5 Oct 2020 | Crypto Column
As the first country to industrialise in the 1760s, Britain’s manufacturing revolution set the world on one of the greatest practical and ubiquitous changes in human history. Even more extraordinary is the fact that Britain’s industrialisation remained way ahead of potential competition for decades. Only in the early 1900s did historians get to grips with the issues of causation. Max Weber’s pithy answer “the Protestant work ethic” pointed to Puritan seriousness, diligence, fiscal prudence and hard work. Others include the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694 as an essential corollary by creating the necessary conditions for financial stability. In contrast, Continental Europe lurched from one national debt crisis to another, then through itself headlong into the Napoleonic wars. Unsurprisingly, it was not until after 1815 industrialisation took place on the European mainland where it was spearheaded by the new country of Belgium.
250 years later with the launch of Bitcoin another revolution had begun; though this one more commercial in nature than industrial. Though the full impact has yet to be played out, the parallels between these two historical events are already striking. Bitcoin may not match the obviousness of industrialisation, but the underlying pragmatics touch on the very foundations of the non-barter economy. Like the establishment of the Bank of England, the creation of the cryptocurrency infrastructure has been prompted by ongoing and worsening threats to financial instability; systemic fault-lines created by macroeconomic challenges flowing from the 2008 crash.
For those who could “join the dots” in 2008, there was the realisation that central banks no longer existed as guardians and protectors of national currencies but the tools of creating politicised market distortions; abandoning their duty to preserve wealth in favour of creating the conditions for limitless, cheap government debt. While many of the underlying intentions were benign, inherently the process worked to punish savers and reward reckless debt.
This anticipation of on-going instability surrounding fiat currencies and the viability of crypto alternatives has proved more prescient than could have ever been previously imagined. Within a short space of time a wave of undercurrents gave rise to new vocabularies, outlooks and expectations which have impacted commercial and investment transactions, a change never more acutely observed than today, when even against the backdrop of the COVID crisis Central Banks are rushing to create their own “digital” Krona, Pound, Dollar etc. “Digital” may represent a confusing nomenclature, however, as these are not cryptocurrencies in the true sense, and certainly not part of decentralised finance (DeFi). The Digital Krona does, however, manifest the increasingly powerful impact that the cryptocurrency ecosystem is having on mainstream banking and government behaviour.
As with Britain’s industrial revolution, it has taken time for the potential of crypto-coins to find more energetic traction. Over the past 12 years, cryptocurrencies have moved from unknown, to novel, to significant and growing interest. As a result, profound changes are underway affecting the mechanics by which investors, the investment industry, wealth managers and even the commercial banking sector is engaging with cryptocurrencies. This interest has quickened as we enter into a period of deep economic unknown and growing awareness that structural soundness is shifting away from traditional investment options.
Intelligent engagement requires cryptocurrency investors/wealth managers to accurately understand and correctly explicate the nature of these influences and assess their potential impact. This article suggests seven distinct elements (a non- exhaustive list) as currently ranking definitive importance:
Against the backdrop of the essential limits of fiat currencies, current geo- macroeconomic policies and a new emerging world order, cryptocurrencies offer vast potential:
In all this, we may well have come full circle to 1694 and the stability and security that the establishment of the Bank of England was intended to entrench — but now it is now de-centralised finance that will get us there.