By Chet Yarbrough
Digital Gold, Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money
Written by: Nathaniel Popper
Narrated by: Robert Fass
Nathaniel Popper writes a book on the history of bitcoin. His history is a “Just the facts Mam” presentation. One will draw their own conclusion about the good and bad qualities of crypto currency.
Just like the dollar, pound, renminbe (yuan), franc, and euro, bitcoin is used for legal and illegal transactions. There are a host of criminals who have gamed currencies. Pepper recounts examples of bitcoin that show it is not exempt from currency manipulation.
However, the manipulation takes the form of coding modification, or criminal hacking, rather than overt Bernie Madoff-like’ deceit. Wealth has been accumulated and lost in every medium of exchange since the beginning of barter between buyers and sellers. Popper shows that the fundamental difference between conventional currencies and bitcoin is how value is determined; who decides on what the value should be, and the transparency of change.
Popper explains bitcoin’s value is a consensus of its owners and users. Bitcoin value rises or falls based on most of its holder’s and merchant’s willingness to sell goods in exchange for bitcoin’ value. In contrast, conventional currencies are based on government fiat and national economic stability.
All currencies offer exchange of goods based on willing seller and buyer discretion. However, conventional money does not rely on majority determination of value. Value of conventional currency is an inchoate combination of government decision, and the economic condition of respective nations. When aberrant government actions or economic crises occur willing buyers disappear, and currency value falls. However, bitcoin is not dependent on government regulation or the state of one economy. Bitcoin relies on its buyers and sellers and is independent of singular government decisions or any singular national economies.
What Popper clearly explains is that troubled economic countries can see dramatic conventional currency movements that destroy wealth because of government decisions. However, he equally notes many examples of large devaluations in bitcoin. The difference is that devaluation of bitcoin is based on owners and users who are not tied to any single nation-state economy or government regulation. Bitcoin value is based on the opinion of its owners and users.
One might conclude bitcoin is more egalitarian than conventional currency because it is based on the will of the majority of owners and users. That may be true but the idea of depending on bitcoin’s open system modification of cryptographic code is a threat to the will of the majority.
Only code technologists understand the ramification of code changes in bitcoin. Most users can only vote in ignorance and hope. One may argue that is also true when electing a government; however, the difference is transparency. Bad governments can be judged by the public and eventually defeated. Cryptocurrency is, as its title implies, concealed. It is both secret and incomprehensible to most owners and users. Most bitcoin users can only vote in ignorance and hope that coders are acting in a majorities best interest. (Not to mention outright theft as is represented by the arrest of Devin Morlan for stealing $437 million in bitcoin.)
No form of currency guarantees value. Every form of currency has its ups and downs. The difference is in who makes the decision about value. If you live in a highly inflationary country, bitcoin offers some level of stability. If you live in a wealthy and relatively stable country, bitcoin seems less attractive.
The future of bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies seems more utilitarian in a future where nationalism disappears and there is acceptance of a world economy based on equality of opportunity. We seem far from such a Utopian world.