It was not long ago that Afghanistan was considered the former Soviet Union’s Vietnam. But America has found itself in a conflict that not only is the longest war but eerily parallels the tragedies of Vietnam and Cambodia. Troubling news continues to arrive on the doorsteps—even with the latest vigorous efforts to bring the conflict to an end—through the daily newspaper delivery of reports about Afghanistan and Pakistan—just like it did decades ago about Vietnam and Cambodia From a historical rearview mirror, it is worth exploring that the war was not really between the people of America and Vietnam. Soldiers of both countries followed the orders of their superiors, even though deep down in their hearts many had questions about the armed conflict. A book worth reading is “With the Dragon’s Children” (second edition), by David J. Garms, published by Friesen Press “true story of a Minnesota farm boy who was sent to rehabilitate Viet Cong (the Taliban of that era) and instead learned the truth about a way of life and war”.  Garms explains why the Vietnamese sometimes call themselves the “Dragon’s Children.” Through ten chapters, the reader will find out about a brief history of Vietnam, a town in Mekong Delta, about the men who changed sides and about hearts and minds. Not to mention an uncomfortable question: “will you eat dog meat?” Considering the conflicts today, one could just as easily ask “will you eat humble pie?” In less than 200 pages, Garms brought the real story of the armed conflict in the reader’s hands to enjoy. With remarkable humility he dedicated the first edition of the book to the people of Go Cong, whom he served. “Whatever their destiny, may it be their own,” he added echoing the real sincerity of his fellow Americans. In the second edition, Garms notes that during “the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, the Chinese provided the munitions and technical support to North Vietnam. Today the roles are reversed. A unified Vietnam is aligning itself with the U.S. against China. The U.S. is expected to provide technical assistance and training to Vietnam while Vietnam may provide U.S. naval access to the port at Cam Ranh Bay.” The real goodness in American public servants—soldiers, diplomats and Peace Corps volunteers—is exemplified by a former Minnesota farm boy called David J. Garms. Through a long dedicated professional service, people like Garms put themselves in harm’s way to make life better for fellow human beings in far flung villages and the rugged terrains. They adapted themselves to unfamiliar cultures and learn different languages to solve human problems. Serving in a different capacity with the “Dragon’s Children” Jerome Barry—founder of the Embassy Series—then first lieutenant in the Signal Corps in the United States Army, served with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam in 1965 and was called up to serve when President Johnson brought in 565,000 U.S. soldiers.  Lieutenant Barry recalls his first impressions: “After a trip of 28 days on a Merchant Marine Ship, we landed in Vietnam and immediately were sent to the Central Highlands. Disorganization reigned and most of us had no idea how to handle the situation.” “Governments have struggled and caused their people to suffer in the name of these people, but who knows their names?” Garms wrote more than forty years ago. In this interesting book, the author provides the names of many he worked with—for example in Chapter VII he talks about the challenges in dealing with “Mr. Cat,” who actually turned up with very good ideas about dealing with perplexing problems they faced jointly. Judging U.S.-Vietnam relations only from the narrow lens of the ill-fated Vietnam War is tantamount to leave after the first act of a historical play where the real interesting and meaningful stuff comes onto the stage in the most important acts to follow. We are now in an era when the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson made a port call in Danang, Vietnam.  But warships are not the only dimension in U.S.-Vietnam relations revival. Take for example, the Humphrey Fellowship program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. This important program has had 38 Humphrey Fellows from Vietnam. In 2008, an alumnus was given an award for "a project aimed to build a network of key people throughout the Mekong River region (Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, China, and Vietnam) in order to establish national and regional leadership networks for sustainable water resources management." Moreover, another alumnus received an award during 2010-11 "for a project on farming diversification for enhanced food security of poor household in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam." The work done by the Humphrey Fellows is really not only meaningful but also quite vast. This list will perhaps give the naysayers some food for thought and a profound reason to not look at international relation as a zero-sum game. For example, the fields studied by these mid-careers professionals from Vietnam under the Humphrey Fellowship program are listed below:
  • Public Policy Analysis and Public Administration
  • Natural Resources, Environmental Policy, and Climate Change
  • Economic Development/Finance and Banking
  • Educational Administration, Planning and Policy
  • Agricultural and Rural Development
  • Human Resource Management
  • Communications/Journalism
  • Trafficking in Persons, Policy and Prevention
  • Law and Human Rights
  • Substance Abuse Education, Treatment and Prevention
  • Higher Education Administration
  • HIV/AIDS Policy and Prevention
  • Public Health Policy and Management
The wisdom behind supporting valuable programs like the Humphrey Fellowship is that mid-career professionals will play an important role not only as citizen ambassadors but also have the wherewithal to initiate good things and to turn dreams and ideas into reality. For example, they could help implement the workable solutions for preventing HIV/AIDS—a menace with deadly consequences not unlike the war visited upon the Vietnamese people a few decades earlier. Likewise, with the appropriate policies and timely intervention, these mid-career professionals can help stem the scourge of modern slavery through human trafficking. Not to mention, helping their fellow citizens—through professional education while in the Humphrey Fellowship program—from falling victims to substance abuse. The potential is enormous and the opportunities to succeed are only limited by their imagination. In a world where many are voicing a militaristic approach to solving international problems, it is important to listen to people who have volunteered to serve in Vietnam when the nation needed them. Take for example, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel—while speaking in Washington on July 11, 2017at an event organized by the World Affairs Council DC and the Confucius Institute U.S. Center—who said “better know your history.” In answering a question from Chancellor Ronnie Greene, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Secretary Hagel said the “capacity to listen and to learn” are necessary for success. Through his words and his leadership, the U.S. can succeed with a healthy relationship with China while retaining a genuine love for the Dragon’s Children, as beautifully described by David Garms. The Confucius Institute programs across the United States and the Humphrey Fellowship programs show us that international relations in today’s turbulent world need not be a zero-sum game. Photo courtesy of the author.

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.