The Vigilante’s View submitted by
It is our first issue in months that bitcoin hasn’t hit an all-time high! And it’s the last issue of the year. And what a year for cryptos it was.
To put it in perspective, bitcoin could fall 90% from current levels and it will still have outperformed stocks, bonds and real estate in 2017.
Bitcoin started 2017 at $960.79.
At the time of this writing it is near $13,000 for a gain of 1,250% in 2017.
And, bitcoin was actually one of the worst performing cryptocurrencies in our TDV portfolio in 2017!
Ethereum (ETH) started 2017 at $8. It has since hit over $800 for a nice 10,000% gain in 2017.
That’s pretty good, but not as good as Dash which started the year at $11.19 and recently hit $1,600 for a nearly 15,000% gain.
I hope many of you have participated in these amazing gains! If not, or you are new, don’t worry there will be plenty more opportunities in the years ahead.
It won’t all be just home runs though… in fact, some of the cryptos that have performed so well to date may go down dramatically or collapse completely in the coming years.
I’ll point out further below why Lightning Network is not the answer to Bitcoin Core’s slow speeds and high costs. And, I’ll look ahead to 2018 and how we could already be looking beyond blockchains.
Yes, things are moving so fast that blockchain just became known to your average person this year… and could be nearly extinct by next year.
That’s why it is important to stick with us here at TDV to navigate these choppy free market waters! New Years Reflection On The Evolution Of Consensus Protocols
Sooner or later crypto will humble you by its greatness. Its vastness is accompanied by a madness that is breathtaking, because you quickly realize that there is no stopping crypto from taking over the world. The moment you think you have everything figured out, is the moment the market will surprise you.
We are for the first time living and witnessing the birth of the first worldwide free market. Throughout this rampage of innovation, we all are implicitly aiming for the best means of harnessing consensus. As we leave this bountiful 2017 and aim at 2018, it is important for us to meditate and appreciate the progress we have made in transforming the world through the decentralization of consensus. It is also important to reflect on the changes in consensus building we have partaken in and those yet to come.
Consensus is the agreement that states “this is what has occurred, and this is what hasn’t happened.”
Throughout the vastness of history, we humans have only really had access to centralized means for consensus building. In the centralized world, consensus has been determined by banks, states, and all kinds of central planners. As our readers know, any centralized party can misuse their power, and their consensus ruling can become unfair. In spite of this, many individuals still praise the effectiveness of consensus building of centralized systems.
People from antiquity have had no other option but to trust these central planners. These systems of control have created still-water markets where only a few are allowed to compete. This lack of competition resulted in what we now can objectively view as slow innovation. For many, centralized consensus building is preferred under the pretense of security and comfort. Unfortunately, these same individuals are in for a whole lot of discomfort now that the world is innovating on top of the first decentralized consensus building technology, the blockchain.
Everything that has occurred since the inception of bitcoin has shocked central planners because for the first time in history they are lost; they no longer hold power. We now vote with our money. We choose what we find best as different technologies compete for our money.
What we are witnessing when we see the volatility in crypto is nothing more than natural human motion through price. The innovation and volatility of the crypto market may seem unorthodox to some, because it is. For the first time in history we are in a true free market. The true free market connects you to everybody and for this reason alone the market shouldn’t surprise us for feeling “crazy.” Volatility is a sign of your connection to a market that is alive. Radical innovation is a sign of a market that is in its infancy still discovering itself.
In juxtaposing centralized consensus building with decentralized consensus building, I cannot keep myself from remembering some wise biblical words; “ And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.” – Luke 5:37
The centralized legacy financial system is akin to old wineskins bursting to shreds by the new wine of crypto. Decentralized consensus building has no need for central planners. For example, think about how ludicrous it would be for someone to ask government for regulation after not liking something about crypto. Sorry, there is no central planner to protect you; even the mathematical protocols built for us to trust are now competing against one another for our money.
These new mathematical protocols will keep competing against one another as they provide us with new options in decentralizing consensus. As we look unto 2018, it is important that we as investors begin to critically engage and analyze “blockchain-free cryptocurrencies.” HASHGRAPHS, TANGLES AND DAGS
Blockchain-free cryptocurrencies are technologies composed of distributed databases that use different tools to achieve the same objectives as blockchains.
The top contenders in the realm of blockchain-free cryptos are DAGs (Directed Acyclic Graphs) such as Swirlds’ Hashgraph, ByteBall’s DAG, and IOTA’s Tangle. These blockchain-free cryptos are also categorized as belonging to the 3 rd generation of cryptocurrencies. These technologies promise to be faster, cheaper, and more efficient than blockchain cryptocurrencies.
Blockchains were the first means of creating decentralized consensus throughout the world. In the blockchain, the majority of 51% determine the consensus. The limits of blockchains stem from their inherent nature, whereupon every single node/participant needs to know all of the information that has occurred throughout the whole blockchain economy of a given coin.
This opens up blockchains to issues akin to the ones we have been exposed to in regards to Bitcoin’s scaling. It is important to make a clear distinction in the language used between blockchains and blockchain-freecryptocurrencies. When we speak about blockchains it is more proper to speak about its transactionconsensus as “decentralized”, whereas with blockchain-free cryptocurrencies it is best if we refer to transaction consensus as “distributed.”
Swirlds’ Hashgraph incorporates a radical and different approach to distributing consensus. Swirlds claims that their new approach will solve scaling and security issues found on blockchains. They use a protocol called “Gossip about Gossip.” Gossip refers to how computers communicate with one another in sending information.
In comparison to the Blockchain, imagine that instead of all of the nodes receiving all of the transactions categorized in the past ten minutes, that only a few nodes shared their transaction history with other nodes near them. The Hashgraph team explains this as “calling any random node and telling that node everything you know that it does not know.” That is, in Hashgraph we would be gossiping about the information we are gossiping; i.e., sending to others throughout the network for consensus.
Using this gossiped information builds the Hashgraph. Consensus is created by means of depending on the gossips/rumors that come to you and you pass along to other nodes. Hashgraph also has periodic rounds which review the circulating gossips/rumors.
Hashgraph is capable of 250,000+ Transactions Per Second (TPS), compared to Bitcoin currently only allowing for 7 TPS. It is also 50,000 times faster than Bitcoin. There is no mention of a coin on their white paper. At this moment there is no Hashgraph ICO, beware of scams claiming that there is. There is however a growing interest in the project along with a surge of app development.
IOTAs DAG is known as the Tangle. Contrary to Hashgraph, IOTA does have its own coin known as MIOTA, currently trading around the $3 mark. There are only 2,779,530,283 MIOTA in existence. The Tangle was also created to help alleviate the pains experienced with Blockchain scaling. IOTAs Tangle creates consensus on a regional level; basically neighbors looking at what other neighbors are doing.
As the tangle of neighbors grows with more participants the security of the system increases, along with the speed of confirmation times. IOTA has currently been criticized for its still lengthy confirmation times and its current levels of centralization via their Coordinators. This centralization is due to the fact that at this moment in time the main team works as watchtower to oversee how Tangle network grows so that it does not suffer from attacks.
Consensus is reached within IOTA by means of having each node confirm two transactions before that same node is able to send a given transaction. This leads to the mantra of “the more people use IOTA, the more transactions get referenced and confirmed.” This creates an environment where transactional scaling has no limits. IOTA has no transaction fees and upon reaching high adoption the transactions ought to be very fast.
Another promising aspect about IOTA is that it has an integrated quantum-resistant algorithm, the Winternitz One-Time Signature Scheme, that would protect IOTA against an attack of future quantum computers. This without a doubt provides IOTA with much better protection against an adversary with a quantum computer when compared to Bitcoin.
ByteBall is IOTA’s most direct competitor. They both possess the same transaction speed of 100+ TPS, they both have their own respective cryptocurrencies, and they both have transparent transactions. ByteBall’s token is the ByteBall Bytes (GBYTE), with a supply of 1,000,000; currently trading at around $700. ByteBall aims to service the market with tamper proof storage for all types of data. ByteBall’s DAG also provides an escrow like system called “conditional payments;” which allows for conditional clauses before settling transactions.
Like IOTA, ByteBall is also designed to scale its transaction size to meet the needs of a global demand. ByteBall provides access to integrated bots for transactions which includes the capacity for prediction markets, P2P betting, P2P payments in chat, and P2P insurance. ByteBall’s initial coin distribution is still being awarded to BTC and Bytes holders according to the proportional amounts of BTC or Bytes that are held per wallet. IOTA, ByteBall and Hashgraph are technologies that provide us with more than enough reasons to be hopeful for 2018. In terms of the crypto market, you don’t learn it once. You have to relearn it every day because its development is so infant. If you are new to crypto and feel lost at all know that you are not alone. These technologies are constantly evolving with new competitive options in the market.
As the technologies grow the ease for adoption is set to grow alongside innovation. We are all new to this world and we are all as much in shock of its ingenuity as the next newbie. Crypto is mesmerizing not just for its volatility which is a clear indication of how connected we are now to one another, but also because of the social revolution that it represents. We are experiencing the multidirectional growth of humanity via the free market. Meanwhile Bitcoin Is Turning Into Shitcoin
It is with a great degree of sadness that I see bitcoin is on the cusp of destroying itself. Bitcoin Core, anyway. Bitcoin Cash may be the winner from all of this once all is said and done.
Whether by design or by accident, bitcoin has become slow and expensive.
Many people point out that IF the market were to upgrade to Segwit that all would be fine. I’ll explain further below why many market participants have no incentive to upgrade to Segwit… meaning that the implementation of Segwit has been a massively risky guess that so far has not worked.
Others say that the Lightning Network (LN) will save bitcoin. I’ll point out below why that will not happen. Lightning Networks And The Future Of Bitcoin Core
If you’ve been following bitcoin for any length of time, you’re probably aware of the significant dispute over how to scale the network. The basic problem is that although bitcoin could be used at one time to buy, say, a cup of coffee, the number of transactions being recorded on the network bid up the price per transaction so much that actually sending BTC cost more than the cup of coffee itself. Indeed, analysis showed that there were many Bitcoin addresses that had such small BTC holdings that the address itself couldn’t be used to transfer it to a different address. These are referred to as “unspendable addresses.”
In the ensuing debate, the “big blockers” wanted to increase the size of each block in the chain in order to allow for greater transaction capacity. The “small blockers” wanted to reduce the size of each transaction using a technique called Segregated Witness (SegWit) and keep the blocks in the chain limited to 1MB.
SegWit reduces the amount of data in each transaction by around 40-50%, resulting in an increased capacity from 7 transactions per second to perhaps 15.
The software engineers who currently control the Bitcoin Core code repository have stated that what Bitcoin needs is “off-chain transactions.” To do this, they have created something called Lightning Networks (LN), based on an software invention called the “two-way peg.” Put simply, the two-way peg involves creating an escrow address in Bitcoin where each party puts some bitcoin into the account, and then outside the blockchain, they exchange hypothetical Bitcoin transactions that either of them can publish on Bitcoin’s blockchain in order to pull their current agreed-upon balance out of the escrow address.
Most layman explanations of how this works
describe the protocol as each party putting in an equal amount of Bitcoin into the escrow. If you and I want to start transacting off-chain, so we can have a fast, cheap payment system, we each put some Bitcoin in a multi-party address. I put in 1 BTC and you put in 1 BTC, and then we can exchange what are essentially cryptographic contracts that either of us can reveal on the bitcoin blockchain in order to exit our agreement and get our bitcoin funds.
Fortunately, it turns out that the video’s examples don’t tell the whole story. It’s possible for the escrow account to be asymmetric. See:
. That is, one party can put in 1 BTC, while the other party puts in, say, 0.0001 BTC. (Core developer and forthcoming Anarchapulco speaker Jimmy Song tells us that there are game theoretic reasons why you don’t want the counterparty to have ZERO stake.)
Great! It makes sense for Starbucks to participate with their customers in Lightning Networks because when their customers open an LN channel (basically a gift card) with them for $100, they only have to put in $1 worth of Bitcoin. Each time the customer transacts on the Lightning Network, Starbucks gets an updated hypothetical transaction that they can use to cash out that gift card and collect their bitcoin.
The elephant in the room is: transaction fees. In order to establish the escrow address and thereby open the LN channel, each party has to send some amount of bitcoin to the address. And in order to cash out and get the bitcoin settlement, one party also has to initiate a transaction on the bitcoin blockchain. And to even add funds to the channel, one party has to pay a transaction fee.
Right now fees on the bitcoin blockchain vary widely and are extremely volatile. For a 1-hour confirmation transaction, the recommended fee from one wallet might be $12 US, while on another it’s $21 US. For a priority transaction of 10-20 minutes, it can range from $22-30 US. Transactions fees are based on the number of bytes in the transaction, so if both parties support SegWit (remember that?) then the fee comes down by 40-50%. So it’s between $6 and $10 US for a one hour transaction and between $11-15 for a 15 minute transaction. (SegWit transactions are prioritized by the network to some degree, so actual times may be faster)
But no matter what, both the customer and the merchant have to spend $6 each to establish that they will have a relationship and either of them has to spend $6 in order to settle out and get their bitcoin. Further, if the customer wants to “top off” their virtual gift card, that transaction costs another $6. And because it adds an address to the merchant’s eventual settlement, their cost to get their Bitcoin goes up every time that happens, so now it might cost them $9 to get their bitcoin.
Since these LN channels are essentially digital gift cards, I looked up what the cost is to retailers to sell acustomer a gift card. The merchant processor Square offers such gift cards on their retailer site
. Their best price is $0.90 per card.
So the best case is that Lightning Networks are 600% more expensive than physical gift cards to distribute, since the merchant has to put a transaction into the escrow address. Further, the customer is effectively buying the gift card for an additional $6, instead of just putting up the dollar amount that goes on the card.
But it gets worse. If you get a gift card from Square, they process the payments on the card and periodically deposit cash into your bank account for a percentage fee. If you use the Lightning Network, you can only access your Bitcoin by cancelling the agreement with the customer. In other words, you have to invalidate their current gift card and force them to spend $6 on a new one! And it costs you $6 to collect your funds and another $6 to sell the new gift card!
I’m sure many of you have worked in retail. And you can understand how this would be financially infeasible. The cost of acquiring a new customer, and the amount of value that customer would have to stake just to do business with that one merchant, would be enormous to make any financial sense.
From time immemorial, when transaction costs rise, we see the creation of middlemen.
Merchants who can’t afford to establish direct channels with their customers will have to turn to middlemen, who will open LN channels for them. Instead of directly backing and cashing out their digital gift cards, they will establish relationships with entities that consolidate transactions, much like Square or Visa would do today.
Starbucks corporate or individual locations might spend a few USD on opening a payment channel with the middleman, and then once a month spend 6 USD to cash out their revenues in order to cover accounts payable.
In the meantime, the middleman also has to offer the ability to open LN channels for consumers. This still happens at a fixed initial cost, much like the annual fee for a credit card in the US. They would continue to require minimum balances, and would offer access to a network of merchants, exactly like Visa and MasterCard today.
This process requires a tremendous amount of capital because although the middleman does not have to stake Bitcoin in the consumer’s escrow account, he does have to stake it in the merchant’s account. In other words, if the Lightning Network middleman wants to do business with Starbucks to the tune of $100,000/month, he needs $100,000 of bitcoin to lock into an escrow address. And that has to happen for every merchant.
Because every month (or so) the merchants have to cash out of their bitcoin to fiat in order to pay for their cost of goods and make payroll. Even if their vendors and employees are paid in bitcoin and they have LN channels open with them, someone somewhere will want to convert to fiat, and trigger a closing channel creating a cascading settlement effect that eventually arrives at the middleman. Oh, and it triggers lots of bitcoin transactions that cost lots of fees.
Did I mention that each step in the channel is expecting a percentage of the value of the channel when it’s settled? This will come up again later.
Again, if you’ve worked in the retail business, you should be able to see how infeasible this would be. You have to buy inventory and you have to sell it to customers and every part that makes the transaction more expensive is eating away at your margins.
Further, if you’re the middleman and Starbucks closes out a channel with a $100,000 stake where they take $95,000 of the bitcoin, how do you re-open the channel? You need another $95,000 in capital. You have revenue, of course, from the consumer side of your business. Maybe you have 950 consumers that just finished off their $100 digital gift cards. So now you can cash them out to bitcoin for just $5700 in transaction fees, and lose 5.7% on the deal.
In order to make money in that kind of scenario, you have to charge LN transaction fees. And because your loss is 5.7%, you need to charge in the range of 9% to settle Lightning Network transactions. Also, you just closed out 950 customers who now have to spend $5700 to become your customer again while you have to spend $5700 to re-acquire them as customers. So maybe you need to charge more like 12%.
If you approached Starbucks and said “you can accept Bitcoin for your customers and we just need 12% of the transaction,” what are the odds that they would say yes? Even Visa only has the balls to suggest 3%, and they have thousands and thousands of times as many consumers as bitcoin.
The entire mission of bitcoin was to be faster, cheaper and better than banks, while eliminating centralized control of the currency. If the currency part of Bitcoin is driven by “off-chain transactions” while bitcoin itself remains expensive and slow, then these off-chain transactions will become the territory of centralized parties who have access to enormous amounts of capital and can charge customers exorbitant rates. We know them today as banks.
Even for banks, we have to consider what it means to tie up $100,000/month for a merchant account. That only makes sense if the exchange rate of bitcoin grows faster than the cost of retaining Bitcoin inventory. It costs nothing to store Bitcoin, but it costs a lot to acquire it. At the very least the $6 per transaction to buy it, plus the shift in its value against fiat that’s based on interest rates. As a result, it only makes sense to become a Lightning Network middleman if your store of value (bitcoin) appreciates at greater than the cost of acquiring it (interest rate of fiat.) And while interest rates are very low, that’s not a high bar to set. But to beat it, Bitcoin’s exchange rate to fiat has to outpace the best rate available to the middleman by a factor exceeding the opportunity cost of other uses of that capital.
Whatever that rate is, for bitcoin, the only reason the exchange rate changes is new entry of capital into the “price” of bitcoin. For that to work, bitcoin’s “price” must continue to rise faster than the cost of capital for holding it. So far this has happened, but it’s a market gamble for it to continue.
Since it happens because of new capital entering into the bitcoin network and thus increasing the market cap, this results in Bitcoin Core becoming the very thing that its detractors accuse it of: a Ponzi scheme. The cost of transacting in Bitcoin becomes derived from the cost of holding bitcoin and becomes derived from the cost of entering bitcoin.
Every middleman has to place a bet on the direction of bitcoin in a given period. And in theory, if they think the trend is against Bitcoin, then they’ll cash out and shut down all the payment channels that they transact. If they bought bitcoin at $15,000, and they see it dropping to $13,000 — they’ll probably cash out their merchant channels and limit their risk of a further drop. The consumer side doesn’t matter so much because their exposure is only 1%, but the merchant side is where they had to stake everything.
If you’re wondering why this information is not widely known, it’s because most bitcoin proponents don’t transact in bitcoin on a regular basis. They may be HODLing, but they aren’t doing business in bitcoin.
Through Anarchapulco, TDV does frequent and substantial business in bitcoin, and we’ve paid fees over $150 in order to consolidate ticket sale transactions into single addresses that can be redeemed for fiat to purchase stage equipment for the conference.
For Bitcoin to be successful at a merchant level via Lightning Networks, we will have to see blockchain transactions become dramatically cheaper. If they return to the sub-$1 range, we might have a chance with centralized middlemen, but only with a massive stabilization of volatility. If they return to $0.10, we might have a chance with direct channels.
Otherwise, Lightning Networks can’t save bitcoin as a means of everyday transaction. And since that takes away its utility, it might very well take away the basis of its value and bitcoin could find itself truly being a tulip bubble.
One final note: there are a some parties for whom all these transactions are dramatically cheaper. That is the cryptocurrency exchanges. Because they are the entry and exit points for bitcoin-to-fiat, they can eliminate a layer of transaction costs and thus offer much more competitive rates — as long as you keep your bitcoin in their vaults instead of securing it yourselves.
Sending it out of their control lessens their competitive advantage against other means of storage. It comes as no surprise, then, that they are the least advanced in implementing the SegWit technology that would improve transaction costs and speed. If you buy bitcoin on Poloniex, it works better for them if it’s expensive for you to move that coin to your Trezor.
In fact, an exchange offering Lightning Network channels to merchants could potentially do the following…
1) Stake bitcoins in channels with merchants. These coins may or may not be funds that are held by their customers. There is no way to know.
2) Offer customers “debit card” accounts for those merchants that are backed by the Lightning network
3) Establish middle addresses for the customer accounts and the merchant addresses on the Lightning Network.
4) Choose to ignore double-spends between the customer accounts and the merchant addresses, because they don’t actually have to stake the customer side. They can just pretend to since they control the customer’s keys.
5) Inflate their bitcoin holdings up to the stake from the merchants, since the customers will almost never cash out in practice.
In other words, Lightning Networks allow exchanges a clear path to repeating Mtgox; lie to the consumer about their balance while keeping things clean with the merchant. In other words, establish a fractional reserve approach to bitcoin.
So, to summarize, Bitcoin Core decided increasing the blocksize from 1mb to 2-8mb was “too risky” and decided to create Segwit instead which the market has not adopted. When asked when bitcoin will be faster and less expensive to transfer most Bitcoin Core adherents say the Lightning Network will fix the problems.
But, as I’ve just shown, the LN makes no sense for merchants to use and will likely result in banks taking over LN nodes and making BTC similar to Visa and Mastercard but more expensive. And, will likely result in exchanges becoming like banks of today and having fractional reserve systems which makes bitcoin not much better than the banking system of today.
Or, people can switch to Bitcoin Cash, which just increased the blocksize and has much faster transaction times at a fraction of the cost.
I’ve begun to sell some of my bitcoin holdings because of what is going on. I’ve increased my Bitcoin Cash holdings and also increased my holdings of Dash, Monero, Litecoin and our latest recommendation, Zcash. Other News & Crypto Tidbits
When bitcoin surpassed $17,600 in December it surpassed the total value of the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDR) currency.
Meanwhile, Alexei Kireyev of the IMF put out his working paper, “ The Macroeconomics of De-Cashing ,” where he advises abolishing cash without having the public aware of the process.
Countries such as Russia are considering creating a cryptocurrency backed by oil to get around the US dollar and the US dollar banking system. Venezuela is as well although we highly doubt it will be structured properly or function well given the communist government’s track record of destroying two fiat currencies in the last decade.
To say that the US dollar is being attacked on every level is not an understatement. Cryptocurrencies threaten the entire monetary and financial system while oil producing countries look to move away from the US dollar to their own oil backed cryptocurrency.
And all this as bitcoin surpassed the value of the IMF’s SDR in December and in 2017 the US dollar had its largest drop versus other currencies since 2003.
And cryptocurrency exchanges have begun to surpass even the NASDAQ and NYSE in terms of revenue. Bittrex, as one example, had $3 billion in volume on just one day in December. At a 0.5% fee per trade that equaled $15m in revenue in just one day. If that were to continue for 365 days it would mean $5.4 billion in annual revenue which is more than the NASDAQ or NYSE made this year. Conclusion
I never would have guessed how high the cryptocurrencies went this year. My price target for bitcoin in 2017 was $3,500! That was made in late 2016 when bitcoin was near $700 and many people said I was crazy.
Things are speeding up much faster than even I could have imagined. And it is much more than just making money. These technologies, like cryptocurrencies, blockchains and beyond connect us in a more profound way than Facebook would ever be able to. We are now beginning to be connected in ways we never even thought of; and to some degree still do not understand. These connections within this completely free market are deep and meaningful.
This is sincerely beautiful because we are constantly presented with an ever growing buffet of competing protocols selling us their best efforts in providing harmony within the world. What all of these decentralized and distributed consensus building technologies have in common is that they connect us to the world and to each other. Where we are going we don’t need foolish and trite Facebook’s emojis.
As we close a successful 2017 we look with optimism towards a much more prosperous 2018. The Powers That Shouldn’t Be (TPTSB) can’t stop us. As we move forward note how much crypto will teach you about ourselves and the world. In a radical free market making our own bets will continue to be a process of self discovery. Crypto will show us the contours of our fears, the contours of our greed, and will constantly challenge us to do our best with the knowledge we have.
Remember, randomness and innovation are proper to the happenstance nature of a true digital free market.
Happy New Year fellow freedom lovers!
And, as always, thank you for subscribing! Jeff Berwick
The FBI indictment
states that SDPR earned ฿614,305 in commissions. It's been suggested
that the expense of running SR, and the large changes in the exchange rate, may substantially reduce how many bitcoins DPR actually
could have saved up, possibly to as low as ฿"150-200k". (The logic here is that if SR earns commissions of ฿100 in 2011 but needs to pay $100 of hosting bills, it needs to sell all ฿100 but in 2013, it would need to sell only ฿1.)
DPR surely spent some of the commissions on running SR & himself, but running a website isn't that expensive, and how badly the exchange rate bites will depend on details like how it fluctuated over time, how sales grew over time, and how big the expenses really are. The reduction could be tiny, or it could be huge. It's hard to tell based just on a gut estimate.
So: below, I take estimates of SR growth from Christin 2013's crawl
and the FBI indictment, infer linear growth of SR sales, estimate daily expenses, and combine it with historical Bitcoin exchange rates to show that DPR probably has most of his bitcoins and 200k or lower is right out.
My strategy is to model Silk Road's growth as linear in dollar amounts, but with different amounts of bitcoins each day depending on the exchange rate, subtract a daily operating cost, and then sum the commissions.
So say that on 1 January 2012, SR did $10k of business, and the exchange rate was 1:100, so ฿100 in turnover, and SR gets an average commission of 7.4%, so it would get ฿7.4.
To do this, I need to estimate the revenue each day, the expenses each day, the commission each day, and the exchange rate each day. Then I can multiply revenue by commission, subtract the expense, and sum the left overs to get an estimate of the total bitcoins available to DPR which he could (or could not) have spent.
- Employees: we know that Libertas and one or two others were employed at salaries of $1-2k per week. I'll assume there were 2 others, and each was paid the max of $2k per week, which means total daily employee expenses is (2 * 2000) / 7 = $571 per day. (Unfortunately, the indictment doesn't give any clear indication of their numbers, just referring to them as 'they'.)
This is a conservative estimate since I'm pretty sure that SR was a one-man operation until probably in 2012.
- The servers: we know there were at least 2 servers (the main site, and the forums). The task of hosting the sites does not seem to be too bandwidth or disk-space intensive, and servers are extremely cheap these days. The use of DataClub.biz and GigaTux suggest DPR was using cheap VPSes. I'll estimate a monthly expense of $500 ($250 a piece) which per day is $16.
This is also very conservative.
- DPR: his rent of $1000/month has been widely bruited about, and in general he reportedly spent little. Makes sense to me, I've met and seen the rooms of a few well-paid geeks in SF like DPR, and I would believe them if they said they didn't spend much money on anything but rent & food. I'll bump this up by $1000 for food and all expenses, since he apparently didn't even eat out very much. So $2000/31=$65.
Doubling his rent for total expenses is probably also conservative; for most people, rent is not >50% of income, but SF is incredibly expensive to live in.
This gives a daily expense of $652 (or a monthly total of $19.1k in expenses). As you can see, the employees are by far the most expensive part of running SR in my estimate, which makes me wonder if maybe Libertas was the only employee.
Assuming the details about DPR hiring hitmen in the indictments are reasonably accurate, we can throw in two large expenses:
- an $80k expenditure for killing his Maryland employee. The first payment of $40k was made on 4 February 2013 and the second/final payment of $40k was made on 1 March 2013 (pg9). If we use the exchange rate of those two days, then the hit cost DPR (40000 / 20.42) + (40000 / 34.24) = ฿3127
- the second hit was priced in bitcoins (pg23):
Through further messages exchanged on March 31, 2013, DPR and redandwhite agreed upon a price of 1,670 Bitcoins
So the hits cost DPR somewhere around ฿4797. An extremely large and painful amount, by most standards, but still nowhere near ฿10k - much less higher.
Revenue over time: first and last days
Table 3 provides a breakdown of the feedback ratings from 184,804 feedback instances we collected...In Figure 12, we plot an estimate of the daily commissions collected by Silk Road operators as a function of time. We simply reuse the previous estimates, and apply both the fixed 6.23% rate, and the schedule of Table 4 to each item. We find that the new schedule turns out to yield on average a commission corresponding to approximately 7.4% of the item price.
From February 6, 2011 to July 23, 2013 there were approximately 1,229,465 transactions completed on the site...$79.8 million (USD) in commissions.
According to Bitcoin Charts, on 23 July 2013, the MtGox price was $91
. (As the most famous exchange, any FBI estimate almost certainly used it.) So that implies $79,800,000/91=฿876,923. Or to put it the other way, at $79.8m in transactions, then using Christin's 7.4% estimate, total sales were $1,078,000,000 or ฿10,780,000.
Wikipedia says "These transactions involved 146,946 unique buyer accounts, and 3,877 unique vendor accounts.", and "The total revenue generated from transactions was 9,519,664 bitcoins. Commissions collected from the sales by Silk Road amounted to 614,305 bitcoins."
(So the numbers aren't too different: 614k vs 876k and 10.8m vs 9.5m.)
We'll set 6 February 2011 to $10 in sales (probably not too far from the truth). But what about 23 July 2013? pg20 of the indictment says:
For example, on July 21, 2013 alone, DPR received approximately 3,237 separate transfers of Bitcoins into his account, totaling approximately $19,459. Virtually all of these transactions are labeled "commission".
19459 / 0.074 = $262,959 that day. $20k in commissions is extremely impressive, since Christin estimates only $4k/day commissions as late as the end of July 2012 - so SR must have grown by 500% from 2012 to 2013. We use this revenue estimate as our endpoint and interpolate from $10 to $262,959 over the ~900 days SR existed. This is a conservative way of modeling SR, since the graphs in Christin indicate that SR saw sigmoid growth in 2012, and 2013 would've seen even more growth (to be consistent with the 2013 July commission datapoint being 5x the 2012 July commission datapoint).
I grab weighted price for each day between 6 February 2011 & 23 July 2013
, and stuff it in a CSV
R> sr <- read.csv("http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com182368464/dpr-exchangerate.csv") R> sr$Sales <- c(10, rep(NA, 890), 262959, NA, NA) R> # revenue increased by $300 a day: R> l <- lm(Sales ~ as.numeric(Date), data=sr); l Coefficients: (Intercept) as.numeric(Date) -285 295 R> sr$Sales <- predict(l, newdata=sr) R> sum(with(sr, (Sales * 0.074 - 652) / ExchangeRate))  803397
Or we can run the estimate the other way: if DPR had to spend $652 a day and converted at that day's exchange rate, and we took into account the hitmen, how many bitcoins would he have spent in total?
R> sum(with(sr, 652 / ExchangeRate))  127154 R> (614305 - 127154) - 4797  482354
Obviously ฿803k > ฿614k, which implies that the linear model overestimates sales in the early life of SR; but going the other direction and estimating just from costs & hitmen & total commission, we still wind up with nearly ฿500k (and that was after making a bunch of highly conservative assumptions). The fewer sales (and commissions) early on, the less of a fixed number of bitcoins will be sold. So, while it may initially sound plausible that DPR could have been forced to part with say ฿400k to pay for SR and sundry expenses, the distribution of sales and fluctuations of Bitcoin value mean that this simply does not seem to be the case.
Unless there are some abandoned yachts floating around the SF Bay Area, DPRoss Ulbricht probably has ฿500k-614k.
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