Like many nerds before me, I spent a goodly portion of my life searching for the perfect computing system. I wanted a single tool that would let me write prose or programs, that could search every email, tweet, or document in a few keystrokes, and that would work across all my devices. I yearned to summit the mythic Mt. Augment, to achieve the enlightenment of a properly orchestrated personal computer. Where the software industry offered notifications, little clicks and dings, messages jumping up and down on my screen like a dog begging for a treat, I wanted calm textuality. Seeking it, I tweaked. I configured.
The purpose of configuration is to make a thing work with some other thing—to make the to-do list work with the email client, say, or the calendar work with the other calendar. It’s an interdisciplinary study. Configuration can be as complex as programming or as simple as checking a box. Everyone talks about it, but it’s not taken that seriously, because there’s not much profit in it. And unfortunately, configuration is indistinguishable from procrastination. A little is fine but too much is embarrassing.
I spent almost three decades configuring my text editor, amassing 20 or so dotfiles that would make one acronym or nonsense word concordant with another. (For me: i3wm + emacs + org-mode + notmuch + tmux, bound together with ssh + git + Syncthing + Tailscale.) I’d start down a path, but then there’d be some blocker—some bug I didn’t understand, some page of errors I didn’t have time to deal with—and I’d give up.
A big problem I had was where to put my stuff. I tried different databases, folder structures, private websites, cloud drives, and desktop search tools. The key, finally, was to turn nearly everything in my life into emails. All my calendar entries, essay drafts, tweets—I wrote programs that turned them into gigs and gigs of emails. Emails are horrible, messy, swollen, decrepit forms of data, but they are understood by everything everywhere. You can lard them with attachments. You can tag them. You can add any amount of metadata to them and synchronize them with servers. They suck, but they work. No higher praise.
It took years to get all these emails into place, tag them, filter them just so. Little by little I could see more of the shape of my own data. And as I did this, software got better and computers got faster. Not only that, other people started sharing their config files on GitHub.
Then, one cold day—January 31, 2022—something bizarre happened. I was at home, writing a little glue function to make my emails searchable from anywhere inside my text editor. I evaluated that tiny program and ran it. It worked. Somewhere in my brain, I felt a distinct click. I was done. No longer configuring, but configured. The world had conspired to give me what I wanted. I stood up from the computer, suffused with a sort of European-classical-composer level of emotion, and went for a walk. Was this happiness? Freedom? Or would I find myself back tomorrow, with a whole new set of requirements?
You saw the many cryptocurrency-related Super Bowl ads, and maybe you found them weird, or deeply dystopian, or just disturbingly familiar. Nevertheless, perhaps you believe the blockchain has financial rewards left to reap and want to jump in, or you’ve already got some of your money tied up in cryptocurrencies via companies like Coinbase and FTX that were advertising during the big game.
What now? Keeping track of the ups and downs of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and other crypto coins and actively trading on those fluctuations can be a full-time job. Day-trading, basically. And jumping into NFTs, the digital baubles you can mint, buy, or sell, is still daunting for many.
For many crypto traders who are in it for the medium to long haul, there are some other ways to make money on cryptocurrency that’s just sitting in your crypto wallet: staking and yield farming on DeFi networks. “DeFi” is just a catchall term for “decentralized finance”—pretty much all the services and tools built on blockchain for currencies and smart contracts.
At their most basic, staking cryptocurrency and yield farming are pretty much the same thing: They involve investing money into a crypto coin (or more than one at a time) and collecting interest and fees from blockchain transactions.
Staking vs. Yield Farming
Staking is simple. It usually involves holding cryptocurrency in an account and letting it collect interest and fees as those funds are committed to blockchain validators. When blockchain validators facilitate transactions, the fees generated go, in part, to stakeholders.
This type of hold-for-interest has become so popular that mainstream crypto dealers like Coinbase offer it. Some tokens, such as the very stable USDC (pegged to the US dollar), offer about .15 percent annual interest rates (not too different from putting your money in a bank in a low-interest checking account), while other digital currencies might earn you 5 or 6 percent a year. Some services require staking to lock up funds for a certain period of time (meaning you can’t deposit and withdraw whenever you want) and may require a minimum amount to draw interest.
Yield farming is a little more complicated, but not that different. Yield farmers add funds to liquidity pools, often by pairing more than one type of token at a time. For instance, a liquidity pool that pairs the Raydium token with USDC might create a combined token that can yield a 54 percent APR (annual percentage rate). That seems absurdly high, and it gets stranger: Some newer, extremely volatile tokens might be part of yield farms that offer hundreds of percent APR and 10,000 to 20,000 APY (APY is like APR but takes into account compounding).
The rewards, which add up 24/7, are usually paid out as crypto tokens that can be harvested. Those harvested coins can be invested back into the liquidity pool and added to the yield farm for bigger and faster rewards, or can be withdrawn and converted to cash.
The Federal Reserve says it hasn’t decided whether to pursue a digital currency but notes that a CBDC “could provide households and businesses a convenient, electronic form of central bank money, with the safety and liquidity that would entail; give entrepreneurs a platform on which to create new financial products and services; support faster and cheaper payments (including cross-border payments); and expand consumer access to the financial system.”
“The Federal Reserve does not intend to proceed with issuance of a CBDC without clear support from the executive branch and from Congress, ideally in the form of a specific authorizing law,” the Federal Reserve also says.
A US CBDC wouldn’t replace cash or paper currency. “The Federal Reserve is committed to ensuring the continued safety and availability of cash and is considering a CBDC as a means to expand safe payment options, not to reduce or replace them,” the Federal Reserve said.
Senior Biden administration officials told reporters that “the implications of potentially issuing a digital dollar are profound.” But those officials added that they intend to “maintain the centrality of the dollar in global financial markets and in the global economy.”
Digital Currency Can Be a Tool for Surveillance
Digital currency issued by a central bank can be used as a tool for government surveillance of citizens and control over their financial transactions. This has been a concern with China’s digital currency, which is in the early stages of rollout. As Akram Keram, an expert on China at the National Endowment for Democracy, wrote last year, “With digital yuan, the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] will have direct control over and access to the financial lives of individuals, without the need to strong-arm intermediary financial entities. In a digital-yuan-consumed society, the government easily could suspend the digital wallets of dissidents and human rights activists, for example.”
The Federal Reserve said that any US-issued digital currency “would need to strike an appropriate balance between safeguarding the privacy rights of consumers and affording the transparency necessary to deter criminal activity.” That could be accomplished with an intermediated model in which “the private sector would offer accounts or digital wallets to facilitate the management of CBDC holdings and payments,” thus “facilitat[ing] the use of the private sector’s existing privacy and identity-management frameworks,” the Federal Reserve said.
The Federal Reserve provided more information on a potential digital currency in a report issued in January 2022.
Biden Seeks Analysis
The report ordered by Biden is to be produced by the secretary of the treasury, in consultation with the secretary of state, attorney general, secretary of commerce, the secretary of homeland security, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and director of national intelligence.
The report is supposed to analyze the potential implications of a digital currency on economic growth, stability, and “financial inclusion”; the relationship between a US-issued digital currency and digital assets administrated by the private sector; “the future of sovereign and privately produced money globally and implications for our financial system and democracy”; “the extent to which foreign CBDCs could displace existing currencies and alter the payment system in ways that could undermine United States financial centrality”; potential implications for national security, financial crime, and human rights; and the effects that foreign CBDCs may have on US interests generally.
The executive order encourages the Federal Reserve to “assess the optimal form of a United States CBDC” and develop a strategic plan “that evaluates the necessary steps and requirements for the potential implementation and launch of a United States CBDC.” Biden also wants the Federal Reserve to evaluate how a CBDC “could enhance or impede the ability of monetary policy to function effectively as a critical macroeconomic stabilization tool.” Biden further asked federal agencies for an assessment of whether Congress would need to make legislative changes before the US can issue a digital currency.
This story originally appeared on Ars Technica.
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Big Crypto has arrived. On August 10, following days of wrangling and furious tweeting, cryptocurrency enthusiasts, advocates, and entrepreneurs watched in horror as the US Senate approved a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, complete with an article that many fear might jeopardize the whole American crypto sector beyond repair. The controversial rule would require that “brokers” of transactions in digital assets—i.e., cryptocurrencies—report their customers to the Internal Revenue Service so they can be taxed.
The crypto crowd griped that the bill’s definition of “broker” was so broad it would potentially encompass miners, validators, and developers of decentralized applications—all of which, while playing pivotal roles in the functioning of a blockchain ecosystem, have no way of identifying their anonymous users.
Initially, it had looked like the bill’s language might be tweaked to exempt those categories, as a trio of senators put forth an amendment clarifying the “broker” term. Then a White House-backed amendment appeared, pushing for a less lenient clarification, exempting proof-of-work miners—which use an energy-intensive process to secure blockchains such as Bitcoin or Ethereum—but not many other categories, such as proof-of-stake validators, which carry out the same function without the energy burning. Just as a compromise position was being worked out, the Senate decided to pass the bill unamended. Any change will have to happen at a later stage—and it likely will, given the patent unenforceability of the bill as is.
On the face of it, it’s a drubbing for American crypto. But the narrative that has been doing the rounds is quite different: The infrastructure bill is a watershed moment in the history of cryptocurrency. The technology—at its core a crypto-anarchist, anti-bank, borderline anti-government manifesto disguised as code—has finally acquired that great marker of prestige: a lobby. The fact that some senators were ready to fight in crypto’s corner appears to show that the cryptocurrency industry is more than a gaggle of Twitter accounts and some blue-sky venture capitalists. Whatever the reason, it has influence, and—after the infrastructure bill saga—it will be ready to wield it even more deftly.
“We’re seeing the formalization, the maturing, of the crypto lobby, and this was the first coordinated effort that brought that to bear,” says Alex Brammer, vice president of business development at Luxor Tech, a bitcoin mining company. “Organizations like the Blockchain Association, the Texas Blockchain Council, or the Chamber of Digital Commerce are certainly going to continue their work.”
Cryptocurrency is usually, and lazily, described as a Wild West, but as a matter of fact the established businesses operating in the sector—from big mining enterprises to Wall Street–listed giants such as Coinbase—tend to crave regulation to define the boundaries of what is acceptable and what might get them into trouble. “Sophisticated players in this space welcome intelligent regulation. It provides clarity and predictability for large operations,” Brammer says. “It provides a set of rules of the road that allow large, publicly traded companies to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to be as viable and as profitable as possible going forward.”
But where does that leave the smaller, less established, less corporate players? Bitcoin—an asset owned and lionized by billionaires such as Mark Cuban and Elon Musk—has been growing since 2009 into an industry that carries heft and brand recognition. (Even Ted Cruz is waxing lyrical about it).
The much-contested amendment approved by the White House would have saved bitcoin while throwing much of crypto under the bus. Granted, when that plan emerged, the crypto lobby—or, at least, crypto-Twitter—rose as one against it. Jerry Brito, executive director of cryptocurrency trade group Coin Center thundered against the Senate’s attempt to pick “winners and losers,” while venture capitalist and crypto-ideologue Balaji Srinivasan said that the amendment would eventually open the door to a full-blown bitcoin ban. But it is worth wondering whether, in the long run, a rift might open between a Big Crypto clamoring for clear regulation to achieve peace of mind and the smaller actors of the cryptocurrency community, who might be less well equipped to meet the requirements that regulation would impose.
Alex Brammer, vice president of business development at US cryptocurrency company Luxor Tech, recounts being bombarded by calls coming from Chinese miners within hours of the May 21 speech. “We were fielding calls from very large miners trying to find collocation space power throughout North America,” he says. “We were having calls and the questions being asked were, ‘Can you house 20,000 machines in 14 days?’ for example. The tone in the industry was just very frantic.”
“Anecdotally, I would say that many, many [miners] will be leaving China, within the next 30 to 60 or 90 days,” Brammer adds.
Non-Chinese entrepreneurs might be the first to up sticks, Kaboomracks’ Van Kirk says. “We have clients that are hosted in China, but are Western, who are wanting to find capacity outside of China,” he says. “They’re looking for something in the United States or Canada.”
It is not only North America to be sought after as a prospective destination. Parts of northern Europe and Latin America are also being considered; in general, Brammer says, some Chinese individuals want to move their business to a place “that is politically stable, that has strong property rights, that has some type of an existing and somewhat stable regulatory framework.” But the US, which is already the world’s second country for bitcoin mining, might prove to be particularly attractive.
That is not to say that a move will be simple. Logistically, Brammer says, it is quite a nightmare to move tens of thousands of machines from China to the US, especially amid a global pandemic that has triggered a shortage in shipping containers, and a latent trade war that will require any company seeking to move goods from China to the US to pay a 25 percent tariff. Even once the mining machines are unloaded from the private cargo planes or container ships, setting up a new mining operation in North America is going to take some time. “Some of these [Chinese miners] are coming in and they’re saying, ‘We’d like to buy 500 megawatts of capacity,’ and you’ve got these North American power generation facilities and mining farms that go ‘We just don’t have that,’” says Brammer. He estimates the timeframe for building a large mining farm from scratch at around 12 to 24 months.
Edward Evenson, director of business development at bitcoin mining company Braiins, is more sanguine. He says that most larger miners will just be shipping new machines from manufacturers based out of China, and that they will have the resources to pull that off relatively quickly. “Smaller miners may not have the resources or connections, so they will probably have to sell off their machines,” Evenson says. “But the larger operations will simply move their machines to more stable environments for mining.”
The big question, however, is whether the panicked calls will lead to a true exodus. As a matter of fact, right now most Chinese miners are waiting for the government’s next move. “Chinese miners, who have higher risk tolerance than Western miners in our observation, are largely taking a wait and see approach,” says Ian Wittkopp, vice president of Beijing-based venture capital firm Sino Global Capital. “Most Chinese miners have experienced similar cycles of news in the past. The cost of migrating to a new location can be high, we expect most miners to wait for more regulatory clarity before relocating.”
This is not the first time China has been waving its fist at bitcoin; but that harsh posturing has never really sunk the country’s thriving bitcoin industry. “Whenever the price of bitcoin shoots up, and there’s a lot of speculative mania around it, the government makes one of these announcements,” Evenson says. “They’ve done it essentially every year or about every other year since 2013.”