Instant Settlement Series: It's Not About The Money

Instant settlement profoundly transforms our behavior as it reconnects us with the elemental laws of nature. The existing paradigm mirrors the primal imperative of reaping benefits in exchange for labor–working to survive, but the pay-per-time system in the labor market is creating the incentive to get something for nothing. In the whole “fiat stack,” everyone optimizes their efforts to achieve this on different levels, as I explain below. How can I get money for nothing? As we explore the effects of instant settlement across diverse industries, a fundamental divide between workers and clockwatchers emerges, as I have argued throughout this series. Fiat payments work without instant settlement; instead, a virtual credit arrives immediately with the actual settlement usually coming much later. The Lightning Network enables instant settlement. That is a key advantage, and it’s why Bitcoin is the only financial network that has the potential to achieve the vision that I am describing in this series.

The fiat monetary system is training us to play the game of rent-seeking without realizing it, and it is no wonder that the best players become the richest. From our first jobs, we learn how to extract maximum payment for minimum effort, and the incentives reward creative ways of doing just that. The first trick everyone learns is how to “milk the clock” by doing as little as possible without getting fired. A slightly more advanced technique is learning how to take credit for others’ work. Skilled players seek promotions in order to gain access to others’ labor for their own benefit. This is the fiat game.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the rent-seeking game also corrodes skills. Just as my results in the gym are correlated with the effort I invest into my workout, employees’ mastery comes from effort. But time-based compensation rewards passing time rather than performance, allowing skills to atrophy. In technologically primitive societies, skill development was imperative for survival. The problem was friction: assessing the value for each miniscule action and compensating each one individually. So the obvious way to reduce friction was to collapse all the tasks into a single variable — time. But after decades of time-based compensation and diminishing initiative, we are becoming lethargic, weak, skill-deficient, and reliant on free money. The result is a culture of dependency, where the quest for easy money overshadows the pursuit of self-improvement. How many steps are we from enslaving our own children to avoid working?

Perhaps the key to overcoming this fate is deciding not to chase the fucking money, but to pursue other goals instead and just using the money to achieve them. Make a list of what you want in life and start working towards it. Instead of working for wages, saving money, and buying a house, you can build your own house. Yes, it will take years, but that is the point. Do the work! If you object that you can’t build a house, you’re probably right. You can’t do anything until you can. It’s simply a matter of placing one brick on top of another, a roof on top of the walls, and so on. Work transforms us, makes us better, faster, stronger, and more skillful versions of our former selves. Bitcoin preserves the value of your energy, allowing you to achieve your goals faster than is possible with fiat. When you are working for others’ goals, you should be compensated instantly, which is almost like double compensation. You get skills and money. In the fiat system, when you get free money (money for time passed), you do not acquire any skills, and the skills you have start to atrophy because you are not using them. The only incentive that pushes people to do something is the fear of getting fired. That is why they seek to find the balance right between minimal work and not getting fired.

But there remains an undeniable obstacle: why should I work for my money rather than simply waiting and receiving it without exertion? The status quo is comfortable, but comfort is the enemy. Defeating this enemy requires a collective willingness to break free from the allure of effortless gains and embracing a more natural, purposeful way of working.

Those who shun time-based compensation will have the advantage of attracting and retaining the most exceptional individuals as employees. As these forward-thinkers continually evolve–growing faster, stronger, and more skillful over time–their products and services will outshine pay-per-time systems.

In the new market landscape I have described throughout this series, employees who are paid for their work rather than their time are no longer tethered to a single company. The quality of products and services is propelled by the collective efforts of the contributors rather than malingering clock milkers supervised and pushed by management. Labor exploitation becomes untenable, and pay-for-work is what retains the best talent. This is true simply because the best want to be paid based on results, and the only fair compensation to both the employee and employer is pay-per-work, which is based on those results.

This newfound power may lead individuals to focus on the things they want to see built rather than what the company tells them to build. They gain not only a decentralized income but can also benefit the most from the tasks they complete. If there is an open project to fix ten roads, I will contribute to fixing the one that I use most. It is the most selfish altruistic thing. That benefit is not private; it is shared. The money I receive is private. As long as we chase money rather than projects, it is no surprise we are indifferent towards other people’s problems. In this new paradigm, the balance of power shifts decisively to the people, aligning with their preferences and aspirations, not the agenda of a single company.

Additionally, the pay-for-work system mirrors the competitive nature of sports–individuals are compensated for their time and effort, but victory is contingent on active participation and skill. In sports, the best players distinguish themselves with their superior skills, the effort they invest, and their adaptability in the face of competition. This natural dynamic, favoring the fastest, strongest, and most adaptable, can now enrich the labor market. Survival and prosperity will hinge not only on individual effort but on the ability to outperform others in the pursuit of a larger share of benefits. Even those merely chasing money prosper by simply mirroring Bitcoin. If I do something selfishly in Bitcoin, the whole network benefits.

In the world of sports, fame and wealth often follow the best players, but their initial motivation lies in the desire to be the best. Encouragement in the pay-for-work labor market takes the form of payment, catalyzing continued dedication and progress. The accumulation of these payments, akin to encouragement, propels people to refine their skills, enhance their performance, and, in turn, receive more Bitcoin in acknowledgment of their efforts.

The reward in this system is not acclaim or praise; it starts as a necessity for money and progresses to satisfaction derived from the work. Instant settlement becomes the Trojan horse guiding us back to this ethos. In this continuous competition, unlike the win-lose dynamics of warfare, everyone stands to gain. Individuals work for themselves, driven by the desire to achieve their own goals, while the finished product simultaneously serves a common need because a lot of them are collective goods. The swifter, more efficient, and cost-effective completion of tasks that benefit the community will induce a snowball effect where subsequent benefits build on previous ones. In this interconnected web, where everyone coordinates efficiently, there is no theft or exploitation; rather, it is a shared journey toward collective betterment.

With pay-for-time, people seek to climb the hierarchy and obtain the privilege of delegating, which lets them shift accountability and find scapegoats. In stark contrast, the pay-for-work built on instant-settlement systems operates like the immutable and uncompromising laws of physics. Every individual bears complete responsibility for their work. This paradigm gauges individuals not by their inclination to assign blame or dwell on problems, but by their responsibility and their commitment to accomplishing the job at hand. The best performance yields the most money, so pay-for-work puts the job first, unlike pay-for-time, where more money results from more time passed, and the job is almost irrelevant. In the pay-for-work system, responsibility becomes a measure of personal and professional integrity, fostering a culture where the focus is on getting the work done efficiently and collaboratively.

Roy Sheinfeld, Breez CEO and my boss, has said that we should not tell people what experiences to create in their apps. I agree. The point of the previous chapters was to spark interest in the possibilities so the experts can create those experiences. I am not the right person to say how construction, logistics, book publishing, and other industries should evolve. I am trying to open the window for them to realize the potential they can create and build for all of us. If they do this we all win. They receive Bitcoin, and in turn, we spend Bitcoin more efficiently on things that enrich our lives. This collaborative venture is an invitation to explore, innovate, and contribute to a shared future where everyone stands to gain.

Here’s a quick recap with the take-home messages from the previous articles in this series:

The first article: The Construction Industry

  • What is work?
  • The conflict between people who are asked to work but benefit from passing time without working.
  • How reputation depends on the work done, not someone’s job title.

Second article: The Logistics Industry

  • How delaying payments creates counterparty risk.
  • How intermediaries (banks) compound that risk.
  • How split payments align everyone’s incentives to deliver on a project.
  • Decentralization fostering competition.

Third article: The Publishing Industry

  • The dematerialized economy is now on steroids
  • The benefit of any work is determined more by demand for it than supply of it
  • Talking and selling are not the same, so commissions are the best way to compensate influencers

Forth article: Real-time Streaming Payments

  • Benefiting from work can be a continuous process with streaming payments.
  • Global benefits deserve global compensation.
  • Auctioning seats to events can transform live entertainment.

Fifth article: The Gambling Industry

  • Fiat is gambling.
  • Licenses and credentials disadvantage the poor and reinforce the power of the rich.
  • How to invest wisely.

A transitional period is crucial. If a business were to suddenly shift to a performance-based pay model without considering the existing workforce, it could lead to unrest and prompt employees to leave for a pay-per-time company. Those who recognize the need for change should adopt a long-term perspective and implement both payment methods – pay-per-time and instant settlement – simultaneously. The objective is to have these methods coexist, attracting top performers and fostering a culture of excellence. Once the company establishes a foundation of high-performing individuals, it can then phase out the pay-per-time structure entirely. I draw inspiration for this approach from my mentor from a distance, Jeff Booth, as these two systems represent distinct paradigms, necessitating a careful and strategic transition rather than an abrupt shift.

These are my final messages:

Build utility, do not promise future fortunes.

Do not wait or ask permission to do work. Do the work that you want to do.

Let’s Fucking GO!

This is a guest post by Ivan Makedonski. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.