That network now sustains its financial system, a decentralized microcosm of the massive traditional one. It takes tokenized versions of the underlying currencies that users most value (whether bitcoin or fiat) and provides disintermediated mechanisms for lending or borrowing them or for creating decentralized derivative or insurance contracts. What’s emerging, albeit in a form too volatile for traditional institutions, is a multifaceted, market for managing and trading in risk.
Two of these DeFi platforms are AAVE and Compound and you should zip over and take a look. I had some Ethereum sploshing about so I popped $23 worth in and in seconds I was watching the value tick up 79 billionth of a dollar every second or so. I’m going to have to wait a year to make a $1 but that’s not the point. I just opened a deposit account in one minute, transferred money into it in seconds and now I’m watching it grow instantaneously and that purely from landing on the beach of a new continent of financial services that can spin off from this.
Why? Is it my inflation terror driving me on? No. Ethereum is onto a new crypto winning phenomena. DeFi (decentralized finance). Well, that’s what it’s called, but most DeFi is dull and almost pointless, the exciting bit is the crypto lending part where you can stash your cryptocash in a blockchain system and get paid interest on it in a “risk free” way.
The yield cap policy would be new for the Fed, but it’s really an extension of an ongoing effort to do one thing: get the market to believe its intentions. The way monetary policy works these days, it’s meaningless unless the market behaves according to what the Fed wants. It’s not about what the central bank does per se; it’s about what it says and whether those words are incorporated into investor behavior. But the more it doubles down on this, the more the Fed creates situations in which it risks having its words held against it. And that puts it at risk of losing its most important currency: the public’s trust. Commitments to price targets are always especially risky – ask Norman Lamont, the U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had to abandon the pound’s currency peg in 1993 because the market didn’t believe the U.K. would back its promises. The Fed has unlimited power to buy bonds, but whether it always has the will to do so will depend on politics and other factors. Once it’s locked into a commitment, the stakes go up. For now, the markets – most importantly, foreign exchange markets – still trust the Fed. But, as the saying goes, trust is hard to earn, easy to lose.
That’s not to say there aren’t risks in DeFi. Many are worried that the frenzy around speculative activities such as “yield farming” and interconnected leverage could set off a systemic crisis. If that happens, maybe Bitcoin can offer an alternative, more stable architecture for it. Either way, ideas to improve DeFi are coming all the time – whether for better system-wide data or for a more trustworthy legal framework. Out of this hurly burly, something transformative will emerge. Whether it’s dominated by Ethereum or spread across different blockchains, the end result will show more cross-protocol synergy than the chains’ warring communities would suggest.
This system is being fueled by a global innovation and development pool bigger than Bitcoin’s. As of June last year, there were 1,243 full-time developers working on Ethereum compared with 319 working on Bitcoin Core, according to a report by Electric Capital. While that work is spread across multiple projects, the size of its community gives Ethereum the advantage of network effects.
Interestingly, USD Coin (USDC), the world’s second-largest stablecoin from Coinbase and Circle, was ranked at 1.00 by the Crypto Rating Council (CRC), whose members include Coinbase, Circle, Kraken, Bittrex, Genesis Capital, eToro, OKCoin, Radar, Anchorage, Cumberland, among others). The CRC supports and promotes regulatory clarity in the distributed ledger technology (DLT) space.
Bitcoin might be a reserve asset for the crypto community but its recent price trajectory, with gains and losses tracking equities, suggest the non-crypto “normies” don’t (yet) see it that way. Given the COVID-19 crisis’ extreme test of the global financial system and central banks’ massive “quantitative easing” response to it, that price performance poses a challenge to those of us who see bitcoin’s core use case as an internet era hedge against centralized monetary instability. Far from complying with that “digital gold” narrative, bitcoin has performed like any other “risk-off” asset. Meanwhile, actual gold has shaken off its own early-crisis stock market correlation to chart an upward course. While bitcoin has repeatedly failed to sustainably break through $10,000, bullion has rallied sharply to close in on $1,800, levels it hasn’t seen since September 2012. Some analysts are predicting it will breach its all-time intraday high of $1,917, hit in the aftermath of the last global financial crisis in 2011. To add insult to injury, one Forbes contributor even stole from the crypto lexicon to describe the state of play, telling his readers that gold prices are “soaring to the moon.”
For comparison, Decenter reports that similar phrasing in ad campaigns that replace “ethereum” with “eos” such as “eos smart contract audits” are still available for use through Google Ads and being featured in campaigns. While it’s unclear how broadly the ban has been applied to cryptocurrency, or whether it extends to any coins outside of Ethereum, Reddit users and Ethereum enthusiasts have begun an uproar over the selective censorship. The top comment by user u/ThePlague lambasts Google for promoting an agenda, stating that the company has been far from neutral in handling various forms of advertising on its platform, including cryptocurrency,
More importantly, though, the Bitcoin and Ethereum networks are different with respect to their overall aims. While bitcoin was created as an alternative to national currencies and thus aspires to be a medium of exchange and a store of value, Ethereum was intended as a platform to facilitate immutable, programmatic contracts, and applications via its own currency.
This expansion in DeFi’s user base and market offerings is in itself a boost to security. That’s not just because more developers means more code vulnerabilities are discovered and fixed. It’s because the combinations of investors’ short and long positions, and of insurance and derivative products, will ultimately get closer to Nassim Taleb’s ideal of an “antifragile” system.
Over the years, the concept of a virtual, decentralized currency has gained acceptance among regulators and government bodies. Although it isn’t a formally recognized medium of payment or store of value, cryptocurrency has managed to carve out a niche for itself and continues to coexist with the financial system despite being regularly scrutinized and debated.