Is Blockchain the Solution to the World's Problems?

By Cliff Ennico

May 8, 2018 6 min read

Have you ever picked up two books that seemed to be about two entirely different subjects only to realize they were pretty much the same?

Book No. 1: Last week, I was very excited to receive a review copy of Jim Blasingame's latest book, "The 3rd Ingredient: The Journey of Analog Ethics Into the World of Digital Fear and Greed."

For those not familiar with Jim's work, he's the host of the popular morning "drive time" syndicated radio show/podcast "The Small Business Advocate." (Full disclosure: I am a frequent guest on Jim's show.)

For years I've been telling people, "If you really want to know how Cliff Ennico views the world, there's only one thing you need to know: My majors in college were history and philosophy, not economics, business or accounting." Jim's a kindred spirit, and I'm a big fan of his work — in his previous book "The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance," he dares to take the stuff we all talk about and elevate it into the realm of philosophy, with lots of stories and good humor abounding.

"The 3rd Ingredient" (the title comes from an O. Henry short story — see http://www.online-literature.com/o_henry/1061) deals with ethics and how we will need to reshape our ethical traditions in light of digital technology. In a series of vignettes beginning in 8102 B.C. in Jericho and ending in 2102 A.D. in Bedford Falls, Kansas (a touching nod to the classic movie "It's a Wonderful Life"), Jim shows how throughout history, "trust" has counterbalanced mankind's natural tendencies to be governed by fear and greed in business situations.

He does not suggest that trust is an outmoded concept, but he makes a pretty convincing argument that due to the world-altering consequences that excessive fear or greed can cause in a digital world (witness the 2008 financial meltdown or the recent Facebook data breach), we will need a new digital means of creating and sustaining trust in the marketplace. Jim's proposed solution is blockchain — the distributed ledger system that backs up bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies — or, more precisely, an enhanced/advanced version of blockchain, which he calls "Agnostic."

Jim's avatar, a 22nd-century ethics professor named Aristotle Eudemus (seriously, any parent who does that to a kid should be relieved of custody), sums up the lessons Jim feels we should learn: "At the turn of the 21st century, Earthlings had to face a daunting reality: if they didn't create and become devoted to a 3rd Ingredient, co-equal to Fear and Greed, capable of achieving digital Equilibrium, humanity would likely not have a successful future. At least not as we now find ourselves ... everything we have is powered and funded by the Ethics Dividend that is the product of primal, analog devotion to Trust, now augmented by a digital version." To understand what all of those capitalized words mean, you will have to read the book.

While I'm not sure Jim is saying anything particularly new here, this is probably the most entertaining book on blockchain currently in print. "The 3rd Ingredient" reads like a mashup of Plato's Socratic dialogues and an Arthur C. Clarke sci-fi novel, and it's a fun way to handle a subject that could degenerate into a sermon in less capable hands. I especially like the way his 22nd-century characters greet one another: with the phrase "zero-zero," which is something like the Zen Buddhist saying "I fear nothing. I want nothing. I am enlightened."

Hey, it's a lot better than "Live long and prosper" or "May the Force be with you."

Book No. 2: Later this year, I will be delivering a talk on blockchain and how it will impact the legal profession, so I am cramming on this topic right now. The most readable book I've seen to date is probably "The Truth Machine: The Blockchain and the Future of Everything" by former Wall Street journal columnist Michael J. Casey and Wall Street Journal reporter Paul Vigna.

"The Truth Machine" seeks to demystify the blockchain and explain why it can restore personal control over our data, assets and identities; grant billions of excluded people access to the global economy; and shift the balance of power away from banks, Wall Street, big tech companies and other centralized institutions. Like eBay's seller-rating Feedback Forum or the systems Uber and Lyft uses to rate drivers and passengers, the authors feel that blockchain will give people the trust and confidence they need to engage in financial transactions with total strangers.

For a more technical discussion of how blockchain works, you should also look at "Blockchain Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction in 25 Steps" by Daniel Drescher.

I'm not sure I'm buying into the blockchain hype quite yet — a few years ago everyone was touting social media as the path to a perfect world, and, well, you all saw how that turned out. Until I understand better how blockchain could be abused and am convinced it is totally hack-proof, I will be wary and wait until version 2.0 comes out.

As former President Ronald Reagan said, "Trust, but verify."

Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our webpage at www.creators.com.

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