Hyped Bitcoin ban in China sees prices drop

Recent headlines that have seen China ‘banning’ Bitcoin have been misleading consumers and causing a significant drop in Bitcoin’s price this September. Bitcoin reached a peak of over $50,000 United States Dollars (USD) this month, but since the speculative release of much press and media announcing China’s ‘ban’, has dropped to around $40,000 USD in the last week of September 2021. 

Whilst not entirely false, the headlines have been definitely exaggerated. Henri Arslanian, PwC crypto leader and partner, took to Twitter to clear up the matter: “whilst this is not a surprise as China has “banned” crypto many times in the past, this time there is no ambiguity. Crypto transactions and crypto services of all kind are banned in China. No room for discussion. No grey areas.” 

The new directives from China do not go as far as to make owning cryptocurrency illegal, but they do make it much harder for those in mainland China to hold assets. Huobi Global and Binance are two of the biggest cryptocurrency service providers in China, and both have already made moves to host the majority of their business offshore to protect from interference from the Chinese authorities. Both companies have immediately stopped registering new users as a result of the legislation, and Huboi Global says it aims to close all existing accounts on the mainland by the end of the year 2021.

In a statement released by the Chinese government, it claims cryptocurrency activity has been “disrupting economic and financial order”. It went on to describe cryptocurrency as enabling illegal activities such as “gambling, illegal fund-raising, fraud, pyramid schemes, and money laundering, seriously endangering the safety of people’s property.”

Cynics of the ban cite China’s plan to launch its own digital currency as a key motivation for the legislation. It seems China’s government may be clearing competition from the market, ready for the Central Bank to launch an official cryptocurrency in the future.

Is data the new oil?

Oil for a long time has been one of the most sought after commodities on the planet. However, as our online lives develop, data is fast becoming recognised as potentially more valuable than even the ‘liquid gold’ drawn up from the earth. Instead of huge mining rigs out to sea, entrepreneurs have now taken to surfing waves of the digital kind, mining electronic databases instead to create value from seemingly thin air. 

Unlike oil however, data is not a commodity to be bought and sold on the market. The value of data comes instead from its position as an asset. In terms of a digital gold rush, this makes the potential value of data as open for business to far more of us than would ever be able to dig down to an oil well. Whilst an individual’s data might not be worth much on its own, thousands of peoples data collected into sets is worth far more to the enterprising thinker. 

With hundreds of different datasets available, it becomes far more possible to use the information available to better understand and predict consumer and market trends. Increasing accuracy comes also with this type of prediction, as the law of averages creates relatively reliable outcomes. 

They say if the product is free then you’re what’s on sale, which is a claim lobbied at internet giants such as Facebook, Google and other social media networks in particular. Not all big firms however are looking to get value from their data through its sale. Companies such as Amazon and Alibaba for instance, find much more value in mining their own data for clues and insights as to consumer trends and preferences. An online shopping merchant for example, might use the data it has collected on customer shopping habits to better match consumers to their next purchase, subsequently increasing profit through a higher volume of revenue.

Bumble places mental health over profits

The dating app Bumble has made global headlines this month by giving all its employees a week off from work. The online dating platform says it sees its global team as suffering from pandemic related burnout, and hopes that a week off to rest and focus on themselves will help everyone to recuperate. The move is unusual for the highly competitive tech industry that usually prioritizes profits over mental health, but is a growing trend amongst companies who are looking to improve working conditions for their staff members. 

The week off is aiming to help fight work related stress amongst staff and alleviate symptoms of burnout following a hard year of working through a global pandemic. The week is fully paid and staff are asking to go fully offline also to make the most of the week. 

Bumble is a woman-led company as well as a dating app. Within the app, women are the ones to make the first move in a complete reversal of traditional gender stereotypes. The app was founded by Whitney Wolfe Herd and Andrey Andreev in response to the misogynistic and patriarchal tendencies with behaviour they saw on other dating apps such as Tinder. Whitney Wolfe Herd controversially left her position at Tinder shortly before starting rival dating app Bumble that positions women instead as leaders of interaction. 

As women become more commonplace in positions of leadership within companies, and even nations, mental health awareness within the global public seems to equally be rising. It seems women as leaders are also more sensitive to the personal needs and complex issues surrounding keeping a workforce or nation happy and healthy. 

More than 750 Bumble employees around the world will benefit from Wolfe’s decision to release her employees from their work for a week. Elsewhere tech startups Hootsuite and LinkedIn have both similarly given employees a paid week off work to help combat built up stress.

What is Dogecoin?

This past year saw further leaps and bounds in the prices of well known cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. For those of us less familiar with the digital currency landscape, Dogecoin is one coin we might be yet to hear of. The chances of that are getting less and less likely however, as Dogecoin has made some surprising gains in 2021 that have made headline news around the digital currency world. 

So let’s take a look at this latest crypto phenomenon!

What is Dogecoin?

Simply, Dogecoin is another form of cryptocurrency similar to more well known coins such as Bitcoin or Ethereum. Unlike Bitcoin or Ethereum however, there is no limit on the number of Dogecoins that can ever be made. As a result the price of Dogecoin has traditionally stayed relatively low. As of June 2021, Dogecoin has seen highs of $0.35 United States Dollars and lows of $0.09 United States Dollars per coin. As of the 16th June 2021 and the time of writing this article, its price is currently $0.31 United States Dollars a coin. 

Where does the name come from?

The name is one of the more unusual parts of Dogecoin, and does its part to explain the coin makers’ philosophy. The coin was made initially as a joke by Billy Marcus and Jackson Palmer. The two software engineers started the coin as a joke back in 2013 and the name services from the once-popular meme with the dog breed of the same name. The joke was meant to be on the various cryptocurrencies and their uses, however the increasing popularity of the coin in 2021 means it is now the fifth largest cryptocurrency on the digital market. Dogecoin unexpectedly has seen a 5,000% increase in its market value in 2021. 

Dogecoin uses similar blockchain technology to Bitcoin or Ethereum and uses a ledger to record and secure all transactions made. The ledger is then retained by all holders of the coin in a decentralised digital currency market.

Global inflation rates on the rise

Global inflation rates have soared as a consequence of the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic. Both the UK and US have reported high inflation increases this year in comparison to last. The Labor Department in the US reported recently that April 202 had seen the fastest increase in 12 years. This was due to the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis that has pushed food, energy and fuel prices higher than usual. 

Inflation has been previously down as lockdown restrictions in many places as a result of the pandemic had kept many people at home and reduced demand for the energy and fuel that usually keeps our highstreets running. In comparison to usual spending habits, this lack of demand saw prices for commodities like petrol decrease. 

As life begins to return to normal around the world, with many places able to lift lockdown restrictions thanks to lower numbers of case rates for coronavirus. This means people are back to work or out travelling to see family and the demand for energy and fuel has subsequently increased. Petrol prices are now reaching an all time high as reopening around the world puts pressure on global supply chains. Compared to last year, gasoline saw a jump of 49.6 % in price, and of 37.5 % for fuel oil. 

Pressure has been on energy prices also as consumers have seen a 25% rise in overall energy prices in the US. This could be due to the higher demand on energy from people staying at home and individuals consuming more energy than in a shared workplace or school as a result. 

Numbers on inflation are expected to be volatile and not representative over the next few months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Where there was an almost full shutdown of the US economy last year, which caused a low rate of inflation, the added pressure this year comes as everything starts to reopen and demand returns to normal.

NRA files for bankruptcy

With all the support from people in the United States of America as well as globally, it’s hard to believe the National Rifle Association (NRA) of America could be short of a bob or two. People were shocked to subsequently learn earlier this year that the NRA was filing for bankruptcy. The unusual move was criticised by many opposers of the NRA and members alike, for the sinister undertones of the action. Filing for bankruptcy has brought into question the finances of the NRA, and spending habits of its Executive Vice President (EVP) and organisation frontman Wayne LaPierre

The National Rifle Association is America’s self proclaimed “foremost defender of Second Amendment rights”, according to their web page. It is an organisation for Americans who believe it is their right to hold a firearm. It is estimated roughly a third of the American public own a gun, with gun violence seen as continually on the rise in the states. Between 1968 and 2011, over 1.4 million people died from firearms in the U.S., a shocking statistic that makes it clear why some people are so opposed to the law. Gun statistics show gun violence as more prevalent in lower income communities, where police interventions are also high as a result. Statistics for gun crime and death via firearm in comparable countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia are disturbingly low and in jarring juxtaposition with the US. 

The bankruptcy move from the NRA has reached a bump in the road however, as plans to move the organisation’s registration from New York to Texas has gone sour. In a recent twist of events, a Federal Judge has rebuked the NRA’s attempt to relocate to Texas, seemingly to avoid a lawsuit from the New York attorney general. Only time will tell what will happen next for the organisation in this tumultuous period.

WHO asks for more COVAX funding

COVAX, is the abbreviated term for the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access from the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is the organised effort by the global health authoritative body on the fight against the ongoing crisis of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic across the world. Not only does COVAX work with companies to secure vaccine doses for developing and low income countries, but also with developed, high income countries to find the funding needed to purchase and distribute said doses.

For many nations and their peoples around the world, the COVAX vaccine programme might be their only chance of accessing a vaccine. Lower income countries are unable to secure high amounts of the vaccine by themselves, and for many nations the vaccine rollout has been slow and limited so far to frontline and healthcare workers. The WHO has repeatedly stressed the need for a coordinated and united world approach to solving the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has fallen on deaf ears in many places. 

Countries such as the United Kingdom, United States of America and Israel, have all been accused of stockpiling the vaccine. Reports in the United Kingdom suggest the government has used the British manufacturing of the Pfizer vaccine to ensure there is even a spare dose available for British nationals. This caused tension with countries in the European Union, which the United Kingdom has only recently left, who accused the small island of a selfish and ultimately stupid approach. 

WHO has now come out to ask for over two billion United States Dollars in extra funding for the COVAX programme. COVAX vaccines were first delivered to Ghana on the African continent on the 24th February, 2021. Since then the programme has reached over 100 economies with the life-saving vaccine. Through the COVAX programme, an estimated 38 million doses so far have reached individuals, protecting them from the deadly virus. However, there will be much more support required from higher income countries if the programme is to continue successfully.

Charity shops see business boom as lockdowns end

Across the world people have been locked indoors due to social distancing restrictions because of the ongoing global crisis of the coronavirus COVID-19. It seems that many people have spent that time spring cleaning their homes, with donations to charity shops after the first lockdowns booming. With second and third lockdowns around the world finally lifting it seems charity shops once again are seeing record highs in sales. 

Robin Osterley of the Charity Retail Association (CRA) told the Observer newspaper in England: “We’re anticipating very strong trading when we open up.” Thoughts followed that there would be an especially high number of donations following the Christmas period, as well as people who may have found themselves having done slightly too much online shopping in the past year. 

With social distancing and lockdown restrictions in place to restrict the transmission of COVID-19, charity shops have had to keep their doors closed through most of the year as they were counted as unessential businesses. As a result, shops in the UK were reportedly losing more than 28 million gbp a month since March 2020

In the UK however reports to the BBC described queues outside of high street charity shops with people eager to get in and look inside. Save the Children was one charity that reported a roughly 100% increase in sales for the same period last year. Some suggest the demand comes from the rise in number of people out of work or with reduced income, while others look at the closure of highstreet shops and high online prices as one reason people may be scouring for a bargain. Increased awareness for sustainability could also be another motivating reason for people to be buying second hand and used items. 

There is potentially a mis-match between supply and demand however, as reports were that large amounts of smart clothes were donated, suggesting the trend for comfort loungewear seems set to continue.

New Fifty Pound note unveiled by the Bank of England

The Royal Bank of England has unveiled its latest new note now completing its switch from paper to plastic polymer notes. In late March 2021, the bank announced the new Fifty Pound note would shortly be released featuring the image of famous mathematician Alan Turing. 

Turing was instrumental to the Allies victory in World War Two in his work as a codebreaker. His work went on to be fundamental in the development of computer science theory and he is widely acknowledged for his role in developing now familiar concepts like algorithms. 

What should have been a story of Turing’s fantastically successful technological advancements however is marred by tragedy. Turing died by overdose in 1954 at the far too soon age of 41 years old. His death was categorised as suicide though there are those that dispute this claim. Things turned sour for Turing after he was outed as a homosexual and prosecuted as one. 

In 1952 Turing was accused of indecency with a 19 year old man and subjected to forced sterilisation as punishment. The shame and trauma from the ordeal sent him into a downward spiral. After his death he was pardoned by the Queen, and his story made into Hollywood fodder in the 2014 release The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Turing now features on the new Fifty Pound note song with the ominous quote: “This is only a foretaste of what is to come, and only the shadow of what is going to be.” 

Whilst only a small number of people currently report needing to use the Fifty Pound note, it is thought circulation of the tender will increase as inflation continues to cause the deflation of the British pound. 

Further concerns surrounding the use of currency come as a result of the ongoing coronavirus global pandemic of COVID-19 and people’s reluctance to use cash.

What is an NFT?

The art world has been going wild recently over a recent surge in interest surrounding NFTs. But what is an NFT? The acronym stands for non-fungible token. Yes, non-fungible… the basic meaning of this is, unlike bitcoin that can be traded for other bitcoin and you’ll have the exact same thing, an NFT is more like a trade of playing cards. This means you could trade something of equal value but end up with a different token at the end. 

The application of this type of blockchain technology to digital art has been heralded and critiqued widely. While some people see NFTs as a way to deprivigalise more traditional forms of art and open up the art market to those outside of its traditional centres, others cite moral and environmental arguments for why such cryptocurrencies are a bad idea. 

One particular argument against the use of NFTs for digital art is that it affects the experience of the viewer. A benefit of digital art currently is that it retains the aura of the original work with each viewing, unaffected by what number of copies it is. Some are arguing that inscribing an NFT to a work would fix an original of the piece in such a way that the aura of the work  subsequently viewed elsewhere as a copy would be destroyed, and experience of the audeineed diminished. 

The hype for NFTs in the artwork has increased so much that even high-end auction houses such as Christie’s have been getting in on them. Though initially traded between friends for at most $100 USD, a secondary market for digital artwork NFTs made from files such as MP4s, GIFs and JPEGS, has quickly emerged. 

The digital artist Beeple is the pseudonym of NFT innovator Mike Winkelmann who, until October 2020, had never sold a work for more than a hundred dollars. Come March 11th 2021, a recent digital collage from Beeple titled ‘Everydays – The First 5000 Days’ sold for a staggering $69 million USD at a Christie’s online auction. The price was far beyond the estimated $35 million and $15 million more than the painting Nymphéas by Monet which was sold via the auction house in 2014.