A test pitch of my ‘Energy Ponds’ business concept

I am returning to a business concept I have been working on for many months, and which I have provisionally labelled ‘Energy Ponds’. All that thinking about new economic solutions for a world haunted by insidious pathogens – no, not selfie sticks, I am talking about the other one, COVID-19 – pushed me to revisit fundamentally the concept of Energy Ponds, and you, my readers, you are my rubber duck.

The rubber duck (Latin: anas flexilis), also known as bath duck (anas balneum) is a special semi-aquatic avian species, whose valour I know from my son, IT engineer by profession. Every now and then, he says, on the phone: ‘Dad, focus, you are going to be my rubber duck’. The rubber duck is an imaginary animal. It feeds on discursive waters. You talk to it in order to get your own thoughts straight. When I am my son’s rubber duck, he explains me some programming problems and solutions, he checks if I understand what he says, and when I test positive, it means that he can get the message across to any moderately educated hominid.

I am going to proceed along the path of discursive equilibrium, in a cycle made of three steps. First, I will try to describe my idea in 1 – 2 sentences, in a simple and intelligible way. Then, I develop on that short description, with technical details. In the third step, I look for gaps and holes in the so-presented concept, and then I go again: short description, development, critical look etc. I think I will repeat the cycle until I reach the Subjective Feeling of Having Exhausted the Matter. Nelson Goodman and John Rawls proposed something slightly similar (Goodman 1955[1]; Rawls 1999[2]): when I talk long enough to myself, and to an imaginary audience, my concepts sharpen.   

Here I go. First attempt. I synthesize. The concept of ‘Energy Ponds’ consists in ram-pumping water from rivers into retentive, semi-natural wetlands, so as to maximize the retention of water, and, in the same time, in using the elevation created through ram-pumping so as to generate hydroelectricity. At the present stage of conceptual development, ‘Energy Ponds’ require optimization at two levels, namely that of adequately choosing and using the exact geographical location, and that of making the technology of ram-pumping economically viable.  

I develop. We are increasingly exposed to hydrological effects of climate change, namely to recurrent floods and droughts, and it starts being a real pain in the ass. We need to figure out new ways of water management, so as to retain a maximum of rainwater, whilst possibly alleviating occasional flood-flows. Thus, we need to figure out good ways of capturing rainwater, and of retaining it. Rivers are the drainpipes of surrounding lands, whence the concept of draining basin: this is the expanse of land, adjacent to a river, where said river collects (drains) water from. That water comes from atmospheric precipitations. When we collect water from rivers, we collect rainwater, which fell on the ground, trickled underground, and then, under the irresistible force of grandpa Newton, flew towards the lowest point in the whereabouts, that lowest point being the river.

Thus, when we collect water from the river, we collect rainwater, just drained through land. We can collect it in big artificial reservoirs, which has been done for decades. An alternative solution is to retain water in wetlands. This is something that nature has been doing for millions of years. We have sort of a ready-made recipe from. Wetlands are like sponges covered with towels. A layer of spongy ground, allowing substantial accumulation of water, is covered with a dense, yet not very thick layer of shallowly rooted vegetation. That cover layer prevents the evaporation of water.  

Now, I go into somehow novel a form of expression, i.e. novel for me. The age I am, 52, I have that slightly old school attachment to writing, and for the last 4 years, I have been mostly writing on my blog. Still, as a university professor, I work with young people – students – and those young people end up, every now and then, by teaching me something. I go more visual in my expression, which this whole written passage can be considered as an introduction to. Under the two links below, you will find:

  1. The Power Point Presentation with a regular pitch of my idea

That would be all in this update. Just as with my other ideas, in the times we have, i.e. with the necessity to figure out new s**t in the presence of pathogens, you are welcome to contact me with any intellectual contribution you feel like supplying.  

If you want to contact me directly, you can mail at: goodscience@discoversocialsciences.com .

[1] Goodman, N. (1955) Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, pp. 65–68

[2] Rawls J. (1999) A Theory of Justice. Revised Edition, President and Fellows of Harvard College, ISBN 0-674-00078-1, p. 18

We’d better make that change liveable

My editorial on You Tube

I continue developing my ideas. Most people do, all the time, actually: they keep developing their own ideas, and other people’s ideas, and, on the whole, we just develop our ideas.

Good. Linguistic warm up done, I go to work. I continue what I started in my last update ( Steady inflow of assets and predictable rules ): a workable business concept for restarting local economies after COVID-19 lockdowns, and during the ongoing pandemic. Last time, I studied the early days of the Bitcoin, in the hope of understanding how a completely new economic scheme emerges. As hope crystalizes into something more structured, ideas emerge. I am going to make a quick sketch of what I have come up with, and then I will try give it some shine by using my observations as regards the early infancy of the Bitcoin.  

As I observe the present situation, I can see that local communities both need and accumulate some typical goods and assets. The most immediately needed, and semi-instinctively accumulated goods are those serving personal protection and hygiene: gloves, facial protections (masks, covers, googles etc.), scrubs and aprons, bonnets, soap, ethanol-based sanitizers. I wonder, and, honestly, I would gladly do with the consultation of an epidemiologist, to what extent an abundant use of those hygienic goods can be substitute to social distancing. I mean, to what extent can we restart social interactions with adequate protection?

Anyway, I am quite confident that local communities will be accumulating what I provisionally call ‘epidemic assets’. The challenge consists in using that phenomenon, and those assets, so as to give some spin to economies brought down by lockdowns.

Now, I am using basic laws of economics. Whenever and wherever some stock of medical supplies will be accumulated, it will be inventories, i.e. circulating assets subject to storage and endowed with direct economic utility, but not to amortization. Sooner or later, substantial inventories of anything attract the company of some fixed assets, such as buildings, equipment, and intellectual property, on the one hand, as well as the company of other circulating assets (e.g. receivable claims on third parties), and, finally, the company of JOBS, which are the key point here.   

Now, let’s imagine the following scenario. A local community, e.g. local hospital plus local city council, need to have a given amount of ‘epidemic assets’ stored and ready to use, just to keep the local epidemic situation under control. They need those epidemic assets, yet, as the local economy is stricken by epidemic lockdown, they don’t have enough money (or no money at all) to pay for those assets. Here starts the gamble. The local community offers the suppliers of epidemic assets to be paid in tokens of a virtual currency, where each token corresponds to a futures contract with claims on a future stock of epidemic assets.

The central idea is that with the virus around, everybody will have a keen interest in having enforceable claims on epidemic assets. That keen interest will be driven by two motives. In the first place, many people will need to use those epidemic assets like directly and personally. Secondly, those assets will be valuable, and futures contracts on them will have monetizable, financial value. It should be possible to create a circulation of those tokens (futures), where the direct supplier of epidemic assets can use those tokens to pay their own suppliers of intermediate goods, as well as to pay a part of the payroll. Those whom he pays will either consume those futures to grab some epidemic assets, or make those futures circulate further.

As those tokenized futures contracts on epidemic assets get developed and put in circulation, we can use the relatively recent invention called ‘smart contract’. A complex contract can be split into separate component parts, like LEGO blocks, each endowed with a different function. Users can experiment with each part separately, and the actual contracts they sign and trade are compound legal schemes. For now, I can see 3 principal LEGO blocks. The first one is the exact substance of the claim incorporated in the tokenized contracts. Futures contracts have this nuance in them: they can embody claims on a certain quantity of specified goods or assets, e.g. 100 kg of something, or on a nominal financial value of those goods or assets, like $100 worth of something.     Maturity of the claim is another thing. Futures contracts have a time horizon in them: 1 month, 6 months, 12 months etc. In this specific case, maturity of claims is the same as the lifecycle of one tokenized contract, and, honestly, if this scheme is applied in real life, we will be sailing uncharted waters. Those tokens are supposed to keep local economies going, and therefore they’d better have a long lifecycle. Hardly anyone would trust quasi – monetary tokens with a lifespan of 3 months. On the other hand, the longest futures I have seen, like those on coffee or wheat, stretch over 6 months, rarely longer. Here comes the third building block, namely convertibility of the claim. If we want the system to work smoothly, i.e. inspire trust in exchange, and be realistic in the same time, we can make those tokens convertible into something else. They could convert into similar tokens, just valid over the next window of trade, or into something else, e.g. shares in the equity of newly built local hospitals. Yes, we are certainly going to build more of them, trust me.  

Building blocks in hand, we start experimenting. Looking at the phases I distinguished in the early infancy of the Bitcoin (once again, you can look up Steady inflow of assets and predictable rules ), I see three essential steps in the development of this scheme. The first step would consist in creating a first, small batch of those tokenized contracts and test them in deals with whoever would like to try. The experience of the Bitcoin shows that once the thing catches on (and IF the thing catches on), i.e. once and if there are any businesspeople interested, it should spread pretty quickly. Then comes the second phase, that of building large portfolios of those tokenized contracts in a relatively small and select community, sort of Illuminati of medical supplies. In that phase, which is likely to be pretty long, like 1,5 year, said Illuminati will be experimenting with the exact smart structure those contracts, so as to come up with workable, massively reproducible patterns for the third phase, that of democratization. This is when the already hammered and hardened contractual patterns in those tokens will spread to a larger population. Individual balances of those tokens are likely to shrink in that third phase and become sort of standardized. This could be the moment, when our tokenized contracts can start being used as a vehicle for saving economic value over time, and it looks like a necessary condition for driving it out of its so-far autonomous, closed market into exchangeability against money.

That would be all for today. If you want to contact me directly, you can mail at: goodscience@discoversocialsciences.com . If anyone wants to bounce this ball off their bat, you are welcome. I am deeply convinced that we need to figure out some new s**t. Our world is changing, and we’d better make that change liveable.

Steady inflow of assets and predictable rules

My editorial on You Tube

Clink! The coin dropped… I have been turning that conceptual coin between my synapses for the last 48 hours, and here it is. I know what I have been thinking about, and what I want to write about today. I want to study the possible ways to restart business and economy in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a blunt, brutal truth: the virus will stay with us until we massively distribute an efficient vaccine against it, and that is going to take many months, most probably more than a year. Until then, we need to live our lives, and we cannot live them in permanent lockdown. We need to restart, somehow, our socio-economic structures. We need to overcome our fears, and start living in the presence of, and in spite of danger.

Here come three experiences of mine, which sum up to the financial concept I am going to expose a few paragraphs further. The first experience is that of observing a social project going on in my wife’s hometown, Starachowice, Poland, population 50 000. The project is Facebook-named ‘The Visible Hand’ (the original Polish is: Widzialna Ręka), and it emerged spontaneously with the COVID-19 crisis. I hope to be able to present the full story of those people, which I find truly fascinating, and now, I just give a short glimpse. That local community has created, within less than two weeks, something like a parallel state, with its supply system for the local hospital, and for people at risk. They even go into developing their own technologies of 3D printing, to make critical medical equipment, such as facial masks. Yesterday, I had a phone conversation with a friend, strongly involved in that project, and my head still resonates with what he said: ‘Look, the government is pretty much lost in all that situation. They pretend a lot, and improvise a lot, and it is all sort of more pretending than actually doing things. Our local politicians either suddenly evaporated, or make clumsy, bitchy attempts to boost their popularity in the midst of all that s**t. But people… Man, people are awesome. We are doing together things that our government thinks it is impossible to do, and we are even sort of having fun with it. The sense of community is nothing short of breath-taking’.

My second experience is about the stock market. If you have been following my updates since the one entitled ‘Back in the game’, you know that I decided to restart investing in the stock market, which I had undertaken to do just before the s**t hit the fan, a few weeks ago. Still, what I am observing right now, in the stock market, is something like a latent, barely contained energy, which just seeks any opportunity to engage into. Investors are really playing the game. Fear, which I could observe two weeks ago, has almost vanished from the market. Once again, there is human energy to exploit positively.

There is energy in people, but it is being locked down, with the pandemic around. The big challenge is to restart it. Right now, many folks lose their jobs, and their small businesses. It is important to create substantial hope, i.e. hope which can be turned into action. Here comes my third experience, which is that of preparing a business plan for an environmental project, which I provisionally call Energy Ponds (see Bloody hard to make a strategy and The collective archetype of striking good deals in exports for latest developments). As I prepare that business plan, I keep returning to the conclusion that I need some sort of financial scheme for situations when a local community, willing to implement the technology I propose, is short of capital and needs to sort of squeeze money out of the surrounding landscape.

Those three experiences of mine, taken together, lead me back to something I studied 3 years ago, when I was taking my first, toddler’s steps in scientific blogging: the early days of the Bitcoin. Today, the Bitcoin is the big, sleek predator of financial markets, yet most people have forgotten how that thing was born. It was an idea for safe financial transactions, based on an otherwise old concept of financial law called ‘endorsement of debt’, implemented in the second year of the big financial crisis, i.e. in 2009, to give some liquidity to small networks of just as small local businesses. Initially, for more than 18 first months of existence, the Bitcoin was a closed system of exchange, without any interface with any established currency. As far as I know, it very much saved the day for many small businesses, and I want to study the pattern of success, so as to see how it can be reproduced today for restarting business in the context of pandemic.

Before I go analytical, two general remarks. Firstly, there is plenty of folks who pretend having the magical recipe for the present s**t we are waist-deep in. I start from the assumption that we have no fresh, general experience of pandemics, and pretending to have figured the best way out is sheer bullshit. Still, we need to explore and to experiment, and this is very much the spirit I pursue.

Secondly, the Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, based on the technology designated as Blockchain. What I want to take away is the concept of virtual financial instrument focused on liquidity, rather than the strictly spoken technology. Of course, platforms such as Ethereum can be used for the purpose I intend to get across, here below, still they are just an instrumental option.  

Three years ago, I used data from https://www.quandl.com/collections/markets/bitcoin-data,  which contains the mathematical early story of what has grown, since, into the father of all cryptocurrencies, the Bitcoin. I am reproducing this story, now, so as to grasp a pattern. Let’s walse. I am focusing on the period, during which the Bitcoin started, progressively acquired any exchangeable value against the US dollar, and finished by being more or less at 1:1 par therewith. That period stretches from January 3rd, 2009 until February 10th, 2011. You can download the exact dataset I work with, in the Excel format, from this link:

https://discoversocialsciences.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Bitcoin-Early-days-to-share.xlsx .

Before I present my take on that early Bitcoin story, a few methodological remarks. The data I took originally contains the following variables: i) total number of Bitcoins mined, ii) days   destroyed non-cumulative, iii) Bitcoin number of unique addresses used per day, and iv) market capitalization of the Bitcoin in USD. On the basis of these variables, I calculated a few others. Still, I want to explain the meaning of those original ones. As you might know, Bitcoins were initially mined (as far as I know, not anymore), i.e. you could generate 1 BTC if you solved a mathematical riddle. In other words, the value you had to bring to the table in order to have 1 BTC was your programming wit plus computational power in your hardware. With time, computational power had been prevailing more and more. The first original variable, i. e. total number of Bitcoins mined, is informative about the total real economic value (computational power) brought to the network by successive agents joining it.  

Here comes the first moment of bridging between the early Bitcoin and the present situation. If I want to create some kind of virtual financial system to restart, or just give some spin to local economies, I need a real economic value as gauge and benchmark. In the case of Bitcoin, it was computational power. Question: what kind of real economic value is significant enough, right now, to become the tool for mining the new, hypothetical virtual currency? Good question, which I don’t even pretend to have a ready-made answer to, and which I want to ponder carefully.

The variable ‘days destroyed non-cumulative’ refers to the fact that Bitcoins are crypto-coins, i.e. each Bitcoin has a unique signature, and it includes the date of the last transaction made. If I hold 1 BTC for 2 days, and put it in circulation on the 3rd day, on the very same 3rd day I destroy 2 days of Bitcoins. If I hold 5 Bitcoins for 7 days, and kick them back into market on the 8th day, I destroy, on that 8th day, 5*7 = 35 days. The more days of Bitcoin I destroy on the given day of transactions, the more I had been accumulating. John Maynard Keynes argued that a true currency is used both for paying and for saving. The emergence of accumulation is important in the shaping of new financial instruments. It shows that market participants start perceiving the financial instrument in question as trustworthy enough to transport economic value over time. Note: this variable can take values, like days = 1500, which seem absurd at the first sight. How can you destroy 1500 days in a currency born like 200 days ago? You can, if you destroy more than one Bitcoin, held for at least 1 day, per day.

The third original variable, namely ‘Bitcoin number of unique addresses used per day’, can be interpreted as the number of players in the game. When you trade Bitcoins, you connect to a network, you have a unique address in that network, and your address appears in the cumulative signature that each of the Bitcoins you mine or use drags with it.  

With those three original variables, I calculate a few coefficients of mine. Firstly, I divide the total number of Bitcoins mined by the number of unique addresses, on each day separately, and thus I obtain the average number of Bitcoins held, on that specific day, by one average participant in the network. Secondly, I divide the non-cumulative number of days destroyed, on the given day, by the total number of Bitcoins mined, and present in the market. The resulting quotient is the average number of days, which 1 Bitcoin has been held for.

The ‘market capitalization of the Bitcoin in USD’, provided in the original dataset from https://www.quandl.com/collections/markets/bitcoin-data, is, from my point of view, an instrumental variable. When it becomes non-null, it shows that the Bitcoin acquired an exchangeable value against the US dollar. I divide that market capitalization by the total number of Bitcoins mined, and I thus I get the average exchange rate of Bitcoin against USD.

I can distinguish four phases in that early history of the Bitcoin. The first one is the launch, which seems to have taken 6 days, from January 3rd, 2009 to January 8th, 2009. There were practically no players, i.e. no exchange transactions, and the number of Bitcoins mined was constant, equal to 50. The early growth starts on January 9th, 2009, and last just for 3 days, until January 11th, 2009. The number of Bitcoins mined grows, from 50 to 7600. The number of players in the game grows as well, from 14 to 106. No player destroys any days, in this phase. Each Bitcoin mined is instantaneously put in circulation. The average amount of Bitcoins per player evolves from 50/14 = 3,57 to 7600/106 = 71,7.

On January 12th, 2009, something changes: participants in the network start (timidly) to hold their Bitcoins for at least one day. This is how the phase of accelerating growth starts, and will last for 581 days, until August 16th, 2010. On the next day, August 17th, the first Bitcoins will get exchanged against US dollars. On that path of accelerating growth, the total number of Bitcoins mined passes from 7600 to 3 737 700, and the daily number on players in the network passes from an average around 106 to about 500 a day. By the end of this phase, the average amount of Bitcoins per player reaches 7475,4. Speculative positions (i.e. propensity to save Bitcoins for later) grow, up to an average of about 1500 days destroyed per address.

Finally, the fourth stage of evolution is reached: entry into the financial market, when we pass from 1 BTC = $0,08 to 1 BTC = $1. This transition from any exchange rate at all to being at par with the dollar takes 189 days, from August 17th, 2010 until February 10th, 2011. The total number of Bitcoins grows at a surprisingly steady rate, from 3 737 700 to about 5 300 000, whilst the number of players triples, from about 500 to about 1 500. Interestingly, in this phase, the average amount of Bitcoins per player decreases, from 7475,4 to 3 533,33. Speculative positions grow steadily, from about 1500 days destroyed per address to some 2 400 days per address.

Below, you will find graphs with a birds-eye view of the whole infancy of the Bitcoin. Further below, after the graphs, I try to give some closure, i.e. to guess what we can learn from that story, so as to replicate it, possibly, amid the COVID-19 crisis.  

My first general conclusion is that the total number of Bitcoins mined is the only variable, among those studied, which shows a steady, quasi linear trend of growth. It is not really exponential, more sort of a power function. The total number of Bitcoins mined corresponds, in the early spirit of this cryptocurrency, to the total computational power brought to the game by its participants. The real economic value pumped into the new concept was growing steadily, linearly, and to an economist, such as I am, it suggests the presence of exogenous forces at play. In other words, the early Bitcoin was not growing by itself, through sheer enthusiasm of its early partisans. It was growing because some people saw real value in that thing and kept bringing assets to the line. It is important in the present context. If we want to use something similar to power the flywheels of local markets under the COVID-19 restrictions, we need some people to bring real, productive assets to the game, and thus we need to know what those key assets should be. Maybe the capacity to supply medical materials, combined with R&D potential in biotech and 3D printing? These are just loose thoughts, as I observe the way that events are unfolding.

My second conclusion is that everything else I have just studied is very swingy and very experimental. The first behavioural transition I can see is that of a relatively small number of initial players experimenting with using whatever assets they bring to the table in order to generate a growing number of new tokens of virtual currency.  The first 7 – 8 months in the Bitcoin show the marks of such experimentation. There comes a moment, when instead of playing big games in a small, select network, the thing spills over into a larger population of participants. What attracts those new ones? As I see it, the attractive force consists in relatively predictable rules of the game: ‘if I bring X $mln of assets to the game, I will have Y tokens of the new virtual currency’, something like that.  

Hence, what creates propitious conditions for acquiring exchangeable value in the new virtual currency against the established ones, is a combination of steady inflow of assets, and crystallization of predictable rules to use them in that specific scheme.

I can also see that people started saving Bitcoins before these had any value in dollars. It suggests that even in a closed system, without openings to other financial markets, a virtual currency can start giving to its holders a sense of economic value. Interesting.

That would be it for today. If you want to contact me directly, you can mail at: goodscience@discoversocialsciences.com .