No level-headed crypto space inhabitant should be antithetical to any coin just to be a contrarian. Religious allegiance to any one crypto for its own sake is the flip side to that misguided approach. It seems that any voluntary association of market actors working on a project is a fair enough scenario, and any challenge to the violent, prevailing monetary-powers-that-be should be welcomed. Still, legions of zealous crypto denizens have forgotten what the bitcoin whitepaper says about bitcoin.
In the wake of recent price movements, doubts are beginning to crop up more and more around BTC maximalist circles. As focus shifts from Satoshi’s founding vision of the coin as cash to a mere digital gold to be saved and “cashed out” later, valid questions are indeed raised. Financial news outlets, advocates of other cryptos, and even holders of BTC themselves are wondering whether blaming every single price event on China is really an honest assessment, or if a basic lack of utility and development may also be at fault.
From Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash to Superficial Hype
Namely, that the “purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution.”
Bitcoin’s primary function is not “store of value” – that’s a result of its primary function.
Bitcoin is “fuck you money.”
You want to seize my accounts? Fuck you.
You don’t want me to buy ______? Fuck you.
You want to steal my wealth via inflation? Fuck you.
– Jameson Lopp (@lopp) November 24, 2019
Recent reports of a supposed Binance office being raided in Shanghai, and the ensuing backlash and threat of lawsuit from CEO CZ, have the space aflame with frantic speculation. This should come as no surprise given China has been pointed to for years as one of the central factors influencing price movements in BTC, for better or for worse. There is undoubtedly truth to these claims.
Chinese mining pools have been cited as controlling about 70% of Bitcoin’s collective hashrate. President Xi Jinping’s recent pro-blockchain rhetoric caused a surge in crypto interest as well as a reported rise in Chinese tech stocks. Ongoing trade tensions between the U.S. and China also come into play. All this said, for many, these factors are doing little more than feeding into the played out “number go up” meme, which says nothing about use cases as peer-to-peer cash or interesting developments on the network itself. These phenomena point to the corollary, “China affect number” meme, and little more.
Mainstream Doubts and Hubris
In a recent Forbes piece entitled “From Bitcoin To No Coin, Crypto World Under Pressure As Governments React,” author Mike O’Sullivan states:
My own sense is that crypto currencies in general and bitcoin specifically are not safe havens. They have failed the purpose they were intended to fulfill in that they are not actively used as a means of exchange. Few retailers accept them, fewer consumers actively use them and transaction costs are still very high.
Regarding BTC, O’Sullivan’s sense seems accurate. Core maximalists have been known to go so far as mocking those who wish to spend the coin. A stark contrast to the whitepaper’s description of a new form of decentralized cash. While open-minded and progressive development is readily championed on other networks (for example, recent collaboration between BCH and ETH camps to implement Ethereum Name Service, large funding events to build ecosystems and constant development of market solutions), BTC is still largely stuck clinging to this store of value (SOV) narrative and waiting on the full implementation of a perpetually delayed Lightning Network layer two payments solution.
BTC network congestion and fees (a result of refusal to scale via a block size limit increase) have been presenting significant problems, causing many businesses to drop the coin as a payment option. Other networks attempting to scale and serve their participants with utility-based digital cryptos are summarily dismissed by the hubristic narrative.
No, Bitcoin Is Not Dead
Pinning down the core reason BTC (or any other crypto) is yet unable to fully compete with government fiat is not a straightforward task. The answer often has as much to do with government restrictions as it does with the tech itself. Also, with cultural narratives pushed by the mainstream media. After all, bitcoin has already “died” at least 378 times. For all BTC’s imperfections, it’s probably not deceased this time, either. For all its imperfections, a non-violence-backed, permissionless and borderless money with opportunity to make big gains still has advantages over the fiat racket. O’Sullivan’s personal prescription for the current price sickness is easier onboarding and more government regulation.
“More thorough regulation, cleaner cross-border payment processes and more reliable identification mechanisms will be part of the workload of central banks and governments,” he writes. He further observes: “For many people the process of setting up a crypto wallet, and mentally translating crypto prices into everyday currencies is too demanding to bother with. This ‘ease of use’ is a cognitive barrier to entry and something that will take time for many to overcome, even Millennials.”
Government certainly stands in the way of permissionless exchange and free market development, but it seems a stretch to imagine that using a simple wallet app or converting prices is too hard for most. What stands in the way of any sound fundamentals crypto is mostly violent political restrictions on free trade.
Overcoming State Imposition
Ever-constricting KYC and AML requirements attack basic human privacy. This, combined with draconian threats of policy enforcement attempts to make crypto a kind of high-tech “fiat lite” and not the permissionless money it was designed to be. The most efficient way to truly achieve bitcoinization is encouraging mass adoption by making it easy, lucrative and convenient, and then allowing people to comply with state mandates or not, as they please.
BTC’s glaring issues of a cult-like community, economically misinformed adherence to SOV narratives, and problems with congestion and fees, are in a sense preliminary to any gripes about government. In another sense, however, these false narratives serve as a way to conveniently acquiesce to popular monetary culture and restrictive policy, without giving up the cocksure rhetoric and insecure posturing so common to maximalist conversation. If crypto is ever going to defeat – or even compete with – the behemoth that is fiat, these issues will have to be addressed before any real change can take place.
Op-ed disclaimer: This is an Op-ed article. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.