TL;DR

We introduce Global Income Coin (GLO), a cryptocurrency that generates universal basic income through seigniorage. GLO is conceived, managed, and distributed by the Global Income Coin Foundation, a nonprofit in Zug, Switzerland.[1] We’re pursuing this project because we think that UBI is good and because its scope is huge: potentially $2860 billion/year (basically $1/person/day). Our ambition is for the EA community to embrace Global Income Coin as a project worth pursuing. 

What questions and concerns would you need answered to consider GLO a good and viable idea? We’re going to write The Effective Altruist Case for Global Income Coin and will use your feedback as input.

1 The GLO model

GLO is a cryptocurrency[2] that uses seigniorage—the revenue generated from the creation of new money—to pay for a universal basic income (UBI). GLO is intended to be used as normal money (i.e. for payments, savings) and has a target rate of $1

We aim to debut GLO later this year. At that point, everyone in the world will be able to verify their identity to claim a small weekly UBI of GLO. We’ll encourage humans and companies to adopt GLO as a payment method. The more they do this, the more UBI we can generate.

1.1 Seigniorage: the value that arises from growth in the money supply 

In general, governments grow the global money supply steadily over time to keep pace with inflation targets and economic growth.[3]

The entity creating the new money can decide what to do with it, so this can be considered an income stream. That income stream is called seigniorage.[4] Usually, money from seigniorage enters economies top-down, from the central banks to commercial banks and into the broader economy. The goal of Global Income Coin is to do a bottom-up distribution of new money instead.

Seigniorage is a normal thing, but it’s relatively unknown and often sounds like black magic to people who first hear about it. How can money be created out of thin air? But in any modern economy, this happens continuously. Our ballpark estimate (going by 1994-2019 historicals) is that government-created money grows by about 8% a year. By 2024, this means governments will be printing approximately $2,860 billion per year.

1.2 How GLO uses seigniorage to generate UBI

GLO uses seigniorage to keep its value at about $1/GLO coin and generate UBI at the same time. Here’s how this works:

  • GLO, like the dollar, has a theoretically unlimited supply. More coins can be printed at any time.
  • GLO has a target exchange rate of $1. When demand for the currency rises (e.g. because more people want to use it for payments) the price of GLO will drift upwards.
  • The Foundation then creates more GLO to accommodate the growth in demand. This has two effects:
    1. It lowers the market-clearing price back to our target of $1/GLO token;
    2. It generates proceeds for the Global Income Coin Foundation, which can then be distributed directly to verified humans as UBI.

That way, the printing of new money facilitates the growth in the money supply required to meet rising demand.[5]

1.3 GLO is permissionless monetary policy change

GLO is a currency that can be used instead of existing everyday currencies. Every time someone uses GLO rather than USD, EUR, JPY, etc, they shift a fraction of top-down money creation towards the Global Income Coin model. The same ~8% monetary expansion would still happen, but the value would be used for a global UBI rather than flow into (mostly) already wealthy economies through their financial industries. It’s a wealth transfer set in motion through people switching to a different currency for (a part of) their savings and spending. 

1.4 Potential impact on poverty

The goal of Global Income Coin is to alleviate (extreme) poverty, and its mechanism is direct cash transfers. Direct cash transfers require two things:

  1. Money to distribute
  2. Infrastructure to distribute it with

If Global Income Coin succeeds, it offers a solution to both. Seigniorage is the ‘business model’ by which Global Income Coin generates UBI. For distribution, we’re connecting all humans to a global payment network, verifying their identity such that everyone can only claim UBI once. 

Since the UBI does not depend on donations, the value unlocked by Global Income Coin comes on top of existing poverty alleviation initiatives.[6] At global adoption, we’d unlock an estimated $2,860 billion per year.[7] Distributed among ~8 billion people, this makes for a daily UBI of $1 per person. 

But note that Global Income Coin doesn’t need to reach full-scale adoption to be of philanthropic value. Any level of sustained GLO adoption unlocks some amount of UBI. Quantifying the impact of various non-maximal success scenarios is one of our open research questions.[8]

2 Current status

  • We’re very early: Global Income Coin started this year and is now a team of six
  • GLO came out of stealth mode in late April with a press release and a Show HN thread
  • We’ve secured $2M in initial funding from Sid Sijbrandij, CEO of GitLab, to pay our bills
  • We plan to launch the coin later this year
  • We’re hiring across the board
  • We’re looking to partner with crypto exchanges who are excited about crypto for good
  • We’ve got a public draft white paper containing our latest thinking (comments and contributions welcome)

3 Outstanding challenges

This is an ambitious, long-term project—think decades—but there are some short to medium term problems that we’ve got to solve if we’re going to get off the ground. To not make this forum post too in-depth, we’ll just list the issues here. If you’re interested in learning about our solution directions, please see our EA case draft.

3.1  The demand for GLO needs to grow

Our ability to generate sufficient demand for the GLO token is make-or-break; if everyone immediately sells their GLO for other currencies, its value collapses. Kickstarting demand is especially difficult early on.

3.2  Identity verification that’s fraud-resistant and privacy-preserving

We need to verify that everyone claiming UBI is an actual, unique human so we’re sybil-resistant while also maintaining privacy.

3.3  Reaching people without internet and/or functional national ID systems

The people who need the UBI the most often live in places with little internet access or countries that have no reliable national identity system.

3.4  Blockchain scalability

We’re building towards billions of transactions per day, which, as Sam Bankman-Fried could tell you, is way beyond the current capacities of most extant networks.

4. How we use resources: employing people and deploying funds

As a non-profit organization, Global Income Coin can grow to deploy funds at megaproject scale and employ people in domains like software development, economics/econometrics, trading, data science, policy research, security, marketing, partnerships, community management. 

While the UBI generated by GLO is eventually donation-independent, the Global Income Coin Foundation does use donations in two ways:

1. Operational costs

The Global Income Coin Foundation wants to be a ‘slim organization’. Our aim is to incentivize for-profits to build infrastructure and provide services rather than becoming a full-blown tech company ourselves. Still, we expect to eventually employ hundreds of employees.

2. USD reserve

During times with low natural demand for GLO, the Foundation will use its existing supply of USD to purchase GLO and artificially support the value of the UBI. This should only be necessary in the early phase; eventually GLO should sustain its own value. The USD reserve buys us time to get to that point. It can theoretically deploy an arbitrarily large amount of funding.[9]

5. Request for feedback + how you can help

We’re soliciting ideas and participation on a few fronts:

A. The Effective Altruist Case for Global Income Coin

That’s the title of an upcoming document (see draft) that should explain why GLO is worth pursuing from an EA point of view. 

What would it take to persuade you? More fully-fleshed out intermediate plans? Some early successes? Strong, Ulysses-tying-his-hands-to-the-mast commitments to Do No Harm? Endorsements or oversight from certain people? 

  • Let us know your biggest reservations in the comments and we’ll use them as input for what to write about.
  • Additionally, we’re looking for volunteer reviewers from within the EA community as well as volunteer writers/researchers.

If you’re excited about Global Income Coin, have relevant expertise, and want to help us answer some of the subquestions, please reach out!

B. Spread the word

C. Labor/Partnerships

  1. ^

    The Foundation is in the process of officially being set up.

  2. ^

    For the technically inclined, it’s initially an ERC-20 token distributed on Polygon.

  3. ^

    n.b. slide 22: “Normal economic growth requires a certain amount of money supply growth to facilitate the growth in transactions.”

  4. ^

    Classically, seigniorage referred to the difference between the face value of physical currency and the cost of producing it. There’s a nice illustration of this in Chapter 4 of HPMOR, in which Harry goes to Gringotts and asks how much the Goblins would “charge in fees, as a fraction of the whole weight,” if he were to bring in a ton of silver for them to convert into Sickles. Those fees are seigniorage. With digital currency, the cost of producing money is practically zero.

  5. ^

    This is in contrast to how currencies like bitcoin work: if their demand grows, the number of coins stays the same, so the value per coin goes up (and early investors profit). 

  6. ^

    In fact, these initiatives may use the Global Income Coin network as their payment rails.

  7. ^

    That’s assuming GLO replaces all government-created money. That’s not all money on earth; the majority of money is created by commercial banks. Replacing all money on earth would allow for an estimated UBI of $3.78 per person per day.

  8. ^

    Note that it’s not as simple as saying "100% adoption gives a UBI of $1/person/day, so X% adoption gives X% * $1". At lower adoption, seigniorage is distributed among fewer people. Additionally, the 8% money growth is an estimate based on the 25-year average across all countries and industries. Actual seigniorage highly depends on what specific parts of the global economy Global Income Coin finds adoption in.

  9. ^

    Here’s a model illustrating how far a $25m reserve would take us under various circumstances.

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7 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:12 AM
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This is an interesting idea. A few thoughts from a student of international financial macroeconomics.

Seignorage is essentially the profits that come from devaluing money holdings. That means your basic mechanism is to transfer value from holders of GLO to people who claim your UBI. This could work with the early enthusiasts, or with there being transactional value in holding GLO (e.g. if sellers accept GLO then buyers will keep some of it on hand). Since enthusiasts will be attracted if there is a strong prospect for transactional value, I'll give a few comments on the prospect of GLO becoming a global currency. My comments are mostly issues, problems, and questions that you may have to answer to convince people that the GLO ambition has potential. But that shouldn't detract from the value of the project.

Any currency needs to have its value continually supported in some way. Your summary contains a misconception: that, to maintain the $1 value, USD reserves won't be required after some point. In fact, entire countries can fail to defend their national currencies' pegs despite having billions of USD reserves. It's similar to a bank run, and it can happen to stablecoins not backed 1 for 1.

Generating demand for GLO may be difficult. Since seignorage is a devaluation of money holdings, it would create a disincentive to hold GLO. For example, cryptocurrencies often constrain supply or burn tokens in a bid to get people to buy and hold. You're proposing to do the opposite. That is why getting people to use GLO for transactions, or some other utility such as altruistic appeal, is vital. So generating demand is not impossible, but challenging.

Your ambition for GLO may not be consistent with a $1 peg, since your ambition is effectively for the dollar to become irrelevant. Of course, a $ peg would take you a long way at first. Nevertheless, a natural solution in the case of runaway GLO success may be to peg to a CPI-like weighted basket of prices. Perhaps CPI - x%, to generate some value to transfer to UBI claimants.

The amount of seignorage revenue in a given period will depend on the growth of demand for GLO in that period. Demand may fluctuate, and with it the UBI income amount. The income will be zero in periods in which reserves are used to prop up the value. That is not a deal breaker, but you will have to dip into reserves to produce a steady UBI income stream, or accept income fluctuation.

If GLO becomes a ubiquitous global currency, it will limit countries' ability to use domestic monetary policy to stabilise the business cycle and unemployment. That would open the question of global monetary policy in a GLO world, and whether the policy variables e.g. GLO supply should be used for macro stability as well as UBI, and who should make those decisions.

I hope my comments are constructive enough to be helpful. Best of luck!

Thanks for the close read and thoughtful comments, Michael. FWIW, if you’d like to discuss this more over email or a Zoom call, we’d be glad to connect. 

To each point in turn (along with a paraphrase -- LMK if I got any of this wrong)

The seigniorage model is effectively a (redistributive) tax on holding the asset

Yep, that’s right. For this model to work, in the short term, we need people to buy, hold, and use GLO for altruistic reasons and accept a (relatively modest) depreciation of the asset over time. (Cash also devalues.) If our group of enthusiasts is large and vocal enough, they create an incentive for vendors to accept GLO, and, best case, to prefer  GLO for branding reasons. In the medium-term, we aim for parity in terms of ease of use with other means of exchange. In the long run, we aim for GLO to be the easiest, or among the easiest, ways of buying and selling stuff, which is something you’d pay a small price to deal with, just as sellers currently eat the costs of a fee to accept credit cards. Right now, we’re focused on the short-term problem of convincing folks to give it a try, with the basic calculus that if the project works, it could have transformational effects on global poverty. Even if you assign only a small probability to the project's eventual success, a small probability * a transformational impact is still a very large gain in expected utility.

USD reserves are necessary to maintain value in the long-run

Probably reserves of something are necessary for the long run but they don’t necessarily have to be in USD. Your point is well taken though, especially today. Our vision is that in the early phase, reserves will effectively subsidize the value of GLO, since there is no natural demand;  later on, if/when GLO garners transactional, altruistic and branding demand, we’ll use the reserves to manage the float and dampen volatility. The action is the same (trading GLO for dollars) but during the ‘subsidy phase’ the reserves will on average only go down, and we hope to get to a point where natural demand growth allows us to grow the reserves as well. There’s a trading strategy section in the whitepaper that spells this out in more detail -- we'd be glad to have your feedback!

 The seigniorage model is also a disincentive for holding the currency

See above

Rather than a $1 peg, why not a basket of CPI-linked indexes?

First, we're not aiming for a peg. We'll let GLO be its own free-floating currency and only use $1 as a loose target. And yep, in the long run, we might aim for a new target. In the short- and medium-run, 1 GLO = $1 has a number of nice properties, e.g. simplicity & ease of understanding.

UBI won’t be consistent over time unless demand for the asset rises steadily and monotonically

This is right in principle and we could deal with it in a few ways; 1) we might have a system where rich world users only accepted UBI sometimes, or never, or only when it was above a certain value threshold, and could opt instead to have it automatically distributed to users who truly need it (or to an unrelated charitable fund, e.g. GIveWell’s Maximum Impact Fund). 2) we might supplement from existing reserves, as you suggest. 3) Create a ‘friends of GLO’ foundation to which people can donate (tax-free) some amount of money that goes directly to recipients, for which we will already have the infrastructure set up. This could take the form of a close partnership with an NGO (e.g. GiveDirectly) or a mobile money transfer service (e.g. M-PESA).

What about existing monetary policy uses, like reducing unemployment? Are we imagining a world where governments can’t do that anymore?

1) if GLO becomes the single global currency, countries would indeed have to rely more on fiscal policy. This has downsides, clearly, but is not unprecedented, as we see within the Eurozone or countries that adopt the dollar.  2) Long-term, we don’t want to be solely responsible for running the world’s money supply, and global monetary policy will ultimately need to be handled by an org like a global central bank, a trusted NGO, or a democratically representative DAO. 3) The $2.86T number is useful as an optimistic case to get a sense of the potential scale, but our ethos is not “take over the world’s money supply or bust!!” A variety of intermediate outcomes would still also be very good, and those would still supply governments with latitude to, e.g. use OMOs. 

Happy to keep discussing, we love this stuff 😃 

Note: OP has assured me the following is not a concern. Haven't deleted the comment so the discussion is still visible.


Potential to be deceptive

I'm using a large heading because I feel the cost of EA supporting fraudulent projects can be high; I don't usually do this.

As someone who has previously worked in the cryptocurrency space, I don't think your stablecoin is likely to maintain peg longterm unless it has significant underlying reserves - USD or other assets. Significant here means atleast 40-50% backing, although it is much better if it higher. You may have seen the recent UST collapse as an example of a large-scale project that collapsed due to insufficient backing - at peak there was $18 billion in UST circulating market cap.

In the absence of backing, it is easy for this project to be deceptively marketed. I am okay with unbacked coins being marketed as explicitly that, as then everyone holding them knows their value is defined purely on memes / narrative, and can make their decisions accordingly. I am also okay with coins that are backed as long as they are transparent about what backing they have, and actually have said backing.  With your project's current pitch, it is easy to mislead users into thinking the coin will maintain a $1 pegged price (or any non-zero price for that matter) due to backing, although in reality it has no backing.

Until you can make sure that the coin will not be deceptively marketed, I also don't think it's a good idea for EA folks to engage with the project.

Oh don't get me wrong. We're not a stablecoin, don't maintain a peg, and won't make a promise of value or stability. GLO is a floating currency; its value will need to be based on usage and not on any backing. This is deliberate: in the long term we believe a floating currency is more feasible than keeping a peg to an existing currency. This means there will indeed be volatility and this is a risk for anyone adopting GLO.

I realize the forum post may make it sound like we're suggesting a peg/stablecoin. That's not our intention. We didn't go into detail because we didn't want to make the post too technical, but on our homepage and whitepaper we're very explicit about this.

We do operate a reserve, and have a trading strategy that should, over time, grow the reserves as demand for GLO rises. But the goal of the reserves is merely to dampen volatility. In these interventions, we use $1 as a loose target, not as a peg. (Feedback on this trading strategy is very welcome.)

Understood. Sorry for harshness in my original comment then.

The White Paper is fascinating as an example of some smart people trying to identify and crack problems around global UBI - it is worth a look whatever your position on this post and/or solution.

For what it's worth the $2.8tn figure that much of this hangs off seems 'blithely optimistic' as already commented and the link to M0 plucked out of thin air, and the verification system cumbersome and doubtfully viable. There is the germ of something here though and I'm glad though to see so many different organisations and approaches trying to deal with the issue. 

Thanks, appreciate it!

  • I agree, replacing all M0 is 'optimistic'. Plus, even in the most successful outcome it's not at all sure that that's what happens—it could very well be GLO replaces a part of commercial bank created money (i.e. M2 but not M0) instead. The reason we use the number is to have some figure illustrative of the size of the potential. By basing it on M0, this max potential figure is not totally arbitrary, and it also allows for a simple back-of-the-envelope estimate since it assumes a world in which credit-based money creation by commercial banks would simply continue as normal.
  • Most important is that any level of adoption—as long as its self-sustained—leads to some amount of seigniorage that can be used for UBI.
  • Which part of verification seems cumbersome? Our goal is to delegate this to crypto exchanges, who already KYC their clients. The user experience of verifying for Global Income Coin will be similar to opening an account at an exchange, broker, or neobank (take a selfie, scan passport etc)