Voices of change rose above the blockchain pavilions and bitcoin pizza carts that sprouted in Davos, Switzerland, in May. At the World Economic Forum’s 2022 conference, blockchain, crypto, and digital currencies made the main stage and the mainstream, despite some continuing resistance.
“The World Economic Forum generally is seen as the entrenched elites that are trying to preserve the existing system,” Makoto Takemiya, co-founder and CEO of the Japanese blockchain firm Soramitsu, said during a panel discussion. “That’s the stereotype. It may not be true. And us here at these blockchain events were kind of like the barbarians at the gate, trying to push our ideas forward and to be heard.”
They were heard, for better and for worse. Davos hosted a block(chain) party for WEF 2022, the forum’s first in-person event in more than two years. Dozens of companies that work in blockchain, DLTs, NFTs, Web 3.0, and other disruptive technologies mingled and paneled with the traditional arbiters of global finance and governance.
They draped Davos with ads regarding crypto and stablecoin, shared free bitcoin pizza, and conducted a parallel conference dedicated to blockchain. The Global Blockchain Business Council’s Davos agenda featured conversations about the crypto economy, blockchain’s sustainability and equity, and the future of money.
That was where Takemiya made his bold statement about blockchain “barbarians.” Ultimately, he concluded that blockchain advocates and defenders could find common ground.
“I think the truth, the ideal situation for humanity, lives between the two,” Takemiya said. “These ideas will come together and coalesce into some vision for the future that everyone can agree with.”
The blockchain discussions arrived in Davos at a delicate time. Cryptocurrencies were crashing, which prompted some WEF participants to question their viability. During a panel discussion on the global economy, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva essentially called crypto a pyramid scheme. Other officials termed crypto unreliable and “worth nothing.”
“If a stablecoin is backed with assets one to one, it is stable,” Georgieva said in the discussion.
“But what happens when it is not backed with assets but it is promised to deliver 20 percent return? It’s a pyramid. What happens to pyramids? Eventually, they fall to pieces.”
Still, blockchain and crypto penetrated all corners of Davos. A conversation about the U.S. economy’s rising inflation and recession anxieties veered into regulating crypto and digital currencies. U.S. Senator Pat Toomey discussed legislation he’s sponsoring that would create a regulatory framework for stablecoin.
WEF also addressed the sustainability of crypto and digital currencies, which require significant energy usage to verify transactions. According to the panel on “Crypto’s Carbon Footprint,” Bitcoin uses 62 terawatt hours of energy annually. Just one terawatt could power 10 billion 100-watt lightbulbs simultaneously.
Elsewhere, two fascinating panels detailed blockchain’s capacity to democratize the internet and bring more equity to our economies. Blockchain will be essential to Web 3.0, the internet’s next phase built on decentralized platforms.
We entrust, often with negative consequences, intermediaries such as Google and Facebook with our data. Experts say Web 3.0 will give us more control of the two central components of our digital wallets: our money and our identities.
“Say you’re annoyed at Google. You can literally just unplug your data from a place like Google and take it to another platform and use it,” said Emma Todd, blockchain expert and CEO of MMH Blockchain Group. “That’s really, really key, because that’s going to force them to be better at really listening to what you have to say.”
Economically, blockchain could fundamentally improve one of the world’s most significant transaction spaces: the remittance economy. According to the World Bank, remittances (money people send to family and friends abroad) represent more than 20 percent of GDP in Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Somalia, and other developing countries.
However, current methods for sending money internationally are expensive. The blockchain will change that, making digital remittances cheaper and safer and giving more people access to money. Ultimately, as Circle co-founder Jeremy Allaire said on the remittance panel, those transactions can raise economic prosperity by removing the “toll-takers who are extracting rent from them.”
“At Davos,” Coindesk wrote in May, “crypto is no longer on the outside.” The subject provoked solution-focused discussions from a diverse group of experts during turbulent times. Not everyone is convinced, and the discussions must continue. But as WEF 2022 showed, blockchain, crypto, and digital currency will continue to disrupt our economy and society. The barbarians have arrived.