Decentralized Finance: The Future of Finance is a set of four courses taught by Campbell R. Harvey (Professor of Finance at the Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, and a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research) that focus on decentralized finance (DeFi). In this first course, we begin by exploring the origins of DeFi and take a broad historical view from the earliest barter economies, such as the first peer-to-peer exchanges of bartering, to present day. The course also looks at historical examples of money having value even though it is not officially backed.
We then focus on the key infrastructure components: blockchain, cryptocurrency, smart contracts, oracles, stablecoins and decentralized applications (or dApps). This includes discussion of the mechanics of the Ethereum and Bitcoin blockchains including cryptographic hashing.
Next, we focus on the specific problems that DeFi is designed to solve: inefficiency (costly, slow, and insecure today), limited access (1.7 billion are unbanked), opacity (we need to trust regulators to monitor banks and the regulators have mixed records), centralized control (financial system is oligopolistic imposing higher fees than we would have in a competitive market) and lack of interoperability (it is difficult to move funds from one financial institution to another today). The course closes by exploring many of the myths about the crypto space.
The History of Decentralized Finance
This module provides a historical perspective of exchange beginning with early barter, specie currency (backed by, e.g., gold), fiat currency and electronic transfers. The module introduces some of the key problems that have arisen with the current system. It closes with the introduction to Satoshi Nakamoto’s famous 2008 paper which introduced cryptocurrency.
This module introduces the key foundations for DeFi, starting with the mechanics of blockchain including cryptographic hashing. The module then explores the innovation of smart contracting - a key ingredient for DeFi. There is also a discussion of the differences between the first cryptos and stablecoins.
Problems DeFi Solves
This module explores the key problems with today’s legacy financial system which include: inefficiency (costly, slow, and insecure transactions); limited access (many cannot access banks and many that have bank accounts find it difficult to get loans); opacity (it is unclear how healthy our commercial financial institutions are); centralized control (current system is dominated by oligopolies that push prices higher than competitive prices) and interoperability (difficulty in moving funds across different legacy financial institutions).
DeFi Myths and Facts
The final module explores various different myths including: all cryptocurrencies are anonymous; blockchains are routinely hacked; quantum computing will destroy all blockchain based currencies; and the crypto ecosystem is so small that it is unlikely to compete with legacy financial institutions.