This is an opinion editorial by Craig Buddo, a freelance writer specializing in finance and a contributor at Bitcoin Magazine.
When not scrolling through his Rolodex of insults to level at Bitcoin, Charlie Munger, Berkshire Hathaway’s vice chairman and Warren Buffett’s confidant, is fond of invoking “mental models” espoused by the German mathematician, Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi. Sounds intimidating, but it’s really quite straightforward. This simply states that many complex problems are best approached by inverting them, by coming at them backward. As Munger explains it:
“Invert, always invert: Turn a situation or problem upside down. Look at it backward. What happens if all our plans go wrong? Where don’t we want to go, and how do you get there? Instead of looking for success, make a list of how to fail instead … Tell me where I’m going to die, that is, so I don’t go there.” — Charlie Munger
Hold that thought.
As someone who became fascinated with the stock market and value investing after the Global Financial Crisis, bitcoin only came into hard focus for me when I started to think about it as though it were a stock. I believe now it’s much more profound than that, but it’s still how I frame my ownership some good way down the rabbit hole.
And though it would assuredly make its CEO projectile spray his Cherry Coke across the room and make its vice chairman swivel his one good eye to the heavens, it seems that the true analog to bitcoin in the public markets is, in fact, Berkshire itself.
Turn Berkshire upside down and you may be left with the thought that its phenomenal success stems in large part from philosophical and structural reasons that are exactly shared by Bitcoin, and that these will continue to propel both into the future.
Buffett’s stock picking in the public markets draws a lot of attention, but it’s really Berkshire’s wholly acquired portfolio of companies that make it so interesting. Compared to the rest of corporate America, Berkshire is radically decentralized. At last count, it owned 63 subsidiary companies spread over a very broad range of industries, including insurance, energy, railways, furniture and jewelry stores, mobile home manufacturers, private jet leasing and a plethora of other companies making and selling everything from batteries and underwear to business data, bricks and ice cream.
Uniquely though, once a company has met the standards for acquisition they’re basically told to just carry on as they were (Berkshire doesn’t invest in turnaround stories, so its acquired companies are already successful businesses). They retain autonomy to run their operations how they see fit, using the personnel and systems already in place. The role Berkshire plays for the company has been described as “the friendliest banker you can imagine — no interference, contracts, conditions, covenants, due dates, or other constraints of intermediation.” It’s how Berkshire is able to administer one of the largest corporations in the world with a staff headquarter count of around only 30 and no human resources department or even organization chart.
Paired with a massive treasury of cash and its public stock investments (also diverse, though with heavy concentration in financial services), there’s likely no turn in the economy, tech disruption, scandal or natural disaster that could permanently derail Berkshire, including the death of its founders. It’s built to last for a hundred more years.
It’s not clear that Buffett intentionally set out to create a decentralized corporation (he’s referred to his acquisition strategy as “haphazard” and “serendipitous”), or if its advantages made themselves obvious over the decades. In contrast, the whole genesis of Bitcoin was to solve the problem of how to decentralize money and its audacious realization has given the world a transparent and self-policing global monetary network free from central authority.
In “Margin Of Trust: The Berkshire Business Model,” longtime Berkshire chronicler Lawrence A. Cunningham explores Buffett’s relationship with the notion of trust, which he calls Berkshire’s “unifying principle.” There’s no corporation in the world close to Berkshire’s size that approaches trust with the same primacy, and no CEO who is probably trusted more.
Most obviously, the way in which trust shows itself is in the directness with which Berkshire acquires businesses: no investment bankers or financial intermediaries (difficult to trust), no hostile takeovers, no restructuring. Once they’ve done their due diligence and trust and integrity are established, it’s a straightforward transfer of ownership. Equally, sellers of businesses, many of them still run by founders, go to Berkshire because they trust it to be a responsible steward of what they’ve built and the individuals who work there.
Buffett’s annual shareholder letters are often unvarnished and candid assessments of his own failures and missteps. It’s an incredibly powerful yet very rare approach to corporate communication and one of the chief ways he’s built trust between those who run Berkshire and its shareholders. He views shareholders as true partners in the business and himself and the Berkshire board as trusted stewards of their interests. This is codified in Berkshire’s Owner’s Manual, a 1996 document that lays out the operational philosophy of the business. It states:
“We do not view the company itself as the ultimate owner of our business assets but instead view the company as a conduit through which our shareholders own the assets.”
Berkshire does an end run around financial intermediaries with trust, integrity and raw economic power; Bitcoin does it with software. In a true stroke of inversion genius, Satoshi Nakamoto solved the issue of “all the trust that’s required” in the fiat system by erasing its endlessly fallible human component. Instead, Bitcoin uses code to distribute the trust function among a huge network of computers, all of which must come to consensus before transactions can move forward and all of which are incentivized to guard against breaches of trust.
It isn’t a coincidence that Bitcoin was literally born out of the wreckage of the Global Financial Crisis, and that Berkshire came to perhaps its greatest prominence in the same historical moment, representing a bastion of trust and lender of last resort amid the reputational rubble.
For both Berkshire and Bitcoin, sophisticated and rational incentive structures might be the subsurface “management principle” that has propelled each more than any other. In Bitcoin’s case, it’s programmatic proof-of-work incentives to both mine bitcoin based on diminishing but more valuable block rewards, and economic-interest incentives to secure the network.
Incentives work double duty at Berkshire too. Business managers, corporate officers and investment advisors are aligned with Berkshire shareholders because, counterintuitively, they’re paid in salary and performance bonuses, not stock options.
Buffett is withering about the practice of rewarding high-level executives at public companies with stock-based compensation because it’s so often decoupled from actual performance, tends to encourage short-termism and it dilutes existing shareholders. Executives and founders at Berkshire-acquired companies however, are often allowed to retain an ownership percentage in their original business to incentivize an “owner” mindset.
The reason Berkshire has never split its original A shares — by far the most expensive stock in the S&P 500 — is also incentive based, or rather disincentive based. Speaking in 1995, Buffett explained his reasoning:
“We want to attract shareholders who are as investment-orientated as we can possibly obtain, with as long-term horizons … [with a cheaper, split-adjusted stock] … We are almost certain we would get a shareholder base that would not have the level of sophistication and the synchronization of objectives with us that we have now. And what we really don’t need in Berkshire stock is more demand … We don’t care to have it sell higher, except as intrinsic value grows.”
This shouldn’t be read as elitist: Around the same time, Buffett did create B shares of Berkshire stock when he saw unaffiliated financial firms begin to create (and charge high fees for) derivatives of the A shares to sell to small investors. Rather, it’s a use of the stock price to reflect long-term real value and cement alignment.
An essential feature of bitcoin is, of course, its hard cap of 21 million coins. Buffett has progressively created a hard cap on Berkshire stock as well, knowing that good things happen when continued intrinsic growth meets a static share count. In the last few years, Buffett has viewed his own company as a prime acquisition target, ramping up share repurchases based on a value formula indicating it was cheap against the market.
Imagine Bitcoin without it’s army of evangelists, writers, podcasters, speakers and HODLers. It would be a hollowed-out transactional thing like owning silver or soybean futures. Instead, the protocol has inspired millions of people around the world to gather, contribute, support, argue and create. Its revolutionary software has been buoyed and made meaningful from the outset by the substantial culture that has grown around it. In its start-up years particularly, when there was little monetary value to the network, culture and community kept the experiment alive.
Berkshire too has its army of devotees, most visible at the company’s annual shareholder meeting at the headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska once a year. Aside from the fun and tradition of the event, Buffett realizes that the culture that has grown up around Berkshire and the trust imbued in him as its leader is a potent advantage in shaping the company the way he deems most rational, rather than consensus thinking. He’s been able to marshal the majority of shareholders to fend off proposals to pay a dividend, split his roles, change compensation structures, divest from energy stocks and kick himself into early retirement.
Because of its culture, Berkshire has an unusually stable share ownership, especially characterized by a high number of long-term individual holders compared to institutional investors and pension plans. Along with a carefully devised corporate structure, it has allowed the company to mostly operate without fear of activism or pressure to divest or change course.
At the 2022 Berkshire meeting, Buffett again reiterated his view that bitcoin is worthless because it has no intrinsic value other than the potential to sell it to someone else for a higher price. Ric Edelman, founder of one of the largest financial advisory firms in the country and early Bitcoin advocate, takes on this argument in his recently published book “The Truth About Crypto.” He states that the models used to evaluate traditional assets such as stocks, bonds and real estate shouldn’t be applied to digital assets:
“That’s because digital assets lack the inputs that other asset classes have. That’s not a flaw of digital assets; what’s flawed is the belief that the absence of those inputs means bitcoin has no value.”
Edelman explains that bitcoin has an undeniable and triumphant record of over a decade of the market assigning a price to its value — and that price has risen by millions of percent — with massive demand-driven potential to continue outperforming.
But Berkshire and the way Buffett has shaped it do hold important lessons for bitcoin.
It reassuringly demonstrates in a single entity that principles of decentralization and an innovative approach to trust and incentives are world-beating attributes. It shows that culture, education and a palpable sense of ownership are the keys to weather helter-skelter markets.
It was recently calculated that Berkshire could lose 99% of its value and it would still have outperformed the S&P 500 going back to 1965. To reap those gains though you had to hold through nine recessions. Buffett says to reframe your ownership of stocks, to view them as a percentage ownership of actual businesses, not numbers on a screen bouncing around.
Imagine you owned a passive share of a successful local business that grew and expanded over the years: How much easier would that be to hold for decades as it grew your family’s wealth compared to how most people approach buying and selling stocks? In a downturn, you’re offered the chance to increase your percentage ownership by continuing to buy its discounted shares, knowing that recessions are a normal part of the business cycle.
If you view bitcoin in the same light, daily headlines about interest rates rising or growing correlation with the Nasdaq or crashing technical indicators reveal themselves for what they are: non-events or value opportunities to increase your stake.
To have the confidence and grit to hold for the long term, you must understand what you own. Buffett’s letters to shareholders are his way to instill this, with a great deal of Berkshire-specific commentary but also general investment lessons from one of the most rational and clear-sighted investors in history. It would be nice if owning bitcoin also came with an owner’s manual, and Nakamoto delivered an annual missive urging you to stay the course. Instead, seeking out quality Bitcoin content from books, articles and podcasts that focus on fundamentals rather than price is essential to fortify yourself against inevitable turbulence.
Buffett and Munger have both said they knew with conviction they’d become very wealthy, but neither was in a hurry to do so. “Hurry” in this context means using leverage to supercharge returns and both investors regularly warn against it. Some have stated this is hypocritical because Berkshire does invest the float from its insurance businesses into stock and business purchases, therefore leveraging the business. To which one might say, if you look in the mirror and Warren Buffett or Bill Miller or Michael Saylor looks back at you, go ahead and use leverage in your bitcoin purchases; if not, then probably don’t.
The issue, as Buffett laid out in his 2010 letter to shareholders isn’t really that leverage is bad on its face, it’s that even when it goes in your favor it’s working secretly to undermine you:
“But leverage is addictive. Once having profited from its wonders, very few people retreat to more conservative practices. And as we all learned in third grade — and some relearned in 2008 — any series of positive numbers, however impressive those numbers may be, evaporates when multiplied by a single zero.”
In Berkshire’s early days, Buffett and Munger often invested alongside a talented capital allocator named Rick Guerin. His downfall was that he was in a “hurry” and sought to propel his investment returns with leverage that went awry in the sharp market downtown of the early 1970s. Margin calls came, and to raise capital, he was compelled to sell his Berkshire holdings to Buffett … for around $40 a share.
With Berkshire, bitcoin and investing in general, the smartest investors agree: The key to investing success is really just picking the right investment vehicle and then holding uninterruptedly to allow returns to compound for the longest possible period. Morgan Housel in “The Psychology Of Money” points out — among many incisive essays that Bitcoiners would benefit from reading — that the vast majority of Buffett’s wealth was accumulated after he qualified for Social Security:
“Warren Buffett is a phenomenal investor. But you miss a key point if you attach all of his success to investing acumen. The real key to his success is that he’s been a phenomenal investor for three quarters of a century. Had he started investing in his 30s and retired in his 60s, few people would have ever heard of him … Effectively all of Warren Buffett’s success can be tied to the financial base he built in his pubescent years and the longevity he maintained in his geriatric years.”
So what can we do to HODL with just a little more iron in our grip?
Professionalize your holding: Take the steps to self-custody or use every possible security measure if you’re leaving it on an exchange. Know what you own and educate yourself constantly so sensational headlines don’t shake you out of a long-term mindset. Don’t fixate on price, think about adoption curves or other proxies for intrinsic value, really get to intellectual grips with the nature of exponential growth and compounding. Proceed very gingerly with lending or leveraging your holding: Are you risking what may be irreplaceable (your core holding) for something that’s unlikely to make much difference to your future self (incremental return)?
Do you have cash on the side to invest if the price crashes? According to Buffett, he was well into his investment career before he came to the clear realization that if you’re a consistent buyer of stocks (or bitcoin), long periods of falling prices are, in fact, exactly what you should be hoping for. A zooming share price is only good news if you plan to sell. This is rationally obvious but emotionally confounding, and almost impossible if you get sucked into the vortex of doom-laden headlines that accompany every downturn.
Berkshire A shares last traded at $20,000 in 1994. This year they broke through $500,000 per share for the first time. Invert Berkshire and its remarkable parallels to bitcoin show us the path to a similar valuation, and how to survive the journey.
This is a guest post by Craig Buddo. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.
El Salvador Takes First Step To Issue Bitcoin Volcano Bonds
El Salvador’s Minister of the Economy Maria Luisa Hayem Brevé submitted a digital assets issuance bill to the country’s legislative assembly, paving the way for the launch of its bitcoin-backed “volcano” bonds.
First announced one year ago today, the pioneering initiative seeks to attract capital and investors to El Salvador. It was revealed at the time the plans to issue $1 billion in bonds on the Liquid Network, a federated Bitcoin sidechain, with the proceedings of the bonds being split between a $500 million direct allocation to bitcoin and an investment of the same amount in building out energy and bitcoin mining infrastructure in the region.
A sidechain is an independent blockchain that runs parallel to another blockchain, allowing for tokens from that blockchain to be used securely in the sidechain while abiding by a different set of rules, performance requirements, and security mechanisms. Liquid is a sidechain of Bitcoin that allows bitcoin to flow between the Liquid and Bitcoin networks with a two-way peg. A representation of bitcoin used in the Liquid network is referred to as L-BTC. Its verifiably equivalent amount of BTC is managed and secured by the network’s members, called functionaries.
“Digital securities law will enable El Salvador to be the financial center of central and south America,” wrote Paolo Ardoino, CTO of cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, on Twitter.
Bitfinex is set to be granted a license in order to be able to process and list the bond issuance in El Salvador.
The bonds will pay a 6.5% yield and enable fast-tracked citizenship for investors. The government will share half the additional gains with investors as a Bitcoin Dividend once the original $500 million has been monetized. These dividends will be dispersed annually using Blockstream’s asset management platform.
The act of submitting the bill, which was hinted at earlier this year, kickstarts the first major milestone before the bonds can see the light of day. The next is getting it approved, which is expected to happen before Christmas, a source close to President Nayib Bukele told Bitcoin Magazine. The bill was submitted on November 17 and presented to the country’s Congress today. It is embedded in full below.
How I’ll Talk To Family Members About Bitcoin This Thanksgiving
This is an opinion editorial by Joakim Book, a Research Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, contributor and copy editor for Bitcoin Magazine and a writer on all things money and financial history.
That’s it. That’s the article.
In all sincerity, that is the full message: Just don’t do it. It’s not worth it.
You’re not an excited teenager anymore, in desperate need of bragging credits or trying out your newfound wisdom. You’re not a preaching priestess with lost souls to save right before some imminent arrival of the day of reckoning. We have time.
Instead: just leave people alone. Seriously. They came to Thanksgiving dinner to relax and rejoice with family, laugh, tell stories and zone out for a day — not to be ambushed with what to them will sound like a deranged rant in some obscure topic they couldn’t care less about. Even if it’s the monetary system, which nobody understands anyway.
If you’re not convinced of this Dale Carnegie-esque social approach, and you still naively think that your meager words in between bites can change anybody’s view on anything, here are some more serious reasons for why you don’t talk to friends and family about Bitcoin the protocol — but most certainly not bitcoin, the asset:
- Your family and friends don’t want to hear it. Move on.
- For op-sec reasons, you don’t want to draw unnecessary attention to the fact that you probably have a decent bitcoin stack. Hopefully, family and close friends should be safe enough to confide in, but people talk and that gossip can only hurt you.
- People find bitcoin interesting only when they’re ready to; everyone gets the price they deserve. Like Gigi says in “21 Lessons:”
“Bitcoin will be understood by you as soon as you are ready, and I also believe that the first fractions of a bitcoin will find you as soon as you are ready to receive them. In essence, everyone will get ₿itcoin at exactly the right time.”
It’s highly unlikely that your uncle or mother-in-law just happens to be at that stage, just when you’re about to sit down for dinner.
- Unless you can claim youth, old age or extreme poverty, there are very few people who genuinely haven’t heard of bitcoin. That means your evangelizing wouldn’t be preaching to lost, ignorant souls ready to be saved but the tired, huddled and jaded masses who could care less about the discovery that will change their societies more than the internal combustion engine, internet and Big Government combined. Big deal.
- What is the case, however, is that everyone in your prospective audience has already had a couple of touchpoints and rejected bitcoin for this or that standard FUD. It’s a scam; seems weird; it’s dead; let’s trust the central bankers, who have our best interest at heart.
No amount of FUD busting changes that impression, because nobody holds uninformed and fringe convictions for rational reasons, reasons that can be flipped by your enthusiastic arguments in-between wiping off cranberry sauce and grabbing another turkey slice.
- It really is bad form to talk about money — and bitcoin is the best money there is. Be classy.
Now, I’m not saying to never ever talk about Bitcoin. We love to talk Bitcoin — that’s why we go to meetups, join Twitter Spaces, write, code, run nodes, listen to podcasts, attend conferences. People there get something about this monetary rebellion and have opted in to be part of it. Your unsuspecting family members have not; ambushing them with the wonders of multisig, the magically fast Lightning transactions or how they too really need to get on this hype train, like, yesterday, is unlikely to go down well.
However, if in the post-dinner lull on the porch someone comes to you one-on-one, whisky in hand and of an inquisitive mind, that’s a very different story. That’s personal rather than public, and it’s without the time constraints that so usually trouble us. It involves clarifying questions or doubts for somebody who is both expressively curious about the topic and available for the talk. That’s rare — cherish it, and nurture it.
Last year I wrote something about the proper role of political conversations in social settings. Since November was also election month, it’s appropriate to cite here:
“Politics, I’m starting to believe, best belongs in the closet — rebranded and brought out for the specific occasion. Or perhaps the bedroom, with those you most trust, love, and respect. Not in public, not with strangers, not with friends, and most certainly not with other people in your community. Purge it from your being as much as you possibly could, and refuse to let political issues invade the areas of our lives that we cherish; politics and political disagreements don’t belong there, and our lives are too important to let them be ruled by (mostly contrived) political disagreements.”
If anything, those words seem more true today than they even did then. And I posit to you that the same applies for bitcoin.
Everyone has some sort of impression or opinion of bitcoin — and most of them are plain wrong. But there’s nothing people love more than a savior in white armor, riding in to dispel their errors about some thing they are freshly out of fucks for. Just like politics, nobody really cares.
Leave them alone. They will find bitcoin in their own time, just like all of us did.
This is a guest post by Joakim Book. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.
RGB Magic: Client-Side Contracts On Bitcoin
This is an opinion editorial by Federico Tenga, a long time contributor to Bitcoin projects with experience as start-up founder, consultant and educator.
The term “smart contracts” predates the invention of the blockchain and Bitcoin itself. Its first mention is in a 1994 article by Nick Szabo, who defined smart contracts as a “computerized transaction protocol that executes the terms of a contract.” While by this definition Bitcoin, thanks to its scripting language, supported smart contracts from the very first block, the term was popularized only later by Ethereum promoters, who twisted the original definition as “code that is redundantly executed by all nodes in a global consensus network”
While delegating code execution to a global consensus network has advantages (e.g. it is easy to deploy unowed contracts, such as the popularly automated market makers), this design has one major flaw: lack of scalability (and privacy). If every node in a network must redundantly run the same code, the amount of code that can actually be executed without excessively increasing the cost of running a node (and thus preserving decentralization) remains scarce, meaning that only a small number of contracts can be executed.
But what if we could design a system where the terms of the contract are executed and validated only by the parties involved, rather than by all members of the network? Let us imagine the example of a company that wants to issue shares. Instead of publishing the issuance contract publicly on a global ledger and using that ledger to track all future transfers of ownership, it could simply issue the shares privately and pass to the buyers the right to further transfer them. Then, the right to transfer ownership can be passed on to each new owner as if it were an amendment to the original issuance contract. In this way, each owner can independently verify that the shares he or she received are genuine by reading the original contract and validating that all the history of amendments that moved the shares conform to the rules set forth in the original contract.
This is actually nothing new, it is indeed the same mechanism that was used to transfer property before public registers became popular. In the U.K., for example, it was not compulsory to register a property when its ownership was transferred until the ‘90s. This means that still today over 15% of land in England and Wales is unregistered. If you are buying an unregistered property, instead of checking on a registry if the seller is the true owner, you would have to verify an unbroken chain of ownership going back at least 15 years (a period considered long enough to assume that the seller has sufficient title to the property). In doing so, you must ensure that any transfer of ownership has been carried out correctly and that any mortgages used for previous transactions have been paid off in full. This model has the advantage of improved privacy over ownership, and you do not have to rely on the maintainer of the public land register. On the other hand, it makes the verification of the seller’s ownership much more complicated for the buyer.
How can the transfer of unregistered properties be improved? First of all, by making it a digitized process. If there is code that can be run by a computer to verify that all the history of ownership transfers is in compliance with the original contract rules, buying and selling becomes much faster and cheaper.
Secondly, to avoid the risk of the seller double-spending their asset, a system of proof of publication must be implemented. For example, we could implement a rule that every transfer of ownership must be committed on a predefined spot of a well-known newspaper (e.g. put the hash of the transfer of ownership in the upper-right corner of the first page of the New York Times). Since you cannot place the hash of a transfer in the same place twice, this prevents double-spending attempts. However, using a famous newspaper for this purpose has some disadvantages:
- You have to buy a lot of newspapers for the verification process. Not very practical.
- Each contract needs its own space in the newspaper. Not very scalable.
- The newspaper editor can easily censor or, even worse, simulate double-spending by putting a random hash in your slot, making any potential buyer of your asset think it has been sold before, and discouraging them from buying it. Not very trustless.
For these reasons, a better place to post proof of ownership transfers needs to be found. And what better option than the Bitcoin blockchain, an already established trusted public ledger with strong incentives to keep it censorship-resistant and decentralized?
If we use Bitcoin, we should not specify a fixed place in the block where the commitment to transfer ownership must occur (e.g. in the first transaction) because, just like with the editor of the New York Times, the miner could mess with it. A better approach is to place the commitment in a predefined Bitcoin transaction, more specifically in a transaction that originates from an unspent transaction output (UTXO) to which the ownership of the asset to be issued is linked. The link between an asset and a bitcoin UTXO can occur either in the contract that issues the asset or in a subsequent transfer of ownership, each time making the target UTXO the controller of the transferred asset. In this way, we have clearly defined where the obligation to transfer ownership should be (i.e in the Bitcoin transaction originating from a particular UTXO). Anyone running a Bitcoin node can independently verify the commitments and neither the miners nor any other entity are able to censor or interfere with the asset transfer in any way.
Since on the Bitcoin blockchain we only publish a commitment of an ownership transfer, not the content of the transfer itself, the seller needs a dedicated communication channel to provide the buyer with all the proofs that the ownership transfer is valid. This could be done in a number of ways, potentially even by printing out the proofs and shipping them with a carrier pigeon, which, while a bit impractical, would still do the job. But the best option to avoid the censorship and privacy violations is establish a direct peer-to-peer encrypted communication, which compared to the pigeons also has the advantage of being easy to integrate with a software to verify the proofs received from the counterparty.
This model just described for client-side validated contracts and ownership transfers is exactly what has been implemented with the RGB protocol. With RGB, it is possible to create a contract that defines rights, assigns them to one or more existing bitcoin UTXO and specifies how their ownership can be transferred. The contract can be created starting from a template, called a “schema,” in which the creator of the contract only adjusts the parameters and ownership rights, as is done with traditional legal contracts. Currently, there are two types of schemas in RGB: one for issuing fungible tokens (RGB20) and a second for issuing collectibles (RGB21), but in the future, more schemas can be developed by anyone in a permissionless fashion without requiring changes at the protocol level.
To use a more practical example, an issuer of fungible assets (e.g. company shares, stablecoins, etc.) can use the RGB20 schema template and create a contract defining how many tokens it will issue, the name of the asset and some additional metadata associated with it. It can then define which bitcoin UTXO has the right to transfer ownership of the created tokens and assign other rights to other UTXOs, such as the right to make a secondary issuance or to renominate the asset. Each client receiving tokens created by this contract will be able to verify the content of the Genesis contract and validate that any transfer of ownership in the history of the token received has complied with the rules set out therein.
So what can we do with RGB in practice today? First and foremost, it enables the issuance and the transfer of tokenized assets with better scalability and privacy compared to any existing alternative. On the privacy side, RGB benefits from the fact that all transfer-related data is kept client-side, so a blockchain observer cannot extract any information about the user’s financial activities (it is not even possible to distinguish a bitcoin transaction containing an RGB commitment from a regular one), moreover, the receiver shares with the sender only blinded UTXO (i. e. the hash of the concatenation between the UTXO in which she wish to receive the assets and a random number) instead of the UTXO itself, so it is not possible for the payer to monitor future activities of the receiver. To further increase the privacy of users, RGB also adopts the bulletproof cryptographic mechanism to hide the amounts in the history of asset transfers, so that even future owners of assets have an obfuscated view of the financial behavior of previous holders.
In terms of scalability, RGB offers some advantages as well. First of all, most of the data is kept off-chain, as the blockchain is only used as a commitment layer, reducing the fees that need to be paid and meaning that each client only validates the transfers it is interested in instead of all the activity of a global network. Since an RGB transfer still requires a Bitcoin transaction, the fee saving may seem minimal, but when you start introducing transaction batching they can quickly become massive. Indeed, it is possible to transfer all the tokens (or, more generally, “rights”) associated with a UTXO towards an arbitrary amount of recipients with a single commitment in a single bitcoin transaction. Let’s assume you are a service provider making payouts to several users at once. With RGB, you can commit in a single Bitcoin transaction thousands of transfers to thousands of users requesting different types of assets, making the marginal cost of each single payout absolutely negligible.
Another fee-saving mechanism for issuers of low value assets is that in RGB the issuance of an asset does not require paying fees. This happens because the creation of an issuance contract does not need to be committed on the blockchain. A contract simply defines to which already existing UTXO the newly issued assets will be allocated to. So if you are an artist interested in creating collectible tokens, you can issue as many as you want for free and then only pay the bitcoin transaction fee when a buyer shows up and requests the token to be assigned to their UTXO.
Furthermore, because RGB is built on top of bitcoin transactions, it is also compatible with the Lightning Network. While it is not yet implemented at the time of writing, it will be possible to create asset-specific Lightning channels and route payments through them, similar to how it works with normal Lightning transactions.
RGB is a groundbreaking innovation that opens up to new use cases using a completely new paradigm, but which tools are available to use it? If you want to experiment with the core of the technology itself, you should directly try out the RGB node. If you want to build applications on top of RGB without having to deep dive into the complexity of the protocol, you can use the rgb-lib library, which provides a simple interface for developers. If you just want to try to issue and transfer assets, you can play with Iris Wallet for Android, whose code is also open source on GitHub. If you just want to learn more about RGB you can check out this list of resources.
This is a guest post by Federico Tenga. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.