (emission) for helping to secure the network (and process transactions, if they are a validator).

But the coins used in staking are effectively frozen and cannot be easily used elsewhere as collateral. Enter liquid staking. As the name suggests, liquid staking is a concept that has been implemented in two different ways: at the dapp layer (via Lido, Marinade, and a few others) or at the native L1 layer (Osmosis in the Cosmos ecosystem is about to be the first to do so).

Liquid staking is neat because it allows all of the locked up (“frozen”) capital to be used as collateral for lending. An imperfect example: Bob purchases $200,000 of Apple stock. He wants to buy a new home and instead of selling the stock he finds a bank willing to use his Apple stock as collateral for the down payment on the house. Similarly, liquid staking is not rehypothecation as no new asset is created.11

The reason a lot of brain cycles have been spent on creating liquid staking dapps (like Lido) is that the vast majority (>95%) of all staked assets on proof-of-stake networks is illiquid. If they can become liquid that would enable more capital to be used for endogenous lending — instead of having to rely on exogenous capital like wrapped assets (WETH, WBTC) or real world assets (USDC, USDT).

In theory, when an asset transforms from a staked asset into a liquid staked asset, the market prices of the two should be very similar. In some cases, such as stETH (ether deposited in Lido on Ethereum) or mSOL (sol deposited in Marinade on Solana), the liquid asset accrues the emission reward therefore becoming slightly more valuable over time (in proportion to the emission rate).

In the case above, bLuna and Luna were tightly coupled but clearly broke down between May 9th-11th due to the massive selling pressure and unstaking that took place (more than 95% of all Luna has been unstaked down considerably over the past month). This brings us to the final section.

Proposed category

Surprise! I have a couple ideas on how to evolve the “algo stabilization” world, including adding a (possible) new category to the four incumbents above: a demurrage-based settlement asset.

But first, let’s take a step back and ask the question what amount of UST could Luna have absorbed?

Even the most hardened maximalist or anti-coiner would concede that a single solitary 1 UST could probably be absorbed by Luna’s market cap.

So where is the limit? Where do the wheels fall off? When do things become unwieldy?

It was not the UST borrow side that was a priori the fundamental culprit. Amplifying the problem was goosing the UST demand side with 19.5% “risk free” returns on Anchor. For instance, if the arbitrage mechanism only allowed the creation of UST (or other pegged assets) based on a small single digit percentage of Luna’s marketcap, it is likely this collapse might not have happened in such a dramatic fashion.

Yet as mentioned above, this approach alone still would not have staved off simultaneous sell-offs of both UST and Luna and/or hyperlunaflation.

Future developers looking to enter this arena could construct an asset with a stabilized unit-of-account that maintains a diminutive aggregate relative to the staked asset being burned. E.g., depending on the use case, an aggregate the size of $100,000 could conceivably power a small on-chain economy much like in traditional markets rely on a high velocity of money to grease the economy (where money is circulates among participants like a hot potato).12

That is to say, a high velocity stabilized unit-of-account, one that is used as a medium-of-exchange and not as a store-of-value or hodl asset, probably has a lot more longevity so as long as its creation (or borrowing) is not heavily subsidized. Sprinkle in some demurrage – or negative interest rates – to further disincentivize hodling and focus on a handful of uses (n.b. “hodling” is not using).1314

Final remarks

It is pretty easy to dance on the grave of another dead / dying cryptocurrency, there have been a few dozen marathon’s worth of victory laps on social media this past week. Despite autopsies and red flags, it is likely that some folks will attempt to emulate the heavily subsidized borrowing model too.

Apart from designing a purposefully limited high velocity, stabilized unit-of-account, what can non-developers do?

Arguably, the most accurate commentator on this topic is a friend, Kevin Zhou (founder of Galois Capital), who publicly predicted what would occur months ago. But unlike the maximalists and anti-coiners who stridently label everything a scam and a fraud, Zhou actually modeled out several scenarios in detail. Give him a follow.

Future analysis could look into the on-chain contagion such as dapps that were impacted including Mirror protocol (did the yield at Anchor cannibalize the other use cases by acting as a liquidity gravity well?). As of this writing it is unclear what direction a “LunaV2” will take but worth pointing out that key stake holders in the ecosystem agreed to shut down the network twice and switched to PoA.

Endnotes

  1. There are oodles of news articles exploring how the “death spiral” took place, this is not really one of them. []
  2. In 2015 Sams created the USC consortium (which has evolved into Fnality) as well as proposed the original “Seiniorage Shares” concept in 2014. []
  3. Note: according to the Terra Token Cash Flow chart, Terra was actually generating more in KRW fees (primarily via Chai) than it was earning in UST fees. The KRT ecosystem had more velocity: KRT turning over ~500 per month versus UST at a mere 1.5 times with the caveat that the KRT ecosystem is very small. []
  4. The actual arbitrage opportunity would be if UST is trading for $1.10, a trader could exchange $1 of Luna for 1 UST, therein arbing a profit while increase UST supply and bring price down. Conversely, if UST is $.90, a trader could exchange 1 UST for $1 of Luna. []
  5. There are some similarities with the collapse of Titan / Iron bank last year, although part of that involved a discrepancy with the oracle feed. []
  6. A simple way to observe the troubling trend early on was the UST / Luna marketcap ratio (based on circulating supply). Below are specific numbers that appeared in a chatroom I was in:

    April 17 7:30pm EST — 63%
    April 30 11:30am EST — 66%
    May 7 5:00pm EST — 78%
    May 7 6:30pm EST — 81%
    May 8 9:00am EST — 90%
    May 9 1pm EST — 95%
    May 9 3pm EST — 113%
    May 9 11pm EST –125%
    May 10 7:30am EST –149%
    May 10 3:45pm EST– 166%
    May 10 5:30pm EST — 207%
    May 10 6pm EST — 211%
    May 11 5:30am EST — 291%

    In April, the ratio flirted with and fell below the 2/3rd mark. But due to the persistent bear market coupled by sell side pressure of both UST and Luna, by the morning of May 10th, ‘hyper hyperinflation’ was well underway with a massive expansion of Luna’s total supply. []

  7. As mentioned in the bLuna section: users can mint a bAsset called bLuna by depositing Luna into Anchor. Staked funds are effectively pooled together by a white list of validators (users collectively share emission rewards as well as slashing events). These staked funds are used as collateral for borrowers who are subsidized through what is now a money-market. Thus there are three different tokens active in the dapp and the “19.5%” headline figure largely consists of a recurring airdrop of the ANC governance token.  E.g., if Bob deposited bLuna as collateral, he is paid out in ANC (and UST fees) in lieu of his regular staking rewards (or at least pre-crisis that was the case).  And borrowers were subsidized in the form of ANC as well.  Those who deposited UST (not Luna) received 19.5% APY up until this month (where it dropped to 18%).  This came from ANC rewards as well as a reserve fund that TFL topped up on occasion. []
  8. Some analysts think that Anchor was not that big of a deal yet at a minimum it was important as a supply sink. It is not as important in terms of how the system got insolvent; that’s more because of the underlying mint / redeem mechanism. Or as Kevin Zhou concisely explained on Odd Lots: “And they [TFL] would also use that to keep basically topping up the Anchor protocol on their yield reserve. Because they were paying more interest to depositors than they were collecting from borrowers. And, you know, I think in the end stages of Luna in its final days, you could see that the, you know, the deposit amount was way, way higher than the borrowed amount. So, you know, they, they were bleeding.” […] “I think the system was way in the past, it was already insolvent, you know, it’s just that nobody realized because they had created such a strong supply sink in Anchor for this UST, you know, if that disappeared overnight, or even gradually, the entire system was insolvent.” []
  9. Several commentators have attempted to downplay Anchor as little more than a user acquisition strategy, stating “There was nothing wrong with Anchor, they just paid more yield than what was sustainable as a growth strategy. Tons of businesses operate at a loss as a customer acquisition growth strategy.” But we can clearly see, what works for tech platform business development does not apply generally. You probably cannot integrate a heavily subsidized GTM strategy into the incentive mechanisms of your dapp or L1 without contorting the financial system you are building. As one reviewer noted: “sustainable mechanism design needs to make pessimistic assumptions (where assumptions must be made) with respect to the behavior of actors. That means minimizing mercenary behavior (e.g., “I’ll come for the subsidy and immediately depart when the freebie is removed.”). []
  10. Lido is the largest and most popular liquid staking dapp for Ethereum, Terra, and several other blockchains. []
  11. A Luna holder can pledge their Luna as collateral and receive bLuna which pay out rewards in Terra-related tokens such as UST and ANC. []
  12. In this strawman example: a stabilized unit-of-account would not need expand much so as long as its usage is high velocity. “Velocity” is an economics term used to describe how quickly the average unit of money (e.g., dollars) turns over in a given year. If this stabilized unit-of-account is only used to top up loans or fulfill margin requirements, its aggregate size would be different than a synthetic store-of-value (which is what UST attempted to be). Thus $100,000 may be sufficient to help fulfill specific sets of on-chain uses (such as those around derivatives or prediction markets). []
  13. As a friend recently pointed out: “an ‘algo stablecoin’ like Luna / UST is a form of collateralized stablecoin just different from external collateral. In this case, TFL and others were making their own collateral and hoping it retains value. They seemed to believe the amount of Luna backing UST was relatively high enough it could absorb redemptions without going into a spiral because, say, people valued those Luna tokens independently from redemption sufficiently high enough due to its governance rights over the entire blockchain that had other important commercial applications. A small coin that had limited systemic impact could be used as some sort of collateral basis and potentially survive indefinitely.” []
  14. Ultimately all public chains need base layer transactional demand to survive post-block reward. “Hypothetically, an algorithmic stablecoin could survive in the long-run, if it were to have ongoing transaction-related demand (similar to a fiat currency)” from Global Markets Daily: The Economics of Algorithmic Stablecoins, by Rosenberg & Pandl at Goldman Sachs on May 16, 2022. []

How much electricity is consumed by Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Monero?

I recently created a thread that on Twitter regarding the lower-bound estimates for how much electricity the Bitcoin blockchain consumed using publicly available numbers.

The first part of this post is a slightly modified version of that thread.

The second part of this post, below part 1, includes additional information on Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Monero using the same type of methodology.

Background

The original nested thread started by explaining why a proof-of-work (PoW) maximalist view tries to have it both ways.

You cannot simultaneously say that Bitcoin is – as measured by hashrate – the “most secure public chain” and in the same breath say the miners do not consume enormous quantities of energy to achieve that.  The fundamental problem with PoW maximalism is that it wants to have a free energy lunch.

All proof-of-work chains rely on resource consumption to defend their network from malicious attackers.  Consequently, a less resource intensive network automatically becomes a less secure network.1  I discussed this in detail a few years ago.

Part 1: Bitcoin

Someone recently asked for me to explain the math behind some of Bitcoin’s electricity consumption, below is simple model using publicly known numbers:

  • the current Bitcoin network hashrate is around 50 exahashes/sec
  • the most common mining hardware is still the S9 Antminer which churns out ~13 terahashes/sec

Thus the hashrate pointed at the Bitcoin network today is about 50,000,000 terashashes.

Dividing one from the other, this is the equivalent of 3,846,000 S9s… yes over 3 million S9s.

While there is other hardware including some newer, slightly more energy efficient gear online, the S9 is a good approximate.

Because the vast majority of these machines are left on 24/7, the math to estimate how much energy consumption is as follows:

  • in practice, the S9 draws about 1,500 watts
  • so 1,500 x 24 = 36kWh per machine per day

Note: here’s a good thread explaining this by actual miners.

In a single month, one S9 will use ~1,080 kWh.

Thus if you multiply that by 3,846,000 machines, you reach a number that is the equivalent of an entire country.

  • for a single day the math is: ~138.4 million kWh / day
  • annually that is: ~50.5 billion kWh / year

For perspective, ~50.5 billion kWh / year would place the Bitcoin network at around the 47th largest on the list of countries by electricity consumption, right between Algeria and Greece.

But, this estimate is probably a lower-bound because it doesn’t include the electricity consumed within the data centers to cool the systems, nor does it include the relatively older ASIC equipment that is still turned on because of local subsidies a farm might receive.

So what?

According to a recent Wired article:

In Iceland, the finance minister has warned that cryptocurrency mining – which uses more power than the nation’s entire residential demand – could severely damage its economy.

Recent analysis from a researcher at PwC places the Bitcoin network electricity consumption higher, at more than the level of Austria which is number 39th on that list above.  Similarly, a computer science professor from Princeton estimates that Bitcoin mining accounts for almost 1% of the world’s energy consumption.2

Or to look at it in a different perspective: the Bitcoin network is consuming the same level of electricity of a developed country – Austria – a country that generates ~$415 billion per year in economic activity.

Based on a recent analysis from Chainalysis, it found that Bitcoin – which is just one of many proof-of-work coins – handled about $70 million in payments processed for the month of June.  Yet its cost-per-transaction (~$50) is higher than at any point prior to November 2017.

You don’t have to be a hippy tree hugger (I’m not) to clearly see that a proof-of-work blockchains (such as Bitcoin and its derivatives) are currently consuming significantly more resources than they create. However this math is hand-waved away on a regular basis by coin lobbyists.

The figure also didn’t include the e-waste generated from millions of single-use ASIC mining machines that are useful for about ~12 months; or the labor costs, or building rents, or transportation, etc.  These ASIC-based machines are typically discarded and not recycled.

In addition to e-waste, many mining farms also end up with piles of discarded cardboard boxes and styrofoam (source)

Part 2: Bitcoin Cash

With Bitcoin Cash the math and examples are almost identical to the Bitcoin example above.  Why?  Because they both use the same SHA256 proof-of-work hash function and as a result, right now the same exact hardware can be used to mine both (although not simultaneously).3

So what do the numbers look like?

The BCH network hashrate has been hovering around 4 – 4.5 exahashes the past month. So let’s use 4.25 exahashes.

Note: this is about one order of magnitude less hashrate than Bitcoin so you can already guesstimate its electricity usage.  But let’s do it by hand anyways.

An S9 generates ~13 TH/s and 4.25 exahashes is 4.25 million terahashes.

After dividing: the equivalent of about 327,000 S9s are used.

Again, these machines are also left on 24/7 and consume about 36 kWh per machine per day.  So a single S9 will use ~1,080 kWh per month.

  • 327,000 S9s churning for one day: ~11.77 million kWh / day
  • Annually this is: ~4.30 billion kWh / year

To reuse the comparison above, what country’s total electricity consumption is Bitcoin Cash most similar to?

Around 124th, between Moldova and Cambodia.

How much economic activity does Moldova and Cambodia generate with that electricity consumption?  According to several sources, Cambodia has an annual GDP of ~ $22 billion and Moldova has an annual GDP of ~$8 billion.

For comparison, according to Chainalysis, this past May, Bitcoin Cash handled a mere $3.7 million in merchant payments, down from a high of $10.5 million in March a couple months before.

Also, the Bitcoin Cash energy consumption number is likely a lower-bound as well for the reasons discussed above; doesn’t account for the e-waste or the resources consumed to create the mining equipment in the first place.

This illustrates once again that despite the hype and interest in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, there is still little real commercial “activity” beyond hoarding, speculation, and illicit darknet markets.  And in practice, hoarding is indistinguishable from losing a private key so that could be removed too.  Will mainstream adoption actually take place like its vocal advocates claim it will?

Discarded power supplies from Bitcoin mining equipment (source)

Part 3: Ethereum

So what about Ethereum?

Its network hashrate has been hovering very closely to 300 TH/s the past month

At the time of this writing, the Ethereum network is still largely dominated by large GPU farms. It is likely that ASICs were privately being used by a handful of small teams with the necessary engineering and manufacturing talent (and capital), but direct-to-consumer ASIC hardware for Ethereum didn’t really show up until this summer.

There are an estimated 10 million GPUs churning up hashes for the Ethereum network, to replace those with ASICs will likely take more than a year… assuming price stability occurs (and coin prices are volatile and anything but stable).

For illustrative purposes, what if the entire network were to magically switch over the most efficient hardware -the Innosilicon A10 – released next month?

Innosilicon currently advertises its top machine can generate 485 megahashes/sec and consumes ~ 850 W.

So what is that math?

The Ethereum network is ~300 TH/s which is around 300,000,000 megahashes /sec.

Quick division: that’s the equivalent of 618,557 A10 machines.

Again, each machine is advertised to consume ~850 W.

  • in a single day one A10 consumes: 20.4 kWh
  • in a month: ~612 kWh

So what would 618,557 A10 machines consume in a single day?
– about 12.6 million kWh / day

And annually:
– about 4.6 billion kWh / year

That works out to be between Afghanistan or Macau.  However…

Before you say “this is nearly identical to Bitcoin Cash” keep in mind that the Ethereum estimate above is the lowest of lower-bounds because it uses the most efficient mining gear that hasn’t even been released to the consumer.

In reality the total energy consumption for Ethereum is probably twice as high.

Why is Etherum electricity usage likely twice as high as the example above?

Because each of the ~10 million GPUs on the Ethereum network is significantly less efficient per hash than the A10 is. 4  Note: an example of a large Ethereum mine that uses GPUs is the Enigma facility.

For instance, an air-cooled Vega 64 can churn ~41 MH/s at around 135 W which as you see above, is much less efficient per hash than an A10.

If the Ethereum network was comprised by some of the most efficient GPUs (the Vega 64) then the numbers are much different.

Starting with: 300,000,000 MH/s divided by 41 MH/s.  There is the equivalent to 7.32 million Vega GPUs generating hashes for the network which is more in line with the ~10 million GPU estimate.

  • one Vega 64 running a day consumes ~3.24 kWh
  • one Vega 64 running a month: ~77.7 kWh

If 7.32 million Vega equivalent GPUs were used:

  • in a day: ~ 23.71 million kWh
  • in a year: ~8.65 billion kWh

That would place the Ethereum network at around 100th on the electricity consumption list, between Guatemala and Estonia.

In terms of economic activity: Guatemala’s GDP is around $75 billion and Estonia’s GDP is around $26 billion.

What is Ethereum’s economic activity?

Unlike Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash, the stated goal of Ethereum was basically to be a ‘censorship-resistant’ world computer.  Although it can transmit funds (ETH), its design goals were different than building an e-cash payments platform which is what Bitcoin was originally built for.

So while merchants can and do accept ETH (and its derivatives) for payment, perhaps a more accurate measure of its activity is how many Dapp users there are.

There are a couple sites that estimate Daily Active Users:

  • State of the Dapps currently estimates that there are 8.93k users and 8.25K ETH moving through Dapps
  • DappRadar estimates a similar number, around 8.37k users and 8.57K ETH moving through Dapps

Based on the fact that the most popular Dapps are decentralized exchanges (DEXs) and MLM schemes, it is unlikely that the Ethereum network is generating economic activity equivalent to either Guatemala or Estonia.5

For more on the revenue Ethereum miners have earned and an estimate for how much CO2 has been produced, Dominic Williams has crunched some numbers.  See also this footnote.6

According to Malachi Salacido (above), their mining systems (in the background) are at a 2 MW facility, they are building a 10 MW facility now and have broken ground on a 20 MW facility. Also have 8 MW of facilities in 2 separate locations and developing projects for another 80 MW. (source)

Part 4: Litecoin

If you have been reading my blog over the past few years, you’ll probably have seen some of my Litecoin mining guides from 2013 and 2014.

If you haven’t, the math to model Litecoin’s electricity usage is very similar to both Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash.  From a mining perspective, the biggest difference between Litecoin and the other two is that Litecoin uses a hash function called scrypt, which was intended to make Litecoin more “ASIC-resistant”.

Spoiler alert: that “resistance” didn’t last long.

Rather than diving into the history of that philosophical battle, as of today, the Litecoin network is composed primarily of ASIC mining gear from several different vendors.

One of the most popular pieces of equipment is the L3+ from Bitmain.  It’s basically the same thing as the L3 but with twice the hashrate and twice the power consumption.

So let’s do some numbers.

Over the past month, the Litecoin network hashrate has hovered around 300 TH/s, or 300 million MH/s.

Based on reviews, the L3+ consumes ~800 W and generates ~500 MH/s.

So some quick division, there are about 600,000 L3+ machines generating hashes for the Litecoin network today.

As an aggregate:

  • A single L3+ will consume 19.2 kWh per day
  • So 600,000 will consume 11.5 million kWh per day
  • An annually: 4.2 billion kWh per year

Coincidentally this is roughly the same amount as Bitcoin Cash does as well.

So it would be placed around 124th, between Moldova and Cambodia.

Again, this is likely a lower-bound as well because it assumes the L3+ is the most widely used ASIC for Litecoin but we know there are other, less efficient ones being used as well.

What about activity?

While there are a few vocal merchants and a small army of “true believers” on social media, anecdotally I don’t think I’ve spoken to someone in the past year who has used Litecoin for any good or service (besides converting from one coin to another).

We can see that — apart from the bubble at the end of last year — the daily transaction volume has remained roughly constant each day for the past 18 months.  Before you flame me with a troll account, consider that LitePay collapsed before it could launch, partly because Litecoin still lacks a strong merchant-adopting ecosystem.

In other words, despite some support by merchant payment processors, its current usage is likely as marginal as Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash.

Genesis Mining facility with Zeus scrypt mining equipment (source)

Part 5: Monero

The math around Monero is most similar to Ethereum in that it is largely dominated by GPUs.

In fact, earlier this year, a large number of Monero developers convinced its boisterous userbase to fork the network to prevent ASICs from being used.  This resulted in four Monero forks and basically all of them are dominated by high-end GPUs.

For the purposes of this article, we are looking at the fork that has the highest hashrate, XMR.  Over the past month its hashrate has hovered around 475 MH/s.

Only 475 MH/s?  That may sound like a very diminutive hashrate, but it is all relative to what most CPU and GPU hashrate performance is measured in Monero and not other coins.

For example, MoneroBenchmarks lists hundreds of different system configurations with the corresponding hashrate.  Similarly there are other independent testing systems that provide public information on hashrates.

Let’s take that same Vega 64 used above from Ethereum.  For Monero, based on tweaking it generates around 2000 hashes/sec and consumes around 160 W.

So the math is as follows:

  • 475,000,000 hashes/sec is the current average hashrate
  • A single Vega 64 will generate about 2000 hashes/sec
  • The equivalent of 237,500 Vega 64s are being used
  • Each Vega 64 consumes about 3.84 kWh per day
  • So 237,500 Vega 64s consume 912,000 kWh per day
  • And in a year: 332 million kWh

The 332 million kWh / year figure is a lower-bound because like the Ethereum Vega 64 example above: it doesn’t include the whole mining system, all of these systems still need a CPU with its own RAM, hard drive, and so forth.

As a result, the real electricity consumption figure is much closer to Haiti than Seychelles, perhaps even higher.  Note: Haiti has a ~$8.4 billion economy and the GDP of Seychelles is ~$1.5 billion.

So what about Monero’s economic activity?  Many Monero advocates like to market it as a privacy-focused coin.  Some of its “core” developers publicly claimed it would be the best coin to use for interacting with darknet markets.  Whatever the case may be, compared to the four above, currently it is probably the least used for commercial activity as revealed by its relative flat transactional volume this past year.

A now-deleted image of a Monero mining farm in Toronto (source)

Conclusion

Above were examples of how much electricity is consumed by just five proof-of-work coins.  And there are hundreds of other PoW coins actively online using disproportionate amounts of electricity relative to what they process in payments or commerce.

This article did not dive into the additional resources (e.g., air conditioning) used to cool mining equipment.  Or the subsidies that are provided to various mining farms over the years.  It also doesn’t take into account the electricity used by thousands of validating nodes that each of the networks use to propagate blocks each day.

It also did not include the huge amount of semiconductors (e.g. DRAM, CPUs, GPUs, ASICs, network chips, motherboards, etc.) that millions of mining machines use and quickly depreciate within two years, almost all of which becomes e-waste.7 For ASIC-based systems, the only thing that is typically reused is the PSU, but these ultimately fail as well due to constant full-throttle usage.

In summation, as of this writing in late August 2018:

  • Bitcoin’s blockchain likely uses the same electricity footprint as Austria, but probably higher
  • Bitcoin Cash’s blockchain is at least somewhere between Moldova and Cambodia, but probably higher
  • Ethereum’s blockchain is at least somewhere between Guatemala and Estonia, but probably higher
  • Litecoin’s blockchain is at least somewhere between Moldova and Cambodia, but probably higher
  • One of Monero’s blockchains is at least somewhere between Haiti and Seychelles, but probably higher

Altogether, these five networks alone likely consume electricity and other resources at an equivalent scale as The Netherlands especially once you begin to account for the huge e-waste generated by the discarded single-use ASICs, the components of which each required electricity and other resources to manufacture.  Perhaps even higher when costs of land, labor, on-going maintenance, transportation and other inputs are accounted for.

The Netherlands has the 18th largest economy in the world, generating $825 billion per annum.

I know many coin supporters say that is not a fair comparison but it is.  The history of development and industrialization since the 18th century is a story about how humanity is increasingly more productive and efficient per unit of energy.

Proof-of-work coins are currently doing just the opposite.  Instead of being more productive (e.g., creating more outputs with the same level of inputs), as coin prices increase, this incentivizes miners to use more not less resources.  This is known as the Red Queen Effect.89

For years, proof-of-work advocates and lobbying organizations like Coin Center have been claiming that the energy consumption will go down and/or be replaced by renewable energy sources.

But this simply cannot happen by design: as the value of a PoW coin increases, miners will invest more capital in order to win those coins.  This continues to happen empirically and it is why over time, the aggregate electricity consumption for each PoW coin has increased over time, not decreased.  As a side-effect, cryptocurrency mining manufacturers are now doing IPOs.10

Reporters, if you plan to write future stories on this topic, always begin by looking at the network hashrate of the specific PoW coin you are looking at and dividing it by the most common piece of mining hardware.  These numbers are public and cannot be easily dismissed.  Also worth looking at the mining restrictions and bans in Quebec, Plattsburgh, Washington State, China, and elsewhere.

To front-run an example that coin promoter frequently use as a whataboutism: there are enormous wastes in the current traditional financial industry, removing those inefficiencies is a decades-long ordeal.  However, as of this writing, no major bank is building dozens of data centers and filling them with single-use ASIC machines which continuously generate random numbers like proof-of-work coins do.  That would be rightly labeled as a waste.

In point of fact, according to the Federal Reserve:

In the aggregate, U.S. PCS systems process approximately 600 million transactions per day, valued at over $12.6 trillion.

It shouldn’t take the energy footprint of a single country, big or small, to confirm and settle electronic payments of that same country.  The fact of the matter is that with all of its headline inefficiencies (and injustices), that the US financial system has — the aggregate service providers still manage to process more than three orders of magnitude more in transactional volume per day than all of the major PoW coins currently do.11 And that is just one country.

Frequent rejoinders will be something like “but Lightning!” however at the time of this writing, no Lightning implementation has seen any measurable traction besides spraying virtual graffiti on partisan-run websites.

Can the gap between the dearth of transactional volume and the exorbitantly high cost-per-transaction ratio be narrowed?  Does it all come down to uses?  Right now, the world is collectively subsidizing dozens of minuscule speculation-driven economies that in aggregate consumes electricity on par with the 18th largest real economy, but produces almost nothing tangible in exchange for it.

What if all mining magically, immediately shifted over to renewable energy?

Izabella Kaminska succinctly described how this still doesn’t solve the environmental impact issues:

Renewable is displacement. Renewable used by bitcoin network is still renewable not used by more necessary everyday infrastructure. Since traditional global energy consumption is still going up, that ensures demand for fossil continues to increase.

To Kaminska’s point, in April a once-shuttered coal power plant in Australia was announced to be reopened to provide electricity to a cryptocurrency miner.  And just today, a senator from Montana warned that the closure of a coal power plant “could harm the booming bitcoin mining business in the state.”

It is still possible to be interested in cryptocurrencies and simultaneously acknowledge the opportunity costs that a large subset of them, proof-of-work coins, are environmental black holes.12

If you’re interested in discussing this topic more, feel free to reach out.  If you’re looking to read detailed papers on the topic, also highly recommend the first two links listed below.

Recommended reading:

End notes

  1. If the market value of a coin decreases, then because hashrate follows price, in practice hashrate also declines.  See also a ‘Maginot Line’ attack []
  2. Another estimate is that Bitcoin’s energy usage creates as much CO2 as 1 million transatlantic flights. []
  3. There have been proposals from various developers over the years to change this hash function but at the time of this writing, both Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash use the same one. []
  4. And because many of these mining systems likely use more-powerful-than-needed CPUs. []
  5. Note: Vitalik Buterin highlighted this discrepancy earlier this year with the NYT: The creator of Ethereum, Vitalik Buterin, is leading an experiment with a more energy-efficient way to create tokens, in part because of his concern about the impact that the network’s electricity use could have on global warming. “I would personally feel very unhappy if my main contribution to the world was adding Cyprus’s worth of electricity consumption to global warming,” Mr. Buterin said in an interview. []
  6. At 8.65 billion kWh * $0.07 / kWh comes to around $600 million spent on electricity per year.  Mining rewards as of this writing: 3 ETH * $267 / ETH * 6000 blocks / day equals to $4.8 million USD / day.  Or ~$1.7 billion per year.  This includes electricity and hardware.  Thanks to Vitalik for double-checking this for me. []
  7. Just looking at the hash-generating machines, according to Chen Min (a chip designer at Avalon Mining), as of early November 2017, 5% of all transistors in the entire semiconductor industry is now used for cryptocurrency mining and that Ethereum mining alone is driving up DRAM prices. []
  8. See Chapter 3 []
  9. As described in a Politico article this past spring: “To maintain their output, miners had to buy more servers, or upgrade to the more powerful servers, but the new calculating power simply boosted the solution difficulty even more quickly. In effect, your mine was becoming outdated as soon as you launched it, and the only hope of moving forward profitably was to adopt a kind of perpetual scale-up: Your existing mine had to be large enough to pay for your next, larger mine.” []
  10. Following the dramatic drop in coin prices since January, Nvidia missed its revenue forecast from cryptocurrency-related mining: Revenues from miners were $289 million in Q1, which was about 10% of Nvidia’s revenue. The forecast for Q2 was $100 million and the actual revenues ended up being $18 million. []
  11. On average, the Bitcoin network confirms about 300,000 transactions per day.  A lot of that is not commercial activity.  Let’s take the highest numbers from Chainalysis and assume that each major cryptocurrency is processing at least $10 million in merchant transactions a day.  They aren’t, but let’s assume that they are.  That is still several orders of magnitude less than what US PCS systems do each day. []
  12. The ideological wing within the cryptocurrency world has thus far managed to convince society that negative externalities are ‘worth the cost.’  This narrative should be challenged by both policy makers and citizens alike as everyone must unnecessarily bear the environmental and economic costs of proof-of-work blockchains.  See also the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index from Digiconomist and also Bitcoin is not a good fit for renewable energy. Here’s why. []

Book Review: Cryptoassets

[Disclaimer: The views expressed below are solely my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my clients.  I currently own no cryptocurrencies.]

As a follow-on to my previous book reviews, an old colleague lent me a copy of Cryptoassets by Chris Burniske and Jack Tatar.

Overall they have several “meta” points that could have legs if they substantially modify the language and structure of multiple sections in the book.  As a whole it’s about on par with the equally inaccurate “Blockchain Revolution” by the Tapscotts.

As I have one in my previous book reviews, I’ll go through and provide specific quotes to backup the view that the authors should have waited for more data and relevant citations as some of their arguments lack definitive supporting evidence.

In short: hold off from buying this edition.

If you’re interested in understanding the basics of cryptocurrencies but without the same level of inaccuracies, check out the new The Basics of Bitcoins and Blockchains by Antony Lewis.  And if you’re interested in the colorful background of some of the first cryptocurrency investors and entrepreneurs, check out Digital Gold by Nathaniel Popper.

Another point worth mentioning at the beginning is that there are no upfront financial disclosures by the authors.  They do casually mention that they have bitcoin once or twice, but that’s about it.

I think this is problematic because it is not being transparent about potential conflicts of interest (e.g., promoting financial products you may own and hope to see financial gain from).

For instance, we learned that Chris Burniske carried around a lot of USD worth of cryptocurrencies on his phone from a NYT article last year:

But a particularly concentrated wave of attacks has hit those with the most obviously valuable online accounts: virtual currency fanatics like Mr. Burniske.

Within minutes of getting control of Mr. Burniske’s phone, his attackers had changed the password on his virtual currency wallet and drained the contents — some $150,000 at today’s values.

Some quick math for those at home.  The NYT article above was published on August 21, 2017 when 1 BTC was worth about $4,050 and 1 ETH was worth about $314.  So Burniske may have had around 37 BTC or 477 ETH or a combination of these two (and other coins).

That is not a trivial amount of money and arguably should have been disclosed in this book and other venues (such as op-eds and analyst reports).1 In the next edition, they should consider adding a disclosure statement.

A final comment is that several reviewers suggested I modify the review below to be (re)structured like a typical book review — comparing broad themes instead of a detailed dissection — after all who is going to read 38,000+ words?

That is a fair point.  Yet because many of the points they attempt to highlight are commonly repeated by promoters of cryptocurrencies, I felt that this review could be a useful resource for readers looking for different perspective to the same topics frequently discussed in media and at events.

Note: all transcription errors are my own.


Authors’ Note

On p. xi, the authors wrote:

When embarking on our literary journey, we recognized the difficulty in documenting arguably the world’s fastest moving markets. These markets can change as much in a day – up or down – as the stock market changes in a year.

It is only mentioned in passing once or twice, but we know that market manipulation is a real on-going phenomenon.  The next edition could include a subsection of cryptocurrencies and ICOs that the CFTC and SEC – among other regulators – have identified and prosecuted for manipulation.  More on that later below.

Foreword

On p. xiv, Brian Kelly wrote in the Foreword

The beauty of this book is that it takes the reader on a journey from bitcoin’s inception in the ashes of the Great Financial Crisis to its role as a diversifier in a traditional investment portfolio.

A small quibble: Satoshi actually began writing the code for Bitcoin sometime in mid-2007, before the GFC took place.  It may be a chronological coincidence that it came out when it did, especially since it was supposed to be a payment system, which is just one small function of a commercial bank.23

On p. xv Kelly writes:

As with any new model, there are questions about legality and sustainability, but the Silicon Valley ethos of “break things first, then ask for forgiveness” has found its way to Wall Street.

There are also two problems with this:

  1. Both the SEC and CFTC – among other federal agencies – were set up in the past because of the behavior that Kelly thinks is good: “break things first, then ask for forgiveness” is arguably a bad ethos to have for any fiduciary and prudential organizations.4
  2. Any organization can do that, that’s not hard.  Some have gotten away with it more than others.  For instance, Coinbase was relatively loose with its KYC / AML requirements in 2012-2014 and has managed to get away with it because it grew fast enough to become an entity that could lobby the government.

On p.xv Kelly writes

“Self-funded, decentralized organizations are a new species in the global economy that are changing everything we know about business.”

In point of fact, virtually all cryptocurrencies are not self-funded.  Even Satoshi had some kind of budget to build Bitcoin with.  And basically all ICOs are capital raises from external parties.  Blockchains don’t run and manage themselves, people do.

On p. xv Kelly writes:

“These so-called fat protocols are self-funding development platforms that create and gain value as applications are built on top.”

The fat protocol thesis has not really born out in reality, more on that in a later chapter below.  While lots of crytpocurrency “thought leaders” love to cite the original USV article, none of the platforms are actually self-funded yet.  They all require external capital to stay afloat because insiders cash out for real money.5 And because there is a coin typically shoehorned at the protocol layer, there is very little incentive for capable developers to actually create apps on top — hence the continual deluge of new protocols each month — few actors want to build apps when they can become rich building protocols that require coins. More on this later.6

Introduction

On p. xxii the authors write:

“… and Marc Andreessen developing the first widely used web browser, which ultimately became Netscape.”

A pedantic point: Marc Andreessen was leader of a team that built Mosaic, not to take away from that accomplishment, but he didn’t single handedly invent the web browser.  Maybe worth rewording in next edition.

On p. xxiii they write:

Interestingly, however, the Internet has become increasingly centralized over time, potentially endangering its original conception as a “highly survivable system.”

This is a valid point however it glosses over the fact that all blockchains use “the internet” and also — in practice — most public blockchains are actually highly centralized as well.  Perhaps that changes in time, but worth looking at “arewedecentralizedyet.”

On p. xxiii they write:

Blockchain technology can now be thought of as a general purpose technology, on par with that of the steam engine, electricity, and machine learning.

This is still debatable.  After all, there is no consensus on what “blockchains” are and furthermore, as we have seen in benchmark comparisons, blockchains (however defined) come in different configurations.  While there are a number of platforms that like to market themselves as “general purpose,” the fact of the matter is that there are trade-offs based on the user requirements: always ask who the end-users and the use-cases a blockchain was built around are.

On p. xxiv they cite Don and Alex Tapscott.  Arguably they aren’t credible people on this specific topic.  For example, their book was riddled with errors and they even inappropriately made-up advisors on their failed bid to launch and fund their NextBlock Global fund.

On p. xxiv the authors write:

Financial incumbents are aware blockchain technology puts on the horizon a world without cash – no need for loose bills, brick-and-mortar banks, or, potentially, centralized monetary policies.  Instead, value is handled virtually through a system that has no central authority figure and is governened in a centralized and democratic manner. Mathematics force order in the operations. Our life savings, and that of our heirs, could be entirely intangible, floating in a soup of secure 1s and 0s, the entire system accessed through computers and smartphones.

This conflates multiple things: digitization with automation.7  Retail banking has and will continue its march towards full digital banking.  You don’t necessarily need a blockchain to accomplish that — we see that with Zelle’s adoption already.8

Also, central banks are well aware that they could have some program adjust interest rates, but discretion is still perceived as superior due to unforeseen incidents and crisis. 9

On p. xxv they write:

The native assets historically have been called cryptocurrencies or altcoins but we prefer the term cryptoassets, which is the term we will use throughout the book.

The term seems to have become a commonly accepted term but to be pedantic: most owners and users do not actually utilize the “cryptography” part — because they house the coins in exchanges and other intermediaries they must trust (e.g., the user doesn’t actually control the coin with a private key).10

And as we continue to see, these coins are easily forkable.  You can’t fork physical assets but you can fork and clone digital / virtual ones.  That’s a separate topic though maybe worth mentioning in the next edition.

On p. xxv they write:

It’s early enough in the life of blockchain technology that no books yet have focused solely on public blockchains and their native cryptoassetss from the investing perspective. We are changing that because investors need to be aware of the opportunity and armed both to take advantage and protect themselves in the fray.

Might be worth rewording because in Amazon there are about 760 books that pop up when “investing in cryptocurrencies” is queried.  And many of those predate the publication of Cryptoassets.  For instance, Brian Kelly, who wrote the Forward, published a fluffy coin promotion book a few years ago.

On p. xv they write:

Inevitably, innovation of such magnitude, fueled by the mania of making money, can lead to overly optimistic investors. Investors who early on saw potential in Internet stock encountered the devastating dot-com bubble. Stock in Books-A-Million saw its price soar by over 1,000 percent in one week simply by announcing it had an updated website. Subsequently, the price crashed and the company has since delisted and gone private. Other Internet-based high flyers that ended up crashing include Pets.com, Worldcom, and WebVan. Today, none of those stocks exist.

So far, so good, right?

Whether specific cryptoassets will survive or go the way of Books-A-Million remains to be seen.  What’s clear, however, is that some will be big winners. Altogether, between the assets native to blockchains and the companies that stand to capitalize on this creative destruction, there needs to be a game plan that investors use to analyze and ultimately profit from this new investment theme of cryptoassets. The goal of this book is not to predict the future – it’s changing too fast for all but the lucky to be right- but rather to prepare investors for a variety of futures.

Even for 2017 when the book was publish, this statement is lagging a bit because there were already several “coin graveyard” sites around.  Late last month Bloomberg ran a story: more than 1,000 coins are dead according to Coinopsy.

It is also unclear, “that some will be big winners.”  Maybe modify this part in the next version.11

On p. xxvi they write:

“One of the keys to Graham’s book was always reminding the investor to focus on the inherent value of an investment without getting caught in the irrational behavior of the markets.”

There is a healthy debate as to whether cryptocurrencies and “cryptoassets” have any inherent value either.12  Arguably most coins traded on a secondary market depend on some level of ‘irrational’ behavior: many coin holders have short time horizons and want someone else to help push up the price so they can eventually cash out.13

Chapter 1

On p. 3 they write:

In 2008, Bitcoin rose like a phoenix from the ashes of near Wall Street collapse.

This a little bit of revisionist history.14

The Bitcoin whitepaper came out on October 31, 2008 and Satoshi later said that he/she had spent the previous 18 months coding it first before writing it up in a paper.  The authors even discuss this later on page 7.  Worth removing in next edition.

On p. 3 they write:

Meanwhile, Bitcoin provided a system of decentralized trust for value transfer, relying not on the ethics of humankind but on the cold calculation of computers and laying the foundation potentially to obviate the need for much of Wall Street.

This is not quite true.  At most, Bitcoin as it was conceived and as it is today — is a relatively expensive payment network that doesn’t provide definitive settlement finality.15 Banks as a whole, do more than just handle payments — they manage many other services and products.  So the comparison isn’t really apples-to-apples.

Note: banks again as a whole spend more on IT-related systems than nearly any other vertical — so there is already lots of “cold calculation” taking place within each of these financial institutions.16

Now, maybe blockchain-related ideas replace or enhance some of these institutions, but it is unlikely that Bitcoin itself as it exists today, will do any of that.

On p. 5 they write:

What people didn’t realize, including Wall Street executives, was how deep and interrelated the risks CMOs posed were. Part of the problem was that CMOs were complex financial instruments supported by outdated financial architecture that blended and analog systems.

That may have been part of a bigger problem.17

There were a dozen plus factors for how and why the GFC arose and evolved, but “outdated financial infrastructure” isn’t typically at the top of the list of culprits.  Would blockchain-like systems have prevented the entire crisis?  There are lots of op-eds that have made the claim, but the authors do not really provide much evidence to support the specific “blended” argument here.  Perhaps worth articulating in its own section next time.

Speaking of which, also on p. 5 they write:

Whether as an individual or an entity, what’s now clear is that Satoshi was designing a technology that if existent would have likely ameliorated the toxic opacity of CMOs. Due of the distributed transparency and immutable audit log of a blockchain, each loan issued and packaged into different CMOs could have been documented on a single blockchain.

This seems to conflate two separate things: Bitcoin as Satoshi originally designed it in 2008 (for payments) and later what many early adopters have since promoted it as: blockchain as FMI.18

Bitcoin was (purposefully) not designed to do anything with regulated financial instruments, it doesn’t meet the PFMI requirements.  He was trying to build e-cash that didn’t require KYC and was difficult to censor… not ways to audit CMOs.  If that was the goal, architecturally Bitcoin would likely look a lot different than it did (for instance, no PoW).

And lastly on p. 5 they write:

This would have allowed any purchaser to view a coherent record of CMO ownership and the status of each mortgage within.  Unfortunately, in 2008 multiple disparate systems – which were expensive and therefore poorly reconciled – held the system together by digital strings.

Interestingly, this is the general pitch for “enterprise” blockchains: that with all of the disparate siloed systems within regulated financial institutions, couldn’t reconciliation be removed if these same systems could share the same record and facts on that ledger?  Hence the creation of more than a dozen enterprise-focused “DLT” platforms now being trialed and piloted by a slew of businesses.

This is briefly discussed later but the next edition could expand on it as the platforms do not need a cryptocurrency involved.19

On p. 7 they write:

By the time he released the paper, he had already coded the entire system.  In his own words, “I had to write all the code before I could convince myself that I could solve every problem, then I wrote the paper.” Based on historical estimates, Satoshi likely started formalizing the Bitcoin concept sometime in late 2006 and started coding around May 2007.

Worth pointing out that Hal Finney and Ray Dillinger — and likely several others – helped audit the code and paper before any of it was publicly released.

On p. 8 they write:

Many years later people would realize that one of the most powerful use cases of blockchain technology was to inscribe immutable and transparent information that could never be wiped from the face of digital history and that was free for all to see.

There appears to be a little hyperbole here.

Immutability has become a nebulous word that basically means many different things to everyone.  In practice, the only thing that is “immutable” on any blockchain is the digital signature — it is a one-way hash.   All something like proof-of-work or proof-of-stake does are decide who gets to vote to append the chain.

Also, as mentioned above, there are well over 1,000 dead coins so it is actually relatively common for ‘digital history’ to effectively be wiped out.

On p. 8 they write:

A dollar invested then would be worth over $1 million by the start of 2017, underscoring the viral growth that the innovation was poised to enjoy.

Hindsight is always 20-20 and the wording above seems to be a little unclear with dates.  As often as the authors say “this is not a book endorsing investments,” other passages seem do just the opposite: by saying how smart you would’ve been if you had bought at a relative low, during certain (cherry picked) dates.

Also, what viral growth?  What are the daily active and monthly active user numbers they think are occurring on these chains?  In later chapters, they do cite some on-chain activity but this version lacks specific DAU / MAU that would strengthen their arguments.20 Worth revisiting in the next edition.

On p. 8 they write:

Diving deeper into Satoshi’s writings around the time, it becomes more apparent that he was fixated on providing an alternative financial system, if not a replacement entirely.

This isn’t quite right.  The very first thing Satoshi tried to build was a marketplace to play poker which was supposed to be integrated with the original wallet itself.

A lot of the talk about “alternative financial system” is arguably revisionist propaganda from folks like Andreas Antonopoulos who have tried to rewrite the history of Bitcoin to conform with their political ideology.

Readers should also check out MojoNation and what that team tried to accomplish.

On p. 9 they write;

While Wall Street as we knew it was experiencing an expensive death, Bitcoin’s birth cost the world nothing.

There are at least two issues that can be modified for the future:

  1.  Wall Street hasn’t died, maybe parts of the financial system are replaced or removed or enhanced, but for better and worse almost 10 years since the collapse of Lehman, the collective financial industry is still around.
  2.  Bitcoin cost somebody something, there were opportunity costs in its creation.  And as we now know: the ongoing environmental impact is enormous.  Yet promoters typically handwave it away as a “cost of doing anarchy.”  Thus worth rewording or removing in the next edition.

On p. 9 they also wrote:

It was born as an open-source technology and quickly abandoned like a motherless babe in the world. Perhaps, if the global financial system had been healthier, there would have been less of a community to support Bitcoin, which ultimately allowed it to grow into the robust and cantankerous toddler that it currently is.

This prose sounds like something from Occupy Wall Street and not something found in literature to describe a computer program.

For example, there are lots of nominally open source blockchains, hundreds or maybe even thousands.21 That’s not very unique (it is kind of expected since there is a financial incentive to clone them).

And again, Satoshi worked on it for at least a couple years.  It’s not like he/she dropped it off at an orphanage after immediate gestation.  This flowery wording acts like a distraction and should be removed in the next edition.

Chapter 2

On p. 12 they write:

Three reputable institutions would not waste their time, nor jeopardize their reputations, on a nefarious currency with no growth potential.

There is a bit of an unnecessary attitude with this statement.  The message also seems to go against the criticism earlier in the book towards banks.  For instance, the first chapter was critical of the risks that banks took leading up to the GFC.  You can’t have it both ways.  In the next edition, should either remove this or explain what level or risk is appropriate.

Also, what is the “growth potential” here?  Do the authors mean the value of a coin as measured in real money?  Or actual usage of the network?

Lastly, the statement above equates the asset value growth (USD value increases) with a bank’s interest. Bank’s do not typically speculate on the price, they usually only care about volumes which make revenues. A cryptocurrency could go to $0.01 for all they care; and if people want to use it then they could consider servicing it provided the bank sees an ability to make money.  For example, UK banks did not abandon the GBP even though it lost 20% of its value in 2016 following the Brexit referendum.

On p. 12 they write:

Certainly, some of the earliest adopters of Bitcoin were criminals. But the same goes for most revolutionary technologies, as new technologies are often useful tools for those looking to outwit the law.

This is a “whataboutism” and is actually wrong.  Satoshi specifically says he/she has designed Bitcoin to route around intermediaries (like governments) and their ability to censor.  It doesn’t take too much of a stretch to get who would be initially interested in that specific set of payment “rails” especially if there is no legal recourse.22

On p. 12 they also write:

We’ll get into the specific risks associated with cryptoassets, including BItcoin, in a later chapter, but it’s clear that the story of bitcoin as a currency has evolved beyond being solely a means of payment for illegal goods and services. Over 100 media articles have jumped at the opportunity to declare bitcoin dead, and each time they have been proven wrong.

The last sentence has nothing to do with the preceding sentence, this is a non sequitur.

Later in the book they do talk about other use cases but the one that they don’t talk about much is how — according to analytics — the majority of network traffic in 2017 was users moving cryptocurrencies from one exchange to another exchange.

For example, about a month ago, Jonathan Levin from Chainalysis did an interview and mentioned that:

So we can identify, it is quite hard to know how many people. I would say that 80% of transactions that occur on these cryptocurrency ledgers have a counterparty that is a 3rd party service. More than 80%.

Maybe mention in the second edition: the unintended ironic evolution of Bitcoin has had… where it was originally designed to route around intermediaries and instead has evolved into an expensive permissioned-on-permissionless network.23

On p. 13 they write:

It operates in a peer-to-peer manner, the same movement that has driven Uber, Airbnb, and LendingClub to be multibillion-dollar companies in their own realms. Bitcoin lets anyone be their own bank, putting control in the hands of a grassroots movement and empowering the globally unbanked.

Not quite.  For starters: Uber, Airbnb, and LendingClub all act as intermediaries to every transaction, that’s how they became multibillion-dollar companies.

Next, Bitcoin doesn’t really let anyone be their own bank because banks offer a lot more products and services beyond just payments.  At most, Bitcoin provides a way of moving bitcoins you control to someone else’s bitcoin address (wallet).  That’s it.24

And there is not much evidence that Bitcoin or any cryptocurrency for that matter, has empowered many beyond relatively wealthy people in developed or developing countries.  There have been a few feel-good stories about marginalized folks in developing countries, but those are typically (unfortunately) one-off theatrics displaying people living in squalor in order to promote a financial product (coins).  It would be good to see more evidence in the next edition.

For more on this topic, recommend listening to LTB episode 133 with Richard Boase.

On p. 13 they write:

Decentralizing a currency, without a top-down authority, requires coordinated global acceptance of a shared means of payment and store of value.

Readers should check out “arewedecentralizedyet” which illustrates that nearly all cryptourrencies in practice have some type of centralized, top-down hierarchy as of July 2018.

On p. 13 they write:

Bitcoin’s blockchain is a distributed, cryptographic, and immutal database that uses proof-of-work to keep the ecosystem in sync.

Worth modifying because the network is not inherently immutable — only digital signatures have “immutability.”25 Also, proof-of-work doesn’t keep any “ecosystem” in sync.  All proof-of-work does is determine who can append the chain.  The “ecosystem” thing is completely unrelated.

On p. 15 they write:

There is no subjectivity as to whether a transaction is confirmed in Bitcoin’s blockchain: it’s just math.

This isn’t quite true.26 Empirically, mining pools have censored transactions for various reasons.  For example, Luke-Jr (who used to run Eligius pool) thinks that SatoshiDice misuses the network; he is also not a fan of what OP_RETURN was being used for by Counterparty.

Also, humans control pools and also manage the code repositories… blockchains don’t fix and run themselves.  So it’s not as simple as: “it’s just math.”

On p. 15 they write an entire paragraph on “immutability”:

The combination of globally distributed computers that can cryptographically verify transactions and the building of Bitcoin’s blockchain leads to an immutable database, meaning the computers building Bitcoin’s blockchain can only do so in an append only fashion. Append only means that information can only be added to Bitcoin’s blockchain over time and cannot be deleted – an audit trail etched in digital granite. Once information is confirmed in Bitcoin’s blockchain, it’s permanent and cannot be erased. Immutability is a rare feature in a digital world where things can easily be erased, and it will likely become an increasingly valuable attribute for Bitcoin over time.

This seems to have a few issues:

  1. As mentioned several times before in this review, “immutability” is only a characteristic of digital signatures, which are just one piece of a blockchain.  Recommend Gwern’s article entitled “Bitcoin-is-worse-is-better” for more details.
  2. Empirically lots of blockchains have had unexpected and expected block reorgs and hard forks, there is nothing fundamental to prevent this from happening to Bitcoin.  See this recent article discussing a spate of attacks on various PoW coins: Blockchain’s Once-Feared 51% Attack Is Now Becoming Regular
  3. The paragraph above ignores the reality that well over 1,000 blockchains are basically dead and Bitcoin itself had a centralized intervention on more than one occasion, such as the accidental hardfork in 2013 and the Bitcoin block size debate from 2015-2018.

On p. 15 they introduce us to the concept of proof-of-work but don’t really explain its own origin as a means of combating spam email in the 1990s.

For instance, while several Bitcoin evangelists frequently (mistakenly) point to Hashcash as the original PoW progenitor, that claim actually legitimately goes to a 1993 paper entitled Pricing via Processing or Combatting Junk Mail by Cynthia Dwork and Moni Naor.  There are others as well, perhaps worth adding in the next edition.27

On p. 16 they write:

Competition for a financial rewad is also what keeps Bitcoin’s blockchain secure.  If any ill-motivated actors wanted to change Bitcoin’s blockchain, they would need to compete with all the other miners distributed globally who have in total invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the machinery necessary to perform PoW.

This is only true for a Maginot Line attack (e.g., attack via hashrate).28 There are  cheaper and more effective out of band attacks, like hacking BGP or DNS.  Or hacking into intermediaries such as exchanges and hosted wallets.  Sure the attacker doesn’t directly change the blocks, but they do set in motion a series of actions that inevitably result in thefts that end up in blocks further down the chain, when the transactions otherwise wouldn’t have taken place.

On p. 17 they write:

The hardware runs an operating system (OS); in the case of Bitcoin, the operating system is the open-source software that facilitates everything described earlier.  This software is developed by a volunteer group of developers, just as Linux, the operating system that underlies much of the cloud, is maintained by a volunteer group of developers.

This isn’t quite right in at least two areas:

  1. Linux is not financial market infrastructure software; Bitcoin originally attempted to be at the very least, a payments network.  There are reasons why building and maintaining FMI is regulated whereas building an operating system typically isn’t.  It has to do with risk and accountability when accidents happen.  That’s why PFMI exists.
  2. At least in the case of Bitcoin (and typically in most other cryptocurrencies), only one group of developers calls the shots via gating the BIP / EIP process.  If you don’t submit your proposals and get it approved through this process, it won’t become part of Bitcoin Core.  For more on this, see: Bitcoin Is Now Just A Ticker Symbol and Stopped Being Permissionless Years Ago

On p. 17 they discuss “private versus public blockchains”:

The difference between public and private blockchains is similar to that between the Internet and intranets.  The internet is a public resource.  Anyone can tap into it; there’s not gate keepers.

This is wrong.  All ISPs gate their customers via KYC.  Not just anyone can set up an account with an ISP, in fact, customers can and do get kicked off for violating Terms of Service.

“The Internet” is just an amalgamation of thousands of ISPs, each of whom have their own Terms of Service.  About a year ago I published an in-depth article about why this analogy is bad and should not be use: Intranets and the Internet.

On p. 18 they write:

Public systems are ones like BItcoin, where anyone with the right hardware and software can connect to the network and access the information therein.  There is no bouncer checking IDs at the door.

This is not quite right.  The “permissionless” characteristic has to do with block making: who has the right to vote on creating/adding a new block… not who has the ability to download a copy of the blockchain.  Theoretically there is no gatekeeper for block making in Bitcoin. Although, there are explicit KYC checks on the edges (primarily at exchanges).

In practice, the capital and knowledge requirements to actually create a new mining pool and aggregate hashpower that is sufficiently capable of generating the right hash and “winning” the scratch-off lottery is very high, such that on a given month just 20 or so block makers are actually involved.29

While there is no strict permissioning of these participants (some come and go over the years), it is arguably a de facto oligopoly based on capital expenditures and not some type of feel-good meritocracy described in this book.30

On p. 18 they write:

Private systems, on the other hand, employ a bouncer at the door. Only entities that have the proper permissions can become part of the network. These private systems came about after Bitcoin did, when enterprises and businesses realized they liked the utility of Bitcoin’s blockchain, but weren’t comfortable or legally allowed to be as open with he information propagated among public entities.

This is not nuanced enough.  What precisely is permissioned on a “permissioned” blockchain is: who gets to do the validation.

While there are likely dozens of “permissioned” blockchain vendors — each of which may have different characteristics — the common one is that the validators are KYC’ed participants.  That way they can be held accountable if there is a problem (like a fork).

For example, many enterprises and businesses tried to use Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other cryptocurrencies but because these blockchains were not built with their use cases in mind, unsurprisingly found that they were not a good fit.

This is not an insult: the “comfort” refrain is tiring because there have been a couple hundred proofs-of-concept on Bitcoin – and variants thereof – to look into whether those chains were fit-for-purpose… and they weren’t.  This passage should be reworded in the second edition.

On p. 18 they write:

Within financial services, these private blockchains are largely solutions by incumbents in a fight to remain incumbents.

Maybe that is the motivation of some stakeholders, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in a meeting in which the participants (banks) specifically said that.  It would be good to have a citation added in the next edition.  Otherwise, as Hitchens said: what can be presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

On p. 18 they write:

While there is merit to many of these solutions, some claim the greatest revolution has been getting large and secretive entities to work together, sharing information and best practices, which will ultimately lower the cost of services to the end consumer. We believe that over time the implementation of private blockchains will erode the position held by centralized powerhouses because of the tendency toward open networks. In other words, it’s a foot in the door for further decentralization and the use of public blockchains.

This is a “proletariat” narrative that is frequently used in many cryptocurrency books.  While there is a certain truth to an angle – collaboration of regulated entities that normally compete with one another – many of the vendors and platforms that they are piloting are actually “open.”

Which brings up the euphemism that some vocal public blockchain promoters like to stake a claim in… the ill-defined “open.”  For instance, coin lobbyists such as Coin Center and coin promoters such as Andreas Antonopoulos regularly advertise that they are experts and advocates of “open” chains but their language is typically filled with strawmen.

For instance, enterprise-specific platforms such as Fabric, Corda, and Quorum are all open sourced, anyone can download and run the code without the permission of the vendors that contribute code or support to the platforms.

Thus, it could be argued that these platforms are “open” too… which they are.

But it is highly unlikely that ideological advocates would ever defend or promote these platforms, because of their disdain and aversion to platforms built by financial organizations. 31

Lastly, this “foot in the door” comment comes in all shapes and sizes; sometimes coin promoters use “Trojan horse” as well.  Either way it misses the point: enterprises will use technology that solves problems for them and will not use technology that doesn’t solve their problem.

In practice, most cryptocurrencies were not designed – on purpose – to solve problems that regulated institutions have… so it is not a surprise they do not use coin-based platforms as FMI.  It has nothing to do with the way the coin platforms are marketed and everything to do with the problems the coins solve.

On p. 19 they write:

Throughout this book, we will focus on public blockchains and their native assets, or what we will define as cryptoassets, because we believe this is where the greatest opportunity awaits the innovative investor.

The authors use the term “innovative investor” a dozen or more times in the book.  It’s not a particularly useful term.32

Either way, later in the book they don’t really discuss the opportunity cost of capital: what are the tradeoffs of an accredited investor who puts their money long term into a coin versus buys equity in a company.  Though, to be fair, part of the problem is that most of the companies that actually have equity to buy, do not publish usage or valuation numbers because they are still private… so it is hard to accurately gauge that specific trade-off.33

On p. 19 they write about Bitcoin maximalism (without calling it that):

We disagree with that exclusive worldview, as there are many other interesting consensus mechanisms being developed, such as proof-of-stake, proof-of-existence, proof-of-elapsed time, and so on.

Proof-of-existence is not a consensus mechanism.  PoE simply verifies the existence of a file at a specific time based on a hash from a specific blockchain.  It does not provide consensus.  This should be reworded in the next edition.

Furthermore, neither proof-of-stake or proof-of-elapsed-time are actual consensus mechanisms either… they are vote ordering mechanisms — a mechanism to prevent or control sybil attacks. 34  See this excellent thread from Emin Gun Sirer.

Chapter 3

On p. 22 they write:

Launched in February 2011, the Silk Road provided a rules-free decentralized marketplace for any product one could imagine, and it used bitcoin as the means of payment.

This isn’t quite true.  Certain guns and explosives were considered off-limits and as a result “The Armory” was spun off.

On p. 22 they write:

Clearly, this was one way that Bitcoin developed its dark reputation, though it’s important to know that this was not endorsed by Bitcoin and its development team.

Isn’t Bitcoin — like all cryptocurrences — supposed to be decentralized?  So how can there be a singular “it” to not endorse something?35

On p. 22 they write:

The drivers behind this bitcoin demand were more opaque than the Gawker spike, though many point to the bailout of Cyprus and the associated losses that citizens took on their bank account balances as the core driver.

This is mostly hearsay as several independent researchers have tried to identify the actual flows coming into and going out of Cyprus that are directly tied to cryptocurrencies and so far, have been unable to.36

On p. 23 they write about Google Search Trends:

We recommend orienting with this tool even beyond cryptoassets, as it’s a fascinating window into the global mesh of minds.

Incidentally, despite the authors preference to the term “cryptoassets” —  according to Google Search Trends, that term isn’t frequently used in search’s yet.

Source: Google

On p. 24 they write:

This diversity has led to tension among players as some  of these cryptoassets compete, but this is nothing like the tension that exists between Bitcoin and the second movement.

Another frequent name typically used to call “the second movement” was Bitcoin 2.0.

For example, back in 2014 and 2015 I interviewed a number of project organizers and attempted to categorize them into buckets, including things like “commodities” and “assets.”  See for instance my guest presentation in 2014 at Plug and Play: (video) (slides).

This label isn’t frequently used as much anymore, but that’s a different topic entirely.

On p. 25 they write an entire section entitled: Blockchain, Not Bitcoin

The authors stated:

Articles like one from the Bank of England in the third quarter of 2014 argued, “The key innovation of digital currencies is the ‘distributed ledger,’ which allows a payment system to operate in an entirely decentralized way, without intermediaries such as banks. In emphasizing the technology and not the native asset, the Bank of England left an open question whether the native asset was needed

[…]

The term blockchain, independent of Bitcoin, began to be used more widely in North America in the fall of 2015 when two prominent financial magazines catalyzed awareness of the concept.

Let’s pull apart the problems here.

First, the “blockchain not bitcoin” mantra was actually something that VCs such as Adam Draper pushed in the fall of 2015.

For instance, in an interview with Coindesk in October 2015 he said:

“We use the word blockchain now. I say bitcoin, and they think that’s the worst thing ever. It just feels like they put up a guard. Then, I switch to blockchain and they’re very attentive and they’re very interested.”

Draper seems ambivalent to the change, though he said he was initially against using it, mostly because he believes it’s superficial. After all, companies that use the blockchain as a payments rail, the argument goes, still need to interface with its digital currency, which is the mechanism for transactions on the bitcoin blockchain.

“When we talk about blockchain, I mean bitcoin,” Draper clarifies. “Bitcoin and the blockchain are so interspersed together, the incentive structure of blockchain is bitcoin.”

Draper believes it’s mostly a “vernacular change”, noting the ecosystem has been through several such transitions before. He rifles off the list of terms that have come and gone including cryptocurrency, digital currency and altcoin.

“It’s moved from bitcoin to blockchain, which makes sense, it’s the underlying tech of all these things,” he added. “I think in a lot of ways blockchain is FinTech, so it will become FinTech.”

If you’re looking for more specific examples of companies that began using “blockchain” as a euphemism for “bitcoin” be sure to check out my post: “The Great Pivot.”

The authors also fail to identify that there were lots of early stage vendors and entrepreneurs working in the background on educating policy makers and institutions on what the vocabulary was and how the various moving pieces worked throughout 2015.

Want evidence?

Check out my own paper covering this topic and a handful of vendors in April 2015: Consensus-as-a-service.  This paper has been cited dozens of times by a slew of academics, banks, regulators, and so forth.  And contra Draper: you don’t necessarily need a coin or token to incentivize participants to operate a blockchain.37

On p. 26 they write:

A private blockchain is typically used to expedite and make existing processes more efficient, thereby rewarding the entities that have crafted the software and maintain the computers. In other words, the value creation is in the cost savings, and the entities that own the computers enjoy these savings. The entities don’t need to get paid in a native asset as reward for their work, as is the case with public blockchains.

First, not all private blockchains are alike or commoditized.

Two, this statement is mostly true.  At least those were the initially pitches to financial institutions.  Remember the frequently cited Oliver Wyman / Santander paper from 2015?  It was about cost savings.  Since then, the story has evolved to also include revenue generation.

For more up-to-date info on the “enterprise” blockchain world, recommend reading:

On p. 26 they write:

On the other hand, for Bitcoin to incentivize a self-selecting group of global volunteers, known as miners, to deploy capital into the mining machines that validate and secure bitcoin transactions, there needs to be a native asset that can be paid out to the miners for their work. The native asset builds out support for the service from the bottom up in a truly decentralized manner.

This may have been true in January 2009 but is not true in July 2018.  There are no “volunteers” in Bitcoin mining as running farms and pools have become professionalized and scaled in industrial-sized facilities.

Also, that last sentence is also false: virtually every vertical of involvement is dominated by centralized entities (e.g., exchanges, hosted wallets, mining manufacturing, etc.).

On p. 27 they write:

Beyond questioning the need for native cryptoassets – which would naturally infuriate communities that very much value their cryptoassets – tensions also exist because public blockchain advocates believe the private blockchain movement bastardizes the ethos of blockchain technology. For example, instead of aiming to decentralize and democratize aspects of the existing financial services, Masters’s Digital Asset Holdings aims to assist existing financial services companies in adopting this new technology, thereby helping the incumbents fight back the rebels who seek to disrupt the status quo.

Ironically, virtually all major cryptocurrency exchanges now have institutional investors and/or partnerships with regulated financial institutions.38 Like it or not, but the cryptocurrency world is deep in bed with the very establishment that it likes to rail at on social media.

Also, Bitcoin again is at most a payments network and does not actually solve problems for existing financial service providers on their many other lines of business.

On p. 27 they write:

General purpose technologies are pervasive, eventually affecting all consumers and companies. They improve over time in line with the deflationary progression of technology, and most important, they are a platform upon which future innovations are built. Some of the more famous examples include steam, electricity, internal combustion engines, and information technology. We would add blockchain technology to this list. While such a claim may appear grand to some, that is the scale of the innovation before us.

If you’re not familiar with hyperbole and technology, I recommend watching and reading the PR for the Segway when it first came out.  Promoters and enthusiasts repeatedly claimed it would change the way cities are built.  Instead, it is used as a toy vehicle to shuffle tourists around at national parks and patrol suburban malls.

Maybe something related to “blockchains” is integrated into various types of infrastructure (such as trade finance), but the next edition should provide proof of some actual user adoption.

For example, the authors in the following paragraph say that “public blockchains beyond Bitcoin that are growing like gangbusters.”

Which ones?  In the approximately 9 months since this book was published, most “traction” has been issuing ICOs on these public blockchains.  Currently the top 3 Dapps at the time of this writings, run decentralized exchanges… which trade ICO tokens.  Now maybe that changes, that is totally within the realm of possibility.39  But let’s take the hype down a few notches until consistent measurable user growth is observed.

On p. 28 they write:

The realm of public blockchains and their native assets is most relevant to the innovative investor, as private blockchains have not yielded an entirely new asset class that is investable to the public.

The wording and attitude should be changed for the next edition.  This makes it sound as if the only real innovation that exists are network-based coins that a group of issuers continually create and that you, the reader, should buy.

By downplaying opportunities being tackled by enterprise vendors, the statement glosses over the operating environment enterprise clients reside in and how they must conduct unsexy due diligence and mundane requirements gathering because they have to follow laws and regulations otherwise their customers won’t use their specific platforms.

These same vendors could end up “tokenizing” existing financial instruments, it just takes a lot longer because there are real legal consequences if something breaks or forks.40

On p. 28 and 29 they ask “where is blockchain technology in the hype cycle.”

This section could be strengthened by revisiting and reflecting on the huge expectations that these coin projects have raised and were raising at the time the book was first being written.  How were expectations eventually managed?

Specifically, on p. 29 they write:

While it’s hard to predict where blockchain technology currently falls on Gartner’s Hype Cycle (these things are always easier in retrospect), we would posit that Bitcoin is emerging from the Trough of Disillusionment. At the same time, blockchain technology stripped of native assets (private blockchain) is descending from the Peak of Inflated Expectations, which it reached in the summer of 2016 just before The DAO hack occurred (which we will discuss in detail in Chapter 5).

The first part is probably wrong if measured by actual usage and interest (as shown by the Google Search image a few sections above).41

The second part of the paragraph is probably right, though the timing was probably a little later: likely in the last quarter of 2016 when the first set of pilots turned out to require substantially larger budgets.  That is to say, in order to be put platforms into production most small vendors with short runways realized they needed more capital and time to integrate solutions into legacy systems.  In some cases, that was too much work and a few vendors pivoted out of enterprise and created a coin or two instead.42

Chapter 4

On p. 31 they write:

Yes, the numbers have changed a lot since.  Crypto moves fast.

This isn’t a hill I want to die on, but historically “crypto” means cryptography.  Calling cryptocurrencies “crypto” is basically slang, but maybe that’s the way it evolves towards.

On p. 32 they write:

Historically, crypotassets have most commonly been referred to as cryptocurrencies, which we think confuses new users and constrains the conversation on the future of these assets. We would not classify the majority of cryptoassets as currencies, but rather most are either digital commodities (cryptocommodities), provisioning raw digital resources, or digital tokens (cryptotokens), provisioning finished digital goods and services.

They have a point but a literature review could have been helpful at showing this categorization is neither new nor novel.

For instance, the title of my last book was: The Anatomy of a Money-like Informational Commodity.  A bit long-winded?

Where did I come up with that odd title?

In 2014, an academic paper was published that attempted to categorize Bitcoin from an ontological perspective. Based on the thought process presented in that paper, the Dutch authors concluded that Bitcoin is a money-like informational commodity.  It isn’t money and isn’t a currency (e.g., isn’t actually used).434445

On p. 32 they write:

In an increasingly digital world, it only makes sense that we have digital commodities, such as computer power, storage capacity, and network bandwidth.

This book only superficially explains each of these and doesn’t drill down into why these “digital commodities” can’t be priced in good old fashioned money or why an internet coin is needed.  If this is a good use case, is it just a matter of time before Blizzard and Steam get on board?  Maybe worth looking at what entertainment companies do for the next edition.

On p. 33 they write about “why crypto” as shorthand for “cryptoassets” instead of “cryptography.”

For historical purposes, Matt Blaze, the most recent owner of crypto.com, provides a good explanation that could be included or cited next edition: Exhaustive Search Has Moved.

On p. 35 they write:

Except for Karma, the problem with all these attempts at digital money was that they weren’t purely decentralized — one way or another they relied on a centralized entity, and that presented the opportunity for corruption and weak points for attack.

This seems to be conflating two separate things: anonymity with electronic cash.  You can have one without the other and do.46

Also, the BIP process is arguably a weak point for attack.47

On p. 35 they write:

One of the most miraculous aspects of bitcoin is how it bootstrapped support in a decentralized manner.

The fundamental problem with this statement is that it is inaccurate.48 Large amounts of centralization continues to exist: mining, exchanges, BIP vetting, etc.

On p. 35 they write:

Together, the combination of current use cases and investors buying bitcoin based on the expectation for even greater future use cases creates market demand for bitcoin.

Is that a Freudian slip?

Speculators buy bitcoin because they think can sell bitcoins at a higher price because a new buyer will come in at a later date and acquire the coins from them.49

For example, last month Hyun Song Shin, the BIS’s economic adviser and head of research, said:

“If people pay to hold the tokens for financial gain, then arguably they should be treated as a security and come under the same rigorous documentation requirements and regulation as other securities offered to investors for a return.”

In the United States, recall that one condition for what a security is under the Howey framework is an expectation of profit.

Whether Bitcoin is a security or not is a topic for a different post.50

On p. 36 they write:

For the first four years of Bitcoin’s life, a coinbase transaction would issue 50 bitcoin to the lucky miner.

[…]

On November 28, 2012, the first halving of the block reward from 50 bitcoin to 25 bitcoin happened, and the second halving from 25 bitcoin to 12.5 bitcoin occurred on July 9, 2016.  The thrid will happen four years from that date, in July 2020. Thus far, this has made bitcoin’s supply schedule look somewhat linear, as shown in Figure 4.1.

Technically incorrect because of the inhomogeneous Poisson process and the relatively large amounts of hashrate that came online, the first “4 year epoch” was actually less than 4 years.

Whereas the genesis block was released in January 2009, the first halving should have occurred in January 2013, but instead it took place in November 2012.  Similarly, the second halving should have — if rigidly followed — taken place in November 2016, but actually occurred in July 2016 because even more hashrate had effectively accelerated block creation a bit faster than expected.

On p. 36 they write:

Based on our evolutionary past, a key driver for humans to recognize something as valuable is its scarcity. Satoshi knew that he couldn’t issue bitcoin at a rate of 2.6 million per year forever, because it would end up with no scarcity value.

This is a non sequitur.51

Maybe Satoshi did or did not think this way, but irrespective of his or her view, having a finite amount of something means there is some amount of scarcity… even if it is a relatively large amount.  Now this discussion obviously leads down the ideological road of maximalism which we don’t have time to go into today.52  Suffice to say that bitcoin is fundamentally not scarce due to its inability to prevent forks that could increase or decrease the money supply.

On p. 37 they write:

Long term, the thinking is that bitcoin will become so entrenched within the global economy that new bitcoin will not need to be issued to continue to gain support. At that point, miners will be compesnated for processing transaction and securing the network through fees on high transaction volumes.

This might happen but hasn’t yet.

For instance, Kerem Kaskaloglu (see p. 71) created a cartoon model to show what this should look like.

But the actual curves do not exist (yet).

Recommended reading: Analysing Costs & Benefits of Public Blockchains (with Data!) by Colin Platt.

Notice how reality doesn’t stack up to the idealized version (yet)?

On p. 39 they write about BitDNS, Namecoin, and NameID:

Namecoin acts as its own DNS service, and provides users with more control and privacy.

In the next edition they should mention how Namecoin ended up having one mining pool that consistently had over 51% of the network hashrate and as a result, projects like Onename moved over to Bitcoin and then eventually its own separate network altogether (Blockstack).

On p. 41 they write:

This is an important lesson, because all cryptocurrencies differ in their supply schedules, and thus the direct price of each cryptoasset should not be compared if trying to ascertain the appreciation potential of the asset.

One way to strengthen this section is to provide a consistent model or methodology to systemically value a coin that doesn’t necessarily involve future demand from new investors.  Maybe in the second edition they could provide a way to compare or at least say that no valuation model works yet, but here is a possible alternative?

On p. 42 they write:

A word to the wise for the innovative investor: with a new cryptocurrency, it’s always important to understand how it’s being distributed and to whom (we’ll discuss further in Chapter 12). If the core community feels the distribution is unfair, that may forever plague the growth of the cryptocurrency.

Two things:

  1. If a cryptocurrency or “cryptoasset” is supposed to be decentralized, how can it have a singular “core” community too?
  2. In practice, most retail buyers of coins don’t seem to care about centralization or even coin distribution.  Later in the book they mention Dash and its rapid coin creation done in the first month.  Few investors seem to care. 53

On p. 42 they write:

Ripple has since pivoted away from being a transaction mechanism for the common person and instead now “enables banks to send real-time international payments across network.” This focus plays to Ripple’s strengths, as it aims to be a speedy payment system that rethinks correspondent banking but still requires some trust, for which banks are well suited.

If readers have time, I recommend looking through the marketing material of OpenCoin, Ripple Labs, and Ripple from 2013-2018 because it has changed several times.54 Currently there are a couple of different products including xRapid and xCurrent which are aimed at different types of users and as a result, the passage above should be updated.

On p. 43 they write:

Markus used Litecoin’s code to derive Dogecoin, thereby making it one more degree of separation removed from Bitcoin.

This is incorrect.  Dogecoin was first based off of Luckycoin and Luckycoin was based on a fork of Litecoin.  The key difference involved the erratic, random block reward sizes.

On p. 45 they write about Auroracoin.

Auroracoin is a cautionary tale for both investors and developers. What began as a seemingly powerful and compelling use case for a cryptoasset suffered from its inability to provide value to the audience it sought to impact. Incelanders were given a cryptocurrency with little education and means to use it. Unsurprisingly, the value of the asset collapsed and most considered it dead. Nevertheless, cryptocurrencies rarely die entirely, and Auroracoin may have interesting times ahead if its developer team can figure out a way forward.

A few problems:

  1. Auroracoin is still basically dead
  2. Over 1,000 other coins have died, so “rarely” should be changed in the next edition
  3. Why does a decentralized cryptocurrency have a singular development team, isn’t that centralization?

On p. 46 they write:

Meanwhile, Zcash uses some of the most bleeding-edge cryptography in the world, but it is one of the youngest cryptoassets in the book and suitable only for the most experienced cryptoasset investors.

In the next edition it would be helpful to specifically detail what makes someone an experienced “cryptoasset” investor.

On p. 46 they write:

Adam Back is considered the inspiration for Satoshi’s proof-of-work algorithm and is president of Blockstream, one of the most important companies in the Bitcoin space.

While Hashcash was cited in the original Satoshi whitepaper, recall above, that the original idea can be directly linked to a 1993 paper entitled Pricing via Processing or Combatting Junk Mail by Cynthia Dwork and Moni Naor.  Also, it is debatable whether or not Blockstream is an important company, but that’s a different discussion altogether.

On p. 46 they write:

Bitcoin and the permissionless blockchain movement was founded on principles of egalitarian transparency, so premines are widely frowned upon.

What are the founding principles?  Where can we find them?   Maybe it exists, but at least provide a footnote.55

On p. 47 they write:

While many are suspicious of such privacy, it should be noted that it has tremendous benefits for fungibility.  Fungibility refers to the fact that any unit of currency is as valuable as another unit of equal denomination.

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are not fungible.  Be sure to listen to this interview with Jonathan Levin from May.  See also: Bitcoin’s lien problem and also nemo dat.

On p. 48 they write:

Monero’s supply schedule is a hybrid of Litecoin and Dogecoin. For monero, a new block is appended to its blockchain every 2 minutes, similar to Litecoin’s 2.5 minutes.

In the next edition I’d tighten the language a little because a new monero block is added roughly or approximately every 2 minutes, not exactly 2 minutes.

On p. 48 they write:

By the end of 2016, Monero had the fifth largest network value of any cryptocurrency and was the top performing digital currency in 2016, with a price increase over the year of 2,760 percent. This clearly demonstrates the level of interest in privacy protecting cryptocurrency. Some of that interest, no doubt, comes from less than savory sources.

That is a non sequitur.

Where are the surveys of actual Monero purchasers during this time frame and their opinions for why they bought it? 56

For instance, in looking at the two-year chart above, how much on-chain activity in 2016 was due to speculators interest in “privacy” versus coin flipping?  It is impossible to tell.  Even with analytics all you will be able to is link specific users with purchases.  Intent and motivation would require  surveys and subpoenas; worth adding if available in the next edition.

On p. 48 they write:

Another cryptocurrency targeting privacy and fungiblity is Dash.

Is Dash really fungible though?  That isn’t explored in this section.  Plus Dash has a CEO… how is that decentralized?

On p. 49 they write:

In fact, Duffield easily could have relaunched Dash, especially considering the network was only days old when the instamine began to be widely talked about, but he chose not to.  It would have been unusual to relaunch, given that other cyrptocurrencies have done so via the forking of original code. The creators of Monero, for example, specifically chose not to continue building off Bytecoin because the premine distribution had been perceived as unfair.

How is this not problematic: for a “decentralized” cryptocurrency to be controlled and run by one person who can unilaterally stop and restart a chain?

It actually is common, that’s the confusing part.  Why have regulators such as FinCEN and the SEC not provided specific guidance (or enforcement) on the fact that one or a handful of individuals actually are unlicensed / non-exempted administrators of financial networks?

On p. 49 they write:

The Bitcoin and blockchain community has always been excited by new developments in anonymity and privacy, but Zcash took that excitement to a new level, which upon issuance drove the price through the roof.

Putting aside the irrational exuberance for Zcash itself, why do the authors think so many folks are vocal about privacy and anonymity?

Could it be that a significant portion of the coins are held by thieves of exchanges and hosted wallets who want to launder them?  Here are a few recent examples:

On p. 49 they write:

Through his time at DigiCash and longstanding involvement in cryptography and cryptoassets, Zooko has become one of the most respected members in the community.

Let’s put aside Zooko and Zcash.  The phrase, “the community” frequently appears in this book and similar books.  It is an opaque, ill-defined (and cliquish) term that is frequently used by coin promoters to shun certain people that do not promote specific policies (and coins).57  It’s a term that should be clearly defined in the next edition.

On p. 50 they write:

While it is still early days for Zcash, we are of the belief that the ethics and technology chops of Zooko and his team are top-tier, implying that good things lie in wait for this budding cryptocurrency.

The statement above seems like an endorsement.  Did either of the authors own Zcash just as the book came out?  And what are the specific ethics they speak of?  And why do the authors call it a cryptocurrency instead of a “cryptoasset”?

Chapter 5

On p. 51 they write:

For example, the largest cryptocommodity, Ethereum, is a decentralized world computer upon which globally accessible and uncensored applications can be built.

How is it a commodity?  Maybe it is and while they use a lot of words in this chapter, they never really precisely why it is in a way that makes much sense.  Recommend modifying the first few pages of this chapter.

On p. 52 they write about “smart contracts” and mention Nick Szabo.

For a future edition I recommend diving deeper into the different uses and definitions of smart contracts.  Also could be worth following Tony Arcieri suggestion:

I really like “authorization programs” but people really seem married to the “smart contract” terminology. Never mind Martin Abadi’s work on authorization languages (e.g. Binder) predates Nick Szabo’s “smart contracts” by half a decade…

For instance, there has been a lot of work done via the Accord Project with Clause.io and others such as IBM and R3.  Also worth looking into Barclay’s and UCL’s effort with the Smart Contract Templates.  A second edition that aims to be up-to-date should look at these developments and how they have evolved from what Abadi and Szabo first proposed.

On p. 53 they mentioned that Counterparty “was launched in January 2014.”  Technically that is not true.  The fundraising (“proof-of-burn”) took place in January and it was the following month that it “launched.”

On p. 54 they write:

The reason Bitcoin developers haven’t added extra functionality and flexibility directly into its software is that they have prioritized security over complexity. The more complex transactions become, the more vectors there are to exploit and attack these transactions, which can affect the network as a whole. With a focus on being a decentralized currency, Bitcoin developers have decided bitcoin transactions don’t need all the bells and whistles.

This is kind of true but also misses a little history.

For instance, Zerocoin was first proposed as an enhancement directly built into Bitcoin but key, influential Bitcoin developers who maintained the repository, pushed back on that for various technological and philosophical reasons.  As a result, the main authors of that proposal went on to form and launch Zcash.58

On p. 56 they write:

Buterin understood that building a system from the ground up required a significant amount of work, and his announcement in January 2014 involved the collaboration of a community of more than 15 developers and dozens of community members that had already bought into the idea.

I assume the authors mean, following the Bitcoin Miami announcement in January 2014, but they don’t really say.  I’m not sure how they arrive at the specific headcount numbers they did above, would be good to add a footnote in the future.

On p. 56 they write:

The ensuing development of the Bitcoin software before launch mostly involved just two people, Satoshi and Hal Finney.

This assumes that Satoshi is not Hal Finney, maybe he was.  But it should also include the contributions of Ray Dillinger and others.

On p. 56 they write:

Buterin also knew that while Ethereum could run on ether, the people who designed it couldn’t, and Ethereum was still over a year away from being ready for release. So he found funding through the prestigious Thiel Fellowship.

This is inaccurate.

After reading this, I reached out to Vitalik Buterin and he said:59

That’s totally incorrect. Like the $100k made very little difference.

So that should be corrected in the next version.

On p. 57 they write:

Ethereum democratized that process beyond VCs. For perspective on the price of ether in this crowdsale, consider that at the start of April 2017, ether was worth $50 per unit, implying returns over 160x in under three years. Just over 9,000 people bought ether during the presale, placing the average initial investment at $2,000, which has since grown to over $320,000.

There are a few issues with this:

  1. Ethereum did a small private and a larger public sale.  We do have the Terms and Conditions of the public sale but we do not know how many participated in the private sale and under what terms (perhaps the T&Cs were identical).
  2. Over the past 12 months there has been a trend for the “top shelf” ICOs to eschew a public sale (like Ethereum did) and instead, conduct private placement offerings with a few dozen participants at most… typically VCs and HNWIs.
  3. There are lots of dead ICOs.  One recent study found that, “56% of crypto startups that raise money through token sales die within four months of their initial coin offerings.”  Ethereum is definitely an exception to that and should be highlighted as such.

On p. 57 they write:

The extra allocation of 12 million ether for the early contributors and Ethereum Foundation has proved problematic for Ethereum over time, as some feel it represented double dipping. In our view, with 15 talented developers involved prior to the public sale, 6 million ether translated to just  north of $100,000 per developer at the presale rate, which is reasonable given the market rate of such software developers.

Who are these 15 developers, why is that the number the authors have identified?

Also, how much should FOSS developers be compensated and/or the business model around that is a topic that isn’t really addressed at all in this book, yet it is a glaring omission since virtually all of the projects they talk about are set up around funding and maintaining a FOSS team(s).  Maybe some findings will be available for the next version.

On p. 57 they write:

That said, the allocation of capital into founders’ pockets is an important aspect of crowdsales. Called a “founder’s reward,” the key distinction between understandable and a red flag is that founders should be focused on building and growing the network, not fattening their pockets at the expense of investors.

Because coins do not typically provide coin holders any type of voting rights, it is legally dubious how you can hold issuers and “founders” accountable.60

That is why, as mentioned above, there has been an evolution of terms and conditions such that early investors in a private placement for coins may have certain rights and that the founders have certain duties that are all legally enforceable (in theory).

Because no one is publishing these T&Cs, it is hard to comment on what are globally accepted practices… aside from allowing early investors liquidity on secondary markets where they can quickly dump coins.61

Without the ability to legally hold “founders” accountable for enriching themselves at the expense of the project(s), the an interim solution has been to get on social media and yell alot… which is really unprofessional and hit or miss.  Another solution is class action lawsuits, but that’s a different topic.

Also, I put the “founders” into quotes because these seem to be administrators of a network, maybe in the next edition they will be described as such?

On p. 58 they write:

Everyone trusts the system because it runs in the open and is automated by code.

There is lots of different types of open source code that runs on systems that are automated.  For instance, the entire Linux, Apache, and Mozilla worlds predate Bitcoin.  That isn’t new here.62

Also, as mentioned in the previous chapter: Researchers: Last Year’s ICOs Had Five Security Vulnerabilities on Average.  As a result, this has led to the loss of nearly $400 million in ICO funds.

Readers and investors shouldn’t just trust code because someone created a GitHub repo and said their blockchain is open and automated.63

On p. 59 they write:

Most cryptotokens are not supported by their own blockchain.

This is actually true and problematic because it creates centralization risks and the ability for one party to unilaterally censor transactions and/or act as administrators.

For instance, a few days ago, Bancor had a bug that was exploited and about $13.5 million in ETH were stolen… and Bancor was able to freeze the BNT.  That’s because BNT is effectively a centrally administered ERC20 token on top of Ethereum.

Ignoring for the moment whether or not BNT is or is not a security, this is not the first time such issuance and centralization has occurred.  See the colored coin mania from 2014-2015.

On p. 60 they write about The DAO:

Over time, investors in these projects would be rewarded through dividends or appreciation of the service provided.

They mention regulators briefly later on – about SEC views – but most of the content surrounding crowdsales was non-critical and borderline promotional.64  Might be worth adding more meat around this in the next edition.

On p. 61 they write about The DAO:

The hack had nothing to do with an exchange, as had been the case with Mt. Gox and other widely publicized Bitcoin-related hacks. Insted, the flaw existed in the software of The DAO.

Is it really possible to call it a “flaw” or “hack” and not a feature?  See also: “Code is not law” as well as “Cracking MtGox.”

On p. 61 they write:

However, a hard fork would run counter to what many in the Bitcoin and Ethereum communities felt was the power of a decentralized ledger.  Forcefully removing funds from an account violated the concept of immutability.

Just a few pages earlier the authors were saying that the lead developer behind Dash should have restarted the network because that was common and now they’re saying that doing a block reorg is no bueno.  Which is it?

Why should the reader care what a nebulously defined “community” says, if it is is not defined?

The reason we have codes of conduct, terms of service, and EULAs is to specifically answer these types of problems when they arise.

Since public blockchains are supposed to be anarchic, the lack of formal governance is supposed to be a feature, right?   That’s a whole other topic but suffice to say that these two sentences should be reworded in the next edition to incorporate the wisdom found in the Lexicon paper.

On p. 62 they write:

Many complained of moral hazard, and that this would set a precdent for the U.S. government or other powerful entities to come in someday and demand the same of Ethereum for their own interests. It was a tough decision for all involved, including Buterin, who while not directly on The DAO developer team, was an admistrator.

This is the first and only time they point out that key participants collectively making governance decisions are administrators… a point I have been highlighting throughout this review.

I don’t think it is fair to label Vitalik Buterin as a singular administrator, because if he was, he wouldn’t have had to ask exchanges to stop trading ether and/or The DAO token.  Perhaps he was collectively involved in that process, but mining pool operators and exchange managers are arguably just as important if not more so.  See also: Sufficiently Decentralized Howeycoins

On p. 62 they write:

While hard fork are often used to upgrade a blockchain architecture, they are typically employed in situations where the community agrees entirely on the beneficial updates to the architecture. Ethereum’s situation was different, as many in the community opposed a hard fork. Contentious hard forks are dangerous, because when new software updates are released for a blockchain in the form of a hard fork, there are then two different operating systems.

A few things:

  1. Notice the continued use of an ill-defined “the community”
  2. How is agreement or disagreement measured?  During the Bitcoin block size debate, folks tried to use various means to express interest, most of which resulted in sybil attacks such as retweets and upvotes on social media by an army of bots.
  3. Is any fork non-contentious.  Surely if we looked hard enough, we could always find more than a handful of coin owners and/or developers that disagreed with the proposal.  Does that mean you should ignore them?  Whose opinion matters?  These types of questions were never really formally answered either in the case of the Bitcoin Segwit / Bitcoin Cash fork… or in the Ethereum / Ethereum Classic / The DAO fork.  Governance is pretty much an off-chain popularity contest, just like voting for politicians.65

On p. 63 they write:

The site for Ethereum Classic defines the cryptoasset as “a continuation of the original Ethereum blockchain–the classic version preserving untampered history; free from external interference and subjecitve tampering of transactions.”

This could be revised since Ethereum Classic itself has now had multiple forks.

As mentioned in a previous post last year:

Ethereum Classic: this small community has held public events to discuss how they plan to change the money supply; they video taped this coordination and their real legal names are used; only one large company (DCG) is active in its leadership; they sponsor events; they run various social media accounts

There has been lots of external interference, that’s been the lifeblood of public blockchains… because they don’t run themselves, people run and administer them.

Continuing on p. 63 they write:

While many merchants understably complain about credit card fees of 2 to 3 percent, the “platform fees” of Airbnb, Uber, and similar platform services are borderline egregious.

Maybe they are, maybe they are not.66 What is the right fee they should be?  Miners take a cut, exchanges take a cut, developers take a cut via “founder’s funds.”

The next edition should give a step-by-step comparison to show why fee structures are egregious (maybe they are, it just is not clear in this book).

On p. 64 they wrote about Augur.  Incidentally, Augur finally launched in early July while writing this review.  I have an origin story but will keep that for later.

On p. 65 they wrote about Filecoin:

For example, a dApp may use a decentralized cloud storage system like Filecoin to store large amounts of data, and another cryptocommodity for anonymized bandwidth, in addition to using Ethereum to process certain operations.

A couple thoughts:

  1. That’s the theory, though Filecoin hasn’t launched yet — why do they get the benefit of the doubt yet other projects don’t?
  2. There is no price or use comparison in this chapter or elsewhere… the book could be strengthened if it provided more evidence of adoption because we have seen that running decentralized services such as Tor or Freenet have been less than spectacular.

On p. 65 they write:

Returning to the fundamentals of investment theory will allow innovative investors to properly position their overarching portfolio to take advantage of the growth of cryptoassets responsibly.

It is still unclear what an “innovative investor” is — at least the way these authors describe it.67

Chapter 6

On p. 69 Tatar writes:

Not only did I decide to inveset in bitcoin, I decided to place the entirety of that year’s allocation for my Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan into bitcoin. When I announced what I had done in my article “Do Bitcoin Belong in your Retirement Portfolio?,” it created a stir online and in the financial planning community.

This was one of just a couple places where the authors actually disclose that they own specific coins, next edition they should put it up front.

On p. 70 Tatar writes:

Was I chasing a similar crash-and-burn scenario with bitcoin? Even my technologically and investment savvy son, Eric, initially criticized me about bitcoin. “They have these things called dollar bills, Dad. Stick to using those.”

Eric is probably right: that the authors of this book accepted traditional money for their book (Amazon doesn’t currently accept cryptocurrencies).

Based on their views presented in this book, the authors probably don’t spend (many) coins they may have in the portfolio, instead holding on to them with the belief that other investors will bid up the price (measured in actual money).

On p. 77 they write about the GFC prior to 2008:

Becoming a hedge fund manager became all the rage for business-minded students when it was revealed that the top 25 hedge fund managers earned a total of $22.3 billion in 2007 and $11.6 billion in 2008.

Coincidentally a similar “rage” for running cryptocurrency-related funds has occured in the past 18 months, especially for ICOs.

More than two hundred “funds” quickly popped up in order to gobble up coins during coin mania.  At least 9 have closed down through April and many more were down double digits due to a bear market (and not hedging).

Chapter 7

On p. 83 they write:

Bitcoin is the most exciting alternative asset in the twenty-first century, and it has paved the way for its digital siblings to enjoy similar success.

It is their opinion that this is the case, but the authors don’t really provide a lot of data to reinforce it yet, other than the fact that there have been some bull runs due to exuberance.68 Worth rewording in the next edition.

On p. 83 they write:

Because bitcoin can claim the title of being the oldest cryptoasset…

Historically it is not.  It may be the oldest coin listed on a liquid secondary market, but there were cryptocurrencies before bitcoin.

On p. 85 Berniske writes:

Similarly, I (Chris) didn’t even consider investing in bitcoin when I first heard about it in 2012. By the time I began considering bitcoin for my portfolio in late 2014, the price was in the mid $300s, having increased 460,000-fold from the initial exchange rate.

I believe this is the only time in the book that Burniske discloses any coin holdings.

On p. 85 they make some ridiculous comparison with the S&P 500, DJIA, NASDAQ 100… and Bitcoin.

The former three are indices of multiple regulated securities.  The latter is just one coin that is easily influenced and manipulated by external unaccountable parties.  How is that an apples to apples comparison?

On p. 87 they continue by comparing Bitcoin with Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Netflix.

Again, these are regulated securities that reflect cash flows and the financial health of multinational companies… Bitcoin has no cash flows and isn’t (yet) setup to be a company… and isn’t regulated (no KYC/AML at the mining farm or mining pool level).

Bitcoin was originally built to be an e-cash transmission network, a decentralized MSB.69 How is comparing it with non-MSBs a useful comparison?

On p. 88 they write:

Remember that, as of January 2017, bitcoin’s network value was 1/20, 1/22, 1/3, and 1/33 that of the FANG stocks respectively. Therefore, if bitcoin is to grow to a similar size much opportunity remains.

This whole section should be probably be modified because these aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons.  FANG stocks represent companies that have to build and ship multiple products in order to generate continuous revenue.

With Bitcoin, it is bitcoin that is the product, nothing else is being shipped nor is revenue being generated70

Maybe the price of a bitcoin — as measured with actual money — does reach a 1:1 or even surpass the stocks above.  But a new version of this book could be strengthened with an outline on how it could do so sustainably.

Also, the whole “market cap” topic should be removed from next edition as well.  About 20% of all bitcoins have been lost or destroyed and this is never reflected in those exuberant “market cap” stories.  See: Nearly 4 Million Bitcoins Lost Forever, New Study Says

On p. 92 they write about volatility:

Upon launch, cryptoassest tend to be extremely volatile because they are thinly traded markets.

Actually, basically all cryptocurrencies including the ones that the authors endorse throughout the book — are still very volatile.

Below is one illustration:

Source: JP Koning

The authors do have a couple narrow, daily volatility charts in the book, but none that provide a similar wideview comparison with something that is remotely comparable (Bitcoin versus Twitter doesn’t make any sense).

On p. 101 they write:

Cryptoassets have near-zero correlation to other captial market assets.

That’s loosey goosey at best.71

For instance, as pointed out in multiple articles this year: Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies tend to be locked together – and that’s a big problem

On p. 102 they write:

In contrast, the past few years have been more nuanced: bitcoin’s volatily has calmed, yet it retains a low correlation with other assets.

That first part is untrue, as shown by the chart above from JP Koning.  The second part is relative.72

Chapter 8

On p. 107 they write:

The Securities and Exchange Commission has thus far steered clear of applying a specific label to all cryptoassets, though in late July 2017 it did release a report detailing how some cryptoassets can be classified as securities, with the most notable example being The DAO.

That’s pretty much the extent of the authors analysis of the issue.  Granted they aren’t lawyers but this is a pretty big deal, maybe in the next edition beef this up?

On p. 107 they write:

While it’s a great validation of cryptoassets that regulators are working to provide clarity on how to classify at least some of them, most of the existing laws set forth suffer from the same flaw: agencies are interpereting cryptoassets through the lens of the past.

From this wording it seems that the authors want laws changed or modified to protect their interests and the financial interests of their LPs.  This isn’t the first or last time that someone with a vested interest lobbies to get carve outs, exceptions, or entire moratoriums.

Maybe that it is deserved, but it’s not well-articulated in this chapter other than to basically call regulators “old-fashioned” and out of touch with technology.73 Could be worth rethinking the wording here.

On p. 107 they write:

Just as there is diversity in equities, with analsts segmenting companies depending on their market capitalization, sector, or geography, so too is there diversity in cryptoassets. Bitcoin, litecoin, monero, dash, and zcash fulfill the three definitions of a currency: serving as a means of exchange, store of value and unit of account.

This is empirically incorrect.  None of these coins functions as a unit of account, they all depend on and are priced in… actual money.74

There are lots of reasons for why this is case but that is beyond the scope of this review. 7576

On p. 110 they write about ETFs:

It should be noted that when we talk about asset classes we are not doing so in the context of the investment vehicle that may “house” the underlying asset, whether that vehicle is a mutual fund, ETF, or separately managed account.

They don’t really discuss it in the book, but just so readers are aware, there have been about 10 Bitcoin-only ETFs proposed in the US, all of which have been rejected by the SEC (or applications were voluntarily removed).

Curious to know why?  See the March 10, 2017 explanation from the SEC.

Note: this hasn’t stopped sponsors from re-applying.  In the process of writing this review, the CBOE filed for a Bitcoin ETF.

On p. 111 they write:

Much of the thinking in this chapter grew out of a collaboration between ARK Invest and Coinbase through late 2015 and into 2016 when the two firms first made the claims that bitcoin was ringing the bell for a new asset class.

Just to be clear: the joint paper they published in that time frame was a bit superficial as it lacked actual user data from Coinbase exchanges (both GDAX and the consumer wallet).  I pointed that out back then and this book is basically an expanded form of that paper: where is specific usage data on Coinbase?  The only way we have learned any real user numbers about Coinbase is from an IRS lawsuit.

For instance, a future edition should try to differentiate on-chain activity that is say, gambling winnings or miners payouts from exchange arbitrage or even coin shuffling.  Their analysis should be redone once they remove the noise from the signal (e.g., not all transactional activity is the same).

This is a real challenge and not a new issue.  For instance, see: Slicing data.

On p. 112 they write:

Cryptoassets adhere to a twenty-first century model of governance unique from all other asset classes and largely inspired by the open source software movement. The procurers of the asset and associated use cases are three pronged. First, a group of talented software developers decide to create the blockchain protocol or distributed application that utilizes a native asset. These developers adhere to an open contributor model, which means that over time any new developer can earn his or her way onto the development team through merit.

There is no new governance model.

In practice, changes are done via social media popularity contests.  We saw that with the Bitcoin blocksize debate and Ethereum hard fork.  And in some ways, strong vocal personalities (and cults of personality) is how other FOSS projects (like Python) are managed and administered.

The fluffy meritocracy feel-goodism is often not the order of the day and we see this in many projects such as Bitcoin where the commit access and BIP approval process is limited to a small insular clique.

Source: Jake Smith (section 3)

The 4 point plan above is a much more accurate break down of how most coin projects are setup.

On p. 112 they write:

However, the developers are not the only ones in charge of procuring a cryptoasset; they only provide the code. The people who own and maintain the computers that run the code–the-miners–also have a say in the development of the code because they have to download new software updates. The developers can’t force miners to update software. Instead, they must convince them that it makes sense for the health of the overall blockchain, and the economic health of the miner, to do so.

But in many projects: developers and miners are one in the same.  This is why it is so confusing to not have seen additional clarity or guidance from FinCEN because of how centralized most projects are in practice.

Be sure to look at “arewedecentralizedyet.”77

On p. 113 they write:

These companies often employ some of the core developers, but even if they don’t, they can assert significant influence over the system if they are a large force behind user adoption.

Maybe that is the case for some cryptocurrencies.78  Should “core” developers be licensed like professional engineers are?

Also, isn’t their statement above evidence that most projects are fairly centralized because the division of labor results in specialization?

On p. 113 they write:

These users are constantly providing feedback to the developers, miners, and companies, in whose interest it is to listen, because if users stop using the cryptoasset, then demand will go down and so too will the price.  Therefore, the procurers are constantly held accountable by the users.

Except this isn’t what happens in practice.

Relatively little activity takes place at all on most of these coin platforms and most of what does occur involves arbitrage trading and/or illicit activity.

This activity seems to have little direct connection to the price of the coin because the price of the coin is still largely determined by the whims of speculative demand.

For instance, above is a two-year transactional volume chart for bitcoin.  The price of bitcoin in the summer of 2016 was in the $600-$700 range whereas it is 10x that today.  Yet daily transaction volume is actually lower than it was back then.  Which means: the two are separate phenomenon.

Also, arguably the only direct way coin owners can — in practice —  hold maintainers accountable is via antics on social media.  That is why control of a specific reddit, Telegram, or Twitter account is very important and why hackers target those channels in order to influence prices.

On p. 113 they write about supply schedules:

For example, with oil, there’s the famous Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which has had considerable control over the supply levels of oil.

Inadvertently they actually described how basically all proof-of-work coins operate: via a small clique of known miners and mining pools.  A cartel?

Source: Jameson Lopp

While these miners have not yet increased or decreased the supply of bitcoins, mining is a specialized task that requires certain capital and connections in order to be successful at.  These participants could easily collude to change the money supply, censor transactions, etc. and there would be no immediate legal recourse.

On p. 115 they write:

Cryptoassets, like gold, are often constructed to be scarce in their supply. Many will be even more scarce than gold and other precious metals. The supply schedule of cryptoassets typically is metered mathematically and set in code at the genesis of the underlying protocol or distributed application.

How to measure scarcity here?

Despite what alchemists tried for centuries to do: aside from particle accelators, on Earth the only way of increasing the supply of gold and silver is via digging it out of the ground.  For cryptocurrencies, it is relatively easy to fork and clone both code and chains.  Digital scarcity for most — if not all — public chains, seems to be is a myth.

In the next edition, maybe remove the “backed by maths” trope?  None of these chains run themselves, they all depend on humans to run the equipment and maintain the code.

On p. 115 they write:

As discussed earlier, Satoshi crafted the system this way because he needed initially to bootstrap support for Bitcoin which he did by issuing large amounts of the coin for the earliest contributors.  As Bitcoin matured, the value of its native asset appreciated, which means less Bitcoin is over eight years old, it provides strong utility to the world beyond as an investment, which drive demand.

Satoshi likely mined around 1 million bitcoins for himself/herself.  Because of how centralized and small the network originally was in 2009, he/she probably could have unilaterally stopped the network and relaunched it and effectively removed that insta-mine. 79

In addition, there was almost no risk to either be a developer or a miner… the entry/exit costs were very low… so why did he issue large amounts of coins for these contributors?80

Also, how does it provide strong demand beyond investment?  How many people do the authors know regularly use Bitcoin itself for retail payments?81

Also, through Bitcoin’s evolution, arguably some of its utility was removed by going down a specific block size path.  The counterargument is that payments will be done via some other networks (such as Lightning) attached to Bitcoin, but as of this writing, that hasn’t panned out.

One last comment about this passage, FOSS is historically charity work and difficult to build a sustainable operation. A couple notable exceptions are Red Hat and SUSE (which was just acquired by EQT).

On p. 115 they write:

The Ethereum team is currently rethinking that issuance strategy due to an intended change in its consensus mechanism.

In the second edition is it possible to be consistent on this one point: how is an “official” or “centralized” development team congruent with the idea of having a “decentralized ecosystem”?

Also, the administrators of Ethereum Classic modified the money supply last year and most folks were blasé.  Where is the relevant FinCEN guidance?

On p. 115 they write:

Steemit’s team pursued a far more complicated monetary policy with its platform, composed of steem (STEEM), steem power (SP), and steem dollars (SMD).

[…]

They have also chosen to modify their monetary policy post-inception.

The authors of this book need to be consistent in their wording because in other places they criticize centralized financial institutions but do not criticize centralized monetary supply decision of coin makers.  Also, again, why or how does a decentralized project have a singular team?

On p. 116 they write:

Crypotassets can be likened to silicon. They have come upon the scene due to the rise of technology, and their use cases will grow and change as technology evolves.  Currently, bitcoin is the most straightforward, with its use case being that of a decentralized global currency. Ether is more flexible, as developers use it for computational gas within a decentralized world computer.

This isn’t a good analogy.  Silicon exists as a naturally occurring element… whereas cryptocurrencies do not naturally arise — humans create them.

In addition, bitcoin is arguably not the most straightforward due to a long divorce and schism process the past three years.  One distinct group of promoters calls it “digital gold” and another distinct group calls it a “payment system” — the two groups are almost violently opposed to one another’s existence.

On p. 116 they write:

Then there are the trading markets, which trade 24/7, 365 days a year. These global and eternally open markets also differentiate cryptoassets from other assets discussed herein.

The FX markets are open globally almost 24/6 for most of the year, so that’s not really a braggable claim.82 There are legal, regulatory, and practical reasons why most capital markets operate in the time windows they do… it is not because of some technological limitation.  Worth rewording in the next edition.

On p. 116 they write:

In short, the use cases for cryptoassets are more dynamic than any preexisting asset class. Furthermore, since they’re brought into the world and then controlled by open-source software, the ability for cryptoassets to evolve is unbounded.

In the next edition, maybe remove the pomp and circumstance unless there is actual data to back up the platitudes.  We can all easily conjure up lots of potential use cases for just about any type of technology, but unless they are built and used, the hype should be turned down a few notches.

Also, there are many other open source software projects that have actually shipped frequently used productivity tools and no one is yelling from the mountain tops about how they have unbounded potential.  How are internet coins any different?

On p. 117 they write:

Cryptoassets have two drivers of their basis of value: utility and speculative.

In theory, perhaps.  But in practice, most coins just have potential utility because with few exceptions, most buyers typically hold with the expectation the coin will appreciate.  Maybe that change in the future.

On p. 117 the write:

For example, Bitcoin’s blockchain is used to transact bitcoin and therefore much of the value is driven by demand to use bitcoin as a means of exchange.

Perhaps, though in the next edition recommend modifying the wording to include: “… as a means of exchange or investment…”  Currently, we know a large portion of activity is likely movement (arbitrage) between exchanges.8384

But even ignoring this data (from analytics companies) this scenario has been diced-up elsewhere:

On p. 117 they write:

Speculative value is driven by people trying to predict how widely used a particular cryptoasset will be in the future.

If there are systematic surveys of actual buyers and sellers perhaps add those in the second edition.85

On p. 118 they write:

With cryptoassets, much of the speculative value can be derived from the development team. People will have more faith that a cryptoasset will be widely adopted if it is crafted by a talented and focused development team. Furthermore, if the development team has a grand vision for the widespread use of the cryptoasset, then that can increase the speculative value of the asset.

This is false.

For starters, the value of a new coin is almost entirely a function of the marketing effort from the coin issuers: that’s why nearly all ICOs carve out a portion of their funding pie to market, promote, and advertise… spreading the sexy gospel of the new coin.

This is a big bucks opaque industry, with all sorts of shenanigans that take place just to get listed on secondary markets… with coin issuers paying more than $1 million to get listed.

While $1 million or even $3 million may sound like a lot to get listed, the issuers know it is worth it because the retail speculators on the other end will at least temporarily pump the coin price up often long enough for the original insiders and investors to cash out.

Now the coin issuers may talk a big game and at eloquent length about how their grand vision: that their coin will end world hunger and save the environment, but they often have no ability to execute and build the product(s) they claimed in their whitepaper.

As mentioned above, one recent study found that, “56% of crypto startups that raise money through token sales die within four months of their initial coin offerings.”

Also, how does a decentralized cryptocurrency have an official singular development team?

On p. 118 they write:

As each cryptoasset matures, it will converge on its utility value. Right now, bitcoin is the furthest along the transition from speculative price support to uility price support because it has been around the longest and people are using it regularly for its intended utility use case.

And what is its intended use case?  The maximalist vision (digital gold) or the originalist payments vision?

On p. 118 they write:

For example, in 2016, $100,000 of bitcoin was transacted every minute, which creates real demand for the utility of the asset beyond its trading demand. A great illustration of bitcoin’s price support increasingly being tied to utility came from Pantera Capital, a well-respected investment firm solely focused on cryptoassets and technology. in Figure 8.2 we can see that in November 2013 bitcoin’s speculative value skyrocketed beyond its utility value, which is represented here by transactions per day using Bitcoin’s blockchain (CAGR is the compound annual growth rate).

But this didn’t happen.

Pantera has a habit of cherry picking dates and using different types of graphs (such as log versus linear) in order to talk its book.

For instance, they conjured up and pushed the “bitcoin absorbs the value of gold” narrative back in late 2014.  Then a year later, they became part of the “great pivot” by rebranding everything “blockchain” instead of bitcoin.

Putting those aside, the transactional part of the graph (Figure 8.2) from Pantera was published in early 2017 and has not held up to further scrutiny by mid-2018.

Source: Pantera

Compare that with the actual transactional volume for the past two years, including the most recent bull run:

Perhaps for some unknown reason the up-and-to-the-right hockey stick graph that Pantera tried to create with its dotted lines will germinate.  But for now, as of this writing, their transactional / utility thesis is incorrect.

Why?  Because the assumptions were the same as the authors of this book: they assume retail or institutional users will flock to using bitcoin for non-speculative reasons, but that has not occurred yet.

On p. 119 they write:

Speculative value diminishes as a cryptoasset matures because there is less speculation regarding the future markets the cryptoasset will penetrate. This means people will understand more clearly that demand for the asset will look like going forward. The younger the cryptoasset is, the more its value will be driven by speculative vlaue, as shown in Figure 8.3. While we expect cryptoassets to ossify into their primary use cases over time, especially as they become large system that supports significant amounts of value, their open-source nature leaves open the possiblity that they will be tweaked to pursue new tangential use cases, which could once again add speculative value to the asset.

Their wording in this and other passages has definitive certainty without any hedging.

This is unfounded.  Recall, what can be presented without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.  This also makes a circular argument that the next edition needs to provide evidence for (or just remove it).

Chapter 9

On p. 122 the write:

For example, currently the bond markets are undergoing significant changes, as a surprising amount of bond trading is still a “voice and paper market,” where trades are made by institutions calling one another and tangible paper is processed. This makes the bond market much more illiquid and opaque than the stock market, where most transactions are done almost entirely electronically: With the growing wave of digitalization, the bond markets are becoming increasingly liquid and transparent. The same can be said of markets for commodities, art, fine wine, and so on.

In re-reading this I can’t tell if the authors recognize that the bond market, as well as all of the other markets listed, started out in pre-electronic and even pre-industrial times.

That’s not to defend the status quo, only that if modern day trading platforms and automation existed a couple hundreds years ago, it is likely that bonds trading would have migrated much earlier than 2018… maybe even on a blockchain!

On p. 122 they write:

Cryptoassets have an inherent advantage in their liquidity and trading volume profile, because they are digital natives. As digital natives, cryptoassets have no physical form, and can be moved as quickly as the Internet can move the 1s and 0s that convey ownership.

This is conflating digitization/digitalization with blockchains.  You can have one without the other and in fact, do.

For instance, with US equities, beginning in the ’60s through the ’70s, stocks were dematerialized then immobilized in CSDs and ownership is now transferred electronically.86

Perhaps there is something to be said about this market infrastructure further evolving in time with a blockchain of some kind.

For example in the US, the DTCC (a large CSD) has:

Virtually every major CSD, stock exchange, and clearing house has likewise publicly opined or participated in some blockchain-related initiatives.  But that is a separate topic maybe worth looking into for the next edition.

On p. 123 they write:

Even though they are growing at an incredible clip, separation between cryptoasset markets and traditional investor capital pools still largely remains the case.

How much real money has actually entered the cryptocurrency market?

There have been several attempts to quantify it and it is still rather small, maybe up to $10 billion came in during 2017.

On p. 125 they write:

For example, in 2016, Monero experienced a sizeable increase in notoriety–largely because its privacy features began to be utilized by a well-known dark market–which sent its average trading volume skyrocketing. In December 2015, daily volume for the asset was $27,300, but by December 2016 it was $3.25M, well over a hunderfold increase. The price of the asset had appreciated more than 20-fold in the same period, so some of the increase in trading volume was due to price appreciation, but clearly a large amount was due to increased interest and trading activity in the asset.

But how do the authors know this “clearly” was the case?  Did they do some random sample surveys?  The next edition they need to prove their assumption, not just make them.  After all, it is hard — perhaps impossible — to externally ascertain what is going on at an exchange simply by looking at self-published volumes.

Also, the exchanges that these coins trade on are still typically unregulated, with little optics into how often manipulation occurs.  That is why a number of them have been subpoenaed by various governmental bodies; in the US this includes the SEC, CFTC, IRS, FBI, and even separate states acting in coordination.

On p. 129 they write:

From these trends, we can infer that this declining volatility is a result of increased market maturity. Certainly, the trend is not a straight line, and there are significant bumps in the road, depending on particular events. For example, monero had a spike in volatility in late 2016 because it experienced a significant price rise. This shows volatility is not only associated with a tanking price but also a skyrocketing price. The general trend, nonetheless, is of dampening volatility […].

This is not true either.  Maybe there are cherry picked dates in which there is relatively lower volatility than normal, but this year alone prices as measured in real money, declined between 60-100% for basically all crypotocurrencies and this involved a roller coaster to achieve.

In fact, in the process of writing this review, there were multiple days in which prices increased 5-10% for most coins and then a few days later, saw the same size of loses.  Erratic volatility has not disappeared.

On p. 133 they write:

Despite the many PBOC interventions, Chinese citizens used bitcoin to protect themselves against the erosion in value of their national currency.

Who in China did this?

I have spent an enormous amount of time visiting China the past several years on business trips and not once did someone say they had shifted their wealth from RMB into bitcoin because of RMB depreciation.  There are many speculators and miners, but to my knowledge there has not been a formal survey of buyers and their motivations… and the result being because of RMB depreciation.

The next edition should either remove this statement or add a citation.

On p. 134 they write:

As bitcoin rose and fell, so too did these assets. This reinforces the need for the innovative investor to become knowledgeable about these assets’ specific characteristics and recognize where correlations may or may not occur.

Recommend removing “innovative investor” in this location.87

Chapter 10

On p. 137 they write:

On its path to maturity, bitcoin’s price has experienced euphoric rise and harrowing drops, as have many cryptoassets. One of the most common complaints among bitcoin and cryptoasset naysayers is that these fluctuations are driven by the Wild West nature of the markets, implying that cryptoassets are a strange new breed that can’t be trusted. While each cryptoasset and its associated markets are at varying levels of maturity, associating Wild West behavior as unique to cryptoasset markets is misleading at best.

No it isn’t.  The authors do not even define or provide some kind of way to measure “maturity.”  This paragraph creates a strawman.

The burden-of-proof rests on the party making the positive claim.  In this case, the party claiming that a coin is becoming mature must provide objective evidence this is taking place.  Should reword in the next edition.

On p. 138 they write:

Broadly, we categorize five main patterns that lead to markets destabilizing: the speculation of crowds, “This time is different,” Ponzi schemes, Misleading information from asset issuers, Cornering.

Those are valid patterns, in full agreement here.  But this edition does not help in dispelling these problems and arguably even contributes to some of the speculative frenzy.

On p. 138 they write:

Sometimes they do this to capitalize on short-term information they believe will move the market, other times they do it because they expect to ride the momentum of the market, regardless of its fundamentals. In short, they try to profit within the roller-coaster ride.

What are the fundamentals of any coin described in this book?  Next edition, clearly write out 5-10 if possible.

On p. 139 they write:

As America was struggling through the Great Depression, which many pinned on the stock market crash of 1929, there was strong resentment against speculators. Every crisis loves a scapegoat.

And in Bitcoinland there is no difference.  Bitcoiners love to blame: bankers, the Illuminati, naysayers, concern trolls, academics, the government, Jamie Dimon, big blockers, small blockers, weak hands, statists, other coins, China, George Soros, Warren Buffett, Mike Hearn… virtually every month there is a new boogeyman to blame something on.  I’ve even been blamed many times and I’m not involved at all in the market.

On p. 143 they write:

Cheap credit often fuels asset bubbles, as seen with the housing bubble that led to the financial crisis of 2008. Similarly, cryptoasset bubbles can be created using extreme margin on some exchanges, where investors are effectively gambling with money they don’t have.

Fully agree, good point.

On p. 144 they write:

The best way to avoid getting burned in this manner is to do proper due diligence and have an investment plan that is adhered to.

Fully agree, good point.

On p. 145 they write:

The key to understanding bitcoin’s value is recognizing it has utility as “Money-over-Internet-Protocol”( MoIP)–allowing it to move large amounts of value to anyone anywhere in the world in a matter of minutes–which drives demand for it beyond mere speculation.

This might be partially true but is has the same feel-good narrative that folks like Andreas Antonopoulos have been getting paid handsomly to regurgitate.  Bitcoin (the network) does not move anything beyond bitcoins (the coin).  Users still have to convert bitcoins into actual money at end points.

Converting a large amount — greater than $10,000 — will likely require KYC and AML and maybe even sanctions checks.  This adds time and money which is one of the reason why the remittance use-case didn’t really get much traction after the hype in 2014 – 2015 and why companies such as Abra had to pivot a few times.

With that said, their metapoint is valid on the edges: despite the frictions that may exist, some participants are willing to go through this experience in order to gain more anonymity for uses they might not otherwise be able to do using traditional methods.88

Over the past three years there has also been an expansion of country- and region-based payment schemes worldwide to achieve near-real-time transfers, with Europe being one of the most significant accomplishments.89

In parallel, there are on-going experimentation and scaling of private blockchain-based ‘rails’ like Swift gpi or Alipay with GCash which have a potential to surpass volumes of the Bitcoin network.90

On p. 145 they write:

When Mt. Gox was established, bitcoin finally became accessible to the mainstream.

One nitpick:

Up until recently it was difficult for even diehard users to get onboarded onto most exchanges.  And specifically in 2010 with the launch of Mt. Gox, Jed McCaleb used Paypal to help facilitate the transfer of money… until Paypal dropped Mt. Gox because of too many chargebacks.  To get money into and out of Mt. Gox often was a frictionfull task, unless you lived in Japan.

On p. 149 they write:

As shown in Figure 10.4, steem’s price in bitcoin terms would fall from its mid-July peak by 94 percent three months later, and by 97 percent at the end of the year. This doesn’t mean the platform is bad. Rather, it shows the speculation and excitement about its prospects fueled a sharp rise and fall in price.

In hindsight, everything is 20-20.  The same truism in their last sentence can be said just about with every coin that sees the meteoric rise that Steemit did in 2016.91

On p. 150 they write:

While zcash has since stabilized and continues to hold great promise as a cryptoasset, its rocky start was caused by mass speculation.

Two comments:

  • Do the authors own any Zcash (or other cryptocurrencies mentioned in this book besides bitcoin)?
  • In late 2016 there were oodles of “thought leaders” talking about how Zcash was — for a moment — valued at a trillion dollars because of the very thin supply that was trading on exchanges.  It was a headscratching meme that illustrates a shortcoming to the common “market cap” valuation mehtod.92

On p. 152 they write:

The idea of valuation, which we will tackle in the next chapters, is a particularly challenging one for cryptoassets. Since they are a new asset class, they cannot be valued as companies are, and while valuing them based on supply and demand characteristics like that of commodiites has some validity, it doesn’t quite suffice.

Then why spend an entire chapter (Chapter 7) comparing coins such as bitcoin, to companies and their stock?

You can’t have it both ways.  Either heavily modify Chapter 7 in the next edition, or remove this comment.

Chapter 11

On p. 155 they write:

Given the emerging nature of the cryptoasset markets, it’s important to recognize that there is less regulation (some would say none) in this arena, and therefore bad behavior can persist for longer than it may in more mature markets.

And there are now full-time lobbyists and trade associations — sponsored by donors whom have benefited from this unregulated / underregulated market — that actively push back against sensible regulations being applied.  But that’s a different conversation beyond this post.

On p. 155 they write:

As activity grows in bitcoin and crypotasset markets, investors must look beyond the madness of the crowd and recognize that there are bad actors who seek easy prey in these young markets.

Even for a book published in late 2017, this is pretty much lip service.  Volumes of books can be written about the shenanigans within nearly every public ICO and high-profile coin project.  The authors should either modify the statement above or ideally expand it to detail specific egregious examples besides just OneCoin.

For instance, a new study found that: More Than Three-Quarters of ICOs Were Scams.  And these were ICOs done in 2017.

On p. 158 they write:

While a truly innovative crypotasset and its associated architecture requires a heroic coding effort from talented developers, because the software is open source, it can be downloaded and duplicated. From there, a new cryptoasset can be issued wrapped in slick marketing. If the innovative investors doesn’t do proper due diligence on the underlying code of read other trusted sources who have, then it’s possible to fall victim to a Ponzi scheme.

Enough with the “heroic” adjectives, let’s not put anyone on a pedestal, especially if the platform is not being used by anyone besides speculators and illicit actors.

Secondly, a minor grammar question: other uses of “open-source” in this book have a dash and the one above does not.

Lastly, recommend readers look into “Nakomoto Schemes” described in this article: The Problem with Calling Bitcoin a “Ponzi Scheme”

On p. 158 they write:

Millions of dollars poured into OneCoin, whose technology ran counter to the values of the cryptoasset community: its software was not open source (perhaps out of fear that developers would see the holes in its design), and it was not based on a public ledger, so no transactions could be tracked.

First, what are the “values” that the “community” has?  Are these explicity written somewhere?  Who decided those?

Second, those actually don’t sound too uncommon.

For instance, one recent study found: “Security researchers have found, on average, five security flaws in each cryptocurrency ICO (Initial Coin Offering) held last year. Only one ICO held in 2017 did not contain any critical flaws.”

And remember, these projects are “open source” yet most buyers and investors didn’t bother looking at the code.  OneCoin is par for the course.

On p. 159 they write:

The swift action revealed the strength of a self-policing, open-source community in pursuit of the truth.

In my most popular post last year, I went through in detail explaining how self-policing is an oxymoron in the cryptocurrency world.

For example, “the community” actively listed OneCoin on secondary markets and profited from its trading.  Did exchange operators return those gains to victims?  In addition, “the community” has thus far, not set up any self-regulating organization (SRO) that has any ability or teeth to enforce a code-of-conduct.

In fact, it was agencies from Sweden, the UK, and other governments that acted and cracked down on OneCoin… not a collective effort from exchanges or VCs or twitter personalities.

On p. 159 they explain googling for code on GitHub:

If nothing pops up with signs of the code on GitHub, then the cryptoasset is likely not open source, which is an immediate red flag that a cryptoasset and investment should be avoided.

Sure, but it doesn’t include the fact(s) that even in 2017 we knew that many coin projects had bugs in it… because there is no incentive to independently audit this code or to publish it in an objective manner.

For example, often when someone tries to help highlight problems, they are demonized as a “concern troll” as the coin tribes brigade their Twitter and reddit threads.  There are a couple of sites like ConcourseQ that now do help highlight problems, but most “crypto thought leaders” on social media spend their time rallying retail investors to buy coins instead of busting or calling out the legitimate coin scams.

On p. 161 they write about John Law:

Fortunately, today it’s quite easy to find information on just about anyone through Google searches.

Yes and no.  And that still doesn’t act as a shield against fraud.  The founders of Centra had shady, criminal pasts but were still able to raise more than $30 million in an ICO.  Their misdeeds only became widely known after a New York Times article explored it… this was not a story that was investigated by any of the “coin media” who collectively have a vested interested not to “self-police” the market they cover.

Furthermore, prior to getting busted and sued, Centra became a dues paying member of: Hyperledger, the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance, and the Chamber of Digital Commerce.  What are the filtering mechanisms in place at these types of organizations?  How do they determine who can join and if a coin is a security?

On p. 165 they write:

As with most panics, the contagion spread from the Gold Exchange.  Because of Gould’s cornering of the market, stock prices dropped 20 percent, a variety of agricultural exports fell 50 percent in value, and the national economy was disrupted for several months. Gould exited with a cool $11 million profit from the debacle, and scot-free from legal charges. It is all too common that character like Gould escape unscathed by the havoc they create, which then allows them to carry on with their machinations in other markets.

These kinds of panics and manipulation are part and parcel to retail traders on cryptocurrency exchanges.  Scapegoats and the blame game consist of a myriad of boogeymen — but typically the culprits are never found.93

On p. 167 they write:

In addition to miners, in Dash there are entities called masternodes, which are also controlled by people or groups of people. Masternodes play an integral role in performing near instant and anonymous transaction with Dash.

Putting aside whether Dash is or is not anonymous… the fact that the authors state that humans play a direct role in running the infrastructure raises a bunch of questions that I have repeated in this review.

How are these participants held accountable?  How is governance managed?  Have these participants registered with FinCEN?  Why or why not?

On p. 168 they write about the Bitcoin Rich List:

Another 116 addresses hold a total of 2.87 million bitcoin, or 19 percent of the total outstanding, which is sizeable. Unlike dash, however, these holders aren’t necessarily receiving half the newly minted bitcoin, and so their ability to push the price upward is less.

Should there be a thorough investigation of how any one party or set of parties can artificially move prices around based on control of the money supply?  In our current real-world framework, there are frequent public hearings and audits done.  When will minters of cryptocurrencies be publicly audited?

Chapter 12

On p. 171 they write:

Each cryptoasset is different, as are the goals, objectives, and risk profiles of each investor. Therefore, while this chapter will provide a starting point, it is by no means comprehensive. It’s also not investment advice.

Throughout the book the authors have repeatedly endorsed or not-endorsed specific coins.  The second edition needs to be a lot more consistent.

On p. 172 they write:

Currently, there is no such thing as sell-side research for cryptoassets, and this will require innovative investors to scour through the details on their own or rely on recognized thought leaders in the space.

This is a sad truth: it is nearly impossible to get neutral, objective research on any coin that has been created.

Why?  Because all coin holders basically have an incentive to promote and advertise the coins they own and talk down other coins they perceive as competition.  Paying “researchers” has happened and will continue to do so.

Also, here’s another appearance of “innovative investor” — can that be removed altogether?

And lastly, how to know who the “recognized thought leaders” are?  Based on the amount of twitter followers they have?  That has been gamed.  Based on how popular their Youtube account is?  That has been gamed.

For example, these two article explain some of this payola world:

Another instance, a couple weeks ago a government department in China (CCID) released its second ranking table of coins: China’s Crypto Ratings Index Puts EOS in Top Slot, Drops Bitcoin

It’s unclear if this is due to lobbying efforts or maybe the researchers owned a bunch of EOS coins.  At this time, the EOS block producing and arbitrator framework are both broken.  Block producers paused the network a few weeks ago and the arbitrators / constitutions will probably be scrapped.

How can this rating system be trusted?

On p. 173 they write about white papers:

Any cryptoasset worth its mustard has an origination white paper. A white paper is a document that’s often used in business to outline a proposal, typically written by a thought leader or someone knowledgeable on a topic. As it relates to cryptoassets, a white paper is the stake in the ground, outlining the problem the asset addresses, where the asset stands in the competitive landscape, and what the technical details are.

During the Consensus event this past May, someone accidentally dropped a napkin on the floor and someone loudly said: watch out, that’s the latest multimillion dollar white paper.

And that’s the situation where we are in now.  Readers: the passage above was not at all critical of the real mess we are in today.  For instance, Tron literally plagiarized in its whitepaper, raised a ton of money in its ICO and recently bought BitTorrent.

There is no direct connection between a “good” or “bad” whitepaper and the performance of the coin.  Retail investors do not typically care and haven’t done much research.  Yet another reason agencies such as the SEC will be overwhelmed in the coming years due to rampant fraud and deceit.  Worth looking into the next edition.

On p. 173 they write:

Some of these white papers can be highly technical, though at the very least perusing the introduction and conclusion is valuable.

This seems like an incongruent statement compared to other advice in the book about doing deep research.  Recommend revising.

On p. 174 they write:

A number of cryptoasset-based projects focus on social networks, such as Steemit and Yours, the latter of which uses litecoin. While we admire these projects, we also ask: Will these networks and their associated assets gain traction with competitors like Reddit and Facebook? Similarly, a cryptoasset service called Swarm City (formerly Arcade City) aims to decentralize Uber, which is already a highly efficient service. What edge will the decentralized Swarm City have over the centralized Uber?

And that in a nutshell is why the second edition of the book arguably needs to be slimmed down by 25%+.  Virtually all of the use cases in this book are simply potential use cases and have shown little or even no traction in reality.  For example, if the authors were as critical to Bitcoin and Zcash as they were to Swarm City then the second edition might be perceived as more balanced.

Specifically, in their promotion of Bitcoin as a payments platform, they have not done a deep dive into other existing payment networks, such as Visa or an RTGS from a central bank.94 They should do that in the next edition otherwise these come across as one-sided arguments.

Also, Yours switched from Litecoin over to Bitcoin Cash last year (around the time the book was published) and Swarm City is still not very active at the time this review was written.

On p. 175 they write about The Lindy Effect

The same applies to cryptoassets. The longest-lived cryptoasset, bitcoin, now has an entire ecosystem of hardware, software developers, companies, and users built around it. Essentially, it has created its own economy, and while a superior cryptocurrency could slowly gain share, it would have an uphill battle given the foothold bitcoin has gained.

This is untrue in theory and practice.

While maximalists would vocally claim that there can only be one-chain-to-rule-them-all, there is no real moat that Bitcoin has to prevent users from exiting or switching to other platforms (see discussion on substitute goods).

In practice, effectively all proof-of-work cryptocurrencies depend on external capital to stay afloat, often in the form of venture capital. ((See Robert Sams on rehypothecation, deflation, inelastic money supply and altcoins)) Part of the reason is that miners need to pay their bills in traditional currency and therefore must liquidate some or all of their coins to do so.  Another issue is that because many participants think or believe that coin prices as measured in real money will increase in the future, they hold.  Yet the expenses of service providers (exchanges, wallets, etc.) typically need to be paid with traditional money.

As a result, this creates sell-side pressure.  And unlike the traditional FX market which has “natural” buyers in the form of international merchants and multinational corporations: there still is no “natural” buyers of cryptocurrencies outside of illicit activity (e.g., darknet market participants).

To compound this situation is that there is still no real circular flow of income, no real economy for any of these cryptocurrencies.95  And with the exception of a few cases each year, miners typically do not directly invest their coin holdings into companies, so crypotcurrency-related startups are dependent on foreign currency.

On p. 175 they write:

The demise of The DAO significantly impacted Ethereum (which The DAO was built on), but through leadership and community involvement, the major issues were addressed, and as of April 2017 Ethereum stands solidly as the second largest cryptoasset in terms of network value.

In the second edition, could the authors explicitly lay out how they define “leadership” in this context as well as what the “community” is?  If it is singular and centralized, how is that fitting for an entity that is supposed to be decentralized?

Also, for readers interested in The DAO, here’s a short fiery thread on that topic.

On p. 176 they discuss “utility value and speculative value”

For bitcoin, its utility is that it can safely, quickly, and efficiently transfer value to anyone, anywhere in the world.

That may have been the original vision expressed in the whitepaper but it is not what the maximalists now claim Bitcoin is.  Who’s promotion around utility is something we should take into consideration?

Also, considering how easy and common it is to hack cryptocurrency intermediaries such as exchanges, I think it is debatable that Bitcoin is “safe” for unsophisticated retail users, but that’s a separate topic.

On p. 176 they write:

The merchants wants to use bitcoin because it will allow her to transfer that money within an hour as opposed to waiting a week or more. Therefore, the Brazilian merchant buys US$100,000 worth of bitcoin and sends it ot the Chinese manufacture.

They explain a little more but the difficulties with this example starts here.  The authors only focus on the bitcoins themselves, they don’t explore the actual full lifecycle that international merchants and manufacturers have to go through in order to exchange bitcoins into real money that they can use to pay bills.

That is to say: the Brazilian merchant and Chinese manufacture do not hold onto coins, so it is not just a matter of how fast they can send or receive the coins.  What ultimately matters to them is how quickly they can receive the real money from a bank.

So the next edition needs to include the full roundtrip costs and frictions including the on-ramps and off-ramps into the traditional financial system.  This is why many Bitcoin remittance companies struggled and ultimately had to pivot out of that cross-border use case (such as Abra).  For the next edition, a side-by-side cost comparison would be helpful.96

On p. 177 they write:

That means on average each of these addresses is holding US$5.5 million worth of bitcoin, and it’s fair to assume that these balances are not those of merchants waiting for their transactions to complete. Instead, these are likely balances of bitcoin that entities are holding for the long term based on what they think bitcoin’s future utility value will be. Future utility value can be thought of as speculative value, and for this speculative value investors are keeping 5.5 million bitcoin out of the supply.

This seems like euphemisms.  We understand that time preferences and discounted utility come into dramatic effect here.  Maybe worth rewording?

For example, a large portion of those coins could be permanently destroyed (e.g., someone deleted the private key or threw away the hard drive).  Though a significant portion could also be maximalists holding onto their coins with the hope that other investors create sufficient demand to move the price — as measured in real money — upward and upward.  So they can then cash out.

If daily and weekly anecdotes on twitter and reddit are any indication, that’s arguably the real utility value of most coins, not just bitcoin.  And there is some analytics to back up that argument too.

On p. 177 they write:

At the start of April 2017, there were just over 16 million bitcoin outstanding. Between international merchants needing 10 million bitcoin, and 5.5 million bitcoin held by the top 1,000 investors, there are only roughly 500,000 bitcoin free for people to use.

Citation needed. If the authors have any specific information that can share with the audience about any of these numbers, that’d be very helpful.  Especially regarding the merchants needing 10 million bitcoin.  If anything, there may be fewer merchants actively accepting bitcoin today than there were a couple years ago.

On p. 177 they write:

If demand continues to go up for bitcoin, then with a disinflationary supply schedule, so too will its price (or velocity).

Couple of things:

  • Bitcoin’s current supply schedule is perfectly inelastic (whereas say gold, is elastic).
  • It would be good to see what the authors think the velocity of bitcoin is.  I’ve tried to track down and write about it in the past.  See all of Chapter 9.

On p. 177 they write:

In other words, those investors no longer feel bitcoin has any speculative value left, and instead its price is only supported by current utility value.

As mentioned above, it would be helpful in the next edition if the authors included specific definitions and characteristics in a chart for what utility versus speculative value are.

Also, I don’t endorse the post in its entirety, but about five years ago Rick Falkvinge wrote an interesting note about the transactional value from illicit activity as it relates to Bitcoin.  That has some actual data in it (though very old now).

On p. 178 they write:

For bitcoin, instead of looking at the “domestically produced goods and services” it will purchase in a period, the innovative investor must look at the internationally produced goods and services it will prucahse. The global remittances market–currently dominated by companies that provide the ability for people to send money to one another internationally–is an easy graspable example of service within which bitcoin could be used.

This whole section should probably be culled because this isn’t really a viable, scalable use case that bitcoin itself can solve.

For example, between 2014-2016, tens of millions of dollars were invested in more than a dozen “rebittance” companies (Bitcoin-focused remittance) and most either failed or pivoted.

Those that still exist had to build additional services and bitcoin were a means to an end.  In all cases, these companies had to build their own cryptocurrency exchange and/or partner with several cryptocurrency exchanges in order to liquidate the coins — they need to hedge and limit their exposure to volatility.  Bitcoin also doesn’t solve for the last-mile problem at all… but that is a separate topic.97

On p. 179 they write:

If each bitcoin needs to be worth $952 to service 20 percent of the remittance market and $11,430 to service the demand for it as digital gold, then in total it needs to be worth $12,382. There is no limit to the number of use cases that can be added in this process, but what is extremely tricky is figuring out the percent share of the market that bitcoin will ultimately fulfill and what the velocity of bitcoin will be in each use case.

This is highly debatable.  And it is exactly what Pantera stated four years ago.  Sources should be cited in the next edition; and also provide a velocity estimate for the potential use cases.

On p. 180 they write:

Taking the concepts of supply and demand, velocity, and discounting, we can figure out what bitcoin’s value should be today, assuming it is to serve certain utility purposes 10 years from now. However, this is much easier said than done, as it involves figuring out the sizes of those markets in the future, the percent share that bitcoin will take, what bitcoin’s velocity will be, and what an appropriate discount rate is.

An actual asset would certainly need these blanks filled, but Bitcoin doesn’t behave like a normal asset.  For instance, it goes through enormous speculative bubbles and busts.  It reached just under $20,000 per coin in mid-December last year not for any utility reason but pure speculation… yet many of the “thought leaders” at the time said it was because new buyers were going to use it for its utility.

On p. 180 they write:

Already there have been reports, such as those from Spence Bogart at Needham & Company, as well as Gil Luria at Webush, that look at the fundamental value of bitcoin.

I’ve read most of their reports, they’re nearly all based on edge-case assumptions or one-off anecdotes that never saw much traction (such as remittances).  In addition, arguably both of their analysis may have been colored by their coin investments at the time they published their work.  That’s not to say their material is discredited but I would discount some of their cryptocurrency-related reports.98

On p. 180 they write:

The valuations these analysts produce can be useful guides for the innovative investor, but they should not be considered absolute dictations of the truth. Remember, “Garbage in, garbage out.” We suspect that as opposed to these reports remaining proprietary, as is currently the case with much of the research of equities and bonds, many of these reports will become open-source and widely accessible to all levels of investors in line with the ethos of cryptoassets.

This has not happened.  If anything, the market has been flooded with junk marketing material that masquerades as “research.”  Universities are now getting funded by coin issuers and asked to co-publish papers.  Even if there are no explicit shenanigans going on, there is now a shadow of doubt that hangs over these organizations.

Also, the next edition needs to define what “the ethos of cryptoassets” is somewhere up front.  And dispense with “innovative investor”?99

On p. 182 they write about getting to know “the community and the developers”:

In getting to know the community better, consider a few key points. How committed is the developer team, and what is their background? Have they worked on a previous cryptoasset and in that processrefined their ideas so that they now want to alunch another?

[…]

If information cannot be found on the developers, or the developers are overtly anonymous, then this is a red flag because there is no accountability if things go wrong.

Satoshi clearly wouldn’t have been able to pass this test.  Nor BitDNS originally (which later became Namecoin).

It is a double-standard to want accountability here yet promote an ill-defined “decentralization” throughout this book.  You really can’t have it both ways.

Remember, the reason why administrators and operators of financial market infrastructure are heavily regulated is to hold participants legally responsible and accountable for when mistakes and accidents occur.

Cryptocurrencies were designed to be anarchic and purposefully were designed to not make a single participant accountabile.  Trying to merge those two worlds creates the worst of both: permissioned-on-permissionless.

On p. 183 they write:

If Ethereum gets big enough, there may eventually be those who call themselves Ethereum Maximalists!

Yes, they exist and largely self-selected themselves into the Ethereum Classic world… you can see that by their antics on social media.

On p. 183 they write about issuance models:

Next, consider if the distribution is fair. Remember that a premine (where the assets are mined before the network is made widely available, as was the case with bytecoin) or an instamine (where many of the assets are mined at the start, as was the case with dash) are both bad signs because assets and power will accrue to a few, as opposed to being widely distributed in line with the egalitarian ethos.

Let’s tone down the talk on egalitarianism in a market fueled by greed and a perpetually high Gini coefficient.

In practice as of July 2018, many ICOs are pre-mined or pre-allocated, most as ERC20 tokens that are controlled by a singular entity (usually an off-shore foundation).100

Is this a “bad sign”?  It would be helpful to see what the explicit criteria around token distribution should be in the next edition.101

On p. 183 they write:

For example, Ethereum started with one planned issuance model, but is deciding to go with another a couple years into launch. Such changes in the issuance model may occur for other assets, or impact those assets that are significatnly tied to the Ethereum network.

Those decision are made by individuals.  Perhaps by the next edition we will know what FinCEN and other regulatory positions on individuals creating monetary policy and running financial market infrastructure.

On p. 184 they write:

With Dogecoin we saw that it needed lots of units outstanding for it to function as a tipping service, which justifies it currently having over 100 billion units outstanding, a significantly larger amount than Bitcoin. With many people turning to bitcoin as gold 2.0, an issuance model like Dogecoin’s would be a terrible idea.

What?  Why?  This passage conflates many different things.

  1. As Jackson Palmer has repeatedly said: Dogecoin was set up as a joke, based on a meme.  The authors seem to be taking its existence a little too seriously.
  2. Dogecoin was originally based on Luckycoin which had a random money supply, so its original hashrate charts were all over the map, bipolar.
  3. Its money supply was changed in part because it ran into an exitential crisis that it later (mostly) solved by merge mining with Litecoin in 2014

How does any of this have to do with maximalist narrative of “gold 2.0”?

On p. 186 they write:

The only way attackers can process invald transactions is if they own over half of the computer power of the network, so it’s critical that no single entity ever exceeds 50 percent ownership.

Technically this is not quite right.

The actual figure to sucessfully censor and/or reorg the chain may be as low as 33% and perhaps even 25% (dubbed “selfish mining“).102  More than 50% would mean the participants could do so repeatedly until their hashrate declines and/or a permanent fork occurs.

Aside from pressure on social media, there is nothing to prevent such “ownership” from taking place.  And there is no legal recourse or accountability in the event it happens.  And such “attacks” have occured on many different cryptocurrencies.103

On p. 186 they write:

In other words, miners are purley economically rational individuals–mercenaries of computer power–and their profit is largely driven by the value of the crypotasset as well as by transaction fees.

This should be reworded from the next edition because it is not true.  Miners and mining pools are operated by people and they have various incentives, including to attack networks or abandon them altogether.

On p. 186 they write:

A clearly positively reinforcing cycle sets in that ensures that the larger the asset grows, the more secure it becomes–as it should be.

This is not true for proof-of-work coins.

If anything, mining and development have both trended towards centralization.  For instance, it is estimated that Bitmain-manufactured hashing equipment currently generates 60-80% of the network hashrate and Bitmain-affiliated mining pools comprise about 50%+ of the current Bitcoin network.  Maybe that is just momentary but singular entities on the mining side dominate many other cryptocurrencies as well.  Perhaps that changes later in the year so it is worth revisiting in the next edition.

Recommended reading:

On p. 187 they write:

At the risk of being repetitive, more hash rate signifies more computers are being added to support the network, which signifies greater security.

This is a non sequitur.  A new hashing machine capable of generating 10 times the amount of hashes as the previous machine could — ceteris paribus — result in other machines being turned off.  In practice, you often have the Red Queen Effect take place (see Chapter 3).

Either way, depending on the costs of more efficient ASIC design, there could actually be fewer (or more) hashing machines added to a network depending on the expected price of the coin minus operating costs.

And in some cases, the network may become more centralized and therefore arguably less secure.  Worth revising in next edition.

On p. 188 they write:

While hash rate often follows price, sometimes price can follow hash rate. This happens in situations where miners expect good things of the asset in the future, and therefore proactively connect machines to help secure the network. This instills confidence, and perhaps the expected good news has also traveled to the market, so the price start going up.

This passage has entered Rube Goldberg territory, where a series of specific events turn into a virtuous cycle in which prices go up and up but not down?  How can we ever know what caused certain price increases or decreases with this type of asymmetric information occurring in the background?  Suggest scrapping it in the next edition.

On p. 188 they write:

Ethereum’s mining network, on the other hand, is less built out because it’s a younger ecosystem that stores less value. As of March 2017, a 230 megahash per second (MH/s) mining machine could be purchased for $4,195, and it would take 70,000 of these machines to recreate Ethereum’s hash rate, totaling $294 million in value. Also, because Ethereum is supported by GPUs and not ASICs, the machines can more easily be constructed piecemeal by a hobbyist on a budget.

There are a few issues with this:

  1. How do the authors measure or quantify “less built out”?  Is there a line that is crossed in which Ethereum or other coins are “more built out” or the right size?
  2. About a year ago a coin reporter asked me to detail the hypothetical lower bound costs for recreating the hashrate of the Bitcoin network.  I provided those numbers based on Bitmain’s latest device… but the article instead ignored any of that and instead quoted some random conspiracy theory from a Twitter personality.  Rather than rehashing the full story here, keep in mind that the geographic distribution and control of mining equipment is arguably as important as the aggregate network hashrate.
  3. Their last sentence does not make much sense.  How to define a hobbyist?  If a hobbyist is defined as an individual who can afford to spend $4,195… then they can probably also buy ASIC equipment as well for other cryptocurrencies, including Ethereum today.

On p. 188 they write:

This range is a good baseline for the innovative investor to use for other cryptoassets to ensure they are secured with a similar level of cpaital spend as Bitcoin and Ethereum, which are the two best secured assets in the blockchain ecosystem.

There is another appearance of the “innovative investor,” remove in next edition?

Also, if security is solely measured by hashrate then yes, Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH) might be the “best secured.”  But that assumes a purely Maginot Line attack and not a BGP or wrench attack.

On p. 189 they write:

Overall, hash rate is important, but so too is decentralization. After all, if the hash rate is extremely high but 75 percent of it is controlled by a single entity, then that is not a decentralized system. It is actually a highly centralized system and therefore vulnerable to the whims of that one entity.

This probably should come at the beginning of the chapter, not in this location.  Also recommend adding some citations to the Onename and BGP posts.

On p. 189 they write:

It’s apparent that Litecoin is the most centralized, while Bitcoin is the most decentralized. A way to quanitfy the decentralization is the Herfindahl Hirschman Index (HHI), which is a metric to measure competition and market concentration.

HHI is used with known, legally identifiable parties.  With cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum — the mining entities were not originally supposed to be known at all — over time they self-doxxed themselves.104

Should the Department of Justice and similar organizations coordinate and carry out HHI analysis on mining pools to prevent monopolization, oligopolization, and/or coordination?   What happens if participants refuse to comply?

On p. 191 they write:

Blockchain networks should never classify as a highly concentrated marketplace, and ideally, should always fall into the competitive market place category.

Okay, but what if they don’t and no one cares?  Who should enforce this?

Recommend reading a relevant paper published this past winter: Decentralization in Bitcoin and Ethereum Networks

On p. 193 they write:

At times, Bitcoin has been a moderately concentrated marketplace, just as Litecoin mining is currently a moderately concentrated marketplace. Litecoin recognizes the impact that large mining pools can have on the health of its ecosystem and the quality of its coin. To that point, Litecoin developers have instituted an awareness campaign called “Spread the Hashes” for those mining litecoin to consider spreading out their mining activies. The campaign recommends that litecoin computers mine with a variety of mining pools rather than concentraing solely in one.

The anthropomorphism needs to be removed in the second edition.  “Litecoin” does not recognize anything because Litecoin is not a singular autonomous entity.

There are individual people, developers who work on a certain implementation of Litecoin that may promote something — and if they coordinate (which they do) then perhaps they could be classified as administrators.

Either way, this “Spread the Hashes” campaign didn’t seem to work:

Source: Litecoinpool.org visited on July 11, 2018

As the pie chart above illustrates, just 5 entities currently account for about 90% of the network hashrate.  And the largest 3 effectively could coordinate to control the network if they wanted to.

Worth noting that similar marketing campaigns to “spread the hashes” have been done on other networks.  Back in 2014 when GHash.io reached the 50% mark, reddit was filled with discussions imploring miners to switch to P2Pool.

Why don’t miners move to smaller pools?  Two words: reliable revenue.  Recommended reading: The Gambler’s Guide To Bitcoin Mining

On p. 194 they write:

Not all nodes are made equal. A single node could have a large number of mining computers behind it, hence capturing a large percentage of the overall network’s hash rate, while another node could have mining computer supporting it, amounting to a tiny fraction of Bitcoin’s hash rate.

Sort of.  There are two different nodes: nodes that fully validate and attempt to append the blockchain by submitting a proof-of-work that meets the necessary difficulty threshold… and nodes that don’t.  In practice, today we call the former “mining pools” and the latter, just nodes.

For instance, in Bitcoinland there was a vicious war of words from 2015-2017 waged by several parties who did not operate mining pools, or nodes that generated proofs-of-work.105  One subset of these parties used various means and channels to insist that miners did not ultimately matter, that it was “users” who truly controlled the network and they labeled themselves “UASF.”  And some of the most vocal members of this “populism wing” insisted that the nodes run by mining pools were no more important than the nodes run by some hobbyist in an apartment.

The views were irreconcilable and the ultimate result is that one group involved in that battle, forked off and created a new chain called Bitcoin Cash (BCH), whereas many of the other parties coalesced with what is called Bitcoin (BTC).  There is a lot more to the story, a messy emotional divorce that still continues today.

Technically the decision to fork or not fork is made by mining pools and the nodes they each manage, but there are more nuances and politics involved that go beyond the scope of this review.

On p. 194 they write:

William Mougayar, author of The Business Blockchain, has written extensively about how to identify and evaluate new blockchain ventures and sums up the importance of developers succinctly: “Before users can trust the protocol, they need to trust the people who created it.” As we touched upon in the prior chapter, investigate the prior qualifications of lead developers for a protocol as much as possible.

Two problems with this:

  1. I wrote a lengthy book review of Mougayar’s book and found it disappointing and do not recommend because of statements like the one above.
  2. What were Satoshi’s qualifications?  No one knows, but no one really cares either.  Similarly, what were Vitalik Buterin’s qualifications?  He was 19 when he announced Ethereum at Bitcoin Miami and had recently dropped out of college.  Similarly, Gavin Wood was a 34 year-old developer building music-related apps prior to co-founding Ethereum.  Would these two key guys been deemed qualified?  What are the qualifications necessary to be a blockchain wizard?

On p. 194 they write:

Developers have their own network effect: the more smart developers there are working on a project, the more useful and intriguing that project becomes to other developers. These developers are then drawn to the project, and a positively reinforcing flywheel is created. On the other hand, if developers are exiting a project, then it quickly becomes less and less interesting to other developers, ultimately leaving no one to captain the software ship.

A couple of thoughts:

  1. This is a nice sounding theory, but that’s not really what happens with most of these projects.  Generally developers are attracted due to the compensation they can receive… they do a risk-reward analysis.  I’ve met and spoken to dozens, perhaps north of 100 cryptocurrency-related teams in the past 12 months across the globe.  Attracting talented developers is not nearly as easy and clear cut as the authors make it sound above.
  2. Also, having a single “captain of the ship” seems like a single point of failure and a centralization risk.  Is that part of the undefined ethos?

On p. 195 they write:

Recall that this is how Litecoin, Dash, and Zcash were created from Bitcoin: developers forked Bitcoin’s code, modified it, and then re-released the software with different functionality. Subscribers refer to people wanting to stay actively involved with the code. In short, the more code repository points, the more developer activity has occured around the cryptoasset’s code.

That’s not necessarily true, and in fact, has been gamed by coin issuers who want to make it look like there is a lot of independent activity and traction with developers… by creating spam accounts and very small changes to simple documents (like grammar).

It can be a helpful metric but you need someone technically inclined to dive into the code that is being added/removed/modified.  See: Increased Github Scrutiny Means Lazy ICO Developers Have No Place to Hide

Readers may also be interested in CoinGecko to see how this acitivity is weighted.

On p. 198 they write:

A different approach is to monitor the number of companies supporting a cryptoasset, which can be done by tracking venture capital investments. CoinDesk provides some of this information as seen in Figure 13.13. Though as we will address in Chapter 16 on ICOs, the trend in this space is moving away from venture funding and toward crowdfunding.

Actually, as mentioned a couple time earlier, there has been a noticeable divergence the past 12 months: coin sales that are done as private placements versus coin sales that have a public facing sale.

In general, most of the coins that have raised capital through private placement deals typically have less than 100 investors, many of which are the aforementioned “crypto hedge funds” and coin-focused venture funds such as Andreessen Horowitz and Union Square Ventures.

The public facing sales are generally eschewed by venture funds.  If venture funds are involved in a coin that does a public sale, they typically are involved in what is called a “pre-sale” where they receive preferential terms and conditions, such as discounted coins.

Upon the conclusion of the “pre-sale” the actual public sale begins with heavy marketing on social media towards retail investors.  Sometimes these sales have hundreds or even thousands of individual participants.  That could be called a “crowdsale” and these participants typically get worse terms than those who participated in the pre-sale.

On p. 199 they write:

Another good proxy for the increased acceptance of a cryptoasset and its growing offering by highly regulated exchanges is the amount of fiat currency used to purchase it.

Maybe consider revising because we have all been told that cryptocurrencies would not only displace “fiat currency” but also topple and replace the existing financial system… how does measuring these new internet coins with old money help achieve that?

For instance, at the time of this writing none of the US-based retail exchanges with domestic bank accounts have recently listed an ICO (with the exception of ETH and ETC).  This includes: itBit, Bitflyer, Coinbase, and Gemini.106  Kraken’s retail exchange uses payment processors and banking partners outside of the US.107

On p. 199 they write:

in the one-year period from March 2016 to March 2017, ether went from being traded 12 percent of the time with fiat currency to 50 percent of the time. This is a good sign of the maturation of an asset, and shows it is gaining wider recognition and acceptance.

Why is that specific ratio or percentage deemed good?  The next edition should include a table explaining this in further because it is unclear why it is good, neutral, or bad.

On p. 201 they write about wallets from Blockchain.info:

Clearly, having more users that can hold a cryptoasset is good for that asset: more users, more usage, more acceptance. While the chart shows an exponential trend, there are a few drawbacks for this metric. For one, it only shows the growth of Blockchain.info’s wallet users, but many other wallet providers exist. For example, as of March 2017, Coinbase had 14.2 million wallets, on par with Blockchain.info. Second, an individual can have more than one wallet, so some of these numbers could be due to users creating many wallets, a flaw which extends to other wallet providers and their metrics as well.

In the past I have written extensively on how these headline wallet numbers are basically gimmicks and don’t accurately measure users or user activity.

Why?  Because it costs nothing to open one.  And often there is no KYC or AML involved in creating one as well.  As a result, bots can be used to create many each day to inflate the metric.

Coinbase has actually removed usage data in the past and they still don’t define what the difference between a user or wallet is.  Nor do either company provide traditional DAU / MAU metrics.  It’s not hard to do and it is unclear why they don’t.  The only way we have some semblance of an idea of what Coinbase user numbers were between 2013-2015 is because of the IRS lawsuit mentioned above.

On p. 201 they write about a search trend, “BTC USD,” first described by Willy Woo:

If we assume this to be true, then Woo’s analysis indicating a doubling in bitcoin users every year and an order of magnitude growth every 3.375 years. He calls this Woo’s Law in honor of Moore’s Law […] It will be interesting to see how Woo’s Law holds up over time.

How has it done?  “Woo’s Law” has thus far not held up.

For instance, below is a 5 year trend chart of the same search term promoted by Woo and others last year:

As we can see above, this term has some correlation between interest in coins specifically during price bubbles.  But this has not translated into large quantities of new daily users.108

The next edition of this book should remove this faux eponym because it has not withstood the test of time and doesn’t measure actual users.

On p. 202 they write:

Figure 13.17 shows the hyper growth of Ethereum’s unique address count. With Ethereum, an address can either store a balance of either, like Bitcoin, or it can store a smart contract. Either denotes an increase in use.

Below is a screenshot of a recent address count:

Source: Etherscan

The next edition should include a caveat because it is unclear from this chart alone what kind of use is taking place.  Is it coin shuffling, miner payouts, gambling payouts, Crypokitty activity, etc.?  Maybe it is just someone spamming the network?

For instance, according to DappRadar which tracks 650 ethereum Dapps, over the past 24 hours there have only been 9,926 users sending 43,652 transactions.  That may sound intriguing but… nearly about 2/3rd of all these users are using decentralized exchanges (DEX).  If trading and arbitraging are the “killer apps” of cryptocurrencies, then the next edition of this book could be a lot slimmer than it is now.

As described in “Slicing data,” not all transactions are the same and a deep dive needs to be done to fully describe the behavior taking place.

On p. 204 they cite a “Dollar Value of Transactions” chart:

Source: Blockchain.info

But this is just an estimate from Blockchain.info and is likely widely exaggerated because Blockchain.info — like most wallet providers — probably has no idea what the intent behind those transactions are.  We need data from all of the exchanges, payment processors, and merchants that accept coins in order to conclusively know what activity was commercial versus non-commercial in nature.

For instance, a large portion of those transactions could simply be “change address.”

Not to get too technical, but with Bitcoin, in order to manually send X amount of bitcoin on-chain, users typically must enter a “change address” unless the whole amount of UTXO is consumed.  It’s kind of like a bank teller moving money from one till to another between shifts.  No new economic activity is actually taking place in the bank or in the real economy, but in this specific chart above, there is no way to differentiate “change address” activity with real commercial activity and so it all gets mixed and muddied.

On p. 204 they write:

If the network value has outpaced the transactional volume of that asset, then this ratio will grow larger, which could imply the price of the asset has outpaced its utility. We call this the crypto “PE ratio,” taking inspiration from the common ratio used for equities.

Except, without a thorough deep dive from an analytics provider who has mapped out activity into all of the exchanges, payment processors, and merchants — it is very difficult to actually differentiate the noise from the actual transactional utility.109

Here the authors take all on-chain transaction volume at face value.  The next edition should scrap this section unless they get access to a thorough deep dive.

On p. 204 they write:

One would assume that an efficient price for an asset would indicate a steadiness of network value to the transaction volume of the asset. Increasing transactional volume of an asset should be met by a similar increase in the value of that asset. Upside swings in pricing without similar swings in transaction volume could indicate an overheating of the market and thus, overvaluation of an asset.

That is a popular model but could be incorrect.

I recommend readers check-out this excellent recent thread started by Nathaniel Popper as well as Debunking Bitcoin’s Remittance Valuation. Featuring a Lead Pipe by Anshuman Mehta.

On p. 207 they write about technical analysis:

In Figure 13.22 the top line is called the resistance line, indicating a price that bitcoin is having trouble breaking through. Often these lines can be numbers of psychological weight, in this case the $300 mark.

I looked it up and couldn’t find a definition for what “psychological weight” is, so this should either be defined in the book or removed in the next edition.110

On p. 209 they write:

You’ll find many instances of newer cryptoassets experiencing wild price swings after their creation, but over time these younger assets begin to follow the rules of technical analysis. This is a sign that these assets are maturing, and as such, are being followed by a broader group of traders. This indicates they can be more fully analyzed and evaluated using technical analysis, allowing the innovative investor to better time the market and identify buy and sell opportunities.

Technical analysis may have its uses but by itself it is basically cargo cult science.

Recommend rephrasing it and maybe inserting this great reference: The Vomiting Camel has escaped from Bitcoin zoo

Chapter 14

On p. 211 they write:

Since cryptoassets are digital bearer instruments, they are unlike many other investments that are held by a centralized custodian. For example, regardless of which platform an investor uses to buy stocks, there is a centralized custodian who is “housing” the assets and keeping track of the investor’s balance. With cryptoassets, the innovative investor can opt for a similar situation or can have full autonomy and control in storage. The avenue chosen depends on what the innovative investor most values, and as with much of life there are always trade-offs.

This is true: there are many choice.  But in practice, as noted above by Jonathan Levin, a significant majority of transactions typically involves a 3rd party intermediary.

Why?  Because Securing a bearer instrument can be a major hassle, as a result companies like Coinbase and Xapo offer custodial services.  While re-introducing an intermediary helps with coin management that kind of defeats the purpose of having a pseudonymous bearer asset in the first place.111 But that’s a different discussion.112

On p. 212 they write:

Anyone with a computer can connect to Bitcoin’s network, download past blocks, keep track of new transactions, and crunch the necessary data in pursuit of the gold hash. Such open architecture is one of Bitcoin’s strongest points.

It may sound like a irrelevant nitpick but this is not unique to Bitcoin.  Nearly every cryptocurrency listed on Coinmarketcap has the same set of “features.”  Similarly, many enterprise vendors also are open source and anyone could set up their own network with the software.  Future editions should include a more nuanced definition of “open.”

On p. 213 they write:

The first computer – or mining rig – with ASIC chips that were specifically manufactured for the process was connected in January 2013.

The citation the authors included was for Avalon.  This is true insomuch as these systems were available for purchase to the general retail public.  But the first known ASIC-mining system was launched in late 2012: ASICMiner privately run out of Hong Kong (from BitQuan and BitFountain). 113

On p. 214 they write:

For perspective, the combined compute power of Bitcoin’s network is over 100,000 times faster than the top 500 supercomputers in the world combined.

This type of stat is frequently repeated throughout the Bitcoin world but it is not an apples-to-apples comparison and should be removed in the next edition.  The supercomputers are largely comprised of CPUs and GPUs which — as their names suggest — are flexible and capable of handling many different types of general purpose tasks.

ASICs on the other hand, are focused and specialized: capable of doing just one set of tasks over and over.  ASICs found in a Bitcoin mining farm are not even capable of creating blocks to propagate on the network: they simply generate hashes.  That is how limited they are in functionality.

On p. 214 they write:

Conceptually, mining networks are a perfect competition, and thus as margins increase, new participants will flood in until economic equilibrium is once again achieved. Thus the greater the value of the asset, the more money miners make, which draws new miners into the ecosystem, thereby increasing the security of the network. It’s a virtuous cycle that ensures the bigger the network value of a cryptoasset, the more security there is to support it.

I think this could be rewritten in the next edition to be closer with what happens in practice.114

For instance, as coin prices decrease, margins are squeezed and “marginal” operators exit, leaving fewer overall miners.  In the past this has led to bankruptcies, such as KnC and HashFast.

Does this lead to a less secure network?

Maybe, maybe not.  Depends on how we define secure and insecure.  Pure hashrate is just one attribute… geographical location, amount of participants, and diversity of participants could be others as well.  For example, see the discussion earlier on selfish-mining.

On p. 215 they write:

Before investing in a cloud-based mining pool, conduct research on the potential investment. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

This is good advice.

Also worth mentioning that “cloud-based mining” kind of the defeats the purpose of pseudonymous mining.  If you have to trust the infrastructure provider to manage and operate the hashing equipment, why not just buy the coins?  Why take that risk and also have to divulge your identity?

Incidentally, NiceHash is one of the most well-known cloud mining services available today.  It partly cemented its notoriety (this is not an endorsement) as its mining units have been rented and used to attack several different cryptocurrencies.  A site called Crypto51.app categorizes the costs of doing a brute force attack on dozens of coins and even lists the amount of hashrate NiceHash has in order to perform a hypothetical attack.

On p. 216 they write:

However, Ethereum will potentially switch to proof-of-stake early in 2018, as it is more efficient from an energy perspective, and therefore many claim is more scalable.

Quick note: this transition has been delayed again until at least the end of 2018 and more likely sometime in 2019 (although it has been moved many times before as well).

On p. 217 they write:

To this end, today numerous quality exchange are available to investors looking to gain and transact the more than 800 cryptoassets that currently exist.

In the next edition it is worth clarifying and defining what “quality” means because just about every retail / consumer-facing exchange has had its share of problems, including hacks and thefts.115 This is one of the reasons the SEC has denied ETF proposals.

With that said, there are a number of OTC trading desks run by reputable financial organizations that enable investors to trade, however, typically the minimum order size (buy/sell) is $100,000.116

On p. 218 they write:

Cryptoasset transactions are irreversible; therefore chargebacks are impossible. While an irreversible transaction may sound scary, it actually benefits the efficiency of the overall system. With credit card chargebacks, everyone has to bear the cost, whereas with cryptoassets only those who are careless bear the cost.

Two comments worth considering for the next edition:

  1. Transactions in cryptocurrencies are possible through block reversals, which can and do happen.  Often times they are relatively expensive to do, but during a “51% attack” it can occur, thus it is not impossible.  In fact, as part of the Nano class action lawsuit, one of the suggested remedies is a roll-back.
  2. As far as credit card chargebacks: this is largely borne by the merchant (not everybody).  In fact, charge backs are largely a consumer-friendly feature, a type of insurance.117

On p. 221 they discuss insurance at exchanges.

At this time, no retail cryptocurrency exchange actually insures a users coin deposit.  As a result, most custodians and intermediaries have had to self-insure (e.g., create their own insurance entity).  There are institutional products (vaults) which are attempting to get 3rd party insurance.

For example, see: Insurers gingerly test bitcoin business with heist policies

On p. 224 they write:

Prior to the hack, Bitfinex had settled with the CFTC for $75,000 primarily because its cold storage of bitcoin ran afoul of CFTC regulations. The move to place all clients’ assets into hot wallets is cited by many as due to the fine and CFTC regulations. Either way, this hack proved that no matter the security protocols put in place, hot wallets are always more insecure than properly executed cold storage because the hot wallet can be accesssed from afar by anyone with an Internet connection.

This passage should be revised in the next edition for a few reasons:

First, as mentioned earlier, Bitcoiners like to find a good boogeyman and in this hacking incident, they blamed the CFTC.

For example, Andreas Antonopoulos tweeted:

Source: Twitter

Several people told him he got the facts wrong.

For instance, I reached out to Zane Tackett who — at the time — was head of communications for Bitfinex.

According to Tackett: “We migrated to the bitgo setup before any discussions or anything with the CFTC happened”

I then publicly pointed out, to Antonopoulos and others, that the CFTC blame game was false.  But instead of deleting that tweet and focusing on who actually hacked Bitfinex, the ideological wing of the Bitcoin tribe continues to push this false narrative.

Tackett even explicitly answered this question in detail on reddit that same day.

So either Tackett is lying or Antonopoulos is wrong.  In this case, it is likely the latter.

The second point worth adding to the passage above in the book is that after nearly two years we still haven’t been told exactly what happened with the hack and theft.  This, despite the fact that Bitfinex has said on more than one occasion that it would provide an audit and public explanation.

Incidentally, this hack and the response, set in motion a series of events that included socialized loses, a lost correspondent banking relationship, and even a heightened reliance on Tether.118 For more, see: How newer regtech could be used to help audit cryptocurrency organizations

Chapter 15

On p. 231 they write:

Founded by Barry Silbert, a serial entrepreneur and influential figure in the Bitcoin community, some would say that DCG is in the early stages of becoming the Berkshire Hathaway of Bitcoin.

Perhaps DCG achieves that, however it hasn’t been done in a classy manner.  For example, see: Ex-banker cheerleads his way to cryptocurrency riches and Barry Silbert and the Cost of Bitcoin’s Malfeasance Culture

On p. 235 they write

An ETF is arguably the best investment vehicle to house bitcoin.

This is debatable.  Last year Jack Bogle – founder of Vanguard, a firm that popularized broad market index ETFs – implored the public to avoid bitcoin like the plague for several reasons.  Critics say he is out of touch, but even if that were true that doesn’t mean his expert views on structuring ETFs should be dismissed.

On p. 238 they write:

Regardless of what people expected going into the SEC decision most everyone was taken aback by the rigidity of the SEC’s rejection. Notably the SEC didn’t spend much time on the specifics of the Winklevoss ETF but focused more on the overarching nature of the bitcoin markets. Saying that these markets were unregulated was an extra slap to the Winklevosses, who had spent significant time and money on setting up the stringently regulated Gemini exchange. In focusing on the bitcoin markets at large, the rejection implied that an ETF will not happen in the United States for some time.

For the next edition, this paragraph should probably be removed.

The facts of the Bitcoin markets today are as follows:

  1. Mining is the process of minting new coins as well as processing transactions and… is largely unregulated in any jurisdiction.
  2. Many exchanges, in particular those outside the US, comply with a hodge podge of regulations, often without the same strict KYC / AML / sanctions checks required for US exchanges.

Gemini and the Winklevoss have no ability to police these unregulated trading venues and unregulated coin minters.  That probably won’t change in the near future.

Perhaps the SEC will eventually approve an ETF, but they arguably were not being rigid — they were being practical.  In their view: why allow an unregulated asset whose underlying genesis and trading market is still very opaque and frequently is used for illicit activity?

Lastly the next edition should include a citation for who “most everyone” includes, because in my own anecdotal experience, the majority of traders at US exchanges I interact with did not think it would be allowed at that time.  Note: my deep dive on the COIN ETF and its ever changing history, can be found here.

On p. 238 they write:

On Monday, naysarers were faced with the reality that bitcoin was once again back over $1,200, and the network for all cryptoassets had increased $4 billion since the SEC decision. Yes, $4 billion in three days.

A couple of thoughts:

  1. Typo: naysarers should be naysayers
  2. Recommend removing this sentence in the next edition because the attitude comes off as a little smug and has an ad hominem.  People are allowed to have different views on the adoption of technology which is separate from what the price of a coin will be.  And justifying a trading position based on price movements which are based on the mood of retail investors should probably not be the takeaway message for a mainstream book.

On p. 240 they write:

By purchasing XBT Provider, GABI strengthened the reliability of the counterparty to the bitcoin ETNs and added a nice asset to its growing bitcoin investing platform for institutions.

For the next edition, recommend removing “nice” because that is a subjective word.  There are other ways to describe this acquisition.

On p. 242 they write:

It also created an independent advisory committee, including bitcoin evangelist Andreas Antonopoulos to oversee its pricing model, which utilized prices from various exchanges throughout the world.

Why is this specific person considered an expert on futures?  There are a lot of articulate developers involved in promoting cryptocurrencies, but their expertise is typically not in finance.  If anything, this specific person has a vocal disdain for regulators, financial institutions, and regulated instruments… just see his tweet above in Chapter 14.119

Maybe in the next edition discuss the controversy of having a futures contract that is not physically deliverable.  Could also include how the CFTC has subpoenaed the four partner exchanges working with the CME: Coinbase, Kraken, itBit, and Bitstamp.  These four exchanges create the price used in bitcoin futures by the CME.

Chapter 16

On p. 249 they write:

For first-time founders who want to approach venture capitalists for an investment, often they must know someone-who-knows-someone. Having such a connection allows for a warm introduction as opposed to being among the hundreds of cold calls that venture capitalists inevitably receive. To know someone-who-knows-someone requires already being in the know, which creates a catch-22.

This is a very good point.  However, it would be worth adding in the next version how most ICOs and coin sales now require knowing someone because most private sales involve roughly the same insular, exclusive set of funds and investors as the “old method” did.

On p. 252 they write:

Before we dive into the specifics of how a cryptoasset offering is carried out, the innovative investor needs to understand that the model of crowdfunding cryptoassets is doubly disruptive. By leveraging crowdfunding, cryptoasset offering are creating room for the average investor to stand alongside venture capitalists, and the crowdfunding structure is potentially obviating the need for venture capitalists and the capital markets entirely.

In the next edition, worth mentioning that this was the general pitch for ICOs starting with Mastercoin (2013) all the way up through 2016.  But over the past two years and certainly in the past 12 months it has dramatically shifted back towards the traditional venture route.

One of the reasons why is because of the filtering and diligence process.  Those that don’t get selected and/or those ICOs that don’t meet the requirements of this small group of funds often decide to do a public sale.  And many of these ideas were half-baked and sometimes fraudulent, according to one recent report: More Than Three-Quarters of ICOs Were Scams

On p. 253 they write:

Monegro’s thesis is as follows: The Web is supported by protocols like the transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP), the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), and simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP), all of which have become standards for routing information around the internet. However, these protocols are commotidized, in that while they form the backbone of our internet, they are poorly monetized.

It could be argued that Monegro’s thesis has failed to live up to its hype thus far.  And counterfactually, if “tcpipcoin” existed, it may have actually stunted the growth of the internet as Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn would have allocated more time promoting the coin rather than the technology.    We can disagree about this alternative scenario, but I have mentioned it before in Section 8.

For example, we frequently see that dozens of nonsensical conferences and meetups conducted on a weekly basis globally try to promote a shiny new protocol coin of some kind.  Trying to monetize a public good with a coin thus far has not removed the traditional incentive and sustainability issues around a public good.  That would also be worth discussing in the next edition.120

On p. 253 they write:

All the applications like Coinbase, OpenBazaar, and Purse.io rely on Bitcoin, which drives up the value of bitcoin.

Worth updating this because Purse.io added support to Bitcoin Cash.  And OpenBazaar switched over to Bitcoin Cash altogether.

Also, Coinbase has become less maximalist over time and now provides trading support for four different coins.121  Though it probably wouldn’t be technically correct to call Coinbase or Purse a Bitcoin application.  In the case of Coinbase, users use an off-chain database to interact and Coinbase controls the private key as a custodian / deposit-taking institution.

On p. 254 they write:

Interestingly, once these blockchain protocols are released, they take on lives of their own. While some are supported by foundations, like the Ethereum Foundation or Zcash Foundation, the protocols themselves are not companies. They don’t have income statements, cash flows, or shareholders they report to. The creation of these foundations is intended to help the protocol by providing some level structure and organization, but the protocol’s value does not depend on the foundation.

This is another reason to heavily modify chapter 7 in future versions because it is not an apples-to-apples comparison: coins and coin foundations are not the same thing as for-profit companies that issue regulated instruments (stocks, bonds, etc.).

Also, the very last sentence is highly debatable because of how often foundation and foundation staff are integral to the longevity of a coin.

Recall that blockchains do not maintain or market themselves, people do.  And is often the case: staff and contractors of these foundations frequently use social media to promote potential upgrades as well as publicize the coins attributes to a wider audience.  In many cases it could be the case that the protocol’s value does depend on the work and efforts of others including specifically those at a coin foundation.122

On p. 254 they write:

Furthermore, as open-source software projects, anyone with the proper merits can join the protocol development team. These protocols have not need for the capital markets because they create self-reinforcing economic ecosystems. The more people use the protocol, the more valuable the native assets within it become, drawing more people to use the protocol, creating a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop. Often, core protocol developers will also work for a company that provides application(s) that use the protocol, and that is a way for the protocol developers to get paid over the long term. They can also benefit from holding the native asset since inception.

There are several points here that should be modified or removed in the next edition:

For instance, with Bitcoin, due to a variety of political fights and personality conflicts, multiple “core” developers have had their access rights removed including: Jeff Garzik, Mike Hearn, Gavin Andresen, and Alex Waters.  Thus it is not true that anyone can join a team.  It is also unclear what those merits may be as most of the projects don’t explicitly provide those in written format yet.

In addition, internet coins are often traded on secondary markets in order to provide liquidity to coin holders such as developers.  They all need access to capital markets to stay afloat.  No project is self-sustainable at this time because no coin is being used as a unit of account — miners and developers must liquidate coins in order to pay their bills which are denominated in foreign currency.

Lastly, in practice, there are many coins that have died or lost any developer support yet initially they may have had a small army of programmers and media attention.  According to Coinopsy, more than 1,000 coins are dead.  Thus in the next edition the “self-reinforcing” loop should probably be removed too.

On p. 256 they write:

ICOs have a fixed start and end date, and often there is a bonus structure involved with investing earlier. For instance, investing at an early stage may get an investor 10 to 20 percent more of a cryptoasset. The bonus structure is meant to incentivize people to buy in early, which helps to assure that the ICO will hit its target offering. There’s nothing like bonuses followed by scarcity to drive people to buy.

This should definitely be removed.  In May, the SEC released a parody website called “HoweyCoins” which explicitly points to this precise FOMO behavior as a big no-no for both issuers and investors alike.

Also recommend the inclusion of the Munchee Order in this chapter as it would help illustrate what regulators such as the SEC perceive as improper fundraising techniques.  Specifically, include this in the “announcing the ICO” section.

On p. 258 and 259 they discuss the Howey Test.  It is strongly recommended that these two pages be reworded and modified based on the enforcement actions and guidance from the SEC and other securities regulators.

For instance, they write:

A joint effort by Coinbase, Coin Center, ConsenSys, and Union Square Ventures with the legal assistance of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, produced a document called, “A Securities Law Framework for Blockchain Tokens.” It is especially important for the team behind an ICO to utilize this document in conjunction with a lawyer to determine if a cryptoasset sale falls under SEC jurisdiction. The SEC made it clear in July 2017 that some cryptoassets can be considered securities.

The first sentence should probably be moved into a footnote and the second sentence removed altogether because this document did not age well.

In fact, the current version of the document – as it exists on Coinbase – informs readers in bright red that:

Please note that since this document was originally published on December 7, 2016, the regulatory landscape has changed. The information contained in this document, including the Framework may no longer be accurate. You should not rely on this document as legal advice and you should seek advice from your own counsel, who is familiar with the particular facts and circumstances of what you intend and can give you tailored advice. This Framework is provided “as is” with no representations, warranties or obligations to update, although we reserve the right to modify or change this Framework from time to time. No attorney-client relationship or privilege is created, nor is this intended to be attorney advertising in any jurisdiction.

On p. 259 they write:

Does the token sale tout itself as an investment? It should instead be promoted for its functionality and use case and include appropriate disclaimers that identify it as a product, not an investment.

This is arguably not good advice and should be removed.  Why?  Courts in the US will likely see through this euphemism.  For other things not to do, recommend reading the ICO Whitepaper Whitepaper from Stephen Palley.

On p. 260 they write:

One of the oldest groups of angel investors in the blockchain and bitcoin space is called BitAngels. Michael Terpin of BitAngels has been active in angel investing in blockchain companies for as long as the opportunities have existed. Terpin’s annual conference, CoinAgenda, is one of the best opportunities for investors to see and hear management from blockchain startups present their ideas and business models.

For the next edition, I’d reconsider including this type of endorsement.123 There are some interesting stories that involving these specific entities worthy of a different post.

Chapter 17

On p. 263 they write:

For instance, if Bitcoin influences how remittances are handled, what impact may that have on stocks like Western Union, a remittances kingpin? If Ethereum takes off as a decentralized world computer, will that have any effect on companies with cloud computing offerings, such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google? If companies can get paid more quickly with lower transaction fees using the latest cryptocurrency, will that have an impact on credit card providers like Visa and American Express.

For the next edition, this paragraph — or at least argument — should come earlier, perhaps even in Chapter 7 (since there is a discussion of specific publicly traded companies).

Another thing that should have been added to this section is actual stock prices for say, the past five years of the companies mentioned: Western Union, Visa, and American Express.

I have included those three below:

If the narrative is that Bitcoin or the “latest cryptocurrency” will erode the margins and even business models of existing payment providers, then at some point that should be reflected in their share prices.

As shown above, that does not seem to be the case (yet).

Perhaps that will change in the future, but consider this: all three of the companies above have either directly invested in and/or are collaborating in blockchain-related platforms — most of which do not involve any coin.  Perhaps these firms never use a blockchain.  In fact, maybe they find blockchains to be unhelpful as infrastructure altogether.

That is possible, hence the need to update this chapter to reflect the actual realities.

In addition, the other three companies listed by the authors have publicly discussed various blockchain-related efforts beyond just pilot offerings.

For instance, both Amazon and Microsoft have supported blockchain-as-a-service (BaaS) offerings in production for over a year.  Google has been a laggard but has internal projects attempting to leverage some of these ideas as well.

On p. 266 they write:

In 2016, the father-son team of Don and Alex Tapscott published the book Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World, and William Mougayar published the book, The Business Blockchain: Promise, Practice, and Application of the Next Internet Technology.

I wrote lengthy reviews of both.  The short summary is that both were fairly superficial in their dive into use cases and vendors.  The Mougayar book felt like it could use a lot more detailed meat.  The Tapscott book was riddled with errors and unproven assertions.  Would reconsider citing them in the next edition (unless they each dramatically update their content).

On p. 266 they write:

For companies pursuing a DLT strategy, they will utilize many of the innovations put forth by the developers of public blockchains, but they don’t have to associate themselves with those groups or share their networks. They pick and choose the parts of the software they want to use and run it on their own hardware in their own networks, similar to intranets (earlier referred to as private, permissioned blockchains).

These are pretty broad sweeping comments that should be modified in the next edition.  Not every vendor or platform provider uses the same type of chain or ledger.  These are not commoditized (yet).

There are many nuances and trade-offs for each platform.  For the next edition, it would be helpful worth doing a comparison of: Fabric, Pantheon, Quorum, Corda, and other enterprise-focused platforms.  In some cases, they may have an on-premise requirement and in others, nodes can run in a public cloud.

But the language of “intranets and the internet” should not be used in the next edition as it is a misleading analogy.

On p. 267 they write:

We see many DLT solutions as band-aids to the coming disruption. While DLT will help streamline existing processes–which will help profit margins in the short term–for the most part these solutions operate within what will become increasingly outdated business models.

Perhaps that it is true, but again, this language is very broad sweeping and definitive.  It needs citations and references in the next edition.

On p. 267 they write:

The incumbents protect themselves by dismissing cryptoassets, a popular example being JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, who famously claimed bitcoin was “going to be stopped.” Mr. Dimon and other financial incumbents who dismiss cryptoassets are playing exactly to the precarious mold that Christensen outlines:

[…]

Disruptive technologies like cryptoassets initially gain traction because they’re “cheaper, simpler, smaller.” This early traction occurs on the fringe, not in the mainstream, which allows incumbents like Mr. Dimon to dismiss them. But cheaper, simpler, smaller things rarely stay on the fringe, and the shift to mainstream can be swift, catching the incumbents off guard.

For the next edition it would be good to remove the misconceptions repeated in the statement above.  Jamie Dimon was specifically dismissing the exuberance of coin mania, not the idea of enhancing IT operations with something like a blockchain.

Worth adding to future versions: JPMorgan has financial sponsored Quorum, an open-source fork of Ethereum modified for enterprise-related uses.  The bank has also invested in Digital Asset.  It is also a member of three industry organizations: EEA, Hyperledger, and IC3.  In addition, JP Morgan has filed blockchain-related patents, has launched a blockchain-based payment network with several banking partners, and also partnered with the parent company of Zcash to integrate ZSL into Quorum.

While Jamie Dimon may not share the same bullish views about coins as the authors do, the firm he is the CEO seems to be taking “blockchains” seriously.

On p. 267 they write:

One area long discussed as ripe for disruption is the personal remittances market, where individuals who work outside of their home countries send money back home to provide for their families.

This specific use case is a bit repetitive as it has been mentioned 5-6 times before in other chapters.  Should probably remove this in future editions unless there is something different to add that wasn’t already explained before.

On p. 268 they write:

It’s no stretch then to recognize that bitcoin, with its low cost, high speed, and a network that operates 24/7, could be the preferred currency for these types of international transactions. Of course, there are requirements to make this happen. The recipient needs to have a bitcoin wallet, or a business needs to serve as an intermediary, to ultimately get the funds to the recipient. While the latter option creates a new-age middleman–which potentially has its own set of problems–thus far these middlemen have provided to be much less costly than Western Union. The middleman can be a pawnshop owner with a cell phone, who receives the bitcoin and pays out local currency to the intended recipient.

This should be modified in the next versions because it is a stretch to make those claims.  That is the reason why multiple Bitcoin-focused remittance companies have pivoted or branched out because “moving” bitcoins across borders is the only easy part of the entire process.  For instance, the KYC / AML checks during the on- and off-ramps are costly and are required in most countries.  This should be included in any analysis.

Also, there are no citations in this paragraph.  And the last sentence is describing the pawnshop owner as a money transmitter / money service business which is a regulated operation.  Maybe the laws change, which is possible.  But for the next version, the authors should include specific corridors and the costs and margins for MSBs operating in those corridors.

Lastly, any future analysis on this topic should also include the online and app-based product offerings from traditional remittance players such as Western Union.  In nearly all cases, these products and services are faster and cheaper in the same corridors relative to traditional in-person visits.

Recommended reading:

On p. 268 they write:

The impact of this major disruption in teh remittance market should be recognized by the innovative investor not only because of the threat it creates to a publicly traded company like Western Union (WU) but for the opportunities it provides as well.

It is strange to hear this repeated multiple times without providing quantifiable specifics on how to measure this threat.

As mentioned a few pages earlier, if competitors (including, hypothetically cryptocurrencies) were to erode the margins of publicly traded companies, we should be able to see that eventually reflected in the share price.  But Western Union has been doing more or less the same as it has the past couple of years.

What about others?

Above is the five year performance of Moneygram, another remittance service provider.

What happened the past two years?  Did Bitcoin or another cryptocurrency pound its share value into the ground?  Nope.

What happened is that one of Alibaba’s affiliates – Ant Financial – attempted to acquire Moneygram.  First announced in early January 2017, Ant Financial wanted to acquire it for $880 million.  Despite approval from the Moneygram board, the deal faced scrutiny from US regulators.  Then in January 2018, the deal was axed as the US government blocked the transaction on national security grounds.

This hasn’t stopped Alibaba and its affiliates with finding other areas to grow.  For instance, last month Alipay (part of Ant Financial) announced it had partnered with G Cash to in the Hong Kong – Philippines corridor, using a blockchain platform for remittances.  No coin was needed in this process so far.

There may be some success stories of new and old MSBs that utilize cryptocurrencies in ways that make them more competitive, those should be included in the next edition along with more metrics readers can compare.124

On p. 270 they write:

For the long term investor, careful analysis should be undertaken to understand if insurance companies are pursing DLT use cases that will provide a lasting and meaningful solution. Lastly, some of the major consulting firms may be so entrenched in incumbent ideology that they too may be blind to the coming distruption.

A few comments that should be finnesed in the next version:

  1. What is the definition of “incumbent ideology”?
  2. Virtually every major insurance and reinsurance company is hands-on involved with some kind of blockchain-related consortium and/or enterprise-focused platform.  This includes both B3i and RiskBlock as well as Asia-based reinsurers.  Recommended reading: RiskBlock’s blockchain targets entire insurance industry
  3. Similarly, every major consulting company and systems integrator has a team or two dedicated to helping clients build and integrate applications with specific enterprise-related “blockchain” platforms.  Many of them have joined related consortia too.  There are too many to even list here so it is unlikely they will get collectively blind-sighted as alluded to in the passage above.

On pgs. 272 and 273 they write about consortia:

Another consortium, The Hyperledger Project, offers more open membership than R3. Remember, one of the strengths and defining aspects of an effective blockchain project is its open source ethos.

[…]

While the [EEA] consoritum will work on software outside of Ethereum’s public blockchain, the intent is for all software to remain interoperable in case companies want to utilize Ethereum’s open network in the future.

Based on the passages above the next edition should incorporate a few changes.

The Hyperledger Project (HLP) is a non-profit group that does not itself aim to commercialize or deploy or operate any technology.125 The membership dues are largely used to maintain code repositories and sponsor events which educate attendees on projects incubated within HLP.  It currently has around 200 members, including R3 which was a founding member.  There are more than 5 codebases that are officially incubated, the most well-known is Fabric.  However, HLP seeks to maintain a neutral position on which platform its members should use.  Other notable platforms incubated within HLP include Iroha and Sawtooth (Lake).

In contrast, R3 is a for-profit company that set up a consortium in order to commercialize and deploy technology within the regulated financial industry.126 Its membership model has changed over time and it is the main sponsor for Corda, an open source platform.  The consortium composition initially started with 42 banks and now includes about 200 entities including insurance companies, central banks, financial market infrastructure operators, and others.

The third most known consortium is the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA).  It is kind of like the combination of the two above.  It is a non-profit organization and itself does not aim to commercialize or deploy or operate any technology.  It seeks to be a neutral entity within the greater Ethereum ecosystem and has many different working groups that span topics similar as the other two consortia above.  It has hundreds of members and the main efforts have been around formalizing an enterprise-focused specification (EEA 1.0) that other vendors can create implementations of (such as Pantheon).

Like the members of the other two consortia above, nothing prevents an EEA member from using any other platform.  Thus the authors usage of “open network” is superfluous because all of the codebases in each of these three consortia is open, anyone can download and use.  The key differences are: what are the trade-offs with using each platform versus what are the benefits of membership for joining the consortia.  These are two separate points that could be discussed further in the next edition.

On p. 276 they write:

The CFTC Director of Enforcement, Aitan Goelman, tried to clarify his opinion with this satement, “While there is a lot of excitement surrounding bitcoin and other virtual currencies, innovation does not excuse those acting in this space from following the same rules applicable to all participants in the commodity derivatives markets.” It is clearly confusing that the Direct of Enforcement of the agency that ruled bitcoin a commodity also called it a “virtual currency.”

For the next edition the authors should remove the unnecessary attitude in the last sentence.

Up through 2017, most US and even foreign regulators used the term “virtual currency” — not as a slight against Bitcoin or cryptocurrencies, but because that was the catchall term of art used for many years.

For instance, in March 2013, FinCEN released its guidance and it was entitled: “Application of FinCEN’s Regulations to Persons Administering, Exchanging, or Using Virtual Currencies”

Throughout the guidance, the term “virtual currency” is used more than 30 times.

And one relevant passage – especially for this book review – involves the definition of an administrator.  According to FinCEN’s guidance:

“An administrator is a person engaged as a business in issuing (putting into circulation) a virtual currency, and who has the authority to redeem (to withdraw from circulation) such virtual currency.”

As it relates to the CFTC, earlier this year a federal judge in New York ruled that: “virtual currencies can be regulated by CFTC as a commodity.”

The ruling (pdf) specifically uses the phrase “virtual currency” not as a slight, but as a term of art.  Perhaps other terms are used over time.  For instance, in its new customer advisory issued this week, the CFTC mentioned potential scams that describe themselves as “utility coins” or “consumption coins.”  Worth revisiting in the next edition.

Chapter 18

On p. 280 they write:

Here’s another Burniske-Tatar Rule: Don’t invest in bitcoin, ether, or any other cryptoasset just because it’s doubled or tripled in the last week. Before investing, be able to explain the basics of the asset to a friend and ascertain if it fits well given the risk profile and goals of your investment portfolio.

This is good advice.  And while the eponymous rule was coined several chapters ago,  future editions should probably drop the name of that rule… because similar advice with slightly different wording has existed for decades (e.g., don’t invest more than you can afford to lose, do your own research, etc.).

On p. 282 they write:

Are millenials turning to bitcoin and cryptoassets for their investment? Is a Vanguard fund or a small investment in Apple any better?  Whereas the Vanguard fund has a minimum investment amount and buying an equity will require commission, millennials see cryptoasset markets as a way to begin investing with a modest amount of money and in small increments, which is is often not possible with stocks or funds.

They also include a footnote that reads:

Each bitcoin can be divided into 100 million units, making it easy to buy 1/2, 1/10, 1/100 or 1/1000 of a bitcoin

Would recommend removing this passage altogether because there really aren’t many good surveys that indicate who actually bought coins versus who was just interested in them.

For instance, a flawed Finder.com survey that is still being cited, says that 8% of Americans have invested in cryptocurrencies.127  While it says the majority of investors are “millenials,” the survey doesn’t ask the most important question: does the investor control the private key.  If you do not control the private key then you do not control the coin, someone else does.

In addition, there are online brokerages that do allow investors to invest with modest amounts, the most notable being Robinhood (which coincidentally also allows users to purchase several different cryptocurrencies).  There are also a variety of spare change investment apps and robo-advisor products that allow users to have some exposure to regulated capital market too.

Lastly, regarding the footnote they provide: due to the fees required by Bitcoin miners, in practice over the past several months 1/1000 of a bitcoin is typically the minimum transaction fee.  This is one reason why many investors simply leave coins on cryptocurrency exchanges: so they don’t have to pay fees to move them to other wallets.128

On p. 282 they write:

The important point is that at least they’re doing something to invest their funds and build the groundwork for a healthy financial future. We have seen firsthand millenials who have learned about investing from buying cryptoassets and have implemented investing approaches, such as taking profits at certain price points, seeking diversification into multiple assets, and so on.

This should probably be removed too because the same thing can be said to a new cohort of investors twenty years ago, such as the ones that invested in dotcom-related companies.  Who remembers Beenz?

Conclusion

I fully expect some reaction towards this review along the lines that it was too picky or too pedantic.  Perhaps this a little true but consider: what is the right size for a thorough book review in the age of so-so fact-checking?129 Also, most of my previous reviews were about the same length, or at least used the same page-by-page model.

There is obvious room for disagreement in areas involving opinions, but there are many technical and non-technical mistakes that the authors made, not just a small handful.  By highlighting these, not only could the next edition be significantly improved but it helps readers new to this space get a better understanding of what the prevalent themes versus realities are.

The goal of this review was not to be overbearing but to be dispassionate about supposed common wisdom promoted in the cryptocurrency world.

For example, just the other day I noticed in a chatroom the following statement from a maximalist:

HODLer = DAU.  Bitcoin has the most DAUs on any protocol.

HODLing is bitcoinspeak for “hoarding.”

Several people in the room agreed with those this statement and they are not alone.  If the reader is interested in learning about the sociology and subculture of many Bitcoin enthusiasts, its worth skimming reddit and twitter occasionally to see how passionate coin investors think.130

But for businesspeople who are not part of the inner sanctum of Bitcoinland, the statement above from the chatroom may make you shrug.

After all, HODLing a dollar doesn’t make you a dollar user.  HODLing a barrel of oil doesn’t make you a oil user.  HODLing a brick of gold doesn’t make you a gold user.  HODLing a digitized Pokemon card doesn’t make you a Pokemon user.  HODLing a Stradivarius violin doesn’t make you a violin player.  HODLing an Olympic medal doesn’t make you an Olympic athlete.  And so forth.  The valuation of an auction house isn’t measured by the amount of rare collectibles it sells in a day, why should internet coins and their platforms be an exception to that rule?131

Inactivity isn’t how activity is measured.  Or to look at this argument from another angle: HODLing is not ‘active’ anything.  If all an investor did was buy bitcoin and then lose their keys, they would accomplish the same thing described in the chatroom.132

Sure it is possible to redefine what Bitcoin or cryptocurrencies are supposed to do, but that’s after the fact.  For example, if Satoshi had wanted to explicitly build “digital gold” he/she would likely have mentioned it in the original paper at least once and even architected Bitcoin to be something different than what it looked like in 2009.133  As mentioned above, the first app he looked at building was for poker.

This is definitely a topic worth including in the next edition, but I digress.134

Other general areas for improvement:

  • Add a glossary.
  • Add financial disclosures of coins owned by each author.
  • Provide specific definitions for vague terms like “the community,” “administrator,” and the attributes of a target investor; ditch the “innovative” investor nomenclature.
  • Chapter 7 probably should be removed until more accurate comparisons can be found and Chapter 17 seemed a bit unfocused and covered a wide array of topics instead of just one or two… even dropping in thoughts about regulators. Future versions likely need an entire set of chapters focused on regulations, not just mentioned in passing.
  • Based on the incorrect view of financing mentioned in Chapter 5, interview Vitalik Buterin and other co-founders regarding how Ethereum was bootstrapped.
  • In one of the future regulatory chapters, would be good to have a discussion around PFMI, CBDCs, and settlement finality.
  • Provide a lot more references and citations regarding cryptocurrency-focused use cases, especially remittance providers.  This seemed to be the most repeated use case but nary a mention of a specific Bitcoin remittance company, its valuation, or volume corresponding to the use case.

Have a book or paper you’d like me to look at?  Feel free to send it across.  Also, it just came out but this one sounds like a doozy already.  See my other book reviews.

End notes

  1. To be fair, Burniske is not the only analyst-turned-VC who has not publicly disclosed his trading positions of coins, but that’s a separate topic. []
  2. One reviewer mentioned: “Likely it was partially intentional to release in late 2008 / early 2009, but did in fact coincide mainly with internal constraints. We could also argue that the GFC commenced in mid-2007 when BNP Paribas froze two mortgage-backed security funds which became the catalyst of the summer 2007 credit crunch, but that is neither here nor there. I also debate the argument that it was ‘intended’ as anything other than a solution to the double-spend problem, be it a payments system or an investment.” []
  3. As an aside, Brian Kelly, frequently promotes various coins on CNBC.  Unclear what his trading positions are on each coin at the time of recording.  While that may not be illegal, it’s arguably not classy. []
  4. One reviewer mentioned: “This was literally the ethos that led to the GFC. Securitization and Mark-to-model were heralded as “innovation” and championed for their ability to move faster than the academic foundation and until 2007 seen as a way to ‘completely engineer risk out of from the system.'” []
  5. See: Robert Sams on rehypothecation, deflation, inelastic money supply and altcoins []
  6. See tcpipcoin in Section 8 []
  7. See: Digitalization or Automation – Is There a Difference? from Gartner []
  8. One reviewer mentioned: “The authors also miss that “value” is still a function of ‘the market’, i.e. supply and demand. Simply by fixing supply does not equalize demand. I also take massive issue with the governance in “a [de]centralized and democratic manner.” Are the authors able to write C++ or GOLang protocol code for Bitcoin Core or GETH? Likely not. So if anything this walks us towards a new form of governance, except where we elect leaders in the US who ultimately appoint Fed governors in cryptocurrencies there are generally no elections. Long story short, in all cases, it ain’t democratic and it probably remained at least partially centralised at a given point in time.” []
  9. See Central bank digital currencies from the BIS.  I know, I’ll get spammed by all the “sound money” promoters out there who insist that Bitcoin will replace central banks — it’s a religious zeal to many. []
  10. For example, about a month ago, Jonathan Levin from Chainalysis did an interview and mentioned that: “So we can identify, it is quite hard to know how many people. I would say that 80% of transactions that occur on these cryptocurrency ledgers have a counterparty that is a 3rd party service. More than 80%.” []
  11. For instance, on p. xxvi they list “the top 50” coins at the end of 2016 and don’t disclose if they own any specific ones at all, but talk about many of them in positive ways.  Adding a disclosure would be helpful. []
  12. Bitcoin has ‘no intrinsic value,’ Brookfield CEO says: ‘It’s not for us’ from Financial Post []
  13. The Economist wrote a nice short article on this behavior — the greater fool – last year. []
  14. For example, on p. 9 they write: “Shortly thereafter, Satoshi vanished.  Some speculate it was for the good of Bitcoin. After all, being the creator of a technology that has the potential to replace much of the current financial system is bound to eventually invoke the wrath of powerful government and private sector forces.”  This seems like a strawman.  Bitcoin was designed for just one simple thing: payments.  The financial system is an interwoven network of hundreds of regulated and unregulated goods and services, not just payments.  Also, this paragraph, like a few others later, has elements of conspiratorial boogeymanism.  Just around the corner, the government is preparing to shut down Bitcoin!  Nothing like that has happened in the past 9+ years.  In fact, the opposite has been true as most jurisdictions have been pretty accommodating, arguably even too lenient on the issuance and usage of cryptocurrencies, but that is a topic for a different post. []
  15. See Layer 2 and settlement []
  16. See Breakthrough IT Banking from McKinsey and Bank IT spending to hit $241bn across four major global regions from ComputerWeekly []
  17. One reviewer mentioned: “Are the authors aware that CMOs first appeared in 1983, and that in many countries where they were heavily utilised including in the late 2000s they worked as advertised? In fact many CMOs in the US performed as modelled. The issue was, and is, always liquidity, over-leverage and most of all deteriorating lending standards. Cryptocurrencies will most likely be looked at as catalysts of these risks should their notional rise substantially, not their saviour.” []
  18. One reviewer commented: “Are they arguing that people would have been more able to pay their mortgages or that home values wouldn’t have fallen if CMOs were on a blockchain?” []
  19. One reviewer explained: “When someone claims that blockchain would have prevented the mortgage crisis, they are revealing their ignorance of their ignorance.  I worked with some of that CMO data. One former colleague works for one of the large consulting firms ‘blockchain’ practices. He posted something about how blockchain would address the problems with mortgage servicing . When I privately asked him how it would do so,and that the problems with mortgage servicing that I was aware of were either failure to do certain required activities or their failure to record that they did them, as opposed to someone changing the record after it was entered, he did not respond.” []
  20. See also: The Problem with Calling Bitcoin a “Ponzi Scheme” by Preston Byrne []
  21. For example, at the time of this writing, Coinmarketcap tracks 1641 different types of coins and tokens.  Many of these are likely ERC20 tokens and thus rely on Ethereum itself and are not independent blockchains. []
  22. Worth re-reading the recent DoJ indictment of GRU officers as the DoJ provides a reason for why Bitcoin was used versus other transmission methods. []
  23. Someone should create a website that tracks all of the gigantic bullish claims from Bitcoin promoters on how it will topple banks and destroy governments.  There are at least more than 100 such public predictions each month. []
  24. But “be your own payment processor” isn’t a catchy phrase. []
  25. Readers should check out: “The Path of the Blockchain Lexicon (and the Law)” by Angela Walch. []
  26. It ignores how mining pools can unilaterally determine what transactions to include and how much a fee a transaction should include in order to be included in a block. []
  27. For example, KARMA : A Secure Economic Framework for Peer-to-Peer Resource Sharing by Vivek Vishnumurthy, Sangeeth Chandrakumar and Emin Gun Sirer []
  28. Recommended reading: The Economic Limits of Bitcoin and the Blockchain by Eric Budish []
  29. Some literature describes the proof-of-work process used in Bitcoin as a “scratch-off puzzle.” []
  30. One reviewer mentioned: “A model that I like to describe this with is how the main professional soccer leagues are selected in Europe and other regions. For example, France specifically has an annual selection of the “League 1” after the Coupe de French. Basically any team can enter, but practically there is minimal turnover because a team from a town of 5,000 people is unlikely to reasonably beat a team like Paris or Lyon which has multi-million euro budgets. There are few upsets, but these can generally be modeled by statistical chance.” []
  31. For example, Coin Center circulated a borderline defamatory note to ESMA with regards to Corda – even before the Corda introductory whitepaper was released – likely because its author was unfamiliar with how the platform actually worked. []
  32. It seems to be a euphemism and code word for “someone with money who should buy coins.” []
  33. Based on public information, over the past four years pretty much the only cryptocurrency-related companies that probably were profitable equity investments were: exchanges and handful of mining companies operating outside of the US (e.g., some service providers have also generated steady income including several law firms and conference organizers). []
  34. In both cases, consensus is achieved by the longest chain rule. []
  35. May not be a Freudian slip here, but keep in mind all blockchains have operators and maintainers.  See “arewedecentralizedyet” for more. []
  36. It arguably could have been a self-fulfilling prophecy: investors outside of Cyprus hear news about the Cyprus bailout and bitcoin… thereby marketing bitcoin to new retail investors who then go out and buy bitcoins to try it out. []
  37. See also the background of R3 / DLG as well. []
  38. It is common to see Bitcoin promoters regularly demonize these companies who are trying to improve and automate infrastructure, vilified as a bourgeoisie activity that must be shunned.  Worth revisiting to see if this changes over time. []
  39. One of the few exceptions is the Brave browser. []
  40. Creating and marketing coins to retail investors is relatively easy… building infrastructure that customers actually regularly use for commerce is another level altogether. []
  41. If measured by price, there was a large bubble that popped in December 2017, but that was something that happened after publication. []
  42. I have given several public presentations in the past year explaining the “trough of disillusionment” phenomenon in this context, including in Seoul and Tokyo during July 2017. []
  43. See also: Tokens: Investment Vehicle or Medium of Exchange (Not Both) by Cathy Barrera and MV=P…Que? Love and Circularity in the Time of Crypto by Anshuman Mehta and Brian Koralewski []
  44. Furthermore, in September 2014 I gave a presentation (video) (slides) that similarly tried to bucket different types of proposed coins as “commodities” and the like.  And I know I wasn’t the first to try and do so.  Recommend readers do a bit more digging on this topic if they’d like to see a more thorough origin story. []
  45. One reviewer mentioned: “The native tokens / coins / assets inside a ledger are “cryptocurrencies”, they are currency in the single sense that they the only form of compensation accepted by the miner / staker in a network. This cryptoasset business really only makes sense in the context of units which are not used to pay for the security of a blockchain.” []
  46. But that doesn’t necessarily excite speculators and coin holders. []
  47. See: Bitcoin Is Now Just A Ticker Symbol and Stopped Being Permissionless Years Ago []
  48. There are few religious undertones here that could be removed in the next edition. []
  49. As mentioned above, The Economist wrote a nice short article on this behavior — the greater fool – last year. []
  50. The authors of this book are likely unintentionally promoting coin buying with a security-like mentality, the wording could be modified in the next edition. []
  51. One reviewer mentioned: “Unless the authors explain how ETH is worth precisely zero based on the same logic then their statement seems disingenuous. Not that I believe that is the case, but I am not the one stating that scarcity in the future is the reason for the value.” []
  52. See Saifedean Ammous: The Bitcoin Standard — making the Austrian School case for Bitcoin by David Gerard, The Bitcoin Standard – a critical review by Frances Coppola, and The Politics of Bitcoin by David Golumbia []
  53. Why?  Most probably are unaware and the typical retail investors seems to just want the USD number to go up so they can sell the coin to someone else. []
  54. Also worth reviewing Consensus-as-a-service and The Blockchain Threat Has Drastically Sped Up Cross-Border Payments []
  55. Since the authors are making this claim, would they be willing to disclose or be transparent about their own coin holdings for the date when they published this book? []
  56. The most likely answer is: speculators bought these coins because they knew others would buy it too thus driving the price higher. []
  57. Or conversely, you are considered “one of us” if you promote the policies and antics of said coin promoters. []
  58. Note: it should be apparent at this stage that “Bitcoin developers” should be in quotes because it is certain key individuals — and centralized organizations such as “Core” — who have the power to sway decisions such as BIP approval.  These are arguably administrators of financial market infrastructure.  See also: In Code(rs) We Trust: Software Developers as Fiduciaries in Public Blockchains []
  59. Personal correspondence on June 5, 2018 []
  60. This is mentioned in the new CFTC warning: CFTC Issues Customer Advisory on Digital Tokens []
  61. It is these types of passages that make a reader scratch their head as to whether or not the lessons for why equity ownership — and the rights afforded to equity holders — evolved to where they have in developed countries. []
  62. This narrative needs to be buried but probably won’t. []
  63. This is a common refrain that needs to stop being repeated. []
  64. A few months before Cryptoassets was published, the SEC published a report that said they found The DAO to have all the hallmarks of a security but they never enforced any specific legal action on its creators. []
  65. See Appendix A: Internal governance []
  66. On p. 63 they write: “For example, a fully functional decentralized insurance company, Airbnb, or Uber all hold great promise, and developer teams are working on similar use cases.”  Why do these hold great promise?  Because everyone else says that on stage? []
  67. One takeaway is that other speculators may buy your coins at a later date when the prices go up, so you should get in before they do. []
  68. One of the biggest flaws in Chapter 7 is that all of the pricing information for the coins are based on markets that are opaque and unregulated