Atlantic Council Senior Fellow, Dr. Agnia Grigas authored a report this month entitled: “Frozen Conflicts: A Toolkit for U.S. Policy Makers”, that laid the foundation for the dialogue which took place in the Cannon House Office Building on July 6th. Garnering more attention than anticipated, the small room was packed, with every seat taken, the central walkway and sides of the panelists occupied by interns and experts alike; there was even a sizable crowd waiting outside for space to open up. The interest in frozen conflicts comes with good reason: the reasons Russia has acted how it has, how to anticipate its moves, and what to do about them, is still not entirely obvious. To consider these issues, Dr. Agnia Grigas was joined by Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia; former Ambassador to Belarus (‘94-’97) and Georgia (‘98-’01), Kenneth Yalowitz; and former Ambassador to Uzbekistan (‘00-’03) and Ukraine (‘03-’06), John Herbst, respectively. First, consider the historical parallels for the current Russian aggression. Ivan the Great ended the dominance of the Golden Horde over the Rus’, laying the foundation for the Russian Empire; Lenin ousted the Tsarist regime in the October Revolution of 1917, and saw the birth of the Soviet Union; similarly, unwilling to submit to the Western dominated post-Cold War era, Putin has plans to launch a Third Empire, which I have taken the liberty to transliterate from Russian as Tret’ya Imperiya. Ambassador Herbst made the point that by ignoring the Budapest Memorandum and the Paris Charters, Putin has chosen to “renew the empire”, rather than continue the normalization policies of Yeltsin. The stark contrast is clear anecdotally. Mayor of Moscow throughout the 1990s, Yury Luzhkov once publicly advocated for the annexation of Crimea. “President Clinton called Yeltsin and the problem was resolved; however, that was a very different Russia,” Ambassador Herbst concluded. Putin’s Russia is not satisfied with the Western-centric global order which has developed in the last quarter century, as evidenced by trends in Mr. Putin’s approval ratings: the only times Putin’s popularity has spiked was during his military campaigns—Chechnya, Georgia, and Ukraine. Russia’s proud history of conquest is clearly a central factor in its expansionary policies, but how Moscow decides where to act next is a more nuanced topic. According to Dr. Grigas, there are three factors that constitute a vulnerable state: first, a sizable presence of persons who speak, or are ethnically, Russian; second, the state borders Russia; and third, they are susceptible to Moscow’s influence culturally. “Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Belarus are vulnerable,” Ambassador Valowitz commented, and while the Baltic states fall into the category as well, with NATO bolstering its presence there, he does not think they will “pick a fight.” Moreover, where there have been separatist movements, Russia has tried to exacerbate them. For example, prior to taking formal action, Moscow was helping to train Eastern Ukrainian rebels, and was handing out Russian passports in Crimea. Conversely, the United States has an interest in maintaining order. “Our goals are laudable,” Valowitz answered, responding to a query from an Azerbaijani diplomat, “but they just are not pursued very vigorously.” Besides the overarching principle of territorial sovereignty, Washington knows that with conflict come setbacks to democracy, human rights, and economic reform. Moscow correctly fears that with enough economic progress, countries that used to be within its sphere of influence will align themselves with the West. As a result, they have taken up a policy of destabilization, promoting conflict in countries—like Ukraine—that are on the verge of slipping out of their grip. This strategy has not always had the desired effect. Ambassador Valowitz claims that because of the steps Putin has taken, “Ukraine will not be a close ally [to Russia] for the next 100 years.” If they cannot pull them back into the fold—which appears to be the case in Ukraine—Russia has shown that it is content to propagate perpetual turmoil. The widespread corruption of Ukrainian government officials has not helped to solve the problem. “We have seen substantial positive change,” Valowitz observed, “and I expect more to come in the months ahead.” They will need to win back trust for the separatist movements to end. Russian relations will continue to be important for the next U.S. administration. Importantly, American bureaucrats are not communicating with their Russian counterparts: that has to change. If it does not, the massive policy differences the two countries have will persist indefinitely, if not in reality—supposing Putin acquiesces to Western sanctions—in spirit, with national interests remaining considerably different. Foreign policy is a game of choices, and for Putin to back off, he will need an acceptable alternative. Until one arises, frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space will not abate.   Read the Atlantic Council report by Dr. Agnia Grigas here.

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.