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Author Topic: Banks are fundamentally unnecessary and actually dangerous for bitcoin  (Read 4160 times)
Astrohacker
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August 02, 2011, 01:55:40 AM
 #1

Banks originated as goldsmiths who stored people's gold and gave out paper certificates representing the quantity of gold that was stored. This was a valuable service, because storing gold was hard, and paying people with gold was hard. Bitcoins are very different. Storing them is in principle easy, especially if you have a bitcoin-only device as I advocated here, and paying people with them is easy. All of the reasons for putting your gold in the bank are thus irrelevant for bitcoins.

* People can steal your gold out of your house, and thus it is wise to put your gold in a secure bank. Not so with bitcoins, so long as you encrypt them with a password. Criminals could steal your computers and not be able to access them because they wouldn't know the password. Further, if they did steal your encrypted bitcoins, you could have them backed up elsewhere and thus you would not lose them. You have absolutely nothing to gain from storing your bitcoins in a bank in terms of security. You are actually making things less secure by giving 100% access to your money to a third party who can never care about your money as much as you do.

* It is hard to lug gold around to pay people with it. This is completely irrelevant for bitcoins since you can instantly pay anyone anywhere in the world. Nothing is easier to carry around than bitcoins. Especially with smartphone clients. Banks do not in principle make bitcoin transactions easier. If places like MyBitcoin make anything easier, that simply represents the difficulty of using the standard client. But that is not a fundamental problem - it is a problem that can be fixed by making a more user-friendly client. So again, what made sense for gold makes no sense for bitcoins.

Banks are unnecessary for bitcoin. You do not gain anything by giving someone else responsibility for your money. In fact, given the recent MyBitcoin and Bitomat catastrophes, it appears that not only are bitcoin banks unnecessary, they are harmful. Outsourcing your finances will always be a poor financial decision in the same way outsourcing your intelligence will always be stupid. If you opt-out of your responsibility, you are unlikely to come out ahead. Keep your bitcoins as close to you as possible.

(Note that I am not arguing you should never store any of your money in online services. Just that you should only store small quantities that are as small as your level of trust for those services. If they ever have most of your bitcoins, then you are probably making a mistake.)
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August 02, 2011, 02:14:05 AM
 #2

Banks originated as goldsmiths who stored people's gold and gave out paper certificates representing the quantity of gold that was stored. This was a valuable service, because storing gold was hard, and paying people with gold was hard. Bitcoins are very different. Storing them is in principle easy, especially if you have a bitcoin-only device as I advocated here, and paying people with them is easy. All of the reasons for putting your gold in the bank are thus irrelevant for bitcoins.
Some of them are, some of them aren't. If you don't store your currency in a bank, the opportunity value of the held currency is forever lost.

Will you give me 100 bitcoins today if I promise to give you 100 bitcoins next year? Of course not -- even if you 100% trust me, you're still giving up the opportunity value of being able to spend those bitcoins within the next year should you choose to do so. There's no reason you should give that up in exchange for nothing. If you hold your bitcoins, that's exactly what you're doing.

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August 02, 2011, 02:23:17 AM
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Banks originated as goldsmiths who stored people's gold and gave out paper certificates representing the quantity of gold that was stored. This was a valuable service, because storing gold was hard, and paying people with gold was hard. Bitcoins are very different. Storing them is in principle easy, especially if you have a bitcoin-only device as I advocated here, and paying people with them is easy. All of the reasons for putting your gold in the bank are thus irrelevant for bitcoins.
Some of them are, some of them aren't. If you don't store your currency in a bank, the opportunity value of the held currency is forever lost.

Will you give me 100 bitcoins today if I promise to give you 100 bitcoins next year? Of course not -- even if you 100% trust me, you're still giving up the opportunity value of being able to spend those bitcoins within the next year should you choose to do so. There's no reason you should give that up in exchange for nothing. If you hold your bitcoins, that's exactly what you're doing.

Did you just pull some lateral thinking on us?
Valuable insight too, I enjoyed reading your post.
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August 02, 2011, 02:30:52 AM
 #4

bitcoin banks can't work.

A 'normal' bank makes money by pulling it out of its ass.

It will give you a loan from a pool of money that don't really exist nor much less own.

It gives you this loan of money it doesn't have with the expectations that somehow you will be able to pull it out of your own ass yourself.

It charges interest on this money it loaned you, which it never had in the first place, and creates money out of its ass that it never had before for which you now owe.

It's much harder to make a bitcoin bank to give loans because it it much more difficult to pull a bitcoin out of their ass than it it for a bank to pull a dollar out of yours.


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Astrohacker
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August 02, 2011, 02:35:26 AM
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Banks originated as goldsmiths who stored people's gold and gave out paper certificates representing the quantity of gold that was stored. This was a valuable service, because storing gold was hard, and paying people with gold was hard. Bitcoins are very different. Storing them is in principle easy, especially if you have a bitcoin-only device as I advocated here, and paying people with them is easy. All of the reasons for putting your gold in the bank are thus irrelevant for bitcoins.
Some of them are, some of them aren't. If you don't store your currency in a bank, the opportunity value of the held currency is forever lost.

Will you give me 100 bitcoins today if I promise to give you 100 bitcoins next year? Of course not -- even if you 100% trust me, you're still giving up the opportunity value of being able to spend those bitcoins within the next year should you choose to do so. There's no reason you should give that up in exchange for nothing. If you hold your bitcoins, that's exactly what you're doing.

I don't understand what you're saying. Your argument seems to imply the exact opposite of your conclusion. You seem to be saying that if you want to be able to use your money at any time, you should let someone else take care of it. But actually, when you do that, you are risking losing access to your money, because they may run off with it, or do something else irresponsible with it and lose it. And you also seem to argue that this is why you shouldn't hold on to your money... because then you can't use it when you want. But exactly the opposite of this is true. It is only when you have it that you can use it when you want.

The opportunity value is decreased, not increased, by storing money in a bank.
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August 02, 2011, 02:38:55 AM
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I can see these online wallet services go the way of the banks, afterall you are just assuming the btc showing in the account are really backed by what they actually have, if they start handing out loans they can just edit their database to show +100 btc, no matter if they have it or not, unless all people start withdrawing at the same time they should be fine, specially if everybody uses this service anyway instead of bitcoin itself.

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August 02, 2011, 02:50:00 AM
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Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't some bank services, like the infamous mybitcoin.com, offer an instant payment service for it's members? This actually increases the oppurtunity value of your BTC since there's no need to wait for block confirmations.

Having said that, I think what Joel was trying to say (despite the strange wording of the last sentence), is that if a bank gives no benefits (ie. interest, instant transfers/payments to other bank members, etc.), there is no reason to use the service.
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August 02, 2011, 02:56:12 AM
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Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't some bank services, like the infamous mybitcoin.com, offer an instant payment service for it's members? This actually increases the oppurtunity value of your BTC since there's no need to wait for block confirmations.

Having said that, I think what Joel was trying to say (despite the strange wording of the last sentence), is that if a bank gives no benefits (ie. interest, instant transfers/payments to other bank members, etc.), there is no reason to use the service.

They offered a few things. 

Portability. 
Merchant services. 
Instant transfers between members.

To store money in someone elses wallet if you did not need those services is/was a mistake. 

Portability can be solved with smartphone clients for most users.

Astrohacker
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August 02, 2011, 02:59:48 AM
 #9

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't some bank services, like the infamous mybitcoin.com, offer an instant payment service for it's members? This actually increases the oppurtunity value of your BTC since there's no need to wait for block confirmations.

I'm not sure what all the services were that mybitcoin offered, but they definitely can't change the fundamental characteristics of bitcoin. There is no way they can guarantee instant transfers from external accounts without simultaneously losing the guarantee that your funds are actually 100% available at any moment. They can "guarantee" instant transfers internally from mybitcoin->mybitcoin, but these transactions are reversible, unlike real bitcoin transactions.
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August 02, 2011, 03:13:48 AM
 #10

Yes! My main reason for using bitcoin is to avoid banks - I want control of my money. Forget the banks.
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August 02, 2011, 03:15:32 AM
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yeah, banks never made sense to me.
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August 02, 2011, 03:18:03 AM
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To store money in someone elses wallet if you did not need those services is/was a mistake. 


Agreed, 110%. I'm still a "noob" in the BTC world, but the idea of handing over my meager wallet to a 3rd party immediately seemed stupid to me. It's a shame the wiki and some respectable people in the community recommended such a service. I would feel horrible....


I'm not sure what all the services were that mybitcoin offered, but they definitely can't change the fundamental characteristics of bitcoin. There is no way they can guarantee instant transfers from external accounts without simultaneously losing the guarantee that your funds are actually 100% available at any moment. They can "guarantee" instant transfers internally from mybitcoin->mybitcoin, but these transactions are reversible, unlike real bitcoin transactions.

I totally agree with your OP. I was just pointing out the potential benefits of a REPUTABLE bitcoin banking service.
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August 02, 2011, 03:20:29 AM
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even if btc banks are honest, they represent a centralized source for gov't repossession
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August 02, 2011, 03:23:00 AM
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Banks originated as goldsmiths who stored people's gold and gave out paper certificates representing the quantity of gold that was stored. This was a valuable service, because storing gold was hard, and paying people with gold was hard. Bitcoins are very different. Storing them is in principle easy, especially if you have a bitcoin-only device as I advocated here, and paying people with them is easy. All of the reasons for putting your gold in the bank are thus irrelevant for bitcoins.
Some of them are, some of them aren't. If you don't store your currency in a bank, the opportunity value of the held currency is forever lost.

Will you give me 100 bitcoins today if I promise to give you 100 bitcoins next year? Of course not -- even if you 100% trust me, you're still giving up the opportunity value of being able to spend those bitcoins within the next year should you choose to do so. There's no reason you should give that up in exchange for nothing. If you hold your bitcoins, that's exactly what you're doing.

I don't understand what you're saying. Your argument seems to imply the exact opposite of your conclusion. You seem to be saying that if you want to be able to use your money at any time, you should let someone else take care of it. But actually, when you do that, you are risking losing access to your money, because they may run off with it, or do something else irresponsible with it and lose it. And you also seem to argue that this is why you shouldn't hold on to your money... because then you can't use it when you want. But exactly the opposite of this is true. It is only when you have it that you can use it when you want.

The opportunity value is decreased, not increased, by storing money in a bank.

no no, what he said is that having your money in the bank gives you so much more opportunity.
the part when he said opportunity value, he means you get the full extent of what it can do by being able to use it at many more places.

for instance, you can't buy a videocard from newegg if the cash is in a safe in your house or even sitting in your pocket.

It's the same idea if your bitcoins only exist on a computer that is turned off, there is zero opportunity to actually use them. It really was a very insightful thought he shared.
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August 02, 2011, 03:28:46 AM
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Banks originated as goldsmiths who stored people's gold and gave out paper certificates representing the quantity of gold that was stored. This was a valuable service, because storing gold was hard, and paying people with gold was hard. Bitcoins are very different. Storing them is in principle easy, especially if you have a bitcoin-only device as I advocated here, and paying people with them is easy. All of the reasons for putting your gold in the bank are thus irrelevant for bitcoins.
Some of them are, some of them aren't. If you don't store your currency in a bank, the opportunity value of the held currency is forever lost.

Will you give me 100 bitcoins today if I promise to give you 100 bitcoins next year? Of course not -- even if you 100% trust me, you're still giving up the opportunity value of being able to spend those bitcoins within the next year should you choose to do so. There's no reason you should give that up in exchange for nothing. If you hold your bitcoins, that's exactly what you're doing.

I don't understand what you're saying. Your argument seems to imply the exact opposite of your conclusion. You seem to be saying that if you want to be able to use your money at any time, you should let someone else take care of it. But actually, when you do that, you are risking losing access to your money, because they may run off with it, or do something else irresponsible with it and lose it. And you also seem to argue that this is why you shouldn't hold on to your money... because then you can't use it when you want. But exactly the opposite of this is true. It is only when you have it that you can use it when you want.

The opportunity value is decreased, not increased, by storing money in a bank.

no no, what he said is that having your money in the bank gives you so much more opportunity.
the part when he said opportunity value, he means you get the full extent of what it can do by being able to use it at many more places.

for instance, you can't buy a videocard from newegg if the cash is in a safe in your house or even sitting in your pocket.

It's the same idea if your bitcoins only exist on a computer that is turned off, there is zero opportunity to actually use them. It really was a very insightful thought he shared.

If your computer is off, you can't use bitcoin banks either. Sounds to me like his thought would have been insightful for dollars, but not for bitcoins.
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August 02, 2011, 03:57:45 AM
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no no, what he said is that having your money in the bank gives you so much more opportunity.
the part when he said opportunity value, he means you get the full extent of what it can do by being able to use it at many more places.

for instance, you can't buy a videocard from newegg if the cash is in a safe in your house or even sitting in your pocket.

It's the same idea if your bitcoins only exist on a computer that is turned off, there is zero opportunity to actually use them. It really was a very insightful thought he shared.

No, that's not what he's talking about.  It only takes a few minutes to turn your computer on if you had to spend Bitcoins.  Heck, you'd wait on average longer than that just for the transaction to confirm, and I guarantee you'd wait much, much longer for something like a check to clear.  Heck, even a credit card transaction takes up to a few days.  It's not an issue of your PC not being on at that very moment at all.

What it is an issue of is the economic use of that money.  Let's say you get some Bitcoins, you hold onto them for a year, and then you spend them.  In that interim period they had precisely zero economic activity.  They didn't contribute to any economy, they didn't help anyone make money, etc.  Now, let's say you get some dollars in your bank account, you hold onto them for a year, and then you spend them.

Well, see, those dollars actually did have an economic impact, because your bank turned around and lent them out to people buying homes, new businesses starting up, and other economic activities.  Those dollars may have been exchanged many times from person to person, business to business, all while you just "thought" you had a static balance in your bank account.  So that amount of money "sitting" in your bank account actually had many times its value in effect on GDP.  Your Bitcoins, however, had precisely zero impact.

That is the fundamental difference between using a bank and stuffing money under your mattress that we are talking about here, and in the absence of trustworthy Bitcoin banks, the only thing you can do with your Bitcoins is the equivalent of stuffing them under your mattress.
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August 02, 2011, 04:14:59 AM
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no no, what he said is that having your money in the bank gives you so much more opportunity.
the part when he said opportunity value, he means you get the full extent of what it can do by being able to use it at many more places.

for instance, you can't buy a videocard from newegg if the cash is in a safe in your house or even sitting in your pocket.

It's the same idea if your bitcoins only exist on a computer that is turned off, there is zero opportunity to actually use them. It really was a very insightful thought he shared.

No, that's not what he's talking about.  It only takes a few minutes to turn your computer on if you had to spend Bitcoins.  Heck, you'd wait on average longer than that just for the transaction to confirm, and I guarantee you'd wait much, much longer for something like a check to clear.  Heck, even a credit card transaction takes up to a few days.  It's not an issue of your PC not being on at that very moment at all.

What it is an issue of is the economic use of that money.  Let's say you get some Bitcoins, you hold onto them for a year, and then you spend them.  In that interim period they had precisely zero economic activity.  They didn't contribute to any economy, they didn't help anyone make money, etc.  Now, let's say you get some dollars in your bank account, you hold onto them for a year, and then you spend them.

Well, see, those dollars actually did have an economic impact, because your bank turned around and lent them out to people buying homes, new businesses starting up, and other economic activities.  Those dollars may have been exchanged many times from person to person, business to business, all while you just "thought" you had a static balance in your bank account.  So that amount of money "sitting" in your bank account actually had many times its value in effect on GDP.  Your Bitcoins, however, had precisely zero impact.

That is the fundamental difference between using a bank and stuffing money under your mattress that we are talking about here, and in the absence of trustworthy Bitcoin banks, the only thing you can do with your Bitcoins is the equivalent of stuffing them under your mattress.

Perhaps that's what he meant. However, I believe this economic analysis is incorrect. You're saying that by keeping the money in the bank, and having the bank loan it out, that this was good for the economy. There was some positive contribution of wealth that would not have happened without loaning that money out. I believe this is wrong because the total quantity of money is irrelevant. You're not going to improve things by adding money into the system (and I'm well aware that Ben Bernanke disagrees, but he's wrong). So long as the money is sufficiently divisible, the sum total of it is an irrelevant quantity.

Your analysis assumes that money behaves like, say, oil. Suppose there is an economy that is energy starved. If you double the amount of oil they have, then they will be able to do more stuff. Adding oil adds wealth. But money is not like this. If you double the amount of money they have, it will change nothing. Adding money does not add wealth.

In practice, inflating a money supply does not increase the wealth. It merely redistributes the purchasing power of the money to the people who get the new money. It is a way of taking wealth from everyone who uses the money and giving it to the people who get the new money. It's equivalent to counterfeiting. For some reason, everyone understands that when a non-banker counterfeits a dollar, it is wrong. But when bankers do it, they think it is right and good, when in fact it is equally as bad.
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August 02, 2011, 07:08:02 AM
 #18

Banks originated as goldsmiths who stored people's gold and gave out paper certificates representing the quantity of gold that was stored. This was a valuable service, because storing gold was hard, and paying people with gold was hard. Bitcoins are very different. Storing them is in principle easy, especially if you have a bitcoin-only device as I advocated here, and paying people with them is easy. All of the reasons for putting your gold in the bank are thus irrelevant for bitcoins.

First of all, to store bitcoins safely you need to educate yourself on how to do it. This takes a lot of effort for people who aren't tech-savvy so there is obviously a need for companies providing this service (safe storage).

Second, banks today aren't primarily about safe storage. You lend your money to the bank. They pay you some interest because they can use the money to earn more money (e.g. by lending it to someone else at a higher interest). This service makes just as much sense with Bitcoin as with central bank money and will naturally also exist in a Bitcoin economy.

Mods: Move this to Economics?

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August 02, 2011, 08:17:36 AM
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Will you give me 100 bitcoins today if I promise to give you 100 bitcoins next year? Of course not -- even if you 100% trust me, you're still giving up the opportunity value of being able to spend those bitcoins within the next year should you choose to do so. There's no reason you should give that up in exchange for nothing. If you hold your bitcoins, that's exactly what you're doing.
I don't understand what you're saying. Your argument seems to imply the exact opposite of your conclusion. You seem to be saying that if you want to be able to use your money at any time, you should let someone else take care of it.
No, I am saying that if you simply hold onto your money, the opportunity value is lost. Whereas, if you deposit the money in a bank, you can extract the opportunity value.

Quote
But actually, when you do that, you are risking losing access to your money, because they may run off with it, or do something else irresponsible with it and lose it.
True. That is the downside of a bank. However, the upside is that you don't waste the opportunity value of the money.

Quote
And you also seem to argue that this is why you shouldn't hold on to your money... because then you can't use it when you want.
No, that's not what I'm saying. If you hold onto the money, you cannot use it unless you find some way to extract the opportunity value. If you cannot do that, and in general you cannot, that value is wasted. A banker is an expert at extracting the opportunity value of money.

Quote
But exactly the opposite of this is true. It is only when you have it that you can use it when you want.
I would say that if you have it, you can only use it when you want. But if you don't want to use it, the opportunity value is wasted. This is value to which you are entitled that you are simply giving up for nothing if you hold the money.

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The opportunity value is decreased, not increased, by storing money in a bank.
No, it is increased. That's how the bank pays you interest.

Look, say you have 100 bitcoins and you don't need them until next week. Say someone else needs 100 bitcoins right now, badly enough that he's willing to pay back 110 bitcoins next week. If you hold your 100 bitcoins, you lose the 10 bitcoins of opportunity value you could have made by loaning those bitcoins out. Even if you say "well, then you risk losing the whole 100", you can easily imagine a situation where you could also obtain insurance against loss of your principle for, say, 2 bitcoins. So you still waste 8 bitcoins of opportunity value by holding your bitcoins, and the guy who could have done something with the bitcoins today doesn't get to do that either. Lose/lose. (But then the fewer bitcoins in circulation do benefit some people, so they win.)

Actually, more likely someone else will lend the guy the 100 bitcoins. So he'll have 110 bitcoins less 2 for insurance and you'll have 100. You're playing the sucker.

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August 02, 2011, 08:35:16 AM
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Perhaps that's what he meant. However, I believe this economic analysis is incorrect. You're saying that by keeping the money in the bank, and having the bank loan it out, that this was good for the economy. There was some positive contribution of wealth that would not have happened without loaning that money out. I believe this is wrong because the total quantity of money is irrelevant. You're not going to improve things by adding money into the system (and I'm well aware that Ben Bernanke disagrees, but he's wrong). So long as the money is sufficiently divisible, the sum total of it is an irrelevant quantity.
I agree with that. However, see my post above. If you don't loan your money out and someone else does, you will turn 100 bitcoins into 100 bitcoins while someone else turns 100 bitcoins into 108 bitcoins.

Quote
In practice, inflating a money supply does not increase the wealth. It merely redistributes the purchasing power of the money to the people who get the new money. It is a way of taking wealth from everyone who uses the money and giving it to the people who get the new money. It's equivalent to counterfeiting. For some reason, everyone understands that when a non-banker counterfeits a dollar, it is wrong. But when bankers do it, they think it is right and good, when in fact it is equally as bad.
You are entirely correct in the case of, say, a government printing money. However, this is not correct in the case of loans. The people who get the money pay it back with interest. They get purchasing power today (presumably when they need it more) in exchange for foregoing purchasing power in the future when they expect to need it less.

If people are willing to pay interest, it will typically be because they can make better use of the purchasing power today. Loans help people to efficiently time-shift consumption and production in cases where the most efficient pattern isn't produce-consume.

The obvious example is the guy who gets a job that pays 20% more than he's making, but he needs a car. He can't produce the value he needs to consume in the form of a car without the job. A loan allows how to consume the car now when he needs it, and produce the value of the car later when he will most likely be able to.

Certainly banks do some bad things and certainly people take bad loans. But the fundamental logic of banking and loans is completely sound.

I am an employee of Ripple.
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