The Intellectual Foundation of Bitcoin 比特幣的智識基礎. By Chapman Chen, HKBNews
Updated: Apr 29
Summary: Bitcoin was invented by the anonymous Satoshi Nakamoto as recently as 2008, but it is backed up by a rich intellectual foundation. For instance, The 1791 First Amendment separates church and state, and contemporary American liberation psychologist Nozomi Hayase (2020) argues that money and state should similarly be separated. Just as Isaac Newton’s study of alchemy gave rise to the international gold standard, so has the anonymous creator Satoshi Nakamoto's desire for a “modernized gold standard” given rise to Bitcoin. Indeed, Bloomberg's 2020 report on Bitcoin states that it is becoming gold 2.0 this year. Montesquieu (1774) asserted that laws that secure inalienable rights can only be found in Nature, and the natural laws employed in Bitcoin include its consensus algorithm and the three natural laws of economics (self-interest, competition, and supply and demand). J.S. Mill (1859) preferred free markets to those controlled by governments. Ludwig von Mises (1951) argued against the hazards of fiat currency, urging for a return to the gold standard. Friedrich Hayek (1984) suggested people to invent a sly way to take money back from the hands of the government. Milton Friedman (1994) called for FED to be replaced by an automatic system and predicted the coming of a reliable e-cash. James Buchanan (1988) advocated a monetary constitution to constrain the governmental power of money creation. Tim May (1997) the cypherpunk proclaimed that restricting digital cash impinges on free speech, and envisioned a stateless digital form of money that is uncensorable. The Tofflers (2006) pictured a non-monetary economy. In 2016, UCLA Professor of Finance Bhagwan Chowdhry even nominated Satoshi for a Nobel Prize.
Separation between money and state
The 1791 First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution enshrines free speech and separates church and state, but not money and state. "Under the First Amendment, individuals’ right to create, choose their own money and transact freely was not recognized as a part of freedom of expression that needs to be protected," Japanese-American liberation psychologist Nozomi Hayase (2020) points out (1).
The government, banks and corporations collude together to encroach upon people's liberties by metamorphosing their inalienable rights into a permissioned from of legal rights. Fiat currencies function as a medium of manipulation, indulging big business to generate market monopolies. "Freedom of expression has become further stifled through economic censorship and financial blockage enacted by payment processing companies like Visa and MasterCard," to borrow Hayase's (2020) words.
Satoshi is a Modern Newton
Although most famous for discovering the law of gravity, Isaac Newton was also a practising alchemist. He never managed to turn lead into gold, but he did find a way to transmute silver into gold. In 1717, Newton announced in a report that, based on his studies, one gold guinea coin weighed 21 shillings. Just as Isaac Newton’s study of alchemy gave rise to the international gold standard, so has the desire for a “modernized gold standard” given rise to Bitcoin. "In a way, Satoshi is a modern Newton. They both believed trust is best placed in the unchangeable facets of our economy. Beneath this belief is the assumption that each individual is their own best master," as put by Jon Creasy (2019) (2).
J.S. Mill: free markets preferable to those controlled by governments
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) the great English philosopher would be a Bitcoiner were he still around today. In On Liberty (1859), Mill concludes that free markets are preferable to those controlled by governments. He argues that economies function best when left to their own devices. Therefore, government intervention, though theoretically permissible, would be counterproductive. Bitcoin is precisely decentralized or uncontrolled by the government, unconfiscatable, permissonless, and disinflationary. Bitcoin regulates itself spontaneously via the ordinary operations of the system. "Rules are enforced without applying any external pressure," in Hayase's (2020) words.
Ludwig von Mises (1958): Liberty is always Freedom from the Government
In The Free Market and its Enemies, theoretical Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises (1951) argues against the hazards of fiat currency, urging for a return to the gold standard. “A fiat money system cannot go on forever and must one day come to an end,” Von Mises states. The solution is a return to the gold standard, "the only standard which makes the determination of the purchasing power of money independent of the changing ideas of political parties, governments, and pressure groups" under present conditions. Interestingly, this is also one of the key structural attributes of Bitcoin, the world’s first, global, peer-to-peer, decentralized value transfer network.
Actually, Bloomberg's 2020 report on Bitcoin confirms that it is becoming gold 2.0 this year (3).
Von Mises prefers the price of gold to be determined according to the contemporaneous market conditions. The bitcoin price is, of course, determined across the various global online exchanges, in real-time. There is no central authority setting a spot price for gold after the which the market value is settled on among the traders during the day.
Hayek: Monopoly on Currency should End
Austrian-British Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek’s theory in his 1976 work, Denationalization of Money, was that not only would the currency monopoly be taken away from the government, but that the monopoly on currency itself should end with multiple alternative currencies competing for acceptance by consumers, in order "to prevent the bouts of acute inflation and deflation which have played the world for the past 60 years." He forcefully argues that if there is no free competition between different currencies within any nation, then there will be no free market. Bitcoin is, again, decentralized, and many other cryptocurrencies have tried to compete with it, though in vain.
In a recently rediscovered video clip from 1984, Hayek actually suggested people to invent a cunning way to take money out of the hands of the government:- “I don’t believe we shall ever have a good money again before we take the thing out of the hands of government, that is, we can’t take them violently out of the hands of government, all we can do is by some sly roundabout way introduce something they can’t stop” (4). Reviewing those words 36 years hence and it is difficult not to interpret them in the light of Bitcoin.
Milton Friedman Called for FED to be Replaced by an Automatic System
Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman (1994) was critical of the Federal Reserve due to its poor performance and felt it should be abolished (5). Friedman (1999) believed that the Federal Reserve System should ultimately be replaced with a computer program, which makes us think of the computer code governing Bitcoin (6). He (1970) favored a system that would automatically buy and sell securities in response to changes in the money supply. This, he argued, would put a lid on inflation, setting spending and investment decisions on a surer footing (7). Bitcoin is exactly disflationary as its maximum possible supply is 21 million and its block reward or production rate is halved every four years.
Friedman passed away before the coming of bitcoin, but he lived long enough to see the Internet’s spectacular rise throughout the 1990s. “I think that the Internet is going to be one of the major forces for reducing the role of government," said Friedman in a 1999 interview with NTU/F. On the same occasion, he sort of predicted the emergence of Bitcoin, "The one thing that’s missing, but that will soon be developed, is a reliable e-cash, a method whereby on the Internet you can transfer funds from A to B, without A knowing B or B knowing A." (8)
“Of course, Friedman didn’t predict the block chain,” summed up American libertarian economist Jeffery Tucker (2014). “But he was hoping for a trustless system. He saw the need.” (9).
Bitcoin Computer Code as Constitution in the Buchananian Sense
American economist cum Nobel laureate James Buchanan (1988) advocates constitutional constraints on the governmental power to create money (10). Buchanan distinguishes a managed monetary system—a system “that embodies the instrumental use of price-level predictability as a norm of policy”—from an automatic monetary system, “which does not, at any stage, involve the absolute price level” (Buchanan 1962, 164–65). Leaning toward the latter, Buchanan argues that automatic systems are characterized by an organization “of the institutions of private decision-making in such a way that the desired monetary predictability will emerge spontaneously from the ordinary operations of the system” (Buchanan 1962, 164). Again, "Bitcoin regulates itself through the spontaneous force of nature, flourishing healthy price discovery and competition in the best interest of everyone" (Hayase 2020).
Shruti Rajagopalan (2018) argues that the computer code governing how the sundry nodes/computers within the Bitcoin network interact with one another is a kind of monetary constitution in the Buchananian sense. One of Buchanan's greatest inputs is to differentiate the choice of rules from the choice within rule (Buchanan 1990). One may regard the Bitcoin code as a sort of constitution and "the Bitcoin network engaging in both the choice of rules and choice within rules" (Rajagopalan 2018) (11).
Tim May: Restricting Digital Cash may Impinge on Free Speech
Cypherpunks are activists who since the 1980s have advocated global use of strong cryptography and privacy-enhancing technologies as a route to social and political liberation. Tim May (Timothy C. May [1951-2018]), one of the influential cypherpunks published The Crypto Anarchist Manifesto in September 1992, which foretold the coming of Bitcoin (12). Cypherpunks began envisioning a stateless digital form of money that cannot be censored and their collaborative pursuit created a movement akin to the 18th Enlightenment.
At The 7th Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy, Burlingame, CA. in 1997, Tim May equated money with speech, and argued that restricting digital cash may impinge on free speech, for spending money is often a matter of communicating orders to others, to transfer funds, to release funds, etc. In fact, most financial instruments are contracts or orders, instead of physical specie or banknotes (13).
Montesquieu: Laws that secure inalienable rights can only be found in Nature
In his influential work The Spirit of Laws (1748), Montesquieu wrote, “Laws ... are derived from the nature of things … Law, like mathematics, has its objective structure, which no arbitrary whim can alter". Similarly, once a block is added to the end of the Bitcoin blockchain, it is almost impossible to go back and alter the contents of the block, unless every single block after it on the blockchain is altered, too.
Cypherpunks knew that whereas alienable rights that are bestowed by law can be deprived by legislation, inalienable rights are not to be created but can be discovered by reason. Thus, laws that secure inalienable rights cannot be created by humankind but can be found in nature.
The natural laws employed in Bitcoin to enshrine the inalienable monetary right of every human being include its consensus algorithm, and the three natural laws of economics (self-interest, competition, and supply and demand) as identified by Adam Smith, father of modern economics.
Regarding mathematics, bitcoin mining is performed by high-powered computers that solve complex computational math problems. When computers solve these complex math problems on the Bitcoin network, they produce new bitcoin. And by solving computational math problems, bitcoin miners make the Bitcoin payment network trustworthy and secure, by verifying its transaction information.
Regarding economic laws, in accordance with the principle of game theory to generate fairness, miners take part in an open competition. Lining up self-interests of all in a network, with a vigilant balance of risk and rewards, rules are put in force sans the application of any exterior pressure. "Bitcoin regulates itself through the spontaneous force of nature, flourishing healthy price discovery and competition in the best interest of everyone," to borrow the words of Hayase (2020).
A Non-monetary Economy as Visualized by the Tofflers
In their book, Revolutionary Wealth (2006), futurists Alvin Toffler and his wife Heidi Toffler toy with the concept of a world sans money, raising a third kind of economic transaction that is neither one-on-one barter nor monetary exchange. In the end, they settle on the idea that the newer non-monetary economy will exist shoulder-to-shoulder with the monetary sector in the short term, although the latter may eventually be eclipsed by the former in the long run. What both the Tofflers' The Third Wave (1980) and Revolutionary Wealth bring into question is the very premise of monetary exchange. The vacuum left over by cash in such a non-monetary economy may be filled up by Bitcoin as a cryptocurrency.
Satoshi Nakamoto Nominated for Nobel Prize by UCLA Finance Prof.
UCLA Anderson School Professor of Finance Bhagwan Chowdhry nominated Satoshi Nakamoto for the 2016 Nobel Prize in Economics on the following grounds:-
It is secure, relying on almost unbreakable cryptographic code, can be divided into millions of smaller sub-units, and can be transferred securely and nearly instantaneously from one person to any other person in the world with access to internet bypassing governments, central banks and financial intermediaries such as Visa, Mastercard, Paypal or commercial banks eliminating time delays and transactions costs.... Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin Protocol has spawned exciting innovations in the FinTech space by showing how many financial contracts — not just currencies — can be digitized, securely verified and stored, and transferred instantaneously from one party to another (14).
Disclaimer: This article is neither an advertisement nor professional financial advice.
Pic credit: Framingbitcoin.com