Bitcoin can be stolen. Although “Bitcoin” can’t be hacked, it’s only software and has many vulnerabilities. If held on an exchange, you have legal and financial risk. If held at home, you could have a hard drive fail and lose your passwords. If it’s on a hardware fob like a Trezor, the circuits could fail. For a robust system, computers themselves are pretty fragile. You could write down your passwords on paper, and have a house fire. You could print out several copies, but if any of the copies are found, they have full access to your account and stolen without you knowing. You could have your passwords stolen by your family, or have a trojan take a screen or keystroke capture.
Hackers could find a vulnerability not in Bitcoin, but in Android or AppleOS, slowly load the virus on 10,000 devices, then steal 10,000 passwords and clear 10,000 accounts in an hour. There are so many things that can go wrong, not because of the software, but at the point where you interface with the software. Every vault has a door. The door is what makes a vault useful, but is also the vault’s weakness. This is no different than leaving blank checks around, losing your debit card, or leaving cash on your dashboard, but it’s not true that there are no drawbacks. However the risks are less obvious and more unfamiliar.
Bitcoin isn’t truly anonymous. If someone, the NSA, wanted to track your drug purchases on SilkRoad, they could follow the router traffic, they could steal or work out your keys, they could eventually identify your wallet, and from there have a perfect legal record of all your transactions. Defenders will say that wallets are anonymous, that like Swiss accounts, we have a number, but not a name, and you can create new numbers, new wallets endlessly at will. Fair enough, but if I can see the transfers from the old to the new, it can be tracked. If I can get your account number by any means, I can see the flows. To some extent it’s speculation because we don’t know what technology they have available to crack codes, to see into routers, Internet traffic and servers.
Could there be a hidden exploit not in “Bitcoin” but in AES256 or the Internet itself? Maybe. Are there secret code-breaking mainframes? Possibly. But given enough interest, we can be sure that they could always get a warrant and enter your house, hack your computer, and watch your keyboard. However, this is no different than cash. If necessary, they can already track every serial number of every bill as it leaves an ATM or a drug sting. Then you follow those serial numbers as they are deposited and reappear. I expect Bitcoin is not very different, and like cash, is only casually anonymous. But is this a problem with cash? Or with Bitcoin? Your intent as a citizen is to follow the law, pay your taxes, and not hurt others. If government or other power centers are willing to expend that much effort to track you, perhaps the problem should be addressed with proper oversight on warrants and privacy.
Bitcoin is slow and expensive. Very true. Bitcoin Core has gotten so outsized from its origins that it may soon cost $5 to buy a $1 coffee and 48 hours to confirm the purchase. That’s clearly not cheaper, faster, OR better. It’s worse: far, far worse. Nor can it improve. Since Blockchain writes the ledger, the longer the ledger, the bigger it is. Technically, it can only clear a few transactions per second. This problem may not doom it, but it would relegate it to only huge, slow transactions like moving container ships. That is, a form of digital gold note. We don’t actually ship gold or whatever to pay for transactions; it just sits in the background, an asset. Per Satoshi, Bitcoin is a “Digital Asset.”
And the core team seems to like this more secure, higher value direction, where these obstacles are acceptable. But without a larger, deeper market, it’s the plaything of billionaires and then who sets the price? It becomes another experiment, an antique. Luckily, the story doesn’t stop there. Because it’s only software, you can always change it if you can convince the participants to use the new version. Bitcoin Cash is a fork that it larger, faster, and cheaper, reducing the limitations for now. And it can become Segwit2 or Cash2 later if the community agrees. But by design Bitcoin is not meant to be instant nor free, and probably never will be. Like gold, it is meant to be expensive, vaulted, and rarely moved. If you want fast and cheap, LiteCoin, Dash, and many others are vying to be the digital silver or digital payment card. That’s not very different from the gold standard, or even payments today.
Bitcoin is a huge electric and Internet drain. This is true. However, it’s also misrepresented. What is the electric overhead of every bank, every terminal, every mainframe on the NYSE, every point-of-sale card machine, every cash register and router in retail? Don’t we use an awful lot of electric to keep those running? What about their cost, the repairmen, the creation of new systems every year from mine to market, from idea to update release, to replace them? We also personally have our computers and routers, the whole Internet on and idling. What’s the base cost? Is it fair to compare as if it were a pasture before Bitcoin arrived?
We built the existing system this way because it gained efficiency. Time in the clearing, price in not running typewriters and mail worldwide, and of course taxes. We’re talking about creating a parallel financial system here. If the old one is replaced, is the new one better, or worse? Mining takes a lot of power, but the math in Bitcoin is meant to get increasingly harder to compensate for increasing computer speed. The computers are supposed to be on to confirm transactions. That means that the more people use it, the more power consumed, but that’s true of everything. The more people that drive cars, the more gas is used. So is the car doing something useful and being used well? Is it replacing a less efficient horse, or just wasting energy better used elsewhere? These are complex questions.
At the least, Bitcoin uses far, far too much energy in the design, and because of the speculation, far too many people are mining it without using it. However, all of the subsequent coins were concerned about this, and their power consumption is far, far less. As Bitcoin is near its hardest stage and stops at 22 Million, power consumption is near peak, but should stabilize, or even fork to a low-energy proof-of-stake model. As Bitcoin is not well-suited to worldwide transactions, it should be replaced with less-power intensive alternatives, and because of this, may get smaller. And if it replaces some of the existing system, it can generate an offset. But yes, if it uses too much power, is too inefficient by design, it will be too expensive, abandoned, and fail.
Are Cryptos a scam? Probably not: we pointed out some legitimate uses above for both coins and tokens. But there’s one coin that arguably is a Ponzi, a dozen coins that are scams, scores that are terrible ideas like Pets.com and will fail, and another dozen good, well-meaning tokens that are honest but ultimately won’t succeed. Yet, like the .Com 90’s, there are probably some like Apple that rise far more than it seems they should, and by surviving, effectively give 16% compounded returns for 40 years, front-loaded. That’s the nature of business. But are many coins and tokens open scams that run off with your money? Yes. Are others worthless? Yes. It’s also true of the stock and bond market and can’t be helped. Buyer beware.
Is Bitcoin a Ponzi? It’s not a Ponzi by definition because there is no central thief, nor are new investors paying off old investors. So is it a fraud, misrepresenting a few hours of electricity as worth $10,000? Well, that depends on what you think its value is. Is it providing value, a service? If so, what is that service worth to you? We already said it has the operational elements of money, with the addition of being extremely transmissible and transportable. If that has value to you, fine, if not, perhaps gold or bonds are more appropriate. But that’s the problem of what gives Bitcoin value.
A stock or bond you can look at the underlying asset, the profit or income flows, the book value. But Canadian or New Zealand dollars? What gives them value? They’re also backed by nothing. What gives gold value? It has no income, just popularity. Likewise Bitcoin: what gives it value is that other people want it. If they stop wanting it, it has no value, but that’s psychological and can’t be directly measured. With that in mind, is its fair value $1K or $1B? No one knows. Can its value fall from $10k to $5k? Yes, and it has many times. Only the market, that is, we can decide what it’s worth to us, and the market is small and immature, with no price history and prone to wild swings.
Shouldn’t the exchanges set the price? Yes, and they do, but how is that accomplished? We already said the Exchanges do internal trading off-ledger, outside Bitcoin. So aren’t they setting the price on the exchange instead of the people setting the price peer-to-peer? It would seem so. So aren’t they subject to market manipulation? Although at the moment they have a fairer design, and smaller pipelines to the larger market of money, yes. So if they launch a Bitcoin future, a tracker, a triple-short ETF, internally inflate their holdings, wouldn’t that make it subject to corruption and thus back into the existing system?
No one knows: it’s never been done before. I suspect not, but only because the people want Bitcoin specifically because it is Outside-system, Anti-fraud and watch these things carefully. But it’s run by humans and reflect human nature: that means over time some new form of exchange and corruption can grow up around it as before. While the ability to rig Bitcoin is limited because the quantity of Bitcoin is limited and riggers must first buy Bitcoin fairly, the Exchanges and the price-setting are an issue, and especially into the future.
Central Banks and existing powers can outlaw or replace it. Bitcoin is still small, almost irrelevant, yet it has been driven down or outlawed in several places, for example North Korea, Venezuela, and New York. That’s right New York, you’re in proud company. North Korea outlaws everything and there is little internet access, so that’s no example. New York is simply regulating Bitcoin which creates business obstacles, but is still available via the few companies willing to do extensive paperwork. Venezuela, however, is actively suppressing Bitcoin which competes with the Bolivar, and is in fact seeking out and shutting down miners.
They do this on the premise that Bitcoin is consuming valuable (and free) national electric that could be better used powering a small town. Point taken. However, Bitcoin users are able to defend themselves against a terrible, lingering hyperinflation that is starving the nation to death, cutting off food, medicine, and services. Mining Bitcoin with national electric – or even having any – can be the difference between life or death. With Bitcoin, you can order food and medicine on Amazon. Without it, you can’t. So a ferocious national government has attempted to halt Bitcoin at gunpoint from both the users and the vendors. Like other currency oppressions, the USD in Zimbabwe for example, it hasn’t worked. Bitcoin is suppressed, but when the need for commerce is high enough, people make a way.
So maybe they will replace it with their own coin. Go ahead: this is a free market, freely competing. Banks already made a coin called Ripple, which trades in volume on exchanges, but is not open and public. If people choose it, I can’t stop them. Suppressing Bitcoin may make the incentives to choose the legal option far higher. But ultimately the point of Bitcoin is to be open, fair, and uncontrolled. A coin that is closed, controlled, and operated by some untrustworthy men has no incentive. But it can happen: people have chosen against their better interest before.
And that’s my real reservation. Suppose Bitcoin works. Suppose it replaces currency. Suppose it is adequately private. Suppose can be made fast enough, cheap enough, and slim enough. Suppose the old system fades and we all get used to having our lives entirely on the Blockchain. Your every post is perfectly recorded and provably yours on Steemit. Your every photograph is saved and stamped to you. Every medical experience is indelibly written. Every purchase, every trade, it’s all on a blockchain somewhere. And even suppose it’s private. What then? I mean, isn’t this the system we had in 1900, under the former society and former gold standard? So what happened?
Being comfortable and familiar with Blockchain ledgers, taking them as for granted as Millennials do Facebook, and someone says, “Hey, rather than waste power on this inefficient, creaking system of writing everywhere for a fraction of the power the Federal Reserve Block can keep it for you. Think of the whales.” Sound silly? That’s exactly what they did in 1913, and again in 1933 – replace a direct, messy, competitive system with a more efficient one run by smarter men. The people didn’t protest then any more than they do now, so why would we expect them to in 2050 or 2070? No one cares about corruption and murder: we’re only moving to this system now because it’s better and cheaper. If the Fed Reserve Block is cheaper, won’t we move then?
I can’t solve the next generation’s problems. We’ll be lucky to survive our own. But I can warn you that even now this generation will never accept a digital mark without which you cannot buy or sell, not voluntarily and not by force. It’s too far to reach and social trust is too compromised. But could they get us halfway there and just make it official later, when everything’s fixed again? I think absolutely.
Once that’s in, you can finish all the plans written in the bank and government white papers: perfect, inescapable taxation. Perfect, indelible records of everyone you talked to, everything you said, everything you bought, everywhere you were, everyone you know. Not today, but in the future. And that is the purgatory or paradise they seek today. The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance. The system we have wasn’t always bad: a small cadre of bad men worked tirelessly while complacent citizens shirked their duty. So when we move to a new system softly, without real purge, real morality, real reform, what makes you think the same thing won’t happen to your new system? Only far, far more dangerous. But I can’t prevent that. Think, and plan accordingly.