What would a country adopting Bitcoins as official currency have to reinvent?

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Let's say that a country decided to ditch their currency and go for Bitcoins. What would this country have to reinvent. The reason why I ask, is because I believe that if a tiny country was to adopt Bitcoins as their official currency, then this would remove all legal issues related to this currency, and hence would enable it to get adopted more widely.

Some of the issues that could require reinventing something could be in relation to:

  • Transparency requirements for the government to efficiently tackle
    • Black economy
    • VAT and general taxation fraud
    • Financing of terrorism
  • Ability to peg the currency to other currencies if this is judged as a good idea
  • Have an efficient banking system
  • Ability to fight deflation

Any other issues, which I have not thought about. Please note that you do not have to answer all these issues in any one answer, just one of them.

David

Posted 2011-08-31T08:24:43.340

Reputation: 3 374

Answers

19

TL;DR:

In the first instance, my belief is that a government would have to create their own brand of Bitcoin (i.e. a new version of the blockchain) and use that to trade against other currencies. This is a useful move because the government retains control over their currency (they set the mining rules) and they don't suffer a wealth drain in the process.

In more detail, once a country (our mythical Seashell Island from the earlier draft) has decided that it wants to adopt Bitcoin as it's local currency the following timeline is likely to come into play:

Research into Bitcoin

At this time the government will need to look into what benefits and drawbacks Bitcoin is likely to bring to their economy. Assuming that they currently have a weak currency, then adopting Bitcoin early could be seen as a smart move since it gives them lower cost of entry into the Bitcoin marketplace.

Among the obvious advantages that Bitcoin brings with it are:

  • resistance to counterfeiting
  • resistance to inflation
  • easier to track than cash for traditional transactions types (i.e. not including private sales of high value private keys)

Some of the drawbacks are:

  • economy becomes vulnerable to loss of electricity/networking (true of all electronic transactions at present)
  • banks have a reduced regulatory role since transactions become largely anonymous
  • increased potential for anonymous transactions to take place in large amounts

This last drawback is perhaps the most serious since it allows for a vast amount of money to be moved in and out of the country without the knowledge of the government. Admittedly, this happens in the present system although due to the large physical size of cash it usually requires laundering of some kind (conversion to something precious).

However, government resources are significant and it is very hard to remain anonymous for long. Over time detailed statistics analysing transactions could be used by the police to pinpoint individuals reusing Bitcoin addresses. This process is made much easier by the existence of tools like blockexplorer.com and should be seen as an improvement over the existing traceability processes.

Setting up the necessary processes/contracts to obtain some form of Bitcoin

By this stage the government researchers will likely have determined that there are only a few feasible options to get hold of bitcoins (note the lowercase here):

  • set up their own mining pool (initially paying for it in their own currency) - unlikely
  • create a suitable contract with a mining pool to buy a large quantity of bitcoins (without including their own soon to be worthless currency - unlikely
  • encourage their citizens to go forth and buy bitcoins themselves and slowly drain the local currency into foreign hands then pull the plug on it (not exactly above board) - unlikely

Using any of the above approaches at this stage requires a significant transfer of wealth from the country into bitcoins and is probably the hardest part to get right. The problem is that there is no central authority who can control the supply of bitcoins exposing the country to the influence of the market. In the case of Euros, the exchange rate of the participating currencies was fixed well in advance after significant negotiation. When the time came to switch over nobody lost out because all the old currency was replaced with the new, which could be printed at will by the central bank.

It could be argued (by @David Perry for one) that some kind of intermediate value-store could be used, such as gold or silver. However, this still requires all of the country's wealth to be slowly converted to this value-store which will raise eyebrows among those folks selling it in exchange for a soon to be worthless currency. I'd welcome further discussion on this.

There is a significant danger that the country could be declared bankrupt in it's own currency before it is able to complete the operation.

EDIT to cover the most likely path by a government:

This would permit a staged transition and essentially solves the value-store problem. The value of a Seashell would be fixed against their SeashellCoin equivalent (probably as 1:1). In my opinion, this is probably the most likely mechanism that a government could take. The government could decide upon their own inflation model, select a Version entry and then throw a supercomputer on the job for 5 minutes to generate a few million coins. Once that's done then they can take advantage of the blockchain approach and off they go.

Setting up the necessary legislation to make them legal tender locally

Once an adequate number of Bitcoins are, somehow, in the government coffers they can then make the announcement that all local debts can be paid in bitcoins and will be accepted by a court of law. This ratifies Bitcoins around the world (assuming the country is a recognised state) leading to a huge increase in the value of Bitcoins. It also opens the door to taxation in bitcoins which would largely operate in the same way as it did before.

  • Value Added Tax (VAT) (aka sales tax) would continue to be added to Bitcoin transactions by merchants who would then transfer the money to the government at regular intervals, overseen by accountants
  • Income tax would also stay the same
  • Accounts would have to be returned along with their transaction IDs to allow verification of truth
  • Standard statistical methods to detect fraud would remain (relies on most folks behaving themselves)

Managing the transition among the general population

Since it is the government driving this then they are likely to provide all necessary equipment to facilitate the transfer. This would include:

  • recommendations for mobile phone applications (probably not likely to make their own due to "backdoor" privacy concerns)
  • provision of Bitcoin Wallet Devices that offer tamperproof private keys and are essentially like smartphones for those that don't have mobile phones (see the original Fred)
  • provision of EPOS systems that are Bitcoin enabled

All of the above would probably occur via contracts with private companies.

Handled well, the transition to Bitcoin would be like introducing a new contactless payment system. They would still want to maintain a secure location for their bitcoins (most likely a government backed bank) and after a while it would just fade into the background.

Reaping the benefits to the economy afterwards

Much of the long term benefits would stem from

  • the decreased transaction friction within the existing legal and banking system
  • better fiscal policy since supply is limited leading to improved standards of living and quality of life
  • increased long term wealth as an early adopter to a global currency
  • greater transparency in accounting that can be easily verified
  • immunity to global currency crises

Just my 2 BTCs.

Gary Rowe

Posted 2011-08-31T08:24:43.340

Reputation: 7 383

Hardware wallets are on their way: http://www.bitcointrezor.com/

– Gary Rowe – 2013-08-23T17:42:56.413

Answer does not take into account its open source, irrelevant points made, Adoption perception seems skewed for lack of a better word, unsure of what your trying to put across. – MaxSan – 2011-08-31T15:41:43.367

@MaxSan Thanks for the feedback. I'll have another crack at it - these were sort of a first draft of thoughts but I ran out of time. – Gary Rowe – 2011-08-31T15:48:51.063

Not a problem its a very difficult question and I think trying to answer them in such a way that is accurate and unbiased would be an awful difficul challenge. – MaxSan – 2011-08-31T16:02:15.050

Could seashell roll through an intermediate value-store? For example, in phase one all seashells are exchanged for gold/silver coins since they have a fairly stable value independent of the currency used, then in phase two gold is exchanged for bitcoins. Since the government can control the exchange rate for seashells/gold it can be handled much like the Euro was, and since gold has its own market value there wouldn't be a massive collapse when the exchanging for bitcoin begins. Seems logical to me, or have I missed something? – David Perry – 2011-08-31T16:48:54.973

1Fred doesn't have a mobile phone? You've obviously never been to Seashell Island. – eMansipater – 2011-08-31T17:23:40.567

@eMansipater +1 'cos it made me laugh :-D – Gary Rowe – 2011-08-31T17:45:48.767

@David Perry I was considering the intermediate value-store but I stopped since I was concerned that it was just another indirection. Once the gold sellers realise that they're buying soon to be useless Seashells then they're in trouble once again. It's a problem of transfer of wealth. – Gary Rowe – 2011-08-31T17:48:14.877

Not if the gold sellers are the government. In the example of the EuroZone they were trading soon-to-be-worthless Finnish marks for Euros at a given exchange rate. There's certainly a loss, but it's unlikely that a government would get out of such a rollover without a substantial loss. Now if the Seashell were a currency in crisis (coughgreececough) then it might be worth the loss. – David Perry – 2011-08-31T17:56:09.763

Just did a complete rewrite with a bit more cohesion and less storytelling. Off for a beer now. – Gary Rowe – 2011-08-31T18:54:03.210

@David Perry, they could use their own curreny to buy gold/silver yes. Then mint another 100 million "shellcoins" using the open source protocal. No extra would be able to be made and the value could be pegged at the amount of physical metal they hold.

There is no reason this would not be a suitable concept. – MaxSan – 2011-08-31T19:02:24.010

2Excellent rewrite. I think it should be noted if the protocal was changed to hardwire a percentage transaction fee directly to the servers of the government the could eliminate the need to have any taxing systems. all transactions fees could be fed directly back into the country – MaxSan – 2011-08-31T19:07:12.083

6Based on what I have read here, I cannot see any reason why a government would not, instead of adapting Bitcoins, would develop their own crypto-currency. This seems like a much cheaper option, and they would start off in complete control. But, if they created their own currency, I do not quite understand the purpose of making it a crypto-currency. – David – 2011-08-31T19:36:10.443

Thank you for updating your answer, I like the edited portion, but I still believe that the following section is unrealistic "Setting up the necessary contracts to purchase Bitcoins". A government would never purchase Bitcoins, nor set up any mining. The main reason for this is that they would influence the price of Bitcoins, while trying to purchase them, so they would not be able to calculate what the price would be to get enough Bitcoins. They would much rather start from scratch. – David – 2011-09-05T10:49:54.013

@David Yeah, purchasing bitcoins is very unlikely for a government (hence the extended discussion around it) but I feel it needs to remain in there for completeness. The best approach (that I'm currently aware of) for a government wanting to take advantage of the Bitcoin protocol for their own currency is for them to start mining their own. – Gary Rowe – 2011-09-05T11:16:59.827

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A nation State would never adopt Bitcoin willingly because the government would lose control over the ability to inflate the money supply. Inflation is nothing more than a tax. No government will ever willingly give up its primary means of stealing from the public. The inflation tax is the most insidious and the easiest for government to get away with. It is much more difficult to force people to hand over their money than it is to simply print new money. Historical charts of US tax revenue show that no matter what rate the government sets taxes at, revenues always come in at around 20% of GDP. This means that if the government wants to spend above 20% of GDP they must inflate the money supply as people will simply scam the tax system at higher rates.

Further, it would be ridiculous for any coercively funded government to implement its own version of Bitcoin that they retain control of, because once people found out that an identical open source currency system existed that had no inflation, they would use that system instead. Once an economy has been restructured to use crypto-currencies, no one in their right mind would chose to use the government issued currency when they could use Bitcoins instead.

Thus, a State implementation of crypto-currency will never occur. However, because Bitcoin has so many advantages over State issued currency and the fact that its exchange rates can not be controlled by a State, it is highly likely that over time Bitcoin will become the dominate global currency. This is because taxation can be avoided with Bitcoins, which allows businesses to by-pass legal tender laws. According to Thier's law, in the absence of legal tender laws, good money will drive out bad money.

Michael Suede

Posted 2011-08-31T08:24:43.340

Reputation: 61

2I could think very small countries (as Central American/Caribbean nations, or Southern Pacific island-nations) could very well adopt Bitcoin and benefit by doing so: most of them already use another nation's fiat currency, so they'd get independence of the other country's monetary policies. Plus they'd be more resistant to speculative attacks than if they went the route of printing their own (traditional) money... – Joe Pineda – 2013-05-27T16:51:16.287

The Lakota nation have just adopted a cryptocoin as their official currency - ex-professo created Mazacoin. Since they're surrounded by the USA and used US dollar for everything, most probably tribal govmnt. see it as a way to "claim" control and autonomy over their economy rather than surrendering it. – Joe Pineda – 2014-03-07T03:15:16.140

+1 for a demonstration of Thier's Law (I've edited your answer to include the link) – Gary Rowe – 2011-12-16T18:21:34.230

2

The most likely scenario in which a government would adopt Bitcoin is when their own currency is undergoing hyperinflation. As Gareth's answer points out, there would be no way to transfer the value of the old currency into Bitcoins. But if the currency had essentially no value anyway, it would not have to make that transition. In economies suffering hyperinflation, citizens typically switch to other currencies before their governments. Once the citizens have reached consensus that the old currency is worthless and privately switched to Bitcoins themselves, the government just has to agree to accept Bitcoins as payment, and the transition is complete.

jl6

Posted 2011-08-31T08:24:43.340

Reputation: 1 209

Should Auroracoin's experiment succeed, Iceland will go thru just that transition in the next few months, citizens first, due to for both hyperinflation and oppressive monetary controls. – Joe Pineda – 2014-03-07T03:18:47.120

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The short answer is that would have to reinvent bitcoin

In order for a country to adapt a new currency they have to abandon their old currency, this is done by making a law that transfers the value of the source currency to the new currency on a given date at a given rate (which may be decided on the day), but doing this is impossible with bitcoin since there isn't a central authority that can bless this sort of magic transaction as there was with the euro.

Basically they would have to invent a crypto currency that starts with the replacement of the source currency as it's seed.

Gareth Davis

Posted 2011-08-31T08:24:43.340

Reputation: 127

+1 for a pithy answer that nails the problem that most governments would face ;-D – Gary Rowe – 2011-09-01T07:58:40.977

I've edited my answer to include a more complete description of how a government can trade using their own Bitcoin blockchain so that the Bitcoin protocol stands. – Gary Rowe – 2011-09-05T10:28:13.387

3This answer is simply wrong. They would face a lot of issues, but having to reinvent bitcoin isn't one of them. If they wanted, they could take the Bitcoin protocol, create a new blockchain, and pre-generate all coins. Checkout out @Gary's excellent answer. – ripper234 – 2011-09-05T10:36:02.553

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There are other practical challenges a country need to face:

Before even starting the change, a government must convince people. Old people here in Hungary still insist on using cash, and nobody can convince them to use bank cards: they got their salaries on the bank account and the first thing they do is going to the bank and withdraw the entire account as cash. Also crypto-currencies require internet access. This means every people in the country must have some form of access to the internet to be able to transfer money between each other. So far no country in the world have 100% internet penetration. Here in Hungary the internet penetration is only 75%, this means 2.5 million don't have or don't wish to have access to the internet.

These people must be served by new system as well. Eg. they should make paper wallets that should be filled up by their employer.

People also need education. If you are careless it's rather easy to wipe off the private key of the current change address from your computer or smart phone and losing all the money. Also in case of the paper wallets if someone can access their papers for a short time can take the money off from them without actually stealing the paper.

Authorities must find a way to track people's spendings. Banks nowadays must report the transactions to the tax authorities, so they can claim the right amount of tax. With bitcoin we are basically back the age of cash which is almost untrackable. I have no idea how could they accomplish this.

The current Bitcoin system has a fixed money supply. It doesn't address the problem of lost coins and hoarding. Without some depreciation there is no incentive to actively exchange it. So people instead will hoard it and use it as permanent store of value. If we want active exchange then we should create a system that encodes some moderate inflation, that's large enough so people don't want store their savings in it, instead they exchange it and buy other financial assets to store value in.

Calmarius

Posted 2011-08-31T08:24:43.340

Reputation: 141

0

I think the best countries suitable to adopt Bitcoin are the ones who are suffering from Hyper inflation (ie the government is inflating the money supply to offset bad economics or policies). adoption would be informal, and would grow with grass roots much like those countries now adopt the USD as a safe haven.

The result would be cartelistic, like the invention of the wheel or the printing press or radio. All financial interest in governing will be eroded, and true democracy for the people will emerge, like in the early Union of States, there will be no fiscal power in Politics. There will be a lack of government funding, so the IMF and World Bank will lose their foot hold in reforming the country in there model, and a new more sustainable era will emerge.

Provided the adopting country had something to export that the international Bitcoin community wanted, the growth will spread and far sparse that of China on steroids.

The government that will evolve won't be centrally planned, the era of many to 1 and 1 to many communication will fade, it will be P2P many to many communication.

While Rick Falkvinge sees a future where there is a central governments providing social assistance, and people are liberated from involuntary tax and gain economic freedom, (http://bitcoinmedia.com/eurobit-rick-falkvinge-banks-the-fourth-victim-of-citizens-empowerment/ ) I mostly agree with his vision of change, but I think Bitcoin is a more radical technology. It will bring in a new kind of governance, that is not suitable for a centrally controlled monopoly. I see a new more just and equitable world (a type 1 civilization emerging).

So for that fundamental reason we now have a technology so powerful it will change the way we live, in just 10 years from now it will start. I don't want to suggest ways to change it to fit with our current political hierarchy, but use it as a disruptive technology and pave the way.

Adrian71

Posted 2011-08-31T08:24:43.340

Reputation: 31