Quotulatiousness

May 25, 2015

QotD: Deflation

Filed under: Economics,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Deflation occurs when there is not enough currency in circulation to meet the needs of the economy. Here again, the classical definition focuses on falling prices rather than an insufficient currency stock, but deflation is primarily a monetary phenomenon.

It is the economic version of anemia: too little blood is reaching the body. Each unit of the currency goes up in value relative to the goods and services available, but because the stock of currency isn’t growing fast enough, it starves the economy of investment capital. There isn’t enough money to build out existing business, to create new ones, or to hire new workers. (This is in part what happened during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.) Inventories shrink, but new goods aren’t being produced due to the lack of investment capital. Eventually the economy grinds to a halt as production withers away.

Specie currencies are more prone to deflation than fiat currencies for the simple reason that fiat currencies are not based on scarce (and thus valuable) resources like gold, silver, or what have you. There’s only so much gold and silver to go around, and sometimes the supply of bullion can be interrupted for long periods. (Sometimes this is even done deliberately by rival nations or speculators.) Also, because the value of gold and silver is set outside the control of government or authority issuing the currency, it limits the kinds of monetary policy the sovereign can conduct, especially during times of crisis.

Monty, “Inflation, Deflation, and Monetary Policy”, Ace of Spades HQ, 2014-07-11.

May 18, 2015

QotD: Inflation

Filed under: Economics,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Inflation is a phenomenon that occurs when the value of a given unit of currency becomes debased in some way, and prices then rise to offset the currency’s loss in value. The standard definition of inflation is given in terms of rising prices rather than falling currency value, but that’s misleading. The value of goods and service don’t increase so much as the currency’s value relative to those goods and services decreases, so inflation is more of a monetary phenomenon than a market-price phenomenon.

The more the currency loses value, the higher prices denominated in that currency rise. The classical example of hyperinflation is the 1921-1924 hyperinflation in Weimar-era Germany, though in modern times Zimbabwe’s currency has undergone the same radical devaluation.

What causes a currency to become devalued? There are many causes. With specie currency like gold and silver coins, debasement is usually physical — in former times coins were “shaved” or “clipped” or adulterated with baser metals. The clippings could then be melted down and recast into new coins, but the clipped coin could still be passed off at full value (until the merchants got wise and started weighing and/or assaying the coins). This is why coins began to have milled edges — it made the practice of clipping easier to spot. A variant of the “shaving” debasement strategy is one carried out by the treasury or mint itself: reducing the amount of gold or silver in a coin, but leaving the face-value of the coin the same. This happened often to the Roman denarii — as the Imperial stocks of silver bullion waned, each coin was reduced in weight but mandated to retain the same value. (In modern fiat-money times, coins are generally manufactured out of base metals like nickel, tin, and zinc, but even so, the value of the metal is sometimes still higher than the face-value of the coin.)

In a fiat money regime, debasement is usually the result of creating too much currency for the economy to absorb. If the money supply exceeds some thresh-hold (it’s very complicated to figure out exactly what that thresh-hold is), you have more units of currency chasing the same amount of goods and services — which means that the real unit value of the currency will drop and prices will go up.

Another way a fiat currency can become debased is to arbitrarily re-value your currency relative to the market, or relative to other currencies. If an issuing authority declares the value of a quatloo to be three quatloos to a dollar, even if the market is trading at five quatloos to a dollar, the currency will be debased because it’s not actually worth what the issuing authority says it is. Prices go up, and the government usually responds by implementing price-controls, and in turn the goods and services simply become unobtainable at any price because producers won’t continue to produce at a loss.

No good or service has an absolute value. The value of a good or service is what someone is willing to pay for it. Currency is a specialized good, and is subject to the same law. If the stock of currency grows faster than the value represented by that currency in the wider economy, the currency is in an inflationary state.

Monty, “Inflation, Deflation, and Monetary Policy”, Ace of Spades HQ, 2014-07-11.

January 30, 2015

What can Plato’s Cave tell us about basic economics?

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Over at Ace of Spades H.Q., Monty takes us back to Philosophy 101 to show the economic version of Plato’s famous story:

If you had occasion to take a Philosophy 101 course in college, you may remember the allegory of Plato’s cave. Plato meant it as a discussion of what “reality” is — whether it is an absolute thing, and whether humans can experience “reality” in its totality or if we are limited only to what we can experience and measure. The idea is that what we can sense and measure is only a subset of a larger reality that we cannot perceive directly.

I’ve long thought that this allegory works quite well for economics in many ways, especially as it pertains to concepts of money and wealth.

Take a dollar out out of your pocket and look at it. What is it? It’s many things, actually: it is money, so it must be a store of wealth, a unit of account, and a medium of exchange; it is a manufactured good, intended by its manufacturer to be used as currency; it is a work of engravers’ art; it is a complex piece of technology (especially modern bills with the various anti-counterfeiting countermeasures); it is a carrier for the oils, dirt, and germs of the people who have handled it; and so on.

You can think of money as a special kind of battery, only instead of storing electricity, it stores up economic value which can be expended at a later time. And just as a battery can store energy but not create it, money can store value but not create it.

It turns out that this dollar bill is a pretty complex object, all things considered. And yet it isn’t a “real” thing in the sense Plato was speaking of. Whatever else it may be, a dollar is not in itself valuable; it is rather a signifier of a real thing we cannot see directly. A unit of money — whether a dollar, a franc, a pound, or a quatloo — is only “real” insofar as it signifies some existing value in the economy. (We can think of some value as being latent as opposed to realized, as it often is with investments. We invest in expectation of value being created and providing some kind of return on the investment. No value appears spontaneously out of the void. The invested capital is based on already-existing assets; a return is only realized if the endeavor creates additional value. Interest income or dividends don’t just magically materialize — interest income is your share of the value added and payment for the time-value of the money you invested. Nothing comes from nothing, as Parmenides reminds us.)

That dollar you hold in your hand is the shadow cast by something of value in the world of real things.*

[…]

* One way in which the Plato’s Cave allegory doesn’t work well in the monetary sense is when considering an essential property of money: fungibility. For money to be money, it must be fungible — that is, a dollar bill is exactly like any other dollar bill in terms of how it behaves in a monetary sense. I can buy a candy bar with any dollar, not just one specific dollar. The Plato’s Cave allegory draws a 1-to-1 linkage between the “real” object we cannot perceive and the shadow we can perceive, but with money it is more like a probabilistic wavefront that only collapses when you spend the dollar.

This means that, in the economic sense, our “shadow” of a real world good or service is not a particular dollar but any dollar.

January 23, 2015

“We are all [Milton] Friedman’s children and grandchildren”

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, Nick Rowe explains just how important Milton Friedman still is in economics today:

I can’t think of any economist living today who has had as much influence on economics and economic policy as Milton Friedman had, and still has. Neither on the right, nor on the left.

If you had a time machine, went back to (say) 1985, picked up Milton Friedman, brought him forward to 2015, and showed him the current debate over macroeconomic policy, he could immediately join right in. Is there anything important that would be really new to him?

We are all Friedman’s children and grandchildren. The way that New Keynesians approach macroeconomics owes more to Friedman than to Keynes: the permanent income hypothesis; the expectations-augmented Phillips Curve; the idea that the central bank is responsible for inflation and should follow a transparent rule. The first two Friedman invented; the third pre-dates Friedman, but he persuaded us it was right. Using the nominal interest rate as the monetary policy instrument is non-Friedmanite, but the new-fangled “Quantitative Easing” is just a silly new name for Friedmanite base-control.

We easily forget how daft the 1970’s really were, and some ideas were much worse than pet rocks. (Marxism was by far the worst, of course, and had a lot of support amongst university intellectuals, though not much in economics departments.) When inflation was too high, and we wanted to bring inflation down, many (most?) macroeconomists advocated direct controls on prices and wages. And governments in Canada, the US, the UK (there must have been more) actually implemented direct controls on prices and wages to bring inflation down. Milton Friedman actually had to argue against price and wage controls and against the prevailing wisdom that inflation was caused by monopoly power, monopoly unions, a grab-bag of sociological factors, and had nothing to do with monetary policy.

December 3, 2014

QotD: Money in the “paradise of the real”

Filed under: Economics,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Money is a symbolic system, the purpose of which is to facilitate exchange and to act as a recordkeeping technology. That money is so very important to our everyday lives and yet has no real connection with physical reality is the source of many apparent paradoxes and contradictions. These are the best of times, these are the worst of times.

Measured by money, things look relatively grim for the American middle class and the poor. Men’s inflation-adjusted average wages peaked in 1973, and inflation-adjusted household incomes for much of the middle class have shown little or no growth in some time. The incomes of those at the top of the distribution (which is not composed of a stable group of individuals, political rhetoric notwithstanding) continue to pull away from those in the middle and those at the bottom. The difference between a CEO’s compensation and the average worker’s compensation continues to grow.

But much of that is written into the code. If, for example, you measure inequality by comparing the number of dollars it takes to land at a certain income percentile, with a hard floor on the low end (that being $0.00 per year in wages) but no ceiling on the top end, and if you have growth in the economy, then it is a mathematical inevitability that incomes at the top will continue to pull away from incomes at the bottom, for the same reason that any point on the surface of a balloon will get farther and farther away from the imaginary fixed point at its center as the balloon is inflated. This will be the case whether you have the public policies of Singapore or Sweden, and indeed it is the case in both Singapore and Sweden.

Purely symbolic systems are easy to manipulate, which is why any two economists can take the same set of well-documented economic data and derive from it diametrically opposed conclusions.

With economic models, we are a little like Neo in The Matrix, before he takes the red pill: We are not in the real world, but in a simulacrum of it, one that has rules, but rules that can be manipulated by those who understand the code. Economic models and analysis are very useful, but it’s worth taking the occasional red-pill tour, leaving behind the world of pure symbolism and taking a look at the physical economy.

Welcome to the paradise of the real.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Welcome to the Paradise of the Real: How to refute progressive fantasies — or, a red-pill economics”, National Review, 2014-04-24

November 12, 2014

QotD: Europe’s banking trap

Filed under: Economics,Europe,Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Banking is a service, […] and a service has a cost associated with it. Modern banking has all kinds of fees and charges associated with it. But depositors are often charged for keeping too low a balance in their savings or checking accounts, not too large a balance. What’s going on here?

Central banks have created this monster via the regimen of ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy). This is a way of implementing Keynesian stimulus, but central banks have run up against the liquidity-trap wall: interest rates cannot fall below zero. Monetary policy stops working at the zero-interest boundary.

For central banks, the problem is that in a slow-growth economy (or actually a recessive one) a paradox arises where rational behavior on the part of savers leads to bad results: consumers save their money out of concern for the future, but the economy — starved of the cash that fuels it — slows still further. This is the argument behind Keynesian stimulus; inject more (newly-printed) money into the economy until people stop being scared and start spending freely again (with their own money and borrowed money). The danger of inflation looms, however, so central banks try to implement various regimes to keep it under control (with varying degrees of success).

This theory founders on the shoals of reality, alas. It’s rational for people to save money, particularly during bad times, because people believe their currency stock to be an appreciating (or at least a constant-value) asset. But when a sovereign inflates (devalues) its currency to solve a short term economic problem, they run the risk of damaging confidence in the currency itself. Inflation may inject some nitrous oxide into the engine of the economy for a short time, but the outcome may be a blown engine (i.e., a ruined currency, as it was during the Weimar era).

When people lose trust in a fiat currency, it’s nearly impossible to restore confidence in it. Trust is all a fiat currency has — without trust, fiat currency is just worthless paper. This is really the core of the sound-money argument: deflation is bad because it can stall an economy and make debt servicing murderously difficult, but inflation is worse because it wrecks the currency itself. Hard-money currency regimes may be somewhat prone to deflationary cycles, but at least they never go to zero value; they always retain some value. Fiat currencies can go to zero.

Monty, “DOOM: The Wrath of Draghi”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-11-06.

September 20, 2014

CBC warning to Canadians travelling in the United States

Filed under: Cancon,Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:11

I’ve seen this CBC link mentioned several times by US commentators:

American shakedown: Police won’t charge you, but they’ll grab your money
U.S. police are operating a co-ordinated scheme to seize as much of the public’s cash as they can

On its official website, the Canadian government informs its citizens that “there is no limit to the amount of money that you may legally take into or out of the United States.” Nonetheless, it adds, banking in the U.S. can be difficult for non-residents, so Canadians shouldn’t carry large amounts of cash.

That last bit is excellent advice, but for an entirely different reason than the one Ottawa cites.

There’s a shakedown going on in the U.S., and the perps are in uniform.

Across America, law enforcement officers — from federal agents to state troopers right down to sheriffs in one-street backwaters — are operating a vast, co-ordinated scheme to grab as much of the public’s cash as they can; “hand over fist,” to use the words of one police trainer.

July 24, 2014

QotD: The Law of Triviality

Filed under: Economics,Government,Humour,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

People who understand high finance are of two kinds: those who have vast fortunes of their own and those who have nothing at all. To the actual millionaire a million dollars is something real and comprehensible. To the applied mathematician and the lecturer in economics (assuming both to be practically starving) a million dollars is at least as real as a thousand, they having never possessed either sum. But the world is full of people who fall between these two categories, knowing nothing of millions but well accustomed to think in thousands, and it is of these that finance committees are mostly comprised. The result is a phenomenon that has often been observed but never yet investigated. It might be termed the Law of Triviality. Briefly stated, it means that the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved.

C. Northcote Parkinson, “High Finance, Or The Point Of Vanishing Interest”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.

June 25, 2014

QotD: The difference between money and wealth

Filed under: Economics,History,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

… it is a mistake to use “money” and “wealth” as synonyms. Money is not wealth (though it is often a signifier of wealth). Wealth is a concept far greater, deeper, and more complex than mere money can encompass. Money is a tool; wealth is a state of being, an environment, a continuum in which we conduct our lives. When the left speaks of inequality in purely monetary terms, they are engaging in a puerile and futile kind of reductionism.

Consider a man with a wife and three teenage daughters, who lives in a house with only one bathroom. This man wouldn’t need a million dollars to feel wealthier; he’d just need a second bathroom. A chance to have a hot shower in the morning and have a clean space on the sink for his shaving gear. Wealth to this man is not the money it would take to build the extra bathroom; wealth is the time and comfort the new bathroom brings. Wealth is comfort he gains, his improved state of mind, the increased peace in his household, his improved quality of life. The marginal utility of the additional bathroom is great indeed (the utility of additional bathrooms would be less). The wealth of that additional bathroom is much greater, proportionally, than if this man and his family lived in a huge mansion with fifteen bathrooms. (In fact, the huge house might decrease his happiness due to the expense of upkeep and maintenance. Who knows?)

You don’t make a poor person wealthy by giving them money; history is full of lottery winners who ended up just as poor as when they started, and many’s the dissipated scion of a rich family who frittered away the family fortune. Wealthy people tend to have a lot of money because money is correlated with wealth (but does not cause it). Income, investments, assets — all can generate money for a wealthy person.

But wealth is more than just stuff. A loving spouse and healthy, happy children are treasures. Running a successful business can mean more than just the profits it generates; there is deep satisfaction in conducting a successful enterprise. A deep love of art or music can enhance and enrich a life. The company of good friends is truly priceless, and something that wise people learn to value more as time goes by.

Money gives access to some of those things, but all the money in the world can’t buy an appreciation of those things.

But to speak of wealth even in this broadened sense is misleading, for in America even “poor” people are wealthy beyond the dreams of people in many places in the world. And compared to people in most ages of the earth prior to the 20th century, there are no poor Americans. It’s amazing to consider how much better life for an average person is now compared to past times. We have food in amazing abundance and variety. Every house has a big-screen television, central heating and air-conditioning, and a refrigerator and range. Everybody has at least one car. Everybody has a cellular phone, and most people have a computer. Few of us work more than eight hours a day to afford all these things, leaving plenty of free time to relax. Medical technology has extended our lifespans, and made our tour upon the earth far more pleasant than in former times. We live healthier, more active, more stimulating lives than at any point in our history — wealthier lives.

Monty, “Wealth as an end and wealth as means to an end”, Ace of Spades HQ, 2014-06-24.

June 12, 2014

Step aside, Andrew Jackson

Filed under: History,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:21

In The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf makes an argument that it’s time the United States put Martin Luther King on the $20 bill:

During the 2008 election, Thomas Chatterton Williams wrote an article for Culture11 about the significance of a Barack Obama victory. “On television screens from Bedford Stuyvesant to South Central Los Angeles, images will be broadcast of a black family — a father, a mother, and two little girls — moving into the White House,” he wrote. “Whatever you think of policy, the mere fact of electing a black man president, sending him to live in the nation’s most iconic, so far whites only house, would puncture holes through the myth of black inferiority, violating America’s racial narrative so fundamentally as to forever change the way this country thinks of blacks, and the way blacks think of this country — and themselves.”

I still think Williams had a point. Today’s six, seven, and eight-year-olds have no memory of an America with anything other than a black president. What seemed improbable to us as recently as 2007 is, for them, a reality so normal that they don’t even think about it. Yet these same kids are still growing up in a country where the faces celebrated on the paper currency are all white. I don’t want to overstate the importance of that. There is a long list of suboptimal policies that are vastly more urgent to remedy. Still, the lack of diversity in this highly symbolic realm is objectionable, and improving matters would seem to be very easy.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is a universally beloved icon who led one of the most important struggles for justice in American history. When Gallup asked what figure from the 20th Century was most admired, MLK beat out every single American, and was second overall in the rankings, placing behind only Mother Theresa. Putting him on money would not be a case of elevating a man simply for the sake of diversity. Yet it would address the fact that, but for racism, our money would’ve long been more diverse. The only loser here would be the historic figure kicked off of a bill.

[…]

MLK is the best symbol of the civil rights movement, but many preceded him in that long struggle. They ought to be featured on $20’s flip side. Perhaps it could include a timeline stretching from Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks, putting them in the company of Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea, the women featured on U.S. coins. I suppose Jackson might be upset at my judgment that he is less deserving of our esteem than those figures. Then again, he might well support my plan. After all, few men in American history were as adamant about their hatred of paper money.

April 12, 2014

Under-the-table money in college sports

Filed under: Football,Sports,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:58

As I’ve said before, I don’t follow US college football — which is why the pre-draft churn of names and teams in NFL coverage moves me very little — so my knowledge of how the NCAA organizes and manages team sports is pretty low. I do know that a lot of university student athletes are given scholarships with many nasty strings attached which force them into emphasizing the sport over their education. The scholarships are tied to team performance, so that what should be a great opportunity for a kid to earn a degree that otherwise would be out-of-reach effectively turns into four years of indentured servitude, followed by non-graduation. The students are also forbidden to earn money from activities related to their sport (signing autographs for a fee or selling an old game jersey can get you thrown out of school). Gregg Easterbrook regularly points out that some “powerhouse” football schools have terrible graduation rates for their students: the players are used up and discarded and nobody cares that they leave college no better off — and in many cases much worse-off — than when they started.

That’s one of the reasons I’m fascinated with the drive to introduce unions at the college level: even if the students don’t end up with a salary, they should at least be able to count on their scholarship to keep them attending class regardless of the whims of their coaches.

However, if the allegations in this story are true, the situation is even murkier than I’d been lead to believe:

The Bag Man excuses himself to make a call outside, on his “other phone,” to arrange delivery of $500 in cash to a visiting recruit. The player is rated No. 1 at his position nationally and on his way into town. We’re sitting in a popular restaurant near campus almost a week before National Signing Day, talking about how to arrange cash payments for amateur athletes.

“Nah, there’s no way we’re landing him, but you still have to do it,” he says. “It looks good. It’s good for down the road. Same reason my wife reads Yelp. These kids talk to each other. It’s a waste of money, but they’re doing the same thing to our guys right now in [rival school’s town]. Cost of business.”

Technically, this conversation never happened, because I won’t reveal this man’s name or the player’s, or even the town I visited. Accordingly, all the other conversations I had with different bag men representing different SEC programs over a two-month span surrounding National Signing Day didn’t happen either.

Even when I asked for and received proof — in this case a phone call I watched him make to a number I independently verified, then a meeting in which I witnessed cash handed to an active SEC football player — it’s just cash changing hands. When things are done correctly, there’s no proof more substantial than one man’s word over another. That allows for plausible deniability, which is good enough for the coaches, administrators, conference officials, and network executives. And the man I officially didn’t speak with was emphatic that no one really understands how often and how well it almost always works.

[…]

This is the arrangement in high-stakes college football, though of course not every player is paid for. Providing cash and benefits to players is not a scandal or a scheme, merely a function. And when you start listening to the stories, you understand the function can never be stopped.

“Last week I got a call. We’ve got this JUCO transfer that had just got here. And he’s country poor. The [graduate assistant] calls me and tells me he’s watching the AFC Championship Game alone in the lobby of the Union because he doesn’t have a TV. Says he never owned one. Now, you can buy a Walmart TV for $50. What kid in college doesn’t have a TV? So I don’t give him any money. I just go dig out in my garage and find one of those old Vizios from five years back and leave it for him at the desk. I don’t view what I do as a crime, and I don’t give a shit if someone else does, honestly.”

“If we could take a vote for these kids to make a real salary every season, I would vote for it. $40,000 or something. Goes back to mama, buys them a car, lets them go live like normal people after they work their asses off for us. But let’s be honest, that ain’t gonna stop all this. If everyone gets $40,000, someone would still be trying to give ’em 40 extra on the side.”

This is how you become a college football bag man.

March 17, 2014

Current US government programs actually increase income inequality

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Government,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:32

In the Washington Post, George Will says that we’ve learned nothing about helping the poor since Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s day:

Between 2000, when 17 million received food stamps, and 2006, food stamp spending doubled, even though unemployment averaged just 5.1 percent. A few states have food stamp recruiters. An award was given to a state agency for a plan to cure “mountain pride” that afflicts “those who wished not to rely on others.”

Nearly two-thirds of households receiving food stamps qualify under “categorical eligibility” because they receive transportation assistance or certain other welfare services. We spend $1 trillion annually on federal welfare programs, decades after Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that if one-third of the money for poverty programs was given directly to the poor, there would be no poor. But there also would be no unionized poverty bureaucrats prospering and paying dues that fund the campaigns of Democratic politicians theatrically heartsick about inequality.

The welfare state, primarily devoted to pensions and medical care for the elderly, aggravates inequality. Young people just starting up the earnings ladder and families in the child-rearing, tuition-paying years subsidize the elderly, who have had lifetimes of accumulation. Households headed by people age 75 and older have the highest median net worth of any age group.

In this sixth year of near-zero interest rates, the government’s monetary policy breeds inequality. Low rates are intended to drive liquidity into the stock market in search of higher yields. The resulting boom in equity markets — up 30 percent last year alone — has primarily benefited the 10 percent who own 80 percent of all directly owned stocks.

March 7, 2014

Breaking news – Satoshi Nakamoto isn’t really “Satoshi Nakamoto”

Filed under: Economics,Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:00

Self-described Bitcoin detractor Colby Cosh explains how “Newsweek” got conned by “Satoshi Nakamoto” (yes, both sets of scare quotes are ‘splained):

Newsweek’s Satoshi is a 64-year-old Japanese-American living in Temple City, California. “Satoshi Nakamoto” is the name on his birth certificate, although he goes by Dorian. Mr. Nakamoto has a physics degree and has done computer engineering for a number of military-industrial firms, as well as one online stock-price provider. Much of his work history is shrouded in official secrecy, or perhaps just the habitual truculence of defence-tech professionals. He is known to have a libertarian streak, has had some run-ins with the financial system, and is thought by friends and relatives to capable of cooking up something like Bitcoin.

But it is now looking as though he had the square root of bugger-all to do with it. Newsweek concluded its investigation of Dorian S. Nakamoto with a police-supervised doorstep interview in which the gentleman is supposed to have said “I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it. It’s been turned over to other people.” Dorian has now told the Associated Press that when he said “no longer,” two words on which Newsweek hung an entire feature, he was referring to the engineering profession generally. He denied being involved in any way with what he repeatedly called “Bitcom,” explained the work he had briefly done for a financial-information company, and read the Newsweek piece to himself, displaying increasing confusion and annoyance as he did so.

I have to say, having read New Newsweek’s article, that it does appear to rest on a fairly slender foundation. Aside from that “no longer,” the evidence that Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto equals “Satoshi Nakamoto” amounts to the obvious coincidence of names and a bunch of quotes from the man’s semi-estranged family. Unfortunately, neither “Satoshi” nor “Nakamoto” are uncommon names for individuals of Japanese ancestry; the article acknowledges that there are several more just in the United States. The Bitcoin-inventing “Satoshi” clearly does not much want to be found; the name is obviously a pseudonym, has always been taken to be one until now, and was probably chosen precisely for its red-herring flavour.

Okay, so Satoshi Nakamoto is probably not “Satoshi Nakamoto”, but why is Newsweek actually “Newsweek” in scare quotes?

A lot of people are asking how something like this could happen to Newsweek, not realizing that the Newsweek nameplate has basically been asset-stripped and repurposed in order that the remaining credibility and familiarity might be squeezed out of it. (This will happen to Maclean’s someday — two years from now, or 200. I’m hoping it’s 200.) No one expected this cred-squeezing process to happen quite so quickly and powerfully, but IBT Media, buyer of Newsweek, seems to have blundered into a singular piece of ill luck: the wrong reporter matched at the wrong time with the wrong story, one in which an informed intuition about any number of subjects might have saved the day.

March 5, 2014

MazaCoin is now the official currency of the Lakota nation

Filed under: Economics,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 16:07

Adrianne Jeffries talks about a Bitcoin-like currency that the Lakota have adopted as their official currency:

The programmer and Native American activist Payu Harris raised a gavel Monday night and vigorously banged the bell to open trading at The Bitcoin Center, a meeting space for virtual currency geeks that looks like an empty art gallery in the middle of New York’s Financial District.

Harris was there to promote MazaCoin, a cousin of Bitcoin that is now the official currency of the seven bands that make up the Lakota nation. After an hour of questions, Harris thanked the small crowd and was promptly accosted by a tall man and a woman in red who wanted to buy some MazaCoin, which Harris was selling for 10 cents apiece. The two trailed him around the room as he hunted for a printer so he could issue the digital currency on paper. MazaCoin is a month-old cryptocurrency based on the same proof-of-work algorithm as Bitcoin, the virtual currency that approximates cash on the internet — but no one in the room was equipped to make a digital trade.

There have been a slew of copycats since the rise of Bitcoin in 2009. The first wave attempted to improve on the basic Bitcoin protocol. The second wave, which includes the meme-based Dogecoin and the Icelandic Auroracoin, are catering to specific groups.

February 26, 2014

MtGox Bitcoin “owners” didn’t actually own their Bitcoins

Filed under: Business,Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:09

I haven’t been following the Bitcoin situation too closely — although if I’d had extra money lying around over the last year or two, I might have dabbled — but it’s hard to figure out what really happened from the media reports. At Samizdata, Bruce Hoult explains the details:

What has happened is that people who bought Bitcoins on MtGox thought they owned them. They did not, according to the Bitcoin system. MtGox did. MtGox kept their own records of who ‘owned’ what. And MtGox were incompetent.

Which should have been apparent from the start: MtGox learns Bitcoin

The proper way to use Bitcoin is to keep your wallet of Bitcoins on your own computer. And back it up. Several times. Print it on paper if you want — it will likely fit on one side of A4 in not very small print. Keep it secret. Keep it safe. It is a bearer certificates. If you lose your wallet or forget the password then those Bitcoins are gone out of circulation forever.

That is not what happened with MtGox. They gave Bitcoins that people thought they owned (but did not) to other unauthorised people. It is theft. Just like a bank robbery. Those Bitcoins still exist, just in other hands.

This has absolutely no effect on people who keep their Bitcoins on their own computer (or phone). There are the same number in circulation as before. Bitcoins still can’t be counterfeited or inflated.

If you want/need to use a place similar to MtGox to turn normal money into Bitcoins then DO NOT LEAVE THEM IN YOUR ONLINE WALLET THERE. Make yourself an identity and wallet on your own computer and make a payment from your account on the Bitcoin exchange to your own identity. Then you are perfectly safe.

Well, you are if you do your backups diligently.

Or, if you want to turn normal cash into Bitcoins, find someone who has Bitcoins and wants cash, agree a price, have them do a transfer of Bitcoins from their wallet to yours (using the actual Bitcoin system, not an exchange), and hand them the cash.

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