COSM A Technology Summit

Chair of Forbes Media Says Money Is About Trust

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Think of money as a battery—your stored power to buy things. But what determines its worth? The government? American currency is typically worth what the government says, in terms of what you can buy. But that’s not true in many places. So people turn to foreign currencies and cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. And now Facebook wants to start its own currency.

The panelists for “Can Crypto and Blockchain Reverse the Tech Decline (and Enable an Internet Renaissance)” at a COSM Tech Summit looked at Facebook’s proposal to start minting the Libra in 2020. The US government made clear that it does not like the proposal. 

Panelist Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media, wrote an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg last June in which he pointed out that private currency is all around us; we just don’t call it that:

The airlines’ frequent-flier miles are really a form of money that customers can earn and use to buy trips and various other things. Credit card companies, hotels and numerous retailers have all sorts of loyalty programs in which people earn points that will let them buy all manner of goodies.

But if you play your cards right with the Libra, you could be to money and finance what Henry Ford was to automobiles.

Steve Forbes, “Open Letter To Mark Zuckerberg” at Forbes (June 25, 2019)

But playing those cards right would be an about-Face for Zuckerberg, whose firm currently faces an anti-trust probe and was slapped with a record-smashing $5 billion fine last summer for privacy violations. Forbes’ further suggestion that Zuckerberg dispense with false modesty and rebrand his proposed currency “the Mark” might not mend matters with the Faceless federal bureaucrats either… 

But Forbes pointed the panel’s audience to a key fact about money: “It’s not the supply, it’s the trust.” And, as panelist Ed Moy, former director of the U.S. mint and fan of cryptocurrencies in principle, noted, “The problem with the Libra is trust in Facebook. We don’t trust them with our information but we would trust them with our currency?” 

But it’s not a flash in the pan. There are rumors that Amazon plans to launch its own currency too.

Futurist and tech philosopher George Gilder pointed out that, in any event, the underlying value of money is time. In a world where everything else fluctuates, everyone equally has 24 hours in a day. That’s all the time there is: 

That’s the fundamental insight. Money is a fungible representation of time. The price of anything is the time a typical worker has to spend to make the money to buy it.

Historically, in early North America, private currencies were routinely minted in remote regions where government currency was hard to get hold of and barter was often impractical. They disappeared with the arrival of supplies of government (fiat) currencies, but they sufficed for many decades.

So the future of money, like its past, is going to be quite interesting.

The panelists for “Can Crypto and Blockchain Reverse the Tech Decline (and Enable an Internet Renaissance)?” were George Gilder (moderator), Steve Forbes — Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Forbes Media, Ed Moy, former director, U.S. Mint, and William Dembski, mathematician, entrepreneur, and philosopher. The panel was part of the Wednesday program of COSM, A National Technology Summit: AI, Blockchain, Crypto, and Life After Google October 23–25, 2019, sponsored by the Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence, hosted by technology futurist George Gilder. 

Denyse O’Leary reporting live from the COSM Technology Summit.

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