The Way Money Used to Be
I wrote this story about the paradigm shift that cryptocurrencies may cause in the future, from the perspective of an old man reflecting on the past. If you enjoy this story, please have a look at other material I have written at CryptoMurmur.
The Way Money Used to Be -- Darren Kleine
“I remember it like it was yesterday, James,” the old man wistfully pondered. “Money was so different back then. Everything was different.”
“How so, Will?” the younger one asked -- not so young as to be a child, but young enough to not remember the way money used to be.
“Back then,” Will replied, “money was not something shared and traded freely like it is now… it was mostly owned by a few, and they were the few who controlled it. They issued it, and they manipulated its value to their advantage.”
“They could print it, as much as they would convince the people they needed, and over time, the money became worth less and less, but the people would owe more and more.”
“But if they mined it and mined it,” James asked, “and mined it all, wouldn’t they run out of money eventually? Then the money would be scarce and become worth more, right?”
“No, no, no!” Will was amused at James’ naivete. “They didn’t mine it like we do now. Now, our computers solve mathematical problems to mine a currency, and it becomes more and more scarce, and more and more valuable, but back then, the people in power just printed more and more money as they saw fit, creating more and more debt and less and less value.”
“Out of thin air?” James was incredulous. “How could they do that? Didn’t people see how they were taking advantage of them?”
“It took time for people to realise. They began to realise when the new money came to be. But it was a slow, gradual change. Cryptocurrency did not have a good reputation, at first.”
James was confused. “What do you mean? How can a currency be bad? Can’t it be used for good or bad?”
“Of course!” Will replied, “but the few who controlled money wanted to keep things that way, so they created fear and paranoia about the new money. They said cryptocurrency was only used by criminals, paying for committing horrible acts with impunity, behind a shield of anonymity. The old money, on the other hand, was tracked and followed everywhere it went on the Internet, thus creating the illusion of safety. In reality, though, it was controlled and manipulated.”
“And people didn’t mind? They just willingly gave up their privacy like that? Bizarre!” James was struggling to relate to such a different way of seeing the world.
“They didn’t know there were better alternatives” Will explained. “Money was not only controlled by the few, the powerful, and the elite, but also by tanks, guns and bombs. There wasn’t much the average person could do about it at the time.”
“Money was centralised - controlled by a few powerful entities. Not like now. Cryptocurrency as we know it today has no central authority. It can not be attacked and destroyed at any one single point,” Will continued, “It wasn’t secure like it is now, either. Money could be stolen and hidden in vast quantities by those in power who could control what was seen, so nobody could possibly know if a government or other person in power was stealing money from the rest of the people.”
James was astonished. “No public ledger? So, you just had to trust the people who controlled the money to be honest about the money, when it was in their best interests to be selfish? That makes no sense!”
Will laughed. “I know, it’s funny when you think back how it just seemed perfectly normal and acceptable at the time! Now it seems… ridiculous!”
They chuckled as they reminisced.
“I remember…” Will continued, “You would have to go to a place called a bank - a place that might give you permission to store your own money there if you had enough money to begin with, and then charged you for storing it, charged you for withdrawing it, charged you for sending it, and profited from gambling it, all while charging you more to borrow it!”
“That’s crazy.” James almost sounded disgusted. “You didn’t just store your own money in your own wallet? And just send it to whomever you please?”
“Nope!” Will replied. “Instead, you asked the bank to send it for you, for a fee, of course! And if you wanted to send money to family or friends across the world, well…”
“Well, what?” James prodded.
“Well… it could take days, and it cost a great deal.”
James answered, “Well I suppose that’s fair since that was before the internet, right? I mean, it wouldn’t be so easy to move money like that back then, right?”
“Oh, no, no.” Will clarified. “The internet had already been around for quite some time, in fact. But because currencies were not cryptocurrencies, because they were centrally controlled with middlemen like banks, there was not much choice but to pay for the banks to move the money as they saw fit. And if they could make more money charging fees to send money around the world, why wouldn’t they?” Will chuckled.
“Wow” James found the whole scenario amusing.
“It’s funny how when you look back at something in the past, it can seem so ridiculous, but at the time, it seems perfectly reasonable” Will contemplated.
“I know I’ll never understand it!” they laughed together, one at memories of the strange ways things were in the past, the other not quite understanding how different things had become.
So what exactly is cryptocurrency then?
Cryptocurrency attempts to solve many of the problems of the modern money system, called fiat. In the current money system, money is printed or minted by selling debt. The money is then lent out to borrowers and spent around the world. More and more money gets printed and more and more debt gets created. Since the money is created out of debt, it is impossible to ever pay back the debt entirely as more debt is constantly created with the money that is used to continuously pay the debt.
Cryptocurrency, on the other hand, is not printed or minted out of debt. It is created, most commonly, through a process that uses computer work, solving math problems that can not be cheated. It is created by anyone who chooses to participate in its creation, called a miner, much like miners of gold and other precious metals. When a miner successfully “mines” a cryptocurrency by solving a math problem with a computer, they are rewarded with a “block”, and can choose to keep the reward or to trade it with others. So, it is not controlled or stored somewhere by any one person or government. This is the greatest unique attribute of cryptocurrency - that it is decentralised - not controlled or stored by any one “central” person or group of people.
Cryptocurrencies use computer code that makes it secure and prevents it from being copied, so it can not be created out of debt and can not become so plentiful as to be worthless. Whenever someone trades cryptocurrency with someone else, the transactions also use this computer code, called cryptography, to make sure the transaction is true and that it is secure.
Miners are a part of this process, making sure that every transaction is correct and is not a duplicate or an incorrect amount. Most cryptocurrencies record these trades in a chain of blocks, called the blockchain, with each block storing information about the trade. The blocks create a chain of information that is checked by miners to make sure it is true. So cryptocurrency, through the use of cryptography, is far more secure than old fashioned fiat money.
Another great advantage of cryptocurrency is that it is much cheaper to send to people anywhere. Since there is no need for any kind of bank or money transfer agent, the fees can be tiny, rewarding miners around the world for checking that each trade is correct on a public ledger; the permanent and unchangeable list of trades seen on the blockchain. The public ledger is like an open account book where everyone can see all of the trades. Anyone who wants can look and see the amounts of currency that have been traded. Cryptocurrencies can use features that makes these transactions anonymous to varying degrees, to protect the privacy of traders. Money can be sent anywhere in the world without any border issues or bank accounts, directly from one person to another using this cryptographic system. The fee to send cryptocurrency to the other side of the world would be the same as it would be to send it to your neighbour because of this system.
Often, because of a cryptocurrency’s ability to send money anonymously anywhere in the world, it is portrayed as being used mostly by criminals for various crimes and terrorism. In reality, fiat money is used for almost all criminal activity in the form of cash, mostly USD. Ultimately, any currency can be used for good or evil, but it is in the interests of central fiat powers, who make a great deal of profit from debt, fees, and fiat money fabrication, to maintain a negative image for cryptocurrency.
Of all cryptocurrencies, the best known by far is Bitcoin. It is the oldest blockchain with the most miners and is seen as the most trusted and secure for this reason. But there are many other cryptocurrencies with different purposes. Ethereum, for example, is a cryptocurrency that was created with the idea of using the currency itself as a sort of platform for programming. Many cryptocurrencies are traded for goods and services on a constant basis, like Litecoin, Monero, and Ripple. There are literally thousands of cryptocurrencies for different purposes!
If you’re interested in cryptocurrencies, you can learn to mine them on your own computer or you can simply buy them from exchanges like Coinbase, Kraken, and Binance. There are new exchanges constantly springing up around the world, so check out exchanges in your region.