Liam's Blog on Philosophy and Governance


Why I’m Bullish On Ethereum


I no longer endorse the contents of this article. This was my attempt at applying MMT to the analysis of cryptocurrency when I was just entering the fray (I first learned about bitcoin in, I believe, 2011 — but didn’t get heavily involved until after the publish date of this article). I think there are still a few insights about why smart contracts provide value and stability to blockchains, and that is why I am leaving this up.

In a previous post, I laid out the problem with bitcoin and other crypto-currencies. In summary, even if a crypto-currency is “decentralized”, there are pinpoints of centralization in the software development process and when it interplays with financial markets (i.e. when trading dollars for BTC). My thesis is that, over time, these pinpoints can cause major problems. Due to the constantly deprecating nature of technology, even if we solve the issues pertaining to exchanges and financial markets, there will still be relative centralization in the development process due to the need for constant updates.

I am not an avid follower of Bitcoin, but I am aware that this has become somewhat of an issue. There have been many schisms in the development process and it has been extremely hard for developers to make important changes. Also, a grossly large amount of people keep their BTC in coinbase and other exchanges, which defeats the purpose of Bitcoin altogether.

That being said, all hope is not lost. Ethereum, I believe, has a much better model. To understand why, let’s first look at the US Dollar (USD).

The USD somehow has value, although it is literally a currency made out of thin air by the US government. If I made “Liam Dollars”, which were just arbitrary green pieces of paper that I cut out, I wouldn’t be able to get anybody to use them. But despite massive money printing on the part of the federal reserve, somehow, the value of the dollar is relatively stable.

How can this be?

Well, it’s actually quite simple. The US dollar is backed by violence. If you create wealth in the United States, you are obligated to pay US taxes. If you don’t pay taxes, the US government will arrest you. Since taxes must be paid in dollars, there is automatically a huge demand for dollars to pay said taxes.

Similarly, many currencies around the world are pegged to the dollar, thereby creating demand for dollars by taxation and commerce in other countries.

But it doesn’t stop there. Another huge driver for USD is oil. Most oil contracts are negotiated in dollars. In fact, it has been speculated that the US has toppled regimes in the Middle East simply because they attempted to switch oil contracts out of USD. Since oil is a multi-billion (or maybe trillion?) dollar per year commodity, this also creates massive amounts of demand for USD.

Now think back to Econ 101. The higher the demand, the higher the price.

This makes sense. A currency, just like any other commodity, has a value that corresponds to its supply and demand.

So let’s apply this to Ethereum. With the advent of smart contracts, Ethereum is enabling applications and other crypto-currencies to be built on top of its blockchain.

Just look at the Ethereum Alliance‘s member list: big banks, big oil, and big tech. Massive amounts of very important applications and other crypto-currencies are being built on top of the Ethereum blockchain– and this creates demand for Ether.

Smart contracts create demand for Ether in the same way that oil contracts, pegged currencies, and taxes create demand for USD. And since I perceive that the amount of people building on the Ethereum platform is growing, I am, therefore, bullish on Ether.

That being said, I still think that Ethereum is subject to the criticism in my original article; however, it is much safer because its demand is more entrenched. Bitcoin also has some cool projects, such as Rootstock, that aim to bring smart contract functionality to its blockchain.

Although I like to talk about the shortcomings of crypto-currencies (and there are many problems with even Ethereum), I, on net, like the concept and am even in the process of developing my own currency token on the Ethereum (and maybe eventually, Bitcoin) blockchain. More on this at a later date.

Note: when talking about demand for USD, I did not mention the most obvious one: that US vendors are forced to accept USD and therefore it must be used for commerce in the US.


Bitcoin: Doomed to Fail (#Tbt)


I originally published this article May 2014 on Liberty.Me. I am republishing this in its unmodified form, however, I no longer fully endorse everything in this article. I wrote this while a freshman in college and was not very familiar with computer science or the implementation specifics of bitcoin at the time. The original can be found here.

For my first article here on Liberty.me, I decided to write something controversial (to encourage discussion, of course).

I would like to preface by saying that I think Bitcoin (BTC) and other CryptoCurrencies are awesome! Unfortunately, when you have something so awesome, people often get obsessive and exaggerate how great it actually is. I will admit that I chose this title mostly for shock value, however, there is considerable truth to it. My hope for this article is to bridge the intellectual gap between libertarian supporters and opponents of Bitcoin.

1. Bitcoin cannot last forever

Bitcoin relies on several different cryptographic algorithms. The first being the Elliptic Curve Digital Signal Algorithm (ECDSA), which is used to generate the public/private key pairs, and the second is the SHA-256 hashing algorithm (SHA-2) which is used for mining. I will admit, that this is a stellar choice of algorithms; Elliptic Curve Cryptography is one of our most promising frontiers of asymmetric encryption (“asymmetric” meaning that the key to decrypt data cannot be easily derived from the key to encrypt data or vice versa) and SHA-2 still is a very secure algorithm with few known problemsThere is no way that anybody could cryptographically exploit bitcoin now, in 2014.

In the future, however, this is simply not the case. Keep in mind that modern computers have only been around for 50-60 years, and the internet has only existed for 20-30 years. These technologies are still in their infancy, and to think that we have developed the end-all solution to world currency is ridiculous.

Not convinced? Allow me to explain how Bitcoin might begin to fail:

With the advent of quantum computers, ECDSA will be easily broken. This means, that people with your public key, will be able to generate your private key. Luckily for BTC users, the public keys are hashed. A hash function takes an input and then generates a seemingly random output of a fixed size. This means that there is no way to easily reverse the output of a hash function to get the original input. Furthermore, quantum computers — as far as we know — cannot pwn hashing in the same they do with asymmetric encryption. Unfortunately, although protected initially, public keys are revealed after they are used. Or in other words, in the not-so distant quantum computing era, BTC users will have to change their public keys after every transaction.

Despite this critical security flaw, all hope for BTC is not lost. There are several ways to deal with it:

  • Everyone could just remember to change their keys after every transaction
  • Companies could provide wallet services that automatically cycle addresses
  • We could change bitcoin to use quantum resistant algorithms

The first is obviously a bad idea because it is inconvenient and people will forget to do it.

Two and three lead me to my next point.

2. Bitcoin is becoming increasingly centralized

With Bitcoin’s inevitable rise in popularity, there will be a large amount of political pressure to control it. Imagine that the aforementioned public key vulnerability became exploitable due to advances in technology. All people would be forced to make a change. They could either use new wallets that rotate addresses or they could update the Bitcoin protocol to use new post-quantum encryption algorithms. Either way, they are being forced to change their software and this opens Bitcoin up to backdoors, new vulnerabilities, and it won’t change the fact that new advances in technology will perpetually require such changes to be made.

There are many examples of massive vulnerabilities going unnoticed in open source software and backdoors being discovered in critical security software. I’m not saying this is necessarily going to happen to Bitcoin, however, its continually deprecating nature as a currency (due to exponential growth in technological advancement), will make this very likely.

But let’s get back to regulation and how the government might increase its influence over Bitcoin. Currently, many people are already starting to use cloud Bitcoin wallets because they are easy and secure. It may not seem like it, but we are certainly seeing a shift (with all software, not just BTC) towards the cloud. This shift would be further exacerbated by the public key vulnerability, that would force people to either download a new protocol compliant wallet or use a cloud service. I highly doubt most people are going to spend the time to audit the source code and integrity of their new wallet while simultaneously making sure that wallet usage is distributed evenly among all potential wallets so as to prevent one group of “wallet developers” from getting too high of a market share (thereby insuring the decentralization of Bitcoin).

What is really going to happen is that most people will download an “official wallet” developed by the more or less centralized group of developers who proposed the change or they will choose one of many cloud wallets. The problem with cloud wallets is that governments can easily regulate them, just like they regulate banks. In fact, the government will most likely provide banks with exclusive cloud wallet rights. With a well engineered plot, the government could easily take control of the majority of Bitcoin wallets. This is especially bad, because unlike a 51% attack, this would allow them to make whatever changes they want to the Bitcoin protocol.

Not to mention, as the difficulty of mining and value of Bitcoin increases, so does the demand for mining equipment. We have already seen a huge increase in the cost of bitcoin mining with dedicated ASICs (application specific integrated circuits– which are essentially computer chips that are made solely for the purpose of mining BTC). Right now, you can get a return on your investment if you dish out several grand for an ASIC mining rig (GPUs don’t cut it anymore), but soon enough, there will be no way that the lay-person can mine. This is yet another chokepoint in the Bitcoin network that is almost guaranteed to occur.

(I’m not even going to mention the danger of mining pools)

What’s even worse, is that when the quantum computer finally emerges, it’s capabilities will likely surpass those of ASICs by using algorithms such as Grover’s Search. This will give even more power to the elites who already control most of the mining companies.

But this could never happen, right? Wouldn’t the people see it coming and not let the government ruin their money? It’s open source! No. Why didn’t democracy prevent the creation of the federal reserve? History repeats itself, except with different technology. I won’t even bother speculating as to the ingenious ways that the government will propagandize their control of Bitcoin. The worst part is that even if all of us decide to band together to fight this atrocious take-over of the Bitcoin network, it likely won’t be enough. Even if 49% of people oppose these changes, they will still occur.

Centralization is inevitable.

3. Bitcoin isn’t the best

Bitcoin is, technologically, one of the least advanced cryptocurrencies. There are many more sophisticated Alt Coins that surpass Bitcoin in anonymity, speed, and security. Entrepreneurs and activists are constantly innovating on top of the BTC protocol in hopes of snagging a piece of its market share. Remember that the internet has only been around for a few decades and we already have something as revolutionary as the blockchain. After 10, 20, or 100 years, Bitcoin will be to other crypto-currencies as MS-DOS is to Windows 8.1. It will be archaic and outdated.

This is the fundamental problem with a technology based currency. It’s not that it doesn’t have “real value” or “intrinsic value”, the problem is that it cannot and will not move at the same pace as other technology. Bitcoin is only valuable if the protocol is being up-kept and made relevant, otherwise, it will fail. Given enough time, it will either be corrupted or abandoned all together.


The downfall of Bitcoin is not going to be in the near future. It probably will not even be in our lifetimes (I’m just speculating, but I bet it would be in our children’s lifetimes). We have an incredible opportunity in this day and age to utilize this technology to overturn the government monopoly on money. The government cannot control it (yet), cannot manipulate it (yet), and cannot regulated it (well) (yet). This is sort of a call to action. We need to get as much momentum behind the alternative currency movement as we can before we lose our edge. If you use alternative currencies, such as Bitcoin, good! If you don’t, you should start! This will be an incredible tool, while it lasts, for resisting government control over economic transactions. If you are concerned about the issues that I mentioned, study computer science and cryptography and then contribute to Bitcoin. We need bright, well-intentioned people to do this, otherwise it will fail sooner than you think. If that is not an option, spread the word, and be a dedicated participant in the community.

If we can use Bitcoin to bring about a paradigm shift in the global economy and unshackle ourselves from the bondage of fiat currency, then even though it will eventually no longer be in use, it will not have failed after all. I hope that this unifying goal can bring together all libertarians, whether they like Bitcoin or not.

Please note: I know that many Bitcoin advocates acknowledge that these events will occur, and this article is not directed towards them. I wrote this article as a sanity check for bitcoin advocates who get a little carried away with their BTC-worship. Bitcoin is great, but it is not perfect! Similarly, I would like to demonstrate to its opponents that despite these setbacks, Bitcoin is an amazing tool that can change the world.

Also, I define the failure of Bitcoin to be when either it has zero purchasing power or it is controlled by the government.

Notable Comment:

“Wonderfully challenging piece.” — Jeffrey Tucker