A Bear’s Perspective on REP

A Bear’s Perspective on Augur

Myles Snider has already written an excellent introduction to Augur and Prediction markets and for the sake of brevity I will not rehash it here. I highly recommend reading his piece before considering my piece: here. In this I will present a different perspective on the coin, focusing on potential regulatory risk, but not on the normal worry of the SEC treating the coin as a security.

CFTC Risk

In the United States the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has previously cracked down on other prediction markets. Most visibly and noticeably on Ireland based Intrade. Despite its international basis it was still able to be shut down by the United States based CFTC. Even DARPA and the CIA experimented with a prediction market, that was shut down due to Congressional pressure. (Interesting read about it here) These and other examples of various prediction markets being shut down thanks to regulatory pressure, seem to suggest that the United States is not ready for a prediction market. The common argument given defending Augur is that because it is decentralized it is protected from this kind of intervention. However, several issues arise when you consider that argument. First and foremost there needs to be a way to get your fiat money (think USD) into and out of the currencies being used for Augur. I would not expect a significant crackdown on the Ethereum that is used to trade (though it is possible with the SEC comment about coins being security, and the fact that there was an initial sale). The greater issue here is that the market makers need to hold the REP coin associated with this platform. That means they must have a way to get into and out of this coin. In the Intrade shutdown it was possible because there was cooperation between the CFTC and the bank associated with Intrade. It is possible that any exchanges that offer trading from fiat to REP or vice versa will have difficulty finding banks that will accept their business, or if a bank is found it is also possible that individual holders of REP could become a target of investigations. We have already seen many cryptocurrencies including Binance and Bitfinex having trouble finding banking and I do not see that being an issue that will be easily solved soon. Carrying coins like this will make it that much more difficult for exchanges to find banking.

The second major CFTC risk I see associated with Augur is the ability for anyone to make a market on anything, and then collect trading fees on it. This potentially could mean that the real risk here is that these individuals market makers could end up sanctioned by the CFTC. Especially since they are receiving a portion of the fees associated with the market, meaning that they are receiving a direct and trackable benefit from this platform. This is especially worrisome in light of some of the specific complaints that were levied against Intrade that led to its closure. In 2005 Intrade was found to be in violation and they were then required to inform US customers with a pop-up on the exchange that told US customers they were not allowed to trade these options, and to try to ensure that US based customers could not trade these options. My fear with Augur here is two-fold, one the Augur trading platform will need to make sure that US customers are told that they cannot trade these options, and that individual market makers will become liable for US customers who do trade their options.

Insider Trading Risk

There is another risk that is neglected, but in my opinion represents a smaller overall risk to Augur as a whole, however, it does represent a risk to people using Augur. Every single market participant on the Augur platform needs to understand that they are liable for insider trading regulations in their countries. Many of these options, especially if they are tied to the price or performance of “real” securities, are ones where anyone trading in the market need to ensure that they are not in violation of insider trading laws. Failure to appropriately recognize this risk, by any market participant increases their legal liability.

Manipulating market to affect real world

Augur has described the potential for these prediction markets to serve as a more accurate way to predict various real life events. However, what I have not seen described yet is the fact that if these markets are being used to predict various real life events, they are open to manipulation. For example, consider a prediction market in Augur that is predicting the price of oil a month later. The market on Augur is likely going to be much smaller than the equivalent futures contract. This means that a sufficiently large enough whale could potentially make large enough bets to manipulate the Augur market, which could then potentially change either the futures market or the actual price of oil. This is in my opinion is one of the smallest risks to the price of REP and to Augur in general because it requires several things to happen:

  1. Augur needs to become a large enough platform that its predictions are used in securities trading.
  2. The market needs to be small enough that a single or a team of whales can manipulate the market.
  3. The whales need to be able to make these manipulations, while hiding that these manipulations are occuring.

As such this seems to be the smallest risk in my opinion to Augur as a platform or REP’s price.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, while I feel that Augur is a fascinating platform, and the way REP is used to adjudicate disputes in the prediction market is innovative, I worry the regulatory risks are being underestimated. There is a history of these kind of markets coming under regulatory investigation and that is neglecting the fact that it is possible that the REP ICO may have also been an illegal security sale (based on the recent comments suggesting most ICO’s were illegal). This suggests to me that REP may initially gain value, it is likely to fall under regulatory scrutiny that will significantly depress its value, and may permanently prevent Augur from flourishing, which is disappointing because I find prediction markets fascinating.

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Medium as a Syndication Platform

Update: I disavow this post. Left up for reference sake.

Medium for a long time was my preferred publication platform.  It offers a beautiful interface, simple interaction features, and the ability to be featured in a variety of ways to extend your reach.  I have to give the creators of Medium support for designing what is arguably one of the best reading and writing platforms on the internet.  However, they fall victim to the same fundamental flaw as other proprietary platforms, and that is that they tend to silo your content. Once you have placed your content in the control of another platform you are now, at least in part, subject to their whims and vagaries.  For example, it used to be possible to set Medium up with your own custom domain, that feature has now been deprecated.

Giving Medium the benefit of the doubt, they are one of the best silos on the internet.  Thanks to them several of my articles on various cryptocurrencies projects got thousands more views than they likely would have otherwise, so it is a little bit hard for me to complain about them.  However, even the best silo is still a silo and perhaps more insidious for being so tempting. However, the reason Medium still has incredible value even after you “leave” is that they allow themselves to become a syndication platform for your content.  

Since Medium has a need for content to be available on the platform they made the very prudent decision of making it easy to import posts from other locations (like this one will be) and share them on Medium.  The benefits of this are a canonical link that boosts your own site SEO, improved visibility, and the ability to have your article in a Medium publication. This let’s you profit from most of the benefits of Medium and maintain control of your content.

Toothbrush

John was shaking.  It all came down to this interview, he had been dreaming of this job since graduation and he wanted to make sure that he was totally ready.  Walking into the bathroom he grabbed his toothbrush, placed a small strip of toothpaste on it, put in his mouth, went to turn it on, and it did one quick buzz in his hand and then stopped.  Pulling it out he looked at the small display where the scrolling words said:

“Firmware must be updated, please check attached phone.”

Pulling out his cell phone, John opened up the app and saw the notification that his toothbrush needed an update.  He clicked the button to trigger the update and sat down on the toilet to do his morning business while it loaded.  A couple minutes later he opened the app and saw an error message saying that download had failed, he quickly clicked the button to download it again and waited increasingly impatiently for the update to download and install.

Again the update failed.  John reboot his phone, and force-rebooted the toothbrush in an attempt to correct whatever was the problem that was preventing him from brushing his teeth.

Again the update failed.  John jogged out to his living room, unplugged his router for 30 seconds, plugged it back in, and waited a couple minutes for it to turn back on and re-connect.  He tried the update one more time.

Again the update failed.  John grabbed the toothbrush and brushed his teeth manually before running out the door.

 

Inspirational Link: https://twitter.com/AndrewCrow/status/1074565600083492864?s=20

 

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A New Brave World

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Disclaimer: This story is a fictional rendition of what it would be like if there was a company that chose to accept payments on the behalf of content creators without their knowing about it, and then give them away if not claimed in time. There is unlikely to be any resemblance to real life events because there is no chance anyone would do that right? It was also meant to be satire, but sometimes when you live in the craziest possible world, the best you can do is a retelling.

It was a long evening of grinding away on his stream. John had been working for months and finally built up a couple thousand followers on Twitch. He was far from a major name who could do it exclusively, but he did have a few people who were willing to subscribe and make sure he had a few dollars every month. They seemed to enjoy his dry wit and his ability to break down certain strategy games that were a little bit less common on Twitch. He figured he was going to playing anyway, might as well share his love of the games with a few others.

Erin was a huge fan of John. As often as she could she would tune into his streams. She had never met someone in real life who played these same games as her, and especially not someone who could make even the watching exciting. She was a huge supporter of her favorite content creators online, and luckily her browser had a couple of buttons that made it super easy to tip people she loved watching. She logged on to watch John stream and soon found herself laughing uproariously. She clicked a couple buttons and sent him a few dollars, glad to help someone who brightened up her days.

John’s lifeblood as a subscriber was the few people who chose to invest the money to subscribe to his channel. Those who chose to do this got a couple of little perks: a badge they can use in the chat, a subscriber only chat, no ads, and the pleasure of knowing they were supporting a content creator. He didn’t have a ton of subscribers, but the few he did have he started to gradually develop relationships with. Since they got access to the subscriber only chat he would pop in and talk to them, many of them fans of his same favorite games. It was a good arrangement. Besides those subscribers there were some people who were willing to hop in to his streams and “cheer” which acted as a small tip for John. This right now only added up to a about a hundred dollars a month for him right now, but this amount helped convince him it was worth continuing, and kept his equipment up to date. He was hoping in a couple of months he would able to justify an upgrade to a brand new keyboard, one he had been eyeing for a while.

Erin had continued to tip John through the browser, and finally decided one day to send him a message noting her appreciation for his channel.

Hey John,

Just wanted to send you a quick message to say that I love your channel. Not often do I find someone else who loves these games, and you make watching them fun and funny. I hope you keep doing what you are doing, and I hope my few small tips of RAT is helping to make that happen :).

Your fan,

Erin

John opened up his messages and was confused. He had never before heard of a tip of RAT and was totally confused what Erin might be doing. He decided to sent Erin a quick message back to find out what was going on.

Hey Erin,

I wanted to say thank you for your message, support like yours is why I keep doing this. I was wondering though what a “RAT” is, obviously I know the furry little rodent, but I’m guessing that is not what you are sending me.

-John

Erin was now the one confused, when she had opened up her tipping page on her browser, she had seen a total profile for John, complete with his profile picture and his information. It had seemed like all of her favorite content creators had pages, and so she would send them a few dollars when she can. Now she was a little bit confused, because it seemed like John had never gotten any of her tips. She decided to start digging and went looking through what she could find out about how this tipping worked.

In the meantime John who had a small but loyal following on Twitter decided that he wanted to describe his experience.

I want everyone to know that if you have been tipping me RAT that I am not set-up to receive it. I have shared no information with that company and I am not receiving those tips. 1/

It appears that this company decided to make a fake profile for me and they have been soliciting these tips on behalf of me and other creators. 2/

Glancing through the ToS for this company it also looks like they do not refund these tips to the people who choose to tip, but instead use them for their own purposes. 3/

This company seems to be exploitive and seems to take advantage of both creators and their fans. It is not right to use my image to solicit money that will never get to me. 4/4

This quickly became one of John’s most interacted with post he had ever made on Twitter. Turns out that RAT had previously been quite popular. Even the CEO of the company that made RAT decided to chime in on the issue. He wanted everyone around to know that he saw no problem with what he was doing, and that furthermore it was okay to be doing it because he saw himself as a Nietzschean Ubermensch. It turns out that many content creators had been “receiving” tips that they never received, and many people had been tipping people who never received.

It seemed that the goal of this company was to get content creators to opt-in by convincing them they were missing out on these tips, which then makes the platform look better to people because there are more people using it. Quite possibly one of the worst tactics in the sleazy growth-hacking playbook. John considered for a second signing up in order to receive these tokens, because every dollar did help, but the simple truth is he refused to support a sleazy model like this. He hoped that if he refused to participate and drew attention to it, other creators may eventually see some of the problems.

Erin seeing this whole debacle made a simple choice. It was time to find a new browser, and she decided to sign up as a channel subscriber to John. She still loved his content and wanted to do what she could to support him.

Disclaimer: I am not signed up to receive RAT or any similar products, please do not send them to me.

Totally Unrelated Link: https://twitter.com/tomscott/status/1076160753793683456

A Response to “Bitcoin’s Existential Crisis”


View at Medium.com

Nic Carter, one of the General Partners at Castle Island Ventures (a previous edition misidentified the fund), the VC fund infamous for investing in Flipside Crypto who sold baskets of shitcoins, recently wrote an article describing what he called the existential crisis of Bitcoin. If you don’t have 12 minutes to read it, it can be summarized as “Bitcoin has no leader and therefore it forks sometimes.” However, in this article that has some in the Crypto Media referring to Nic as Satoshi 2.0, he has several instances of flawed or incomplete thinking.

The first three paragraphs of this piece are quite well thought out, and if you ignore the usage of phrases like “intersubjective consensus” (for those who do not know intersubjective consensus is an idea that pops up in cognitive and philosophical journals to describe how people create a shared conception of reality) a useful introduction to some of the issues in the identity of cryptocurrency.

“The first and most common method is to give a corporation or foundation rights to a trademark, as is the case with Tezos or EOS.IO. This is the default for non-Bitcoin blockchains and gives an entity the legal force to anoint and ratify a single chain. Of course, no one is bound to follow this, and there could be a fork of Tezos that everyone mutually agrees to use.

However, the trademark carries certain legal protections, and if a fork tried to retain the name, the trademark owner would have recourse, at least where the fork tried to interact with regulated institutions. In this case, the trademark is just one manifestation of the core issue, which is confirmation that the leadership of a blockchain is seeking authoritative ratification of their control. Other activities this entity might engage in would be pressuring exchanges to use one ticker over another or support one fork over another as well as spreading a consistent message to the media. All of these give the entity de facto control over which fork is chosen in a dispute.”

This section is humorous to me because people have tried to trademark Bitcoin. See here, here, here, here (cash), here, here, here, here, and here. (Note many of these are for different products, not actual Bitcoin.) However, Nic is making a good point. Namely, that you can either defend against identity crises with legal structures, which are generally antithetical to the stated goals of this space, or you can embrace the difficulty.

The other approach is to throw caution to the wind and spurn any external marker of identity, relying instead on an intersubjective consensus, such that the system can change over time while remaining faithful to its original goals. This is the approach leaderless (or, more accurately, leader-minimized) systems like Bitcoin and Monero go for. Of course, there are influential individuals in both systems, but neither has a foundation or corporation in control of a trademark or a clear decision-making body. Many critics would say that Bitcoin Core, as the author of the dominant implementation of Bitcoin, wields disproportionate control, but that’s a reductive reading. It is not an official body, and the dominant implementation that they create does not define the essence of Bitcoin but rather its instantiation.

Here is where we get into some of the fun parts of the argument. The idea that Bitcoin Core is solely an instance of the consensus around the rules that define Bitcoin. This is ostensibly true, but it is important to remember that Bitcoin is at its core the software the nodes run. There was a recent instance wherein Bitcoin Core had a massive denial of service and inflation bug. Any inflation bug like that is inherently against the social consensus that governs the emission schedule of Bitcoin, yet it existed nonetheless in the instantiation, suggesting the influence of Bitcoin Core here is much larger than Nic is trying to imply. I do agree that there is no single leader of Bitcoin, but denying the influence of Core is myopic. He tries to cover it up with a Pierre Rochard quote that claims when the software and the consensus conflict, the software is mistaken, however, since we have established the software is the instantiation of the rules, the practical reality is that Bitcoin depends on the software. Without the code instantiating the network, there is a brief paper popular amount cypherpunks. Furthermore, since Bitcoin is decided solely by social consensus, and due to the primary software being written by one body, we actually see an increased likelihood for forks arising when the incentives of Core do not align with the incentives of holders or users.

Absolute commitment to the sound monetary policy (the 21 million hard cap) is a core virtue of Bitcoin but limits its design space and ability to pivot if the fee market doesn’t work. But this is the tradeoff Bitcoin has opted for.

Okay quick pet peeve here: finite supply is not the only way to sound money. Even gold had an elastic supply that inflated over time. Furthermore, in order to accept that Bitcoin has a capped supply, we must accept that forks do not represent an increase in the supply. This is true to a point, in that a Bitcoin will likely always remain capped. However, there is still an incentive to increase supply, meaning that in the future the social consensus around Bitcoin could change and the supply could increase. Claiming that Bitcoin will always have a capped supply is ignoring the practical realities of the incentive model that governs the security of the network. As former Bitcoin Foundation member Brock Pierce once said, “If I need money, I just make a token.” The appeal of determining the values, and taking the lion’s share of the reward is immense and difficult to avoid, even for those closely connected to Bitcoin for years like Brock.

Moreover, when forks occur due to a contentious issue in the community they will likely fracture the community, damage the networks effect around Bitcoin, and may, therefore, represent an increase in supply in proportion to the degree they fracture the community. This point is a little bit difficult to understand immediately and so I would like to break it out a little bit in an attempt to make it more clear.

  1. A significant portion of Bitcoin’s value derives from the network effects and continual strengthening of the community.
  2. The “real” Bitcoin is determined by social consensus.
  3. Contentious forks fracture the community and diminish the ability to reach unified consensus.
  4. Therefore, contentious forks increase the quantity of “effective” Bitcoin by diluting the ability for any fork to clearly claim to be Bitcoin.

The solution to this fracturing that Nic claims is the dedication to a few very stable values. However, we have already established that it is hard to keep this community aligned.

The remainder of the article divides perspectives on Bitcoin into various philosophical camps. I actually believe he may have usefully pointed out the ideological differences. However, I see the existence of these different camps as evidence that Bitcoin may never achieve alignment between these different positions, and is likely therefore to continue to fork as various issues arise. Every contentious fork that arises represents an increased difficulty in Bitcoin ever achieving the network effects it requires in order to be effective.

H/t to Kyle Gibson and Joshua Davis for help editing this

Expertise, Diminishing Returns, and Intersecting Niches

I have been thinking recently about skill development, because I have a habit of never being focused in a single area and instead trying to learn as much as I can in as many niches as I can. Because of this, I am only what could be considered an expert in a relatively narrow subset. However, I am significantly knowledgeable in a wider array of niches. I am beginning to think that this form of knowledge may actually be more valuable. (Crazy that I would try to justify my own shortcomings right?)

I also want to try to treat these mathematically in order to explain my thinking, however, do not worry the math will be kept relatively simple.

So this idea came to me after I was sitting and reflecting on the kinds of tasks that will become valuable as our economy progresses with increasing automation. The conclusion I came to is that many jobs now will be either partially or completely automated. Many industries where there is little fear of automation, will end up being partially automated, destroying job prospects and wages. For example: accounting. It likely will not be fully automated anytime soon, however, a significant number of hours are spent on heuristic based tasks that computers will be able to in large part supplant. There will still need to be humans, but if one person can do the work of ten wages will fall and job prospects will dissapear.

So what will become valuable? Until there is significant progress on Artificial General Intelligence, a huge amount of the automation will be in very focused niches. So the value will come from humans who can bridge niches, understand broader pictures and connect information from disparate realms. Now the issue with this at first glance seems to be that it is going to require significantly more time and effort to reach a competitive level in multiple niches rather than just one. I believe that may be a little bit simplistic however, and I will explain why.

There is this concept when you are learning a new skill called the point of diminishing returns. Basically as we asymptotically approach expertise the amount of effort required to gain additional expertise is exponentially greater. Or to phrase it more simply the vast majority of the improvement comes from the initial investments of efforts. The move from middle 50% to 95% may take the same amount of effort as the move from 95% to 99% which will take the same effort as the move to 99.9% which will take the same effort as the move to 99.99%. Why is this valuable to us? Because by focusing on intersecting niches we do not the same super high level of expertise in order to be successful.

Let me explain: expertise in intersecting niches can be expressed as the product of your expertise in each individual niche. So let’s say for example I am in the top 5% of the world in knowledge about healthcare, and in the top 5% of the world in knowledge about running a non profit, for expertise in running a healthcare based non profit I am not in the top 5% I am instead in the top 0.25%. How is this possible? Because our expertise in this intersection is equal to the product so in this case: total expertise=.05 * .05 = .0025. If I am correct about this construction of expertise (and I am not, it is vastly simplified but focus on the concept) then if we can bring even more niches into our areas of expertise we reach progressively rarefied realms of cumulative expertise.

To really emphasize this, consider the fact that we have already established that it will take the same amount of effort to reach the top 1% of a single niche, as it will take to reach the top 0.25% of the intersection of two niches. If I am correct about this vision of the future the value of the Renaissance man is back. Being able to conceptualize and view the world through multiple well honed viewpoints and see the connections between them will become an incredibly valuable skill.

If I am wrong, I have a whole list of skills where I am almost good enough to be an expert but not quite.