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Assessing Crypto Legality as a future asset for 2030: Policy Review


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Introduction


The introduction of Bitcoin by Satoshi Nakomoto in 2009 changed the world forever. The decentralized electronic currency has been hailed as a radical development in digital assets while simultaneously criticized as "nothing more than a pyramid scheme", an unproductive fad with no inherent value. More than a decade later, the topic of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin remains divisive, with passionate supporters citing decentralized currencies as a hedge against traditional currencies and a store of value not unlike gold and other rare earth metals. At the same time, detractors raise concerns about the negative environmental and socioeconomic impact of cryptocurrency mining and exchange. The markets for buying and selling crypto-assets via decentralized exchanges (DeXes in short) have also been criticized by many as highly risky, volatile, and unsustainable for long-term value investment.


Yet, institutional and retail players have invested trillions of dollars in major cryptocurrencies and have been rewarded with unprecedented, historic returns over the past decade. This global phenomenon sparked strong reactions from regulators worldwide, where few nations welcomed Bitcoin as legal tender; while most treated the concept of a stateless currency as a menace to society that must be heavily regulated and even outright banned. The resulting uncertainty over crypto regulations has created stochastic volatility in the crypto markets, making fundamental and technical analysis of crypto-asset prices nearly impossible.


As politics and popular culture arrive at a consensus on the utility of cryptocurrency, we at GGI pose a big-picture question: “Is crypto a viable asset class for the 2020s”? Are we witness to moments before the total collapse of trillions of dollars invested and thousands of jobs lost? Or are we in the most unprecedented bull-run of any asset-class known to man?


In this white paper, we define the features and various stages of an economic bubble in particular relation to cryptocurrency, and analyze the current crypto markets for markers of economic collapse. We further perform PESTEL analysis of the crypto markets from the viewpoint of the small-dollar retail investor. Lastly, we suggest future-focused public policy measures to minimize socioeconomic harm to the investor while maximizing return on investment for millions of people worldwide.


About Crypto and the Market


While a black or white answer is most desirable, it seems the deeper we dive into it, the greyer the conclusion becomes.

Before analyzing if crypto qualifies as an economic bubble, some popular opinions/observations on cryptos: (represented by Bitcoins and others):

  • “It’s probably rat poison squared” – Warren Buffet on Bitcoin, 2018.

  • “Maybe just think of it as a cult that can survive indefinitely." – Paul Krugman, Nobel Laureate (Economics).

  • "I think it's speculation of the highest order. I don't want to join every party in town. I think the hangover is much worse" – Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, on being asked if he would buy Bitcoins.

  • 62% of surveyed investors believe cryptocurrencies are in a bubble, according to JPMorgan1.


At the same time, there is a growing class of eminent investors and industrialists welcoming this new idea and technology, such as Elon Musk, Mark Cuban and others.

This polarization invites an attempt to inquire, if the argument of crypto being/not being a bubble, can be substantiated with reasoning? Understanding what exactly is a “bubble” can help further the cause:


Economic Bubble – what qualifies for one?


A market phenomenon characterized by surges in asset prices to levels significantly above the fundamental value of that asset. Bubbles are often hard to detect in real time because there is disagreement over the fundamental value of the asset. - Nasdaq


Stages of an economic bubble:

  1. Displacement - occurs when investors get enamored by a new paradigm, such as an innovative new technology or interest rates that are historically low.

  2. Boom - Prices rise slowly at first, following a displacement, but then gain momentum as more and more participants enter the market, setting the stage for the boom phase. Fear of missing out on what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity spurs more speculation, drawing an increasing number of investors and traders into the fold.

  3. Euphoria - Valuations reach extreme levels during this phase as new valuation measures and metrics are touted to justify the relentless rise, and the "greater fool" theory—the idea that no matter how prices go, there will always be a market of buyers willing to pay more—plays out everywhere.

  4. Profit-Taking - heeding the warning signs that the bubble is about at its bursting point, institutional and other high-profile investors start selling positions and taking profits – but estimating the exact bursting point can be difficult, as aptly put by economist John Maynard Keynes: "the markets can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent."

  5. Panic - It only takes a relatively minor event to prick a bubble, but once it is pricked, the bubble cannot inflate again. In the panic stage, asset prices reverse course and descend as rapidly as they had ascended.

Taking Bitcoin as a representative of crypto, we can apply the above test to develop a hypothesis:

As evident from above, though crypto has displayed some qualifying characteristics, it seems that there is more to its technology, since the last parameters are not satisfied. Thus, in order to develop a holistic understanding about crypto, we begin with a hypothesis that it is not just a bubble, but has actual utility and value.


Future of Crypto


“The global crypto market cap is $1.90T, a 3.90% decrease over the last day”, says CoinMarketCap.com as of 12th February 2022. The downward trend in crypto in early 2022 is seen as a positive sign pointing to the end of its "bubble" stage. This also marks the shift of its perception from a get-rich-quick opportunity to a solid creation with the potential to revolutionize several industries as we know them. This technology has fundamental advantages of higher efficiency, better security and an unprecedented level of transparency. You will find some of the best applications of crypto below:


1. Decentralized Finance (DeFi)


Decentralized finance, or DeFi, is a system by which financial products become available on a public decentralized blockchain network. That makes them open to anyone to use, rather than going through middlemen like banks or brokerages. More specifically, DeFi refers to a system by which software written on blockchains makes it possible for buyers, sellers, lenders, and borrowers to interact peer to peer or with a strictly software-based middleman rather than a company or institution facilitating a transaction. The total value locked in DeFi contracts is $86.24 billion, as of 12th February 2022 according to DeFiPulse.com.

For example, a recent $99 million Litecoin (LTC) transaction took only two and a half minutes to process and cost the sender only $0.40 in transaction fees. If this money transfer had gone through a financial intermediary the fees would have been much, much higher and the transfer would have taken several days, or longer if this was a cross-border transaction.


2. Censorship-resistant store of wealth


While you probably don’t think your bank account and assets could be frozen, the reality is that this occurs more often than people realise — especially in jurisdictions with dubious rule of law. All it can take is for someone to be accused of financial misconduct or making powerful enemies. When that happens, people can find themselves with little to no access to cash, even if they’ve done nothing wrong.

This is when cryptocurrencies like bitcoin act as a censorship-resistant alternative store of wealth that only the individual with the private keys to the wallet has access to. Hence, no personal bitcoin wallet can ever be frozen by any adverse authority.


3. Invest in innovative early-stage startups


Digital token-based fundraising allows anyone with an Internet connection to become an investor in innovative early-stage tech startups, while at the same time providing new startup ventures with much-needed seed capital through an initial coin offering (ICO). They are a form of fundraising that provides startups with the opportunity to raise capital by selling a newly-created digital token to early backers of the project in exchange for established cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin (BTC) or ether (ETH). The price of the newly-issued token then acts as a proxy linked to the success or failure of said startup once it starts to trade in the secondary market.

In some cases, the digital tokens of the most successful ICOs have increased in value by several thousand per cent and cryptocurrency-based fundraising has helped startups to raise over $12 billion in the past two years.


4. NFTs


NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token, as the name suggests, it is something that cannot be exchanged for another item because it is unique (like a piece of art). NFTs are tokens that live on a blockchain and represent ownership of unique items. Why is this useful? Tracking the ownership of a digital file can be extremely difficult as it is downloaded, copied, and distributed easily. NFT solves this problem of ownership which can help creators earn their fair share every time their content is resold.

"The metaverse is the next big technology platform, attracting online game makers, social networks and other technology leaders to capture a slice of what we calculate to be a nearly $800 billion market opportunity." - (Bloomberg Intelligence)

NFTs are fundamental to the metaverse, they enable people and businesses to purchase virtual plots, curate digital avatars and facilitate identity, community and social experiences. Use cases of NFTs have also expanded to ticketing, real estate, and so on.


5. Get paid to post content


"Believe it or not, today the total size of the creator economy is estimated to be a little over $100 billion dollars... .. ...creators focus on monetary gain, making this one of the most appealing professions in the 21st century." - (Forbes)

Web3 enables users to receive financial rewards for publishing their content on the internet and guaranteeing fair earnings on every reproduction of the original work. Steemit is a popular example of a social media that financially empowers its users by rewarding them for contributing to the platform as opposed to taking its users data and selling it to third parties as Facebook does.


The road ahead


Crypto offers previously unseen levels of transparency and efficiency for transactions. However, when diving deeper into the essence of the technology, its limitations as of now become evident. For it to become a viable alternative, the industry players should have a thorough understanding of the technology. Most likely, we will see a very gradual adoption of this technology for the simplest forms of transactions in the near future. As long as the industry becomes comfortable using it at least in some cases, the technology adoption will be ongoing.


Challenges Of Crypto:


Challenges to Crypto Adoption :


1. Political Challenges

  1. Governments around the world are responding to Crypto differently

  2. Lack of global coordination among authorities for a unilateral approach to worldwide regulation

  3. Challenges with cross-border activities (AMT) - global stablecoins

  4. Undermine the status of national currencies - boom of central digital currencies

2. Economic Challenges

  1. Market volatility in price movements and the lack of inherent or fundamental value makes their valuation difficult and open to speculation

  2. Financial Instability due to potential economic effects on the flow of money, corruption, money laundering, terror financing

3. Social Challenges

  1. Social perception of Crypto due to lack of awareness and advocacy - bad imagery causing skepticism

  2. Misleading advertisements, get rich quick schemes for scams, frauds and market manipulation creates a risky environment

  3. Lack of adequate qualified personnel to manage the underlying technology

  4. Technological Challenges

  5. Blockchain technology still at nascent stage is slow and cumbersome - Inefficient Technological design can encourage hacks and data breaches

  6. Scalability issues - the system is still unable to accommodate large-scale users at the same time compared to legacy transaction networks

  7. Lack of standardization or uniformity - limited interoperability

  8. Integration with legacy systems

  9. Data Privacy and security risks

4. Legal Challenges

  1. Cryptos are not regulated - Lack of legislation does not provide consumers and investors any protection from possibles breaches or losses

    1. The decentralized nature of crypto posses a great risk for investors especially those who have been defrauded does not have the same recourse as traditional fraud victims

5. Sidestep Regulation to circumvent government imposed capital controls

  1. Governments exercise control on economic and fiscal policy thereby keeping a check on the inflow and outflow of currencies. Sidestepping such controls would create legal challenges for any government

Capital flight incidence in China is one such example.

Chinese investors are transferring more money they are allowed out of the country circumventing the limit through foreign investments


6. Environmental Challenges

  1. High Energy Consumption - outsized energy needs to mine cryptos

    1. Between 2015 and March of 2021, Bitcoin energy consumption increased almost 62 fold and its getting worse as miners continue to increase their computing power to compete with other miners

  2. Greenhouse gas emissions from energy usage and electronic waste

    1. Adding to the huge e-waste problem is the specialized hardware requirements for bitcoin mining which becomes obsolete every 1.5 years and cannot be reprogrammed

    2. Estimated Generates 11.5 kilotons of e-waste each year

  3. Proof-of-work cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin showing higher environmental impacts

    1. According to a study done by Cambridge researchers, if Bitcoin was a country it would be in the top 30 energy users worldwide, consumes more energy than Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft combined

    2. Many other studies warned potential push in global warming beyond 2 degrees with major mining operations in China and others moving to the U.S. eventually affecting environmental efforts to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

Government and policy aspects


The responses of governments have ranged from trying to regulate to banning to accepting it as an asset class in some cases and accepting it as a currency in case of El Salvador. Some countries in Asia, e.g. Japan, Singapore and Hongkong have been lenient towards crypto as a digital asset whereas China adopted a more command and control measure. South Korea is lenient on the technology but wants to have anti-money laundering and KYC related checks and balances. The EU and UK are approaching the technology with caution1. The major reasons of concern from the government/ international organizations can be classified as:

- Unregulated nature of the currency: The unregulated nature of cryptocurrency poses multiple challenges for agencies. There have been numerous discussions on linkages of crypto to financing of cross border terrorism2 3. The same has been voiced by the UN and law enforcement agencies in India as well. Even if not on such a macro scale, on an individual level, tracing of fraudulent transactions and consequent grievance redressal is absent as these transactions do not fall under the purview of regulatory agencies. It can also be used to procure drugs and other prohibited goods and services. The Silk Road scandal of the US is one such example where identities of participants in drug transactions were shielded using this technology4.

- Volatility due to small ticket investors rallying in hoards behind certain personalities and their viewpoints without understanding potential threats5. Since the size of the market is low, the extent of volatility is higher.

- Information asymmetry among the investors and crypto issuing organizations: The ads played during the recent ICC T20 World cup caught the government’s attention. “About the misleading advertisements and about we are banning them... Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), which governs all advertisements, their guidelines are being studied and the regulations that they have are all being looked into so that we can take, if necessary, some kind of position to a decision to say how we are going to handle this” was said by Ms. Sitharaman FM, GOI6.

- Macroeconomic threat, and financial instability: The volatility of crypto makes it a not a lucrative choice for currency as the official monetary unit must be stable enough to be used for medium to long term monetary obligations. Moreover, if the majority of assets are tied to crypto, the financial organizations and banks would have to endure massive fluctuations of prices. Regulations against foreign exposure and risky assets may prove difficult with crypto being a legal tender 7 8 9.

Open Questions to Explore:

  • Is taxing it at a higher rate a good approach? Revenue secretary Mr. Tarun Bajaj hinted at the same when asked about his opinion10. The announcement in the 2022 budget taxing digital assets as capital gain has raised doubts if it is a soft acceptance of the existence of the crypto market.

  • Who can be a regulatory body and how will it regulate? In the recent Sydney dialogue, Mr. Modi, PM GOI had asked for international collaboration to ensure user security when it comes to cryptocurrency11. In the US, the President has recently signed an act to apply stringent anti-laundering clauses on digital assets1. This would require a KYC like reporting obligations for transacting in digital assets greater than a set limit12.

  • Shall the RBI come up with its own digital currency? Is it the government's business to get into this field? Recently, RBI gave indications that it is considering launching Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) which would be under its legal control8. The same was announced in the budget 2022 where RBI will come up with “digital equivalent” of currency.

  • Way of recourse if there's fraud? “While the technology underlying crypto assets has proven extremely robust, technical glitches could occur. In the case of Bitcoin, recourse is difficult as there is no legal issuer,” according to IMF7. Presently, no mechanism of grievance redressal exists.

Technological aspects


There have been debates about the optimization between security and energy footprint of digital currencies. The other major challenges can be subdivided into the following.

The maturity of the technology and consequent scalability for wider adoption: The speed of Bitcoin transactions is mere 4.6 transactions per second as compared to 1700 transactions per second (approx.) by Visa 13.


Chances of fraud: One such major hack was the Mt. Gox hack where $460 million (approx.) worth of cryptocurrencies were wiped out by hackers4. Recently Bitmart and BXH Exchange faced the same issue where $196 million and $139 million were wiped out respectively 14.


Open Questions to Explore:

  • Interoperability between the crypto currencies: How and at what value?

Exchanges among different kinds of coins must be standardized. Since there is no “intrinsic value” like other assets, who determines the rate of exchange?

  • Role of decentralized exchanges? How do they optimize security and privacy?

Risk assessment of crypto:


The key characteristics of physical currency which lead to its usability are scarcity, divisibility, acceptability, portability, durability and uniformity15. The currency is both a medium of exchange and a store of value. The utility of currency as a medium of exchange is due to its institutional backing (monarchy/govt/central bank) 16. The utility as a store of value requires the currency to have limited price volatility over time. With this in mind, the risk factors of Bitcoin are compared with that of fiat currency.


Assumptions/Challenges



In Conclusion

In this report, we seek to answer the question- “Is crypto a viable asset class for the 2020s”? We begin our analysis of the crypto markets through the lens of predicting an economic bubble. As we lay out the five observable stages of an economic bubble, we agree on the hypothesis that crypto is not in a bubble and must be considered an asset with real utility and value. We list a few of the many use cases for cryptocurrency in the 2020s, with current market capture of $1.9 Trillion only expected to grow as crypto goes mainstream. Cognizant of the challenges against mass adoption of cryptocurrency, we perform PESTEL analysis to list the spectrum of roadblocks that the crypto markets and associated industries must prepare for as the technology evolves. Lastly, we discuss the role of public policy in establishing legal frameworks for cryptocurrency minting and exchange, seeking to protect small-dollar retail investors from uncontrollable risk while fostering productive crypto assets.

In conclusion, we at GGI fail to reject the hypothesis of an economic bubble and believe that cryptocurrency as an asset class has inherent value which could yield high returns for prepared investors over the upcoming decade. The initial PESTEL challenges, once overcome, could help lift millions of people out of poverty and give financial freedom to millions more.


Meet The Thought Leaders


Shatakshi Sharma has been a management consultant with BCG and is Co- Founder of Global Governance Initiative with national facilitation of award- Economic Times The Most Promising Women Leader Award, 2021 and Linkedin Top Voice, 2021.

Prior to graduate school at ISB, she was Strategic Advisor with the Government of India where she drove good governance initiatives. She was also felicitated with a National Young Achiever Award for Nation Building. She is a part time blogger on her famous series-MBA in 2 minutes.


Naman Shrivastava is the Co-Founder of Global Governance Initiative. He has previously worked as a Strategy Consultant in the Government of India and is working at the United Nations - Office of Internal Oversight Services. Naman is also a recipient of the prestigious Harry Ratliffe Memorial Prize - awarded by the Fletcher Alumni of Color Executive Board. He has been part of speaking engagements at International forums such as the World Economic Forum, UN South-South Cooperation etc. His experience has been at the intersection of Management Consulting, Political Consulting, and Social entrepreneurship.


Karan Patel (he/him) is a mentor at GGI an undergraduate from IIT Madras. He is correctly employed with Teachmint, an ed-tech start-up in their strategy team. Prior to Teachmint, he worked at Dalberg Advisors as an analyst where he worked with multi-laterals and international foundations on gender, education and energy sectors. He has also interned in MIT Sloan, Qualcomm and IIM Ahmedabad giving him a plethora of experience in the corporate and academic world. He also started his own venture in hyperlocal air-quality monitoring. Karan is an avid sport-person and masala chai fantatic.


Meet The Authors (GGI Fellows)


Arpit Gupta is an independent policy lawyer, specializing in technology law and policy issues. He studied from National Law University, Jodhpur. He has previously worked with Ikigai Law, where he worked on various tech policy issues including on data protection and governance, online gaming, cryptocurrency/blockchain and digital payments. He is also a former LAMP Fellow, and worked at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Co. He loves Indian music, and reading random things on the internet.


Bhargav Nanda is a Chartered Accountant, & holds Bachelor degree in Commerce from Saurashtra University. Currently working with SKS Business Services (India) Ltd. , a business advisory and professional services firm. He interned with an ex-member firm of Deloitte India. He loves travel, watching tennis, surfing wikipedia for topics of interest, and is an occasional reader. Performing Arts and Cinema also interest him, having acted in a few plays and and short films for competitions.



Pranav Nadimpalli (he/him) is a passionate tech-enthusiast, and a B.Tech-M.Tech graduate in Biomedical Engineering from IIT Madras. He loves electronic music and baking, amongst other things. Currently working at ABInBev as a data scientist, he is experienced in data science and blockchain development. When he’s not working, you may find him with his headphones on, reading about the latest in technology and entrepreneurship.



Arnab Das (he/him) is an engineer currently working in the renewable energy domain. He is presently employed with Ametek, a global conglomerate in their research team. Prior to this he has worked in the semiconductor industry in companies like Texas Instruments and Microchip Technologies. He holds a Master’s degree in Engineering from Indian Institute of Science. He also teaches undergraduate students to help them crack the GATE exam. He loves learning new languages and can speak German, French and Mandarin. He used to travel quite a lot but then again, that was pre-COVID :)


Vishakha Tekriwal (she/her) is a graduate from IMT Ghaziabad with an MBA in Finance. She is currently working as a Financial Advisor for the SME sector to help businesses plan and raise finance for their current operations, growth opportunities, investments and innovation. Prior to this she has worked with Deloitte USI Consulting on their Finance Transformation projects and Digital Core operations. She is also an active social worker in the education space and worked with multiple NGOs to develop interactive learning solutions. In her free time she is either exploring a new travel destination or deeply engrossed in a book.


Shashank Gupta is an undergraduate in Information Technology from VIT Vellore. He is employed currently at Barclays Investment Bank as a Technology Analyst working on solutions for trade-related market activities. Prior to this, he led Team Enactus VIT to work on multiple social entrepreneurship projects trying to generate new employment prospects for marginalised communities. You may find Shashank advising friendly start-ups on their products, scalability and marketing.


If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship, you can access our application link here.


References:


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