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Vermont Furthers Blockchain Expedition with AG, State Agencies Working Group

Vermont Furthers Blockchain Expedition with AG, State Agencies Working Group

The Attorney General of Vermont and four other state agencies have formed a working group to study blockchain technology.

Goals

According to a 10 December press release from the office of Attorney General TJ Donovan, “the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR), the Secretary of State, and the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD)” are to examine the benefits and obstacles that come with blockchain technology in a bid to establish a consensus around the nascent sector.

It is worth noting that they will be actively seeking input from industry experts, associations and stakeholders.

After briefly describing how blockchain technology works, the press release goes on to state the current aims of the working group who are planning to begin work in January of 2019. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, they wish to see “what opportunities, challenges, and concerns blockchain may present”. The second point opens the door to quite an interesting line of dialog as the group wishes to determine whether or not “blockchain-specific regulation or legislation is necessary and, if so, of what type”. Finally, they will endeavor to work out how to protect consumers who use the technology directly, or “be affected by it”.

Donovan offered his comments: “In an era of persistent data hacks, security breaches, and online activity, exploring new and innovative ways to protect our data is essential… And, we must strive to balance economic opportunity with consumer protection.”

The Attorney General also added that the formation of this group will grant state regulatory agencies the chance to become educated on blockchain technology and establish a way to “engage with a technology that may represent a new business sector”.

Previously in Vermont

Vermont has been positively engaging with the blockchain ecosystem this year. Earlier in May, state lawmakers and Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed a bill allowing for the creation of “blockchain-based limited liability companies“.

This bill came into effect in July and, according to Scott, the new law will foster economic innovations through the encouraged experimentation of blockchain technologies, an emerging sector that has already penetrated a number of industries. At the time, he said: “This will help solidify Vermont’s position as an innovation leader and demonstrate our openness to trying new ideas.”

The bill also meant the beginning of Vermont’s educational foray into the potential applications of blockchain and the regulatory changes required for positive impacts in the future for local industries. Furthermore, it allows for Vermont’s ACCD, DFR and representatives from across academic and private sector backgrounds to host a fintech summit and explore the promotion of blockchain technology in the state’s government.

 

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University in Ohio Announces Blockchain Hub

University in Ohio Announces Blockchain Hub

A top-ranked private research university based in Cleveland, Ohio, has announced the establishment of the “Cleveland Blockchain and Digital Futures Hub”.

Beginnings

First reported by local media outlet Cleveland.com, Case Western Reserve University (CRWU) President Barbara Snyder announced the hub at the inaugural Blockland Solutions conference, a Northeast Ohio blockchain event and community that endeavors to turn the region into a center for blockchain technology.

Reportedly, the hub will also be examining other cutting-edge technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as virtual reality. It will also be looking to “develop research and build applications” with enterprises, academic institutions, tech accelerators, and the government.

While presently bearing no physical headquarters, central administration and is also yet to be funded, there have been three meetings so far on the CWRU campus, which according to organizers does not indicate that it will be calling the university home.

One of the earliest recruits to Blockland and President of Colorado State University (CSU), Harlan Sands, said:

“Other blockchain educational initiatives usually involve a single company or a lone university… In contrast, Cleveland is poised to leverage the whole continuum of interests: the strength of the community college, the city’s public research institute institution and the regions only AAU (Association of American Universities) research institution.”

Come together

Much like blockchain associations, there have been numerous “Blockchain Hubs” popping up all over the world; from Nigeria to Slovenia, these microcosms of expertise and advocacy tend to sprout when blockchain related activities hit a certain point of adoption and discourse in a given jurisdiction.

For Ohio, it was a case of “when” as opposed to “if” one would be set up. The Midwestern state has become the first in the United States to accept bitcoin for tax payments, and most recently, several funds within the bullish state are banding together and have pledged to pool hundreds of millions of dollars into startups developing blockchain solutions for government and business purposes.

The establishment of the hub is rather timely considering the state’s most recent blockchain initiative launch. According to the managing director of the Canadian Blockchain Research Institute, for it to succeed, it will require Cleveland to gather around 1,000 software developers and a dozen or so startups. That said, local blockchain advocate and serial-entrepreneur, Bernie Monero, believes the infrastructure is in place to incubate the startups.

Additionally, Sands noted that CSU and Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) in northeast Ohio are pressing to implement blockchain into technology-related degrees, something of which other academic institutions in the United States are clamoring for.

 

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Ohio Blockchain Backers Pooling $100 Million to Fund Startups

Ohio Blockchain Backers Pooling 0 Million to Fund Startups

Several funders in the Midwestern US state of Ohio are to be backing early-stage blockchain startups to the tune of USD 100 million.

Great strides

As reported by local news outlet Cleveland.com, several investment fund firms based in Ohio, including local accelerator and venture fund JumpStart, are to be pooling their resources and investing USD 100 million into blockchain startups that give focus to utilizing the tech for business or government purposes.

According to JumpStart CEO Ray Leach, who made the announcement on Sunday, 2 December, there is to be an additional USD 200 million poured in over the next three years by the funding teams. Ohio is home to “Opportunity Zones”, areas with tax incentives for investors to encourage economic growth in underdeveloped and poorer neighborhoods, something of which the fund hopes to leverage over this course. In order to receive funding, a company must take advantage of one of these zones.

Another local venture firm named FlashStart also announced a pre-seed fund of USD 6 million for blockchain startups.

On the chain

Currently, Ohio’s desires to become a leader in blockchain technology within the United States is off to a winning start. Recently, the state became the first to accept Bitcoin for tax payments, which can be done via OhioCrypto.com and there are plans to add more crypto payment options in the future.

Around the same time, Cleveland city launched a blockchain initiative for the promotion of the local industry. Home to a number of blockchain projects including blockchain voting application startup Votem, the affectionately named Blockland Cleveland conference will further bolster the presence of blockchain technology in Ohio.

In early November, Ohio bore its bullish horns against the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) when the state congressman, Warren Davidson, pressed against the crypto-skeptical regulatory body with a bipartisan bill designed to challenge the SEC’s laws in relation to cryptocurrencies issued via initial coin offerings (ICOs). The bill would reclassify digital assets as “products” instead of the current classification for ICO issued tokens, which are presently deemed as securities.

In addition to this, Ohio state proposed another bill (Bill 300) that would legally legitimize smart contracts and the storage of records on a blockchain.

Ohio, much like many other jurisdictions who are seeking to tap blockchain, is building the necessary infrastructure to seed a healthy local blockchain ecosystem similar to that of Seoul in South Korea or certain parts of China. These incremental steps that test the ambivalent waters of this nascent industry are becoming lighthouses for others also seeking to join the race.

 

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USA Sanctions Bitcoin Addresses For The First Time

For the first time in history, the United States has issued sanctions against Bitcoin addresses, held by two Iranians who allegedly helped facilitate a ransomware scheme. The addresses that are banned include 149w62rY42aZBox8fGcmqNsXUzSStKeq8C and 1AjZPMsnmpdK2Rv9KQNfMurTXinscVro9V.

These addresses are controlled by Ali Khorashadizadeh and Mohammad Ghorbaniyan, who are accused of converting Bitcoin into Iranian Rial (IRR) for hackers who seized up people’s computers and demanded ransom payments in association with the SamSam ransomware scheme.

The United States Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control, who issued the sanctions, says those in the compliance and cryptocurrency communities should ban those addresses and investigate any association with those addresses. People in the United States are prohibited from sending Bitcoin to those addresses, and anyone who does is subject to secondary sanctions.

That being said, it is actually impossible to truly sanction a Bitcoin address, due to Bitcoin’s inherent decentralization and cryptographic security. People can still choose to send Bitcoin to those addresses since they cannot be shut down by any government or entity. This is one of the strengths of Bitcoin, it is immutable and no Bitcoin account can ever be frozen so long as only owners control their wallets.

Someone is having fun with these Iranian Bitcoin addresses despite the sanction. A day after the sanction was issued, on 29 November 2018, USD 0.08 of Bitcoin was sent into a sanctioned address from two addresses with the prefixes 1JEWS and 1MOSSAD, an obvious reference to the national intelligence agency of Israel. At the other sanctioned Bitcoin address, three people have sent small amounts of Bitcoin, seemingly defying the sanctions.

In any case, Bitcoin wallet owners can also simply generate new addresses to receive Bitcoin, while some wallets, like Blockchain.com, automatically generate a new address after each deposit. Khorashadizadeh and Ghorbaniyan have the ability to generate virtually unlimited addresses, making the sanctioning of any single Bitcoin address non-meaningful.

 

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Leading Crypto Firms Seek to Formalize Digital Assets Standards

Ten cryptocurrency industry titans have banded together to form a working group in a bid to formalize a number of positive standards for the digital currency market.

Crypto credibility

The Association for Digital Asset Markets (ADAM) is looking to leverage the joint expertise of its members and partnerships across financial firms and regulatory experts, in order to “devise a code of conduct for digital asset markets”, as stated on the official ADAM website.

Using the decade that has passed since the publication of the Bitcoin whitepaper as a point of reference, ADAM argues that “the world is still coming to terms with its implications” and that digital assets are a major opportunity, one of which the government regulators and market participants are finding extremely challenging to navigate.

ADAM’s website states four primary objectives:

  • To protect market participants from fraud and manipulation;
  • To provide clear rules and standards for efficient trading, custody, and the clearing and settlement of digital assets;
  • To encourage professionalism and ethical conduct by market participants; and
  • To increase transparency and provide information to the public and governments about digital asset markets.

The founding members of ADAM include fintech company Paxos, over-the-counter (OTC) crypto dealer Genesis Global Trading, world-leading multi-asset quantitative trading firm Hudson River Trading, and market-leading institutional smart contract platform Symbiont.

According to BusinessWire, ADAM is to be the “first broad-based organizations of its kind in the United States to proactively seek comprehensive standards for digital asset market participants”. That said, it isn’t the only consortium seeking to set straight particular issues of compliance, taxation and others for the blockchain and cryptocurrency industry, an undertaking of which Washington-based “The Blockchain Association” has set out to achieve.

Good intentions

ADAM is also said to be working with “current and former” regulators so that appropriate rules for “efficient trading, custody, clearing and settlement of digital assets” can be created. Furthermore, it references new guidelines to promote professional and ethical conduct by market participants, encouraging transparency to regulators and the public, and curbing market manipulation.

ADAM Advisory Board Member and former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange, Duncan Niederauer, likened the establishment of these fundamental rules to those set 200 years ago by market leaders who together, drafted the rules which led to the eventual creation of the New York Stock Exchange. He said, “The advent of digital assets requires a similar effort.”

Much like The Blockchain Association, ADAM will be pushing guidelines for risk management, know-your-customer (KYC), anti-money-laundering and so on. Entities such as these have some major benefits for the industry at large, which at present is undergoing radical transformations in the wake of major regulatory shifts and the ongoing professionalization of the industry, spurred by institutional investment from venture capitalists (VCs).

 

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First Run of West Virginia Blockchain Voting Application for Overseas Military Is a Success

West Virginia’s blockchain voting application for overseas military personnel and their families has been a resounding success, this according to an official announcement made by West Virginia Secretary of State, Andrew “Mac” Warner.

Earlier this year, Warner had announced that the mountain state was conducting trials of a blockchain based electoral application for mobiles, designed specifically for those serving in the military, as well as their families who are abroad. This was intended as a solution to issues such as poor voter turnout, late receipts, and voter anonymity; upon the conclusion of the trial and after four audits, Warner’s office declared the software to have no problems.

Results

In an official announcement on 15 November, Warner praised a phenomenal voter turnout and presented the figures for the blockchain voting application, he wrote:

“Military and overseas voters in 24 West Virginia counties had, for the first time, an easy and hassle-free way to participate in this year’s General Election. Approximately 144 military and overseas West Virginians voted from 30 different countries using a mobile voting application. This is a first-in-the-nation project that allowed uniformed services members and overseas citizens to use a mobile application to cast a ballot secured by blockchain technology.”

Voter turnout among active service members is sluggish in the United States, according to the Election Assistance Commission, 13% (930,156) of the 7.7 million entitled overseas voters signed up to receive a ballot for 2016’s general election, despite already having “special provisions” which allow them to vote via email. From this figure, only 68.1% (633,593) of these ballots were returned.

Blockchain Voting

Speaking with the Washington Post, Warner’s deputy chief of staff Michael Queen said that only two voters so far had experienced problems with the app, when prompted for thoughts on security, Queen commented that West Virginia has no intentions to extend this voting system beyond that of its overseas military population.

Adding, “Secretary Warner has never and will never advocate that this is a solution for mainstream voting,”

Earlier criticisms of the application were made by security experts such as Joseph Lorenzo Hall, who in August told CNN Business, “Mobile voting is a horrific idea. It’s internet voting on people’s horribly secured devices, over our horrible networks, to servers that are very difficult to secure without a physical paper record of the vote.”

On the contrary, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology credits those who went ahead with the project as “the bold ones”, adding “There is something to be said sometimes for small-scale pilots where we can learn the trade-offs,”

Around the World

Voting on the blockchain had gradually caught the attention of the world, with nations such as Russia and Japan joining in on the experiment.

In August, National Public Monitoring (NOM) a Russian non-profit organization announced the pilot of a blockchain based voting project. Not many details have been shared yet, but the project was declared to a congress of 300 representatives including the “Corps” for Clean Elections.

In Japan, a southern city named Tsukuba revealed that it will be using a pre-tested blockchain system for local residents to vote on local programs.

According to other reports, blockchain voting is a tool for presenting the most accurate poll results, which in some areas of the world could be vital for democracy.

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Augur Accurately Predicts 2018 US Elections

The blockchain-based prediction market Augur, whose native token REP is ranked #48 with a market cap of USD 163 million as of 7 November 2018, accurately predicted the 6 November United States elections. During the morning of the election, before any polls closed, Augur predicted a 74% chance that Democrats would take the House, and a 90% chance that Republicans would take the Senate.

After President Trump’s declaration hours ago of a “Big Victory” after the Repulicans won the Senate, Augur’s predictions have now been confirmed as fact.

There were USD 1.366 million of bets at stake on the ‘Which party will control the House after 2018 US Midterm Election?‘ prediction market. This represented 48.5% of the USD 2.804 million of money at stake across all of Augur’s prediction markets. Even though the House has been confirmed as a win for the Democrats, the odds for the Democrats winning sits at 97%, leaving a 3% spread that investors can easily profit on, so money continues to pour into the contract. However, the prediction market will not be closing out and disbursing funds until 10 December 2018, so users will have to wait for their profits.

The Augur prediction market for the Senate has much less money at stake, just over USD 10,000, likely since pollsters agreed that it was nearly certain the Republicans would win the Senate. Thus, less money is staked on Augur prediction markets where outcomes are more certain.

Based on data collected by The Block Crypto, it seems that Augur’s election predictions are a reflection of forecasts by expert pollsters like FiveThirtyEight. As FiveThirtyEight adjusted its forecast for the House during election night, the Augur prediction market followed in lockstep.

The prediction markets for the 2020 United States Presidential election have already begun, with just over USD 5,000 staked on the market for whether Donald Trump will be re-elected. Currently, Augur thinks Trump only has a 36% chance.

Aside from political election predictions, the biggest markets on Augur are for cryptocurrency price forecasts. USD 552,000 is staked on whether Ethereum will be USD 500 or more at the end of 2018, USD 103,000 is staked on whether Ethereum will exceed USD 1,000 at the end of 2018, USD 279,000 is staked on whether the REP token will exceed USD 32 at the end of 2018, and USD 39,000 is staked on whether Bitcoin will exceed USD 20,000 at the end of 2018. Due to the continued cryptocurrency bear market, Augur is predicting that most of these questions will verify as false. When aggregated, the Augur markets for cryptocurrency price forecasts have about USD 1 million at stake.

 

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US Study Reveals Contentious Opinions on Bitcoin Campaign Donations

A recent study that gauged voter opinions of cryptocurrencies in US political campaign donations has revealed positive yet cautious sentiments.

The survey conducted by research firm Clovr gathered the views of 1,023 registered US voters across a number of areas including financial stability, legality, foreign interference, and political misuse. The results were then further filtered down by political affiliation – Democrat, Republican or Independent.

Acceptance

Of those surveyed, 60% believe that cryptocurrencies and US fiat should be treated as equals for federal elections; the article also makes note that 21% of respondents were opposed to this view.

In 2014, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) established some loose guidelines for Bitcoin donations; summarily, they are permitted, although only in the form of an “in-kind” contribution and limited to an amount of USD 100. By these definitions, digital currencies do not fall on par with fiat currencies as they are treated the same as other in-kind donations such as donated items, equipment and subsidized rent.

With regards to security, a majority (54%) of respondents have faith in cryptocurrency being secure enough to be used for political purposes; a view that was held by relatively similar numbers across political affiliations.

Under half (42%) of respondents reported that cryptocurrencies were stable enough for political purposes, however, 35% believe that cryptocurrency markets are too volatile for political use.

Concerns

Contrasting to those bullish outlooks, a majority of respondents (60%), are of the opinion that cryptocurrencies would make foreign interference in elections more common. Additionally, 62% are concerned that cryptocurrency is more likely to be used illegally within politics, a view that was expressed almost equally across all political affiliations.

In the survey, 64% of respondents agreed that politicians would “take advantage” of the looser regulations surrounding crypto donations; voters from all political parties overwhelmingly voted yes, 26% were unsure and 10% disagree.

The above sentiments are not particularly hard to believe considering that bitcoin was recently linked to the interference of Russian hackers during the 2016 Presidential Elections. Furthermore, political donation opinions in the United States are wrought with complexities, controversies, distrust and other fascinating issues that systemic in US politics.

Crypto-campaigns

In the US this year, there have been some efforts to not only increase the use of digital currencies in political campaigns, but also the use of blockchain technology in mobile voting apps.

In July, a Libertarian Party member who was campaigning for state Governor of Wisconsin announced his acceptance of Bitcoin donations. This move prompted a negative response from the Wisconsin Ethics Commission (WEC) who doubt the legal validity of such a donation. Regardless, the candidate has said that he will “push all the way back” should his announcement be contested.

In August, the North Carolina electoral campaign finance board firmly denied a Republican candidate the right to receive cryptocurrency donations for his campaign. Also that month, a 2020 presidential candidate announced that he would be accepting Bitcoin, Ethereum and any other ERC20 compliant tokens.

 

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Kim Dotcom Says USD in Death Spiral, Buy Crypto

Kim Dotcom, who has been under siege by the New Zealand and United States governments since the 2012 closure of Megaupload, says the USD is in an irreversible death spiral due to the United States federal debt. Therefore, according to the internet entrepreneur, now is the time to buy crypto and gold.

US Empire now pays half a trillion dollars in interest payments per year to service its debt.

US debt increases by a trillion per year. It’s a death spiral that cannot be undone.

Self destruction and USD collapse are unavoidable. Get out of USD and US stocks. Buy gold & crypto.

— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) October 25, 2018

Dotcom specifically mentions the United States government debt, which has been rapidly increasing due to a worsening federal budget situation. From 1997-2001, the debt was relatively steady in the USD 5.5-5.8 trillion range. The events of 11 September 2001 initiated a global war on terror, causing US debt to rise to USD 7 trillion by early 2004. In Iraq, the conflict became a war of attrition and to fund this, debt increased to USD 9 trillion around the beginning of 2008.

Then the Great Recession of 2008 began, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Ultimately, trillions of US dollars were used to bail out banks and corporations, and this practice continues to this day. During early 2009, US debt exceeded USD 11 trillion. Notably, this acceleration of debt coincided with the launch of Bitcoin, and was referenced in the Bitcoin genesis block with the phrase “The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks“.

By 2012, US debt had skyrocketed to USD 15 trillion. The pace of debt increase never slowed down, breaching USD 20 trillion in late 2017, coinciding with Bitcoin’s record highs of USD 20,000. As of 25 October 2018, this debt sits at USD 21.7 trillion, up USD 1.25 trillion in a year, or an increase of roughly USD 3.45 billion per day.

The Bitcoin market cap is USD 112.5 billion as of this writing on 28 October, which pales in comparison to the United States debt. It takes only a month for it to increase by the amount of the entire Bitcoin market cap.

Buried deep down in the United States budget for 2019 are tables showing that the budget deficit will be nearly USD 1 trillion in 2019, with projections of an increase through 2028. Interest paid out for debts will be USD 364 billion according to the estimate, with a year over year growth of USD 50 billion, yielding USD 869 billion of payments for debt in 2028. These are just estimates and do not account for emergencies like major wars or serious economic collapses.

Tying this data together with Dotcom’s statements, the United States debt has increased tremendously over the past two decades. Budget projections indicate the United States can not afford to slow down the deficit, let alone start paying back the debt. This will require the country to increasingly issue bonds, where people give the United States money in exchange for some slight long-term interest.

Depending on the length of bond maturity, current United States Treasury bond rates range from 2.3% to 3.3%. Historical 10-year bond interest rate data shows that after a long period of decline, rates for 10-year bonds have climbed from 1.5% in the middle of 2016 to 3.2% as of October 2018. Therefore, the amount of money the United States has to pay for bond interest has increased by over 100% in the past two years. This is likely due to decreasing demand for United States bonds versus the number of bonds the United States is trying to sell.

As bond interest rates rise, eventually investors will get spooked, and the United States will have to print money on a mass scale to keep the country running. This will drastically devalue the USD, and perhaps this is already underway. There has been 53% USD inflation since the year 1998 according to consumer price index (CPI) data, which is roughly 2.7% USD inflation per year.

Increasing budget deficits, which leads to increasing bond rates, which ultimately leads to printing money as a last resort once bond buying demand dries up, could very well cause hyperinflation of the USD. This would be catastrophic for most of the global economy.

However, Bitcoin and gold should hold their value relative to the USD, since they cannot be printed by the United States.

 

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27.6% Tariff on Chinese Crypto Mining Rig Manufacturers Could Be a Blessing or a Curse for Miners in the USA

A trade war is underway between the United States and China, and now the biggest crypto mining rig manufacturers in the world are caught in the crossfire. Bitmain, Canaan Creative, and Ebang International are among the largest crypto mining rig manufacturers in the world and are all located in China. Crypto mining rigs have been re-classified as ‘electrical machinery apparatus’ in June 2018 after being originally classified as ‘data processing machines’, bringing them under a 27.6% United States tariff, whereas before the tariff was 0%.

These tariffs have arisen out of a growing trade war between the United States and China. On 15 June 2018, the same month mining rigs were re-classified, the United States imposed 25% tariffs on USD 50 billion of Chinese imports. China retaliated with tariffs against the United States, prompting 25% tariffs against USD 200 billion of Chinese imports, which goes into full effect on 1 January 2019 but are already at 10% as of 24 September 2018. If China retaliates again, the United States promises tariffs on an additional USD 267 billion of Chinese goods, bringing the total of Chinese imports under the new tariffs to USD 517 billion, which is essentially 100% of all Chinese imports to the United States.

It is a general rule that tariffs benefit domestic producers and the government at the expense of consumers. Indeed, crypto mining rig manufacturers in the United States will have an opportunity to capture the U.S. market, after years of being dominated by Chinese crypto rig manufacturers like Bitmain. This is where the tariffs could be a blessing since it will open up the opportunity for U.S. manufacturers to become global competitors in the crypto mining business. In general, since Bitmain has a monopoly on the global crypto mining business, it might be a good thing for U.S. crypto mining manufacturers to break that monopoly since it would increase worldwide competition and lower mining rig prices.

It will take some time for U.S. crypto mining rig manufacturers to get to the point where they can compete with Bitmain on a global scale. In the short-term, the tariffs are a curse for both the Chinese crypto mining rig manufacturers, who will lose sales, and for U.S. customers who will either choose not to buy rigs or lose most of their profits if they decide to buy rigs and pay the tariff. The crypto hash rate in the United States could decline relative to the rest of the world. Simultaneously, the loss of U.S. demand could substantially weaken Chinese crypto mining manufacturers and cause mining rig prices to increase worldwide.

This tariff curse would be lifted if U.S. mining rig manufacturers can evolve to produce rigs as cheap and efficient as Bitmain’s rigs, at which point U.S. miners will no longer be at a disadvantage, and the whole world could benefit from the global competition between Chinese and U.S. crypto mining rig manufacturers.

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