Facebook’s Libra Isn’t a “Cryptocurrency”

In mid-June, Facebook — in cahoots with 28 partners in the financial and tech sectors — announced plans to introduce Libra, a blockchain-based virtual currency.

The world’s governments and central banks reacted quickly with calls for investigation and regulation.  Their concerns are quite understandable, but unfortunately already addressed in Libra’s planned structure.

The problem for governments and central banks:

A new currency with no built-in respect for political borders, and with a preexisting global user base of 2.4 billion Facebook users in nearly every country on Earth, could seriously disrupt the control those institutions exercise over our finances and our lives.

The accommodation Facebook is already making to those concerns:

Libra is envisaged as a “stablecoin,” backed by the currencies and debt instruments of those governments and central banks themselves and administered through a “permissioned” blockchain ledger by equally centralized institutions (Facebook itself, Visa, Mastercard, et al.).

To put it a different way, Libra will not be a true cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Ether. Neither its creation nor its transactions will be decentralized and distributed, let alone easily made anonymous. A “blockchain” is just a particular kind of ledger for keeping track of transactions. It does not, in and of itself, a cryptocurrency make.

In simple terms, Libra is just a new brand for old products: Digital gift cards and pre-paid debit cards.

The only real difference between Libra and  existing Visa or Mastercard products is that Libra’s value will fluctuate with the “basket” of currencies and bonds it’s backed by, instead of being denominated in one particular (also fluctuating — you experience the fluctuations as changes in the prices of goods) currency like the dollar or the euro.

When it comes to the goal envisaged by cryptocurrency’s creator, the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto — to free money from control and manipulation by  governments and central banks — Libra is a dead end. Instead of being manipulated by one government or central bank, Libra will be manipulated by all of them.

Cryptocurrency is, to get biblical, new wine in old wine skins — it bursts those skins, by design. Libra isn’t new wine. It isn’t even a new wine skin. It’s a blend of the same old wines, in the same old skins, with a fancy new label. And there’s nothing to suggest that the old wine is getting better with age.

Fortunately, these structural defects also mean that Libra isn’t a threat to real cryptocurrency. Accept no substitutes.

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Perfection is Not an Option

I don’t expect perfection.

Not from people, places, situations, or… whatever else there is.

You are going to have no real choice but to drive on some government roads. You are going to have no choice but to use some things government paid for with money it stole. You can barter and use silver for some trades, but fiat “money” is unavoidable. You may benefit in some roundabout way from government’s unethical (and evil) actions which you oppose. That’s reality.

You don’t have to like it. You aren’t condoning theft or government by using those things. Feel free to speak the truth about government roads even as you are driving on one. That’s not hypocritical, it’s just how things are. You make the best of what you’ve got.

I understand that some people view a government “job” the same way– even though I strongly disagree. Still, as long as someone isn’t actively promoting government supremacy or power, I will cut them some slack. A government-employed librarian is still better than a politician, a government-employed school “teacher”, a member of the military, or a cop. Or, at least preferable in my view, since they aren’t promoting government supremacy nor imposing government at the point of a gun.

But no one is perfect or pure.

To condemn yourself because you aren’t perfect isn’t healthy.

To condemn everyone else because of this reality isn’t helpful. You’re not helping those you condemn, nor are you helping yourself. You certainly aren’t helping society (the interactions between individuals) nor the “cause” of liberty. Demanding the impossible from others (and, yes, in the present reality, it is impossible) causes harm.

What I do expect is that people do the best they can with the cards they’ve been dealt. Recognize that you have no right to archate, and if you feel you “must” anyway, accept the consequences of doing what you don’t have a right to do.

This perfectionist viewpoint causes harm to those who hold and promote it.

This unpleasant reality is no justification for giving up and saying that because no one else lives up to your vision of perfection, you might as well embrace the state and use it against others. This is a destructive mindset. It gives off a foul odor. It looks and smells like hypocrisy to me.

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Teletrouble

Nobody asked but …

Maybe it’s because I got my driver’s license renewed last week, but my phone is ringing off the wall with calls that usually start like this, “hello, this is Bob (or Chuck or Wayne or some other macho moniker) on behalf of the Police Fund for [whatever].”

Firstly, yes, that’s correct, we here in Kentucky must seek the permission of the state to engage in human action, and pay for it, and get placed on all kinds of lists, official, semi-official, quasi-official, and pseudo-official.  I mutter under my breath, Robert A. Heinlein’s admonishment,

I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.

I do not tolerate police fund drives, much less those that are conducted by mercenaries (paid fundraisers).  In particular, I don’t tolerate fund drives that purport to be for the benefit of some underprivileged set.  I can just see the wretches held incommunicado someplace for a week, listening to and watching 24/7 propaganda.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Always Simpler

Six years ago I had an idea. I thought it was simple. I set out to build it.

In my head, it would go like this:

Simple idea –> traction –> add a bit more complexity –> traction –> add a bit more complexity –> etc.

Eventually, this simple idea would be a massive mothership.

In reality, it went like this:

Simple idea –> little traction –> make it simpler –> little traction –> make it simpler –> bit of traction –> make it simpler –> almost meaningful traction –> make it simpler –> traction –> etc.

Eventually, the idea might be simple enough to be massive.

At every step, I thought I’d stripped to the bone. Made every non-core compromise. At every step, the big discovery and the big challenge was figuring out I hadn’t simplified enough.

The simpler a big idea or product, the harder it is to build.

I’m still trying to simplify every day.

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More Charter Schools Translates to Fewer Homeschoolers, Study Says

It’s hard to compete with free. More charter schools in a given area could reduce the number of homeschoolers, new research finds. In their study published this month in the Peabody Journal of Education, scholars Corey DeAngelis and Angela Dills looked at the impact of school choice options on parents’ homeschooling decisions. They found that homeschooling rates decline after charter school laws are passed in a given state, particularly the longer those laws are in place.

Opportunity Cost in Action

Parents want more education choice, and mechanisms that lower the cost of alternatives to one’s assigned district school are sought-after. Even though many families homeschool on a budget and more parents work and homeschool, there can be both real costs and opportunity costs to homeschooling. DeAngelis told me in a recent interview:

These are the first empirical findings on the subject, so we definitely need to research the topic further. However, our results tend to suggest that expansion of charter schools decreases homeschool market share by enticing homeschool families to switch to the “free” option.

It makes sense that the prevalence of free public charter school options may encourage families to choose a charter school over homeschool. The top motivator for today’s homeschooling families is “concern about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure.” A nearby charter school gives parents the choice of a different school environment at no additional cost, with homeschooling taking a back seat.

DeAngelis and Dills also explored the impact of voucher programs on homeschooling rates. Could voucher programs lead to more homeschoolers if vouchers were available to homeschooling families, thereby reducing homeschooling costs? Or would voucher programs decrease the cost of private schools and prompt more homeschooling families to enroll their children in a private school? Additionally, might a voucher program act as “Trojan Horse,” inviting more government regulation of private schools that accept voucher money and therefore leading more families toward the freedom of homeschooling?

Choice Is Choice

The researchers found that unlike charter schools that can lower homeschooling rates, the results from vouchers are less clear. Their analysis revealed either statistically insignificant outcomes of vouchers on homeschooling prevalence or slight decreases in homeschooling once the voucher program was in place for a while. According to DeAngelis and Dills, Liberating more parents and children from a mandatory district school assignment is a positive step toward educational freedom for all.“The mixed results for vouchers may be a result of private schools moving away from supporting homeschooling in the wake of the adoption of a voucher program.”

While homeschooling proponents might lament the potential decline in homeschooling rates when charter schools become more abundant or when voucher programs are around for a few years, the overall trend toward more parental choice in education is something to celebrate.

Liberating more parents and children from a mandatory district school assignment is a positive step toward educational freedom for all. Still, DeAngelis adds that “homeschool families should consider the loss of educational freedom when switching to public charter schools,” and they should generally support Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) over charter school expansion.

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Why Be a Peasant When You Can Be a Knight Errant?

What adventurous boy or girl didn’t grow up wanting to be a knight?

All of our favorite stories, video games, and histories let us imagine ourselves spending our lives as a series of adventures. Yet somehow most of us have chosen to be peasants.

There wasn’t much attraction then to the idea of serving a lord, tying down to a fixed point of earth, and living on the good graces of the powerful. But when we’ve chosen our careers, we’ve generally chosen to commit our whole working lives to serving on the land of another while a whole realm of people with quests awaits.

By “whole realm of quests”, I mean the markets – known and unknown – that we could be serving if we were entrepreneurial. And the alternative to being a “peasant” in this world of markets is being a “knight errant”* – always in search of entrepreneurial opportunities.

We see one form of “knight errant” work quite literally in the gig economy. It’s now possible (if not easy) to for many people to support themselves doing gigs they choose, from driving people around to making deliveries to creating designs to walking dogs. For every skill, there is a freelance opportunity, and for every opportunity taken, there are “knight errant” virtues to gain: resourcefulness, courage, stamina, independent judgment.

Peasant life may be more comfortable, but a quest-based life is going to be more interesting. We’re heading into a world in which the average “workweek” can have multiple quests. The work will take many forms, God willing. And with that variety, we can count on work requiring more of a spirit of knightly adventure from all of us.


*If you think the analogy silly, consider that our term “Freelance” was first used to describe mercenary medieval warriors.

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