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And while Ethereum fans crow about there being 12 times more wrapped bitcoin on their platform than the mere $9 million locked in the Lightning Network’s payment channels, the latter is making inroads in developing nations as a payment network for small, low-cost bitcoin transactions. Unlike WBTC, which requires a professional custodian to hold the original locked bitcoin, Lightning users need not rely on a third party to open up a channel. It’s arguably more decentralized.
As is their wont, each faction described the growth of WBTC tokens, whose value is pegged one-to-one against a locked-up reserve of actual bitcoin, as proof of their coin’s superiority over the other. The Ethereum crowd said it showed that even BTC “hodlers” believe Ethereum-based applications provide a better off-chain transaction experience than platforms built on Bitcoin, such as Lightning or Blockstream’s Liquid. Bitcoiners, by contrast, took it as confirmation that people place greater value in the oldest, most valuable crypto asset, than in Ethereum’s ether token.
Decentralized exchanges (DEXs), which allow peer-to-peer crypto trading without centralized exchange (CEX) taking custody of your assets, have integrated WBTC into their markets to boost the liquidity needed to make them viable. Sure enough, DEX trading volumes leapt 70% to record highs in June. (It helped, too, that June saw a surge in “yield farming” operations, a complicated new DeFi speculative activity that’s easier to do if you maintain control of your assets while trading.)
This part of DeFi feels like a new form of market. Anyone can join and everyone is invited. It has no KYC/AML (know your customer/anti-money laundering) hurdles and lags, and if it looks like a duck, waddles like a duck and quacks like a duck, that duck is a shiny tech casino. Of course all markets are casinos but if you can come up with a new form of market and it’s fun, exciting, instant and can be used sensibly or in insanely risky, win big/lose big ways, you are going have a winner. And they do. And it’s all powered by Ethereum.
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.
Interestingly, USD Coin (USDC), the world’s second-largest stablecoin from Coinbase and Circle, was ranked at 1.00 by the Crypto Rating Council (CRC), whose members include Coinbase, Circle, Kraken, Bittrex, Genesis Capital, eToro, OKCoin, Radar, Anchorage, Cumberland, among others). The CRC supports and promotes regulatory clarity in the distributed ledger technology (DLT) space.
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