COVID-19 and Cryptocurrency: Exploring the Potential of Crypto in an Uncertain World
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December 31, 2019. The clock ticks down, not only on a year, but on a decade. This is always a time for joy and jubilation, but also perhaps a tinge of melancholy and philosophy, as we think of the past and look to the future. As 2019 drew to a close, though, these feelings were all the more acute.
Goodbye 2010s — 2020s, here we come.
And then, the train of optimism and possibility came trundling to a halt. Or, more accurately, it spectacularly derailed. The coronavirus was taking hold, first in China, then throughout Asia, and, before long, Europe, Africa, Australasia, South America and, of course, here in the USA. The first truly global pandemic in living memory was here, and it was not going to be relinquishing its grip for quite some time.
The numbers are nothing short of staggering. Here in the United States, the fatality count was over 47,600, as of April 22, 2020. To put this in perspective, that’s roughly 80% of the total of all American lives claimed by the Vietnam War. American troops spent more than a decade fighting in Vietnam.
All of a sudden, those New Year's Eve parties feel like a lifetime ago, even though — in reality — they are just a few months past. Now, the world seems dark, foreboding, terrifying even.
The stock markets are plummeting. Jobs are being lost. Both long- and short-term forecasts are bleak.
And yet, we will get through this. We have to. There’s no other option. One thing that is certain — in this time of uncertainty — is that the world we emerge into will be a changed one.
New Challenges for Our Society
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One of the symptoms of democracy is a sort of begrudging and fragile trust in the powers that be. We have freedom of speech — or at least we should have — and we have the luxury of being able to choose who leads us, at least to an extent.
All of this is undoubtedly a good thing, but it also makes us privy to information that does not necessarily paint our authorities in a good light. Generation after generation of scandal, conflict and crisis have eroded away at our trust. The financial crash of 2008 demonstrated how it easy it is for something like a bank — a bank, of all things! — to fall, while the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has really underlined how vulnerable we are as a society.
Suddenly, centralization doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Suddenly, centralization seems little bit like putting all of our eggs in one basket. And we all know how that ends.
Let’s take a look at some of the challenges caused by our current, centralized way of looking at things.
Challenge number 1: The health care payer market is woefully ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic on this scale.
Statistics from 2017 show that 9.1.% of Americans had no health insurance at all — that’s not “only low levels of health insurance." That’s “zero health insurance, zilch, nada." This is quite a concern when you consider that the anti-cancer drug Avastin is 10 times more expensive in the U.S. than across the pond in the UK.
Now, this is probably not the forum for exploring the relative merits and demerits of universal health care. But the stats quoted above do show us that something is wrong with the way we approach medical care in this country. Challenge number 2: The stumble toward recession shows that an alternative is needed to traditional banking structures.
In 2007, we entered recession, and things looked bad — really, really bad. In 2009, around 18 months later, we exited recession — and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Yes, those financial institutions had behaved badly, but they’d received their metaphorical slaps on the wrist, and things had changed, so such a situation could never happen again. The good ship Economy sailed on unimpeded.
Well... to put it simply, the coronavirus has other ideas. The virus does not care at all about our precious economy, or our livelihoods. It is not equipped to. And so, over 10 years after the Great Recession, we stand on the precipice of another.
Challenge number 3: Misinformation is rife in the United States, and people no longer know what they can believe in.
“Fake news” has many definitions, and, in some cases, it refers simply to whatever we don’t like. But, beyond all the bluster and bravado, the danger of fake news, and of having a news media that is so heavily influenced by corporate loyalties and political ideology, is very real indeed.
People either do not know what to believe, or they wholeheartedly believe in something they should not. Either way, this is a pretty shabby state of affairs.
Challenge number 4: Too much of our society is governed by political organizations and big business.
It’s not just the news that is vulnerable to bias. Whole swathes of our society share this vulnerability.
We often think of our government as a fair and benevolent one — one that looks after our interests. The extent to which this is or is not true is up for debate, but it is certain that we have more rights as citizens than nationals of non-democratic, totalitarian regimes.
So, what happens if the government decides to take away this benevolence? What happens if the government shifts away from being “fair” and “just” and decides, instead, to render cruel and unusual punishments against those who are perceived to be its enemies, or to imprison, hound and otherwise harm the journalists who speak up against it?
This may seem very paranoid and a little wacky. Of course, we live in a country where it is safe to proclaim that we disagree with our governors, or our law enforcement officers, within reason. Of course, also, there are examples of abuse of power and position, but our freedoms are still enshrined into our laws and our constitution. However, there is always the question — what if?
What if — the blogging platforms that we use to exercise our constitutional rights suddenly shuts us down because we go against its corporate sponsors?
What if — our personal data is mined and then released by the government in order to silence us?
What if — online executive power becomes concentrated in just a few key areas, and we are all subject to the will of these controllers?
Just a note: That last one is happening already.
The Cryptographic Solution to the Challenges We Face
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So, where does the blockchain come in here? How can cryptocurrencies help? Let's take a look.
Solution Number 1: Blockchain technology can revolutionize the health care payer market.
Blockchain technology can be used as a storage structure for patient data, making it much easier for health care payers and providers to connect with the insight they need. This makes the process much smoother, more efficient and more effective, passing on savings to the patient.
The self-sufficiency of cryptocurrency networks can also provide patients with ring-fenced funds to keep them covered for healthcare costs. Mining and other activities can help patients build up their reserves, without the need for controversial universal health care plans.
Solution Number 2: Fintech is already embracing the decentralized possibility of cryptocurrency.
Financial technology is on the rise, and decentralization — if this is not a contradiction in terms — is one of its core values. People have grown tired of the unreliability of the big banks, as well as their potential for manipulation, and are seeking something immune to co-option and corruption.
There are countless fintech firms out there who are already working with the potential of the crypto and the blockchain. These firms are developing financial products that will outgun those offered by those better-known established institutions, and bring about a new way of handling our personal and business finances.
Solution Number 3: Blockchain-based dWeb apps can make our news more accountable.
“Fixing” the news is actually remarkably simple, and is perhaps not dramatic enough to warrant a three-season Aaron Sorkin TV drama starring Jeff Daniels. All it needs is accountability.
That’s right. No bells, no whistles, just the ability for the public to verify what they are seeing.
We’ve already mentioned the Decentralized News Network, or DNN, in a previous article, but we’ll mention them again here, as they are a prime example of what is possible using crypto networks.
Completely decentralized, funded via its own crypto mining activities and community-operated, DNN gives users the chance to question what they see, and to dig deeper. This could be a serious cultural shift, not just for news, but for society as a whole.
Solution Number 4: Removing the centralization from finance puts the power back in the hands of the people, removing those from systems of malicious control.
The trouble with finance at the moment is that it creates debt. This is not something we can avoid, of course, but the real problem lies in whom that debt is owed to. For the most part, finance is guarded by gatekeepers, and those who gain access to this finance end up indebted to these gatekeepers, and therefore are controlled by them.
Cryptocurrency networks and smart contract technology give us the opportunity to subvert these traditional structures of control, and make something much fairer, and more positive.
Crypto does not have all the answers. We could pivot to complete decentralization tomorrow and still be beset by problems. But it is a step — not just a step; in fact, a leap — in the right direction.
We’ve explored four challenges and four potential solutions today, and we’ve got a little closer to the true potential of decentralized crypto networks. It doesn’t stop here though. Oh no. There is plenty more to explore.
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