Categories
Finance

Day 160 and Starting with Money

The best articulation of why anyone gives a shit about currencies in crypto (as opposed to just focusing on bigger structural problems of macroeconomics) is that you need foundational layers to build a new economy. You need a currency before you can have an economy. Ryan Sean Adams at Bankless gave me an aha moment with this quote. You need money.

The bankless model is simple: you hold the majority of your crypto wealth in crypto money. Specifically crypto commodity money. Today that means ETH and BTC.

Wealth is different than money. And crypto wealth should be in crypto money. Like yes, we get it, assets get tokenized. Crypto folks are wild for tokens. But that’s more of a DeFi problem. Financialization has allowed us to buy so many cool kinds of financial products that we forget that shit like derivatives were invented by normal dudes who traded soybeans for a living in the 70s.

But we needed soybeans to be traded first. There is an order of operations to setting up an economy. That means a system where folks grow soybeans and sell them, or turn them into another product like oil, or sell their labor as an accountant to the oil company that buys the soybeans. Because we don’t trade soybeans for steak. We trade it for dollars and then we buy a steak to enjoy at home with our spouse and kids. Circle of life! Circle of trade.

So first things first (I’m the realist) we to understand that understand that currency is crucial to the functioning of but also the first step in an economy expanding. We need to read up a bit on the history of money. PBS has a NOVA series that is pretty comprehensive. If you like stories Thomas Levenson’s Money for Nothing is a not-actually-tall tale about how the scientific revolution lead to a financial revolution (plus it has boats). Or learn how Kublai Khan invented paper money which seemed even crazier than a digital currency at the time.

If we start with a digital currency who knows what we can build from there. Balaji believes (and I agree) that it’s the first step in forming a digital country. But money comes first.

Categories
Finance Startups

Day 152 and Running The Play

I’m going to put $5,000 into liquidity mining and yield farming to fuck around and, hopefully, find out.

If the last year has been about laying out the primitives of decentralized finance, this summer is going to be the Layer 2 land grab and I need to learn how to stake some claims. I don’t have a clue if it is going to work but I need to start learning how to play the game by tossing the ball around. I doubt I’m going to be whatever the equivalent of a professional player but I want to learn some muscle memory. You can’t very well buy an NFL team without having ever handled a football can you? Yes I am torturing a metaphor.

On a personal psychological note, I wanted to start with a $1,000 but then I realized the difference between losing $1,000 and $5,000 isn’t material to me (which blows my mind but such is the compounded benefit of my various privileges). However, the difference between 10xing $1,000 to $10,000 and 10xing $5,000 to $50,000 is extremely material to me. $50,000 is a a material seed stage check for a company that I may want to place a long bet on.

That is roughly the cost of my medical care for an entire year (not including drugs which roughly doubles it). That is a down payment on a parcel of land to develop over the coming decades. This is a moment to learn and leverage for the benefit of my future self and family if shit goes well. And if it doesn’t no big deal. The real money is better managed than me deciding I want to toss around a ball

My Chaos thesis says it’s time to run the play on the future more generally. It’s hard to argue that I can make good puts on a chaotic future without fully experiencing some of it myself in visceral fashion. I fully expect to lose all of it trying to liquidity mine and yield farm on my own but if I don’t well then I’ve proved something to myself about the future of capital.

I need to remind myself that this isn’t representative of how I allocate capital in a diversified portfolio to preserve my future security nor is it how I’d allocate capital even in a seed stage private venture stage portfolio. But it is a worthwhile amount to put on a 100% risk basis to learn how the fuck the future of capital allocation might work.

Honestly $5,000 is a pretty cheap tuition for a fancy credentialed college class so this seems like a good deal. I will write my way through the learnings and call it an independent study.

Categories
Finance

Day 145 and HODL

If I like something I want to commit. I don’t get folks who get panicked at bumps in the road. Hype cycles for cryptocurrency trading have been unappealing to me. I’ve never been one to watch things like FOREX trades so why would I want to do it but with Bitcoin? Like I have fantasies about being a trader but I am absolutely not. If I believe in an opportunity I am not a short term thinker or investor. I want to see where it goes.

The real excitement to me in crypto is the potential to impact larger more broad based systems. Changes that occur over time and with significant collaboration are more interesting than any narrative blip. A libertarian monetary policy implications was obviously particularly exciting. As business person the potential to change the middle man fee structure that makes financialization and banking a scourge was equally appealing. As a technologist the possibility of building applications on an entire new protocol is enticing.

The bigger picture is the only thing that matters. Go in the right direction over time and ignore the noise. That’s why we’ve slowly moved up our allocation into Bitcoin over the years. And that’s why I’m excited for my husband Alex to be working as the new COO for Hiro.

Any angle you take on the big picture implications for building new systems is an opportunity for innovation and wealth creation. That’s why I’m HODL. HODL is a mindset. Sure it came out of a misspelling of “hold” when someone was drunk but who can’t relate to the desire to really commit to a bigger vision? Participation in the creation of something bigger is the ultimate HODL value. Hold on for dear life or just hold on. Either way you are in for the long haul.

Categories
Finance Politics

Day 141 and Double Indignity

I’ve always been interested macroeconomics. Even as a child I got very excited about trading and markets eating up movies & books with political themes. Precocious snot that I was I quoted the Economist in my high school year book. So was primed to be interested in Bitcoin from the start. I even had a physical copy of the ur-conspiracy theory of monetary policy “Creature from Jekyll Island” in college. Yes it’s embarrassing. Point being if you are a fiat freak you probably have some opinions about the Fed, a few of which sound utterly wild.

I’d been exposed to questions about money and what drives people to build and create. I was skeptical that we could continue printing currency because I was introduced to economics through the basics. I also had an intuition that this system was making bigger winners of the already advantaged and short term interests, while taking away from long term interests who need their time & money maintain its value on the horizon. Basically I think inflammation sucks for the young. And if you are young and poor it’s a double indignity.

This is why I find Bitcoin so appealing philosophically. The idea that those already in power can inflate their interests over those who come after them offends me. Dynastic societies become ossified. I found Steven Ross’s Stone Ridge investor letter to be a particularly compelling argument for why Bitcoin is a moral good for equity.

Money is, and has always been, technology. Specifically, money is technology for making our wealth today available for consumption tomorrow. Modern Americans with a ‘What’s water?’ mindset about money – virtually all of us – assume there is a sharp line of distinction between what is money and what is not. That’s false. Instead, throughout history, various monies (note: plural) have always existed1 – simultaneously – along a continuum of soundness, subject to competitive monetary network effects. Sound money – along with language – were the first, and have forever been the most important, human networks responsible for human flourishing. Imagine life without them.

I think Americans especially the monied elite interests are simply becoming too entrenched to the detriment of freedom here but most critically around the works. We have no incentive to let the rest of the world compete so we are rigging the game in our favor. I don’t like it morally even if it benefits me personally (though arguably not as much as it does Boomers and the old). I’d rather Earth compete as one as this drives our progress. Anything less is serving a double indignity to the least privileged among us.

Categories
Finance Internet Culture

Day 136 and The Ease of Centralization

We are a few days into a news cycle where Elon Musk’s corporate socialism interests and/or environmentalism has pushed the Bitcoin discourse to a fever pitch. I don’t begrudge Elon because it’s hard out there for someone who takes government subsidies and we’ve all got to lean into our economic interests. The renewable energy credit system is a policy choice and my neoliberal friends would argue it’s a good one. It’s also one that currently pay’s Tesla’s bills.

Tesla makes most of its $ from RECs, not cars. Last year, it made $1.58bn from sales of RECs to gas-powered auto companies (which must buy to offset their CO2 emissions). Tesla has never been profitable without REC sales to bolster its auto margins.

That’s about to change. Last week, @Stellantis (i.e. PSA Group + Fiat Chrysler) told @LePoint it’ll meet carbon emission rules this year. That means it won’t need to buy RECs from $TSLA anymore.
Fiat Chrysler accounts for $2.4bn of Tesla REC sales from 2019 to date and 55% of Tesla sales since 2008.

What I think is really interesting is that Elon DOES know a lot about money, in particular the benefits of a centralized trusted player. Which he himself points out since you know PayPal. Centralization has been pretty crucial to fast efficient financialization especially in modernity. Of course that has some downsides as institutional power tends to accrete. Good and bad amirite?

The exciting thing about cryptocurrencies is that they may offer us they same scale as global institutions but without the whole plutocrats and fossilized bureaucracy part. Not that I’m advocating for Ethereum or Consyns.us but they put it well in the below quote.

Whereas our traditional financial system runs on centralized infrastructure that is managed by central authorities, institutions, and intermediaries, decentralized finance is powered by code that is running on a decentralized infrastructure

We’ve got a couple decades of experience in computing on the challenges of decentralized infrastructure. It’s not easy and it has costs. The costs are both significant in time and money but the benefits are significant as well. I personally find the argument that systems which are not centralized are less fragile and it is worth diversification into systems that are less fragile. I often chose convenience and speed but I also put significant effort into having systems that can withstand crisis and disasters as well. Security has always been about trade offs. And cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin, is about making some trade offs in efficiency for the sake of hardening of financial system. I’m philosophically inclined towards this. If I’m trying to solve global warming and getting to Mars I might find this less compelling as I’d rather focus on efficiency. This is also why environmentalists make great villains as they decide on that choice for you. I’m not saying Elon explicitly going for Bond villain but it’s an aesthetic.

Categories
Finance Politics

Day 135 and 4 Quadrants of Crypto

I’m on my own this weekend so I had some time to listen to podcasts on my daily walk. I stupidly decided to listen to a podcast entitled “best crypto debate ever” which was vastly overselling both participants capacity to engage in productive debate. Not because either wasn’t smart but simply because they were both approaching the topic from entirely different vantage points. One had reasonably well founded concerns about about the how existing powers will fight to preserve their interests and the other was too fixated on proving that the market was the only player that matters. I am beginning to think that crypto, and in particular Bitcoin, is having a “blind men and the elephant problem” that makes discourse challenging.

I’m not pretending to have a full understanding of the future of cryptocurrencies or Bitcoin, merely articulating to myself as an exercise (it’s my blog after all but maybe my thinking helps you too) the four expertises required to wrap one’s mind around how cryptocurrency will evolve and what consequences we need to consider. Because there are no “right” answers at the moment merely different vantage points to consider as we stumble into the future.

1. Macroeconomic: understanding central banking, treasuries, monetary policy and macroeconomic actors is a specialized skill set. I studied it at arguably the best university on the planet for the subject and I still find the ins and outs to be heady stuff. Who decides what money is worth? When do we change those valuations? How does one country’s currency impact another’s? You hear a lot of buzzwords tossed around like “rules not rulers” but the practicalities of it are in fact hard problems. Just tossing off that you think “fiat currency” is bad isn’t enough.

2. Geopolitical: governments need money to provide services and security which makes them economic actors in addition to being political ones. America’s political ambitions are distinct from China’s. How we make make our money and how we spend it both at home and abroad will affect how we perceive other currencies. You need to understand things like how the dollar’s reserve currency status operates (ideally it’s history) to even begin to understand the geopolitical implications of cryptocurrency. Much hay was made of Peter Thiel suggesting Bitcoin could be weaponized by China against the US. Clearly any currency, especially one not run by Americans, will have geopolitical consequences. That anyone got hysterical about it suggested to me that our understanding of monetary policy and its political implications is limited in the general population. One needs to understand how the many actors on the political stage intersect their interests, political and economic, to even begin to comprehend how a cryptocurrency, particularly a decentralized one like Bitcoin, might evolve. In other words you have to understand how it works before you can do any predictive work.

3. Technical: concepts like distributed ledgers, hash rates, decentralized computing, and cryptographic keys are all crucial subjects for understanding the mechanics of a cryptocurrency, who owns it, and how it’s transacted. The chances that you understand the above geopolitical and macroeconomic problems and also understand how to code say your own token or have the wherewithal to acquire and set up hardware for a mining rig are slim. Maybe you grok it but being an expert in all is vanishingly slim. Computer science, political science and economics are all separate disciplines. Sure Bitcoin mining basically operates like loot crates in a game and who am I to say whether it’s a better system to have dorks with a lot of hardware run our money instead of Steven Mnuchin.

4. Microeconomics: the final area expertise is how markets and all the different players in them will value a currency and use it both as an asset and as a payment system. The elaborate financial systems that exist to determine what you think something is worth versus what someone else does is elaborate. We’ve got Byzantine financial products that decide everything from your mortgage to your salary to the cost of a sandwich. And while it’s not intuitive the folks that work on currencies, monetary policies and macroeconomic issues are not equipped with the same skill sets at all as the folks who trade on financial markets, cut deals between market participants or work out balance sheets. I’m much more studied in the macroeconomic issues than the financial ones and I wish that weren’t true. It’s a lot more lucrative to work in futures, arbitrage and market making.

When it comes down to it these four quadrants all require distinct skills and very different areas of study. Much of the debate and disagreement may simply come about because we are seeing different possibilities. Wrapping your head around the whole is difficult and no matter how brilliant you are having exposure to all areas is a lifetime of work.

Categories
Aesthetics Finance Internet Culture

Day 128 and Financial Aesthetics

Humans have imbued money with so much significance over the centuries that financial spaces (merchants, traders, banks, trading floors, brokers, hedge funds) show us the style of their times better than almost anywhere else. Even when power centers have shunned money directly (democracies), and sometimes even because of it, money has dictated the soft powers of perception and relevance.

This makes investigating the styles of finance particularly fun as their signifiers tend to hum with unsaid anger, greed and resentment. Sexy stuff generally as we fixate on ever finer granular details to indicate that our taste shows us to be worthy of holding power (and hopefully money).

There is a reason popular culture loves the Hollywood treatment of Wall Street. Even if some of the most iconic touchstones like American Psycho were meant as dark comedies we didn’t perceive them at way. We were supposed to laugh at the business card scene not get turned on. When Gordon Gecko bellowed “Greed is Good” we were supposed to know he was the villain. We didn’t. We don’t particularly like watching these heros get their comeuppance. Giovanni Ribisi in Boiler Room ratting out the pump and dump scheme doesn’t leave a very satisfied audience but oh how we loved the second act when the gambling prodigy finds a way to go “legitimate” and become a millionaire. Just ignore the crash at the end.

Americans in particular love to fetishize our villains. Our media is littered with anti-heroes that over time become our actual heroes. We throw jealous narratives at the preppy alpha males but love it when their power is subsumed by someone who plays their games better than them. We are riveted when a protagonist emerges that knows how to best the alphas at their own game and emerges victorious. Just be careful you don’t overplay your hand and remain a villain (sorry Martin Shkreli you deserved better) as we need you to be seen as the good guy. It’s a delicate tension.

Think poor savant Bobby Axelrod in Billions becoming the titan of industry. Sure you know he didn’t start out as a classic alpha male (that hard knock upbringing) but I doubt you could tell at the end as he styles himself in the cashmere of his former enemies. Sure now it’s a hoodie but that’s a small inversion of the original sweater. The WSJ has an extensive shoppable feature on the style of the show. Now that’s cultural relevance. Turns out we do want cosplay Carl Icahn or Bill Ackman.

I’m particularly excited about the aesthetics of the next phase of financial heroes emerging from the financialization of cryptocurrency. Scrappy upstarts that want to make a more just and free financial system free of cronyism and accessible to the entire world is a beautiful narrative arc. The chaos of outsiders making the system their own has an ending we all know. You might start out in a tee-shirt and hoodie like Axe but beware the creeping encroachment of luxury goods looking to ride on your newfound wealth.

Turning doge gains into jokey NFT art is just a hop skip and a jump away from getting subsumed into the Art Basel scene. Lest you one day turn up and wake up in a new Bugatti. And while right now it may seem funny to buy a Lamborghini remember the narrative the world wants. You may just claim the mantle of a new kind of power. Or the Feds will come for you. Have fun out there!

Categories
Internet Culture Startups

Day 101 and Closed Ecosystems

The One of the most important novellas in the formation of my technical philosophy was actually written by a science fiction author Neal Stephenson. “In the Beginning there was the Command Line” should be taught in every history of computer science course. Go download it now for free and enjoy 70 pages of riffing on the utopian possibilities of open systems, the accessibility of closed systems and who is the ultimate winners of computing becoming a closed system (surprise it’s Disney).

The premise of the essay is simple. There are two core tensions in how computing has been distributed: open versus closed. The basic manifestations of which philosophy you pick have significant impact on what your users can build but also how accessible your machine or application will be to users. Stephenson focuses on the GUI or graphical user interface, perfected by the closed Apple computer universe, and how it has made computing infinitely more accessible to the masses while also taking away some of the power and flexibility of the original command line interface of prior generations.

In the battle for powerful and hard versus easy but more limited, Americans chose easy and the rise of the GUI began. Dicking around with your computer, let alone your phone, almost isn’t possible without graphical representations of computer programs. Even though said programs are ultimately manipulated several systems down on a command line (you know the “hello world” text interface you might have seen on some NCIS dad cop procedural hacker show) most of us have thoroughly bought into the desktop metaphor of the original Apple GUI. And yes this is old news. This problem of the GUI got won in the eighties. But the basic problem of open versus closed still rages on with us.

The current debate is most vivid on in the financial world with crypto, Bitcoin and decentralized finance as we all yammer on about DAOs and NFTs. But you see it in social media as creators become locked into closed platforms from which export of their content is almost not an option as without distribution and audience access their work means nothing. Creator economy businesses can make money from individual closed platforms but struggle to build businesses as they are too tied to one type of revenue stream. If they are big on say YouTube or TikTok but can’t take their audience elsewhere that’s an issue. Imagine a world where they could take their business with them not be locked into one revenue stream for a platform they cannot change.

What I’ve written here is more like an appetizer course for the philosophy debate and not an argument. I have an opinion in the debate which is that open ecosystems are better for more types of people but I’m also writing this on an iPhone. But I’m writing using WordPress on my own domain rather than choosing a closed platform like Substack. So it’s not exactly a simple binary outcome for anyone ever. Which is all the more reason to go read the novella now.

Categories
Chronicle Finance Internet Culture

Day 74 and Unfinished Thoughts

First off I’ll admit that I don’t really feel like writing today but I’ve committed to “putting pen to paper” every day so I’m stuck with it. I have a dozen topics I actually want to discuss but I don’t feel like I’ve got it in me to be coherent.

I’ve been thinking about how the idea that all property rights are a gradient from violence to grift to institutional legitimacy and this is just how civilization codifies worth. I’m particularly interested in it because we’ve reached the NFT is a grift stage of the discourse but I’m not at all convinced that NFTs are a grift for the reasons people think.

And while I’ve made really elaborate jokes about NFTs, finance, crypto and semiotics with illegal.auction I’ve noticed people with vested interests in this category working out, really don’t want anyone to joke about it. It’s likely wise as we all have varying degrees of horror that property rights is always some degree of grift working towards legitimacy.

That we don’t like to touch on it amuses me. I suspect that the internal logic of wealth and money as always being abstraction guarded by state violence is just too much for folks. It hurts too much. It makes us angry. Surely money, wealth and inherent worth must exist in a moral framework? Good hard working people are rewarded with wealth right? If you want a truly excellent read on the subject of property rights, violence and investing I recommend this essay on emerging market investing and Deadwood by Ben Hunt at Epsilon Theory

Another topic I also want to dig into is environmental impact of crypto and energy equity but I don’t think I’ve got all the facts. I’m still very much in a skeptic phase when it comes to moralizing over the energy usage of crypto. As if crypto brought about the carbon apocalypse on its own.

I’m sure “crypto used a lot of energy” is a valid criticism until you remember we subsidize monsoon crops in deserts (they grow rice in California ffs) and we ship plastic trinkets across the globe while a plutocratic elite consumes the majority of our resources. Maybe moralizing about impact should come with some caveats on how many lives it might improve? I haven’t seen much discourse on this topic as American media leans towards a generic tech skepticism stance at the moment which is making them lean in on attacks as it’s the wrong people who are pushing the crypto agenda. But we deserve more than “environmental impact bad” like maybe it’s a net good to use this energy to decentralize finance?

By allowing the global south and the unbanked to have access to capital instruments we actually discover this is the best use of our energy resources and may distribute wealth more equitably. I don’t know yet and I’m not even confident I can find relevant statistics that won’t overstate one tribal position over the other.

At any rate none of these thoughts are coherent or useful yet but I’m thinking about how we codify wealth and property and what energy usages might be valuable for a more equitable planet. Don’t cancel me please.

Categories
Chronicle Finance Internet Culture

Day 57 and The Fungible

Finance commodifies. The value of one thing must be stacked against the value of another. We can put “a thing” in a ledger and trade it for another thing.

Making something that is not a commodity into a piece of property that can be valued, traded, sold, or transferred is the natural order of financialization.

Not content with turning food or labor into commodities, we have created financial products to divine literally anything into an asset that can be owned, traded, or hedged against.

We’ve decided on fancy vocabulary words like fungible to make the basics of human reality seem more exciting. Or maybe just to charge more for it. 2 and 20 requires a bit of song and dance I suppose.

Fungible is a funny word too. Interchangeable makes more sense. It has more inherent meaning when brought to the context of finance. Sure, we bristle at the idea that our labor, our time, our creations are interchangeable, but we assign values to them so human creations largely have value that are easily exchanged. Finance commodifies. Just because you are unique doesn’t mean your creations aren’t things.

This week we sell non-fungible tokens (nft’s). A financial person might stop and think “ok, but I prefer the fungible, as I myself trade interchangeable things”. And this isn’t, it’s right there in the name. And if I’m not, I damn well better be doing it with something that has a price we agree on like a dollar or an ounce of gold.

And yet here we are with the NFT. Art lands in this category. It is unique. It is non-fungible (say that at a party and see how fast people walk away). It is unique it and cannot be made interchangeable. And yet we sell set.

So how do we trade it? How do we assign value? This contradiction tickles the minds of thoses who have aggregated many interchangeable items with agreed upon values. The rich I mean. The rich enjoy the tension inherent in a thing not being a fully agreed upon commodity. A “not thing” can be worth more than a “thing” precisely because we don’t agree on it. Even if the process of assigning something a price can often feel like it is toeing the semiotic line of “not a thing” assigning value brings it into “thing-ness” by anchoring its reality to the present.

Signifiers are required. The semiotics of value. The desired exchange. And so we toss technical terminology on top like fungible and pretend these frameworks make it easier to turn a “not thing” into a “a thing”

The non-fungible token. It is right there in the name. It is not interchangeable. And yet it has an assigned value. It has been funged.

Standardization, interoperability. Tradeability, liquidity, immutability, scarcity. Amazing what finance can do to a “not thing” in no time at all.