Defining digital trade should occur within an independent digital market.

Defining Digital Trade

There is no set definition of “digital trade“. Depending on the organization, digital trade is used interchangeably with “e-commerce.” To give you an idea of the variance in definitions, consider the following:

“The production, distribution, marketing, sale, or delivery of goods or services by electronic means.” — World Trade Organization

“Purchases and sales conducted over computer networks. E-commerce can involve physical goods as well as intangible (digital) products and services that can be delivered digitally. ” — United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

“The delivery of products and services over either fixed-line or wireless digital networks. It excludes commerce in most physical products, such as goods ordered online and physical goods that have a digital counterpart, such as books and software, and music and films sold on CDs or DVDs.” — United States International Trade Commission

“The direct exchange of digital goods, and digitally enabled exchanges of services or labour. The exchange of personal communications is included in the definition.” — McKinsey Global Institute

What strikes me about most of the definitions is that “digital” refers to an alternative method of delivery of goods and services versus the actual construction of the market itself. The value from digitization is likely lower costs to producers and distributors and to consumers likely benefits are lower costs of product acquisition, assuming the costs of shipping and handling resulting from online shopping don’t exceed the costs of shopping in person.

Where’s the Surprise?

But beyond this, where is the “surprise” from using a communications medium like the internet to engage in e-commerce? In my opinion, the real value, the surprise, should be beyond the actual goods and services exchanged.

The pursuit of time saving, one of the benefits of online trade, is nothing new. Today I saw two women walk into Starbucks and grab coffee ordered via an app. The value for them was getting in and out of the coffee shop with the coffee versus sitting down in a Starbucks at 7:45 am with a group of people admittedly looking a bit too scruffy.

But is this enough, the time saving to the consumer and the costs savings to the producer to treat digital trade separately from traditional trade?

The Value in Digital Trade is in the Independence of a Digital Market

As currently constructed, digital trade is more an infrastructure adjunct to traditional, physical trade. True digital trade will happen when there are pure digital players exchanging data that can only be created in cyberspace through cyberspace. A true digital market and the digital trade that occurs within should be separate from human intervention where machines are responsible for analyzing, organizing, and distributing information and knowledge over digital networks.

One example of this digital market independence is occurring in the financial markets. In an article for Forbes.com, Bernard Marr shares how artificial intelligence is being used by hedge funds to trade stocks. According to Mr. Marr, what is extraordinary is an artificially intelligent machine making trades without the assistance of a data scientist. Mr. Marr goes on further to say that:

“Artificially intelligent machines analyze inordinate amounts of data at extraordinary speeds that is impossible for humans. They learn from the information they analyze to improve their trading acumen. This information includes market prices to corporate financial reports and accounting documents to social media, news trends, and macroeconomic data. Once the information is analyzed by thousands of machines, the machines then “vote” on what action to take and the best trades to make. “

While Mr. Marr doesn’t go on to discuss AI machines on the other side of the trade, I can envision the next step where an AI machine for Trader x exchanges shares with an AI machine for Trader y making a market entirely without human assistance. This exchange of shares or information and the making of a market for information independent of human intervention is the true digital trade.

Conclusion

While the commercial internet is three decades old, I don’t think we are at a stage yet where we can say we have complete digital trade. At best, digital trade is a subset of cross border trade and robust markets for autonomous trade between pure digital players in cyberspace is around the corner with the innovation and inclusion of artificial intelligence. The definitions we have now for digital trade should be changed to reflect the creation of true digital markets.

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A quick thought on stablecoin, Facebook nation, and government pushback

Just had a thought on creating a digital nation and admittedly I am still just fleshing out the idea so bear with me.

Crypto currencies still have a chance at succeeding, but the issue commenters and the public continue to overlook is that as currencies, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, and whatever the hell else is out there have no underlying political economies to support them. Currency valuations transmit to the world the value and/or level of economic output a nation has. Bitcoin, for example, is not a nation’s currency. If it were, it would give Zaire’s currency volatility a run for the money. With the advent of stablecoin, particularly Facebook’s expected issue of the digital coin in 2019, we could see the beginning of a truly digital political economy.

Stablecoin is defined as a cryptocurrency pegged to some reserve currency like the U.S. dollar or another crypto currency such as Ethereum. No matter the model, the goal is to provide users with some stability in the coin’s exchange price. Consumers and investors may like the convenience of not having to check Bitcoin’s price every time they want to buy a cup of coffee or make a currency exchange. Stablecoins, at least in theory, helps to avoid all that.

Facebook will reportedly first play in India’s remittance market. As we descendants of the Commonwealth are all to familiar with, the remittance process can be emotionally taxing when the lack of necessary middlemen are not in place to get money to our relatives in Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean.

The blockchain technology platform that Facebook’s stablecoin will use is expected to provide the transparency and peer-to-peer capabilities that ensure that monies are sent and received under a system of trust, verification, and lack of intermediaries.

But I can see Facebook and even Amazon going beyond playing a relatively minor role in a country’s payment system. Not only could Facebook or Amazon issue digital currencies in the next ten years, they could and should go all out in developing their own digital nations.

Facebook could finally add some meat to his currently weak mission of “connecting the world” by leveraging every business and consumer in his network to engage with each other commercially by using his stablecoin. Consumers subscribing to Facebook or Amazon could be assessed annual membership fees or be charged a “tax” substantially less than the average state or local sales tax in exchange for exclusive access to every merchant listed on either platform with the medium of exchange being a stablecoin.

As one of the largest companies in the world with a 2.5 billion people user base, Facebook, via commercial exchange on its platform, can generate the value necessary for traders in currency to express enough faith in the currency to trade in it drive up its value. Unlike current crypto currencies, a “Facecoin” could exhibit more organic and trustworthy movement because it would be backed by a company large enough to be a national economy.

As for local, state, and federal governments, they could be left a few decades from now with nothing left to regulate and tax but physical infrastructure. Would government be understanding and wish more and more taxpayers a fare thee well, or would government act like the pharaoh in the Old Testament, chasing the people with its tax chariots.

The ensuing issue may be the legal relationship between the old State and the new Digital State that online platforms like Facebook and Amazon will hopefully morph into and how best to treat citizens who have to spend time in both worlds.