Memia 2021.03: Still #zerocovid...😷// geopolitical tectonic swarm🧨// CBDCs, DCEP and BSN💸// universal basic banking💰// aotearoa tāra🪙
Aussies should search it up on EmuEmuGo🔍
Kia ora / Hi
Welcome to this week’s Memia newsletter: emerging tech and the unfolding future, as viewed from Aotearoa New Zealand.
At the time of writing Aotearoa is nervously monitoring updates from rapidly mobilised Covid-testing stations around the Northland region after the first community case in over 2 months was confirmed on Sunday. So far test results are in from over 1700 people in Northland, no positive tests so far…🤞
The thread below recaps the public comms response and what’s involved for a nation to retain #zerocovid status. It’s quite impressive, really:
Geopolitical tectonic swarm🧨
Feeling for folks in Rotorua and wider Bay of Plenty … rocked by a swarm of significant earthquakes on Monday morning:
“An earthquake swarm is a sequence of seismic events occurring in a local area within a relatively short period of time due the build up of tectonic pressure.”
Allegorically, in the last week there was also a rapid swarm of geopolitical tremors around the world as the motherlode of all tectonic pressure was released in the US:
Taiwan reported two consecutive days of airspace incursion by Chinese warplanes, coinciding with the first few days of Biden's term in office.
After the arrest of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, tens of thousands of Russians came out for street protests, protesting President Vladimir Putin’s legitimacy, particularly after Navalny’s video of an opulent US$1.35Bn private Black Sea palace was released and viewed by over 90 million viewers so far.
Construction of a new Chinese village in Arunachal Pradesh, near the line of control with Tibet, sparked fears of a new front opening up in the ongoing border dispute between China and India.
And yesterday, closer to home, Aotearoa and China upgraded their free trade agreement, in marked contrast to Australia’s continuing trade war…
2021 is just warming up…
CBDCs #1: DCEP, BSN💸
In more evidence of accelerating Chinese momentum towards a functioning sovereign central bank digital currency (CBDC), major cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen committed to trialling the Digital Currency Electronic Payment (DCEP) at scale this year.
These announcements coincided with a post from Chinese state-backed Blockchain-based Service Network (BSN), heralding an international-scale payments ecosystem for exchange between multiple CBDCs and cryptocurrencies, not just DCEP:
“BSN plans to build a digital currency payment network in five years based on the CBDCs of various countries and stablecoins, working with several international banks and technology companies”
BSN offers three main types of services: permissioned, permissionless, and interchain. Last year BSN announced a split between BSN China (for domestically regulated chains - eg all developers need to provide identification, for one - and BSN International (for integration with international and “permissionless” public chains - effectively those unregulated by any government).
“BSN [China] will become the core “new infrastructure” for China’s digital economy and social governance. In 2021, the Empowerment Platform will support multiple languages and be promoted internationally on a much larger scale to coordinate with BSN’s global layout and development.”
(My emphasis: more analysis required, but the BSN design appears to contain some core DNA inherited from the authoritarian political system in which it is born.)
In short: this is an advancing play for core technology fabric supporting future financial transactions in every country, bank and company doing business in China’s sphere of influence. Fragmented Western payment platforms and central banking systems may be challenged to compete with its efficiency and scale.
CBDCs #2: Universal basic banking?💰
Back in the Western hemisphere @a16z partner Alex Rampnell discusses Fintech’s Final Frontier: Central Banks and Disintermediation:
“Fintech—“apps for money”—represents the most powerful tool that governments have to make their monetary services available directly to their own citizens, helping accomplish monetary and policy goals and benefiting consumers equally. Private banks can and do perform a valuable function in every economy, but when they merely serve as a “front end” to the central bank, they take a fee, insert more bureaucracy, and fail to pass on monetary goals.”
He argues that the role of governments/central banks should evolve towards providing Universal Basic Banking services directly to citizens - effectively your govt-issued citizen ID becomes your bank account / currency wallet, no intermediation required.
Interesting to hear a US venture capitalist argue for effective part-nationalisation of banking services…but clearly the experience with delayed Covid cheques and the generally backward banking system in the US makes this a more pressing issue there than here in Aotearoa (where we pretty much have a functioning domestic peer-to-peer digital banking system, albeit one where money can occasionally disappear for a day or two in transit between banks…)
Best to skip straight to a sovereign CBDC I think: how might this work?
The Reserve Bank of New Zealand designs, trials and progressively rolls out a new blockchain-based digital currency, the “Aotearoa Tāra”. Tethered 1:1 to the NZ$, governed by the same money supply rules.
Everyone with a valid “RealMe” identity (😧) is provided with a basic government wallet as standard. No fees. No overdraft. The simplest possible universal basic banking inside the simplest possible mobile app for payments.
Any positive balances stored in that wallet pay the Reserve Bank’s published Base Rate of interest.
(The default wallet can be optionally linked to your IRD, social security, local council and other government services for automatic payments to / from government.)
Licensed private banks also offer “wallet” services with higher interest rates and ability to seamlessly transfer between legacy NZ$ bank accounts and Tāra wallets.
Citizens are also able to install other wallet apps (eg issued by banks and others…) and use these to transact payments in retail / online environments, similar to how WeChatPay works now. (This could actually be the long-overdue replacement for the aging EFTPOS system?)
Effectively the whole Tāra payments infrastructure moves to run on a common open-source framework with all transactions stored immutably on the Tāra blockchain.
Access to detailed transaction data inside that blockchain is protected by legally- and technically-enforced privacy rules… but in aggregate the government and central bank get a far more accurate and granular view of the economy than currently. And financial assets become harder to hide out of sight.
Aotearoa maintains the strategic leverage of a sovereign currency rather than being usurped by DCEP, Diem or Bitcoin…
Then it gets interesting… which other entities are licensed to offer credit lending in this new environment? What does a bank (=licensed API?) look like? What about the next round of QE: why doesn’t the central bank just deposit money directly into each citizen’s default wallet rather than giving it to private banks to make [questionable] lending decisions based on profit margin??
Come on, Adrian.
Memia’s regular roundup of signals from the near and far future:
University of Auckland’s Matt Bartlett goes more deeply into the problem with deplatforming Trump … if you can remember anything from a couple of weeks back.
The Australian government has got into a very public spat with search giant Google over proposals to force it and Facebook to pay media companies (including the *influential* News Corp) to use their content. Google called the rules unworkable and effectively said it would block its search services in Australia if the legislation went ahead.
“We’re not trying to create the next Silicon Valley here in Australia. That’s not it…We’ve just got to be the best at adopting. Taking it on board. Making it work for us.”
- Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, Oct 2020
… the only hardball option if Google did withdraw from its 95% market share of search, is to hand it over to Bing (Microsoft) - *amazingly* given the stated digital policy there isn’t a homegrown competitor (“EmuEmuGo”?) sitting eagerly in the wings… Good luck with that.
The Chips are Up
The Economist has an excellent summary of the world’s booming yet consolidating chipmaking industry, now with a market capitalisation exceeding US$4 trillion and rising. (South Korea’s Samsung plans to invest more >US$100bn over ten years in its chip business while Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) has increased its planned capital spending for 2021 nearly 50% to as much as US$28bn.)
For the background story on TSMC’s founder and how the firm quietly became one of the most strategically important companies in the world, check out this thread:
The railway system in Dalian, China, was brought to a halt when Adobe ended support for its Flash plugin earlier this month. (A pirated version of Flash installed 20 hours later fixed the issue apparently…)
Researchers at Google Brain scaled their newly proposed Switch Transformer language model up to 1.6 trillion parameters, at the same time keeping computation costs under control. For comparison, OpenAI’s GPT-3 — one of the largest language models ever trained, comes in at “only” 175 billion parameters.
Rich Carbon Capturers
Billionaires are all over climate change this week:
Bill Gates has a new book: How To Avoid a Climate Disaster, due out on Feb 16. He introduces the concept of “Green Premiums” - the delta between the current price of a good or service and the “carbon neutral” price. Bringing these premiums down towards zero should be the focus of climate innovation investment. Obviously?🤔
Elon Musk is putting up US$100M towards a prize for best carbon-capture technology - more details to come this week.
Open banking in Aotearoa
Open banking firm Akahu’s Josh Daniell posted a long wishlist: Please build these open banking projects in New Zealand. +1 from me.
Who’d be a futurist in 2021?😀
Reading this week:
Thanks to Saya Wahrlich for putting me onto the Edelman 2021 Trust Barometer, which finds:
“…an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world. Adding to this is a failing trust ecosystem unable to confront the rampant infodemic, leaving the four institutions – business, government, NGOs and media – in an environment of information bankruptcy and a mandate to rebuild trust and chart a new path forward.”
I’m generally a fan of VisualCapitalist infographics… this one from mid-2020 is particularly illuminating: All of the World’s Money and Markets in One Visualization. TL;DR: There’s a lot of debt out there, but it’s dwarfed by opaque derivatives.
From around Aotearoa:
At the end of 2020, the Ministry for the Environment released a report: A safe operating space for New Zealand/Aotearoa: Translating the planetary boundaries framework. (The planetary boundaries framework, first published in 2009, provides a quantitative assessment of the required global level of ambition to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals.)
“Like other high-income nations that have been assessed, New Zealand exceeds its fair shares of the five planetary boundaries. The transgressions apply for both consumption-based and production-based perspectives…”
This is a beautiful, meditative piece from Kirsten O'Regan about the unique experience of walking the Te Araroa trail while the AoNZ border is closed. TA high up on my #Bucketlist...one day...
A fertile week in the memosphere…
Fake news, but perfect metaphor:
Bernie Sanders goes viral at the inauguration:
Product owners of the world, hear this:
And finally, Tainted Love, lockdown edition:
🙏🙏🙏 Thanks for reading, and to everyone who takes time to get in touch with links and feedback each week...it’s appreciated!
More next week…
Ngā Mihi / Cheers