How does the bitcoin source code define its 21 million cap?
Many of bitcoin’s staunchest critics have expressed doubt about its 21 million cap, but perhaps the most mindless criticism relates…,
Have you ever had a financial advisor (or maybe even a parent) tell you that you need to make your money grow? This idea has been so hardwired in the minds of hard-working people all over the world that it has become practically second nature to the very idea of work.
The line has been repeated so many times that it is now a de facto part of working culture. Get a salaried position, max out your 401-K contribution (maybe your employer matches 3%!), select a few mutual funds with catchy marketing names and watch your money grow. Most folks navigate this path every two weeks on auto-pilot, never questioning the wisdom nor being conscious of the risks. It is just what “smart people” do. Many now associate the activity with savings but in reality, financialization has turned retirement savers into perpetual risk-takers and the consequence is that financial investing has become a second full-time job for many, if not most.
Financialization has been so errantly normalized that the lines between saving (not taking risk) and investing (taking risk) have become blurred to the extent that most people think of the two activities as being one in the same. Believing that financial engineering is a necessary path to a happy retirement might lack common sense, but it is the conventional wisdom.
Over the course of the past several decades, economies everywhere, but particularly those in the developed world (and specifically the United States), have become increasingly financialized. Increased financialization has become the necessary companion to the idea that you must make your money grow. But the idea itself — that ‘you must make your money grow’ — only really emerged in the mainstream consciousness as everyone similarly became conditioned to the unfortunate reality that money loses its value over time.
Money Loses Value → Need to Make Money Grow → Need Financial Products to Make Money Grow → Repeat.
The extent to which the need even exists is largely a function of money losing its value over time; that is the starting point, and the most unfortunate part is that central banks intentionally engineer this outcome. Most global central banks target the devaluation of their local currencies by approximately 2% per year and do so by increasing the money supply. How or why is less relevant; it is a reality and there are consequences. Rather than simply being able to save for a rainy day, future retirement funds are invested and put at constant risk, often just as a means to keep up with the very inflation manufactured by central banks.
The demand function is perversely driven by central banks devaluing money to induce such investments. An over financialized economy is the logical conclusion of monetary inflation, and it has induced perpetual risk taking while disincentivizing savings. A system which disincentivizes saving and forces people into a position of risk taking creates instability, and it is neither productive nor sustainable. It should be obvious to even the untrained eye, but the overarching force driving the trend toward financialization and financial engineering more broadly is the broken incentive structure of the monetary medium which underpins all economic activity.
At a fundamental level, there is nothing inherently wrong with joint-stock companies, bond offerings, or any pooled investment vehicle for that matter. While individual investment vehicles may be structurally flawed, there can be (and often is) value created through pooled investment vehicles and capital allocation functions. Pooled risk isn’t the issue, nor is the existence of financial assets. Instead, the fundamental problem is the degree to which the economy has become financialized, and that it is increasingly an unintended consequence of otherwise rational responses to a broken and manipulated monetary structure.
What happens when hundreds of millions of market participants come to understand that their money is artificially, yet intentionally, engineered to lose 2% of its value every year? It is either accept the inevitable decay or try to keep up with inflation by taking incremental risk. And what does that mean? Money must be invested, meaning it must be put at risk of loss. Because monetary debasement never abates, this cycle persists. Essentially, people take risk through their “day” jobs and then are trained to put any money they do manage to save at risk, just to keep up with inflation, if nothing more. It is the definition of a hamster wheel. Run hard just to stay in the same place. It may be insane but it is the present reality. And it is not without consequence.
While the relationship between savings and risk is often misunderstood, risk must be taken in order for any individual to accumulate savings in the first place. Risk comes in the form of investing time and energy in some pursuit that others value (and must continue to value) in order to be paid (and continue to be paid). It starts with education, training and ultimately perfecting a craft over time that others value.
That is risk taking. Investing time and energy in an attempt to earn a living and to produce value for others, while also implicitly accepting high degrees of future uncertainty. If successful, it ends with a classroom of students, a product on a shelf, a world-class performance, a full day of hard manual labor or anything else that others value. The risk is taken on the front end with the hope and expectation that someone else will compensate you for your time spent and value delivered.
Compensation typically comes in the form of money because money, as an economic good, allows individuals to convert their own value into a wide range of value created by others. In a world in which money is not manipulated, monetary savings would best be described as the difference between the value one has produced for others and the value one has consumed from others. Savings is simply consumption or investment deferred into the future; or said another way, it represents the excess of what one has produced but not yet consumed. That however is not the world that exists today. With modern money, there is a fly in the ointment.
Central banks create more and more money which causes savings to be perpetually devalued. The entire incentive structure of money is manipulated, including the integrity of the scorecard that tracks who has created and consumed what value. Value created today is ensured to purchase less in the future as central banks allocate more units of the currency arbitrarily. Money is intended to store value, not lose value and with monetary economics engineered by central banks, everyone is unwittingly forced into the position of taking risk as a means to replace savings as it is debased. The unending devaluation of monetary savings forces unwanted and unwarranted risk taking on to those that make up the economy. Rather than simply benefiting from risks already taken, everyone is forced to take incremental risk.
Forcing risk taking on practically all individuals within an economic system is not natural nor is it fundamental to the functioning of an economy. It is the opposite and it is detrimental to the stability of the system as a whole. As an economic function, risk taking itself is productive, necessary, and inevitable. The unhealthy part is specifically when individuals are forced into taking risk as a byproduct of central banks manufacturing money to lose value, whether those taking risk are conscious of the cause and effect or not. Risk taking is productive when it is intentional, voluntary and undertaken in the pursuit of accumulating capital. While deciphering between productive investment and that which is induced by monetary inflation is inherently grey, you know it when you see it. Productive investment occurs naturally as market participants work to improve their own lives and the lives of those around them. The incentives to take risk in a free market already exist. There is nothing to be gained, and a lot to lose, through central bank intervention.
The operation of risk taking becomes counterproductive when it is borne more out of a hostage taking situation than it is free will. That should be intuitive and it is exactly what occurs when investment is induced by monetary debasement. Recognize that 100% of all future investment (and consumption for that matter) comes from savings. Manipulating monetary incentives, and specifically creating a disincentive to save, merely serves to distort the timing and terms of future investment. It forces the hand of savers everywhere and unnecessarily lights a shortened fuse on all monetary savings. It inevitably creates a game of hot potatoes, with no one wanting to hold money because it loses value, when the opposite should be true. What kind of investment do you think that world produces? Rather than having a proper incentive to save, the melting ice cube of central bank currency has induced a cycle of perpetual risk taking, whereby the majority of all savings are almost immediately put back at risk and invested in financial assets, either directly by an individual or indirectly by a deposit-taking financial institution. Made worse, the two operations have become so sufficiently confused and conflated that most people consider investments, and particularly those in financial assets, as savings.
Without question, investments (in financial assets or otherwise) are not the equivalent of savings and there is nothing normal or natural about risk taking induced by central banks which create a disincentive to save. Anyone with common sense and real world experience understands that. Even still, it doesn’t change the fact that money loses its value every year (because it does) and the knowledge of that fact very rationally dictates behavior. Everyone has been forced to accept a manufactured dilemma. The idea that you must make your money grow is one of the greatest lies ever told. It isn’t true at all. Central banks have created that false dilemma. The greatest trick that central banks ever pulled was convincing the world that individuals must perpetually take risk just to preserve value already created (and saved). It is insane, and the only practical solution is to find a better form of money which eliminates the negative asymmetry inherent to systemic currency debasement. That is what bitcoin represents. A better form of money that provides all individuals with a credible path to opt out and to get off the hamster wheel.
Whether one considers the game to be rigged or simply acknowledges that persistent monetary debasement is a reality, economies all over the world have been forced to adapt to a world in which money loses its value. While the intention is to induce investment and spur growth in “aggregate demand,” there are always unintended consequences when economic incentives become manipulated by exogenous forces. Even the greatest cynic probably wishes that the world’s problems could be solved by printing money, but then again, only kids believe in fairy tales. Rather than print money and have problems magically disappear, the proverbial can has been kicked down the road time and time again. Economies have been structurally and permanently altered as a function of money creation.
The Fed might have thought it could print money as a means to induce productive investment, but what it actually produced was malinvestment and a massively over-financialized economy. Economies have become increasingly financialized as a direct result of monetary debasement and the impact that has had in manipulating the cost of credit. One would have to be blind not to see the connection: the necessary cause and effect between a money manufactured to lose its value, a disincentive to hold money and the rapid expansion of financial assets, including within the credit system.
Banking and wealth management industries have metastasized by this same function. It is like a drug dealer that creates his own market by giving the first hit away for free. Drug dealers create their own demand by getting the addict hooked. That is the Fed and the financialization of the developed world economy via monetary inflation. By manufacturing money to lose value, markets for financial products emerge that otherwise would not. Products have emerged to help people financially engineer their way out of the very hole created by the Fed. The need arises to take risk and to attempt to produce returns to replace what is lost via monetary inflation.
The financial sector has captured a larger percentage of the economy over time because there is greater demand for financial services in a world in which money is constantly impaired. Stocks, corporate bonds, treasuries, sovereign bonds, mutual funds, equity ETFs, bond ETFs, levered ETFs, triple levered ETFs, fractional shares, mortgage-backed securities, CDOs, CLOs, CDS, CDX, synthetic CDS/CDX, etc. All of these products represent the financialization of the economy, and they become more relevant (and in greater demand) when the monetary function is broken.
Each incremental shift to pool, package and repackage risk can be tied back to the broken incentive structure inherent to the money underpinning an economy and the manufactured need to make money grow. Again, it is not to say that certain financial products or structures do not create value; instead, the problem is that the degree to which financial products are utilized and the extent to which risk has been layered on top of risk is largely a function of an intentionally broken monetary incentive structure.
While the vast majority of all market participants have been lulled to sleep as the Fed has normalized its 2% per year inflation target, consider the consequence of that policy over a decade or two decades. It represents a compounded 20% and 35% loss of monetary savings over 10 or 20 years, respectively. What would one expect to occur if everyone, society wide, were collectively put in a position of needing to recreate or replace 20 to 35% of their savings just to remain in the same place?
The aggregate impact is massive malinvestment; investment in activities that would not have occurred if people were not forced into a position of taking ill-advised risk merely to replace the expected future loss of current savings. On an individual level, it is the doctor, nurse, engineer, teacher, butcher, grocer, builder, etc. being turned into a financial investor, plowing the majority of their savings into Wall St. financial products that bear risk while perceiving there to be none. Over time, stocks only go up, real estate only goes up, and interest rates only go down.
How or why is a mystery to the Davey Day traders of the world, and it matters not, because that’s just the way the world is perceived to work, and everyone acts accordingly. Rest assured, it will all end badly, but most individuals have come to believe investments in financial assets are just a better (and necessary) way to save, which dictates behavior. A “diversified portfolio” has become so synonymous with savings that it is not perceived to bear risk, nor is it perceived to be a risk-taking activity. While that couldn’t be further from the truth, the choice is either to take risk via investments or to leave savings in a monetary medium that is sure to purchase less and less in the future. From an actual savings perspective, it is where damned if you do meets damned if you don’t. It is an unnerving game that everyone is either forced to play or sit it out and lose either way.
Forcing everyone to live in a world in which money loses value creates a negatively reinforcing feedback loop; by eliminating the very possibility of saving money as a winning proposition, it makes all outcomes far more negative in aggregate. Just holding money is a non-credible threat when money is engineered to lose its value. People still do it, but it’s a losing hand by default. So is perpetual risk-taking as a forced substitute to saving. Effectively, all hands become losing hands when one of the options is not winning by saving money. Recall that each individual with money has already taken risk to get it in the first place. A positive incentive to save (and not invest) is not equivalent to rewarding people for not taking risk, quite the opposite. It is rewarding people who have already taken risk with the option of merely holding money without the express promise of its purchasing power declining in the future.
In a free market, money might increase or decrease in value over a particular time horizon, but guaranteeing that money loses value creates an extreme negative outcome, where the majority of participants within an economy lack actual savings. Because money loses its value, opportunity cost is often believed to be a one way street. Spend your money now because it is going to purchase less tomorrow. The very idea of holding cash (formerly known as saving) has been conditioned in mainstream financial circles to be a near crazy proposition as everyone knows that money loses its value. How crazy is that? While money is intended to store value, no one wants to hold it because the predominant currencies used today do the opposite. Rather than seek out a better form of money, everyone just invests instead!
“I still think that cash is trash relative to other alternatives, particularly those that will retain their value or increase their value during reflationary periods” — Ray Dalio (April 2020)
Even the most revered Wall St. investors are susceptible to getting caught up in the madness and can act a fool. Risk taking for inflation’s sake is no better than buying lottery tickets, but that is the consequence of creating a disincentive to save. Economic opportunity cost becomes harder to measure and evaluate when monetary incentives are broken. Today, decisions are rationalized because of broken incentives. Investment decisions are made and financial assets are often purchased merely because the dollar is expected to lose its value. But, the consequence extends far beyond savings and investment. Every economic decision point becomes impaired when money is not fulfilling its intended purpose of storing value.
All spending versus savings decisions, including day-to-day consumption, become negatively biased when money loses its value on a persistent basis. By reintroducing a more explicit opportunity cost to spending money (i.e. an incentive to save), everyone’s risk calculus necessarily changes. Every economic decision becomes sharper when money is fulfilling its proper function of storing value. When a monetary medium is credibly expected to maintain value at minimum, if not increase in value, every spend versus save decision becomes more focused and ultimately informed by a better aligned incentive structure.
“One of the greatest mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results” — Milton Friedman
It is a world that Keynesian economists fear, believing that investments will not be made if an incentive to save exists. The flawed theory goes that if people are incentivized to “hoard” money, no one will ever spend money, and investments deemed “necessary” will not be made. If no one spends money and risk-taking investments are not made, unemployment will rise! It truly is economic theory reserved for the classroom; while counterintuitive to the Keynesian, risk will be taken in a world in which savings are incentivized.
Not only that, the quality of investment will actually be greater as both consumption and investment benefit from undistorted price signals and with the opportunity cost of money being more clearly priced by a free market. When all spending decisions are evaluated against an expectation of potentially greater purchasing power in the future (rather than less), investments will be steered toward the most productive activities and day-to-day consumption will be filtered with greater scrutiny.
Conversely, when the decision point of investment is heavily influenced by not wanting to hold dollars, you get financialization. Similarly, when consumption preferences are guided by the expectation that money will lose its value rather than increase in value, investments are made to cater toward those distorted preferences. Ultimately, short-term incentives beat out long-term incentives; incumbents are favored over new entrants, and the economy stagnates, which increasingly fuels financialization, centralization and financial engineering rather than productive investment. It is cause and effect; intended behavior with unintended but predictable consequences.
Make money lose its value and people will do dumb shit because doing dumb shit becomes more rational, if not encouraged. People that would otherwise be saving are forced to take incremental risk because their savings are losing value. In that world, savings become financialized. And when you create the incentive not to save, do not be surprised to wake up in a world in which very few people have savings. The empirical evidence shows exactly this, and despite how much it might astound a tenured economics professor, the lack of savings induced by a disincentive to save is very predictably a major source of the inherent fragility in the legacy financial system.
The lack of savings and economic instability is all driven by the broken incentives of the underlying currency, and this is the principal problem which bitcoin fixes. By eliminating the possibility of monetary debasement, incentives that were broken become aligned; there will only ever be 21 million and that alone is sufficiently powerful to begin to reverse the trend of financialization. While each bitcoin is divisible into 100 million units (or down to 8 decimal points), the nominal supply of bitcoin is capped at 21 million. Bitcoin can be divided into smaller and smaller units as more and more people adopt it as a monetary standard, but no one can arbitrarily create more bitcoin. Consider a terminal state in which all 21 million bitcoin are in circulation; technically, no more than 21 million bitcoin can be saved, but the consequence is that 100% of all bitcoin are always being saved — by someone at any particular point in time. Bitcoin (including fractions thereof) will transfer from person to person or company to company but the total supply will be static (and perfectly inelastic).
By creating a world in which there is a fixed money supply such that no more or no less can be saved in aggregate, the incentive and propensity to save increases measurably on the individual level. It is a paradox; if more money cannot be saved in aggregate, more people will save on an individual basis. On one hand, it may appear to be a simple statement that individuals value scarcity. But in reality, it is more so an explanation that an incentive to save creates savers, even if more money can’t be saved in aggregate. And in order for someone to save, someone else must spend existing savings. After all, all consumption and investment comes from savings; the incentive to save creates savers, and the existence of more savers in turn creates more people with the means to consume and invest. At an individual level, if someone expects a monetary unit to increase in purchasing power, he or she might reasonably defer either consumption or investment to the future (the key word being ‘defer’). That is the incentive to save creating savers. It doesn’t eliminate consumption or investment; it merely ensures that the decision is evaluated with greater scrutiny when future purchasing power is expected to increase, not decrease. Imagine every single person simultaneously operating with that incentive mechanism, compared to the opposite which exists today.
While Keynesians worry that an appreciating currency will disincentivize consumption and investment in favor of savings and to the detriment of the economy at large, the free market actually works better in practice than it does when applying flawed Keynesian theory. In practice, a currency that is appreciating will be used everyday to facilitate consumption and investment because there is an incentive to save, not despite that fact. High present demand for both consumption and investment is dictated by positive time preference and there being an express incentive to save; everyone is always trying to earn everyone else’s money and everyone needs to consume real goods every day.
Time preference as a concept is described at length in the Bitcoin Standard by Saifedean Ammous. While the book is a must read and no summary can do it justice, individuals can have lower time preference (weighting the future over the present) or a higher time preference (weighting the present over the future), but everyone has a positive time preference. As a tool, money is merely a utility in coordinating the economic activity necessary to produce the things that people actually value and consume in their daily lives. Given that time is inherently scarce and that the future is uncertain, even those that plan and save for the future (low time preference) are predisposed to value the present over the future on the margin. Taken to an extreme just to make the point, if you made money and literally never spent a dime (or a sat), it wouldn’t have done you any good. So even if money were increasing in value over time, consumption or investment in the present has an inherent bias over the future, on average, because of positive time preference and the existence of daily consumption needs that must be satisfied for survival (if not for want).
Now, imagine this principle applying to everyone simultaneously and in a world of bitcoin with a fixed money supply. 7 billion plus people and only 21 million bitcoin. Everyone both has an incentive to save because there is a finite amount of money and everyone has a positive time preference as well as daily consumption needs. In this world, there would be a fierce competition for money. Each individual would have to produce something sufficiently valuable in order to entice someone else to part with their hard-earned money, but he or she would be incentivized to do so because the roles would then be reversed. That is the contract bitcoin provides.
The incentive to save exists but the existence of savings necessarily requires producing something of value demanded by others. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. The interests and incentives align perfectly between those that have the currency and those providing goods and services, particularly because the script is flipped on the other side of each exchange. Paradoxically, everyone would be incentivized to “save more” in a world in which more money technically could not be saved. Over time, each person would hold less and less of the currency in nominal terms on average but with each nominal unit purchasing more and more over time (rather than less). The ability to defer consumption or investment and be rewarded (or rather simply not be penalized) is the lynchpin that aligns all economic incentives.
The primary incentive to save bitcoin is that it represents an immutable right to own a fixed percentage of all the world’s money indefinitely. There is no central bank to arbitrarily increase the supply of the currency and debase savings. By programming a set of rules that no human can alter, bitcoin will be the catalyst that causes the trend toward financialization to reverse course. The extent to which economies all over the world have become financialized is a direct result of misaligned monetary incentives, and bitcoin reintroduces the proper incentives to promote savings. More directly, the devaluation of monetary savings has been the principal driver of financialization, full stop. When the dynamic that created this phenomenon is corrected, it should be no surprise that the reverse set of operations will naturally course correct.
If monetary debasement induced financialization, it should be logical that a return to a sound monetary standard would have the opposite effect. The tide of financialization is already on its way out, but the groundswell is just beginning to form as most people do not yet see the writing on the wall. For decades, the conventional wisdom has been to invest the vast majority of all savings, and that doesn’t change overnight. But as the world learns about bitcoin, at the same time that global central banks create trillions of dollars and anomalies like $17 trillion in negative yielding debt continue to exist, the dots are increasingly going to be connected.
“The market value of the Bloomberg Barclays Global Negative Yielding Debt Index rose to $17.05 trillion [November 2020], the highest level ever recorded and narrowly eclipsing the $17.04 trillion it reached in August 2019.”
— Bloomberg News
More and more people are going to begin to question the idea of investing retirement savings in risky financial assets. Negative yielding debt doesn’t make sense; central banks creating trillions of dollars in a matter of months doesn’t make sense either. All over the world, people are beginning to question the entire construction of the financial system. It might be conventional wisdom, but what if the world didn’t have to work that way? What if this whole time it were all backwards, and rather than everyone buying stocks, bonds and layered financial risk with their savings, all that was ever really needed was just a better form of money?
Rather than taking open-ended risk, if each individual had access to a form of money that was not programmed to lose value, sanity in an insane world could finally be restored and the byproduct would be greater economic stability. Simply go through the thought exercise. How rational is it for practically every person to be investing in large public companies, bonds or structured financial products? How much of it was always a function of broken monetary incentives? How much of the retirement risk taking game came about in response to the need to keep up with monetary inflation and the devaluation of the dollar? Financialization was the lead up to, and the blow up which caused, the great financial crisis. While not singularly responsible, the incentives of the monetary system caused the economy to become highly financialized. Broken incentives increased the amount of highly leveraged risk taking and created a broad-based lack of savings, which was a principal source of fragility and instability. Very few had savings for a rainy day, and everyone learns the acute difference between monetary assets and financial assets in the middle of a liquidity crisis. The same dynamic played out early in 2020 as liquidity crises re-emerged.
Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me, the saying goes. It all comes back to the breakdown of the monetary system and the moral hazard introduced by a financial system that spawned as a result of misaligned monetary incentives. There is no mistaking it; the instability in the broader economic system is a function of the monetary system, and as more of these episodes continue to play out, more and more people will continue to seek a better, more sustainable path forward. Now with bitcoin increasingly at center stage, there is a market mechanism that will de-financialize and heal the economic system. The process of definancialization will occur as wealth stored in financial assets is converted into bitcoin and as each market participant increasingly expresses a preference for holding a more reliable form of money over risk assets. Definancialization will principally be observed through growing bitcoin adoption, the appreciation of bitcoin relative to every other asset and the deleveraging of the financial system as a whole. Almost everything will lose purchasing power in bitcoin-denominated terms as bitcoin becomes adopted globally as a monetary standard. Most immediately, bitcoin will gain share from financial assets, which have acted as near stores of value; it is only logical that the assets which have long served as monetary substitutes will increasingly be converted to bitcoin. As part of this process, the financial system will shrink in size relative to the purchasing power of the bitcoin network. The existence of bitcoin as a more sound monetary standard will not only cause a rotation out of financial assets, but bitcoin will also impair future demand for the same type of assets. Why purchase near-zero yielding sovereign debt, illiquid corporate bonds or equity-risk premium when you can own the scarcest asset (and form of money) that has ever existed?
It might start with the most obviously over-priced financial assets, such as negative yielding sovereign debt, but everything will be on the chopping block. As the rotation occurs, non-bitcoin asset prices will experience downward pressure, which will similarly create downward pressure on the value of debt instruments supported by those assets. The demand for credit will be impaired broadly, which will cause the credit system as a whole to contract (or attempt to contract). That in turn will accelerate the need for quantitative easing (increase in the base money supply) to help sustain and prop up credit markets, which will further accelerate the shift out of financial assets and into bitcoin. The process of definancialization will feed on itself and accelerate because of the feedback loop between the value of financial assets, the credit system and quantitative easing.
More substantively, as time passes and as knowledge distributes, individuals will increasingly opt for the simplicity of bitcoin (and its 21 million fixed supply) over the complexity of financial investing and structured financial risk. Financial assets bear operational risk and counterparty risk, whereas bitcoin is a bearer asset, perfectly fixed in supply, highly divisible, and easily transferable. The utility of money is fundamentally distinct from that of a financial asset. A financial asset has a claim on the income stream of a productive asset, denominated in a particular form of money. The holder of a financial asset is taking risk with the goal of earning more money in the future. Owning and holding money is just that; it is valuable in its ability to be exchanged in the future for goods & services. In short, money can buy groceries; your favorite stock, bond or treasury cannot, and there’s a reason.
There is and always has been a fundamental difference between saving and investment; savings are held in the form of monetary assets and investments are savings which are put at risk. The lines may have been blurred as the economic system financialized, but bitcoin will unblur the lines and make the distinction obvious once again. Money with the right incentive structure will overwhelm demand for complex financial assets and debt instruments. The average person will very intuitively and overwhelmingly opt for the security provided by a monetary medium with a fixed supply. As individuals opt out of financial assets and into bitcoin, the economy will definancialize. It will naturally shift the balance of power away from Wall St. and back to Main St.
The banking sector will no longer reside at the epicenter of the economy as a rent-seeking endeavor, and instead, it will sit alongside every other industry and more directly compete for capital. Today, monetary capital is largely captive to the banking system, and that will no longer be true in a bitcoinized world. As part of the transition, the flow of money will increasingly disintermediate from the banking sector; money will more freely and directly flow among the economic participants that actually contribute value.
The function of credit markets, stock markets and financial intermediation will still exist, but it will all be right-sized. As the financialized economy consumes fewer and fewer resources and as monetary incentives better align with those that create real economic value, bitcoin will fundamentally restructure the economy. There have been societal consequences to disincentivizing savings, but now the ship is headed in the right direction and toward a brighter future. In that future, gone will be the days of everyone constantly thinking about their stock and bond portfolios, and more time can be spent getting back to the basics of life and the things that really matter.
The difference between saving in bitcoin (not taking risk) and financial investing (taking risk) is night and day. There is something cathartic about saving in a form of money that works in your favor rather than against it. It is akin to a massive weight being lifted off your shoulders that you didn’t even know existed. It might not be apparent immediately, but over time, saving in a form of money with proper incentives ultimately allows one to think and worry about money less, rather than obsess over it. Imagine a world in which billions of people, all using a common currency, can focus more on creating value for those around them rather than worrying about making money and financial investing. What that future looks like exactly, no one knows, but bitcoin will definancialize the economy, and it will no doubt be a renaissance.
This version of Gradually, then Suddenly is the 17th essay in the series and was first published as part of the Bitcoin Times (Ed. 3). I want to thank Aleks Svetski (CEO of Amber Labs) for organizing and inviting me to participate in the Bitcoin Times. I also want to thank Aleks in addition to Phil Geiger, Robert Breedlove and Will Cole for providing valuable feedback on this edition of the Gradually, Then Suddenly series. Lastly, I’d like to recognize the other contributors to the Bitcoin Times: Jimmy Song, Erik Cason, Jeff Booth, Giacomo Zucco and Aleks, himself (as well as Makena Rhodes for editing and design). I’m lucky to call these brave men friends, teammates, clients, twitter friends, fellow bitcoiners or a combination in certain cases. It’s an honor just to be included. Views presented are expressly my own and not those of my colleagues at Unchained Capital.
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