Unitize Roundup: Top 10 Quotes From the Virtual Blockchain Conference

Unitize Roundup: Top 10 Quotes From the Virtual Blockchain Conference

Vitalik Buterin, Heath Tarbert, Brock Pierce and many more — here are 10 memorable quotes to take away from five days of the Unitize virtual blockchain conference.

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The five-day Unitize virtual blockchain conference organized by BlockShow and San Francisco Blockchain Week ended with the final session on Friday. The event saw appearances from Heath Tarbert, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission; Vitalik Buterin, a co-founder of Ethereum; and Tim Draper, a serial blockchain investor, as well as other speakers from a diverse pool of market segments both within and outside the crypto space.

Blockchain adoption, decentralized finance, central bank digital currencies and the future of Bitcoin (BTC) dominated the conversation in many of the panels. The event also saw speakers chart possible paths forward for the advancement of the industry.

If you didn’t have the opportunity to catch all the goings-on at the conference, it is available on Cointelegraph’s YouTube channel in full. Or, to keep it short and sweet, below are the top 10 quotes from the event sponsored by crypto derivatives exchange platform Bybit.

Stateless clients upgrade for Ethereum 2.0 still a work in progress

Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin revealed that stateless clients implementation on the Ethereum network is still unattainable due to fundamental limitations, stating that any help from the community is welcome:

“There are a bunch of fancy arithmetic techniques that allow us to cut these witness sizes down to the point where the extra data that stateless clients need to download is actually not that much. But still research and still a lot of refinement required, and this is something where we actively welcome more help from the academic research community.”

China’s DCEP will internationalize the yuan

CBDCs were a popular topic on the first two days of the conference. Matthew Graham, the CEO of Sino Global Capital, reasoned that China’s digital currency electronic payment is geared toward yuan internationalization.

Echoing Graham’s sentiments, Douglas Arner, the director of the Asian Institute of International Financial Law at the University of Hong Kong, identified the DCEP as having a better chance of interoperability than many other national CBDC plans, adding:

“If we think of the Chinese [CBDC] proposal at the moment, it is largely limited to operating within the context of the physical and electronic borders. But one can imagine how in the context of those electronic borders, if one integrates the system with, say, the RMB swap lines that are engaged in a range of different countries, that sort of RMB electronic area can be expanded outside.”

Libra will not see the light of day

University of California, Berkeley professor Barry Eichengreen called Libra “an interesting idea that will never see the light of day,” while arguing against the future potential of stablecoins, declaring:

“Stablecoins are either fragile — they are prone to attack and collapse if they are only partially backed or collateralized with actual dollars or dollar bank balances, or they are prohibitively expensive to scale-up if they are, in fact, fully or over-collateralized.”

The financially disenfranchised will drive global blockchain adoption

Sheila Warren of the World Economic Forum said that unbanked and underbanked people will flock to blockchain solutions if entrepreneurs can bridge the technological gaps:

“We have to look at what is actually the lowest hanging fruit there. Well, oddly enough, it’s people who have been excluded from traditional systems for whatever reason. They’re the hardest to build for in many ways, but they’re the people most willing to accommodate or try something new.”

Blockchain projects need to prioritize value creation

Ali Loveys, the chief privacy officer of ConsenSys Health, advised blockchain entrepreneurs to focus on value creation, opining:

“The challenges are always less about the technology than about the business value and the people who are interested in using it or resistant to using it. […] I don’t come in to sell blockchain, I come in to talk about business issues and where we find a good fit, and we move forward.”

Bitcoin as hard money

Balaji Srinivasan, a general partner at venture capital giant Andreessen Horowitz, and Meltem Demirors, the chief strategy officer at CoinShares, spoke about Bitcoin as an alternative to fiat currency debasement. According to Srinivasan:

“Ultimately, there are two modalities that people can accept: A, we have total power; B, no one has power over us. On the other hand of the spectrum you have Bitcoin, which is open-state, open-source, open execution, totally inspectable, totally transparent, based on mathematics and no one has power over it.”

U.S. altcoin futures trading is inevitable

Speaking at a fireside chat, Heath Tarbert, the chairman of the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission, predicted that altcoin futures trading in the country will happen once cryptos get more regulatory clarity, stating:

“Unlike my prediction about Ether, at the this point, I don’t see anything on the horizon, but I think it is inevitable that in the future, once major classes of digital assets receive the clarity on whether they are securities or commodities, you’ll start to see them also be listed, particularly as they get more popular and people do see them as a store of value.”

Crypto exchanges can fight hacks with rented hash power

Coin Metrics researcher Lucas Nuzzi said crypto exchanges can undo hacks by forcing blockchain reorgs, using rented mining hash power, but there is a catch:

“It’d actually be impossible for exchanges, or any entity really, to reorg BTC via NiceHash. This could, however, be an effective counterattack on smaller chains with more niche hashing algos, like Lyra or Equihash.”

Blockchain voting will benefit Democrats

For Richard Holden, an economics professor at the University of New South Wales Business School, blockchain voting will prevent mail-in voter fraud but will be to the benefit of the Democratic Party, arguing:

“Distributed ledger technology might be an interesting defense against the idea of there being fraud with vote by mail. But DLT could in principle be more even immune to those considerations. So, it’s going to play a very important role going forward because it has a potential political skew — not by intent, but just by implication.”

Brock Pierce explained why he’s running for President

While accepting the unlikelihood of his victory in the November election, crypto venture capitalist Brock Pierce said his decision to run for president is aimed at putting blockchain on the political agenda. Pierce bemoaned America’s perceived technological decline, stating:

“The United States historically has been the capital of innovation, on the front lines of technologies like blockchain. I feel that this is not a great environment for innovators to build. I’m watching many of the best innovators in our nation moving to Asia, moving to Europe, moving to other places because they don’t feel safe to innovate and experiment.”

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Vitalik Buterin, Heath Tarbert, Brock Pierce and many more — here are 10 memorable quotes to take away from five days of the Unitize virtual blockchain conference.

CFTC’s New Chairman: Who Is Heath Tarbert, What He Thinks of Crypto?

CFTC’s New Chairman: Who Is Heath Tarbert, What He Thinks of Crypto?

A senior Treasury official with vast experience in international financial regulation is taking over the regulatory agency

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July 15 will mark the first day in the office for the United States Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CFTC) new chairman, Heath Tarbert. As the crypto community is bidding farewell to the regulator’s outgoing head, J. Christopher Giancarlo, his successor’s stance on digital assets remains unknown. Turning to Tarbert’s record as a civil servant and attorney in the financial markets field could shed some light on the direction that the agency might take under his leadership.

Giancarlo’s five-year tenure saw the rise of cryptocurrency derivatives as an object of regulatory oversight. Widely regarded as the crypto industry’s ally, “Crypto Dad” superintended the historic launch of regulated Bitcoin futures and advocated for a “do no harm” approach to blockchain regulation in his testimony before the U.S. Congress. At the same time, as some observers have pointed out, Giancarlo has stepped up enforcement efforts, turning the CFTC into an agency with teeth.

The news of President Donald Trump nominating Tarbert, a senior official in the Treasury Department, to serve as the new head of the CFTC emerged in December 2018. On June 5, 2019, the Senate voted to confirm his appointment by a wide margin, 84-9. Although Giancarlo’s tenure expired in April 2019, he agreed to stay until mid-July to oversee the agency’s transition to new leadership. In a statement, the outgoing chairman offered praise to his heritor, calling him highly qualified to continue transforming the agency “into a 21st Century regulator for today’s digital markets.”

Heath Tarbert: background and early career

A native of Baltimore, MD, Heath Tarbert received his bachelor’s degree in accounting and international business from Mount St. Mary, a Catholic liberal arts university located in his home state. He then spent four years in law school at the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania, consecutively earning his Juris Doctor and Doctor of Juridical Science. Tarbert then received the Thouron Award, a prestigious postgraduate scholarship that allowed him to pursue yet another advanced degree: a Ph.D. in comparative law from Oxford.

Having sealed this illustrious scholarly record, Tarbert began his industry career with a series of junior positions at law firms and clerkships in the judicial branch of the U.S. government. Between 2007 and 2008, he worked for the conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. This appointment likely played a significant role in Tarbert’s subsequent return to public service in the wake of Trump’s accession to the White House. According to one estimate, about 20% of Thomas office’s alumni have landed either political appointments or judicial nominations since early 2017, earning their former boss the informal status of “the Trump administration’s legal godfather.”

Upon concluding his clerkship with Justice Thomas, Heath Tarbert went on to serve as Associate Counsel to the President of the United States in the last months of the George W. Bush administration before leaving for the private sector early into Barack Obama’s first term, with a short stop as Special Counsel to the Senate Banking Committee. Tarbert worked for the international law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP and then Allen & Overy LLP, where he spearheaded the global financial regulatory practice.

Tarbert also served on the board of advisors for the the journal “Review of Securities and Commodities Regulation.” During his years in the private sector, he co-authored two articles that appeared in the journal “The Review of Banking & Financial Services.” Both are on the subject of the Volcker Rule, a regulation that restricts banks’ ability to use customers’ deposits to make certain kinds of speculative investments.

Comeback under Trump

In April 2017, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Tarbert to fill the position of Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for International Markets and Development. In October, the nominee was sworn in. In 2017 and 2018, Tarbert served as acting U.S. executive director on the board of the World Bank Group, negotiating global institutional reforms. In April 2019, Tarbert was promoted to acting under secretary for international affairs.

Throughout his term with the Treasury, Tarbert represented the U.S. in several major international organizations in the area of financial markets regulation, such as the Financial Stability Board. He also led U.S. delegations at the G-7 and G-20 Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ Deputies meetings. As policy chair of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), Tarbert championed the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, a bill aimed at strengthening regulation of foreign investment in the U.S. so as to better protect national security.

The latter aspect of Tarbert’s Treasury career has been arguably the most publicly visible. As the CFIUS policy chair, he promoted the heightened review of foreign investments before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection, during which time he called for tighter standards for protecting the nation’s technological edge:

“Today, the acquisition of a Silicon Valley start-up may raise just as serious concerns from a national security perspective as the acquisition of a defense or aerospace company, CFIUS’s traditional area of focus.”

The bill enjoyed bipartisan support and was passed by the U.S. Congress in August 2018.

One practical manifestation of this turn toward curbing foreign powers’ attempts to get a hold of the U.S-sourced technology has been the Trump administration’s standoff with China. Tarbert was at the helm of this effort as well: It was him who announced in April 2018 that the government was considering invoking the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to give Trump the power to limit Chinese investment in sensitive sectors of the U.S. economy.

Domestically, following his nomination as the CFTC chairman, Tarbert managed to muster support from across the industry that is perhaps the most dependent on the health of derivatives markets: the agricultural sector. In the buildup to the confirmation vote, many agricultural groups appeared as signatories on a letter to the U.S. Senate endorsing Tarbert for the regulator’s leadership. Particularly, the petition noted Tarbert’s willingness to walk the extra mile to learn the ins and outs of a brand new industry and its use of derivatives products.

Views on fintech

The new CFTC boss is inheriting a lot of work in progress: the impact of Brexit on international financial markets, another round in the fight for U.S. financial sovereignty in the face of the European Union seeking to impose new regulations on international swaps clearing houses and much more. The crypto derivatives agenda, which emerged as a major concern for the agency during Giancarlo’s term, is not going anywhere, either. Some matters — for example, Bakkt’s continued attempts to get regulatory clearance for its cryptocurrency futures platform — will require prompt decisions. What will these decisions look like? The evidence of where Heath Tarbert’s might stand on digital assets is piecemeal and scant.

Given his enormous experience with international financial regulation, there is no way Tarbert would not realize the importance of digital technologies to derivatives markets. However, every such attestation available is accompanied by the usual cautious acknowledgement of both “opportunities and risks.” In a statement before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry in March 2019, he said:

“We should acknowledge that our derivatives markets have recently been transformed by digital technologies that present opportunities as well as risks. The CFTC must remain committed to promulgating regulations that allow technological innovations to flourish, but also protect our markets and consumers from harm.”

In June, commenting on the new U.S-United Kingdom Financial Innovation Partnership, Tarbert observed that “technology is the future of financial services and innovation drives growth.”

Granted, these stock declarations are far from a ringing endorsement of fintech’s role in the area of the CFTC’s oversight. However, signs of formal acknowledgement are better than no signs at all. The takeaway from Tarbert’s history of fighting for U.S. national technological security is also rather ambiguous: His determination to assist domestic blockchain innovators could lead him to rid them of unnecessary regulatory hurdles, but at the same time, the cross-border nature of digital assets may trigger security concerns.

Some experts argue that the personal opinions of the CFTC chair might not be of immense importance to the crypto industry. Andrew Bull, a founding partner of BullBlockchainLaw, told Cointelegraph:

“Giancarlo is favorable towards the crypto industry, but this has not really impacted how the industry functions. In other words, the compliance requirements have not changed much as applied to crypto even though he was favorable to the industry. Anyways, the agency is not nearly as involved in the crypto industry as the SEC is, but has stated through guidance that crypto based derivatives without a doubt fall under the Act. Therefore, my conclusion is that not much will change, especially due to the lack of activity the CFTC actually has in the space.”

Regardless of personal factors, the CFTC holds great systemic importance for the blockchain sector’s development. Antoni Trenchev, co-founder and managing partner at Nexo, attested:

“Any major move of the CFTC is a milestone in the financialization of the digital assets sector. […] A firm but business-friendly regulatory framework paves the way for the institutional players in the crypto space and we already see this happening with Fidelity providing custodial services, traditional banking institutions such as Nomura, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan are exploring offerings in the same direction. A regulated and above all liquid derivative market is a great signal with a permanent impact to retail and institutional investors that technology and cryptocurrencies built on blockchain are maturing into an asset class worth exploring.”

After all, the agency’s regulatory powers are vast. The CFTC has identified digital currencies as commodities in 2015, and now it has full jurisdiction over crypto derivatives and other financial products subject to the Commodity Exchange Act. These include futures, options and derivatives contracts, as well as any crypto-based trading platform that utilizes margins, leverages or financing. 

Although the spot markets (in which commodities are traded in cash) underlying these instruments are outside of the commission’s purview, the CFTC has the authority to intervene if it believes fraud or manipulation are involved, which renders the scope very broad. The hope is that, as he takes the reins of the regulatory agency that is immensely important for the blockchain sector, Heath Tarbert would act so as to earn the honorable title of “Crypto Dad” as well, despite what President Trump may have to say.

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A senior Treasury official with vast experience in international financial regulation is taking over the regulatory agency