Complacency on Bitcoin is turning into negligence: The perspective of a Lawyer & Accountant and my calls to action

William W. Milne, CPA, CA, JD
Canadian Chartered Accountant & Lawyer
Blockchain Attorney

Bitcoin is the greatest economic invention of the past 5,000 years. It will define this millennium and be the legacy we leave to future generations. It is now urgent that all our institutions with mandates to act in the public interest prioritize Bitcoin adoption above all else. What good are a well conceptualized healthcare, education and social security programs if there is inadequate funding to pay for them? Fixing the money needs to come first. Every other endeavour will become markedly more difficult, and the wealth gap will continue to widen if we miss the boat on this opportunity to update our system of commerce. So, I repeat; above all else.

I am a Canadian accountant and lawyer, practising exclusively in blockchain. My career journey to date has included positions as an auditor at a Big-4 accounting firm on Bay Street in Toronto, a transaction and tax lawyer at a large regional law firm in Halifax and in-house legal counsel and CFO roles at several fintech companies. It has not been an easy path, but I feel extremely lucky to now be on the leading edge of this massive once-in-5,000-year effort to update the way global commerce takes place. These are my own personal views, informed by my experiences, including my frustrations, with inefficiencies and unfairness in the existing financial system.

The largest asset managers in the world, collectively controlling most of global wealth, are prioritizing Bitcoin by allocating time and resources to understanding it and, most recently, to applying to have their spot Bitcoin ETF products approved in the U.S. Family offices, which are primarily concerned with avoiding wealth erosion due to inevitable and constant expansion of the money supply, have already embraced Bitcoin. Some countries have adopted it as a reserve asset. Globally, many more wealth managers, businesses, governments and public institutions are likewise “skating to where the puck is going.”

Are officials at the bar societies of Canada, the Government of Canada and our other Canadian institutions experts in money? Moreso than the likes of Blackrock, Vanguard and Fidelity? If the purpose of our institutions is to act in the public interest, I put to them that they should stay out of the debate on which money is good versus bad and leave that to the experts. Failure to allocate the proper time and resources to Bitcoin is going to rise from complacency to negligence in short order. Without action, Canada will be caught flat-footed when the world moves onto Bitcoin as the global sovereign treasury asset. Bar societies of Canada need to adopt Bitcoin, as other professionals will do, because payment rails will move onto Bitcoin as the global trustless settlement layer.

Calls to action:

  1. To the Federal Government of Canada – acquire 210,000 Bitcoin, being 1% of the total Bitcoin supply, forthwith for our national treasury. This is a vastly asymmetrical treasury allocation if done now but will come at a much higher cost to the public purse if attempted later.
  2. To the Canadian provinces, cities and institutions with mandates to act in the public interest – prioritize adoption of and integration with Bitcoin.
  3. To the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society and the bar societies of Canada – in the public interest, engage with me on my application for the first Bitcoin denominated lawyer’s trust account in Canada and adopt my proposed regulatory framework for lawyers’ trust accounts denominated in Bitcoin.

An important clarifying note: this article is about Bitcoin, not “crypto”, not “NFTs”, not anything but Bitcoin. There are thousands of projects in the blockchain and digital asset space, many of which are aiming to solve important problems and many will. The industry is also crawling with scams by those taking advantage of the nascency of the technology and widespread lack of understanding. Those discussions are for another forum. Here I am strictly talking Bitcoin.

I’ve heard it said and I tend to agree that it takes most people a minimum 1,000 hours of study to achieve a basic understanding of Bitcoin. I’ve also heard 10,000 hours. Whatever the correct number, it is a high one. Those who don’t understand it can and should question Bitcoin, but should not pass judgement on it nor make sweeping statements about it. I have studied Bitcoin for thousands of hours since 2014 and I continue to study it and I learn new things about it every week. My conviction in it has only grown stronger over time.

Since the earliest days of our existence, humans have been in search of: (1) a trustless accounting ledger, (2) a dependable medium of exchange, and (3) a reliable store of value.

Take trading a basket of apples in exchange for a hog as an example of commerce in its simplest form. This is bartering, and it has obvious practical inefficiencies. Over the millennia, humans came up with solutions to allow apple growers to save some proceeds from their apple sales during the harvest season before the apples expired and purchase hogs at other times throughout the year: the accounting ledger, the medium of exchange, and the store of value.

The Accounting Ledger

Accounting ledgers date back roughly 5,000 years. The earliest forms were carvings in clay or stone, followed by scrolls, paper and, now, most are digital.

The apple grower and the hog farmer can agree to keep track of their trades on a ledger. They then need to decide where to keep the ledger. One of them can trust the other to keep it and not unilaterally amend it. They could duplicate it and each keep their own copy, as a check on the other party unilaterally amending their copy. They could give the ledger to a third party to hold, trusting that the third party will be impartial and only update the ledger on joint instructions from both parties. There is no perfect method for ensuring that the ledger is not tampered with. Trust is always required.

Fast forward 5,000 years and this accounting ledger system is still used today. It continues to be problematic. Businesses still keep their own ledgers, their counterparties keep their own ledgers, the banks they use keep their own ledgers, the governments who regulate and tax them keep their own ledgers. So, when there are discrepancies, whose ledger is correct?

In markets with strong financial regulations, billions of dollars are spent by businesses every year on auditors who perform audits, reviews and provide other assurance services to manually check the accuracy of the ledger. Leading up to my career as an auditor, we studied Enron’s collapse, the largest corporate bankruptcy at the time (surpassed only recently by some bad actors in the broader “crypto” space). Enron was regulated as a U.S.-based public company and audited by a (then) Big-5 accounting firm. Devastating consequences including loss of jobs, loss of savings, abandonment of energy infrastructure projects and the dissolution of both Enron and its auditor, Arthur Andersen, resulted from reliance on this 5,000 year-old imperfect system. Enron’s ledgers did not match the ledgers of their counterparties. Equivalent would be the hog farmer doctoring her ledger to show apples due from the apple grower from previous hog sales that never actually occurred.

In markets that are weakly regulated by today’s standards, not much has changed in 5,000 years. Whomever has the most strength, whether it be guns, military control, or other influence, tends to have the more “correct” ledger in the event of discrepancies. If the hog farmer is bigger and stronger than the apple grower, she can assert physical dominance if he questions her ledgering.

For global payment rails, we currently use the SWIFT network, which is essentially a trusted third party that keeps a ledger of the $5 trillion per day being sent globally between banks. The same issues that existed 5,000 years ago still exist today. SWIFT needs to be trusted to keep the ledger correct and current and they don’t always get it right. As a CFO, I had millions of dollars lost in SWIFT for more than two months. It was the most stressful time in my career and the prolonged feeling of having no control over the outcome was devastating. I don’t trust SWIFT, but until Bitcoin, it was the best option we had.

Bitcoin is a trustless accounting ledger, meaning that no single party nor any concentrated group needs to be trusted to keep the ledger accurate. Miners from all over the world contribute computing power to the Bitcoin network, the most secure network on the planet many times over, and always growing stronger. No person, no group, no government can amend the ledger. No trust is needed.

I foresee SWIFT eventually being replaced by Bitcoin and Bitcoin becoming the settlement ledger for all of global and multiplanetary finance.

The Medium of Exchange

If the apple grower doesn’t trust the hog farmer to keep an accurate ledger, he can instead sell his apples to her for a medium of exchange which is any form of payment universally accepted in the relevant society. Rulers or governments have typically dictated what is used as a medium of exchange. They have also waged war to defend its legitimacy. The most recognizable modern mediums are coins and paper notes. The apple grower may sell a basket of apples for 10 coins during the harvest season then plan to use those 10 coins to buy a hog during the winter.

With his 10 coins in hand, the apple grower has some issues to contend with. He needs to ensure they are not counterfeit and protect the coins from theft. He suspects that the big strong hog farmer may try to steal the coins she knows he has. He considers depositing them in a bank account and having the bank authenticate them.

In many parts of the world, banks routinely block customers from making withdrawals. Imagine depositing your money in a bank, paying bank fees for the bank to hold it, then being blocked from withdrawing it. Until recently this was fairly inconceivable here, but the Canadian government drew the attention and ire of the world when it froze the bank accounts of truckers staging a protest in the capital last year.

The shutdown of Silicone Valley Bank in March of this year was a stark reminder that once handed over to the bank, your deposits are not yours. The apple grower needs to decide whether he wants to accept the risk of the bank going out of business or otherwise freezing his account.

As a transactional lawyer, more often than not, after working all hours and going through various ups and downs with clients for weeks or months to have everything done to close a transaction, the much-anticipated closing date would come and the deal would not close because of some hang up at the bank. The person in one department whose job it is to approve something is off for the day. Or, the wire was apparently sent from our trust account at Bank A first thing in the morning, but it’s nearing 4pm and Bank B still has not received it. It’s Friday afternoon. Maybe the wire comes through Monday and closing can happen and not a huge deal, right? Sometimes our clients would have additional consents or waivers to seek out, exchange rate risk to contend with, or spend the weekend knowing they are in breach of certain contractual commitments. Nobody should have to go through that when we’ve been blessed with Bitcoin as a medium of exchange, settling within 10 minutes on the ledger, immutable forever. We are still using this manual antiquated system which just simply cannot keep up with the modern economy!

Bitcoin works without having to rely on anyone for anything. With far more computing power than any other network on the planet, we can depend on Bitcoin to work at all hours of the day, every day of the year. Anyone can verify their assets and transactions on the blockchain. Anyone can self-custody Bitcoin, so you don’t need to wait around for your bank to get organized, nor worry about the government freezing your assets. It is simply the best medium of exchange we’ve ever had.

The Store of Value

It has never sat well with me that you can be a hard worker and save diligently your whole life but end up scraping by in your retirement. Most would say that to avoid that outcome you need to “invest” your savings and although that concept is universally accepted, it is a human construct and a flawed one. Everyone shouldn’t need a financial advisor and everyone shouldn’t need to speculate in the stock market just to “keep up” and have a shot at preserving the buying power of their savings. This system we universally accept is not fair!

The total U.S. dollar money supply (M1: FRED) went from $4 Trillion in March 2020 at the start of the COVID Pandemic to over $20 Trillion within two years. This means that 80% of all U.S. dollars in circulation by the end of 2022 did not exist two years prior. Then of course things became more expensive. If you expand the money supply 5 times over, more houses don’t appear out of thin air and farms don’t magically all of a sudden produce 5 times more food. So, of course prices go up. There is way more money to go around to buy the same supply of goods.

The greatest tragedy is that when the government expands the money supply, the effects are unevenly distributed. Those who own scarce assets, such as gold and real estate, benefit when the money supply grows as the prices of those assets increase. The poor majority who don’t own assets, who are barely getting by paying for necessities like rent and groceries every time their paycheck comes in, now have to pay higher prices for those necessities.

Scarce assets are limited in supply. For instance, we have valued gold for millennia because it is known to be scarce and expensive to mine. One hundred years ago $19 (U.S.) would buy an ounce of gold. The price of gold in U.S. dollars just hit its all-time high at $2,100. That doesn’t mean gold has become more valuable. Gold has done nothing. It has only remained scarce and experienced predictable supply growth (2-4% of supply increases each year, due to mining). What has changed is the amount of U.S. dollars in existence. During the last 100 years, the U.S. dollar has lost more than 99% of its purchasing power because the government has constantly increased the supply. More astonishing is that most other countries have printed far more of their currencies than the U.S. during this time. That’s how you end up with trillion-dollar bank notes in some parts of the world! All fiat currencies eventually lose all their buying power and become worthless.

Shares in companies are in limited supply and since stock markets have existed, their overall market capitalizations have tended to correlate with the money supply. The government and money managers will take credit for gains in the stock market and say that it has outpaced the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the government will amend the CPI calculation to fit that narrative. When you adjust for real inflation, which ought to be money supply growth, you see that most asset classes, stock indexes included, don’t stand a chance. Only the scarcest, most speculative assets can keep your buying power intact and the vast majority of people don’t have their own family office seeking out those opportunities.

Our apple grower managed to hold onto his 10 coins until mid-winter, but when he went to purchase a hog, he found that the price was now 50 coins because the government had rapidly expanded the money supply. His savings now buy less and he has no scarce assets.

With Bitcoin there will never be more than 21 Million. Bitcoin’s scarcity is a certainty that no person or government can change.

Conclusion

If you’re not long then you’re short. I don’t want my country and my professional regulators to come up short. There is a risk of coming up short on Bitcoin ownership, on Bitcoin knowledge, on understanding of Bitcoin capabilities, and preparedness to capitalize on this one-in-5,000 year opportunity. Coming up short is going to amount to negligence faster than people think.

Author

William-Milne-Headshot
Will is a Canadian lawyer and chartered accountant advising blockchain-integrated businesses on matters in relation to international commercial, corporate and tax law. Before being called to the Nova Scotia Bar in 2018, he obtained his Juris Doctor from Dalhousie University in Halifax, his Commerce degree from Queen’s University in Kingston and his CPA, CA from the Ontario School of Accountancy and CPA Canada. Will gained invaluable accounting experience auditing some of Canada’s largest real estate companies while at a Big 4 accounting firm on Bay Street in Toronto prior to pursuing his law degree. Upon finishing law school, Will built a successful legal practice at a large regional law firm in Halifax, with a focus on corporate, commercial and tax law. He has also acted as in-house counsel and CFO to several businesses in the blockchain space. For more information, contact William@bullblockchainlaw.com.

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About Bull Blockchain Law

As lawyers, technologists, and entrepreneurs, the firm’s partners began their journey in the crypto industry by building and operating cryptocurrency mining machines and a private digital asset investment fund. They quickly realized that the industry was woefully underserved by legal professionals who grasped the impact blockchain technology would eventually have on the world. Bull Blockchain Law LLP was founded to support the growth of a new breed of technology. Today, the firm serves as counsel to clients of all sizes and an advocate for sound public policy. It remains one of the few law firms completely focused on the crypto industry.