The Bull Case for Ethereum in Relation to Bitcoin
There is a general understanding among ETH investors that the enhancements from ETH 2.0, EIP-1559 and L2 solutions will result in a sustainable monetary policy with near 0% issuance and the potential for Ether to become a deflationary asset. What is even more interesting is that the net return of ETH as a SoV becomes superior to BTC the moment that issuance is lower than the staking yield. In other words, even if BTC had already ceased issuance, it offers no mechanism to provide yield to long term holders with a negligible risk exposure as ETH does. There is an execution risk that Ethereum will not deliver on what is currently planned, but if it does then what I have explained will become a reality.
You cannot separate BTC/ETH’s payment rails from their respective monetary policies. As you are probably aware, issuance is just a subsidy, and without it the network will need to operate as a profitable business with a cash-flow that is entirely dependent on network fees. We are observing a situation that is causing a degradation of the utility of the Bitcoin network. What I mean by that is that the incentive for users to transact directly on the network is being diminished because of the tokenization into ETH and by the introduction of custodians (like Paypal) and traditional banking services who will soon be entering this space. If these trends continue, I suspect that the only activity that will end-up happening on-chain will be done by whales sporadically transacting to hodle and the occasional settlement from institutions. Bitcoin seems fast and frictionless, but that is because you are comparing it to something in the physical world. In digital terms Bitcoin emulates the friction of operation that is found with gold: it is difficult and expensive to move it, securing it yourself is not trivial, and it does not make for a great medium of exchange. I don’t think this will be a good dynamic to generate enough transaction fees. That is of course my subjective interpretation of it, but regarding this particular situation it is nearly impossible to make objective assertions at this point. It is possible to assert that, in the digital world, the expectation of frictionless money would entail near instant transactions with negligible cost and without the relative risk/paranoia of dealing with nuclear waste and having a hacker watching your every move waiting for you to make a mistake to snatch it away. Digital money would also need to interact with other digital assets, preferably defined and operated within the same ecosystem. Ethereum is steaming ahead on all ends.
Ethereum is fostering a digital economy (this is a very important part of understanding the value of Ethereum, but I will not be exploring it in this post) with DeFi at its center. It is currently generating about three times as much trx fee revenue as Bitcoin. L2 solutions are going live as we speak, and it appears that they will be much more practical and provide better UX when compared to the Lightning Network. This will help to amplify L1 block space value and push revenue even higher. That will be followed by EIP-1559, which will burn transaction fees. Mining is currently excessively profitable and hash rate cannot keep up. This means the financial incentive can be reduced and by burning trx fees we achieve the equivalent of an issuance reduction, while stabilizing mining revenue. Eventually the transition to PoS will dramatically cut the operational cost of the network. That means that Ethereum as a business will become more profitable and less reliant on the issuance subsidy. Finally, we will see the introduction of sharding which will scale L1 by up to 1,000 times, compounding the effect of L2 solutions and making it feasible for the network to operate as a platform for new use cases. A solution to the hacker/nuclear waste security situation is being explored via social recovery wallets. It is still in the early stages of research and design, but it is important to realize that the Ethereum community recognizes it as a problem and is working on a solution.
There is a lot more that can be said about the BTC vs ETH debate and I am working on a full write up that explores each individual element in more detail. Regardless, it is important to pay attention to this trend: the smartest people in this space are shifting their point of view and realizing Ethereum’s potential. Raoul Pal is a seasoned investor, extremely bright and open minded. He started with Bitcoin, but it did not take him long to understand the value proposition of Ethereum. Lyn Alden is a brilliant investor and mental powerhouse who initially did not think investing in Ethereum could be justified, but she is also starting to shift her view and now understands that it has a justifiable risk/reward ratio to be included in a portfolio (although she is not personally invested in Ethereum). She has plenty of negative things to say about it, however it appears that she recognizes this is not a black and white situation. I have a feeling she will be revising her analysis on Ethereum again in the future with a more optimist view, but maybe that is just wishful thinking.
The crypto space has a few analogies that have been used to describe technical/economic mechanisms that are somewhat tricky to understand: mining, Ethereum’s gas, and the analogy between ether and oil. Crypto “mining” is not like real world mining. It’s purpose is not to extract resources, but it is rather a decentralized mechanism to process transactions. Newly minted BTC tokens are not “mined”, they are minted by the protocol and awarded to operators. Furthermore, it is impossible to change the total mining output of the network… adding/removing miners does not affect the mining output. If you are new to crypto, you can read a more detailed explanation of mining here. ETH’s “gas” is not like fuel (it cannot even be stored). It is just a computational metric that is more akin to the distance a car must travel, but not what actually makes it move. The fuel is electricity and it must be paid for with ether. When you transact you are also paying for the “car” which is the use of all active mining hardware/validators for a fraction of a second. And ether is just money.
If you put too much weight on these simplified analogies, you will not understand the economic actuality behind them. This is a source confusion in the crypto space, and it is used to support false narratives. From an economic perspective, ether is money. Once you understand this, you will know that the narrative that BTC and ETH are not competing because they are different things is analogous to saying fax machines do not compete with the internet.
The beautiful thing about ether is that it is actually not “just money”. It is a mixture of a scarce monetized commodity, money, bond and tech stock.
- Monetized Commodity: Ether is becoming more scarce and will continue to do so with the transition to proof-of-stake and EIP-1559. Ethereum does not have a supply cap, but it does have a roadmap for a sustainable security model and if achieves a positive cashflow then it will not only eliminate issuance, it can become deflationary. An argument can be made about potential issues with Bitcoin’s sustainability in the long run.
- Currency: Ether is used as a unit of account and medium of exchange to pay for every activity in Ethereum. It is also used in the same way for venture capital related to ICOs, and Ether is also used as collateral in the DEFI space and new monetary uses will continue to emerge. It is an immature form of money, just like Bitcoin is an immature form of gold. Some people prefer to say that Ether is just an utility token. However, an utility token is just a narrowly scoped form of money. Not only is Ether’s scope within its digital economy growing, by next year users will be able to pay millions of merchants with Ether through Paypal. We have never seen the adoption of a new form of money grow organically. New forms of money have always been imposed by authorities. What would the organic growth of money look like? It would look like Ether.
- Ethereum’s digital economy: Ethereum has limitless use cases and it is already generating economic activity with real world usefulness. Ether’s value will benefit from acting as the native monetary asset for Ethereum. As Ethereum’s economic activity grows, the velocity and/or value of ether must also increase.
- Bond: With proof-of-stake you need to lock up Ether to receive a yield in return. It is similar to how bonds work.
- Tech Stock: Ethereum provides a service. That service is paid with ether. The network is controlled by holding ether that is staked. The more valuable the service provided by Ethereum becomes, the more users will be willing to pay for transactions and the more valuable the protocol and the Ether token become. Cloud based services is the entire business model of many companies. The network will be entirely operated by stakers who happen to be the recipients of transaction fees. It is not exactly the same as holding a stock, but there are a lot of parallels.
- Full reserve banking model: This is a bit of a stretch, but it is a potential end-game for Ethereum. It can serve as the base infrastructure and reserve asset for a full reserve banking system. In a nutshell: a consortium of banking companies can be formed to standardize a framework to hold and stake Ether under custody in exchange for wrapped Ether. Customers deposit Ether, banks exchange it for wETH and stake the original ETH. Resting balances of wEther on customer accounts can receive a cut of the staking rewards. Banks get their profit model, customers get to spend wrapped Ether with traditional banking services and potentially receive a share of the staking yield. Customers could also have access to a yield curve based on variable reserve requirements. This would allow banks to create money (which is actually good for the economy when it is done with moderation), but for the first time ever customers would have the choice of how much risk exposure they are comfortable with. This dynamic could help to establish a form of democratic check and balances system that discourages moral hazard. Ether could become a godsent to banks in the land of negative yields. It’s a pipe dream, but not entirely impossible. Don’t forget that the US OCC has essentially given banks the green light to take the first steps in this direction (US banks have been approved use the Ethereum blockchain for their operations AND they can become validators… yup this happened).
EDIT 1: Adding an analogy to explain why ether is money:
Let’s say I have a car with a 14-gallon fuel tank and I want to take it on a road trip. The car is not aware of the price of gasoline, and it would not travel any farther if the price of gas would double the next day. That’s because the intrinsic utility of oil has nothing to do with its monetary value. The car needs gas because of its particular physical properties and how the ICE is designed to utilize it. If I want to drive from point A to point B and it takes a full tank to get there, it will take that full tank no matter what happens to the monetary properties of gas/oil. This is fundamentally different from how Ethereum uses ether.
Ethereum (the network) is not trying to be money, but it utilizes ether exclusively for its monetary properties and not because it can be magically burned by an imaginary engine of sorts. It costs money to participate in the network as a miner, and their engagement is financially incentivized with ether. Block space is a scarce resource, therefore participants who wish to transact use ether to bid for it. These interactions are utilizing ether as a monetary medium of exchange. In the long run, as the price of ether goes up, the ether denomination of gas prices goes down. That happens because no one is using ether as gas/oil, and it is actually being used as money. In the short run you may see the opposite occurring because of the dynamic between the portion of block space demand that is inelastic and the demand for ether.
EDIT 2: Revisiting key concepts to explain how they will become price catalysts.
- Wide adoption of L2 solutions: these will amplify the base layer block space value while encouraging further network adoption by a significant reduction of fees. A successful integration with DeFi protocols will dismiss the “Ethereum killers” theory and consolidate market confidence.
- EIP-1559: reduce excessive financial incentives to miners by burning transaction fees. This will also discourage miners from attempting to artificially raise fees via spam.
- Sharding: scale L1 bandwidth, compounding the effect of L2 solutions, further consolidating Ethereum’s dominance in the DeFi space, making it feasible to introduce new use cases and eventually increase trx fee revenue.
- The switch from PoW to PoS: discontinuing PoW will eliminate the operating costs related to mining and will allow for a reduction of issuance. Money that was previously allocated to buying mining equipment will be redirect to the acquisition of Ether. Staking Ether will remove it from circulation for extended periods of time. Operating cost will be negligible, allowing validators to withhold most of the Ether revenue. This will be the greatest bull market catalyst in the history of cryptocurrencies and it will eclipse the effect of BTC halvenings.
Bitcoin maximalists will be nay saying all the way through and past a market cap flip. Do not get caught up in their narrative. If you are not sure, then it is better to rebalance your portfolio proportionally to market caps. If none of these things happen and Ethereum turns out to be a failure, then you would only have reduced your gains by 20%. Otherwise, ETH will be making you mountains of money.
EDIT 3: Ethereum killers
Ethereum killers remind me a lot of Tesla killers, but a lot worse. People need to understand that cryptocurrency platforms targeting financial Dapps are fighting the equivalent force of a black-hole when it comes to Ethereum’s network effect and user retention in this space.
Bigger players, with bigger money, are entering this market and they will not settle for anything other than the top dog. This pattern reinforces Ethereum’s position as the premium financial system, which ends up attracting even bigger players and resulting in the black-hole effect. To make matters even more complicated, financial apps are more valuable when they are surrounded by a rich and diverse variety of digital assets and other natively defined Dapps. There is not much you can do with your money in a ghost town.
It is VERY difficult to build this type of environment up because the platform and dapps must also have established full trust from their user base. This is not to say there is no space for other networks to grow, but just don’t get your hopes high that they will be taking Ethereum’s stronghold as a financial system. There are other use cases that do not require the amount of decentralization and security offered by Ethereum, and the networks that can focus on these are the ones who will be able to coexist with in the long-run. Gaming, ERP interoperability and supply chain are good examples of such use cases. Remember that alternatives with cheap transactions have existed for a while and they have barely touched ETH’s dominance (EOS, Neo, VeChain, QTUM, IOTA, LSK, STRAT, ARK and dare I say… TRON).
EDIT 4: Refuting critiques about dynamic monetary policy
If an argument can be made that the financial incentives to operators (miners/stakers) are excessive or insufficient then an argument can be for the implementation and execution of a dynamic monetary policy.
I don’t think an arbitrarily picked issuance schedule determined during the genesis of a new highly complex system is likely to be efficient through its lifecycle. Bitcoin’s monetary policy provides the certainty of stability and protection from abuse, but it sacrifices the possibility of efficiency and jeopardizes longevity. It would be like if a captain of a ship would point it in the direction of its final destination, set the throttle, then fall back to his cabin for a nice bottle of chianti and hope that the ship would arrive safely. There would be no one at the helm to navigate the seas, no one to make sure it stayed on route, no one to avoid the storms or to take advantage of currents. In my opinion it is a pretty bad approach to something as critical as monetary policy.
With respect to Ethereum’s dynamic monetary policy: I don’t see any evidence to suggest developers have been enriching their pockets by keeping issuance at the levels they are. Developers are stake holders and the Ethereum fund holds a lot of ether – debasing ether is against their self interest. There is a great misunderstanding that the one’s who are adjusting issuance are the recipients of the new tokens. Is there any documented case of this happening?
EDIT 5: Addressing Bitcoin’s immutable monetary policy
The idea that Bitcoin’s monetary policy cannot be changed is a myth. It is a false narrative that takes for granted that the issuance subsidy will no longer be necessary at some point, but there is no way to objectively assert this. There is no divine power preventing the monetary policy from being changed. If the security model for Bitcoin was jeopardized because of insufficient cashflow to miners, then Bitcoin’s monetary policy would be the first thing on the chop board to go in order to remedy the situation.
EDIT 6: Five years ago nay sayers were screaming about how everything that is being done TODAY in the Ethereum network would never work. Now they are calling Ethereum a scam, or that is is a platform for degenerate gamblers, or that the fees are too high and therefore it is useless, or that it can’t scale, or that something else better is just around the corner to take its place…. you know… basically all the things that traditional bankers have to say about Bitcoin, maxis are saying about Ethereum.
EDIT 7: The greater the impact a new technology can have on society, the more difficult it is to comprehend its potential. Ethereum has the potential to have dramatic impact on human civilization. It could take decades for it to be fully realized, but it would change the world in ways that we cannot possibly imagine today. If it it happens, the moon will be just a pit-stop.
EDIT 8: Thank you so much for all the awards! Ethereans understand this stuff, and I could feel the frustration in the air every time someone said that Ethereum is not money, or that ETH and BTC are completely different things, or all the other bs attacks that are in great part founded on a lack of understanding of how BTC and ETH actually work. I would love to hear what guys like Raoul Pal, Pomp, Michael Saylor and Fernando Ulrich (for my Brazilian friends) would have to say about some of the things that have been written here. If you know a way to get their attention, then please do it.
EDIT 9: Clarification about Lyn Alden’s opinion of Ethereum
TLDR: Ethereum is not stopping at the moon… it is not stopping on Mars… it is going straight out of the Milky Way galaxy in search for alien life… but you should own some BTC just in case the spaceship malfunctions during launch.