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Matt Spoke: Our short-sighted politicians have yet to glimpse Bitcoin’s big potential

Commentary

Although I’m a political layman, I’m familiar enough with Canada’s parliamentary system to understand the intended dynamics of a governing party and an opposition. 

In theory, opposition parties exist to challenge the government on its decisions and actions and hold it accountable for its results. Within this system of government, we should expect debates on ideas for how our government should fulfill its responsibilities with respect to its citizens. We should also expect that governments be held accountable for failure, if a valid alternative is ready to step up and govern in its place.

Debates should focus on fiscal policy, immigration, infrastructure, defence, foreign affairs etc.

But key to any debate is two sides taking opposing views on issues, and one of the challenges that seems to be occurring in Canada today is that our three major political parties sound exactly the same on many of the key issues facing Canada.

Their stated differences are primarily focused on credibility, relatability, and trust rather than substantive differences in policy. 

On issues of fiscal policy—and monetary policy by extension (apologies to Mr. Trudeau for having no time to think on this one)—all three of our political parties are falling short of providing a substantive opposition to a de facto consensus of increased debt and increased spending, and increased inflation as a result. 

So where does that leave the millions of Canadians who are legitimately concerned about the economic trajectory we’re on? If we’re not finding adequate opposition representing these concerns in Parliament, then maybe we look elsewhere.

Enter Bitcoin.

If you’re inclined to roll your eyes at this point, you may soon be in the minority. While only four percent of American adults over 55 years of age own cryptocurrency today, already over a third of Americans aged 35-44 own cryptocurrency (likely a similar figure in Canada), and that number is trending up.

Earlier this month, there was a great piece published in the American publication National Affairs, titled Bitcoin and the U.S. Fiscal Reckoning. The author, Avik Roy, makes a compelling case for why the U.S. should take a positive and encouraging stance towards the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency industry, arguing that it could be the fuel that drives the next wave of American economic growth.

But more interestingly, his analysis outlines how important Bitcoin will become as a system of government accountability, or a hedge against short-sighted government fiscal policy and central banks’ reactions in the way of inflationary monetary policy.

In essence, until very recently, citizens did not have much choice but to slowly be dragged into the consequences of governments who overspend, underdeliver, and have no sense of responsibility for the long-term consequences of their actions. 

This reality would likely look extremely similar whether we had a Liberal, Conservative, or NDP government in Ottawa. In fact, this will likely be the reality of most developed countries in the coming decade. 

More than 20 percent of American hedge funds now own Bitcoin.

That said, what most politicians and economists have failed to factor in is the decentralizing power of Bitcoin. 

For the first time ever, in a period of sustained economic decline citizens will have a choice to place their trust in something other than their government. Larger and larger portions of individual and corporate assets will shift from treasury bonds to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. 

This is already happening today, if you’re paying attention. 

More than 20 percent of American hedge funds now own Bitcoin. The millions of consumers who hold Wealthsimple and Mogo accounts in Canada can now buy and trade Bitcoin. Billions of dollars are held within our publicly traded Bitcoin funds in Canada. And this shift will only accelerate. 

What Canada’s policymakers need to recognize is the incredibly rare opportunity this creates for Canada. Unlike our American cousins, our dollar is not the world’s reserve currency. We do not have to worry about decisions that might impact the global standing of the Canadian dollar to the same degree. 

With a few small policy prescriptions, Canada could ensure that we disproportionately capture a competitive share of the Bitcoin market and its related innovations. This should, at minimum, include a decision to add Bitcoin to our national treasury; slowly at first, but with a view to maintain some proportion that represents Bitcoin’s standing against global fiat currencies (Bitcoin is valued at more than $1T USD).

And now back to our short-sighted overspending politicians. You should be excited about welcoming a new taxable asset class and hyper growth industry into Canada that can fund your unlimited election promises. All you need to do is get out of the way. 

Howard Anglin: Civility in politics has to run both ways

Commentary

The murder of British Conservative MP Sir David Amess occasioned two very different reactions. The most common reaction took the form of a lecture on a supposed decline in the tone our politics followed by a plea for more civility. In some cases, the plea was accompanied by a call for legislation to restrict inflammatory speech.

These lectures, in turn, generated responses pointing out that Sir David’s murderer was a radicalised Islamist whose actions likely had nothing to do with Twitter decorum.

On the facts of the case, the second camp makes more sense (and I hope to write more about that soon) but the first camp is on to something too—just not the right thing. In a democracy we should be worried about political anger, but we should not be fooled into thinking that civility is the solution to a problem that runs much deeper than incivility.

We just wrapped up a federal election campaign in which talk of political violence (but, fortunately, no actual violence) was a constant undercurrent. There is, of course, nothing new about political protests in Canada, but there is a nagging feeling that something has changed. The simmering public frustration, elevated to boiling by social restrictions and economic insecurity during the pandemic, doesn’t feel like something that will just go away when those stresses are removed.

We can blame the problem on social media—and goodness knows the companies monetizing our anger deserve plenty of blame—but they wouldn’t be so effective if there weren’t a latent disquiet waiting to be stoked and exploited. Social media companies may have built a business on encouraging us to act badly, but I have trouble believing they alone can turn good people into monsters.

Happy, well-adjusted people aren’t easily triggered to rage, so if we are seeing more rage we should be asking why our society isn’t producing more happy, well-adjusted people. The real problems that should keep our political class up at night are whatever is making many of their fellow citizens so distrustful of their leaders and alienated from each other.

We are in a crisis of loneliness and sterility.

You don’t have to look far to see why people might be angry. Globalisation has made most of us materially better off, but it has made some of us better off than others and it has left a significant number of us working what David Graeber has called bullsh*t jobs. Deep down the bullsh*t workers know it, and it doesn’t feel good. Now some people are proposing to replace their jobs altogether with a guaranteed income, just enough to keep them in video games until empty days demand more potent and more dangerous escapism.

We are in a crisis of loneliness and sterility. Our cities bristle with faceless condo towers, each with more residents than a small town but where no one knows their neighbour. Add in stagnant wages and rising home prices that have put middle-class security and starting a family tantalizingly out of reach for many young people and you can start to see how personal frustration could spark political anger.

It doesn’t help that our economic system has encouraged companies to put ever-higher profits before national loyalty and local responsibility. Or that our political system has failed to hold multinational corporations to account for externalizing the social and environmental costs of business models that encourage off-shoring, layoffs, tax dodges, and pay and benefit cuts so that executives can continue to meet quarterly targets and earn exorbitant bonuses.

And is it really surprising that a multi-generational project to undermine our shared beliefs and cultural confidence has left us untethered and dispirited? Our increasingly fraudulent education system is producing a generation schooled in outrage and little else, and we can see the consequences in rising levels of historical ignorance and intolerance.

Our problem isn’t that people are angry, it is why they are angry. A lot of people have good reason to be alienated from a culture of stagnation and decadence that no one seems willing to confront—neither those suffering at the bottom nor those profiting at the top. The difference is that the people at the top are in a position to do something about it, to adopt more humane policies that elevate individual dignity and promote the common good.

Lectures about the need for more civility make the writers feel good, but they miss the point: the need for more empathy and more civility in our society runs two ways. The political anger from the bottom may be more visible right now, but the decades of political neglect from the top is more serious.