I recently wrote a blog post about the need to define clear objectives for the Cosmos Hub. There I argued that the Cosmos Hub was best suited for two symbiotic objectives: interchain money and security. The burgeoning ATOM Economic Zone (AEZ) is marked by chains that have adopted the latter from the Cosmos Hub - security. But money doesn’t seem to have followed… at least yet. As of now there is still less than $10m in ATOM that is actively being utilized in DeFi within the AEZ (while Stride does have ATOM, stATOM is not yet being considerably deployed throughout apps within the AEZ ). This is only <0.4% of the ATOM supply. How can we expect ATOM to be interchain money before we have made it the money of the ATOM Economic Zone?
In the rest of this post, Spaydh and I will outline the beginnings of a plan for how Neutron will lead the adoption of ATOM as money within the ATOM Economic Zone. But it’s worth acknowledging that more important than the ideas presented is the intention. There should be active and ongoing discussions within the Neutron DAO on how to most effectively accomplish this goal - as we certainly do not have all of the answers.
In doing so, we can position the Neutron DAO as a leading force in the growth of ATOM and its Economic Zone. Neutron’s security and economic positioning is strengthened when the Cosmos Hub grows, and for that reason it’s strongly desirable for Neutron to play a role in growing it.
Typically we think of money as serving three functions :
- Unit of Account
- Store of Value
- Medium of Exchange
So before diving deeply on how to make ATOM money (within the interchain, or just on Neutron), it’s worth analyzing how these functions map onto crypto economies.
Unit of account. This is ATOM’s role in meaningfully interpreting the prices, costs and financial success of services and assets within the interchain. It is denominating things like NFTs, grants and investments in ATOM. Its success is determined by the ubiquity and stability of ATOM.
Store of value. This is ATOM’s role as an investment. Its success as a store of value is a direct result of how much demand there is to store wealth in terms of ATOM. This is enhanced by reducing volatility and increasing the prospect of financial returns.
Medium of exchange. This is ATOM’s role in purchases and transfers. It’s the ability to buy things with ATOM and your comfortability receiving ATOM as compensation. Similar to the unit of account, it is enhanced by the stability and ubiquity of ATOM.
If we zoom into what this means for ATOM as money on Neutron, we can see that it boils down to the quality of opportunities for utilization and investment. And while there is surely more than can be done, it appears that the foundation for ATOM to be money on Neutron have already been laid:
Unit of account: The two largest liquidity pools on Neutron (ATOM-NTRN and ATOM-stATOM) are both ATOM denominated. As a result, the most price efficient way to get exposure to the NTRN token today is by acquiring ATOM.
Medium of exchange: Gas fees on Neutron are also currently denominated in ATOM, and while transaction fees can also be paid in NTRN and axlUSDC, the ratio of tokens in the Neutron DAO’s treasury suggests that roughly 70% of transactions used ATOM as gas.
Store of value: The Cosmos Hub is set to receive roughly 45,000,000 NTRN tokens, roughly 4.5% of the total supply, worth roughly $15MM at current prices. This is a meaningful first step towards assembling a treasury of ATOM and other assets which increase the intrinsic value of ATOM and can be deployed to generate rewards for the Cosmos Hub.
Nevertheless, while Neutron bolstering the stability of ATOM should be a residual goal of driving adoption, it will still best be accomplished through stabilizing governance, reducing inflation and setting a common vision for the Cosmos Hub and ATOM. For these reasons I’ll focus on some proposed interventions that Neutron can control with respect to driving ATOM adoption.
Luckily, Neutron has a few levers at its disposal towards elevating ATOM as interchain money in a positive sum manner. At a high level it entails increasing the quality of ATOM as an investment by stimulating growth within Neutron and the AEZ while simultaneously growing the opportunities for ATOM utilization.
We can reframe this with a two pronged approach :
- Fund unique, and useful dApplications for ATOM within the AEZ.
- Stimulate the growth of the funded dApplications through strategic treasury management.
There is currently an active proposal out to initiate a grants program for Neutron amounting to 2% of the total NTRN supply (or 20,000,000 NTRN). The outlined program is largely dedicated to growing DeFi within the Neutron ecosystem and broader AEZ. This also paints a key advantage of having consumer chains - instead of the Cosmos Hub needing to bear the monetary and coordination costs of growth in every scenario, its consumer chains can take them on.
An attempt should be made to use these funds as wisely as possible since 2% of NTRN supply is no small amount. We believe the two criteria we should evaluate each proposal with are uniqueness - does the proposed application do something that can’t be found elsewhere - and improvement - does the proposed application do something better than existing solutions. Choosing to highlight these two was inspired from some business wisdom that we really appreciate as a model for thinking about startups : to win a market you either need to be 10x better or completely different.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how early we are into building robust and efficient decentralized economies. There is really so much left to be improved even for the most basic of DeFi primitives. As such Neutron should strive to become a platform for not just bringing core DeFi primitives to the ATOM Economic Zone, but also making them considerably better than the status quo.
Some existing, high leverage dApplications to ATOM adoption that don’t yet exist in the AEZ are worth innovating on are :
- Stablecoins : with ATOM and stATOM whitelisted as collateral, to provide more yield opportunities for ATOM holders.
- Perps : allow people to express beliefs about ATOM markets by going long or short.
- Synthetics : with ATOM and stATOM whitelisted as collateral, to allow ATOM holders to get exposure to RWAs.
Just as there’s a lot left to improve in existing dApplications, there are a lot of unique, valuable dApplications to be built. Here are some general directions for dApplications for ATOM that are particularly unexplored :
- Privacy : to my knowledge there is still no convincing way to spend and transact with ATOM privately, let alone within the AEZ.
- Interchain Accounts (ICAs) : the design space of dApplications that span many chains and leverage IBC is vastly underexplored. As a pioneer of ICAs Neutron is extremely well-suited to host these dApps. DApps leveraging ICAs will also have a relatively high impact on the continued expansion of ATOM beyond the AEZ, especially as the terms secured during their funding can be set to apply to their entire protocol architecture. Amulet is an interesting example here : as part of their application to receive AADAO funding, they agree to enforce a front-end policy that uses ATOM as the main and default currency everywhere, wherever fees can be paid in ATOM. This is a sort of soft power that the Hub can continue to wield efficiently, assuming it continues to improve its governance processes.
This is perhaps one of the most obvious areas of alignment between Neutron and the Cosmos Hub : Neutron needs to attract great dApps and in doing so creates new use cases for ATOM.
Neutron has a sizable treasury at its disposal. Before going into some initial ideas around strategic treasury management to stimulate the adoption and investability of ATOM, it’s worth acknowledging that there is a balance to be struck between taking unnecessary protocol risk and stimulating growth.
Overtime we can imagine a number of ambitious ways for Neutron and the Cosmos Hub to build alignment in strengthening ATOM’s positioning. Two that stand out are :
- A tranched, treasury swap
- Strategically using the ATOM from prop 72
The wide majority of the Neutron DAO treasury is in NTRN as of now. This makes it difficult for Neutron to deploy ATOM liquidity with the objective of growing ATOM’s role as money within the interchain - since Neutron DAO does not have a considerable amount of ATOM right now, it’s difficult to stimulate the growth of protocols throughout Neutron through protocol owned liquidity.
The primary goal of a treasury swap would be to strengthen alignment between the Cosmos Hub and Neutron. While the Cosmos Hub already has a considerable financial stake in the future success of the Neutron, the same can not be said for the other direction.
While Neutron has a substantial stake in the Cosmos Hub it is a purely technical and cultural one and not a directly financial one.
Treasury swaps strengthen Neutron’s financial alignment with the Hub, and its ability to take part in the expansion of ATOM’s as interchain money. They provide the Hub with financial upside in the consumer chain’s success.
Over time, they could allow the Hub to acquire a diversified and valuable treasury of consumer chain assets at a low cost basis. This would increase the intrinsic value of ATOM and could be loaned out/deployed to generate additional revenue for the Hub’s treasury.
Tranching the treasury swaps provides an extra incentive for both sides to continue fulfilling the points of alignment after the initial treasury swap, and allow the Hub to manage risk : instead of going all in on every consumer chain from the get go, it can gradually increase exposure to the asset as it progresses towards product-market-fit.
Treasury swaps also address one of the common concerns with Replicated Security, the idea that the most successful projects might eventually leave the ATOM Economic Zone without returning value to the Cosmos Hub. It does so in three ways:
- It increases a consumer chain’s incentive to provide value to the Cosmos Hub, and therefore the cost to leaving Replicated Security.
- It makes the Hub a major stakeholder of the consumer chain, which could allow Cosmos Hub governance to have a sway over the consumer chain’s governance.
- It provides the Cosmos Hub financial upside in consumer chains’ success, so that the Cosmos Hub community should only support the consumer chain leaving if it’ll maximize its own expected value.
DAO-adjacent entities such as the Neutron Foundation can also play a role in shepherding the culture of alignment within the AEZ.
Proposal 819 recently re-allocated the 50,000 Prop 72 ATOM from P2P to the Neutron Foundation. Rather than liquidate the tokens, the Foundation is considering plans to deploy the tokens in ways that further alignment with the rest of the AEZ.
For example, the Foundation could natively stake tokens on the Cosmos Hub, participating in making the network and its consumer chains more secure, and generating some cash flow to fund the long-term development of the Neutron ecosystem. Yet, a naive implementation of this solution would have downsides: staking to a single validator would be unfair, and could lead to conflict over the selection method, etc. Done wrong, it could even worsen the distribution of stake on the Cosmos Hub.
To alleviate these issues, the Foundation could take things one step further : to ensure the delegation are somewhat distributed without incurring too much operational overhead, the Foundation could stake with Stride, a liquid staking provider from the ATOM Economic Zone. While it would increase the position’s risk profile slightly, it would also ensure that:
- It increases the security and stake distribution of the Cosmos Hub,
- It generates additional revenue for Stride (and hence, the Cosmos Hub)
- It provides the Foundation with a reward-bearing token in exchange
Eventually, the Foundation could even opt to deploy these tokens in Neutron’s DeFi ecosystem to bolster growth. While these might be too risky for an institution such as the Foundation, there could still be a few interesting uses cases for deploying the tokens:
- Providing additional liquidity to minimize price impact on trades on Neutron.
- Arbitraging the stATOM-ATOM pool to strengthen oracle parity with the redemption rate.
- Minting stablecoins using liquid staked ATOM as collateral
In any case, the success of Replicated Security and the ATOM Economic Zone does not simply rest on code, but on our success in instilling the right culture, to sustain and nurture long-term partnership and alignment within the AEZ. Contributors, community members and institutions like the Neutron Foundation all have a role to play in that regard.
Tldr : Let’s grow the ATOM Economic Zone together.
It is important we work together in the early days of the ATOM Economic Zone. This was part of the inspiration for why we (Duality Labs) were so open to working with Hadron Labs and the Neutron DAO, instead of in competition with them. The opportunity to kill multiple birds with a single stone should not be understated. Building alignment with Stride (the other replicated security chain), increasing the Cosmos Hub’s protocol revenue, and stimulating the adoption of ATOM in a single blow is a valuable opportunity.
This is of course just one framing of the problem and (potential) solutions. If you have ideas of your own, feel free to share them or if you disagree with mine feel free to provide some feedback !