On April 12, amid rising tensions in the U.S.-China bilateral relationship and increasing fears of a now-realized trade war, President Donald Trump announced that he would consider rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement crafted during the Obama administration that would have established new regulatory frameworks and drastically lowered tariffs on trade between member states. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) applauded Trump’s announcement, saying “the best thing the United States can do to push back against Chinese cheating now is to lead the other 11 Pacific nations that believe in free trade and the rule of law.” There may be some advantageous economic benefits for the United States if it were to rejoin this free trade agreement, but the fact remains that there is a clear agenda-setter in the Asia-Pacific, and it is not the United States. This is one important thing that has eluded Senator Sasse and others cheering the possibility of renewed American leadership in Asian trade: re-joining TPP at this stage is not leading. The Obama administration originally campaigned for TPP on the basis that it would allow the United States to essentially write the rules of trade in the region and act as a counterbalance to China’s growing influence. Former Japanese ambassador to the United States, Ichiro Fujisaki, described the partnership as “economic glue to cement ties with like-minded countries.” While the economic benefits of the deal were highly-touted, TPP was meant to be much more than a free trade agreement. It was a geopolitical move that carried great significance in the changing strategic landscape of the Asia-Pacific. Of course, any hopes that TPP would play a significant role in restructuring the Asian economic playing field were dashed when Donald Trump became president. He immediately made good on his campaign promise to withdraw the United States from TPP, much to the dismay of the other signatories. The remaining states subsequently amended the deal to create the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which is currently in the process of being ratified by its member states. However, without the participation of the United States—which accounts for more than 20 percent of the world’s GDP—CPTPP doesn’t carry the same clout as its original incarnation. Nevertheless, slightly over one year after the United States’ scuttling of TPP, President Trump appeared to open the door to the possibility of a U.S. return. However, even if the United States were accepted back into the agreement—which is certainly not a given—the geopolitical effect would not be the same as it might have been a year ago. Given the timing of the announcement, Trump’s about-face on TPP will likely be interpreted as a belated attempt to protect American interests in the face of an escalating U.S.-China trade war, a threat looming ever larger on the horizon. If the United States does, in fact, integrate itself into the trade agreement, those specific economic interests could very well be buoyed by the pact. However, re-integration into TPP will do little to reverse American soft power decline. Since the inception of the Bretton Woods system, the United States has been a leading force in establishing value frameworks which dictate the rules of various global interactions, including financial, diplomatic, political, etc. However, China’s influence has been on the rise for many years now, and with economic clout comes ideological influence. China’s alternative model of national development,  commonly known as the Beijing Consensus, is used to highlight its juxtaposition to the Washington Consensus, a concept which has evolved over time but is now commonly used to generally describe the policies advocated for developing countries by the United States and Western international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Beijing’s attempts to expand the influence and appeal of the Beijing Consensus include the trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement comprised of all the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. Seven of the eleven current members of TPP are part of the RCEP negotiations. The framework has many similarities to TPP, including greatly reduced tariffs on a wide array of goods. With its fifteen-member states in one of the world’s most densely populated regions, RCEP would encompass approximately 40 percent of the world’s GDP and nearly half the global population. Negotiators hope to conclude a deal on RCEP by the end of the year. Projects like BRI and RCEP—especially if they are successful—will severely undercut any strategic value held by TPP. This is not to say that China will simply—or easily—supplant the United States as a regional hegemon in the Pacific. China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea and elsewhere have not been earning much goodwill from its neighbors in recent times, and its overall appeal still fails to measure up to that of the United States in most regions. However, as projects like BRI and RCEP continue to expand in scope and influence, China’s ability to set the agenda and dictate the rules of economic engagement will likewise continue to grow. If the United States is going to effectively retain its regional influence, it will have to do much more than revive TPP.

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.