The Bullish Case for Bitcoin

Genesis

The Origins of Money

The primary and ultimate evolutionary function of collectibles was as a medium for storing and transferring wealth.

Compared to modern money, primitive money had a very low velocity — it might be transferred only a handful of times in an average individual’s lifetime. Nevertheless, a durable collectible, what today we would call an heirloom, could persist for many generations and added substantial value at each transfer — often making the transfer even possible at all.

What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was … for any man of capacity or character at all exceeding the average, into the middle and upper classes, for whom life offered, at a low cost and with the least trouble, conveniences, comforts, and amenities beyond the compass of the richest and most powerful monarchs of other ages. The inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his doorstep

The attributes of a good store of value

  • Durable: the good must not be perishable or easily destroyed. Thus wheat is not an ideal store of value
  • Portable: the good must be easy to transport and store, making it possible to secure it against loss or theft and allowing it to facilitate long-distance trade. A cow is thus less ideal than a gold bracelet.
  • Fungible: one specimen of the good should be interchangeable with another of equal quantity. Without fungibility, the coincidence of wants problem remains unsolved. Thus gold is better than diamonds, which are irregular in shape and quality.
  • Verifiable: the good must be easy to quickly identify and verify as authentic. Easy verification increases the confidence of its recipient in trade and increases the likelihood a trade will be consummated.
  • Divisible: the good must be easy to subdivide. While this attribute was less important in early societies where trade was infrequent, it became more important as trade flourished and the quantities exchanged became smaller and more precise.
  • Scarce: As Nick Szabo termed it, a monetary good must have “unforgeable costliness”. In other words, the good must not be abundant or easy to either obtain or produce in quantity. Scarcity is perhaps the most important attribute of a store of value as it taps into the innate human desire to collect that which is rare. It is the source of the original value of the store of value.
  • Established history: the longer the good is perceived to have been valuable by society, the greater its appeal as a store of value. A long-established store of value will be hard to displace by a new upstart except by force of conquest or if the arriviste is endowed with a significant advantage among the other attributes listed above.
  • Censorship-resistant: a new attribute, which has become increasingly important in our modern, digital society with pervasive surveillance, is censorship-resistance. That is, how difficult is it for an external party such as a corporation or state to prevent the owner of the good from keeping and using it. Goods that are censorship-resistant are ideal to those living under regimes that are trying to enforce capital controls or to outlaw various forms of peaceful trade.

Durability:

Portability:

Fungibility:

Verifiability:

Divisibility:

Scarcity:

Established history:

Censorship resistance:

The Evolution of Money

Historically speaking … gold seems to have served, firstly, as a commodity valuable for ornamental purposes; secondly, as stored wealth; thirdly, as a medium of exchange; and, lastly, as a measure of value.

  1. Collectible: In the very first stage of its evolution, money will be demanded solely based on its peculiar properties, usually becoming a whimsy of its possessor. Shells, beads and gold were all collectibles before later transitioning to the more familiar roles of money.
  2. Store of value: Once it is demanded by enough people for its peculiarities, money will be recognized as a means of keeping and storing value over time. As a good becomes more widely recognized as a suitable store of value, its purchasing power will rise as more people demand it for this purpose. The purchasing power of a store of value will eventually plateau when it is widely held and the influx of new people desiring it as a store of value dwindles.
  3. Medium of exchange: When money is fully established as a store of value, its purchasing power will stabilize. Having stabilized in purchasing power, the opportunity cost of using money to complete trades will diminish to a level where it is suitable for use as a medium of exchange. In the earliest days of Bitcoin, many people did not appreciate the huge opportunity cost of using bitcoins as a medium of exchange, rather than as an incipient store of value. The famous story of a man trading 10,000 bitcoins (worth approximately $94 million at the time of this article’s writing) for two pizzas illustrates this confusion.
  4. Unit of account: When money is widely used as a medium of exchange, goods will be priced in terms of it. I.e., the exchange ratio against money will be available for most goods. It is a common misconception that bitcoin prices are available for many goods today. For example, while a cup of coffee might be available for purchase using bitcoins, the price listed is not a true bitcoin price; rather it is the dollar price desired by the merchant translated into bitcoin terms at the current USD/BTC market exchange rate. If the price of bitcoin were to drop in dollar terms, the number of bitcoins requested by the merchant would increase commensurately. Only when merchants are willing to accept bitcoins for payment without regard to the bitcoin exchange rate against fiat currencies can we truly think of Bitcoin as having become a unit of account.

In America, the dollar seamlessly serves the three functions of money: providing a medium of exchange, a unit for measuring the cost of goods, and an asset where value can be stored. In Argentina, on the other hand, while the peso was used as a medium of exchange — for daily purchases — no one used it as a store of value. Keeping savings in the peso was equivalent to throwing away money. So people exchanged any pesos they wanted to save for dollars, which kept their value better than the peso. Because the peso was so volatile, people usually remembered prices in dollars, which provided a more reliable unit of measure over time.

Path dependence

the trouble with [the] bubble story, of course, is that [it] is consistent with any price path, and thus gives no explanation for a particular price path

I bought [bitcoins] at like $2300 and had an immediate double on my hands. Then I started saying “I can’t buy more of it,” as it rose, even though that’s an anchored opinion based on nothing other than the price where I originally got it. Then, as it fell over the last week because of a Chinese crackdown on the exchanges, I started saying to myself, “Oh good, I hope it gets killed so I can buy more.”

You recognize this as a religion — a story we all tell each other and agree upon. Religion is the adoption curve we ought to be thinking about. It’s almost perfect — as soon as someone gets in, they tell everyone and go out evangelizing. Then their friends get in and they start evangelizing.

The shape of monetization

Gartner cohorts

The entrance of nation-states

There is another danger, perhaps even more serious from the point of view of the central banks and regulators: bitcoin might not crash. If the speculative fervor in the cryptocurrency is merely the precursor to it being widely used as an alternative to the dollar, it will threaten the central banks’ monopoly on money.

The transition to a medium of exchange

Common misconceptions

Bitcoin is a bubble

Bitcoin is too volatile

Transaction fees are too high

Competition

A fork in the road

Real risks

Protocol risk

Exchange shutdowns

Fungibility

Conclusion

If you imagine it being used for some fraction of world commerce, then there’s only going to be 21 million coins for the whole world, so it would be worth much more per unit.

[I]magine that Bitcoin is successful and becomes the dominant payment system in use throughout the world. Then the total value of the currency should be equal to the total value of all the wealth in the world. Current estimates of total worldwide household wealth that I have found range from $100 trillion to $300 trillion. With 20 million coins, that gives each coin a value of about $10 million.

We consider it necessary that international trade be established, as it was the case, before the great misfortunes of the World, on an indisputable monetary base, and one that does not bear the mark of any particular country.

Translations

About me

Acknowledgements

Disclaimer

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Vijay Boyapati

Vijay Boyapati

Tu ne cede malis, sed contra audentior ito

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