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Will Greater Bitcoin Adoption Mean Higher Prices?

Here Comes Bitcoin Regulation

Bitcoin is backed by nothing other than the hope that it might be worth more tomorrow

Bitcoin is a relatively new crypto-currency that has received a lot of media attention recently as the price of bitcoin has skyrocketed to over $1000. It’s no surprise that in this Federal Reserve quantitative easing (QE) driven bubble economy that digital “assets” would be priced higher than paper assets and that paper ones would be priced higher than physical ones.

While I am in favor of consumer choice and competing currencies, including electronic currencies, I would not choose Bitcoin.

This is the case against Bitcoin.

Gold Bullion

Why Bitcoin?

Bitcoin proponents argue that it contains the properties of money namely, it is durable, portable, divisible, fungible, and in limited supply. They would also add that it is anonymous.

Bitcoin advocates overlook or dismiss the critical features that Bitcoin does not share with real money: it has no intrinsic value and is not a store of wealth. These important details, and other serious flaws (discussed below) are over looked because one of the REAL reasons many Bitcoiners defend and promote their digital currency with excessive zeal is that it comes with the bragging rights of being early adopters and proof of their superior foresight because the price has increased exponentially.

Early Adopter Smugness

Early adopters often overpay. Think of those that purchased the first Iphones and Teslas. Early adoption is a badge of honor, a validation of hipness. Early adopters like to describe others as “not getting it” or at least not getting it yet, like they have. This helps cement the early adopter’s self proclaimed unique position as among the select few that do. We hear from Bitcoiners re those that don’t get it things like “They don’t understand disruptive networked currencies” as they try to impress us with their erudition by spouting phrases like “decentralized peer to peer virtual ecosystems are the wave of the future” and warn we will be left behind and impoverished unless we pay $1000 for an encrypted string of code.

Further, many Bitcoiners fancy themselves as political activists that are going to bring down the the Fed or New World Order by using a Bitcoins to order pizza. These secret arm chair Snowdens believe that owning Bitcoin places them in an alt.cool world, touched by digital pixie dust that will transform their lives and revolutionalize the world. Certainly the first users of Compuserve and America On Line must have felt the same way.

Bitcoin

The Case Against Bitcoin

Here are some substantive reasons that Bitcoin may become nothing more than “bit” and not too viable currency player in the coming years:

Is Faith Based – In Bitcoin We Trust (as long as everyone else does)

Bitcoin is like religion. You have to believe in it. You have to believe it has value and you must find a community of believers that also think it has value.

Bitcoin has an army of believers and evangelizers who have a vested interest in convincing others that there really is something behind the digital curtain.

Faith in Bitcoin is an ideology no different than faith in government; except governments have the force of law to defend their ideologies and currencies. While the dollar is not backed by anything other than the “full faith and credit” of the issuer, legal tender laws ensure its use.

In contrast, an attractive feature of Bitcoin is its use is voluntary and people are free to believe in it and ascribe value to it. The flip side, however, is people are also free NOT to believe in it and ascribe value to it. Bitcoin can not be propped up by force of law. It’s value is based on collective belief of value and usefulness. If collective faith is lost in Bitcoin, its value diminishes or vanishes.

Neither Bitcoin nor government currencies, like the dollar are backed by anything. Perhaps that is why the Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke likes and understands Bitcoin and has said it “holds long-term promise.”

While Mr. Bernanke seems to understand Bitcoin’s money out of thin air nature, he has difficulty understanding tangible real money, like gold.


Ron Paul Asks Ben Bernanke – Is Gold Money
?

Not Really Anonymous

Anonymity is one of the features of Bitcoin that is most touted by Bitcoiners. Bitcoin, however, is only anonymous if it is bought surreptitiously and not used in mainstream commerce. When one uses Bitcoin to buy tangible items like pizza or clothing, the merchant has to send the goods somewhere to a physical address that is attached to the person ordering the goods. At that point the Bitcoiner’s cover has been blown.


Can be Subject to Government Regulation

Bitcoin won’t stay hidden from the government’s prying eyes. When there are Senate Bitcoin hearings and statements by the Chairman of the Federal Reserve about Bitcoin you can be assured that the government will find ways to uncover illegal transactions, require disclosure of bitcoin holdings (like they do of foreign bank accounts) and collect payment of taxes on Bitcoin gains.

The spouting whale gets harpooned.

Not Limited in Supply

Bitcoiners like to note that the the supply of Bitcoins is strictly limited to 21 million Bitcoins of which about half have already been “mined”. This limited supply, however, can be subdivided infinitely and broken into component fractions which increases the supply as the price rises (something not practicable with gold as 1/100000 of an ounce would amount to less than dust). Conversely, if the price of Bitcoin drops, 21 million Bitcoins is a lot of Bitcoins!

Competition

Further undermining the limited supply argument is the ability of virtually (pun intended) anyone to create additional unbacked digital currencies. Competing digital currencies can be created to have fewer authorized coins than Bitcoin and issue say, “just” 10 million digital coins. There are already competing virtual litecoins, feathercoins, terracoins, namecoins, novacoins and ripplecoins. All of these are unbacked virtual currencies adding to the overall supply of digital currencies. As there are no barriers to entry in the digital currency field expect to see many more.

No Intrinsic Value

Bitcoin is not a tangible item and has no use whatsoever other than to be used as payment. As such it can not be deemed an asset. Rather, Bitcoin is really a payment service dressed up as a digital currency. The value is in the system NOT the bitcoin itself. Gold and silver in contrast are assets with tangible value other than their use as currencies. As Warren Buffet notes regarding gold – you can fondle it. You can also use silver and gold for industrial applications and you can use them as jewelery. Precious metals, however,should be characterized as assets and not investments because they produce no income. Precious metals just are. Bitcoins also just are, but just are… nothing and therefore can’t be characterized as assets or investments.

Gold bars represent real money vs. imaginary digital currency

Real Money – Gold!

Not a Store of Wealth or Stable in Value

In order to be a viable currency, Bitcoin must be a reliable store of wealth. If the price of Bitcoin fluctuates wildly up or down constantly during short periods of time it can not be viewed as a reliable store of wealth or even a reliable currency. Currently restaurants taking Bitcoin for payment might see the price of meal rise 100% or drop 90% during the course of serving its Bitcoin diners.

In its current state, Bitcoin can only be viewed as a form of speculative gambling. If Bitcoin can not obtain some level of price stability (and there is no reason to think that it can as it has no value other than speculative) it will be difficult to view Bitcoin as a store of wealth or even as a reliable currency capable of being used to make contemporaneous transactions.

No Customer Service if Something Goes Wrong

Unlike Paypal, Visa, MasterCard and AMEX services that will refund their users’ money if a transaction goes wrong, Bitcoin transactions have no such protections. Bitcoin does have an escrow service that users can set up but its not the same as having a payment service provider backing transactions and willing to provide refunds for merchant fraud or misbehavior.

Not Insurable

Bitcoin can not be insured against theft or loss as its value fluctuates wildly. For the same reason it would be difficult to pledge Bitcoins as collateral. In addition, if one were able to insure or use Bitcoins as collateral it would make them no longer anonymous.


Can Be Stolen or Lost

While Bitcoiners tout the encryption features of Bitcoin, its possible that the encryption can be cracked. Indeed $990,000 worth of Bitcoin were recently stolen after hackers successfully penetrated Bitcoin Internet Payment Services (BIPS), a large Bitcoin payment processor in Europe. Other Bitcoin exchanges have also been subject to denial of service attacks.

Another risk is the loss of Bitcoins. Once lost there is no way of retrieving Bitcoins as there is no central data base that retains a record of Bitcoin owners’ holdings.

Bitcoins are only useable and valuable where there is electricity and an Internet connection.

Silver  is one of the world's oldest forms of  money

Silver has been money for 5,000 years

Can Be Manipulated

There may be limited amounts of Bitcoins but there are unlimited amounts of dollars with which to buy them. It is possible that self interested Bitcoin holders bought lots of them to drive up the price to attract other buyers. Or those that wish Bitcoin harm could have been purchased lots of Bitcoins to drive the price up so they can later sell and manipulate the price downward making the new digital currency appear volatile and untrustworthy. Or maybe neither happened and Bitcoin is inherently volatile. We’ll never know as Bitcoin trading identities are anonymous.

I am unaware of Bitcoin derivative trading and of any Bitcoin digital naked short selling.

Central Banks, like the U.S. Federal Reserve, as far as we know don’t hold Bitcoins. If they did we wouldn’t know as Bitcoin ownership is anonymous and there has never been an audit of the Federal Reserve. If Bitcoin was deemed to be a threat to the dollar, the Fed could use funds to destabilize Bitcoin. Indeed, the Fed has a fund set up “to promote exchange rate stability and counter disorderly conditions in the foreign exchange market.”

Future of Money and Payments

Many of Bitcoin’s issues cited above can be worked out if they have not already. Without, backing by something of intrinsic value, however, its hard to see Bitcoin gaining much greater “currency” than it already has. Electronic currencies do hold promise but I would think ones backed by something of intrinsic value like gold, oil, silver, commodities or income streams, rather than faith based values, would ultimately become the favored ones.

Electronic forms of payment are not the wave of the future, they are today’s reality. Bitcoin puts in private hands what was once the exclusive preserve of governments – the ability to make up currency out of thin air. Private electronic currencies will gain validity and users and will compete better with fiat government and fiat private digital currencies, like Bitcoin if they are backed by something of intrinsic value.

Emotions and mania may drive Bitcoin higher. Emotions are powerful but fleeting. Soon, Bitcoin will experience its “emperor has no clothes” moment as the primary purpose for owning Bitcoin is that it might go up. The same logic applies to not owning Bitcoin if the price goes down.

Gold while it has it ardent backers derisively called gold bugs, is neutral, doesn’t crash, doesn’t default on promises, threaten to default, go extinct, or rely on electricity, computing power or an Internet connection.

Gold and silver simply are money. Bitcoin is not.

The Bitcoin

* this is not to argue that digital items are not assets. Clearly, software, movies and music while not tangible are assets.

UPDATE December 4, 2013- Add Risk of Counterfeiting

Further Reading:

Here Comes Bitcoin Regulation

Will Greater Adoption Lead to Higher Bitcoin Prices?


Bitcoin- A Mining Disaster Waiting to Happen

Has Bitcoin Jumped the Shark?

Greenspan Bitcoin is a Bubble

China Bans Banks From Bitcoin Transactions

Bitcoin Jesus

Bitcoins, Banks and Black Friday

The Monetary Future Blog by Jon Matonis

Up to the Minute Price of Bit Coin

12 Differences Between Gold and Silver

Peter Schiff vs. Stefan Molyneux on Bitcoin

Shop Amazon – Countdown to Black Friday Deals Week


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  • seanatwork

    Bitcoin is software and just lines of code so hence it is an asset according to your last portion

    “* this is not to argue that digital items are not assets. Clearly, software, movies and music while not tangible are assets.”

    • Anthony Vanover

      Yes, but it’s a software with no application. Photoshop, for example, can be used by professional photographers to manipulate photos. What application does bitcoin have? Mining is done to secure the bitcoin network. So these mining tokens are just saying “look, I’m cryptographically secure” whereas a dollar says “look, I refer to x amount of gold”.

      • Smaulgld

        Good point- the unit of bitcoin IS worthless. A computer program that one uses like Quicken or Word or a movie has intrinsic value

        If the value is in the bitcoin system like email- the bits that travel across the system shouldn’t go from $.09 to $1200 per unit.
        Email is free

        As crypto systems grow the unit cost of game generated bit”coins” will drop back down.

      • miracle

        A dollar is fiat c. and has been off the gold standard since Nixon.
        The internet is not tangible, yet *poof here we are.
        What “value” would you put on “the internet”?
        No one should get into bitcoin as a speculative venture, there is technology under the currency.

  • Pingback: Bitcoin, Banks and Black Friday – Podcast 11.29.13 | Smaulgld

  • Angelo S

    Don’t worry about Bicoin.

    Bitcoin isn’t worried about you.

  • Damian Straton

    “[Bitcoin] is only anonymous if it
    is bought surreptitiously and not used in mainstream commerce.”

    Bitcoin is not anonymous. Period.
    It can be easily traced.

    “Not Limited in Supply”

    Actually, even if you can
    divide it, the supply is limited. That
    is a problem because supply inflexibility makes it extremely volatile and
    therefore impractical as a currency. Not
    to mention, deflationary currencies make it extremely difficult to create
    sophisticated financial markets. Borrowing
    BTC would be cost prohibitive as the interest rates would be too high.

    “Can Be Manipulated”

    I would like add that the
    price of the Bitcoin is being manipulated through news outlets and bloggers. That kind of manipulation has been used very successfully
    with securities until it became illegal.
    At the present time, though, you do not have to disclose your Bitcoin
    holdings and Uncle Sam will not be knocking on your door if you write rumors
    about Bitcoin reaching the $10k mark. That’s a problem.

  • Pingback: Bitcoin – A Mining Disaster Waiting To Happen | Smaulgld

  • Haroun Kola

    Bitcoin is more like email or facebook. the more people use it, the more value it has. i may be a belieber but it ain’t that musician you’re thinking about…

  • Haroun Kola

    Bitcoin is certainly causing conversations and someone is going to be left holding something worthless. Everyone hopes it not them…

    • Smaulgld

      Bitcoin is backed by passion and intelligence only. If you have to
      explain it to people and plea for people to understand and accept that
      it has value it doesn’t.

      • Haroun Kola

        Regardless of what’s its backed by, as a simple experiment in getting people to question a fiat currency that’s being blindly accepted for so long, used to perpetuate poverty and inequality and driven by evil profit based motives and the murder of innocence through expensive wars.

        There’s great value in a population that’s free from that.

        • Smaulgld

          Very true. My complaint is NOT with digital currencies but with Bitcoin itself

          • Haroun Kola

            Awesome. Then look at the other alt coins and write an article on the one that appeals to your sensibilities and welcome the age of alternatives to the corruption that we’ve presented with and make the world a better place.

          • Smaulgld

            Prime coin looks good. Thanks for the suggestion. Am working on an economic piece on how the Fed destroyed the economic prospects of the young. Will put something out on alt coins soon

          • Haroun Kola

            Devcoin also looks interesting and the economic prospects of the young may have a great alternative source of wealth that’s crowdsourced and of grassroots significance, instead of this inept, or is it corrupt system that rewards only those who cause the problems in the first place with more easy money.

          • Smaulgld

            Yep, I think competing currencies will be what undoes bitcoin, not regulation. Right now bitcoin supporters support it and overlook its defects because they are blinded by its potential. The mainstream won’t care so much

          • Haroun Kola

            And when the mainstream come into the crypto-market anything can happen…

          • Smaulgld

            truly anything! currencies for all different types unless gov’t crackdown on them or co-opt them

          • Haroun Kola

            Yes they will have access to do such, but this is a groundswell of epic proportions and the beginning of the real revolution. It can’t be stopped, heralds the age of abundance for all and will hasten the collapse of the corrupt gov’ts around the world.

          • Smaulgld

            Not really-the average person is not interested in revolution and taking down the Fed and governments. Most don’t even know what the Fed is and don’t pay attention to what governments do.
            The current euphoria over bitcoin is mostly from traders who are happy it is going up.
            The average person is not going to bother to figure out how to get bitcoin and then find a list of places where it can be spent

          • Haroun Kola

            Not yet I agree. Just wait until the proverbial poo hits the fan and western capitalism starts collapsing, opportunities dry up, pension funds get raided and people start awakening to the fraud on a governmental level.

            Your minimum wage protests are the beginning, the occupy movement happened and not many felt the pinch but next time its going to lead to the awakening of the masses.

            Then the creation of wallets and places to spend them are going to become more ubiquitous. This price gyration is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s going to sink the unsinkable titanic of a belief in an illegitimate profiteering system who’s collapse is hidden by QE eternal.

          • Smaulgld

            You may be right. QE has definitely pushed the debt based system beyond its breaking point. Awakening may happen but bitcoin may not be a part of it.

  • http://awildduck.com Ellery Davies

    I am an early Bitcoin proponent. As editor and columnist at AWildDuck, I have advocated for it as a currency (and–tangentially–as an investment commodity) for two years with compelling arguments.*

    I disagree with Louis Cammarosanothe’s argument and conclusions, specifically that:

    .. intrinsic value is more important than scarcity and capped growth
    .. government backed currency has intrinsic value in the absence of an unalterable link to a scarce commodity
    .. US currency is rooted in anything more substantial that Bitcoin’s “faith based” advocacy

    But this time, I am not offering feedback to defend my position or promote debate. Rather, I am acknowledging that this article for Smaulgld takes me down a notch. It is the first article that impresses me with a clear argument against jumping on the Bitcoin bandwagon. Especially the paragraphs that begin with these words:

    .. “Early adopters often overpay”
    .. “Bitcoiners fancy themselves as political activists”

    While I don’t agree with the fundamental argument (Bitcoin’s lack of “intrinsic value” as a critical property of any currency), I am haunted by the Cammarosanothe’s accurate description of the ego, bragging rights and compulsive behavior that drives early adopters, especially of a Geeky gadget or a concept that the Geek insists will become a commodity.

    Yes. I am confident that Bitcoin will grow in adoption, trust and stability for many years to come. But this article—a lucid contrarian view—gives me pause. Several close friends have also argued against Bitcoin throughout my spasm of evangelism. They feel that my fascination with crypto currency has taken on a life of its own and will lead to both financial ruin and a lack of credibility (as the bubble bursts). Of course, warnings from friends weigh on my psyche. But until now, I have smugly taken refuge in my understanding and argument of Bitcoin’s underlying mechanism and its provable scarcity…

    But Cammarosanothe identifies and pushes all of my buttons at once. I can eloquently refute his argument about intrinsic value…Like Bitcoin, the US dollar is also “faith based”—the leading con of detractors. But while, I can refute the logic, I am haunted by his understanding of emotions, technolust and bragging rights.

    * My Bitcoin analysis appears at awildduck (d0t) com, at which I am chief editor. Type “bitcoin” into the on-page search box at right.

    Some readers are surprised that I am only acquiring my first Bitcoins now—in Dec 2013—after it eased from $1200 to 700/coin. If I had purchased just a month ago, I would have paid $150 and if I had purchased when I first predicted its ascent, I would have paid less than $4 per coin.

    • Smaulgld

      Ellery for argument’s sake let’s say the dollar and bitcoin are both equally faith based. On that alone Bitcoin is destined for failure.While bitcoin advocates are rabid enthusiasts (why wouldn’t they be-they are making a fortune) they are in a distinct minority. New comers to bitcoin have lately seen losses while those holding their Federal Reserve notes haven’t noticed a difference. There may be stealth devaluation of the dollar but not a 50% drop in a day!.
      Right now the attraction of bit coin is it will go up and make people money. When and if that dynamic changes I think may will flee for the exits including the early adopters.

      • http://awildduck.com Ellery Davies

        Wow! We certainly disagree on the underlying mechanisms and the pressure that they exert.

        First about the wild swings in value…

        a) Bitcoin has short term fluctuations. But check out the 3 long-term charts on comparative graphs below (and in my new posting at awildduck.com). Would you still call this a wild ride?

        b) Think of Bitcoin as an emerging currency and not as an speculative equity. An individual who leaves their savings in BTC rather than national currency and gradually increases his buying of goods and services that are priced in these units will perceive a lessening of BTC price swings and an increase in the odd swings of paper instruments.

        c) Finally, look at the value of the dollar over the last 100 years. Now, compare this with the value of Bitcoin since its emergence in mid 2010. The purchasing power of a dollar has fallen 95%. Most of this was even before the loss of Gold-convertibility. More recently the dollar has absolutely no cap. It is printed at the whim of politicians.

        I wonder why you feel that the Bitcoin dynamic will change over the long term. Sure, there is a transient attraction to speculators. That’s the smug and perhaps enthusiastic confidence that they have discovered something early on. But unlike tulip bulbs or iPhones, Bitcoins have a provable and limited supply. There will never be more than 21 million BTC. As they are adopted by an ever increasing populace and with an increasing global economy, they simply must go up. Bitcoins are certainly an ethereal invention of man. But unlike a dollar, Euro, Pound, Yuan, Frank, Yen or Zlotty (and even unlike gold), their is an inviolate cap on production. The only way to spread the wealth is to shave it thinner.

        I invite feedback. I really do respect contrary opinion and the opinion expressed in the article above is the most lucid and level headed that I have encountered.

        —Ellery

        • Smaulgld

          The real problem with bitcoin is its a game of artificial scarcity-anyone can make up any metric to limit the number of units of its currency. Bitcoin came up with the 100% useless “mining” of bitcoins that requires the miner to waste valuable resources to get made up value bit coins.
          In real life mining oil and silver the needed industrial resources are produced.
          No one needs a bit coin to run their car or to make an iphone yet electricity is wasted in mining of bitcoins.

          • http://awildduck.com Ellery Davies

            I accept your point about the unfortunate environmental cost of mining Bitcoins (“unproductive” because it doesn’t uncover a functional resource). I also accept that a BC miner is only uncovering made-up tokens forged at the whim of an individual creator. Both of these statements are valid…

            In fact, the analogy to mining minerals is only to explain the process of hunt an reward. It is not an accurate analogy at other levels.

            Addressing these two points (in opposite order)…

            1. The thing that makes this particular creator’s whim something of scarceity and interest is that he was first to solve all of the problems of a distributed crypto-currency, the first to reach critical trading mass, and the first to bridge the chasm of layperson PR. (I.e. it is the one that captured the press and held it permanently).

            These things may seem insignificant or ethereal, but in fact, they are the basis of a supply and demand market. After all, a Picasso is only valuable because every single artwork by Picasso is desired a sufficient body of individuals, and a far larger sector of society wishes to view them.

            2. The mining, while wasteful of a real natural resource (the fuel that is consumed to generate electricity), it creates an enormous incentive to gradually grow the money supply during the early stage of adoption. It may not have been a critical component to adoption, but it created a metaphor and an incentive for individuals who could not quite accept the potential for any crypto currency.
            If you feel strongly that it is wasteful or unnecessary, think of it as time and resources spent on a challenging puzzle — or perhaps an academic exercise in mathematics. For some individuals, it is sufficiently difficult and stimulating to be characterized as a teachable moment (to those who delve into what is occurring). I would also argue that it can be rewarding.
            On the other hand, as Bitcoins are revealed, the complexity of finding new coins is increasing while the reward for finding them is decreasing. Even with rising market value, there is no assurance that a great number of people will bother searching for the last million coins. For most of us, we will acquire Bitcoins as investment, in trade, or because it becomes an check-off option for our institutional savings account.

          • Smaulgld

            Everything you wrote makes 100% sense if you HAVE to have Bitcoin. But if you want to have digital currency you don’t need to have it that way! My point is we don’t need bitcoin. Digital currencies, perhaps, bitcoin,no.

    • Smaulgld

      Ellery for readers’ ease go ahead and add a link to your bitcoin analysis

    • Smaulgld
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  • MichaelRWorthingon

    You’ve been totally wrong so far but yes there is always tomorrow.

    • Smaulgld

      Wrong about what? I started writing about bitcoin when the price hit $1200. Since then it has had two drops of 40% and 20% and is at $800. My issue with bitcoin is it is a thin air currency which means its valuation can be $0 or $10,000.
      The lofty price targets are based on wishful thinking- the higher the price of bitcoin the more alt currencies also based on nothing but computer mining games will come to the market diluting bitcoin’s unit price. The winning alt currency will have real backing not artificial scarcity.

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  • Zachary Goldberg

    Interesting piece. I have been back and forth on this subject and have decided to not delve any deeper than I already have with bitcoin. I was a skeptic at first, then I jumped on the bandwagon, but then left once I realized I would be able to obtain a whole coin. It was for this reason that the idea of investing or going further would be counter productive because im essentially throwing my money into theoretical currency on the supposed promise that it is safe.

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