Day: February 9, 2023

The Great Danger of CBDCs

Kaleidoscopic Banknotes Collage

There have been numerous announcements of central banks starting to explore the idea of introducing Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDC).

From e-naira, a CBDC issued by the central bank of Nigeria, to the digital yuan in China to the European central bank exploring the idea of the digital euro. In fact, according to the Bank For International Settlements research, 90% out of 81 central banks surveyed have been in some shape or form investigating the idea of introducing a central bank digital currency.

According to the same survey, an increasing number of countries are adjusting the legal authority of central banks giving them provisions that allow for a launch of digital currencies.

These central banks argue that CBDCs will help with financial inclusion by providing more access to financial services for underbanked and unbanked, they would lead to a significant reduction in fraud and money laundering, and they would improve efficiency and ultimately allow for a better and more efficient monetary policy through more control over the money supply.

CBDCs are often thought of in terms of the government’s response to crypto, the way that central banks are trying to get with the times and digitize money. However, except for utilizing similar technologies, they are fundamentally different from Bitcoin and many other cryptocurrencies.

The most significant difference between CBDCs and Bitcoin lies in the level of centralization and control. While Bitcoin is a fully decentralized currency operating on a decentralized ledger that not one person or organization can control, CBDCs are issued and fully controlled by the central bank that controls its supply, issuances, and use.

Bitcoin was created as a decentralized alternative to traditional fiat currencies and as a response to the monetary policies of central banks creating uncertainty and being responsible for the devaluation of money with ripple effects throughout the economy. CBDCs would equip governments with tools providing fast and easy total control over monetary policy to the extent of targeting businesses, organizations, and individuals. 

The level of control that a government would have over every transaction and the ability to apply transaction censorship over anyone would give leaders a level of control unprecedented in history, a tool that any totalitarian leader from a few decades ago could have only dreamed of. 

One could argue that most money already is digital, an endless collection of 0s and 1s. However, the crucial distinction is that no single database can track and oversee every transaction that exists. There are a number of laws and regulations in place that allow law enforcement to request access to records of interest where courts are required to give approval for such actions.

Forgoing these checks and balances currently in place and allowing one-click access to accounts of citizens would give not only an unprecedented power in terms of privacy violations but also an opportunity to monitor or deactivate undesirable accounts based on any perceived or real violation.

Taking away all of one’s ability to sustain themselves by locking their accounts is equivalent to jailing them. Giving officials the option to freeze or ban certain accounts without due process could seriously damage the principles of rule of law on which our society rests.

The potential for any elected or appointed officials to affect a citizen’s livelihood in such a way could lead to serious consequences, such as endangering the ability of citizens to use their right to free expression in fear of their lives being ruined in a single click. It is not hard to imagine many possible ways that any malicious actor could use this centralized power. Many other unintended consequences could be possible and some could create immense levels of social distrust.

Then there is privacy. Transactions made using CBDCs may be recorded on a public blockchain, making it possible for others to track and analyze financial data. Having citizens using a tool that could fundamentally affect their privacy on an unimaginable scale thus far in human history would be a grand violation of rights to privacy and would, without a doubt, lead to additional problems.

You thought your browsing history could be turned against you? Anyone having access to any monetary transaction you have made would definitely not be fun either and it is easy to imagine dozens of ways that bad actors could exploit access to that kind of information.

Another often overlooked potential consequence of introducing Central Bank Digital Currency is the digital monetary competition. If we see a rise in digital currencies issued by central banks, it is likely that they will enter a race with other country issued currencies as well as private or decentralized ones, such as Bitcoin. Having this sort of competition would potentially open up unknowing citizens to currency fluctuations which cannot be foreseen and create even larger instability with some national currencies. The ways this could affect purchasing power and lead to potential civil unrest is evident.

This is only a few ways that adoption of Central Bank Digital Currencies could affect life as we know it. It is easy to see how an extremely centralized, highly controlled and surveilled currency would be an end of many of the freedoms that our societies enjoy and shows why in contrast, Bitcoin, a highly decentralized, secure and censorship resistant currency is immensely important and represents one of the most potent tools humanity has today.

Aleksandar Kokotović is the crypto fellow at the Consumer Choice Center.

Climate-change lawsuits discourage those seeking solutions

When Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced lawsuits against fossil fuel companies in 2020, the moment was ripe. Reports on elevated greenhouse-gas emissions were stark, demonstrating both a warming planet and causal evidence that fossil fuels were a lead culprit.

The lawsuit led by Ellison’s office aims to hold accountable “companies responsible for harms associated with climate change,” as his office stated. It accused firms such as ExxonMobil, American Petroleum Institute, and Koch Industries of “consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, misrepresentation, (and a) failure to warn.” The main premise of the suit seems to be that, by producing oil products and not being more forthcoming on climate impact, or downplaying them, these firms greatly misled consumers.

There is no question that fossil fuels contribute to climate change, and the firms that both produce and distribute those fuels have some culpability.

But considering the global energy crisis that has led to international battles on oil supplies and increased energy costs, are lawsuits the right course of action? Are we, as consumers of these products and also citizens of this planet, victims? If we are victims, then we also happen to be the ones perpetuating harm.

To whom does ExxonMobil or any other oil company sell its products? It’s us, consumers and entrepreneurs. We fill up our cars, SUVs, tractors, and lawnmowers with gasoline. We power our industries, heat our homes, and use fossil-fuel energy in the course of our everyday lives to improve our standard of living. This is especially true in a harsh-winter state like Minnesota.

There are questions about shifting the sources of that energy and how we can move to cleaner and renewable processes and outputs, whether that be nuclear energy or solar and wind.

At least one Minnesota start-up is harnessing geothermal energy to both heat and cool homes — but has been stalled by an unclear regulatory environment. In that case, shouldn’t the focus of regulators and public officials be on addressing the “how” of an energy transition rather than solely addressing the “who” of the energy status quo?

Using civil courts and lawsuits to address that energy question is a targeted approach with an intended outcome that has little to do with energy innovation. Rather, these lawsuits seek financial settlements from oil and gas companies. Every climate-change lawsuit filed by Minnesota’s attorney general, or dozens of other state attorneys general, has a goal of extracting money from energy firms.

This will have no bearing on future investments in energy production, renewable or not, and could logically lead to higher energy costs for consumers if firms are required to settle or pay large sums to both lawyers and states that pursue them.

Climate action via courts is not novel. There are entire university law departments predicated on the idea of suing, pursuing, or otherwise holding energy companies liable for some aspects of climate change. There are grants available from organizations such as the Collective Action Fund for Accountability to public officials with attorney privileges who commit to such lawsuits.

Tort law firms such as Arnold and Porter have staked their reputation on lawsuits against energy providers, creating a mounting war chest that will likely leave oil and gas producers with higher attorney fees than investments in renewables or alternative sources of energy. Not to mention higher costs passed on to consumers.

Whatever one’s view on how best to adapt or overcome climate change, the practice of litigating the science in a court of law is a poor strategy. This will not empower nor inspire the next generation of energy entrepreneurs to provide better solutions. There will be more rich lawyers, more clogged courtrooms, and fewer resources available to energy firms that do seek to pivot to better alternatives.

If consumers want an alternative-energy future, shouldn’t we dedicate resources and create the environment for that innovation to occur? Or should we forever cast its fate into the hands of lawyers and judges and those cashing the checks? I would rather choose innovation and creativity over this litigious status quo.

Originally published here

Harm reduction, not zero-risk, is the best alcohol policy

Stigmatizing moderate, low-risk drinking isn’t a viable public health strategy

Since the Centre for Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) released its new alcohol guidelines in August, headline after headline has repeated its claim that anything more than two drinks per week is seriously bad for your health.

The shifting of the goalposts on alcohol consumption radically changes who is considered a problem drinker. Under the old guidelines of upwards of 15 drinks per week for men and 10 drinks per week for women approximately 85 per cent of Canadian drinkers qualified as responsible. Under the new guidelines the vast majority of Canadian drinkers are now considered to be drinking “beyond acceptable risk thresholds.”

Life is all about taking risks, of course, and some risks are more than worth taking. So what are the actual risks of consuming within the old guidelines? Kiffer George Card, an epidemiologist who teaches health sciences at Simon Fraser University, reports literature reviews that suggest consuming between seven and 14 drinks per week may lower your overall life expectancy by six months to a year on average compared with people who have zero to seven drinks a week.

Given the enjoyment that alcohol either provides or enables, many people will think that level of risk is more than worth it, especially considering the other risks we assume daily without batting an eye, whether it be eating the foods we do, driving the highways or for that matter simply crossing the street.

In setting its two-drink limit the CCSA did not take into account any of the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, primarily from the role it plays in releasing endorphins and enhancing social bonding. In fact, according to the American Journal of Public Health, limited social bonding is as, or even more, dangerous than most of the major public health issues Canadians face.

Poor social health, as Kiffer George Card points out, is just as, if not more, harmful than smoking, drinking, being obese, living sedentarily and breathing poor-quality air. You might think that after years of rolling lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID public health lobbyists would appreciate the risks associated with a more isolated lifestyle and adjust accordingly. Unfortunately, the neo-temperance approach ignores this very inconvenient truth.

What makes the renewed discussion about alcohol even more puzzling is that it runs directly counter to Canada’s other harm-reduction efforts, which focus on saving lives by removing the stigma of substance abuse. Whether it be safe injection sites, free drug-testing facilities or even the availability of safe supply, the federal government attempts to help those who suffer from addiction, not chastise and stigmatize them.

British Columbia has taken harm reduction one step further with its decriminalization of the possession and use of small amounts of hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. But while some public health officials are trying to remove the stigma from heroin use, others are labelling almost all Canadian drinkers as high-risk and shaming them for what is in fact very low-risk behaviour. The cognitive dissonance is concussing.

For any number of reasons you might enjoy having a glass of wine or a beer or two, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about that, despite what the CCSA may say. Stigmatizing moderate, low-risk drinking isn’t a viable public health strategy. It’s time to put the CCSA’s report back on the shelf. Behind the whisky.

Originally published here

Prioritizing mental health in a time of global crisis

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, the term “polycrisis” became a recurring theme in the panels and discussion. As the war in Ukraine rages on, the impacts of COVID-19 still impact countries across the globe, and as inflation hits the purchasing power of consumers, it becomes hard to tell where one crisis begins, and the other one ends. Forbes Magazine describes the term as follows “A polycrises occurs when concurrent shocks, deeply interconnected risks, and eroding resilience become intertwined. These disparate crises interact such that the overall impact far exceeds the sum of each part. The concept of polycrises and interconnected risks also applies to business and supply chain management, not just nation states.”

Any crisis causes anxiety, whether people are directly or indirectly affected by the imminent threat. While it is obvious that those affected by war will deal with the immediate fear for their lives, the anxiety of fearing for the future cannot be underestimated. Many people are burdened with paying their energy bills while providing for their families or the existing job insecurity as corporate layoffs hit major companies.

However, compared to the gloomy realities of the last recession in 2008, our professional and personal awareness of mental health support is much higher than it used to be. When the Consumer Choice Center hosted an event on mental health in Davos this year, this was the exact emphasis we wanted to attract. Our speakers, including Pa Sinyan from Gallup, as well as the trauma specialist Alysha Tagert, put the emphasis on mental health support in all settings, breaching the stigma around talking about mental health issues and coping mechanisms to deal with stress and anxiety. 

According to Gallup’s 2021 Global Emotions report, negative emotions — the aggregate of the stress, sadness, anger, worry and physical pain that people feel every day — skyrocketed, reaching a new record in the history of Gallup’s tracking. Not surprisingly, unhappiness and a sense of loneliness are at an all-time high, and suicide among children and young adults breaks records with 54% growth over the last 15 years. 

At the event, mental health specialist Alysha Tagert said that “if we are to move forward towards a more productive and whole society, mental health needs to be at the center of the conversation, not just something we pay lip service to or tack on as an employee seminar.” She emphasized the need to look at our state of mind not as a condition to be diagnosed and treated but as a continuum of wellbeing, an inextricable aspect of each person: “Just as our physical health is a vital part of who we are, so is our mental health.”

To help control stress and anxiety day-to-day, Tagert left the audience with a few tangible takeaways. She recommended simple and easily accessible tools to self-soothe and calm down:

“I encourage my clients to assemble a coping toolbox, which is an actual container filled with items that can help them soothe themselves in a time of panic or anxiety by engaging the senses. The toolbox should contain simple everyday items, such as sugar-free gum, a stress ball, or a fidget spinner that can bring a person to the present moment through touching, tasting, seeing, etc. For example, noticing the smell, texture, color, or flavor of chewing gum forces the mind to focus on the act of chewing.”

Issues surrounding stress and anxiety need more awareness in our society. They inform the soundness of not just our work relationships and performance but also our wellbeing on a daily basis. The pandemic has allowed more people to become aware of these topics as they faced the bleakness of isolation. Let’s use this momentum to create a better future for all.

Originally published here

Taiwanese actress’ vape case triggers debate on smoking alternatives regulation

A SOCIAL media post by Taiwanese actress Charlene An about her apprehension by Thai police and the hefty fine she had to pay for possession of vape product in Bangkok sparked debates on the merits of smoke-free alternative and the need for reasonable regulations.

An said she and her friends had to pay 27,000 baht (about S$1,080) before they could leave after being held and threatened with criminal charges by Thai police for the possession of vaping device. Thailand’s police commissioner issued an apology following An’s post and seven officers were placed under investigation for alleged extortion.

Following this incident that went viral on social media, calls from advocacy groups worldwide on the importance of reasonable and science-based regulation governing smoke-free alternatives like vapes and heated tobacco products ensued.

Nicotine Consumers Union of the Philippines (NCUP) appealed for governments to reconsider less-harmful cigarette alternatives to reduce harm from smoking.

“We hope that other Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, would recognize the concept of tobacco harm reduction (THR) to save millions of smokers from lung diseases, cancer and even death. Smokers should be given access to less harmful products and make better decisions for themselves,” Anton Israel, NCUP president said.

“Vapes and heated tobacco products are tobacco harm reduction products that deliver nicotine without burning tobacco significantly lowering the number of harmful chemicals than smoking.

Many progressive countries, including the UK and Japan, recognize the role of these products to help smokers abandon cigarettes. Both these countries recorded significant decline in smoking prevalence following the introduction of vapes and heated tobacco products” Israel added.

Read the full text here

An Illustration of Why Section 230 Should Be Preserved, Not Scrapped

Removing Section 230 would stifle engagement and interaction in the online realm.

Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act is currently being called into question by lawmakers, and this raises red flags for both producers and consumers within the online realm.

Section 230 states “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”

If the granting of this protection were to be removed, any online sharing site (ranging from food blogs to Facebook pages to search engines to simulation games) could be held accountable for the online activity of users and affiliates.

For example, the current questionable image from Jaimie Lee Curtis’ account would hold Instagram as liable for the contested offensive or artistic picture featured in the post.

And while Big Tech may be able to bulk up capacity to counter claims for such cases, social media startups and casual content creators better beware.

It is not a matter of whether online activity should be moderated, but rather who does the moderating. If Section 230 protections were to be removed, this would discourage the creation of new social networking sites and create a mandate for an online surveillance state.

So, since some political officials believe online service providers should be held liable for suggestions, search results, and social feeds, and given that hearings on the Hill have exposed an ineptitude for most things tech related, here is an illustration of how Section 230 plays out in an offline scenario.

Read the full text here

Scroll to top