There are valid reasons to criticize Bitcoin, but price volatility is not one of them. 

Why does the price of Bitcoin change so much from day to day? The answer is simple: the value of Bitcoin derives almost entirely from speculation on future adoption of Bitcoin rather than practical use. Bitcoin speculators are betting on the likelihood that Bitcoin will become offers a credible alternative to fiat paper money or commodities like gold.

No one knows the future, so many individual market participants speculate about the future using the information available to them. They will naturally disagree and change their opinions over time as new knowledge becomes available.  Good and bad news such as statements by governments, thefts from exchanges, or new startup ventures provide new information about the future and so influence the price.  Traders also react to the predictions of other traders. This is how price discovery works in any market. Those who make successful predictions earlier and more often will accumulate more Bitcoin, thus rewarding those with the best judgment. 

If you think that the Bitcoin trading is driven by too much hype, consider that the world’s economy currently hangs on the rants of President Trump’s reactions to the latest Fox News broadcast, and how the Federal Reserve reads the tea leaves of the market this week.

By contrast, crypto traders are ultimately responding to the long term success or failure of the Bitcoin ecosystem. This process of information discovery is always messy, but it is not any more arbitrary than the fake drama of the political news cycle.

Many critics of Bitcoin consider the fact that Bitcoin is a speculative asset as sufficient reason to dismiss it. But all entrepreneurial initiatives are speculative at the start. Bitcoin is like any early-stage startup. One investor claims a 10% stake for $1 million for a valuation $10 million, while a later round might value a $10% stake at $100 million. As a startup proves that its technology and businesses model is sound, and begins to make profits, it’s market cap grows. As profit transitions from potentiality to an actuality, the market capitalization becomes more stable. We are seeing a similar process with Bitcoin, except its ambition and potential is far larger than a startup, so the process takes far longer.   

Bitcoin will achieve price stability when a large portion of Bitcoin’s market cap is used for practical purposes rather than speculation. The practical value of Bitcoin is as a means of exchange and store of value.  

Can we track the adoption of Bitcoin as practical money? Yes. When Bitcoin was invented, only a few highly technical users had the skill to make Bitcoin transactions. Over the last 10 years, the cryptocurrency ecosystem has grown and evolved. Bitcoin is now easier to use, safer to store, and the number of businesses who accept it is in the tens of thousands.

Still, in all but a few narrow use cases, it is still more convenient to use more traditional payment networks. That’s normal — monopolies are broken not by assaulting their business model head-on, but within narrow edge cases where it is easier to build a superior alternative. In the case of Bitcoin, it is already a viable option for cross-border money transfers from nations with currency controls, trade in black and grey market goods, funding of politically incorrect institutions, and of course, criminal operations. In developed countries with robust financial networks, Bitcoin is only used by its most devoted followers, as the traditional financial system is still far easier to use.

That doesn’t mean that we will not see a sudden and unpredictable shift in which Bitcoin suddenly overtakes traditional financial networks. The Western banking system suffers from major and intractable structural faults and is ripe for disruption.  By contrast, here is a single Bitcoin transaction worth $670 million dollars with a total fee of $7.82.  Imagine how much more effort and due diligence a banking transaction of this size would take. A transaction to buy your morning coffee with Bitcoin comes with the same level of security.

We’ve seen how countries like China evolved from a cash-only society to one entirely dominated by mobile payment apps for practically all applications in just a few years.  With Whole Foods, Home Depot, and other major stores now accepting Bitcoin, virtually all millennials using smartphones, and growing instability in the global fiat money regime, the currency marketplace could be ready for disruption. Or not. The “flippening” between the dollar and Bitcoin could be decades away. The point is that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with speculating on the possibility of a Bitcoin-based economy and global monetary standard if you believe (as I do) that the technology is fundamentally sound and capable of evolving to handle the business of 7 billion people.

Categories: Markets

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