The harsh reality of all modern financial systems is that as they scale, they accumulate a need, or at least a desire, for regulation. This outcome is generally the result of recurrent collapses due to the negligence of some actor or cabal of actors in a marketplace.

For example, the Knickerbocker Crisis of 1907 resulted in the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913 as a lender of last resort. Another example is the excesses of the 1920s in the United States that resulted in a terrible financial collapse, the Great Depression. This collapse yielded the creation of the Securities Exchange Commission in 1934 in order to prevent a similar event or at least hold bad actors accountable.

One can reasonably debate the need for, scope and efficacy of regulation, but one cannot deny its existence and the zeal with which major governments have enforced it. However, the challenge all regulators face as the world globalizes and cash becomes digital is two-pronged.

First, which set of regulations should be supreme when dealing with a collection of jurisdictions? The antiquated notion of Westphalian sovereignty melts when a single transaction can touch three dozen countries in under a minute. Should it simply be whomever wields the most geopolitical influence?

Second, improvements in privacy technology have created a digital arms race where it will become increasingly more difficult to even understand who has participated in a transaction, much less who owns a particular store of value. In a world where millions of dollars of assets can be controlled with nothing more than a secretly held 12-word mnemonic15, how do you enforce effective regulation?

Like all financial systems, the Cardano protocol must have an opinion in its design over what is fair and reasonable. We have chosen to divide between individual rights and the rights of a marketplace.

Individuals should always have sole access to their funds without coercion or civil asset forfeiture. This right has to be enforced because not all governments can be trusted not to abuse their sovereign power for the personal gain of corrupt politicians, as seen in Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Cryptocurrencies have to be engineered to the lowest common denominator.

Second, history should never be tampered with. Blockchains provide a promise of immutability. Introducing the power to roll back history or alter the official record introduces too much temptation to change the past in order to benefit a particular actor or actors.

Third, the flow of value should be unrestricted. Capital controls and other artificial walls diminish human rights. Outside of the futility of attempting to enforce them16, in a global economy with many citizens in the least developed nations traveling outside of their jurisdiction to find a living wage, restricting capital flows usually ends up harming the poorest in the world.

These principles stated, markets are distinctly different from individuals. While the designers of Cardano believe in individual rights, we also believe that markets have the right to openly state their terms and conditions, and if an individual agrees to do business within this market, then they must be held to those standards for the sake of integrity of the entire system.

The challenge has always been cost and practicality of enforcement. Small, multijurisdictional transactions are simply too expensive in legacy systems to provide high assurance of recourse in the event of fraud or a commercial dispute. When one sends their wire transfer to the Nigerian Prince17, it is usually too expensive to try to get one’s funds back.

For Cardano, we feel we can innovate on three levels. First, through the use of smart contracts the terms and conditions of commercial relationships can be better controlled. If all assets are digital and can be solely expressed on CSL, strong guarantees of fraud-free commerce can be gained.

Second, the use of HSMs to provide an identity space where PII is not leaked but yet used to authenticate and credential actors should provide a global reputation system and allow for much lower cost regulated activities to be conducted, such as online gaming with automated tax compliance or decentralized exchanges.

Finally, in Cardano’s roadmap is the creation of a modular regulation DAO that can be customized to interact with user written smart contracts in order to add mutability, consumer protection and arbitration. The scope of this project will be outlined in a later paper.


15: See BIP39.

16: As an example of a countermeasure to capital flow, see the Hawala Banking System.

17: See Advance-fee Scam.

Last updated: July 17, 2020 11:40 UTC

© IOHK 2015 - 2020

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