Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian, representing the 32nd Middlesex district in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, recently introduced a bill proposing a special commission on blockchain and cryptocurrency (House Docket 2065). The Boston Blockchain Association applauds this initiative and would like to recognize Rep. Lipper-Garabedian for her leadership in this fast-growing industry.
Blockchain technology is fundamentally transforming financial markets and our entire monetary system. Best known as the technology that fuels bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, blockchain is also transforming industries as diverse as communications, healthcare, supply chain—not to mention government itself.
In our view, Rep. Lipper-Garabedian’s focus on blockchain and cryptocurrency is the right place to begin, since the markets for these digital assets have rapidly grown to over $1.5 trillion in value, according to industry reporting from CoinMarketCap. Given Massachusetts’ strength as a fintech hub (State Street, Fidelity, the Boston Federal Reserve, Fintech Sandbox), as well as an educational powerhouse (MIT, Harvard, Northeastern, BU, Babson, etc.), this is the right time and place to focus government efforts.
We also applaud the bill’s direction to appoint a commission to research blockchain and cryptocurrency, as the biggest challenge in this new industry is education. A commission, comprised of a broad array of government stakeholders, will help educate and inform these critical opinion leaders, allowing the Commonwealth to make deeply informed decisions on blockchain investments and infrastructure.
We are encouraged that our representatives plan to include blockchain experts from private industry and academia on the commission, as we are fortunate to have so many blockchain industry leaders right here in Massachusetts. This will not only accelerate learning, but also help provide better “feedback loops” between the public and private sectors, ultimately leading to better business and government.
Providing government with a forum to understand and accelerate blockchain technology development in Massachusetts will be a tremendous driver of jobs growth and economic reinforcement and development in the months and years ahead. It is very much like the early days of computing, where Massachusetts’ 128 belt became a globally recognized hub—or the early days of biotech, which has led to Cambridge becoming a global hub.
Today, as we begin the decade of the 2020’s, we have the opportunity to build the Commonwealth into the global hub of blockchain, and Rep. Lipper-Garabedian’s proposal is an excellent step forward. All boats will rise with the tide.
I want to shout it from the rooftops: ALL BLOCKCHAINS HAVE NETWORK EFFECTS!
People are pouring money into the blockchain market again, but they’re forgetting this one simple rule: the more people that use a blockchain, the more useful that blockchain becomes.
Today I’ll show you how to avoid their mistake – and a simple principle for investing in this new Gold Rush.
Network effects mean that every time someone joins the network, the network becomes more valuable for everyone. (Think the telephone, the Internet, or Facebook.)
More users = more usefulness.
For this reason, networks that are healthy and growing are usually good investments.
This is true in traditional stock investing, as well as blockchain investing. For example, here are two charts showing active users on Facebook vs. the market cap (or total value) of FB stock:
Over the long term, as Facebook continues to add new users, its stock price continues to grow. Compare that with Twitter:
Despite how much you may hear about Twitter, their growth has been relatively flat, and their stock price shows it. Now compare this with Snapchat:
It’s been a roller coaster ride for SNAP shareholders, but eventually more users generally mean a higher stock price. (Note this is over the long-term: even while Snapchat grew users in the first year after the IPO, their stock price cratered.)
So consider it a rule of thumb: networks that are healthy and growing are generally good long-term investments.
This is crazy relevant in the world of blockchain, where people are currently throwing gobs of money into the new ecosystem known as Decentralized Finance (or DeFi):
This new world of DeFi is confusing: I’ve called it a “rabbit hole within a rabbit hole.” Much of the growth is driven by people depositing their crypto as collateral to take out loans to borrow more crypto to use as collateral to take out more loans, and so on. It’s a hall of mirrors.
In these topsy-turvy markets, it’s easy to let greed get the best of us.
If we step back and simply ask ourselves, “Who is building valuable networks that are healthy and growing?” we can make much better decisions on where to invest in DeFi.
The key question: who is building valuable blockchain networks that are healthy and growing?
Here’s the total number of DeFi users over time, courtesy Dune Analytics:
That’s crazy growth. But note two things:
1) Scale matters. (Check the Y axis.) While Facebook has over 2.5 billion active users, the entire DeFi space has about half a million. Even lowly Snapchat has over 50 million users – that’s two orders of magnitude more than the entire DeFi space. Keep it in perspective.
2) Time matters. Social media networks have been around for years; this new space has been around for months. It’s like watching a baby going through a growth spurt and trying to predict whether he’ll be a basketball star.
Still, if DeFi can keep up this growth, investing in the tokens behind these projects could be like investing in FB stock in 2012. As Facebook users grew, so did the usefulness of the Facebook network – and the money soon followed.
Say it with me: BLOCKCHAINS HAVE NETWORK EFFECTS.
DeFi Growth by the Numbers
Let’s look at who’s growing. Here’s the number of users on the popular DeFi token exchange Uniswap:
Note that Y-axis on the left. Keep perspective on the total number of users for a DeFi project, not just the hockey-stick growth curve on the right. Uniswap has about a quarter of a million users, which (refer to the chart above) is roughly half the total number of users on DeFi. It’s tiny compared to Facebook, but within this niche, it’s enormous.
Then use Uniswap to exchange Ethereum for other tokens.
For example, here’s the number of users growing on the open-source money market protocol Aave:
Here’s the number of users growing on the interest rate protocol Compound:
Here’s the number of users on the liquidity protocol REN:
FULL DISCLOSURE: I bought all these tokens this week. Why? NETWORK EFFECTS.
Invest in Things vs. Investing in Value
Would you rather invest in a limited-edition iPhone, or the company that makes the limited-edition iPhone?
Would you rather invest in a top-of-the-line Tesla, or the company that makes Teslas?
Would you rather put money into a DeFi account, or invest in the company that’s producing the accounts?
When we see more people using these DeFi protocols, those networks are growing. And networks that are healthy and growing are generally good investments.
This is not an absolute rule. (Think of it as a rule of thumb.)
This is a long-term play. (On any given day, the price of FB stock may be down even though their users are up.)
Growth today does not mean growth tomorrow. (Remember MySpace?)
Also remember: investing in DeFi is still extremely risky. Do not invest more than you are willing to lose 100%! If you’re following our Blockchain Believers Portfolio, the easy way is just to Uniswap a little of your Ethereum into these new tokens – but no more than you’re willing to lose.
But the absolute simplest way of investing in DeFi is simply to buy and hold Ethereum. All this stuff is built on Ethereum, making it possibly the most valuable asset of all. Here’s the number of active users of Ethereum:
Note that users are still not as high as the bubble of 2017-2018, but back then the price of a single ETH was well over $1,000. Today you can buy it for around $400.
If you believe the network is healthy and growing, then shout it from the rooftops with me: NETWORK EFFECTS!
I’m an admirer of investor Ray Dalio, who founded Bridgewater Associates, the world’s largest hedge fund. It’s a fascinating origin story: as a young investor, Dalio was cocky and headstrong, making a number of lucky bets and quickly building Bridgewater into a successful investment firm.
“This game is easy,” he thought.
Then he made a bad market prediction – even going on national television to tell everyone about his prediction – only to find out that he was wrong. Bridgewater had made a bad bet, and he lost everything. (I can relate to this story, since it’s so similar to the story of my company Media Shower.)
Dalio had to lay off the entire company, except for one person: himself. Working alone from his kitchen, Dalio began to rebuild the company in a different way: by gathering different points of view, and trying through dialogue and debate to “find the truth together.”
Watch Ray’s terrific TED Talk.
He began collecting principles, or guidelines, for being a successful investor, running a successful company, and living a successful life.
At first, he collected these ideas in a Word doc and distributed them to employees as a PDF. Using these principles, Bridgewater became very successful indeed—causing some to wonder if Dalio was forming some kind of cult. The media began to wonder about the “secret document” that Dalio was using to indoctrinate his employees, so he made it freely available on their website.
That’s where I was introduced to Dalio’s principles. I downloaded the PDF, which contained over 200 principles, broken into three sections: The Importance of Principles, My Life Principles, and My Management Principles. Dalio was clear that these were his principles, and you were free to take or leave them: the point is to find your own principles.
Later this PDF was turned into a New York Times-bestselling book called Principles: Life and Work. I highly recommend the book (it’s on our Read and Grow Rich book list), or you can watch the 30-minute animated video, which is worth the time investment:
My own view on Dalio’s question is simply that bitcoin is the “on-ramp” to the new world of digital assets (tokens, cryptocurrencies, and the like). We’ve compared this to the traditional stock market by calling it the “block market.”
Because bitcoin was the first blockchain project, and the most successful blockchain project (as measured by users and total market cap), it is typically the way that people are first introduced to the “block market”: they buy a little bitcoin. It’s like exchanging your dollars for Euros at the airport: suddenly, you’re part of a new economy.
I agree with Dalio that bitcoin is not a storehold of wealth. It has failed its original vision as a digital money, because the price is so unpredictable. I also agree that it is primarily held by those who are hoping the price continues to go up, but I hesitate to call them “speculators.” Here’s why.
If bitcoin is the on-ramp for the entire digital asset market (the block market)…
And we expect this market to have rapid growth over the next decade (similar to the growth of the Internet)…
And there are no regulatory agencies to limit bitcoin’s price growth…
…then I see it as a sensible long-term investment, not a short-term speculation.
Put another way, the mistake is in thinking of bitcoin in its original purpose (a universal digital money). Let’s think of bitcoin instead as an on-ramp to get people into digital money. From bitcoin, it’s easy for anyone to get into cryptocurrencies, tokenized assets, DeFi applications, and so on: a parallel universe of money.
In this model, the biggest threat to bitcoin is that someone else comes up with a better blockchain on-ramp. In my view, this is likely. But where are these solutions today? Facebook Libra is tangled up in the nets of regulators. Central Bank Digital Currencies are coming, but they’ll be national (bitcoin is global). Stablecoins are making it easier to stablize the price of digital assets, but bitcoin has the biggest brand.
Technology moves quickly, but I can’t see any bitcoin killers on the horizon. That’s why I invest.
Blockchain Investing Principles
In the spirit of Dalio’s principles, I’ll recap some of the blockchain investing principles that I write about frequently (explained in more detail in my investing book). Like Dalio, I’ll also reveal some of our early mistakes, and what we learned from them.
Principle 1: Think of blockchain investments like stocks. Even though many blockchain projects are not companies, think about the underlying project like a company. If the underlying protocol or app is large, useful, and growing, it’s worth further consideration.
When we started this newsletter during the great Blockchain Boom of 2017, we spent a lot of time trying to analyze Initial Coin Offerings. The problem is that it’s really hard to invest in a project without any users: you’re going on the team and an idea. In the stock market, this is “angel investing.” In the block market, it’s pretty much gambling.
It’s a better strategy to find established blockchain projects that are large and growing. Here the block market offers a huge competitive advantage to the stock market: it’s transparent. So you can see for yourself whether a blockchain “company” (read: project) is strong, healthy, and growing.
Principle 2: Understand the underlying “business.” Like investing in a traditional business, be able to explain what the blockchain project actually does. What unique problem does it solve? If it’s attracting lots of users, why? Can you try out the product or service yourself?
Here again, the early days of blockchain were rife with speculators, and “trading tokens” became a pastime, without any thought of the underlying value. This behavior caused a lot of people to write off the whole industry as a “scam,” but there is value: a tremendous amount. You have to do homework.
Way back in 2018, we created a “homework framework” with our Blockchain Investor Scorecard, which helps you analyze the strength of the underlying “business.” This framework has been academically published and peer-reviewed, and used by thousands of investors. We hope you find it useful.
Principle 3: Look for tokens trading at a discount. If Principle 1 is quantitative (analyze metrics that show you blockchains that are large and growing), and Principle 2 is qualitative (evaluate the strength of the underlying “business”), then Principle 3 focuses on price.
For a recent example, I recently bought a large position in Uniswap. I saw the user growth in the chart above (Principle 1). I used the product myself and thought it was not only easy to use, but incredibly useful (Principle 2). When they launched a new governance token, I got in early – at $5.50 per UNI.
A few days later, UNI was trading about $2.00. In just a few days, I lost more than half my investment.
In retrospect, this was like buying a traditional IPO on the day it launches. It may have been better to wait to see where the price landed before investing. It has not dampened my enthusiasm for Uniswap (and the price is already above $4.00 as I write this), but it shows the importance of price.
Price is relative. Just as we might value home prices by comparing similar homes in the same neighborhood, we can value similar blockchain projects to get baseline metrics, like price per user. For blockchain platforms and protocols, we can add in metrics like app growth, or price per power user.
But as the legendary investor Ben Graham taught Warren Buffett: “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.” So sometimes we have to look across categories of blockchain investment and compare apples to oranges.
Imagine you’re at the grocery store. Per pound, the apples are cheaper than the oranges, but what’s the value of the apples relative to the oranges? Will the apples keep longer? Do you enjoy oranges more? Are you hankering for an apple pie, or do you have scurvy?
When we compare the market cap of bitcoin ($339 billion) with Ethereum ($57 billion), does that mean bitcoin is overvalued, Ethereum is undervalued, neither, or both? What is the value – especially the future value – relative to the price?
In my view, Dalio is right: nobody really buys anything with bitcoin. The price is too volatile. Banks are afraid of it. But it does serve as a powerful on-ramp to the block market. Bitcoin is the gateway drug, and that has incredible value.
Ethereum has become the de facto platform for blockchain development, and history teaches us that technology platforms usually consolidate into one or two big winners: Apple and Windows, iPhone and Android, Google and Bing. Currently Ethereum is #1, with lots of platforms trying to be #2. That makes a long-term investment in ETH a pretty good bet.
Blockchain Principles in Action
Now, let’s put these principles into practice with BTC and ETH.
Qualitative: If Bitcoin and Ethereum were companies, we’d say they each have a big role to play in the future financial system. Indeed, they are the foundation of the new “block market” (the on-ramp and the development platform, respectively).
Quantitative: Bitcoin and Ethereum both show strong and growing user adoption (Ethereum even more so, because of the network effects of new apps built on top of it). They are both battle-tested, with healthy communities of both users and developers.
Price: If blockchain is eating the global financial system, what percentage will it eat? And what percentage of that value will we give to BTC and ETH, the two leading projects? These same questions can be applied to every part of the financial system as blockchain swallows them up: mutual funds, derivatives, commodities, collectibles real estate, and so on.
In broad strokes, those are our principles in action. But we’re always looking to get better. This space moves quickly, so we try to keep a beginner’s mindset and remain lifelong learners. In the spirit of “finding the truth together,” I invite your feedback.
I have a dream for the next four years. It’s one word: unity.
I’m writing this from the United States of America, where unity is literally part of our name. (It’s not called the Bickering States of America.)
Unity does not mean that everyone agrees on every issue. To the contrary, unity means thoughtful disagreement, finding the truth together – in service of a greater whole.
That whole may be called the “soul” of a nation. It is an ideal, a greater purpose. It’s the national DNA, the spirit of the country, deeply woven into our minds and hearts.
In the United States, we still have these ideals. They are the values that are passed down from generation to generation: hard work, equal opportunity, a spirit of innovation. We are the “Land of Opportunity,” the “Great Melting Pot,” the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.”
To be sure, the United States is not perfect. We glorify war, starting with our own War of Independence. Much of our economy was built on the backs of slaves. We have often acted as the World Police. The United States is a human invention, and humans are works in progress.
But there can be no doubt that the founders intended us to be the United States of America. It’s right there in the name.
E pluribus unum: “out of the many, one.” It’s literally on our money.
The Great American Experiment
Last fall, a group of Stanford political scientists created a project called America in One Room. They got 500 Americans in one room, from all across the political spectrum, and engaged them in true dialogue and debate with each other. They called it “Deliberative Democracy.”
The New York Times interviewed these Americans one year later, and the results seemed to stick. Because they had developed a habit of listening to each other, these Americans were less likely to mindlessly accept their party line. One of the project organizers explained how it changed people: “You think a little bit more about the issues. You ask questions. You deliberate, even if you only do it with yourself.”
This habit of “listening and thinking” is a good habit for us to learn. It is the fix for one of the worst habits of our time, which is a neurotic fixation on what divides us, instead of what unites us.
This bad habit is what makes us willing to fight like crazy on a handful of issues (abortion, gun control, immigration), while ignoring potentially bigger issues (education, artificial intelligence, and cloning). If ever there were room for debate, for fresh voices and new choices, it is in these next-generation issues—but we’re stuck in the same old habit loops.
The dividing of the world into “us” versus “them” is a bad habit. Today it is so common as to be a reflex. My political party is right, yours is wrong. My clever tweet will show you how dumb yours is. When a leader speaks, we immediately think, What an idiot.
Why do we do this? Because it helps us feel superior.
Talking about the idiot who runs the [fill in the blank] just reinforces our own sense of superiority. That feels good. It’s like complaining about your spouse to your friends, or tearing down your co-workers behind their back. It has literally the same effect on happiness and productivity.
The “America In One Room” experiment is an example of reframing this view. It is a new model. Instead of “us versus them,” it’s all “us.” Within that “us,” there is still room for disagreement and thoughtful debate. It’s not about changing minds! Everyone can still hold the same view at the end of the day. We can agree to disagree. But we’re listening and thinking.
That makes us stronger and better, because we’re serving a higher purpose. E pluribus unum.
It’s On the Money
Why did the governments of yesteryear put that motto on U.S. money? Because they realized that unity brings prosperity.
War destroys value. Fighting drains energy. Bickering and arguing – as we all know from personal experience – is time-consuming and exhausting. Like a dysfunctional family reunion, as the country has grown more divided, the country has also grown more tired.
Peace brings prosperity. When we are working in harmony, like a good family or a well-run team, we can accomplish much more than we can accomplish alone. Unity creates efficiency: we are faster, better, stronger. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Unity gives energy. Partners in a happy marriage accomplish more than mates on the brink of divorce. Companies with high-performing teams are more successful than companies with politics and backbiting. Good partnerships are more productive than partners who are suing each other.
But unity is also more fun. If you’ve ever been part of a great team – in sports, business, or your personal life – you know that it’s a pleasure. The work becomes worthwhile. When we are contributing to something greater than ourselves, it gives our lives purpose and meaning.
Do you retain your individuality? Yes. Are you part of something bigger? Yes. We can hold both in our minds. Just as we can be “united states,” we can be “united individuals.”
One Nation, One Money, One World
In our world of blockchain investing, I spend a lot of time talking about unity (One World, One Money). This is because I know that unity brings prosperity. The best way for us to create a global financial system is to agree that we’re creating a global financial system.
Then we will be unstoppable.
Over the next four years, the United States has the opportunity to lead this new global financial system. If we don’t, someone else will. This is inevitable. We already live in a global economy; we just need the global money to make it easier. It’s simple and obvious.
But the United States cannot take the lead in unifying the world until we unify ourselves.
We’ve got to get together for a common purpose, to serve our ideals despite our differences. That starts in our hearts. It starts at the individual level, avoiding the bad habit of carving the world into “me vs. you,” and learning the good habit of “listening and thinking.”
If bitcoin were a physical coin, E pluribus unum would be a good motto to put on its face. Because it’s not just a slogan for America. It’s a motto for the world.
We’re many and varied, but we’re one human race. Out of the many, one. E pluribus unum.
We have a vision for where this kind of partnership can go, when governments begin educating themselves on the power of bitcoin and blockchain. That vision can be summed up in two words: Kendall Square.
The Kendall Square neighborhood lies next to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, stretching along the Charles River that separates Cambridge from Boston. (Here’s a map.) Although you’d think this would be valuable real estate, a series of unfortunate events led this area into decay and decline from the 1970s through the 1990s. Residents avoided the area after dark.
I remember it vividly, because I got my first job there.
When I stepped off the Kendall Square subway line for my job interview as a fresh-faced college student, it was a concrete wasteland. I walked through empty parking lots, the wind whipping whirling dervishes of dust around me. The area felt so desolate and lonely that I expected to see a tumbleweed roll by.
The job, it turned out, was a weird one. Located within one of those crumbling brick buildings in Kendall Square was a company that specialized in telephone-based chat rooms, and they needed college students to serve as operators.
Before the Internet, a phone-based chat room – also known as a “party line” – was a kind of special number that you could call to chat with other strangers. Unlike 1-800 toll-free numbers, “1-900 numbers” were “toll-full,” with a per-minute fee to call in (“20 cents for the first minute, 10 cents for every other minute,” as we had to remind callers several times an hour). Based on what the operators got paid, it must have been a a wildly profitable business.
This line was marketed to teens, so huge numbers of bored teenagers would call in just to chat with other teenagers. The conversation was usually innocuous – in fact, we had strict orders to disconnect anyone using inappropriate language – but some kids would really get hooked on the service, spending weeks on the chat line. Then their parents would get the phone bill, and we’d never hear from them again.
As an operator, I sat behind an enormous digital switchboard, with little LEDs representing each person connected to the chat line. Friday and Saturday nights were crazy, with easily a hundred callers at a time. They were grouped into chat rooms of 10 callers each, and I had godlike powers to disconnect troublemakers, or speak with them one-on-one in a private room.
As college jobs go, it was a pretty good one. I often worked the overnight shift, which paid $1.00 more per hour. It was totally unsupervised, although they hired auditors to occasionally listen in and make sure you hadn’t fallen asleep on the job. (Apparently this was a problem.)
I had a window view of the vacant lots of Kendall Square, and I would stare out at the lonely streetlights as I listened to teenagers talk about Dawson’s Creek, or discuss how awesome they were at doing skateboard tricks. There was another company that ran 1-900 sex lines out of the office down the hall, so occasionally I would hear them through the thin walls. Their job sounded a lot more exciting.
It was a good college job, there in the wasteland of Kendall Square, and I left with my virtue intact. At sunrise, I would clock out, walking back through the asphalt jungle to my dorm room. If a traveler from the future had dropped in and said to me, “In 25 years, this will be the life sciences hub of the world! Genetic engineering! Drug development! Fabulous technology companies!”, then I would have had only one question.
The education started at the local level, in Cambridge City Council meetings during the 1970s about the ethics of genetic engineering. Cambridge was seeing MIT researchers and startup companies exploring new frontiers in molecular biology, and a small group of residents became concerned. The city eventually took it upon themselves to regulate this growing industry.
Far from scaring off new biotech firms, that regulation began to welcome this new industry: not only did citizens and government leaders better accept and understand the science, but Cambridge became more attractive for biotech firms to set up their headquarters, since the city had a clear regulatory framework.
(Similarly, today’s blockchain industry is a confusing mishmash of conflicting regulations. The city or country that first develops this kind of regulatory framework will win.)
Thus, city-level government played a big role in rolling out the red carpet that transformed Kendall Square. But so did state-level government: in 2008, Gov. Deval Patrick rolled out a 10-year, $1 billion life sciences plan. It offered tax incentives for startups and established firms. It awarded grants for projects to treat blood diseases, bone grafts, and kidney failure. It made life sciences a “thing.”
Lured by the incentives, not to mention easy access to fresh talent from MIT and Harvard, biotech companies flocked to Kendall Square, which was transformed from a desert of parking lots into an oasis of sleek glass office buildings.
Governor Patrick’s 2008 plan was followed by an additional $500 million from his successor, Governor Charlie Baker, to keep the pipeline of jobs and innovation flowing. Now with the race for a COVID-19 vaccine in full-on sprint mode, Kendall Square-based companies like Moderna may become ground zero for the cure.
Kendall Square is now a leading example of the “innovation economy,” not a zero-sum game of producers and consumers, but a rapidly expanding pie based on continual innovation. And Cambridge is not the only U.S. city: Raleigh-Durham, NC has developed its Research Triangle; Madison, WI has become a hub for tech entrepreneurship; and cities like Denver, Salt Lake City, and Charleston are all growing an innovation economy.
What it takes, however, is government commitment. And commitment starts with communication. Which leads us to the big announcement.
How to Build an Innovation Economy
As you can read in the press release, our company Media Shower has partnered with the Innovation Institute at Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to create a Blockchain Education for Government Innovators series.
In plain language, this means we’re meeting with people on the leading edge of Massachusetts government – the same type of forward-thinkers who built the innovation economy of Kendall Square – to discuss how blockchain might offer the next leap forward.
It’s something like those early Cambridge City Council meetings, where everyone got educated on this new field called biotechnology. That understanding allowed a thousand flowers to bloom, digging up those concrete parking lots and planting a thriving biotech hub. It brought life sciences to life.
The need to educate our government leaders about blockchain has never been greater. The coming changes to the global economy will require governments to find new ways of creating and managing money, and blockchain technology offers future-thinking governments a way to think about the future.
It is easy, in these times, to fall into cynicism about the state of our government, to think that no one decent or honest is left in the system. Our experience has been the opposite: we have been encouraged by the smart, thoughtful people working with us in this blockchain education series. They understand a good deal about bitcoin and blockchain, and they’re eager to learn more.
Working with the government, has actually restored my faith in government. That’s good news. And next time you’re in Cambridge, take a walk through Kendall Square. It’s living proof that good government can make a difference.
I point you to the excellent research done by economist Bo Zhao at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. He has put together a model that accurately predicts future state income tax revenue based on current unemployment levels.
For example, here’s how his model predicts “low-unemployment” and “high-unemployment” tax revenue for the state of Massachusetts, where I live. (To simplify, I will call these “best-case” and “worst-case” scenarios.)
Zhao has used his model to predict future income tax revenue for New England, and the results aren’t pretty. (Note to international readers: “New England” is our term for the six states in the northeastern U.S.)
This chart only tells part of the story, since the six states have different-sized tax revenues to begin with. So here it is as a percentage loss for 2020:
As we’ve covered in previous columns, states get most of their revenue from income and sales tax — people earning and spending. When people aren’t working and they aren’t spending, this creates a “debt cycle”:
If you’re the national government, you can “print money” to cover the shortfall. (As we’ve discussed, this devalues the money that we all hold — see our discussion on Mom Bucks for a funny explanation.)
If you’re a state government, however, you can’t print money. States have to balance their budgets. (Imagine that.) This means they’re put in the position of waiting for handouts from the federal government.
Although the U.S. federal government has supported states with the CARES Act, this money has come with strings attached: it must be used for coronavirus-related expenses.
But what if the entire economy is impacted by COVID-19?
In other words, states still have to pay teachers and first responders. They’ve got to keep the roads and bridges in good repair. They must support local businesses who have problems of their own. All these things are affected by the CoronaCrisis — it’s all connected.
Zhao makes the case that the federal government should recognize that much more aid will be needed, without all the strings attached. After all, it’s not just like the states can print their own money.
Or can they?
Why Your Groceries are So Expensive
The loss of income tax revenue is one part of the problem. Before I offer the solution, let’s look at the other part of the problem: prices are going up.
In our recent article on hyperinflation, we discussed that one of the first “early warning signs” is rapidly accelerating prices for everyday goods. That’s why we’ve been closely watching the Consumer Price Index for signs this might be happening.
The CPI is compiled monthly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to monitor the cost of everyday goods like food, clothing, energy, and transportation. They poll thousands of stores and retail establishments across dozens of cities, and they’ve been doing it for the last 100 years.
First, the good news: the overall change in consumer prices is just +0.6% over the last year (June 2020 vs. June 2019), which is tiny. But dig into specific consumer goods, and you’ll see trouble on the horizon.
If you’ve been thinking, “Boy, my grocery purchases sure seem more expensive,” this could explain it. Just like the pandemic itself, the pain is unevenly distributed: unhealthy luxuries like tobacco, sugar, and meat are accompanied by a rise in health insurance costs. For people who consume a lot of these items, this is a double whammy.
At the same time, we’ve got other industries that are evaporating, as shown by radical decreases in prices on items like these:
It’s probably common sense that the price of gas, airfare, and hotels is plummeting (no one’s traveling), as well as the price of clothing and jewelry (who needs to dress up anymore?). But think about entire sectors of the economy drying up: so does the sales tax on those items.
So we have second-order effects, as the people in those industries are now out of work (lost income tax), which means now they have even less money to spend (even more lost sales tax).
So states have three big factors at play:
unemployment is high (loss of income tax);
spending is down (loss of sales tax);
prices for basic essentials like food are up (so citizens can buy less with their money).
This is a perfect economic storm. Fortunately, we do have a solution … if we get moving on it now.
The Solution (Again): Blockchain Bonds
Traditionally, states have used bond offerings to raise new funds for major projects — say, a new school or subway. But when citizens are just trying to afford pork chops, who’s going to buy municipal bonds?
If you’re just joining us, a blockchain bond is like a traditional municipal bond, but issued using blockchain technology. (More on blockchain bonds here.) This makes it cheaper (for the state), more transparent (for the investor), and ultimately more successful (because blockchain is sexy).
As an investor, these work just like traditional bonds:
You loan your money to a local government (i.e., you buy a blockchain bond).
The government uses the funds to invest in some new project.
They issue regular payments on the money you’ve loaned them (like interest), using blockchain tokens or “digital dollars.”
They repay the full amount at the end of the time period (usually a few years).
All this is trackable on blockchain-based digital ledgers, like an “open book.”
These blockchain bonds are already being issued by institutions like the World Bank and governments like Australia and Thailand. (They are also being called “smart bonds,” which makes you wonder what the usual bonds should be called.)
Put simply, blockchain bonds are a way to renew interest in the municipal bond market, and thus cover the financial crisis facing local governments.
The problem, as with everything in blockchain, is regulation.
We are calling on both of these organizations to drop everything, cancel their summer vacation plans, and start working on this. At least issue a Point of View, a Research Brief, a Feasibility Study — some kind of roadmap to how states are going to cover their budget problems.
Until now, the states have been pretty much on their own. COVID-19 testing? Figure it out yourselves. PPE supply chain issues? Figure it out yourselves. Reopening schools? Figure it out yourselves.
Finding new ways of generating state revenue? Follow the trend line. Figure it out yourselves.
Why Investors Will Buy Blockchain Bonds
Those who haven’t worked in the digital asset space don’t understand the insatiable hunger for an offering of this kind.
You need only look back at the “crypto mania” of 2017 to see the global demand for blockchain-based offerings. Today, blockchain investments that are backed by legitimate, “real-world” assets are skyrocketing in value — as we can see by the growth of stablecoins like Tether and USDC.
No government has really done this right. The way to do it right is to communicate the bonds as a new type of investment in a new future. Tie it into the great national themes like freedom and opportunity, and the great human themes like resilience and optimism.
To sum things up:
A “perfect economic storm” is on the horizon for local governments (both in the U.S. and elsewhere);
Local governments need to be exploring new revenue opportunities now;
Blockchain-based “smart bonds” allow a faster, cheaper way of raising money;
The technology is in place, so the MSRB and SEC are the two government agencies that need to pave the way for approval;
A huge education and awareness campaign is essential to ensure the public understands these new bond offerings.
Assuming that we explain to everyday investors how they work (in plain language), how to analyze good investments and stay away from the bad ones (remember: not all states will be able to pay them back), blockchain bonds will be a win/win for both governments and citizens.
The more they invest in their local governments, the more citizens will want to see those governments succeed. People will have more skin in the game — which will be a good thing for the economy, and for investors.
The states are in trouble. Fortunately, there’s a way out. This is the road map.
I’m quoting directly from the Federal Reserve History website, which is ironic, given that the Fed has aggressively printed money since the start of the CoronaCrisis. The Fed’s balance sheet now stands at $7 trillion, which hides the true cost of the Coronavirus.
McAdoo understood something about human psychology: When people pay for something, they’re more likely to believe in it.
Buy a company’s stock, and you’re more likely to become a fan of that business. Pay your own way through college, and you’re more likely to study hard. Buy a book, and you’re more likely to read it.
Most economists are not great psychologists, but McAdoo was an exception. He financed World War I through a combination of raising taxes (#1) and borrowing from the public (#2), in the form of Liberty Bonds. In so doing, he avoided printing money (#3).
By printing money, we’ve already “forgotten” about the true cost of the Coronavirus. The problem is that there are likely a lot more costs to come: everything from restarting the economy to distributing a vaccine. And if we continue to print money, we run a danger of entering hyperinflation.
We can take a page from history, and launch a modern-day “Liberty Bond” ad campaign as a way to not only finance the CoronaCrisis, but to laser-focus public opinion on our need to defeat it.
McAdoo (heh) insisted on a massive PR campaign to promote the bonds, so the public would have a chance to buy them, protecting himself from criticism that only large financial institutions would profit. In the end, about half the bonds were sold to retail investors (i.e., the public), raising about $16.7 billion.
In today’s money, that would be about $7 trillion. (Or roughly the size of the Fed’s balance sheet.)
The federal government launched a massive ad campaign with billboards, posters, buttons, and stickers. Much of the ad space was donated by patriotic media companies, with leading artists painting the advertisements and top Hollywood stars donating their time to the cause.
McAdoo (still funny) focused his efforts around three big initiatives:
Educating the public. They were called “Liberty Bonds,” in part, to make the public aware of the costs of the war, and remind them of the financial strength of the United States.
Appealing to the higher good. The government was, in effect, asking people to reduce spending and loan this money to the government—which it did by appealing to their higher nature.
Volunteer effort. The entire Liberty Bond campaign was managed by volunteers, eliminating broker and sales commissions, meaning the government was able to keep more of the proceeds.
Most importantly, Liberty Bonds galvanized public sentiment toward the war. When the government prints money (as we’re doing today), it hides the true cost. When we personally make a sacrifice (by saving instead of spending), we all have skin in the game.
The Liberty Bond ad campaign told a great story: “we’re all in this together.” With the Coronavirus, we have no such story. In fact, it threatens to rip us apart.
Blockchain Bonds: How They Work and Why We Need Them
We’ve taken the classic Liberty Bond posters and updated them for the modern age. These posters can be used for states and governments who need to raise funds in a pinch (caveat: we still need to get the regulatory issues sorted out—but where there’s political will, there’s a way).
Governments will do well to spend about 8-10% of the total bond offering on advertising. This should be heavily tilted toward local citizens, to give them a “first chance” at a new blockchain bond offering.
The increased media spend will help local economies, especially when buying up unused ad space in local markets (think of all those local billboards and TV stations devastated by the pandemic).
There is a risk. If done poorly, the bonds will not sell well, and this will hurt public morale. Like Liberty Bonds, it is preferable to sell them in a series of “brief but intense campaigns.” If at all possible, try to oversubscribe the offerings (i.e., make sure demand outweighs supply). You want them to sell out.
Governments should be transparent about how the funds raised by their blockchain bonds will be used (for example, supporting school systems or first responders). Appeal to the higher good.
Campaign images should focus on the higher virtues, such as bravery, persistence, integrity, citizenship, and hope. These are the great human themes that resonate throughout all great human movements.
If done well, blockchain bonds will become a movement. They will help us raise money to invest back into our governments, improving our local school systems and keeping our first responders in uniform.
If done well, blockchain bonds will help us see the true cost of Coronavirus, and unite us in our will to eradicate it (it ain’t over until V-Day).
If done well, blockchain bonds will galvanize public opinion: we’re all in this together.
Because we are all in this together. We literally are.
John Hargrave is the bestselling author of BLOCKCHAIN FOR EVERYONE and a founding member of the Boston Blockchain Association.
In the classic fable The Ant and the Grasshopper, you’ll remember the ant worked hard all summer to prepare for the winter, while the grasshopper sat around playing jazz violin.
“You gonna store away any food?” asked the ant.
The grasshopper waved him away. “I’m practicing my arpeggios, man,” he said, folding his long legs underneath him and retuning his strings.
Then winter came. The ant was warm and cozy inside his comfortably-furnished ant farm, when he heard a knock at the door. “Who is it?” asked the ant.
“It is I, the grasshopper. I am dying from hunger. Please, do you have any food to spare?”
“Maybe you can go play a few gigs with your jazz orchestra!” replied the ant.
“Please, sir, I am a solo violinist,” begged the grasshopper from outside. “I have no jazz combo.”
“Well then,” replied the ant, “you’ll have to eat your violin.”
The moral of the story: ants are a-holes.
Preparing for the Winter
The good news is that we will make it through the winter. We’re humans, and humans are resilient. “Making it through” is kind of what we do. In fact, we’ve been through a lot worse – war, famine, Achy Breaky Heart – and we turned out OK.
If you look at this time as one big stress test of the human species, we’re passing the test. Sure, we lost JCPenney, but they were going down anyway. All told, this has been very difficult – and it’s difficult for all of us, in different ways – but we’ve pulled through.
That’s the good news. The bad news is this ain’t over yet.
We’re most likely in the second inning of this ballgame, not the eighth. If Coronavirus behaves like other flu viruses, it will slow down a bit in the summer, but it could be back with a vengeance in the fall. Now is not the time to practice jazz violin: like the ant, now is the time to prepare.
While pandemics are hard to predict, we’ve laid out a likely timeline of what comes next. Remember: the vaccine is the goal. Vaccine means victory, which is why we are calling it “V-Day.” Then we can clear out the economic wreckage and rebuild a great new society. It will all be worth it.
In the meantime, we must prepare for the winter.
Over the last several weeks, we’ve been laying out a vision for the future, offering blockchain-based solutions to the biggest problems brought about by this pandemic. We’ve mapped these to the three “Acts” of this great drama:
Act 1: Blockchain-based supply chains can help us get critical equipment where it’s needed in Wave 2 of the virus, and may be helpful for basic supplies (depending on how bad things get).
Act 2: Blockchain “immunity passports” (a.k.a. “FastYes”) will tell us who’s been tested, which will give businesses and consumers more confidence they can start working and spending again.
Act 3: Blockchain bonds (also called “digital bonds”) will be a way that states and countries can quickly raise money in the meantime, similar to war bonds.
These times have been tough. But like the fable of The Ant and the Grasshopper, times may get tougher. We’ve got to work hard now to prepare for the future.
Best case scenario: Things quickly bounce back to normal, the global economy snaps back into place, and we all live happily ever after. But “hoping for best case scenario” (i.e., practicing jazz violin) is not really a plan.
This isn’t over until we get a vaccine, which most scientific experts (not politicians) think is 12 to 18 months away. Right now, everyone is just trying to figure out what to do next, but the smart money – like the ant — is planning for the future.
There’s one easy way you can contribute to this effort: spread the word.
Spread the Word, Not the Germ
If COVID-19 is the virus, good communication is the antivirus.
Good communication is explaining:
we’ve still got big problems;
we’ve also got the solutions to those problems;
we need to get moving on them now.
Share this column. Tweet these ideas. Talk about these solutions with your family and friends.
For our part, we’re creating massive communication campaigns around these ideas over the coming months. Like the ant, summer is the time to start preparing for a possible Wave 2 in the winter, when the flu season kicks back in.
Our first ebook is now ready for download. We hope you’ll share it as widely as you can.
Amid all the talk about “opening up the economy,” there’s one big question. How?
Imagine you’re the owner of a fitness club. The CoronaCrisis shutdown has nearly destroyed your business, with most of your customers canceling their gym memberships, but you’ve managed to stay afloat. Now you can finally, cautiously open up your club again.
Do your customers wear masks on the StairMaster? Do you sanitize every weight machine after every customer uses it? Do you move all the treadmills six feet apart and hope no one coughs?
As the economy begins cautiously opening up, it’s strange to see pictures of customers in restaurants wearing masks. How do they eat?
We’ve talked about a #NewNormal, but there’s nothing normal about this. Wearing masks is just not part of the experience at Walt Disney World, or a beauty salon, or a football game. And leaving behind the science and the politics, some people are just not going to go outside without a mask.
There is high anxiety around COVID-19. Even with protection, people are afraid to leave the house. Even if they’re not afraid, they’re thinking twice.
Will some people come to your gym, or your beauty salon, or your football game? Yes.
Will some people feel safe enough to go without a mask? Yes.
But how many? That’s the $80 trillion question.
Will eighty percent of your gym members show up? Fifty percent? Twenty percent? The implied reasoning is that if some of your gym members show up, others will too. Then the virus magically goes away, and business bounces “back to normal.”
Hoping the virus magically goes away is not really a great plan for the future. Fortunately, blockchain provides a better solution. We’ll call it “FastYes.”
Introducing FastYes: A QR Code on Your Phone
Before you go in the fitness club, you scan a QR code on your phone, and the scanner turns green. You’re safe. Inside the gym, things really are “back to normal.” No masks. No weirdness. Unlike the days before Coronavirus, people are actually diligent about wiping down the equipment.
Behind the scenes, it’s a blockchain-based technology that is checking:
Safety: whether you have been tested
Privacy: without your personal information being revealed
This is important, especially in America, where safety and privacy are the two great concerns.
These two values – safety and privacy – must be kept in balance, and FastYes neatly solves for both. Here’s how it works.
You get tested: You go to your doctor to get tested for Coronavirus.
You receive a health file: Your doctor gives you a clean bill of health. Or more accurately, a clean file of health, since this information is stored in a digital file that you hold. (Think of this like a doctor handing you a photocopy of your immunization records.)
We check that your file matches your doctor’s file: Imagine we now put your immunization record in a file folder, and confirm that it matches the file in your doctor’s folder.
We store a record of this “match” on the blockchain. This is not your personal information, just a record that the two files match. (For blockchain geeks: we’re storing a hash of the record, not the record itself.)
When you scan your QR code, it verifies the match: When you go into the store or restaurant, the FastYes app is just confirming that the two files match – without the file itself ever changing hands.
Another way to think of this: imagine that you hold a key, and your healthcare provider holds a key. Both keys have to fit the lock.
The FastYes record can be set to expire in a day, a week, or ten years. It can be issued by any qualified healthcare provider. And it’s totally free to use, anywhere in the world. (Though you will need programmers to help you set it up.)
This technology is ready to go. There are several tech companies that have a working solution in place today. For example, check out the open-source Blockcerts platform, which creates trusted blockchain-based “credentials” without compromising privacy.
Dwight Schrute Has Questions
Your file won’t match your doctor’s file. That’s a FastNo.
Your healthcare provider still has a copy on hand. (Just like your immunization records.)
In North Dakota, they tried rolling out their own COVID-19 tracing app (without blockchain), and only about 4% of state residents have downloaded it. We’ll give North Dakota an A for effort, but a D for teamwork.
We can do better than this. How?
Working together: We will pull together a broad coalition of states to use the same solution (rather than everybody inventing their own solution);
Using blockchain: The technology really will protect citizen privacy, avoiding the concerns of being tracked by Big Brother;
Communicating well: We will have a massive PR and media campaign to simply explain the benefits of FastYes, while explaining the benefits of citizen privacy.
This isn’t just a short-term solution to get us through the next few months; it’s a 100-year solution for the future. Here’s why.
“Laying the Pipes”
In times of great crisis, we often build our greatest infrastructure. We “lay the pipes” for future generations.
The CoronaCrisis is our opportunity to create a new kind of healthcare infrastructure, and this will have not just short-term benefits to our local economies, but long-term benefits for the months and years ahead. Think of this in three waves:
Basic Testing: For now, all we’ve got is tests that tell us whether you have COVID-19. So for now, critical workers (teachers, daycare workers, medical professionals) will get a weekly test so we can all feel safe. (This is similar to how sex workers are required to get weekly STD tests in places like Nevada.)
Antibody testing: While we do not yet have an antibody test that is 100% accurate, the FastYes platform will be able to track antibody test results, if and when we get a reliable test that shows us who’s already had the virus.
Vaccine: But the main event is the vaccine. We are not out of the woods until we get a vaccine. And once we have reached V-Day, then we need a way of knowing who’s received the vaccine, just like we require immunization records for children on their first day of school.
In short, FastYes is a much-needed upgrade of our entire immunization recordkeeping system to something that is digital, portable, and citizen-owned. (Parents: no more tracking down your children’s immunization records when they switch schools.)
Best of all, FastYes does all this while still maintaining your privacy.
Like TSA Pre, But Without the Big Brother
The experience of going through airport security is pretty terrible.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States moved airport security away from third-party contractors to a professionally-trained branch of federal government: the Department of Homeland Security. It might have made things safer, but it definitely made things slower:
Take off your shoes.
Take off your belt.
Take all the metal out of your clothes.
Put your laptop in a separate bin.
Drink all your water.
Throw out all your liquids.
Even then, you could be pulled aside for a manual check. Or a random inspection. Or they might hand search your luggage, because the X-ray scanners might nervously flag anything from a Bluetooth speaker to peanut butter.
And they did this for Every. Single. Passenger.
Frequent travelers made use of TSA PreCheck™, which is the government’s equivalent of Disney’s FastPass+. Compared to the usual airport experience, it was a dream: you didn’t have to take off your clothes, you went through a regular metal detector, and the lines were generally shorter.
Here’s the problem: TSA Pre™ requires you to give up your privacy. (They should call it TSA No-Pri.)
To get approved for TSA Pre™, you go to an enrollment center, where they do a background check and take your fingerprints. Fingerprints! You also pay an $85 membership fee (even criminals get fingerprinted for free).
According to the TSA, over 10 million people have gone through this cumbersome, expensive, time-consuming process—all to save a little time at the airport. We can do better than this.
Imagine if we made the FastYes virus tracking process as easy as downloading an app.
Then imagine if we made it free.
It’s Not an Immunity Passport; It’s a “FastYes”
Some people have floated the idea of a COVID-19 “immunity passport,” which is a terrible name. Both words are wrong.
Immunity: There’s currently no test that can guarantee you have immunity from COVID-19. (Unless you’re dead, but then you don’t need the test.)
Passport: It’s not a passport. Passports are used by border control or policemen. They’re used to keep people out, or let people in. Bad optics.
Imagine if Walt Disney World had named their “FastPass” technology “MousePort.” Now you’ve got people with MousePort who are somehow better than people without MousePort. Instead of featuring the benefits (faster wait times), you’re creating divisions: those with the passport, and those without.
Remember: businesses and customers can still operate without FastYes, just like you can go to Walt Disney World and wait in the normal line with everyone else. But if you want the faster experience, to get more out of your day, you get the FastPass.
Same with FastYes: it’s not only safer, it’s faster. It’s not just about peace of mind; it’s about convenience.
Most importantly, it’s about privacy.
This is Not Big Brother; It’s Little Sister
You’re not being tracked. You’re being checked. Big difference.
If you don’t want to be checked, you don’t have to be checked. Go to a gym that doesn’t use FastYes, where you can breathe in the aspirated droplets from all the sweaty, panting customers you like.
FastYes is 100% opt-in – for both businesses and their customers.
You want to go to a nail salon without FastYes, and gossip with your manicurist, so close that you can smell her breath? Great! Maybe your nail salon can find enough customers who are willing to take that risk and stay in business.
Again: FastYes does not track your personal information. Only you and your healthcare provider have the record. All that’s being checked is that your two files match. That’s way better than TSA Pre™, because it protects your privacy and your security.
You will still have to scan your phone to get into businesses and schools that require it. Some people won’t like that. But for the economy to recover to 100% participation, for schools and daycares to reopen with 100% confidence, for churches and shopping malls and gyms to return to 100% occupancy, people have to feel safe.
Beyond the economy, this is just simple human psychology. People have to feel safe.
A government-controlled database like TSA Pre™ is Big Brother. A blockchain-based solution like FastYes is way better. We’ll call it “Little Sister.”
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
The CoronaCrisis is not over until we get a vaccine (V-Day).
Until then, the economy will not recover to 100% until 100% of people feel safe to resume daily activities.
A smartphone-based “immunity passport” can tell us who’s safe, but that’s a terrible name. (There’s currently no test for immunity, and it’s not a passport.)
To make this idea work – especially in America – we must balance security with privacy. Blockchain technology can offer us both.
The FastYes model is similar to TSA Pre™, but better. Citizens can choose whether to opt in — but they will, because it’s more convenient.
Businesses do not have to use FastYes — but they will, because it will make it easier for employees and customers. (More safety = more spending.)
States would be wise to buy into the same solution. If you try to go it alone, you end up like North Dakota.
FastYes will help keep the economy afloat until we get to the vaccine. And then it will help us track who has the vaccine.
Then we can finally begin the #GreatRecovery.
John Hargrave is the bestselling author of BLOCKCHAIN FOR EVERYONE and a founding member of the Boston Blockchain Association.
In a nutshell: Blockchain will streamline and simplify our supply chains by making one global ledger — like a shared spreadsheet — that will track everything. Here’s how it works.
One of the many mystifying parts of the pandemic: why are we running out of toilet paper?
It’s not like people are using the toilet more frequently, right? The typical answer is that people are panic-buying toilet paper, erecting giant fortresses of toilet paper in their basements and sheds. But even after stores limited sales to two packs per customer, toilet paper is still sold out.
Two words: supply chains.
Yes, supply chains, the thing that no one cared about before the pandemic, and everyone now appreciates so much. (You don’t miss supply chains ‘til the shelves run dry.)
There are two markets for toilet paper: residential and commercial. The commercial product, as we all know from our time in Starbucks bathrooms, is sold on bigger rolls, and it’s generally terrible. It gets manufactured on different lines, stacked on larger shipping pallets, delivered on different trucks. It’s bought and sold through different channels. Two different toilet papers; two different supply chains.
When people are home 24/7, they are going to use more toilet paper, so there’s a crushing demand on the residential supply chain, and very little demand on the commercial supply chain. Here’s the poop: people are using more toilet paper at home, and almost none at work.
Rule of thumb: Whenever you see shortages, it is rarely because there’s a problem with supply. It’s usually a problem with supply chain.
When it comes to our supply chain problems, toilet paper is just the beginning of the roll.
When Will This End?
This is the question on everyone’s mind, but Coronavirus timelines are hard to predict. Still, we can make some approximate guesses, combining past pandemics with current technology trends, and be “roughly right.” (As they say, better to be roughly right than exactly wrong.)
There are likely three great acts to the pandemic:
Act 1: Slowing the spread
Act 2: Testing and New Normal
Act 3: Vaccine and recovery
In all likelihood, the movie’s not over until the end of Act 3, which involves a) finding the vaccine, b) producing the vaccine, and c) convincing everyone to get the vaccine.
The vaccine is the key. Then we can roll the credits on the CoronaCrisis, and begin the sequel called the #GreatRecovery.
Again, it’s tough to predict timelines. Most vaccines take five to eight years to develop, but experts think we could have a vaccine in about 12 to 18 months. There are promising developments that may get us a vaccine even faster than that, but here’s the problem in two words: supply chain.
We’ve got to get the vaccine produced in massive quantities, faster than anything that’s been attempted before, to every corner of the globe. That is a massive supply chain challenge. In many ways, the vaccine is like toilet paper — everyone needs it — but far more complicated and difficult to produce.
One solution is to decentralize it: make the vaccine open-source and royalty-free, then allow a decentralized network of local producers to create and distribute it. This certainly seems better for the future of humankind than if Pfizer patents it.
(Note: even if the vaccine is open-source, producers can still pocket a profit for producing it. They just can’t prevent others from producing it.)
Best case scenario: we’ve got an open-source vaccine, and we’ve got a way to quickly produce it at scale, using local manufacturers (who should be planning now). Then comes the problem of distribution: we’ve still got to get the vaccine to hospitals and healthcare workers.
We need the supply chain.
Let’s say that Cambridge, Massachusetts – where you can’t swing Schrodinger’s cat without hitting a biotech firm – is able to produce vast quantities of the CoronaVaccine. We’ve got to get those vaccines from Cambridge to Atlanta, and Minneapolis, and Detroit, and on and on.
But the problem is much more complicated. The vaccines need syringes. The syringes need springs. There is this entire network of parts and supplies that need to be produced, a complicated ballet of buyers and suppliers working behind the scenes.
“We’re thinking about the vaccine, but what if the vials it is stored in, or rubber stoppers in the vial or the plungers in the syringes become the constraint?” – Prashant Yadav, health care supply chain expert, Center for Global Development
This is the vaccine supply chain, and smart people are thinking about it now. This goes way beyond the vaccine: it’s also the antibody test, which (if we find one that works) will tell us who is safe to restart society. As the recession wears on, the supply chain may become essential for essentials like food, drink, and yes, even toilet paper.
It’s all about the supply chain. And here’s where blockchain comes in.
Blockchain: It Even Sounds Like Supply Chain
Imagine one big, shared, Google Sheet that lists all the critical healthcare supplies.
That’s the vision in one sentence. (Read it again.)
Of course, you can’t literally use Google Sheets to track vaccines: it’s not built for sharing on a global scale. You can’t even share Google Sheets with two team members before everyone adds colors to all the rows and makes it unreadable.
If we don’t find a global solution — and fast — then everyone’s going to create their own patchwork quilt of solutions, and we’ll end up with a sea of useless Google Sheets. It will be the same mess we’ve had with masks, and respirators, and tests.
This is our chance to get it right. But we need to act now.
An eBay for Healthcare Suppliers
One way to solve this is a blockchain-based healthcare supply network. The simple way to think of this is like a giant eBay for healthcare supplies.
Picture a huge marketplace with buyers on one side (think hospitals and governments) and suppliers on the other (masks and gowns now, vaccines later). But it’s better than eBay, because suppliers are carefully screened, with their info stored on blockchain.
If possible, we want a single marketplace. We don’t want everyone building their own marketplaces, any more than we want a thousand eBays.
The marketplace that saves the day will depend on how many governments, companies, and healthcare organizations they can sign up, and how quickly they can do it. Like any marketplace, as you get more buyers and more suppliers, you get more traction, and then suddenly you’re eBay.
Blockchain-Based Supply Chain
Do It Yourself
Best in the world
Best in your state
Possible vendor lock-in
Possible messy roll-out
Needs to be built
Let’s say you’re the governor of Wyoming. You don’t have to use the leading marketplace, of course. You could build your own marketplace. But why would you build another eBay?
Plus, there are benefits to Wyoming joining the largest marketplace. Wyoming suppliers will now have a national market for their goods, which is good for the Wyoming economy. States that move first will be first to reap the rewards.
This will likely be a marketplace built by a private company (just like eBay), not a marketplace built by a government. States just don’t have the resources, especially in a time of crisis, to build their own blockchain-based marketplaces.
Like everything else about the Coronavirus, when we work together, we win.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
Supply chain is one of the biggest problems we’re facing during the Coronacrisis, and humanity needs a solution. We need a supply chain solution to not only move critical healthcare equipment, but ultimately to deliver a vaccine. Depending on how bad things get, we may need it for essential items like food.
This is not a local solution: states can’t go it alone. We’ve got to band together, creating a shared marketplace of critical healthcare supplies. This will also be good for our local economies, because we’ll have access to more buyers and more sellers, more cheaply and more efficiently.
The Coronavirus has given us plenty of problems, but also a magnificent opportunity for smart solutions. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to upgrade our supply chains, making them fully digital, using blockchain technology.
Like highways or healthcare, that’s an investment in critical infrastructure that will pay off for decades to come.
John Hargrave is the bestselling author of BLOCKCHAIN FOR EVERYONE and a founding member of the Boston Blockchain Association.