TL;DR: Glo is a nonprofit, fully-backed stablecoin that passively eradicates extreme poverty when you use it. Glo maintains a treasury of cash and equivalents equal to the value of all Glo in existence, earns a yield on that treasury, and gives that yield to GiveDirectly. If Glo becomes half as popular as the US dollar, we can effectively end extreme poverty. This post outlines the Glo model, its potential impact, and roadmap. It concludes on a more aspirational note about the potential impact of moving everyday economic activity onto an ethical platform.
The Glo model
Let’s break down “nonprofit, fully-backed stablecoin that passively eradicates extreme poverty:”
- Global Income Coin Inc. is a non-profit organization whose founding donor is Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of GitLab.
- Our core product is a stablecoin, Glo, a cryptocurrency whose value is $1 per token.
- Glo is fully backed, which means the non-profit will maintain a treasury of cash and short-term Treasury bills greater than or equal to the value of all Glo.
- You can exchange Glo for the equivalent amount of dollars at any time.
- Our investments in T-bills will generate a yield – currently about 3% (its historical average is 3.37%). We’ll give that yield to GiveDirectly, a highly-regarded, EA-aligned charity that gives money unconditionally to people living in extreme poverty.
- That’s how buying and owning Glo passively eradicates extreme poverty – you only need to switch currencies to contribute. It's analogous to earning passive income.
We aim to make Glo available for purchase in Q4 2022.
Why do all this? Why not just donate all your money to GiveDirectly?
Glo dramatically expands the pool of available "for good" dollars. For EAs—and also for GiveDirectly—this means expanding the total effective altruist budget without asking for more donations. For foreign aid more broadly, we’re proposing a new revenue stream that doesn’t depend on political will, which can be fickle.
Scope for impact
Doing some back-of-the-envelope math (calculations here), we estimate that it takes $17,000 of minted Glo to provide $1/day of income for one person for one year. This will effectively lift one person out of extreme poverty.
Let’s run through a few scenarios to give a sense of potential impact.
1. If Glo became a $12B stablecoin, it would:
- be the fourth largest stablecoin and comprise about 8% of the total stablecoin market;
- generate about $300M yearly for GiveDirectly, which would just about double its 2020 revenue;
- create basic income for about 706,000 people.
2. If Glo became a $68B stablecoin, it would:
- be the largest stablecoin, slightly edging out Tether;
- generate about $1.7B yearly for GiveDirectly;
- create basic income for more than 4 million people.
3. If Glo reached $11T in value, it would
- be about half as large as extant US money (measured as M2, the broadest definition);
- generate $275B in annual yield;
- Create basic income for about 647 million people every year, which is just about everyone living in extreme poverty.
How will Glo get to $11T (planetary scale)?
First up for Glo is to be the best stablecoin. This means marketing Glo to individual and institutional investors who use stablecoins, e.g., to facilitate trades on crypto exchanges, for liquidity for market making and trading, and as loans using volatile crypto assets as collateral. Once we achieve parity between Glo and the leading stablecoins on stability, transparency, and availability, we think Glo’s comparative advantages will be that using it lifts people out of poverty.
Second, we will encourage altruistic folks to put some of their savings into Glo. A sum of Glo on your balance is both stable in value and easily made liquid, like other savings vehicles; the difference is that your Glo balance helps others at no cost to yourself.
Glo’s further stages require the nonprofit (and its friends and allies!) to do some heavy lifting. Basically, we need to make Glo useful for all the things people currently use money for.
Our third stage is to make Glo a viable substitute for money in a checking account. For this to work, you need to be able to spend Glo at the places you normally spend money, e.g. at the grocery store, for subscriptions, or on utilities. This will require a lot of technical and infrastructure development (i.e. support from payment processors like Stripe and PayPal, or debit card integrations), but we think that the ethical and corporate branding benefits of Glo adoption can provide the needed impetus.
Fourth will be corporate cash holdings. The goal here is that when businesses get paid in Glo, they’ll keep it as Glo. They can then pay their bills, and their employees, in Glo, or just keep cash on hand in Glo. This would have a huge impact–converting half of the $1.52 trillion that non-financial S&P 500 companies were sitting on in 2021 would provide recurring basic income for 90 million people–while also helping companies fulfill ESG requirements. Plus, if we succeed in marketing Glo as the ethical currency, we think that a lot of consumers and employees will actively select for places that use Glo.
The fifth stage is the culmination of the fourth: the point where most businesses default to using Glo. At all levels, we expect Glo adoption to start with people who are unusually ethically-minded, e.g. effective altruists and mission-driven businesses. But based on the numbers above, to really eradicate extreme poverty, Glo has to be broadly accepted by conventional folks at conventional places. This is, to put it lightly, ambitious, and we’re thinking about decades in the future. But for the kind of scale we’re aiming for, we need widespread mainstream adoption.
Conclusion: thinking about helping others in a new way
The thrust of this piece was to provide a sense of Glo’s numbers: at X value, we could help Y people, etc., and how we plan to get there. But we hope we’re also providing a more intangible sense of how much good we can do if we shift everyday economic activity onto ethical platforms. Brad West and Vincent van der Holst call this Guided Consumption, we think it’s a nice antidote to “no ethical consumption under capitalism” thinking. But more importantly, we think the potential for impact from putting everyday activity onto an ethical track dwarfs the scope of conventional charity. Put simply, the money people are willing to spend on themselves is probably always going to be bigger than that which they’re willing to spend on others. Glo’s goal is to harness that essential fact and put it to good use by creating and promoting an ethical currency.
Happy to answer any questions in the comments!
If this appeals to you, great! Please see here for ways to contribute.
If you read our previous post here, this section will be familiar.
A stablecoin is a cryptocurrency designed to keep a tight, consistent value. Some so-called stablecoins are ‘stabilized’ through an algorithm, and one of these failed so spectacularly in May 2022 that it basically set off a crypto meltdown. The other, better type of stablecoin is defined by having a sponsoring institution that maintains enough assets on hand to provide a 1-to-1 backing for the stablecoin’s entire value. Glo is the second type.
We know that there has been dispute about the long-term impacts of cash transfers on poverty. Rather than rehash that–GiveDirectly’s research page is a good overview of the pro-cash case, but see also Johannes Haushofer’s pinned thread for a conflicting take–we note three things that make us optimistic. First, Glo transfers continue indefinitely–we’re not transferring a lump sum and then evaluating how much money they had five years later. Second, GiveDirectly’s basic income program distributes money to every person in selected villages, which addresses concerns about spillovers. Third, because the program provides recipients with cash once a month, every month, GLO helps people smooth out income over time, which, as Portfolios of the poor argues, is a serious problem for very poor people. So that’s why we think that existing evaluations of of cash transfers form a lower bound for estimating GLO’s impact.
This, combined with its existing revenue, would push GiveDirectly to its operational limits.
If Glo reaches trillions of dollars of market cap, we're most likely operating in a world where we issue multiple stablecoins in different currencies. Each reserve would then be backed by government bonds denominated in each stablecoin's currency.
At this point, we’d have to either seriously scale up GiveDirectly or find new distribution channels.
We also think that our being a nonprofit aligns incentives between us and depositors. For-profit stablecoin companies always have an incentive to invest their treasuries in riskier assets, and thus earn a higher yield, but of course that puts depositors’ accounts at risk. We do not. We just have to keep our donors happy to keep the lights on.
This looks a lot more promising than the original post, so I'm very impressed at the continued evolution of this idea!
So, if I understand correctly, the current setup (or, the setup in a month or two) is roughly equivalent to the idea of - I give you money, you invest that money in a very low-risk investment, that profit goes to GiveDirectly, and if I need the money back, you give it to me. The reason it's a cryptocurrency is that there are plans to eventually allow GLO to be used as cash for various things. This is important because GLO is designed to be held in checking accounts, savings accounts, and emergency funds, not long-term investments - it doesn't compete in yield with the stock market, but that's not the intention.
Have I got that right?
Some additional questions:
How quickly, and at what cost, will I be able to exchange a currency (whether USD or non-USD) for GLO, and back again?
Is there a long-term plan to extract some amount of the T-bond interest for operational expenses? Do you see yourself being donor-funded indefinitely?
Hi Jay, thanks for the kind words!
Your summary is correct and pithy to boot! Perhaps we'll link people to it if they ask what our deal is 😃
On the T-bond for operational expenses...I really hope not. It really messes with the purity of message, and if the impact is there, they should get support and not be forced to muddy the message for the general public. Just 100% of yield goes to Givedirectly. Then let the people who know the great work that GLO is doing support it.
Just like Givewell... If people thought their donation was supporting Givewell's overhead, they would be less likely to support the Impact Fund.
Smart EAs should support effective institutions and enable those institutions to offer clearer propositions to the public.
Does the Impact Fund not take a small percentage to support GiveWell's overhead? I just always assumed they did.
On https://secure.givewell.org/, you first check a box for what fund you want to donate to, and then there's a a checkbox asking you to "Add 10% for GiveWell's unrestricted use (likely to support GiveWell's operating expenses)"
👏 Thank you for your kind words Brad!
No comment on the weaker claims in this article, but if Glo reached $11T, it would need to massively increase the amount of outstanding short-term Treasury bills, which would greatly decrease the yield (assuming the US government is willing to lend that much). I believe the Treasury issues roughly $1T in short-term bills every 3 months, so you'd need ~10x this number.
Hi Michael, just for our own curiosity, what are the weaker claims in this article, from your view?
We know that there is a limit to the amount of US T-bills that can be efficiently held in the market. If Glo reaches trillions of dollars of market cap, we're most likely operating in a world where we issue multiple stablecoins in different currencies. Each reserve would then be backed by government bonds denominated in each stablecoin's currency.
Our estimates of yield are based on T-bill yield, but, ofc, what assets will yield (or even exist) in the future where we're planetary scale is hard to speculate about. We think that somewhere in the 2.5%-3% range for cash equivalent investments is a good baseline estimate. Does that seem reasonable to you?
I meant that if you want to get Glo to, say, $1 billion market cap, then it doesn't run into problems with the supply of T-bills, and I have no comment on whether it's viable. But I disagree with your claim that Glo could eradicate world poverty, even at the most extreme upside.
So, speaking for myself and not for Global Income Coin, I think that there are many ways to challenge the link between cash transfers and 'eradication' of poverty. You might argue that
and probably many others. Does one of these motivate your skepticism? Or something else? This is purely for our edification, though we're happy to discuss if you'd like.
FWIW, extreme poverty is generally declining over time, and our best-case scenario is to speed that up. But either way, something like 2/3 of all people are living on less than $10 a day -- so not conventionally defined as extremely poor, but still people for whom $1/day could make a real difference.
The thing that motivates my skepticism is what I said in my first comment: I don't think you can buy $11T of T-bills at anywhere close to current interest rates.
There aren't any safe investment instruments other than treasuries?
👋 This comes up often enough that I added a footnote (no. 5) to address it; repasting it here
So our truly long-term vision doesn't depend fully on T-bills, though what yield we get in such a scenario is hard to predict. Thanks for prompting us to communicate more clearly about this
Glo is still looking like an interesting funding option for GiveDirectly.
There have been about 8 years in the past 15 year where 3-month US treasury yields were close to 0%, from 2009-2016, and 2020-2022.
Hi Noah, good to hear from you again!
Hope this helps!
It's probably worth doing a little assessment of alternatives now, just in case. I'm curious what options you think are low-risk. outside of t-bills and other government bonds. I'm not an investor, but I'm curious what you folks might have to do if t-bill and other government bond yields zero out.
yep, this is definitely on my agenda. Hard to scope out -- is it a 1 hour project or a 10 hour or a 100 hour? I'd guess 10 but I'm not sure. Anyway you are right and sooner rather than later is better 😃