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Blockchain: Why U.S Technological and Financial Dominance is at Stake

《 区块链:为什么美国技术和金融优势处于危险之中 》

From a global monetary perspective, the emergence of cryptocurrency as a functioning measure of value globally will have broad implications for the Bretton Woods system.


by Scott Nelson
Scott Nelson is CEO of Sweetbridge, an Arizona-based startup that is building blockchain-based protocols for commerce. Previously, he founded and led Trax Technologies, a global SaaS and supply chain services firm.

作者简介:斯科特·纳尔逊是总部位于亚利桑那州的初创公司 SweetBridge 的CEO,该公司正在构建基于区块链的商业协议,此前,他创立并领导了全球SaaS和供应链服务公司 Trax technologies .

Competitor nations are also keenly monitoring these developments, eyeing an enhanced role for themselves on the global stage and investing in their own proprietary versions of the technology. China, for instance, is investing billions of dollars into blockchain development and leads the world in blockchain patent filings. Russia has been quite candid in that it sees blockchain as a means of dethroning the United States from its financial and economic pedestal.


WHAT'S DEFINITE is that a new digital monetary era is on the horizon; what’s uncertain is what role America will play in this system.


Such comments have obfuscated the role that crypto-tokens will soon play in economic activity and the true potential these systems offer—particularly in conjunction with other emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and robotic process automation. They also take for granted the question of the United States’ status as a leader in innovation, and fail to consider the steps it must take to spearhead the next technological revolution in the same way it led the last one.


At the crux of the problem is a regulatory logjam that applies yesterday’s rules to tomorrow’s economy. Numerous federal agencies have asserted jurisdiction over cryptocurrencies and issued confusing and even contradictory regulatory guidance, bogging innovators down with compliance costs and legal risk. States individually have their own diverse rules and regulations governing securities and money service businesses, complicating matters even further.


Such labyrinthine and non-malleable structures are a liability in a rapidly evolving state of play. In a 2016 essay about the onsetting Fourth Industrial Revolution, Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, argued that the ability of governmental systems to be nimble and adapt in the face of new technologies that redistribute and decentralize power will ultimately determine their survival.

世界经济论坛创始人兼执行主席克劳斯施瓦布(Klaus Schwab) 在2016年发表了一篇关于第四次工业革命前景的文章中指出,政府系统在面对新技术重新分配和分权时,能否灵活适应,最终将决定他们的生存。

COMPARISONS OF the current blockchain boom to the Internet craze of the 1990s are frequently and appropriately made, as both periods have been characterized by rapid technological disruption and new forms of wealth creation. However, the reality is that the current pace of technological change far surpasses anything witnessed two decades ago. This heightened pace of change is attributable to the Internet’s maturity as a global communication platform—allowing for instantaneous collaboration, criticism and feedback loops.


Further, enormous sums of money are being thrown directly at technologists who don’t have traditional boards, management structures or investors attaching strings to those funds.


In 2017, an estimated $6.5 billion was raised through ICOs, whereby a startup funds itself by issuing a native cryptocurrency for use in its platform rather than equity. This trend has showed no signs of slowing down in 2018, with $9 billion being raised via ICOs through June, according to Autonomous NEXT, an industry research group. This activity comes against a backdrop of a marked slowdown in companies undertaking traditional initial public offerings, with the number of public companies in the United States now just half of what it was twenty years ago.

2017年,ICOs 融资约65亿美元,创业公司通过发行本地加密货币为自己的平台融资,而非股权融资。
这一趋势在2018年没有放缓的迹象,根据一个行业研究小组 " Autonomous NEXT " 的数据,到今年6月份,ICOs 项目将募集90亿美元,这种活动的背景是承接传统首次公开募股(IPO)的公司数量明显减少,目前美国上市公司的数量只有20年前的一半。

To counter negative perceptions of Bitcoin, these incumbents began marketing a sanitized “blockchain, not Bitcoin” pitch that touts the technology, sans the cryptocurrency component, as a new type of database called “distributed ledger technology.”

为了应对人们对比特币的负面看法,这些现有的比特币公司开始推销一种经过净化的“ 区块链,而不是比特币”的说辞,将这种技术作为一种名为“分布式账本技术”的新型数据库来兜售,不使用加密货币组件。

While blockchain does have unique records management functionalities through its ability to seamlessly transfer value and achieve consensus among disparate parties that may not trust one another, the technology’s true value proposition has been overlooked: the ability to create programmable digital money that is governed by rules codified at the protocol level. This has led to the creation of economic ‘games’ in which the parties that play the game correctly and most effectively receive a financial reward that is significant enough to make playing by the rules more economical than trying to cheat.


Take Bitcoin. A disparate network of global players spends billions of dollars on computing power annually and consumes as much electricity as the nation of Switzerland, all in a race to be the first player to verify the transactions processed over the Bitcoin network—a process known as ‘mining.’ The winner earns a reward denominated in a ‘currency’ that exists only in cyberspace, yet today has a market capitalization in excess of $100 billion despite having no intrinsic value and no centralized authority ensuring proper conduct.



Further, the nations that embrace blockchain and cryptoeconomics are priming themselves for significant economic breakthroughs. Price-stable cryptocurrencies that function as cash equivalents will significantly lower the cost of cross-border transactions and settlement, while providing businesses, consumers and governments a low-cost means of monetizing traditionally illiquid assets. These systems are creating new means by which businesses and governments can raise capital without issuing traditional debt or equity—such as through the sale of blockchain-based tokens that allow purchasers to buy down the cost of future goods and services.


Further, blockchain protocols will provide unprecedented levels of financial visibility into publicly-traded companies and supply chain networks, greatly minimizing counterparty risk for all stakeholders and potentially preventing the next Enron. From a trade policy perspective, antiquated instruments like tariffs and quotas could be replaced by crypto-economic import-export schemes that provide financial incentives for customers to undertake a desired behavior (i.e. purchasing American-made steel over illegally-subsidized Chinese steel).

从贸易政策的角度来看,关税和配额等陈旧手段可以被加密经济的进出口计划所取代,这些计划可以提供金融激励,鼓励消费者采取期望的行为( 比如购买美国制造的钢材,而不是非法补贴的中国钢材 )。

Protocols built on blockchain can make it possible for these states to move in atomic fashion, rendering it impossible for them to be in disagreement and reducing the total number of reconciliations needed from sixteen, at minimum, to a maximum of two: the blockchain transaction record and reality. This innovation will severely reduce the need for the third-party trust intermediaries that are relied upon today to ensure the veracity of all types of transactions, and holds the potential to unleash trillions of dollars’ worth of efficiency gains globally.


MANY COUNTRIES have grasped these implications and are racing to gain the all-important first mover advantage by attracting blockchain talent, investing in the technology and facilitating cryptocurrency-based capital formation.


China sits atop nearly every list in this regard, even though it has been much maligned in the cryptocurrency space for its heavy-handed clampdowns on ICOs and Bitcoin exchanges within its borders. Behind the scenes, however, China has been aggressively investing in the technology, including but not limited to blockchain-specific investment funds, government-funded think tanks, a digital currency backed by the People’s Bank of China and even quantum computing that can potentially reverse-engineer the public key cryptography that secures blockchains.

在这方面,中国几乎占据了所有榜单的首位,尽管中国在加密货币领域因严厉打击境内的 ICOs 和比特币交易所而饱受诟病。

WHILE THE aforementioned nations have rolled out the red carpet for blockchain and cryptocurrency entrepreneurs to set up shop, America’s approach has not been as welcoming. A great deal of early blockchain development originated in the United States—a testament to the deep talent pool and innovative climate held over from the Internet days—but businesses in the space have been confronted by formidable legal and compliance hurdles that have prevented them from deploying their business models in the domestic market.


Serious cryptocurrency companies in the United States must either wait patiently in a state of regulatory purgatory, issue tokens through ill-fitting means that restrict the customer base and resale ability, or bypass the U.S. market altogether. The result is that only the well-capitalized projects that can stomach substantial legal expenses currently have staying power in the United States. A March 2018 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) outlined how the convoluted framework for financial technology, or fintech, regulation in the United States is weighing heavily on the sector’s development. Ten federal agencies have claimed some form of jurisdiction over fintech, of which blockchain and cryptocurrencies can be considered a large subset. While many of these agencies—such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC)—have taken laudably forward-thinking approaches to cryptocurrencies and understanding the technology, the complexity of the maze has made it challenging for startups to even know which regulator to call when they have a question.



Not surprisingly, the GAO report found that businesses trying to navigate this labyrinth are spending extraordinary amounts of money on legal fees. Several surveyed businesses reported spending half of their initial capital raise on compliance alone, and many have decided to simply leave the United States altogether.


While these regulations are ostensibly in place for consumer and investor protection purposes, the GAO found that consumers aren’t being prejudiced by fintech companies any more than they are by other types of financial service businesses. In fact, consumers were more likely on a weighted basis to file complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau against traditional financial institutions than fintech startups.

事实上,在加权基础上,消费者更有可能向消费者金融保护局 (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) 投诉传统金融机构,而非金融科技初创企业。

WHILE THERE are hurdles and unknowns associated with embracing any new technology, the greatest risk to the United States is that of sitting by idly in a state of “paralysis by analysis” as other nations aggressively advance ahead. Though blockchain is still in the experimental stage, the race to develop and utilize it is in full force. The societies that master it first will win out on both the technological and financial fronts.

尽管拥抱任何新技术都会遇到障碍和未知因素,但美国面临的最大风险是,随着其他国家积极向前推进,美国会无所事事地处于 "分析性瘫痪" 的状态。

To unlock their full economic potential, these networks must be integrated with financial, regulatory and legal systems. The countries that do this will realize substantial reductions in financial and regulatory overhead, along with an enhanced ability for regulators and law enforcement to monitor and police with less need for heavy-handed enforcement actions. These new digital currency networks will also weigh on the dollar’s reserve status should nations and private companies adopt them for business-to-business and cross-border payments without thought to the effects on the dollar.

如果各国和私营企业在不考虑美元受到的影响的情况下,将这些新的数字货币网络用于 B2B 和跨境支付,这些新的数字货币网络也将给美元的储备货币地位带来压力。

For now, the U.S. dollar still remains the dominant currency in international payments and trade. In 2014, 52 percent of all such transactions were settled in dollars, 31 percent in euros and 5 percent in pounds, according to SWIFT. Further, dollars were involved in 88 percent of all foreign currency exchanges in 2016, according to the Bank of International Settlements.

根据环球银行金融电信协会(SWIFT) 的数据,2014年,52% 的此类交易以美元结算,31% 以欧元结算,5% 以英镑结算。
此外,根据国际清算银行( Bank of International Settlements) 的数据,2016年,88% 的外汇交易涉及美元。

SIMILAR DOWNWARD pressure on the dollar—and disruption to the Bretton Woods system—will come from central banks transitioning from fiat to digital currencies. In April, Kim Yong-jin, South Korea’s Deputy Minister of Strategy and Finance, raised eyebrows by publicly calling on the country’s central bank to “consider the emergence of alternative payment methods such as cryptocurrencies as a threat to the existence of the traditional fiat system.”

今年4月,韩国战略与财政部副部长金永进公开呼吁该国央行" 考虑将加密货币等替代支付方式的出现,视为对传统法定货币体系存在的威胁",此言令人震惊。

Though not cryptocurrencies per se, central bank digital currencies will present additional digital alternatives to dollar-based settlement. For instance, the Chinese and Russian central securities depositories have been coordinating on blockchain usage for nearly two years, and are thought to be developing a smart contract–based scheme that would allow parties to settle directly using cross-currency swaps.


The exchange rates of such sovereign digital currencies will eventually be governed by protocols, algorithms, oracles and smart contracts, reducing the need for central banks to hold hard currencies in their foreign exchange reserves—of which dollars currently comprise 64 percent.

这些主权数字货币的汇率最终将由协议、算法、数据库和智能合同方案来控制,从而减少央行在外汇储备中持有硬通货的必要性——目前,硬通货占外汇储备的64% 。

As the recent Treasury report on financial innovation and regulatory reform articulates, Washington doesn’t have the luxury of devoting several years to studying the pros and cons of these ecosystems, only to then determine what role it wants to play. Rather, Washington must allow for these new global industries to be led by domestic entrepreneurs, innovators and thought leaders. Unlocking productive and responsible developments in this space requires leadership from either the White House or Congress to demand and provide the regulatory and definitional clarity that innovators have been seeking. Moving forward, a more progressive and forward-looking approach to regulating will be required, predicated on an understanding that Industrial Era–rules simply won’t work for long at the current rate of technological advancement.



As Schwab of the World Economic Forum articulated, an “agile governance” approach is required: “Regulators must continuously adapt to a new, fast-changing environment, reinventing themselves so they can truly understand what it is they are regulating.”

正如世界经济论坛的施瓦布所阐述的那样,"灵活治理" 方法是必要的:" 监管者必须不断适应快速变化的新环境,进行自我改造,这样他们才能真正理解他们所监管的是什么。"

This means that Congress and current involved regulators—particularly the CFTC, SEC, IRS, FinCEN and the Federal Reserve—must define the meaning of cryptocurrencies in the context of capital raising, investment or utilities, and articulate boundaries for innovators in this space while providing breathing room for experimentation. Over-regulating or creating excessive ambiguity will only exacerbate the current problems.

这意味着,国会和目前参与其中的监管机构——尤其是 CFTC、 SEC、 IRS、 FinCEN 和联邦储备委员会 ——必须在融资、投资或公用事业的背景下界定加密货币的含义,并为这一领域的创新者明确界限,同时为实验提供喘息空间。

The United States proved two decades ago the model for fomenting, spurring on and leading a technological revolution that transformed the world—freedom and restraint of regulatory zeal. If it incorporates those lessons learned and takes steps to reinvigorate and provide a streamlined means of experimentation for its entrepreneurs and innovators, it can serve as the epicenter of yet another world-changing technological transition.