Ripple (XRP) had an insane surge earlier this year, hitting over $3 for a short time. Now it’s under a dollar, but it’s still the third biggest cryptocurrency by market valuation, after Bitcoin and Ethereum. I bought some recently without a ton of information because I think it has a few things going for it.
I must say, it wasn’t that easy to do. Seemingly everyone I’ve talked to who actually owns any cryptocurrencies mainly uses Coinbase, and Coinbase does not support Ripple. To buy Ripple you actually have to sign up for a different exchange, many of which have fairly long verification periods, and some of which don’t actually accept USD. I had to use USD to purchase Bitcoin (BTC), then buy XRP with BTC.
Anyway, so I did that; but Ripple has fallen out of the limelight lately, it seems. I think some of that might be attributable to a wave of backlash from those in the cryptocurrency community who are suspicious of XRP’s close relationship with banks. (If you check out the list of partners on Ripple’s website, you’ll see some big names like MoneyGram and American Express.) Honestly, it’s the relationship with banks that gives me reason to be suspect there might be something to XRP.
Banks are entities of centralized control. Many proponents of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin tout decentralization as one of their primary benefits. To those in this camp, it’s obvious why Ripple buddying up with banks would be irritating: it’s antithetical to what cryptocurrencies are, to them, all about.
Whether or not that’s accurate or fair, it seems to me that a fully decentralized economy runs counter to human nature. Our species has hierarchical organization built in pretty deep: lacking a centralized structure, we will self-organize into one (that’s what a power vacuum is). I would love to be wrong about this, and maybe one day I will see the light. But for now I’m pretty confident.
Capitalism would be one example. In a purely theoretical scenario where every individual in a society is a rational and autonomous actor, capitalism benefits consumers as competition among producers drives innovation and keeps prices low. In the real world, though, this scenario leaves open a gap for some authority to fill. That can be government regulation, or it can be corporate monopolies. Either way, power is consolidated and the general populace is at a disadvantage.
My feeling is that when you have an ideal that people get passionate about, but it’s a far cry from the status quo, there’s an opportunity there for someone who’s willing to compromise the purity of the ideal in service of something closer to the status quo.
This isn’t just about power. It’s also true of, for example, technology. Consider smart phones. At this point, how much sense does it make that we even call them phones? For most people, making and taking calls is just one of many functions they use their iPhone for, and it isn’t even the main one. But it’s called the iPhone because Apple had to start with something familiar that people already had in their pockets and purses, and people already had cell phones.
Democracy is another example. The Greeks famously invented it as a system of rule centuries ago and it didn’t exactly take over the world. What we have now is representative democracy: citizens don’t make the law, we elect representatives to do it for us. This is like a midpoint between pure democracy (extreme distribution of power) and monarchy (extreme consolidation of power).
What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Ripple. I’m not saying Ripple is going to be the next big thing; but it does seem to me that a fully decentralized Bitcoin-based economy where banks are absent from the picture feels a lot less likely–at least in the short term–than an economy closer to what we have now, but with digital currency incorporating some of the innovations that have gotten people so excited about cryptocurrencies.