Norris McDonald | Abacus to crypto: Blockchain, digital money, hustling cryptocraze | Commentary

Norris McDonald | Abacus to crypto: Blockchain, digital money, hustling cryptocraze | Commentary

The FTX Cryptocurrency Exchange crash has created shock waves in the entire cryptocurrency market, with crypto-crazy poker chips flying all over the place as players try to cash in and realise that the ‘house can’t pay’.

At the beginning of 2022, there was US$2.9 trillion invested in 9,245 crypto assets (crypto coins), coinmarketcap.com data reveals. FTX was the second-largest of all cryptocurrency trading houses.

Given the crypt0-frenzy crisis, these ‘intangible mental assets’ fell by some 70 per cent to a present level of about US$900 billion.

Bitcoin is best known of all cryptocurrencies – a digital, intangible, computer-generated assets ‘minted’ (created) and traded on these coin exchanges.

In 2010, one bitcoin or BTC was given one-to-one value to the US dollar. There has since emerged a seemingly irrational cryptocraze to the point that in just 12 years, with no underlying asset base, BTC reached an ‘imputed mental value’ of US$67,000 in May 2021. Recent panicky, frenetic BTC sales have pushed November 2022 trading range to US$16,000.

Bitcoin is now like ‘the big, pearly marble’ we love that becomes a ‘chippy’ the longer we ‘knux it’, with our fingers in friendly marble game.

Part of the problem with all forms of games, such as crypto-crazy trading, is to understand the underlying rules and principles governing the game. All players must conform to these governing rules. FTX did not conform to these assumed rules, to the detriment of their investors.

The FTX collapse follows a long pattern of a continued exposé and scandals that have seen many people sent to prison for alleged cryptocurrency fraud, with many investors losing their money.

And yet, quite amazingly, this irrational cryptocraze continues.

How did we get here?

Bitcoin, the first of many crypto coins, was created in 2010, a year CNN Money called “The year of uncertainty and volatility”.

America was just coming out of the 2007-8 banking, lending, and housing market crash. People were just losing faith in the ability of the capitalist market, in its constituted form, to give them the happiness and peace of mind they desired.

Trillions of dollars were in circulation, or hidden away, with many big investors not knowing what to do with all this money.

This huge volume of money included both the tons of cash the US Federal reserve was dumping in the American banks through a programme called ‘quantitative easing’, and ‘off the books cash’ held by large corporations.

Quantitative easing was simply the US government dumping money into the American financial system, even as they reduced the cost of borrowing money.

Cryptocurrencies satisfied the prevailing money-gambling hunger or frenetic cryptocraze we see today.

My friends, I am sure there are many crypto-crazy investors who are asking themselves, ‘Why did I do this?’

Finally on this, even if cryptocurrencies can be traded whenever the holder desires, for tangible assets or government-back currencies, it is all wild, irrational speculation.

We all know that people make investment decisions – whether putting money on a racehorse, buying the numbers, playing the stock market, or buying cryptocurrencies – on what they are willing to risk versus how much they hope to gain.

At least that is what many psychologists say. In short, how greedy are you? Or, put another way, how fearful are you of losing your money?

Sad to say, many ordinary investors may well be in emotional distress, wondering how come their ‘crypto manna never fall from money-tree heaven’.

DIGITAL CURRENCY

Blockchain technology is the interlinking, encrypted foundation of digital or cryptocurrencies. With blockchain, there is ostensibly a more secured, encrypted transfer of financial or information from one interlinked block to another encrypted system.

Blockchain, however, has been found to have wider, positive use in the business world.

Central bank digital currencies (CBDC), commonly called ‘digital currency’, are regarded as the more rational side of the new blockchain, cryptocurrency development.

The Bahamas was the first country to introduce an electronic currency, the Sand Dollar, in 2020. This Sand Dollar is pegged to the Bahamian dollar. Jamaica is among several countries who are trying to join Bahamas and introduce a CBDC.

China has already developed a digital currency. In early 2022, China introduced a digital currency, the electronic yuan, eCNY, to serve 1.2 billion consumers.

We must make a clear distinction between a Central Bank Digital Currency, backed by cash reserves, and a crypto asset, such as bitcoin, that is not backed by gold or any other tangible assets.

My dear friends, inventiveness, innovative thinking, is what it is about.

Historical experience has shown that the world has moved from abacus, one of the first old ‘business counting’ device, to an exciting era of cell phones, laptops, solar and other smart devices.

‘Virtual abaci’ are our cell phones, laptops, digital terminals, and other smart devices. It is certainly a great leap forward in this new technological age.

These modern-day abaci have helped rural people in Africa, Asia, Latin American and the Caribbean to send and receive money, buy things online, and pay their bills.

In African nations, for example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, cell phones and other smart devices were used to transfer an estimated US$20 billion per month.

The lesson we learn here is that povewrty-stricken countries with virtually non-existent, rural banking systems can use technology to boost financial independence.

Jamaica and the Caribbean, too, are well poised to take advantage of the positive gains of the cryptocurrency revolution. CARICOM can perhaps create a regional cryptocurrency, the ‘CARIB’, issued by the Caribbean Development Bank, operating as a quasi-central bank.

Jamaica, with its digital exchange, or ‘Jam-Dex’, and The Bahamas, with the Sand Dollar, can help pave the way towards this CARIB digital currency.

In the final analysis, the digital revolution, used positively, can boost our people’s financial independence.

That is just the ‘bitta’ truth!

Norris McDonald is an economic journalist, political analyst, and respiratory therapist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and miaminorris@yahoo.com.

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