Readers of DeBord Report will know that I've become embroiled in a controversy/experiment involving Bitcoin, the cyber- or crypto-currency that's captured the hearts and minds of some passionate supporters in the technology world. In response to some commenters on the posts I've written so far, I decided to buy and trade some Bitcoin, just to see how it would go.
I suppose I could call this "Bitcoin Challenge" to parallel the "Bike Challenge" I'm also currently engaged in.
There are some superficial similarities. I haven't ridden a bike anywhere in more than a decade. I've also never traded currencies — or much of anything else.
However, my sideline career trading BTC is off to a decent start. I don't know why, but the price of Bitcoin has been headed up of late. Because this is just an experiment and not an attempt to make real money, a few weeks back I purchased $10 of Bitcoin. I bought BTC at $3.90 and, a few minutes ago, sold it at $5.40.
Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images
An employee changes the numbers of the currency information board in front of an exchange office on Aug. 8th in Budapest. The Swiss franc remained at its highs against the dollar, changing hands at 0.7594 to the dollar.
I've written several posts about Bitcoin and have used the feedback I've received from commenters to undertake a deeper dive into crypto-currencies. This led me to a recent op-ed in the Cypress Times by David Barker, tackling the idea that a "private" currency like Bitcoin could displace or at least compete with government-backed money.
Here's a salient paragraph, laying out the historical/academic case:
Nobel Prize winning economist Fredrick Hayek advocated privatization of the money supply as early as 1978. Barry Eichengreen, a respected, mainstream scholar of international finance recently wrote that “maybe the Tea Party should look for monetary salvation not to the gold standard but to private monies like Bitcoin.” Former Federal Reserve Governor Randall Kroszner and widely read blogger Tyler Cowen wrote a book in 1994 that discussed “the potential consequences of a complete deregulation of money and banking.” An article in the ultra-establishment Journal of Economic Literature by George Selgin was titled “How Would the Invisible Hand Handle Money?” Other economists study historical episodes where money was privately produced, often with favorable results.
I've been getting a fair number of comments on my Bitcoin post from a few days back, itself a response to Fred Wilson's Bitcoin post. Most think I'm completely wrong about Bitcoin and its future as a form of currency. Some commenters are particularly upset by my assertion that Bitcoin is illiquid — by which I mean its value isn't predictable enough for it to function as a ready medium of exchange (although it's not that simple because liquidity is a cryptic concept, used commonly in finance in a sort of metaphorical sense, but ill-defined and misunderstood, really reverse-engineered from its features, one of which is predictability of price).
Here's a sample, from MoonShadow:
The true irony of this article is that Bitcoin is nearly perfectly liquid, even though it's ultimately deflationary. I know what liquidity is, liquidity is the ability of economic actors to engage in exchange rapidly and with as few intervening steps as possible. This is why cash is very liquid and real estate is not. Bitcoin is very much like cash in this respect. Go try and tell Bitcoin users that Bitcoin is illiquid, and they will laugh at your ignorance. The only people for whom Bitcoin is not liquid are those who don't have any.
Images_of_Money/Flickr (cc by-nc-nd)
Is the dollar bill done for?
So it seems to me and my colleagues...that an alternative currency with roots in peer to peer networks and based on an algorithm that is transparent to everyone is an idea whose time has come. The question remains if the Bitcoin algorithm or some other algorithm (possibly a derivative of the Bitcoin algorithm that deals with some of Bitcoin's weaknesses?) will ultimately win out. That's an important issue that has a lot to do with when this space becomes investable.
But Bitcoin or something else, I'm confident we'll see the emergence of currencies that are not controlled by nation states in my lifetime. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen. I think it is, but there are significant ramifications that will result from the decoupling of currencies from governments. And one of them is an interesting investment opportunity that we hope to participate in.