This archived content originally appeared at Freebanking.org, the predecessor site to Alt-M.org, and does not carry the sponsorship of the Cato Institute.

A Challenge to the Bitcoin Community

Well, it seems that Freebanking.org may be having its own little Bitcoin bubble, what with all the recent posting on the topic by Brad, Kurt, and myself. Still I can't help adding one more, having planned to do so since my last post on the topic, and having as well a selfish motive in mind, to wit, that of supplying myself with some materials with which to revise and expand my paper on "Synthetic Commodity Money."

I wish to accomplish that end by challenging Bitcoin fans to propose means by which one might combine the same advantages as Bitcoin presently offers with a mining or production protocol that, instead of adjusting mining rewards so as to achieve some predetermined output rate and limit, adjusts them so as to automatically alter the rate of coin production as needed to achieve some other objective. For example, the objectives might be that of achieving a steady rate of cybercurrency appreciation (as measured by the cybercurrency-equivalent CPI), or a steady level or growth rate for the total value of cybercurrency payments. But there are many others also worth contemplating. The general question is whether it is possible to have a more "elastic" or otherwise macroeconomically friendly alternative to Bitcoin. (Even the output of gold, after all, tended in the long run to respond to changes in that metal's relative price, thereby ruling-out both persistent inflation and persistent (or sharp) deflation.)

In putting forward this challenge I don't mean to endorse any particular monetary or macroeconomic policy ideal. I'm only interested in exploring the extent to which it may be possible to have mining protocols other than those calling for a steady (or steadily declining) rate of coin output. If there are, then the question whether any of them would in fact supply the basis for a "better" cybercurrency is one that would then be worth taking up.

As food for thought to those pondering the challenge, here are a few of the very interesting suggestions I received concerning it in the comments to my original Bitcoin post:

(Peter Surda): you cannot design a synthetic commodity whose supply mirrors macroeconomic aggregates, because these aggregate variables are exogenous to the network (whereas the hashing parameter of networks like Bitcoin only depends on time and the number of blocks in the blockchain, which from a perspective of the network are endogenous), so they cannot be unambigiously measured.

(Derka): Yes you can certainly base altcoin production (supply inflation) on any parameter (nominal or real GDP, employment, etc.), the tricky part is doing it without centralizing trust. For the sake of demonstration, call the parameter of interest X.

Option 1) Centralize authority. Give the WSJ authority (via public/private key encryption) to report the value of X to the altcoin network. The altcoin network responds algorithmically to this news. Perhaps if X is NGDP and is down, increase production!

Option 2) Give the authority to the miners. Every miner could record the current value of X in the blocks they produce. Problematically, the miners will collude and devalue the currency to reap the hyperinflated rewards.

(Koen): but would it not be possible for the network to respond to patterns that occur in the network but that are reliably associated with (e.g. being the effect of or having the same cause as) certain (macro-)economic phenomena? I mean, for example, contractions in the money supply seem to have both a (macro-)economic reality outside of the network and specific effects within the network

(Justin Reitz): Off the cuff, it might be possible to use the Federal Reserve's FRED API to automatically pull data on a chosen economic aggregate. Of course there are all sort of issues: timeliness of Fed data, data updates, security of the the FRED API, how to reduce the virtual currency in circulation, etc.

(tdbtdb): Perhaps this is what you mean when you mention the security of FRED, but clearly having such a system depend on FRED would put it under the control of whoever controls FRED, nagating the whole point. So there are 2 risks, one that unauthorized hackers could compromise FRED, the other that the people feeding data to FRED might feel tempted to lie.

I wish I could offer some real prize for more thoughts like those above, let alone for any more substantial answer to my challenge. But as I am no fatcat but only a humble college professor, I can offer nothing save my gratitude, and the modest reward of doing whatever I can to credit those responsible for their contributions to one component of what H. G. Wells (himself no mean futurist) considered the "permanently effective task before Mankind," namely, that of "working out and applying…a Science of Currency."

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