The Blockchain Money conference had a slow start on its second and final day with the only bitcoin developer on the agenda, Jeff Garzik, not appearing, but it quickly began to get interesting as a European Member of Parliament, Eva Kaili, who is currently part of a small team looking into digital currency regulations, loudly stated: “We want to return control to citizens… taking power from banks would be amazing.” When I asked her about EU regulations, she stated that they are taking a “hands-off approach” as “we don’t want to stand in the way of innovation.”
She was preceded by a legal panel where Brian Klein, former prosecutor and counsel to Zcash, stated that America has global jurisdiction as a website is global. Kaili, when I asked her, agreed, but it is not clear how such global jurisdiction can be legitimate when global citizens have no say in American laws.
It gets even more interesting, however, as Klein stated that just because SEC or other federal agencies are silent, it does not mean they are not acting. “You never know what is happening behind the scenes,” – Klein said, suggesting secret investigations based on secret legal interpretations with the public fully in the dark regarding their rights – until you just receive a Fincen notice, he continued.
Even more shockingly, the legal panel suggested that laws could be applied retroactively, because the “government is behind the curve,” contravening many basic legal principles taught in law school in a portrayal of what appears to be a Kafkaesque legal system where you don’t know what the law is, how it is applied, what your rights are, while potentially facing, very much arbitrarily, the threat of prison.
“The government doesn’t believe in asking for forgiveness rather than for permission,” one panelist said, but, thankfully, the government does not make laws, Parliament or Congress does, with the only lawmaker in the conference, Kaili, being far more accommodating to bitcoin innovations.
The bankers panel was interesting for an apparent richness of views. Although there appeared to be a dismissal of the blockchain, with one banker saying it is a “hype word,” Chris Ballinger, CFO at Toyota Financial Services, who stated he can speak freely as he is no longer a banker, gave the example of an earthquake which destroys centralized servers, creating chaos for financial data and leaving everyone in the dark. Blockchains can assist, he said. On the other hand, Ferdinando Ametrano from the Intensa Sanpaolo Bank argued that permissioned blockchains are just centralized databases with a bit of encryption. In regards to bitcoin, Ametrano stated that banks, fundamentally, provide trust, but bitcoin has proven value can be exchanged without a trusted intermediary.
Ballinger took the concept further, stating that things which could not previously be traded because of transaction costs or because the transaction is so small, now can be traded. What public blockchains do, he said, is “turn anything of value into a bearer instrument.”
There were many other presentations with McAfee to be covered in his own article, but, as I looked around, I noticed the man from yesterday who was holding a sign asking to be hired was now inside the conference. How that happened I never learned, but it makes it all feel very much like bitcoin.
The lengthy scalability debate may make us, sometime,s forget why we got interested in bitcoin, but the conference managed to return focus on the bigger picture, not because of any one thing said, but because of the richness of views, diversity of participants, the clear passion for bitcoin many of them have, and the opportunity to see the ecosystem on display.
Although it lacked the glamour of Ethereum, or the focus on code developments, Blockchain Money presented the spirit of bitcoin and its aim to provide a solution to the failed banking system by replacing trust with code. An alternative global asset that has already been used as a hedge by many Chinese fleeing Yuan’s falling value and a payment network that allows one to transfer $1 from bank account to bank account for just two pence.
Maths based money, in short, that will certainly scale both on-chain and through higher layers, with the wider ecosystem ever growing because it makes possible or convenient many things that were previously difficult, such as permissionless value transfers on a global scale in just minutes.
Images via Andrew Quenston for CCN.