“Give me liberty, or give me death!”
These famous words were uttered by Patrick Henry in 1775 before the Second Virginia Convention. In doing so he was making an emboldened declaration that the United Colonies should be liberated from the Kingdom of Great Britain.
Well, asketh and thou shall receive! It would be under one year until the Declaration of Independence was signed in July of 1776.
I stand (well currently sitting) here some 243 years later and would like to make a similarly bold proclamation.
Give me Libra, or give me death!
Ok, it’s not my proclamation, but that of Mr. Zuckerberg (Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook). And call me dramatic, but we may be at the dawn of an equally historic moment.
A couple of weeks back, Facebook pulled the curtain back on its foray into the world of crypto and financial services. The company will be launching a new cryptocurrency called Libra. Well, more accurately, Facebook, in association with 28 other leading companies around the world, has created the Libra Association, which will be the governing body of the Libra cryptocurrency and the underlying blockchain with the same name. In other words, the digital currency will not be controlled by Facebook alone, but rather by the association.
Pulled directly from the white paper
(I recommend reading the entire document),
The world truly needs a reliable digital currency and infrastructure that together can deliver on the promise of “the internet of money.” Securing your financial assets on your mobile device should be simple and intuitive. Moving money around globally should be as easy and cost-effective as — and even more safe and secure than — sending a text message or sharing a photo, no matter where you live, what you do, or how much you earn. New product innovation and additional entrants to the ecosystem will enable the lowering of barriers to access and cost of capital for everyone and facilitate frictionless payments for more people.
So why do I believe that this might be a historic moment? First, let’s zero in on the phrase, “the internet of money.” As a corollary, think about what the internet did for the flow of information. In the 90s, many referred to the internet as the “information superhighway.” That is, the flow of information was democratized. Given you had a computer and an internet connection, it became trivial to publish and distribute information. You could freely communicate with anyone across the globe within seconds. If the printing press wrested power from the church, the internet wrested the same from governments, media conglomerates, and incumbent power structures.
The key thing to note here is that there was a wholesale shift of control from those that controlled the supply and distribution of information, to those that controlled demand. So when I read the phrase “the internet of money,” the thought is that the internet should do for money exactly what it did for information. Namely, create a fully open and democratized system that empowers more people. But I don’t believe we’ve seen for money what we’ve seen for information.
The obvious place to start, and the first place crypto bugs often look for a use case, is the underbanked and disenfranchized. If you live in a setting that has poor payment infrastructure or is ripe with government corruption, an internet for money would be an obvious step forward. Similarly, any locale that is vulnerable to wild currency fluctuations would be an obvious beneficiary of an internet of money based on a stable digital currency.
However, while the above point is an important one, many in the west won’t care. One of the most common questions I hear people ask is, “Why would I care living in the US? We have great payment infrastructure and a stable currency.” True and true. But I’ll highlight a few examples of where there is still friction in the payment system. If you have family in one of those vulnerable locales I mentioned above, sending money to your relatives is far harder than it should be and carries high fees. Traveling is another friction point. Over the last few months, I’ve spent time in France, Korea, and Japan. I often couldn’t download a local ride-sharing app due to lack of a local bank account. Not all merchants accepted cards, so I was often forced to use the local currency. That brought with it ATM transaction fees and, of course, you get gouged in the airport on the way home when you want to convert back to USD. If you want to start a company, you might look for bank financing or venture capital, which is out of reach for many. So, while we do have it good here in the US, friction points abound.
The second point I’ll point to is the formation of the Libra Association. Here’s a screenshot of the association members at this point (Facebook has stated a goal of at least 100 members when Libra launches next year):