Jordan Stephens

@jsteph17

Could Cryptocurrency Be the Answer to Income Inequality?

So far, not so good, but stay hopeful.

If you asked for my best evidence that Americans in the near future can no longer be certain gravity will function tomorrow or the sun will rise in the morning, I’d show you this simple graph of the sharp, sudden interest in fiat currency via Google search trends:

Google search trend for ‘fiat currency’

As the conversation surrounding cryptocurrency exponentially grows, so does a bubbling curiosity over this topic hardly considered up for debate just a few weeks ago. But hey, given the trajectory of uncertainty in 2017, who can be all that surprised? And if there’s any doubt this is due to questions about the future of cryptocurrency, these spikes in related searches speak for themselves:

Google search trends related to ‘fiat currency’

As if everything we thought we knew about US politics wouldn’t be thrown to ruin this year, why don’t we add one more good ole American standard to the dumpster fire — faith in the US dollar.

It is no coincidence the chaotic peaks and plunges of Bitcoin are a near perfect metaphor to the uncertainties of our future in US politics, economy, and our very way of life. We have reached such an astonishingly low confidence in our government and existing institutions, people are abandoning the bedrock of our civilization with more confidence in cryptocurrency than staples like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and even Visa.

Participants of a healthy economy have faith that its current regulations, distribution of wealth, and free, stable flow of currency will provide a profitable return in exchange for work done. Instead, today we see more and more people scramble to trade stability for a glimmer of hope toward upward mobility. Many have so little to lose, the risk to make some money outweighs the nearly equal risk of losing it.

The volatile back and forth in Bitcoin price and others are, in part, a reflection of this trade off we make in exchange from decentralized, more valuable cryptocurrency to the stable, easy-to-spend dollar.

What seems to remain constant, however, is that within any given currency system today, the rich tend to stay rich and the poor remain poor.

Although profit is the common motive, the much larger picture here is not one of greed, but desperation.

CNBC reported in September 2017 according to the Credit Suisse report, the top 1% wealthiest portion of the world now own roughly 50.1% of the world’s wealth, a nearly 5% increase over only 15 years. It’s easy to see why people all over the globe are trading their fiat value for something a little more promising, no matter how volatile, but if a cryptocurrency did become the new reserve, would we really be much better off in terms of economic inequality?

It turns out distribution of wealth in cryptocurrency is pretty hard to measure mainly due to the nature of its anonymous transactions — it’s impossible to know who paid who or who owns what. We do, however, have complete and indisputable records of how many and where each bitcoin has traveled which give clues to its concentration among groups. The verdict? Well, take a look at this recent approximation from howmuch.net:

The whole circle represents 100% circulating Bitcoin.

With little over 4% owning over 96% of the wealth, leaving under 4% circulating bitcoin for the other 96%, it doesn’t paint a much prettier picture than the “real world.” Although we can’t condense this information into a smooth curve like the global distribution, howmuch.net estimates 1% of Bitcoin addresses own… You guessed it! About half the total Bitcoin wealth. In fact, BambouClub makes a compelling argument in their article, Are you in the Bitcoin 1% ? A New Model of the Distribution of Bitcoin Wealth, that the Bitcoin distribution can be more accurately graphed by assuming the Bitcoin distribution of wealth exactly mirrors that of the global distribution. I certainly wouldn’t argue against it, which gets me thinking-

Are we damned?

There’s an eye-opening documentary on Netflix right now called 11/8/16 where various people and families across the US are interviewed about their opinions and reactions the day of the 2016 general election. A black man is asked why he doesn’t plan to vote, given the infamous struggle for black people’s right to vote. He compares the US economy to a game of Monopoly that rich white men have been playing for years. He says by the time black people got a seat at the board, all the property was already bought up — all the money already distributed, and instead of trying to participate in a game with the odds stacked against him, he says the board should be wiped clean. If Bitcoin is wiping the board, it has quickly redistributed the wealth but done little about the gap in wealth equality.

If Bitcoin were to dip and crash today, let it be a multimillion dollar lesson that greed and wealth hoarding are endemic in populations (notice I don’t say individuals) of an unchecked economy which favors its original participants (notice I don’t say investors — here’s why).

The one prediction I will make with absolute certainty is that short of an Orwellian government ban, (and let’s face it, you and I could both see that happening) the end of Bitcoin would not be the end of cryptocurrency. The once distant clamor has swiftly risen to a deafening roar which means you haven’t missed the boat. It means this thing is just getting started, so what we have here is an opportunity not only to enhance the future of transactional exchange, but to allow the economy to work fairly for all people, not just a lucky few.

The key to it will be policy. Changing the currency alone will not be enough, but cryptocurrency gives us an advantage here as well due to decentralization. Instead of relying on unstable politics to steer the ever-widening gap of wealth distribution today, fairer “rules of the game” can be programmed right into the system without third party influences to derail it.

So is the winning coin already out there? There’s a good chance since there are already too many to keep up with, but I wouldn’t sweat rushing to buy it if our desired coin is actually programmed to keep distribution fair. I’d look for one with little incentive to buy early but high incentive to keep the currency flowing rather than hoard. It will also probably have stabilizing regulations and quick transaction turnaround to keep price fluctuations low and reliable.

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