Gold has had at least three millennia to establish itself as a store of value people turn to when social systems are in stress. Bitcoin has only existed for 11 years. While plenty of investors are willing to speculate on the possibility bitcoin might supplant or compete with gold, the idea is far from ingrained across society. When will it be more widely accepted? Perhaps when the international crisis of global leadership unleashed by COVID-19 undermines the capacity of institutions like the Federal Reserve to sustain economic and social confidence. Whatever new institutions and systems we create going forward will need to address how the internet has upended society’s centralized systems of governance. When that happens, we’ll need a decentralized, digital reserve asset as the base value layer. As I said, it will take time. Meanwhile, the developers will keep building.
The yield cap policy would be new for the Fed, but it’s really an extension of an ongoing effort to do one thing: get the market to believe its intentions. The way monetary policy works these days, it’s meaningless unless the market behaves according to what the Fed wants. It’s not about what the central bank does per se; it’s about what it says and whether those words are incorporated into investor behavior. But the more it doubles down on this, the more the Fed creates situations in which it risks having its words held against it. And that puts it at risk of losing its most important currency: the public’s trust. Commitments to price targets are always especially risky – ask Norman Lamont, the U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had to abandon the pound’s currency peg in 1993 because the market didn’t believe the U.K. would back its promises. The Fed has unlimited power to buy bonds, but whether it always has the will to do so will depend on politics and other factors. Once it’s locked into a commitment, the stakes go up. For now, the markets – most importantly, foreign exchange markets – still trust the Fed. But, as the saying goes, trust is hard to earn, easy to lose.
That’s not to say there aren’t risks in DeFi. Many are worried that the frenzy around speculative activities such as “yield farming” and interconnected leverage could set off a systemic crisis. If that happens, maybe Bitcoin can offer an alternative, more stable architecture for it. Either way, ideas to improve DeFi are coming all the time – whether for better system-wide data or for a more trustworthy legal framework. Out of this hurly burly, something transformative will emerge. Whether it’s dominated by Ethereum or spread across different blockchains, the end result will show more cross-protocol synergy than the chains’ warring communities would suggest.