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Bailouts Don’t Save the Economy. They Prop Up Companies That Should Be Allowed to Fail

CoinDesk columnist Nic Carter is partner at Castle Island Ventures, a public blockchain-focused venture fund based in Cambridge, Mass. He is also the cofounder of Coin Metrics, a blockchain analytics startup.

The moral case for bailouts often sounds a bit like this:

Unlike prior crises, like the mortgage-fueled crash of 2008–09, there is no villain in 2020; instead, we have an act of God, an undead bundle of proteins wreaking havoc on society. Since this could have been neither predicted nor reckoned with, and since the closure of the economy was a government-mandated response, there is no one at ‘fault’, and hence, all suffering businesses should receive government support. Preserving the current corporate status quo will allow the economy to “restart” when appropriate, returning to its pre-virus makeup.

This logic is unsatisfying for several reasons. First, as I and others have pointed out, bailouts send a signal to the market that alters corporate behavior, encouraging rent-seeking behavior and rewarding excessive risk taking. This is a negative externality that must be acknowledged at the very least. Second, the emphasis on the artificial nature of the crisis is contrived. The economy would be in bad shape even without mandatory lockdowns. And, even in historical cases where exogenous shocks torched particular industries, bailouts failed to restore them to glory, calling into question the merit of deploying those funds in the first place.

See also: Nic Carter – Corporate America Knows the Bailout Is Baked In

Lastly, the virus will not leave society unchanged once it is eliminated; it will fundamentally change the nature of many industries for the foreseeable future. Bailouts ignore this, vainly attempting to preserve the economy in amber, laboring under the misapprehension that society’s pre-virus resource allocation is optimal for the post-virus world. Corporate destruction and reorganization under well-understood bankruptcy processes would allow our resources to be deployed in a fundamentally more productive manner, rather than simply entrenching the existing corporate balance of power.

This is not an artificial crisis

One justification I find puzzling is the notion that this is a government-imposed crisis, as if one day every country worldwide decided to arbitrarily shut their borders and suspend commerce. This is such a staggeringly naive notion that it’s a wonder anyone expresses it. While government inaction certainly exacerbated the crisis, it is not the sole cause. This crisis was set off by the spark of the virus, an epidemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in 100 years, igniting the tinder of a fragile, indebted, globalized economy. If governments had simply chosen to let the virus wash over their citizens, commerce would have ground to a halt anyway. The economic damage from shutdowns cannot be extricated from the damage caused by the virus – it’s all the same phenomenon.

The airline industry after the 2001 bailout was a shambles: every major U.S. airline filed for bankruptcy projection between 2001 and 2011.

Plagues are not good for the economy, government action or not. Indeed, foot traffic in cities dropped sharply long before any mandatory lockdowns were instituted. According to Opentable, restaurant bookings in New York City had dropped by 100 percent (relative to their level 12 months earlier) on March 17; the mandatory lockdown in New York City didn’t begin until March 22 at 8 pm. This pre-lockdown business slowdown was evident in multiple U.S. cities. Highly contagious diseases tend to impair one’s desire to consume.

This is a genuine crisis, not an artificial one. The existence of dramatic government countermeasures is not moral justification for a bailout. Simply enforcing the natural inclination to self-quarantine – which happens in every pandemic – is not sufficient reason to give outsize handouts to shareholders of public companies.

There is no return to the pre-virus era

Bailout supplicants like to claim that if only we can keep corporations intact, we can restart the economy in a pre-COVID-19 state. This is utopian thinking at best. Not only is it looking increasingly clear that we are in for a drawn-out battle, the world seems to be changing dramatically, too. Blindly supporting the largest incumbents in a given sector under pre-crisis assumptions is an easy way to install a zombified, anti-competitive system.

History gives us a fine example of an exogenous, unforeseeable shock that justified a bailout. In 2001, with air travel interrupted by the 9/11 attacks, the government hurriedly passed a $15 billion bailout for the airlines, which would swell to $50 billion over the following years. The airline industry after the 2001 bailout was a shambles: every major U.S. airline filed for bankruptcy projection between 2001 and 2011. US Airways filed twice, in 2002 and 2004. It’s obvious in hindsight that a government guarantee for an industry faced with serious structural issues was inappropriate, and simply ended up deferring their decline.

According to a NY Times postmortem:

The bailout program may actually have made matters worse, some experts say, by forestalling a badly needed shakeout in the industry, keeping the weakest carriers alive at the expense of the others and perpetuating a glut of flights and seats.

An exogenous shock. Moral justification for rapid bailouts. A shakeout forestalled. And an industry on permanent life support, unwilling to reorganize itself into a more efficient model. It all sounds awfully familiar. Airlines will exist post-virus, but in a world of persistent geographical encumbrances, green and red zones, and 14-day quarantines. International travel may well decline in importance. By bailing out airlines and keeping their corporate structures intact, the state attempts to preserve the status quo. But I’d be willing to wager that demand to consume air travel in a post-COVID-19 world will be meaningfully suppressed.

Air travel is an obvious example, but there are numerous sectors looking to maintain a corporate lifestyle which may not suit a post-COVID-19 reality. Travel, cruise liners, amusement parks, tourism, restaurants, outsourced just-in-time manufacturing, commercial real estate – these are a few sectors that may well suffer long-term aftershocks from the crisis. By selectively bailing out industries that might otherwise be justifiably shrinking, consolidating, or chasing efficiencies, the government attempts to dictate market outcomes, recalling Canute’s crusade against the tides. There’s a better way: Let the free market, not the state, price these companies, and let capital flow only to those evaluated as solvent.

See also: Nic Carter – Policymakers Shouldn’t Fear Digital Money: So Far It’s Maintaining the Dollar’s Status

What’s more, the bailout itself contains information. It communicates to CEOs that the coffers are open and the opportunity exists to obtain a free insurance policy from the government, provided you play politics well enough. If in two years’ time, air travel still hasn’t picked up, what’s to stop airline CEOs from returning to the table, asking for more? They will still be able to make identical arguments about the societal virtue of keeping their staff employed and their fleets operational. After all, the virus wasn’t their fault.

No limit to stimulus

There is no natural limit to bailouts, once this form of stimulus is normalized. Virtually every crisis, shock, or disruption, will be used to justify requests for handouts. If preserving employment and retaining the existing corporate setting is prided at all costs, we will end up with a handful of implicitly state-owned enterprises, completely insulated from market rigor. Even if the shocks that provide feedback are unfair or unforeseeable, that doesn’t mean that they are somehow invalid or must be suppressed. And if it so happens that the world changes such that their business no longer boasts the stature it once had, then the market-clearing outcome is for that sector to shrink.

Despite what the stimulus apologists would have you think, there’s no moral case for a bailout – just a reflexive desire to avoid short term pain. If the inflationists truly wanted to reduce harm on a society-wide scale, they would agitate for direct payouts to individuals, rather than demanding instead that these funds be processed through an inefficient corporate filter, which pays out hedge funds on the way.

Some trends cannot be reasoned with or forestalled. If climate change threatens polar bears, so be it. The bailout supplicants would have us install air conditioning in the Arctic.

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The leader in blockchain news, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.

Peer Into the Crystal Ball: Will BTC Halving Echo Fate of BCH and BSV?

With the Bitcoin (BTC) halving only weeks away, anticipation appears to be building up as Google Trends data for the event show online searches reaching an all-time high. Bitcoin’s block reward halving comes following that of Bitcoin Cash (BCH) and Bitcoin SV (BSV), where miners moved their hashing power to the BTC Chain.

Several crypto pundits point to the halving potentially having a significant impact on the BTC spot price. Indeed, Bitcoin’s two previous halvings — November 2012 and July 2016 — have each been precursors to a new, all-time price high for BTC.

However, the situation in the crypto and mainstream market in 2020 differs greatly from the two other halvings. The economic downturn occasioned by the current COVID-19 pandemic has added to stressors such as the 2018 bear market, hash wars and a litany of stricter government regulations.

Lessons from the BCH and BSV halvings

As previously reported by Cointelegraph, the BCH and BSV halvings occurred this year on April 8 and April 10, respectively, as both chains reached their 630,000 block milestones. This event triggered a 50% reduction in the block reward for miners on the two networks.

Following the halving for both Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin SV, miners reportedly moved their computing power to the Bitcoin chain, which is still operating under the 12.5 BTC block reward regime. The miner exodus resulted in a huge hash rate decline for the BCH and BSV blockchains, while BTC’s share of the hash rate distribution among all three chains increased significantly.

The hash rate decline also temporarily left both chains susceptible to 51% attacks in which, theoretically, a rogue actor controlling more than 50% of the network could have rolled back transactions and double-spent tokens. Since the halving, data from Crypto51.app — a platform that monitors the vulnerability of proof-of-work blockchains like BCH to such attacks — has shown an increase in the theoretical cost of a 51% attack of both chains.

Despite the hash rate decline, miners with a vested interest in either chain continued to dedicate their computing power to secure the networks. Given the significantly higher profitability for miners on the BTC chain as opposed to the other two networks, some crypto pundits characterized miners’ decision to remain on BCH and BSV as “crypto socialism.”

In an email to Cointelegraph at the time, Alex Speirs, head of communication at the Bitcoin Association, countered the notion of crypto socialism and irrational mining. According to Speirs, Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto only intended for block subsidies to be a temporary reward for miners, with transaction fees being the actual long-term incentives to remain on the network.

On the price side, the halving did not trigger any meaningful upward momentum, as both BCH and BSV declined following the event. Since the halving, the BCH and BSV spot price has lost even more ground, declining by 15% and 10% respectively.

What happens to the hash rate distribution after the Bitcoin halving?

The halving events for Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin SV saw similar trends emerging in the immediate aftermath, bringing up the question of whether both events provided an early indicator for the Bitcoin halving in May. Once the Bitcoin halving is complete, all three chains will operate on the same block reward amount — 6.25 units of their individual native currency — with mining profitability likely to once again be the major determining factor in deciding the chain chosen by miners.

Ali Beikverdi, CEO of Seoul-based crypto exchange deployment service bitHolla, thinks the reaction of miners to the Bitcoin halving will be different from the trend observed in the earlier BCH and BSV halvings. In a conversation with Cointelegraph, Beikverdi characterized both BSV and BCH as suffering from “extreme centralization,” and thus unsuitable for being used as an indicator of the likely result of the upcoming BTC halving. Criticisms over the perceived centralization of BSV and BCH are usually centered on the relatively larger block sizes of both chains in comparison to BTC.

This perceived centralization also covers the mining arena. For BCH, pools either owned or backed by heavyweights like Roger Ver and Bitmain’s Jihan Wu control the greater majority of the network’s hash rate distribution. For BSV, the situation is very similar, with pools affiliated to Bitcoin SV proponents like self-proclaimed Bitcoin creator Craig Wright and billionaire Calvin Ayre dominating the arena.

Indeed, the block size debate has been at the heart of the hard forks that led to the creation of both Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin SV. In theory, larger block sizes lead to more centralization, as the resources required to run nodes, such as bandwidth and disk space, could restrict a significant number of participants on the network.

The miner exodus from BSV and BCH caused the Bitcoin share of the hash rate distribution across the three chains to hover between 96% and 99%. More than a week has passed since the two halvings, and the miners are still devoting their hash power to the BTC chain. Following the Bitcoin Cash and Bitcoin SV halvings, some pundits who spoke to Cointelegraph characterized the movement of hashing power to BTC as only a temporary trend that would revert itself once Bitcoin’s own block reward reduced by 50%.

According to Sonny Meraban, CEO of Bitcoin of America — a Bitcoin ATM operator and United States-licensed crypto exchange — the hash rate distribution will revert to the established pre-halving paradigm. In a conversation with Cointelegraph, Meraban opined:

“There’ll likely be a rebalance back towards where we stood pre-halving (which was about 3% for BCH and BSV, 94% for BTC), maybe slightly up for the smaller coins short-term but not much more than that. Hash rate balances were fairly optimized towards profitability pre-halvings, and the nature of the halvings means that they should be back in that same balance after it.”

Mining giants loading up

The upcoming Bitcoin halving also presents a new challenge for miners, as energy efficiency is likely to be a major focus for market participants. With the block reward dropping from 12.5 BTC to 6.25 BTC, Bitcoin miners will be looking to deploy hardware solutions with a significantly lower watt per terahash ratio.

The W/T ratio refers to the amount of electricity required by a Bitcoin mining machine to complete one terahash of computing on the network. Within the crypto mining market, this ratio is a measure of the efficiency of a cryptocurrency mining machine.

Already, Chinese BTC miners such as Bitmain and MicroBT are reportedly set to deploy new mining hardware with lower W/T ratios, which means greater efficiency. Market rivals are looking to leverage improvements in chipset technology to deliver configurations that ensure gross profit margins do not decline due to the reduced block reward subsidy scheme brought on by the halving.

At the intersection of lower block rewards and newer hardware, smaller miners could find their ability to compete coming under increasing threat. Beikverdi highlighted the coming struggles for some BTC miners, stating that the halving will squeeze out some miners, as “the life cycle of Bitcoin miners always gets a huge shock after each halving but tends to take time as miners slowly unpack their operations.” For the bitHolla CEO, the departure of these smaller capacity miners will not happen overnight. He added:

“It is important to note that miners don’t have a quick way to unwind their business operations and generally have to follow their energy contracts. This means it could take 6–12 months for miners to finish the energy contracts that they have. It isn’t like a normal operation where you pay month-by-month. Mining is typically longer 6 to 12 months business cycles which takes time for weaker miners to fold.”

The current price struggles in the oil market could also play a role in the destinies of Bitcoin miners. In recent times, a key business relationship appears to have emerged between miners and energy producers, with the former becoming a “buyer of last resort” for the latter.

Taking upstream oil companies as an example, amid measures to curb gas flaring due to environmental considerations, some Bitcoin mining firms in North America have used the excess gas from these oil wells to power their data centers. On April 20, 2020, the price of West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell below $0. Should the price of the futures on other crude grades take a beating, wells could shut down in several locations, impacting the activity of some Bitcoin miners.

However, with China accounting for the greater majority of the Bitcoin hash rate, a price crash in the oil market might do little to affect the operations of BTC miners. While more than 71% of China’s electricity is generated from nonrenewable sources, this amount is spread among coal and natural gas, to mention a few.

Hash rate recovery and pre-halving hodling

Back in March, Cointelegraph reported that the Bitcoin hash rate had declined by about 45% from its 2020 peak. The reduction in the computing power expended to secure the network came at a time when the BTC spot price was still in recovery from the “Black Thursday” crash that saw Bitcoin briefly fall to $3,800 on March 12, 2020.

Following the hash rate plunge, the Bitcoin network saw its mining difficulty decline by 16% — the second-largest downward difficulty adjustment. The blockchain’s mining fundamentals have improved significantly since the events of late March 2020, with the current hash rate almost erasing the earlier drop.

Related: Hash Rate Spike Relates to BTC Price, but Halving Throws Miners Off Their Game

While miners are providing computing power to secure the network, Bitcoin holders appear to be storing up BTC in expectation of a post-halving price boom. Earlier in April, Cointelegraph reported that crypto exchanges are recording large outflows, which could indicate a pivot toward long-term holding by Bitcoin owners.

Additionally, it is possible that some U.S.-based crypto owners may have been using their COVID-19 stimulus checks to buy Bitcoin. Data from Coinbase showed a four-fold increase in crypto purchases worth $1,200, the exact sum of the stimulus payments.

For Joe DiPasquale, CEO of crypto hedge fund BitBull Capital, the upcoming halving will largely follow historical precedents in having a positive impact on the BTC spot price. In a conversation with Cointelegraph, DiPasquale remarked:

“The upcoming Bitcoin halving is likely to have a positive impact on BTC’s price in the next 12 to 18 months. The last two halvings saw massive price appreciation in the same periods, with the first posing a 1000x gain in a year while the second taking longer, but delivering even bigger returns.”

The BitBull Capital chief, however, tempered expectations citing the tightening of crypto regulations and the emergence of central bank digital currencies, but is overall expecting some upward momentum for Bitcoin, adding that “the halving is a positive milestone for Bitcoin, especially in contrast to inflationary fiat currencies.” Meraban also offered a similarly subdued forecast for the Bitcoin price performance after the May halving, stating:

“BTC should experience tremendous growth over the next 12–18 months, but it will be perhaps slower than people might tend to expect; we actually saw that already in 2016, but it could easily be even slower this time. Cryptocurrencies are retail-driven markets more than anything else, and there’s just too many uncertainties as of yet over what the implications in retail demand in both Western and Asian markets for cryptocurrencies will be with regards to the current global climate.”

Since falling to $3,800 in mid-March, the top-ranked crypto by market capitalization has been unable to regain its 2020 starting price of $7,200. Bitcoin has seen over half a dozen rejections between the $7,100 and $7,500 resistance levels with each attempt causing a drawdown back to the $6,800 price mark.

COVID-19 Also Impacts Online Sellers on Shutterstock, Amazon

The unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten supply chains and how businesses operate, all of which add to the COVID-19 impact on ecommerce. Across industries, storefronts have been shuttered and sales have declined. Businesses have tried to weather the storm by pursuing models that could help them mitigate possible damages by the coronavirus pandemic.



COVID-19 Impact on Ecommerce

However, due to social distancing and stay home policies, the COVID-19 impact on ecommerce was an initial spike in sales. With foot traffic significantly declining sales spiked as consumers started going online to buy and have goods delivered to their homes.

According to Digital Commerce 360, between March 22 and April 4 online sales saw a 52% increase compared with the same time last year. Web-only retailers also saw growth. Businesses in the U.S. and Canada saw a 30% growth in revenues compared to the same time last year. This was in part due to shoppers stocking up on essentials, groceries and protective gear fearing the worst.

But that too did not last. Because ultimately online retailers rely on the same global supply chain.  According to Digital Commerce 360, 47% of retailers expect some downside in revenue due to the COVID-19 impact on ecommerce as inventories get depleted. A further 58% of retailers fear the virus will impact consumer confidence prompting people to step back from making purchases.

Incentive to Buy

With offices closed, events canceled and consumers spending afternoons at home, the incentive to go and buy is proving elusive. This, in addition to the workforce, had shrunk in a wake of offices and businesses being forced to retrench.

The initial boost in online sales had also come with challenges. Particularly in regards to trying to resell returned merchandise and finding workers to help process those returned items. This has caused pressures on retailers to keep up with inventories along with managing staff in the wake of mandatory stay at home orders.

Disruptions Forcing Retailers to Adapt

Shutterstock the provider of stock photography, footage and music had to slow down its approval rates for submissions. This as more and more states and cities implement isolation and quarantine measures, including shelter-in-place orders.

The company recently slowed down the approval rate of those uploading images for sale on the site. And also the rate at which sellers can upload their images. It has also limited the volume of content contributors can submit weekly due to a reduction in review capacity. According to the new arrangement, contributors can submit up to 500 images and 100 videos in a 7-day period.

The disruption of the supply chain is also affecting orders and deliveries according to Digital Commerce 360. Some 44% of retailers expect product delays due to the coronavirus and an additional 40% expect inventory shortages. One in three retailers believes it’s too early to say how the coronavirus will affect them regarding financial expectations. Some have already started re-forecasting their revenues amid the uncertainty. Others too are taking a new look at their business model. They are focusing on prioritizing their efforts on badly needed products.

Changes in the Marketplace

Despite the challenges, Amazon and other retailers are stepping up their delivery services by prioritizing shipments of household essentials, medical supplies and other priority items. Amazon has announced that it has temporality stopped shipment for low priority products and have done that with their retail vendors. Thus, negatively impacting Amazon’s retail vendors who do not service household essentials, medical supplies and other priority items. Retail vendors do however have the option to sell their products on the platform and fulfilling the shipments themselves.

Amazon has also announced it is opening 100,000 new full- and part-time positions in its fulfillment centers across the US to mitigate any manpower shortages.

Ebay has rolled out a stimulus for online retailers using its platform. It has decided to allow eligible eBay sellers to defer fees for 30 days. Additionally, it has removed listing fees until June 30. New sellers opening an eBay store will not be subject to selling fees for three months. According to eBay, this will help them establish their online presence while brick-and-mortar locations stay closed due to movement restrictions.

In addition, it has temporarily extended its returns timelines and adjusted its Money-Back Guarantee policy to help return items during COVID-19. Now eBay gives up to 21 business days from when a return is accepted or a return shipping label is provided to you to send items back. Once tracking shows the return of the item, the seller has five business days to inspect the item and issue a refund.

The challenge in dealing with COVID-19 stems from uncertainty and a lack of clarity. How long will the pandemic last. And how long can businesses operate under the new norms. These questions continue to test the resolve of businesses.

Image: Depositphotos.com

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Cryptocurrency Exchange OKEx Tackles Small Balances With New Offering – Cointelegraph

Cryptocurrency exchange OKEx announced a new feature that allows its users to convert small balances to the firm’s proprietary token OKB.

OKEx announced on April 7 that the new product allows its user to convert all the crypto asset balances worth less than 0.001 Bitcoin (BTC) ($7.38 at press time) into OKB. The upper limit for conversion value is 0.01 BTC ($73.84 at press time), there is no limit on conversion time but the conversion is only available when the price fluctuates within 5%.

A trader told Cointelegraph that small balance handling is an important feature for long-term traders because it prevents users from wasting resources when trading several different assets. He said that small balances are a big issue on crypto exchanges “because they are funds that cannot be used” to trade.

A broom for cryptocurrency “dust”

Binance has a similar feature letting users convert small balances — often called dust —  into its proprietary token Binance Coin (BNB). When the feature first launched in late April 2018, Binance co-founder and CEO Changpeng Zhao joked on Twitter, “I hear the team has built a broom, who wants it?”

Just like BNB, OKB allows users to pay less for fees on the trading platform. In a Feb. 16 post, OKEx explains some of the advantages that OKB holders have on its exchange:

“There is only one trading fee discount program for OKB holders on OKEx, in which users only need to hold 500 OKBs to enjoy fee discounts. To receive the maximum discount, users only need to hold a maximum of 2000 OKBs.”

OKEx CEO Jay Hao urged traders to avoid speculating on OKB, stating, “A principle that I recommend all our users stick to is that if you do not fully believe in the long term growth of OKEx, then please do not trade OKB.”

The rise of OKEx

Over the past year, OKEx significantly grew in importance within the cryptocurrency ecosystem. As Cointelegraph reported at the end of March, OKEx recently became the world’s top Bitcoin Futures exchange by daily trading volume, overtaking industry veteran BitMEX.

Hao presumably believes that OKEx’s competitors do not appreciate the growth of his platform; in February he blamed them for denial of service attacks against the exchange.