Category: 区块链资讯

The Ripple story

The Ripple story

Abstract: In this piece, we briefly look over the history of Ripple and examine various disputes between the founders and partner companies, typically over control of XRP tokens. We then explore elements of the technology behind Ripple. We conclude that the apparent distributed consensus mechanism doesn’t serve a clear purpose, because the default behaviour of Rippled nodes effectively hands full control over updating the ledger to the Ripple.com server. Therefore, in our view, Ripple does not appear to share many of the potentially interesting characteristics crypto tokens like Bitcoin or Ethereum may have, at least from a technical perspective.


Jed McCaleb (left) joined Ripple in 2011. Chris Larsen (right) joined the company in 2012. (Source: BitMEX Research)

Introduction

On 4 January 2018, the Ripple (XRP) price reached a high of $3.31, an incredible gain of  51,709% since the start of 2017. This represented a market capitalization of $331 billion, putting Ripple’s valuation in the same league as Google, Apple, Facebook, Alibaba, and Amazon — the largest tech giants in the world. According to Forbes, Chris Larsen, the executive chairman of Ripple, owns 17% of the company and controls 5.19 billion XRP, worth around $50 billion at the time of the peak, making him one of the richest people in the world. Despite this incredible valuation, many of the market participants do not appear to know much about Ripple’s history or the technology behind it. In this piece, we provide an overview of the history of Ripple and look at some of its technical underpinnings.

History of Ripple

RipplePay: 2004 to 2012

Ryan Fugger founded a company he called RipplePay in 2004. The core idea behind the protocol was a peer-to-peer trust network of financial relations that would replace banks.


The RipplePay logo during that period of the company’s existence. (Source: Ripplepay.com)

RipplePay’s basic theory was as follows:

  • All banks do is make and receive loans. A bank deposit is a loan to the bank from the customer.
  • A payment from Bob to Alice in the traditional banking system is simply an update to their respective loan balances to the bank, with Bob’s loan to the bank declining slightly and Alice’s increasing slightly.
  • RipplePay held that one could replace banks by creating a peer-to-peer trust network in which individuals could directly loan each other, and alterations to these loan balances enable payments.
  • Payments, then, are simply updates to these loan balances, provided the system can find a path of relationships from the payer to the recipient.


In this example, the person on the far right side of the lineup makes a payment of $20 to the person on the far left. Although the payer and recipient do not directly trust each other, the payment transfers through a chain of IOUs forged of seven people who are linked by six trusted relationships. (Source: Ripple.com)

The network architecture is not dissimilar to the idea behind the Lightning Network, except with counterparty risk, something which Lightning avoids. In our view, this model is likely to be unstable and the trust networks are unlikely to be regarded as reliable — and therefore we are unsure of its efficacy. Either the system would centralise towards a few large banks and fail to be sufficiently different to the existing financial system or it would be liable to regular defaults. However, the current Ripple system is very different to this original idea.

At the start of 2011, Bitcoin was gaining some significant traction and began to capture the attention of Ripple’s target demographic. To some extent, Bitcoin had succeeded where Ripple had failed, building a peer-to-peer payment network with what appeared to be a superior architecture to Ripple. In May 2011, Jed McCaleb, an early Bitcoin pioneer, joined Ripple, perhaps to address some of these concerns.

McCaleb had founded the Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange in 2010, which he sold to Mark Karpeles in March 2011. According to an analysis of the failure of Mt. Gox by WizSec’s Kim Nilsson, the platform was already insolvent, to the tune of 80,000 BTC and $50,000, in March 2011 when McCaleb sold it. Shortly after this, Ryan Fugger handed the reins of the Ripple project to McCaleb.

OpenCoin: September 2012 to September 2014


The Ripple logo during the OpenCoin period. (Source: Ripple.com)

In 2012, McCaleb hired Chris Larsen, who remains on the board today as the executive chairman and whom the current website describes as a co-founder of Ripple. This marked the start of the OpenCoin era, the first of three name changes between 2012 and 2015. Larsen is the former chairman and CEO of E-Loan, a company he co-founded in 1996, took public in 1999 at the height of the tech bubble, and then sold to Banco Popular in 2005. Larsen then founded Prosper Marketplace, a peer-to-peer lending platform, which he left to join Ripple in 2012.

Larsen is not new to volatile prices and price bubbles. E-Loan experienced a peak-to-trough fall of 99.1% between 1999 and 2001. E-Loan’s IPO share price stood at $14 on 28 June 1999 before selling for $4.25 per share in 2005. (Source: Bloomberg)

To address the success of Bitcoin, Ripple now planned to allow Bitcoin payments on its network, potentially as a base currency for settlement. This period also marked the launch of the Ripple Gateway structure. The community realized that the peer-to-peer structure did not seem to work, with ordinary users unwilling to trust counterparties sufficiently to make the network usable for payments. To address this, Ripple decided to form gateways, large businesses that many users would be able to trust. This was said to be a  compromise, a hybrid system between traditional banking and a peer-to-peer network.


How Ripple gateways work. (Source: Ripple.com)

In late 2012, OpenCoin opposed the usage of the name “Ripple Card” by Ripple Communications, a telecom company that predated the launch of the Ripple payment network. This may illustrate the start of a change in culture of the company, with a willingness to use the law to protect the company, and a change in strategy to focus more on the Ripple brand.


Ripple Communications is an unrelated telecom company based in Nevada that held the Ripple.com domain and used the Ripple name before the Ripple payment network came into being. (Source: Internet Archive)

In October 2012, Jesse Powell, the founder and CEO of the Kraken exchange (which launched in 2011) and close friend of McCaleb, participated in Ripple’s first seed round with an investment believed to total around $200,000. Roger Ver is also said to have been an early investor in Ripple, apparently investing “before even the creators knew what it was going to be”.

XRP token launch: January 2013

Ripple released its XRP coin in January 2013. Like Bitcoin, XRP is based on a public chain of cryptographic signatures, and therefore did not require the initial web of trust or gateway design. XRP could be sent directly from user to user, without the gateways or counterparty risk, which was the method used for all currencies on Ripple, including USD. Ripple perhaps intended XRP to be used in conjunction with the web of trust structure for USD payments — for example, to pay transaction fees. The company set the supply of XRP at a high level of 100 billion, with some claiming this would help Ripple prevent sharp price appreciation. Critics argued that the XRP token may not have been a necessary component of the network.

In April 2013, OpenCoin received $1.5 million in funding from Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, IDG Capital Partners, FF Angel, Lightspeed Venture Partners, the Bitcoin Opportunity Fund, and Vast Ventures. This was the first in many rounds of venture funding and it included some of the most respected venture-capital companies in the world.

McCaleb left the project sometime between June 2013 and May 2014. Although his departure appears to have only been widely discussed within the Ripple community starting in May 2014, later statements from the company indicates he ended his involvement in June 2013 when Stefan Thomas took over as CTO. Thomas had created the We Use Coins website in March 2011 and the 2011 “What is Bitcoin?” YouTube video.

McCaleb appears to have disagreed with Larsen on strategy and then was seemingly forced out of the project, based on support Larsen received from the new venture-capital investors. After leaving Ripple, McCaleb went on to found Stellar in 2014, a project said to be based on some of the original principles behind Ripple.

Ripple Labs: September 2013 to October 2015

In September 2013, OpenCoin became Ripple Labs.

In February 2014, Ripple implemented the “balance freeze” feature, which it activated in August 2014. This allowed Ripple gateways to freeze or even confiscate coins from any user of its gateway, even without a valid signature for the transaction. The motivation of this was said to be to enable gateways to comply with regulatory requirements, for example, a court order demanding the confiscation of funds. The default setting for a gateway was to have the freeze feature enabled, but it was possible for a gateway to disable this option by using a “NoFreeze” flag, such that tokens a gateway owed could not be frozen or confiscated using this feature. The largest gateway at the time, Bitstamp, did not opt out of the freeze feature.

In May 2015, regulatory authorities in the United States fined Ripple Labs $700,000 for violating the Bank Secrecy Act by selling XRP without obtaining the required authorisation. Ripple additionally agreed to remedial measures, the most onerous of which are summarised below:

  • Ripple Labs must register with FinCEN.
  • If Ripple gives away any more XRP, those recipients must register their account information and provide identification details to Ripple.
  • Ripple must comply with AML regulations and appoint a compliance officer.
  • Ripple must be subject to an external audit.
  • Ripple must provide data or tools to the regulators that allows them to analyse Ripple transactions and the flow of funds.

Ripple: October 2015 to present

In October 2015, the company simplified its name to Ripple.


The current Ripple logo. (Source: Ripple.com)

In September 2016, Ripple raised $55 million in funding in a round lead by Japan’s leading online retail stock-brokering company, SBI Holdings (8473 JP). SBI acquired a 10.5% stake in Ripple. As we mentioned in our “Public companies with exposure to the crypto space” piece, this is part of a wide range of SBI investments into crypto. SBI and Ripple have set up a joint venture, SBI Ripple Asia, which is 60% owned by SBI and 40% owned by Ripple. The company is hoping to provide a settlement platform using Ripple’s “distributed financial technology”.

In September 2017, R3, another blockchain company, sued Ripple. R3 argued that Ripple agreed in September 2016 to give it the option to buy 5 billion XRP at an exercise price of $0.0085 before September 2019. At the peak, the intrinsic value of this call option was worth around $16.5 billion. R3 alleges that in June 2017, Ripple terminated the contract, despite having no right to do so. Ripple then filed a counter case, alleging that R3 did not honour its side of the original 2016 agreement by failing to introduce Ripple to a large number of banking clients or to promote XRP for usage in these banking systems. As of February 2018, the case is unresolved.

Ripple supply and company reserves

When Ripple was founded, it created 100 billion XRP tokens of which 80 billion tokens were allocated to the company and 20 billion were given to the three founders. Here is an approximate breakdown of the distribution of those tokens:

  • The Ripple company received 80 billion XRP.
  • Chris Larsen received 9.5 billion.
    • In 2014, Larsen committed to put 7 billion XRP of this 9.0 billion into a charitable foundation.
  • Jed McCaleb received 9.5 billion. Upon leaving Ripple:
    • McCaleb retained 6.0 billion (subject to lock up agreement).
    • McCaleb’s children received 2.0 billion (subject to lock up agreement).
    • 1.5 billion was given to charity and other family members of McCaleb (not subject to lock up agreement).
  • Arthur Britto received 1.0 billion (subject to lock up agreement).

When McCaleb left Ripple, there were concerns he was, could or would dump his XRP into the market and crash the price. McCaleb and Ripple constructed the following agreement to prevent this by restricting the sale of XRP. The agreement was revised in 2016 after Ripple accused McCaleb of violating the initial terms.

2014 agreement
  • McCaleb’s sales are limited to $10,000 per week during the first year.
  • Sales are limited to $20,000 per week during the second, third, and fourth years.
  • Sales are limited to 750 million XRP per year for the fifth and sixth years.
  • Sales are limited to 1 billion XRP per year for the seventh year.
  • Sales are limited to 2 billion XRP per year after the seventh year.

(Source: http://archive.is/cuEoz)

As for the 80 billion XRP held by the Ripple company, the plan was to sell or give away this balance, use the funds to fund company operations, and to use it to seed global money-transfer gateways. As the Ripple wiki says:

XRP cannot be debased. When the Ripple network was created, 100 billion XRP was created. The founders gave 80 billion XRP to the Ripple Labs. Ripple Labs will develop the Ripple software, promote the Ripple payment system, give away XRP, and sell XRP.

From December 2014 to July 2015, the company disclosed on its website the amount of XRP it held, the amount in circulation, and indirectly (by mentioning a reserve) the amount spent on company operations. The company did not distinguish between what it sold and what it gave away for free. The disclosure for 30 June 2015 is shown below.


(Source: Ripple.com)

Some time after July 2015 the disclosure was modified, with the reserve balance no longer available. Since at least late 2017 Ripple disclosed three figures, the “XRP held by Ripple”, “XRP distributed” and “XRP to be placed in escrow”. As at 31 January 2018, the balances are as follows:

  • 7.0 billion XRP held by Ripple
  • 39.0 billion XRP distributed
  • 55.0 billion XRP placed in escrow

We have been unable to link or reconcile the old Ripple reserve figure with the new XRP held by Ripple figure, therefore we are unsure how much the company has spent on its own operations across the entire period. However, we have analysed the information disclosed in the old way prior to July 2015, 12 data points in total, in addition to forum posts from the company’s current chief cryptographer David Schwartz (regarded as one of the main architects of Ripple’s technology, who goes by the name JoelKatz online and is said to have had 1 billion XRP). The following charts present our findings related to the distribution or spend of XRP.


XRP holdings from 2013 to 2015 – billion. (Source: BitMEX Research, Ripple.com)

 


XRP distribution (sales to partners plus XRP given away) and XRP spent on company operations – billions. The crosses represent points where information was available. We are not aware of why the amount spent on company operations appears to decline towards the end of 2015. (Sources: Ripple.com, https://forum.ripple.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3645, https://forum.ripple.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3590)

 


XRP in circulation – billions. (Source: Ripple.com, https://forum.ripple.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3645, https://forum.ripple.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=3590, Coinmarketcap/new Ripple disclosure)

The data shows that Ripple sold or distributed 12.5 billion XRP from January 2013 to July 2015. We have been unable to determine how many XRP were sold, at what price, or how many were given away. The company spent at least 4 billion XRP on company operations between March 2014 and July 2015 but there are no details of what this was spent on, as far as we can tell.

 

Dispute between the company founders

As we alluded above, McCaleb did not part with the company on the best of terms. In May 2014, early Ripple investor Jesse Powell described the situation:

Since Jed’s departure, the management of the company has taken a different direction. Sadly, the vision Jed and I had for the project in the early days has been lost. I’m no longer confident in the management nor the company’s ability to recover from the founders’ perplexing allocation to themselves of 20% of the XRP, which I had hoped until recently would be returned. Prior to Jed’s departure from Ripple, I had asked the founders to return their XRP to the company. Jed agreed but Chris [Larsen] declined — leaving a stalemate. This afternoon, I revisited the allocation discussion with the pair and again, where Jed was open, Chris was hostile.

Ripple responded to Powell with a claim that he was spreading false and defamatory information in violation of his obligations as a Ripple board member. The letter states:

In fact, as Chris has stated previously in discussions with you and Jed, he has been and remains willing to return most of his founders’ XRP to Ripple Labs.

Powell retorted that Larsen would return only a portion of his XRP to the company, and rather than giving it back, this would be a loan. Powell ends the letter by explaining how he sees the situation with respect to the 20 billion XRP granted to the founders and the formation of Ripple:

Jed and I got started with Ripple in September of 2011. I believe Chris joined sometime around August of 2012. Prior to Chris joining, the company had two investors. I’m not sure when Jed and Chris allocated themselves the XRP but they say it was before incorporation, which occurred in September of 2012. In my view, the two stole company assets when they took the XRP without approval of the early investors, and without sharing the allocation amongst the other shareholders. Whatever coin they allocated themselves prior to incorporation of Opencoin, I believe was abandoned. There had been several ledger resets between Sep 2012 and Dec 2012, and a new version of Ripple emerged, built by Opencoin, clearly with company resources. If Jed and Chris have continued to run the old software to preserve their Betacoin, I have no problem. Unfortunately, Jed and Chris again allocated themselves XRP in December of 2012. That XRP unquestionably was not gifted by Jed and Chris to the company, it did not exist prior to the company’s existence, and it was generated with company resources. That XRP has always belonged to the company and it was taken from the company by Jed and Chris. I’m asking them to return what they’ve stolen.

Powell continued to comment on the situation on the Ripple forum:

The board and investors have known about it for a long time. I’d been nudging them to return the XRP since I found out about it. Jed was always willing but Chris wasn’t, and Jed kept his share in case leverage was ever needed to more aggressively persuade Chris to return his portion. It wasn’t a regular topic of discussion and was just something I just imagined would work itself out when Chris got a grasp on the damage it was doing to Ripple’s image and adoption. If my goal had been to get my fair share, I probably would have been more proactive about it but I’d just assumed it would eventually be entirely returned to the company. I could have agreed to a small amount of XRP being paid out in lieu of cash compensation or instead of equity, but otherwise, we all should have bought our XRP at the market rate, like everyone else.

The company, through marketing VP Monica Long, then responded to the Powell’s continued public pressure with the following commitment:

Further, co-founder and CEO Chris Larsen has authorized the creation of a foundation to distribute his donation of 7 billion XRP to the underbanked and financially underserved. This plan has previously been in development but is now being accelerated and finalized independent of a formal agreement amongst all the original founders. He believes this is both the right thing to do and the best way to remove further distractions in pursuit of the broader vision of the company. Details of the foundation, its independent directors, and the giveaway will be forthcoming.

The above response appeared to divert the pressure on Ripple and Larsen that was building inside the Ripple community. The foundation that was set up is Ripple Works. We have reviewed the charity’s US tax filings for the fiscal years ended April 2015 and April 2016, which show the following donations of XRP:

Date Donor Amount (XRP)
November 2014 Chris Larsen 200 million
April 2015 Chris Larsen 500 million
July 2015 Chris Larsen 500 million
November 2016 Ripple Inc 1,000 million

As of April 2016, two years after the commitment, Larsen appears to have given at least 1.2 billion XRP out of the promised 7 billion XRP total to the foundation. We have not been able to obtain the filling for the year ended April 2017, as it may not be available yet.

The dispute and the Bitstamp Ripple freeze incident

In 2015, Ripple took advantage of the Ripple freeze feature instituted in August 2014. The Bitstamp gateway froze funds belonging to a family member of Jed McCaleb. Some consider this ironic: Ripple originally stated that the freeze feature was implemented to enable gateways to comply with orders from law enforcement yet the first actual usage of the feature appears to have been an order to comply with an instruction from the Ripple company itself, against one of the founders.

What appears to have happened is a family member of McCaleb sold 96 million XRP (perhaps part of the 2 billion XRP given to other family members and not part of the lock-up agreement) back to Ripple for around $1 million. After Ripple acquired the XRP for USD, Ripple appears to have asked Bitstamp to use the Ripple freeze feature to confiscate the $1 million Ripple had just used to buy the tokens. In 2015, Bitstamp took both Ripple and McCaleb to court, to determine the best course of action.

Court documents allege/reveal the following:

  • McCaleb had 5.5 billion XRP.
  • McCaleb’s two children held 2 billion XRP.
  • Another 1.5 billion XRP were held by charitable organizations and other family members.
  • In March 2015, Jacob Stephenson, a relative of McCaleb, offered to sell 96 million XRP to Ripple.
  • Ripple agreed to pay nearly $1 million to buy the 96 million XRP from Stephenson in a complicated transaction that “manipulated the market” to “improperly inflate the price per XRP of the transaction and mislead other purchasers”. As part of this, Ripple paid more than the cost and asked Stephenson to return an excess amount of $75,000.
  • Bitstamp’s chief legal officer was also an advisor to Ripple and as such there was a conflict of interest.

The dispute between McCaleb and Ripple continued until a final resolution in February 2016, when the company, implying that McCaleb had violated the 2014 XRP lock-up agreement, stated that a final settlement had been reached:

Jed exited Ripple back when it was OpenCoin in June 2013. He has played no role in the strategy or operations of Ripple since then. He has, however, held significant stakes of XRP and company shares. In August 2014, we shared the terms of a lock-up agreement that dictated timetables and limits within which Jed could sell XRP. The purpose of the agreement was to ensure distribution of his XRP in a way that would be constructive for the Ripple ecosystem. Since April 2015, Jed has been party to ongoing legal action related to alleged violation of the 2014 agreement.

McCaleb responded to this with his side of the story, indicating that he was also happy with the final agreement.

This week also sees the end of a longstanding issue. Stellar and I have finally reached a settlement with Ripple in the ongoing dispute between the parties. The settlement shows that Ripple’s claims were entirely baseless. Ripple has conceded in exchange for Stellar and I agreeing to settle the litigation.

Under the final agreement, McCaleb’s family member’s $1 million were unfrozen, Ripple agreed to pay all legal fees, and 2 billion XRP were freed for donation to charity. McCaleb would be free to sell his remaining XRP, perhaps over 5 billion XRP, consistent with the terms in the table below.

2014 agreement 2016 revised agreement
  • McCaleb’s sales are limited to $10,000 per week during the first year.
  • Sales are limited to $20,000 per week during the second, third, and fourth years.
  • Sales are limited to 750 million XRP per year for the fifth and sixth years.
  • Sales are limited to 1 billion XRP per year for the seventh year.
  • Sales are limited to 2 billion XRP per year after the seventh year.
  • McCaleb must donate 2 billion XRP to charity
  • McCaleb must retain title ownership of 5.3 billion XRP; however, Ripple will control the funds.
  • McCaleb and the charity will be able to collectively sell the following percentage of the average daily volume:
    • 0.5% in the first year,
    • 0.75% in years two and three,
    • 1.0% for the fourth year, and
    • 1.5% thereafter.

(Source: http://archive.is/cuEoz)

The Ripple consensus process

The consensus system

The Ripple technology appears to have gone through several iterations, but a core part of the marketing of Ripple is the consensus process. In 2014, Ripple used the image below to illustrate the consensus system, which seems to be an iterative process with servers making proposals and nodes only accepting these proposals if certain quorum conditions are met. An 80% threshold of the servers is considered a key level and once this threshold is crossed, a node regards the proposal as final. The image depicts some complexity in the process and the BitMEX Research team is unable to understand the detailed inner workings of the system or how it has any of the convergent properties necessary for consensus systems.


(Source: Ripple wiki)

In January 2018, the BitMEX Research team installed and ran a copy of Rippled for the purpose of this report. The node operated by downloading a list of five public keys from the server v1.ripple.com, as the screenshot below shows. All five keys are assigned to Ripple.com. The software indicates that four of the five keys are required to support a proposal in order for it to be accepted. Since the keys were all downloaded from the Ripple.com server, Ripple is essentially in complete control of moving the ledger forward, so one could say that the system is centralised. Indeed, our node indicates that the keys expire on 1 February 2018 (just a few days after the screenshot), implying the software will need to visit Ripple.com’s server again to download a new set of keys.


A screenshot of Rippled in operation. (Source: BitMEX Research)

Of course, there is nothing wrong with centralised systems; the overwhelming majority of electronic systems are centralised. Centralisation makes systems easier to construct, more efficient, faster, cheaper to run, more effective at stopping double spends and easier to integrate into other systems. However, some Ripple marketing, like the image below, contends that the Ripple system is distributed, which some may consider misleading.


(Source: Ripple.com)

In addition to the potentially misleading marketing, the construction involving the quorum process and 80% threshold may not be necessary and merely adds to the obfuscation, in our view. Defenders of Ripple could argue that the list of five public keys is customizable, as one could manually edit the configuration file and type in whatever keys one wants. Indeed, there is a list of such validators on the Ripple website. However, there is no evidence that many users of Ripple manually change this configuration file.

Even if users were to modify the configuration file, this may not significantly help. In this circumstance, there is no particular reason to assume that the system would converge on one ledger. For example, one user could connect to five validators and another user could connect to five different validators, with each node meeting the 80% thresholds, but for two conflicting ledgers. The 80% quorum threshold from a group of servers has no convergent or consensus properties, as far as we can tell. Therefore, we consider this consensus process as potentially unnecessary.

Validation of the ledger

Although the consensus process is centralised, one could argue that in Ripple user nodes can still validate transaction data from all participants. This model can be said to provide some assurance or utility, despite its computational inefficiency. Although moving the ledger forward is a centralised process, if the Ripple servers process an invalid transaction, user nodes may reject those blocks and the entire network would then be stuck. This threat could keep the Ripple server honest. However, this threat may not be all that different from the existing user pressure and legal structures which keep traditional banks honest.

Apparently, Ripple is missing 32,570 blocks from the start of the ledger and nodes are not able to obtain this data. This means that one may be unable to audit the whole chain and the full path of Ripple’s original 100 billion XRP since launch. This could be of concern to some, especially given Powell’s comments, which indicate that there may have been resets of the ledger in the early period. David Schwartz explained the significance of the missing blocks:

It doesn’t mean anything for the average Ripple user. In January of 2013, a bug in the Ripple server caused ledger headers to be lost. All data from all running Ripple servers was collected, but it was insufficient to construct the ledgers. The raw transactions still survive, mixed with other transactions and with no information about which transaction went in which ledger. Without the ledger headers, there’s no easy way to reconstruct the ledgers. You need to know the hash of ledger N-1 to build ledger N, which complicates things.

Conclusion

Much of this report has focused on disputes, primarily related to control over XRP, including accusations of theft. Perhaps such disputes are not particularly unique, especially given the rapid, unexpected growth in the value of the ecosystem. In fact, this story of the disputes might not be too dissimilar from that of some of the large tech giants mentioned in the introduction to this piece.

More significant than the disputes is the fact that the Ripple system appears for all practical purposes to be centralised and is therefore perhaps devoid of any interesting technical characteristics, such as censorship resistance, which coins like Bitcoin may have — although this does not mean that Ripple or XRP is doomed to failure. The company has significant financial capital and has proven somewhat effective at marketing and forming business partnerships, and perhaps this could mean the company succeeds at building adoption of the XRP token either among businesses or consumers. If so, the points that Bitcoin critics often raise may be even more pertinent and relevant in the case of XRP. These points include:

  • The lack of inflation is a naive economic policy.
  • The price of the token is too volatile and speculative.
  • Regulators will shut the system down if it becomes popular.
  • Perhaps most importantly, why not use the US dollar? Banks will build competing digital systems based on traditional currencies (if they don’t exist already).

The real mystery about Ripple is that, given the large market value of the system, why are all the Bitcoin critics so silent? Perhaps the answer to this question is just as applicable to some of Bitcoin’s proponents as it is to its critics. Most people seem to judge things on what they perceive as the culture and character of those involved, rather than on the technical fundamentals.

Disclaimer

Whilst many claims made in this note are cited, we do not guarantee accuracy. We welcome corrections.

康奈尔大学最新研究:比特币存在隐形权力结构!究竟“去中心化”正在扼住谁的喉咙?

康奈尔大学最新研究:比特币存在隐形权力结构!究竟“去中心化”正在扼住谁的喉咙?

近来对于区块链的相关讨论已经太多,有许多讨论此一题目的文章看似满篇道理,但细究其中,却经常把区块链技术与比特币或其它加密货币混为一谈。只不过,这样的混淆不明、黑白难分,显然已经让部分人感到厌烦,因为,这有关一项革命性技术的前途会不会就此葬送在人性的贪婪中。

“中心化”决定谁是好货币?谁是坏货币?

根据《麻省理工科技评论》在 1 月 18 日发布的最新文章中,有最新研究表明,当前区块链技术中最大的两个加密货币体系——比特币与以太坊——背后实际上存在隐形权力结构,这一研究结果相当于直接提出了一个非常尖锐的问题:比特币与以太坊是否具备区块链技术追随着所信仰的“去中心化”(Decentralized)特性?

※ 论文地址:

http://hackingdistributed.com/2018/01/15/decentralization-bitcoin-ethereum/

在此报道中提到,在加密货币圈,如果把某件事称作是“中心化的”(Centralized),就是一种侮辱,而在目前所有加密货币体系奉为精神圭臬的“去中心化”,这一说法源于比特币创始人中本聪(Satoshi Nakamoto),意思是指货币体系的运转并不需要像政府或金融机构这样的中央集权机构。值得注意的是,在当前关于加密货币的好坏之争中,“去中心化”显然是最重要的判断标准。因为所谓好的加密货币就是“去中心化”的,而任何跟“中心化”扯上一点关系的加密货币都是坏货币,而且会威胁到加密货币成为世界全新金融体系载体,进而破坏这一乌托邦式的未来。

早在一年前就指出当时方兴未艾的多种加密货币存有先天上不可忽略漏洞的康奈尔大学加密货币专家 Emin Gün Sirer 认为,在很多情况下,中心还是存在的,但之所以会有这样似是而非的争论,主要是因为大家都懒得认真审视这些网络的去中心化程度差异。不过在当时,Gün Sirer 也表示,“我们目前还没有任何实际的数据来支撑这一观点。”然而,Gün Sirer 的团队展开了长达两年的研究,并终于在近期发布了针对比特币和以太坊这两大全球最受欢迎的加密货币网络的研究结果,举出多项数据支持他的观点。

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在 Gün Sirer 的研究中,最惊人的发现是,无论是比特币还是以太坊中的挖矿,均未实现真正意义上去中心化。所谓挖矿就是验证交易,防止区块链账本遭受攻击的过程。比特币和以太坊都属于开放区块链系统,即原则上任何人都可以成为矿工,但因为这样的架构特性,自然形成了相应的组织集中挖矿资源。

研究人员发现,基于每周一次的统计,排名前四名的比特币挖掘活动就占整个系统挖掘活动的 53%;而以太坊挖掘活动的中心化程度甚至更加稳固,前 3 大矿机占整体系统每周平均挖掘活动高达 61%。同时,研究人员还发现,56% 的比特币“节点”,也就是全球运行比特币挖掘软件的计算机(并不是所有计算机都从事挖矿),都位于数据中心,相比之下只有 28% 的以太坊节点位于数据中心。Gün Sirer 解读此一现象认为,这或许说明比特币的挖矿行为已然较以太坊更加企业化。

根据以上相关数据,Gün Sirer 的团队得出结论,在“中心化”这件事上,比特币和以太坊这两大网络半斤八两。实际上,针对“去中心化”意义的整体讨论范围更加广泛,情况更加复杂。现在有上百种加密货币,许多加密货币的运作方式与比特币和以太坊并不相同。并不是所有的加密货币都是依赖矿机或者需要使用区块链的。

没有绝对完美的方式来衡量加密货币网络的去中心化程度,它十分复杂,既是一个社会性的问题也是一个技术性的问题。举例来说,货币在网络中被分配的方式起着至关重要的作用。在瑞波币(Ripple)中,Ripple 这家私人公司就扮演货币监管分配,而且掌握着一半以上的货币量。此文在最后指出,关于去中心化的讨论或许晦涩难懂,但任何一个对加密货币未来感兴趣的人都应该尽力去了解。在该技术的大力提倡者描绘的愿景中,去中心化有利于解决传统中心机构引起的不公平问题。但如果加密货币也只是一种让财富和权力重新分配到少数人手中的新手段,那么,这就说明并没有什么革命性的突破。

比特币能不能被人为操纵?

2017 年 1 月 20 日,DT君曾发表了一篇关于比特币在 2013 年价格疑似受到操纵的文章,并以该次事件推论出比特币其实非常“中心化”,而且其价格很容易受到操纵。虽然该文章是以比特币持有者在交易时间节点上的重合作为判断依据,从而得出结论,但是从技术上来讲,所谓分布式、点对点交易的比特币,也是有可能被操纵的。

首先来了解一下,什么是比特币的去中心化。区块链上的加密数据是分散保存在接入区块链的所有计算机等终端设备中,而非传统的集中保存在一个中心服务器上。一个终端设备可以视为一个节点,每个节点都保存一套完整的区块链总账,区块链更新交易信息后,链上所有计算机会同步更新相关数据。这种结构被称为分布式结构,与传统的中心化模式存在显著不同。

传统的中心化模式下,客户与客户必须围绕中介组织、中介机构进行业务活动,客户之间难以达成直接的业务关系。分布式结构则为实现点对点的交易提供了基础,使得证券的发行、转让、清算、交收可以绕过传统的中介组织、中介机构,进而为提升效率、节约成本创造条件。由此来看,狭义的区块链即是去中心化系统各节点共享的数据账本。每个分布式节点都可以通过特定的哈希算法和 Merkle 树数据结构,将一段时间内接收到的交易数据和代码封装到一个带有时间戳的数据区块中,并链接到当前最长的主区块链上, 形成最新的区块,该过程涉及区块、链式结构、哈希算法、Merkle 树和时间戳等技术要素。哈希函数是指将原始数据编码为特定长度的由数字和字母组成的字符串后记入区块链。Merkle 树则是是快速归纳和校验区块数据的存在性和完整性。

而区块链系统实际上分为多个层面:由数据层、网络层、共识层、激励层、合约层和应用层。而 DT 君刚才说到的,仅仅是数据层。该层的主要作用是封装底层数据区块以及相关的数据加密和时间戳等技术; 网络层则包括分布式组网机制、数据传播机制和数据验证机制等; 共识层主要封装网络节点的各类共识算法; 激励层将经济因素集成到区块链技术体系中来, 主要包括经济激励的发行机制和分配机制等; 合约层主要封装各类脚本、算法和智能合约, 是区块链可编程特性的基础; 应用层则封装了区块链的各种应用场景和案例。

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在使用区块链技术的比特币中,共识层就是比特币去中心化优势的重点所在。而共识层的判断依据,则普遍为 Proof of work,即 PoW。其核心思想是通过引入分布式节点的算力竞争来保证数据一致性和共识的安全性。比特币系统中, 各节点 (即矿工) 基于各自的计算机算力相互竞争来共同解决一个求解复杂但验证容易的 SHA256 数学难题 (即挖矿), 最快解决该难题的节点将获得区块记账权和系统自动生成的比特币奖励。说白了就是业绩,多干多得,少干少得。

比特币的问题确实很大

说到这,PoW 的优势已经非常明显了,它整合了比特币系统的货币发行、交易支付和验证等功能, 并通过算力竞争保障系统的安全性和去中心性。然而在 DT 君看来,其缺点也暴露无遗,其强大算力造成的资源浪费 (如电力) 历来为研究者所诟病,而且长达 10 分钟的交易确认时间使其相对不适合小额交易的商业应用。

除此以外,基于 PoW 共识过程的区块链主要面临的是 51% 攻击问题, 即节点通过掌握全网超过 51% 的算力就有能力成功篡改和伪造区块链数据。以比特币为例, 据统计中国大型矿池的算力已占全网总算力的 60% 以上, 理论上这些矿池可以通过合作实施 51% 攻击, 从而实现比特币的双重支付。当然,仅从计算机和互联网技术上来判断是不够的,还要从金融市场来分析。那么,被称作是比特币的加密货币,它是货币吗?并不是。事实上,比特币更应该被理解成为一种证券,因它符合了证券的 6 大特点:

1. 证券是特定主体为了筹集资金而向受众发行;

2. 证券实质是一种权利,包括物权、债权、股权等;

3. 该权利被划分为众多等额部分;

4. 该权利具有高度流通性,可以在交易场所转让和变现;

5. 投资者支付对价,该对价既包括货币也包括其它财产性利益;

6. 该权利风险与收益同在。

但许多企业把比特币看作是一种支付手段,把商品的交易价值换算成比特币的数量,这等同于货币。恰巧是这样的行为,促使了比特币被操纵的可能性。这是因为比特币区别于现行金融体系的第三方发行货币,它不存在信用。在 P2P 网络中人们自愿信任并使用这种挖掘算法与流通验证方式。然而,货币的价值和信用是有关的,缺乏信用体系,货币的价值势必会被卖家操纵,比如贬值等。另外,比特币革命性的不与现实货币建立价值锚点(不从外部注入流动性),算法导致初期获取比特币成本几乎为零,后期挖掘难度又将呈指数化递增。随着加入挖掘人数的增加比特币创造成本剧增,进而产生强烈的升值预期心理,先入者只需坐等价值飙升,后进者则受到重利诱惑积极抢进,一个可能的庞氏骗局疑点就此出现。

那么实际操纵比特币的可能性有多高?

从 PoW 共识机制来看,区块链的非对称加密机制也将随着数学、密码学和计算技术的发展而变的越来越脆弱。据估计, 以目前天河二号的算力来说, 产生比特币 SHA256 哈希算法的一个哈希碰撞大约需要 248 年。但从金融市场来看,以前的比特币可以被轻易操纵,但在各种监管势力加入干预后,确实有机会让比特币市场的秩序受到管控。2015 年 5 月 5 日,美国处理了一起违规的数字货币业务,美国财政部金融犯罪执法网络(FinCEN) 针对 Ripple 公司的违规事件处以 70 万美元的罚款,在这起违规事件中,Ripple 承认其违反了几个 BSA 规定,包括兑换和汇款。虽然 Ripple 依据 FinCEN 的规定注册了货币服务业务,但其 XRP 的销售行为没有遵守适当的反洗钱(AML)程序,没有对业务申请独立审查。

2015 年 6 月 3 日,纽约州金融服务局发布了名为“BitLicense”的数字货币业务监管框架。虽然目前它对 BitLicense 的长期市场影响还无法定论,但它提高了区块链参与者的进入成本,并且为区块链对接到银行系统铺平道路。该规则覆盖了大部分数字货币业务活动,涉及“数字货币”的定义和数字货币的商业活动,前者包括基于区块链的数字货币;后者包括发送数字货币、代持数字货币、代理客户买卖数字货币、提供汇兑服务和控制、管理或发行数字货币。

规则承认数字货币具有货币价值,而不去争论它在现行法律下是否完全符合“货币”的定义。纽约的监管机构监管数字货币特定的活动:传输、交流和销售,确保相关企业拥有为公众提供金融服务的执照,而且区块链的应用升级、创业融资和电子钱包等也在监管范围。而数字货币的矿工,多重签名软件和区块链 2.0 实体如智能合约等则不在监管范围之内。而这些国家监管机构的介入,变相地成为了比特币等加密货币的中心,原本“去中心化”的优势不复存在。所谓操纵比特币是一种阴谋论,在各国监控介入之前或许可能,但如今看来,略微有些困难。

在疯狂的币圈以外,另一股声音正在放大声量

值得注意的是,近来开始有另一派努力放大声量,强调区块链技术真正的价值,远远高于当前已然烧成漫天野火的加密货币。其中,有多家研究机构都提出区块链技术应用场景报告,直指区块链技术将会启动一个全新的经济时代,而在此其中,加密货币只是工具,而非全部。

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事实上,在去年币圈还没有这么疯狂时,国内多家互联网大牛企业、甚至是地方政府机构都曾推出区块链应用白皮书,但当时仍只有朦胧的想象,并没有具体落地实践的规划。相较于随即而来的比特币、以太币暴涨热潮,除了这些理想崇高的区块链应用白皮书,在其它区块链应用实作项目反而未有更进一步的动作。但相较于当时,现在积极倡议区块链应用的声音确实能让更多人听见,这其中的差异就在于币圈的疯狂,已然让许多人见识到加密货币的危险,而现在也该是回头思考区块链技术本质应用方向的时候。

其中,腾讯于 20 日正式发布区块链白皮书,在这份白皮书资料中,通篇只提到两次“货币”,一次谈的是数字货币是区块链运行的工具,另一个谈的是可以将比特币用于慈善事业的运作,淡化区块链与比特币关联的用意非常明显。而腾讯在白皮书则是大唱另一种调,强调的是“区块链带来了效率提升和成本降低的技术手段,为经济社会发展和治理提供新的思路。围绕区块链体系,能够创造出丰富的产品和服务,人们可以在相互无信任的情况下,无地域限制地进行大规模协作。由此,一个全新的经济时代展现在公众面前。”

腾讯口中的这个全新的经济时代,指的是“到 2025 年之前,全球 GDP 总量的 10% 将利用区块链技术储存。”事实上,近来有多份研究报告相继提出目前已然用于不同行业、公部门、国家机构的区块币应用机制,其中包含金融、物联网、公共服务、公益慈善、供应链、智慧城市等等。相较于腾讯发布区块链白皮书,近来则是已有外媒报道,阿里巴巴、京东内部都已开始导入区块链技术,为商品提供所谓的“电子护照”确保生产来源质量。而这些互联网大牛们近来对于区块链技术表态,确实有些想要正本清源的味道,但从另一个角度来看,加密货币如果在这样漫山遍野的烧下去,接下来要烧到的很可能就是腾讯、阿里巴巴这些公司身上。也就是因为如此,与其说这些互联网公司如今大张旗鼓的站在所谓的“正宗”区块链那一边,是为了悍卫未来技术的发展,却也很难不让人揣想,加密货币可能为互联网服务、金融支付体系所造成的颠覆效应,或许才是这些大公司最担心的问题。

因此,今年必然会看到所有互联网、新零售、甚至人工智能企业相继对外发布区块链白皮书、战略规划,但重点类似,就是将区块链技术导入既有服务、然后强调区块链的安全性等等。其中,美图就在 1 月 22 日宣布其首部区块链白皮书,宣布将基于 AI 技术打造区块链生态,创建一个去中心化、安全加密的美图智能通行证(MIP – Meitu Intelligent Passport),让用户能够在区块链上用人脸特征作为通证密钥,进行去中心化的用户身份认证(KYC)。美图区块链白皮书中虽然试图提及多个面向,但主要仍聚焦在安全性,显示美图内部认为,导入区块链技术最快可显现的价值,就是安全性的提升,其中包括用户身份、交易信息、第三方合作伙伴接口权限等等。除了安全之外,以美图的业务属性来看,产品溯源也会是一个很大的区块链应用热点,美图在白皮书中虽着墨不多,却也特别提到,通过导入区块链可有效把控、追踪交易环节及路径。

从区块链技术而生的比特币、以太币等加密货币,经历过去几年的疯狂之后,如今已然走到了一个关键转折点上,爱者欲其生、恶者欲其死。但回归根本,所有的一切都与区块链崛起倡议的乌托邦理想国有关,区块链技术的生死存续,不该系于人心的贪婪、由欲望驱动的激情上,而是已然走到非黑即白的关键交叉点上。与其争辩区块链、加密货币的善恶好坏,还不如用一句老话来说:“善与恶拔河哪边会赢?人多的那边会赢。”

论文地址:https://arxiv.org/pdf/1801.03998.pdf

转载来源 http://www.mittrchina.com/news/%201569

哈耶克:未来的价值单位

哈耶克:未来的价值单位

这篇是 1981 年哈耶克在 VISA 国际信用卡的年会上发表《未来的价值单位》的讲话。是哈耶克晚年最后一本经济学专著《货币的非国家化》发表后,再次补充和论述自由货币竞争理论的一段演讲。谨以分享,致敬。

 

21年前,几乎无人注意到,我在我的《自由宪章》的一个脚注中写过下面一段话:

 

尽管我确信,现代信贷银行业务的发展确实需要中央银行之类的公共机构,但我怀疑,这些机构是否因此就应当拥有发行某种货币的垄断权。当然,国家有权保护它(或任何其他机构)发行的货币单位之名称,如果它发行了“美元”,那么它也有权禁止任何其他机构发行具有同样名称的货币。而由于它的任务就是强制执行合同,因而,它也必然能够决定什么是可用于清偿合同中规定之债务的“法币”。但是,似乎根本没有理由解释为什么国家应当禁止人们使用其他交换媒介,不管它是某种商品或国内、国外某机构发行的货币。事实上,保护个人自由的最有效的措施可能就是制定一部宪章,禁止和平时期对任何货币或贵金属的交易施加任何限制。

 

这种想法在我的脑海中悄然生成,15年后,由于对我们的货币形势日益恶化的局面越来越不满,于是,我就提出——差不多是作为一个天大的玩笑 —— 一项建议,鉴于事态如此发展,我们重新获得一种健全货币的唯一希望在于,我们必须剥夺政府发行货币的垄断权,将这个任务交给私人企业。我在严肃考察后发现,这种设想越来越具有吸引力,最后我觉得,这种方案是解决我们目前在各国看到的越来越令人绝望的货币形势的唯一切实可行的方案。然后,我在一本小册子《货币的非国家化》中系统地阐述了这种想法,大大扩充了的第二版已于1978年出版。

 

一、竞争性货币制度的必要性

在鼓吹自由供应货币理论的时候,我的基本观点是,人人都可以自由地向公众供应具有自己的名称的货币。将由公众最后来决定,这些货币中哪一种会获得普遍地接受。如果我们认识到,在讨论自由银行业务(free banking)和货币自由发行(free issue of money)的时候,人们谈论的其实只是私人机构也发行政府发行的那些货币,比如美元、英镑等等,两相对照,我提出的这个新建议的特征就比较清楚了。如果私人机构发行了政府发行的货币,私人机构确实可以被指控造成了这些货币贬值及通货膨胀的局面。但如果私人机构发行的是自己的货币,具有自己专有的名称,那么,公众立刻就会将它与其他货币区别开来。在一个真正竞争性的格局中,货币的发行者将不得不采取种种措施,使自己的货币对公众最有吸引力,使公众最乐于持有他发行的货币而不是其他人发行的货币。

 

另一个要点是,发行货币的私人机构必须得跟其他机构展开竞争,这意味着,只有它向公众提供一种可以信赖的稳定的货币,它才能保住自己的生意。只要人们稍微怀疑发行者在发行货币的时候滥用了自己的权力,就会立刻导致他的货币贬值,将立刻把他从这个业务中驱逐出去。这将使他失去本来极为有利可图的生意。

 

始终会面临的失去客户的危险,是一种比任何其他安排都更好的约束力量,也能够更有效地维持该货币的价值。这种机制的运作过程是这样的:只要有人传言,一种货币的价值相对于其他货币将会下跌,每个人都会争相脱手这种可能会贬值的货币,而将其兑换成一种可以让他们更为信赖的货币。

 

毫无疑问,人们可能需要耗费一定的时间来适应这种新形势,但可以确定的是,这并不需要耗费太多时间。如果你们知道在严重而漫长的通货膨胀期间人们是如何行事的,你们就会知道,在寻找一种可以替代他们被迫使用而正在膨胀的货币的东西的时候,人们是多么地足智多谋。我认为,他们不用花太多时间就会知道时刻追踪那时已经出现的货币市场上的牌价,以了解到底哪种货币值得自己信赖,是一种稳定的货币,而哪种不是。

 

在有关货币问题进行的漫长的讨论中,每个人都承认,只有政府有权独家向我们提供货币,这一点,实在令人惊讶。然而,在货币发行问题上创造出垄断,并不是实现我们的货币币值稳定的好办法。

 

如果我们追溯一下现在已知的由政府发行的第一种货币——时在公元前6世纪一我们会发现,早在这之前,铜和青铜铸币就已经作为一种交换媒介,被使用了至少2000多年。政府发行自己的货币,不过是在铸币上打上标记或铸上王冠或是其国王的头像。对于政府发行货币之初的三四百年的情况,我所知不多,但政府可能很快就掌握了发行货币的垄断权。在公元前4世纪,货币就已经被形容为政客手里的“骰子”。政府禁止人民探索正确的解决方案,禁止人民试验一种可以确保货币持续改进的淘汰过程。这种垄断权阻碍了货币的某种自发形成过程,而在法律、语言和道德领域中,我们都看到了这种自发过程,在这些领域,透过某种演进的过程,更有效率的形态会取代效率低下的形态。如果在货币领域中,我们也被允许从这样一种类似的选择过程中受益,则我们将会拥有一种货币,它会截然不同于我们今天所使用之货币。

 

事实上,在致力于设计一种更好的货币秩序的时候,我们立刻会面临一个难题:我们其实并不知道我们想要什么。什么才算一种真正良好的货币?截止目前,货币乃是市场秩序中政府不许人们发现其最有效率之形态的领域,愚蠢的统治者和经济学家一直在用货币来诈欺多数人。然而,市场并不是政治家或经济学家发明创造出来的,尽管他们中有些人对市场有那么一点点了解;能够向我们揭示最佳解决方案的,也不是我们现在的知识,而是通过自由地尝试而涌现出来的新发现。那些需要货币作为一种不可或缺之交易工具的人,那些最早发现货币乃是一种让大多数交易得以进行的工具的人,却很快就被强迫使用政府提供给他们的货币。

政府警惕地守护着自己的垄断权,不是为了实现人们引入货币的最初目的,而是为了实现另外的目的。今天,货币已经主要不是一种有效率的交换媒介,而是政府欺诈掠夺我们和“管理”经济的一件工具。结果就是,我们不得不承认,对于各种可以设想得到的供应货币的办法到底会如何运转,我们几乎没有什么经验证据,而对于下面的问题,我们也几乎无从回答:假定公众有机会自由地在几种不同而可以清晰辨别的货币中间进行选择,他们会选择什么样的货币?对于这些问题,我们恐怕主要得依靠我们的理论想象(theoretical imagination ),应当努力地将我们对于其他领域中竞争发挥作用的情况的理解,运用于这一特殊领域中。

 

比如,金本位制乃是防止政府滥用其权力的理想办法。但是,即使在政府信守金本位制的时候,我们也不知道,哪种货币是最佳的。围绕我们的货币秩序的整个讨论,也都具有这种致命的缺陷,我们并不十分清楚,哪一种货币是真正最好的。我们是否期望最好的货币的特征就是维持其价值恒定?或者我们是否需要一种货币,它的价值将与人的劳动生产率同步提髙?我们是希望创建一种统一的国际货币,还是让不同区域有不同货币?所有这些都是没有答案的问题。因而,货币政策的一个基本的前提条件就只能是,它必须提供人们进行尝试、并让人们了解什么样的货币是最佳货币的机会。

 

当然,政府在论证其政策的正当性的时候可能使用一种借口,说在所有的交易中使用一种单一的货币具有很大优势,为此而牺牲潜在的改进机会是值得的。但一旦我们认识到我们目前所使用的这种货币导致了多少本来可以避免的损害,则人们还是否会接受这种辩护,就大成疑问了。也许,我们之所以没有得到更好货币的一个重要原因就在于,人们无法进行足够的试验,从而就哪种货币是可欲的货币达成一致。在我们能够充分地探索到这一问题的不同解决方案之前,政府就拦腰截断了优胜劣汰的演进过程。我们确实为了某种可能出现的暂时的不便而付出了过高的代价。

 

下面我将探讨这一问题的更现实的一面,并就建立这样一种货币竞争体系提出一个建议。

 

二、一种稳定的购买力

一个重要的问题——我也承认对此问题我并没有明确清晰的答案——是:如果人们可以在若干不同的货币之间进行自由选择,他们是否肯定会选择那种购买力将会保持最大限度的稳定的货币?当然,从下面的问题开始探讨可能更为恰当:我们期望从一种良好的货币中得到什么,什么有可能诱使个体选择某种良好的货币?当然,我们知道,人们将货币用作某种交换媒介的一般原因是,这样一种商品具有较高程度的“可被接受性”(accepta-bility), 也就是说,比起其他商品来,它更容易被人接受。后来,“可被接受性”一词经常被换成“流动性”(liquidity),这很有助益,因为流动性一词凸显了货币中长期被人忽视的另一面。这涉及到货币与商品的区分问题。不同的商品具有程度不等的流动性。如果你想要完全的流动性,你实际上就处于基础货币的一端。然后,是与其关系的密切程度不等的替代品。其范围从流动性最高的黄金到完全没有流动性的某类商品。这种区分很重要,因为它揭示了,另一个概念——货币稳定性的概念——不是一个模糊的概念。假定我们没有被强迫必须在很短时间内售出某种商品,则该商品的价值就可能是稳定的。至于货币,即使几种货币具有同等程度的可被接受性,但它们所具有的稳定性却仍有可能程度不同。

 

因此,基本的结论——这也是我们下面的论点之有效性的基础——是,假如人们可以完全自由地选择他们在日常交易中乐意使用的货币,将会很快出现下面的情形:那些选择了具有稳定购买力的人,会最为成功。流动性中的这一面,即经常用来表示价值的稳定性的,一般都是价格指数。人们经常理所当然地认为,一种良好的货币,其购买力应当大体保持恒定。这意味着,用它表示的平均价格应当大体保持稳定。

 

60年前,我开始研究货币理论的时候,也是从质疑当时被人普遍接受的这种信念开始的,但我后来确信,一种具有稳定价值的货币,确实是我们所能期望的最佳货币。这种认识有时会遭到质疑,但总的来说,人们已经接受了这种认识,尽管他们讲不出任何明确的理由。在我看来,理由如下。人们希望作为交换媒介的东西能够最大限度地降低未来价格的不确定性。但价格的变动乃是不可避免的,甚至会出现出人意料的变动。之所以如此,乃是因为,价格是告知我们自己所不了解、且就其性质而言必然是无法预料的事件的工具。但假如在预测未来价格的走向时,在一个方向上出错的风险(risk)与在另一方向出错的风险互相抵消,则未来价格的不确定性就能被减少到最低限度。

 

因而,稳定的货币的意思就是说,借助这种货币,我们并无具体了解的某种商品之价格上涨或下跌的可能性一样大,因而,不可预见的价格变动在不同方向上会互相抵消。换句话说,平均价格水平稳定的意思就是说,在这种情况下,一种商品的货币价格的上涨(或下跌)表示的是它相对于其他大多数商品的价格也在上涨(或下跌),而不像人们今天经常所说的那样,它会变得比大多数其他商品——其价格发生了更大(或更小)变动——廉价(或昂贵)。借助于提供一种合乎我们上面所定义之价值稳定的货币,货币可能具有的扰乱作用——比如在通货膨胀情况下对于相对价格的影响——可以被吸收适应。

 

不过,我并不能完全肯定,经常被人忽视的货币可能导致的误导性效应,是否能够最终被一种保持平稳购买力的货币完全矫正。保持平稳购买力或保持平均价格平稳的货币也可能扰乱相对价格的结构(structure of relative prices),也就是说,会扰乱生产要素的配置。我在我以前有关货币与商业周期的著作中已经指出过,货币数量的变化必然会导致相对价格结构的紊乱。增发的货币必然会临时拉髙那些吸收了这些货币的商品之价格。只要货币数量的增加持续下去,由此导致的相对价格的变动就会维持下去。这就意味着,生产要素将会被引导到这些商品的生产活动中去,而只有在通货持续膨胀的情况下,这些要素才能被用于该生产中。

 

在一个经济保持增长、人口保持增长和生产保持增长的经济体中,价格会趋于下降,只有通过增发货币才能保持价格平稳。借助于这样的货币增发,人们确实能够使货币价值始终保持平稳,也就是说,使其平均购买力保持平稳,但唯一的代价是扰乱相对价格结构只要货币数量的增加一直持续下去,则这种扰乱就会使生产要素出现错误配置。这是一个非常严重的两难困境。货币的价格要么必须随着生产活动的萎缩或扩展而下跌或上涨,要么必须以错误配置生产要素为代价而保持稳定。这也意味着,我早年所期望的在形成价格时完全中立的货币,实际上是一个永远无法完全实现的希望。我们所能期望的只能是,货币数量的增加被控制在最小幅度,从而尽可能小地扰乱货币在决定价格时的引导功能。

 

对于一种具有稳定购买力的货币是否真的是一种理想货币的问题,我现在的回答是,它可能不是理想的,它只是达到目的的一种手段而已,是能让我们找到解决货币难题的可行的方案。简而言之,我们所能期望的最佳货币是一种平均购买力能够保持稳定的货币。

 

不管怎样,一种稳定货币相对于所有不稳定货币的优势,对于企业的经济计算尤其重要,对于雇佣合同的持有者和储户来说,其重要性也并不稍逊。人们可以从几种货币中进行选择的最重要的结果,并不仅仅是人们将能够以他们所信赖的货币订立合同,更重要的作用在于,即使他们在出售自己的货物的时候乐意接受任何货币,他们也不会希望持有一种他们不信赖的货币,相反,他们能够迅速地将这种货币兑换成他们所信赖的货币。这将迅速地淘汰那些发钞者不能保持其购买力平稳的货币,至少也会迫使发钞者只要看到自己发行的货币在市场上出现哪怕一点折价,也得赶紧修正他的政策。

 

乍看之下,这一点似乎与所谓的格雷欣法则——即“劣币驱逐良币”(其实两千年前的古希腊人就知道这一法则了)一有冲突,对此,我们得公正地指出,这一法则只适用于由政府强制规定只能按固定汇率兑换的若干货币之间。在几种货币互相竞争、其相对价值由市场决定的情况下,结果正好相反:良币将会驱逐劣币。历史已经多次证明了这一点。

 

这里我没有时间来考察,为什么差不多自2500年前铸币出现以来,政府就几乎无一例外地——只有在短时期除外,在这一时期政府放弃了自己的专断的权力而规定一定数量的某种贵金属为法定货币单位——无耻地滥用它们的垄断权力,从而给民众带来巨大的损害。我也没有时间解释,为什么金本位制在过去一个较短时期内曾为我们提供了一种好于这前后的所有货币,但现在却不可能被全面有效地恢复。金本位制要求人们恢复一种已被摧毁的信念,恢复金本位制可能导致黄金价值的剧烈波动,从而使其无法维持多长时间。今天,完全剥夺政府对于货币的权力,比起试图阻止政府滥用它们的权力,可能会更容易实行。

 

三、一种国际性本位

根据最佳货币就是具有平稳的平均购买力的货币的想法,当然会引出一个问题,选择哪种或哪些种商品来充当评估平均购买力是否平稳的标准。如果我们用一组消费品来衡量购买力,就有可能把平稳购买力的概念限制在非常狭小的地域范围内。举例来说,一种从消费品角度看在布鲁塞尔保持购买力平稳的货币,在巴黎或纽约未必会同样保持平稳。

 

这免不了会引出一个问题:我们需要的是区域性货币还是国际性货币。我自己的选择是倾向于一种国际性货币。这就意味着,我们应当致力于使价格在国际范围内保持稳定。应当清楚的一点是,在这里所勾勒的,仅仅是我本人对于人们如果可以自由地从多种竞争性货币当中作出选择的时候将会追求什么样的目标的暂时结论。我相信,这样一种竞争将会引导人们选择出一种购买力将保持稳定的货币,而此处之购买力如果是用国际性本位(international standard)表示之购买力,则更为可取。

 

为了保持国际经济之高效运转,我们显然需要某些国际性本位,而唯一能让我们赖以获得实时信息的国际性价格体系,乃是那些被极为广泛地交易的标准化的原材料之批发价格,因而,最能准确地显示一种货币单位之购买力保持普遍稳定的办法,可能就是这些原材料的价格指数保持平稳。当然,这样一种指数必须是所谓的加权指数,不管是其商品组成还是各种商品的权重,都不可能严格保持不变。持有这样一种货币单位的人可以随时赎回可供购进用以规定该本位单位的不同原材料之组合的其他货币;这样一种货币的发行者有权改变这些商品的名单,根据每种商品在交易中的重要性的变化而调整其权重。不过,为了保护持有该货币的民众,不对他们掩盖该货币价值的变动情况,发行者必须向持有人保证,新的“一篮子”商品的构成虽然会有所调整,但按市场现价计算的总价值,会等于旧的篮子”商品的总价值(而且,有可能在一个限定的较短时期内,该货币单位的持有人可以选择是赎回新篮子”商品还是旧“ 一篮子”商品)。

 

由某一具体的发钞机构提供的这样一种新的国际性货币单位当然必须有自己的名字,在下面的讨论中,我姑且将其称为佐力德。这样一种试验能否成功,很大程度上得看发钞者选择的货币单位名称是否有吸引力,是否恰如其分。我已经想出了一个在这方面比现在想出来的这个名字更有吸引力的货币单位名称,这样的名字确实能够价值连城。但由于法律顾问告诉我说,在目前的法律下,只有那些实际从事某项业务的个人或企业的商标(或著作权)才能获得法律保护,因此,我没有办法,只好保守我的秘密,在这儿,使用佐力德作为一个次优名称,用来说明我的私人发行货币的方案;尽管必然会遇到政府的阻挠,但肯定是可以引进这样的货币单位的——当然,最初的时候,不会是流通性的符号性货币(circulating tokens),其形态可表现为某种可赎回目前的日常交易货币或者政府眼下可能不会允许私人发行的符号性货币的可转让的存款(transferable deposits )。

 

尽管由私人发行的这类不同的信用单位都会有自己不同的名称,在一开始的时候,也可能会与不同的商品组合挂钩,但在经过一段时间的试验之后,能够维持下来的大多数货币都可能在彼此之间保持稳定的价值关系,当然,其发行数量可能会大相径庭。一旦这样一些具有稳定购买力的货币单位获得人们的普遍认可,有些供应者也表明了他们有能力保持自己的货币单位价值稳定,并因而创立了一门有利可图、但却完全得靠人们对他们的这种信任才能生存的生意,则这样一种制度就会因为下列事实而得以维系:任何货币发行者,只要他不能维持这种信任,就将立刻被排挤出去,大量货币会从他那里抽逃。

 

这里的另一个问题是,该由谁来决定,哪种货币应成为人们普遍接受的货币?是由广大的消费者,还是由企业界,还是由一部分企业?我个人相信,广大民众几乎会接受任何一种能够大体保持稳定、并被普遍接受的货币。任何一种货币,只要它大体上保持稳定,普通消费者是乐于在市场接受并支出的。他不会因为他手中的货币略微升值或略微贬值而大幅度地调整自己手中的货币品种。决定货币广泛流通的更重要的因素应该是另外一些人,对于他们来说,货币具有下列属性是极端重要的:它能使他们成功地估计其走势,并以其持有流动性结存的时候不会导致产量的盈亏。这也就意味着,企业或者说是为了生意活动而使用货币的人们的偏好,将决定货币筛选过程的结果,假定人们可以自由地在不同种类的货币之间进行挑选的话。

 

四、通货与信用

我最初曾设想,从一开始,私人货币发行者就不仅会以往来账户的形式发行货币,也会发行自身只有很小价值的钞票或符号性货币。不过,尽管这几年来的深人思考只是让我更坚信自己的信念,即这种制度乃是解决我们面临的货币问题的唯一办法,不过,我也不能无视现实;指望政府自愿放弃目前拥有的发行货币的垄断权,纯属乌托邦。然而,这确实是我们重新获得诚实的货币、同时又能克服萧条、失业及市场普遍紊乱之类灾难的唯一途径。政府已经对通过发行货币来为其活动筹资产生了依赖性。他们认为,这种能力是一件非常重要的经济政策工具,因而他们可能会一直捍卫这种权力,不仅仅是法律授予他们的有明文规定的全部权力,还有他们自己能够攫取到的一切权力。尽管目前各国政府是否拥有禁止私人发行一种替代国家货币的宪法上的权力,是相当可疑的,不过,无须怀疑的一点则是,他们可以通过运用法定货币之类的规则,阻挠任何这样的尝试,使之无法获得成功。

 

不过,有人认为,在目前的条件下,政府只是阻挠私人发行通货或日常买卖中的货币。但这是一种误导性的印象。发行符号性货币一作为法币用于清偿其订立的合同之债务——的专有权,并没有不让人们使用以其他货币表示的信用账户作为一般的交换工具。至少在那些没有强制实行外汇限制的地方,还有那些大概只是限制超出一定数量的外币交易的地方,一般的法律似乎并没有禁止人们开立账户,使债权人在要求收回其他货币的时候能够收到这些货币,这些货币足以使他能以市场现价购买到相应的用以规定该货币单位的“一篮子”原材料。

五、私人银行能确保稳定的购买力

我现在将涉及到一个关键问题:经营银行业务的机构有没有可能、有没有希望提供佐力德、达克特或斯泰保(stables)或其他名称的账户?我在这里提到开立这种账户单位的银行会向人们承诺,见票即可付给同等价值的其他货币,数量恰足以让其在现有的商品交易所中购买到事先公布的诸种商品,这里所研究的单位的总体价格就是根据这些商品来确定的。这个任务的困难之处在于,为了维持某一货币单位的价值,其发行者必须时刻准备以事先公布的比率购进或售出回流到他的银行(或要求他出具)的任何数量的这种货币单位。

 

他能够运用的唯一的控制手段是以不同的条款、或者不同的利率贷出、借入(也即创造或削减这样的存款),并可以收取管理这样的账户的管理费。这种账户的提供者当然必须密切提防,使自己不要失去对社会成员或随便一个可以清晰界定的区域内的居民获取这些流动性资产的数量的控制。他的目标是与其他机构竞争性地提供公众所希望的某种便于辨认的资产,因为人们相信它会保持其价值因而会将其作为流动性资产持有。让人们心里踏实的唯一办法,是时刻准备用可以购到指定的原材料组合的“现金”回购这些存款。但假定多家分立的机构都成功地向其客户提供了名称不同、但实际上以市场价格计算价值相等的具有完全流行性的账户单位或交换媒介,最终的结果将是,以这些账户单位中随便哪一种衡量,商品的总体价格都保持稳定。

 

单个一家银行能否这样控制它见票即付的账户数量,从而使它在任何时候都能够不间断地支付足以以市场价格购买事先公布的一篮子商品的其他货币?主要的难题来自于下面的事实:假如要防止其账户单位的价值上涨到公布的水平之上,它就只能通过下面的做法实现这一点,即保证随时可以以事先公布的条款,接受任何数量的存款。到一定时间,这可能会造成一个困难的问题,即得找到合适的机会,把这些数量的账户单位投资到本身似乎能够保持其价值的资产中。为控制对其存款的需求量的这种波动,这家银行实际上只有两种工具可用,或者是改变以其他货币购人与售出它自己的货币单位的价格之间的差额,或者是将其向存款收取的正利率调整为对其收取负的管理费用,这两者都可以即时公布。

 

显然,银行得经过认真的学习,才能肯定他们知道了如何成功地处理这些难题。要想能够向成千上万人提供其流动性准备,并获得利息,他们可能不得不为存储在他们那儿的资金掏钱,事实可能会证明,那些第一个解决了这些难题的银行,将在银行业务方面大获成功。我乐意看到,最大的收益归那些成功地向世界带来了不可估量的好处的人,他们最终使这个世界拥有一种交换媒介,借助这种媒介,市场终于得以最充分地发挥其功用。这样一种稳定的货币确立起来之后,即使它表现为几种不同的名称,每一种都是用不同机构的名义发行的,由不同机构承担责任;那么,用不了多长时间,这些货币单位的成功的供应商也会有权利发行相应的符号性货币;而由于它们与基础信用单位之间保持着恒定的关系,因而,它们很快就会取代传统的“官方”现金,至少在地方上。而经过一段时间后,政府也会要求用这种新的稳定的货币单位来向它纳税,这将标志着这种新制度的最后胜利。

 

我相信,如果银行可以完全自由地向公众提供可随意选择的货币,将很快导致出现多元货币,从本质上说,它们都将保持价值平稳,其品质将广为人知,还有——这是一个令人惊讶的特征——它们彼此间的比价也会保持稳定。它们将会在不同名称下体现出差不多相同的价值含量,用同样的“一篮子”广泛交易的商品——而经验也向人们证明这些商品是公众最乐于接受的——表示的它们的价值将保持平稳。我相信,这些货币的面额都会在一定程度上相同,尽管这些符号性货币因发行者的不同而有不同的名称。我承认,这是一种奇异的景象,但你越是深人思考这个问题,越觉得会出现这种景象。

 

主要的困难在于,我们目前的银行和信用结构已经完全与垄断性的货币融为一体,在这种制度中,政府似乎是所有贷款的最终保证人,政府具有双重功能,既控制货币数量,也调整货币数量使之适应流动性需求的变化。

 

因此,十分自然的是,银行家们成了这样一群人,他们觉得,让自己在这种新制度下与他人展开竞争,是最不可行的。我本人只成功地说服过经济学家与刚刚进入经济生活舞台的年轻人相信竞争性发行货币的优越性,让他们相信,实行这种制度,其实并不存在根本性困难。但我必须承认,我还从来没有说服过一位银行家相信这种制度是可行的。他们都抱怨说,这种制度与现在人们眼中的银行业务完全不同,他们担心,传统的银行业务将会消失。但我希望指出,我们现在所说的银行业务,其实只存在了一个半世纪,也就是在中央银行普遍地建立起来之后,在银行业务成为一门以存在着所谓的最后贷款人为本的生意之后。银行家们尤其忘记了一段著名的话,1844年的皮尔法案(Peel’ Act)通过的时候,一位英国银行家曾引过这段话,“我不需要一家准备银行——我的准备金就在这儿”,他用手指着他的银行的地下室的方向这样说。我相信,如果我们实行竞争发行货币的制度,取消了最终流动性资金的垄断性供应者,我们就可以拥有这样一种银行体系:每种货币的发行者或银行家将会建立一定数量的准备金;根据需要,用商品或其他货币的组合来保证他自己发行的货币的稳定。

 

我们的货币制度在过去100年或者说150年间的发展,使我的建议与150年以前相比,看起来确实更为古怪,也不那么切实可行。那个时代,人们还始终清楚地意识到国家垄断发行货币的危险。我们可以在一位美国政治经济学家的著作中看到一个很有趣的例证,他也是美国的一位建国之父,他的看法是:“把全部的信赖加之于具有这种性质(意为中央银行)的一个机构之上,是这种(货币)结构的要害所在。然而,我们需要私人而不是政府来指导我们的货币体系,我们的货币体系应当由市场而不应当由公共政策来指导。”

 

六、假如出现某种私人货币的崩溃

我在我的书中研究过若干其他后果,在这里,我只更为深人地探讨一下其中一个问题,当时我甚至没有想到,但现在看来,是最为重要的一个问题。在我看来,如果能够出现一种不依赖于任何人的专断意志的稳定的新型国际性价值单位,那么,它的影响要比乍一看显而易见的那些后果还要深人广泛。如果在这个世界上流通着若干种具有不同名称的货币单位,每一种都只有在其与其他大多数货币保持同样价值的情况下才能维持下去,那么,即使其中一种由于政策失误或管理人员违规操作导致崩溃,其冲击也不会像今天某种货币崩溃那样大。持有某种部分或全部地丧失其价值的通货之结存的人,当然会损失其一切,就跟今天一样。但今天由于某种通货之贬值而造成的最严重的损失,不是落在那些确实持有一定数量该通货的人头上,而是落在那些以该货币订立合同而形成债权的人头上。我在《货币的非国家化》第二版中(第124 -125页)中曾解释过这一点:

 

由于能够得到至少是若干种稳定的通货,使“法币”成为纯粹的符号货币——也即可能已经毫无价值但却依然能用于清偿债务、而在订立合同时这些债务还是具有一定价值的标的——的荒唐做法,注定了将会消失。导致这种荒唐结果的,完全就是政府强迫人们在其订立合同时使用他们所不愿使用的货币的权力。在废除了政府发行货币的垄断权后,法院很快就会明白,要想维护正义,债务就必须用各方订立合同时意欲使用的价值单位来偿付,而不是用政府强加给他们的货币来偿付。在发展出一种被广泛接受的普遍的价值本位之后,法院在大多数案件中将会毫无困难地确定当事人在用这种价值和这么多数量被广泛接受的货币订立合同之初,当事人所设想的名义价值的大体数量。

 

如果一种被用于订立合同的通货严重地贬值,超出可以容忍的范围,法院不会让当事人从发行这种货币的第三方的玩忽职守行为中得益或受损。法院可以毫无困难地裁决债务人有权利、也有义务以多少数量的其他货币清偿其债务。

 

这样,即使某种通货完全倒闭,也不会产生广泛的灾难性后果,而今天,类似事件却会导致这样的结果。尽管现金持有者——或者是以钞票的形式,或者是某种通货的活期存款形式——可能丧失其全部价值,但这与普遍的价值缩水或以这种通货所表示的对于第三方的全部索取权的抵消相比,只能算相对较小的混乱。长期合同的总体结构不会受到影响,如果人们不幸地使用一家倒闭的银行所发行的通货,他们可能会丧失自己的全部现金,但他们仍将保有自己的债券投资、抵押权及类似的债权。恐怕永远都不会发生债务的共同标准完全不复存在那祥的事,也不会发生所有的货币性债务被一笔勾销的事,就好象发生持久的严重通货膨胀最后的结果似的。在这种情况发生之前,每个人都应该抛弃那种贬值的货币,不会再有债务还用它来清偿。

 

这样一种调节主要货币之供应量、使之保持其购买力稳定不变的半自动机制,将会消灭自人们有意识地致力于集中控制货币数量以来即纠缠着人类的通货膨胀性繁荣与萧条、失业期交替出现的一切根源。不过,在这里探讨这一点,未免过于艰涩、也过于复杂了。

 

下面我讲最后一点,也即,实行某种货币政策,其实是一种很晚才出现的观念。就在60年以前,货币政策不过就是保证流通中的某种黄金等价物或白银等价物或某一货币币值稳定。我对货币政策的兴趣始于1923年,当时,我看到美国联邦储备银行的年度报告,其中一个声明说,可以通过控制货币数量来确保经济活动的稳定性。在当时,这是个新观念。而不过60年时间,货币政策就被普遍看成经济政策的一个主要工具,成为政治当局推动经济繁荣的有用工具。我必须承认,这些年来,我越来越怀疑,这个意义上的货币政策是否真的发挥过正面作用。我的看法是,货币不是一种合适的政策工具,应当将其从政治当局的手中拿走。

 

我们现在所拥有的货币,并不是我们的文化所能演进出来的最完美的货币,而是一个畸形的孩子,它一直受到不公正的限制和妨碍,使之无法充分展示其全部潜能。我们的货币一直被用来实现某种它根本不能胜任的目的。货币既不是一种恰当的经济政策工具,也不是一种可靠的手段,并不具有人们所设想的那样巨大的作用。我们的货币不过是市场自我调节机制中一直不那么完善的一个环节。我们应当致力于弄清,如何才能让它运转得更好。