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A Quick Primer on Bitcoin

Some time ago I wrote that I would write about it. Unfortunately that hasn't come to pass and I don't have the time to delve very deeply into it, but for a few observations. Instead, Jeffrey Tucker (also, his FB) and a few others just did an appearance on Glenn Beck's The Blaze and basically gave Glenn himself a newbie intro. Both parts are a total of about 15 minutes and well worth watching.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Next up is a Reason.tv interview of two documentary film makers who just released The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin. Another 8 minutes well worth your time.

The Rise and Rise of Bitcoin:

So, a few quick thoughts from my end. Feel free to add or ask questions in comments. And, if any true experts out there think I've made a booboo, please let me know, as I'm sure you will.

  • The cat is out of the bag. No State on earth, nor all of them put together, can do anything about it. At most, they could simply issue laws making it illegal to hold or trade Bitcoin (dubbed The War on Bitcoin). It would be about as successful—less so, actually—as conducting a war on a weed. Watch the videos to understand why. Bitcoin is rather analogous to a weed growing worldwide.
  • It's been speculated that one way the governments of the world could kill Bitcoin is to simply buy it all up, and just hold it or delete it. Two problems; 1) The upper limit of Bitcoin won't be mined out for a substantial time into the future (I've seen estimates of 100-150 years), so new Bitcoin will always be coming into the blockchain and 2) This purchase activity will be quickly detected and holders of Bitcoin will hold out, many making millions and billions of dollars—or other fiat currency—as the price rises to insane levels...which fiat funds will then be used to buy in on the ground floor of Bitcoin 2.0, eventually making millionaires billionaires, and billionaires trillionaires.
  • Governments could also outlaw online exchanges, but even now, many don't use exchanges to buy Bitcoin with fiat currency. They buy it just like they'd buy drugs: in person and in cash...you hand the guy cash, he transmits Bitcoin peer-to-peer.
  • There is no central authority whatsoever, anywhere. Any person in the world holding Bitcoin can instantly transmit any amount of Bitcoin to any other person in the world, going through no single authority. No bank (everybody is their own bank), no clearinghouse, no credit-card or PayPal-like transaction, and no fees so long as you maintain your own wallet instead of using an online service (transfer fees for online services are pennies, not ridiculous, monopoly percentages). (If you do use an online service, make sure they don't hold your key—this is how some folks got their Bitcoin stolen by some of those now belly-up operators.)
  • The true power of Bitcoin is that no person, State or group can control it. It's not in its potential use as a tax dodge. You already have a way to dodge taxes by operating only or mostly in cash or barter. Yes, you are legally required to report any cash earnings, but if you never deposit the cash in a bank and keep your dealings confidential—and you get paid in cash by someone equally scrupulous—you can fudge pretty easily, as many do already. Every Bitcoin transaction in the whole history of Bitcoin is publicly available. You can watch every single Bitcoin transaction worldwide in real time. If you know a Bitcoin address (the thing people use to send you Bitcoin), you can search all transactions from and to that address ever. In other words, it's transparent—it's true power—keeping everyone honest.
  • Nobody in the world, including All The King's Horses and All The King's Men, can steal, seize, levy, or in any way take Bitcoin from you—unless you are coerced into giving up the key to your wallet, or you lose it, or get hacked. In other words, it's just like holding cash, precious metals or stones. The only way for anyone to get them is to physically get them, and if you have them buried somewhere, or in a safe, then they have to compel you to either reveal the location or combination, or crack the safe. Bitcoin's encryption is uncrackable, so it's pretty much down to coercion or hacking your system to find the key to your wallet if you keep its access behind a simple password.
  • Losing money is relative to whatever any individual values Bitcoin against. One of the stupidest criticisms you'll see from naysayers is that "you lost money in Bitcoin" like, say, recently, when it lost about half of its value in US Dollars once all the buying by people in Cypress and other European bankrupt countries died down—after the State had simply raided people's bank accounts. I'll show you why this is dumb by way of illustration. When I moved to Japan in 1984, the Yen was trading at about 250 to 1USD. I got paid in dollars. I rented a little house and my rent, paid in Yen, was about the equivalent of $450 per month, as I recall. Then the US devalued the dollar against the Yen and within a year, my rent was the same in Yen, but required almost $900 to buy. Get it?

On the last point, let me illustrate further, by means of a Facebook comment by A.B. Dada, a guy who owns 7 Buck Tees, among other businesses, and trades heavily in Bitcoin.

I don't look at the price of bitcoin. I probably made $30,000 in income paid in bitcoin in 2013. Don't know. Let the accountant deal with it. In 2014 I will probably make double that. Maybe triple? don't know. Don't care. It can go up, it can go down. Right now, bitcoin is up 4000% for the previous year or so? I don't know, I don't check the price.

Oh, next week I leave for an African safari. 12 days. I bought my airfare using bitcoin at cheapair.com. Paid for my safari with bitcoin in advance. I just returned from India in December. Met with 5 cotton garment suppliers. All of them are ready to accept bitcoin. My ink supplier in China? Accepts bitcoin.

No banks. Instant transfer. So easy.

So, if you can get to the point where you can make money in Bitcoin, and then spend Bitcoin for the things you want and need, internationally—a one-world medium of exchange—then what do you care what it's worth relative to any other currency, unless you see a way to make even more Bitcoin via arbitrage? Yes, to the extent that your trading partners are still heavily linked to their respective fiat currencies for various things, this will impact the relative price/value of Bitcoin, but this impact will diminish the more and more people and business shift more and more to Bitcoin, qua medium—and not merely fiat-surrogate—of exchange.

Alright, some resources for those looking to take a wade in the pool, as I have with a modest level to begin with:

Finally, if you like this post, or wish to support the work here in general using Bitcoin...

J1djb1x

Update: I ended up doing a follow up post.

Dispensing with Ayn Rand Statism—with its Concrete Bound Mentalities—and Typical Ignorance Regarding Bitcoin

Update 2:

Bitcoin Puts the Guy in a Mud Hut in Zimbabwe on Equal Monetary Policy Footing With the Most Coiffed & Suited Zurich Banker

Comments

  1. snakes on a plane says:

    7bucktees looks like a good business setup. Catchy and simple. Surely there’s some good supplement mix you can come with to sell? RS plus probiotics, psyllium husk and some of the ingredients from Sission’s Primal Fuel perhaps in a nice tasty shake?

  2. Howie says:

    Thanks for formally introducing this to your readers. While a digital currency that is decentralized and peer-to-peer is the best weapon against the state, I bet politicians have already started using Bitcoin to protect themselves from the slow death of the dollar.

    I’ve already used bitcoin to purchase precious metals and it’s saved me a bunch in processing fees. I also transfer my money from Coinbase (great exchange source) to a safer wallet like Blockchain.

    Richard, are you using to Bitcoin to speculate?

    • Howie

      Nope, I’ve no interest in speculation against the dollar or any other currency right now. I want to make money in bitcoin and purchase things in bitcoin with the goal of it eventually becoming my primary medium and buying dollars would be akin to taking a Euro vacation and buying Euros.

  3. Kathy says:

    I’m old. This is just fascinating. :)

  4. Can’t. Fucking. Listen. To. Beck.

    What a complete waste of carbon.

  5. My take on Bitcoin is slightly different.

    It belongs to a class of Crypto Currencies. The bitcoin is the first. There are three parts to it. The network, the Journal, and the bitcoin.

    The network is made up of the miners and the clients. The journal is shared between all the miners and clients. The bitcoin is something that allows you access to the journal.

    The journal is the thing that can help you prove that you have a particular key associated to the bitcoin. Via the particular key acting as an artifact shared between two people, the Journal can act as a certificate authority, without need of a third party.

    This makes the Journal infinitely more useful. There is a class of problem in Information Sharing over unreliable networks. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Generals%27_Problem

    Bitcoin Network and Journal solves this problem.

    Now, there is nothing stopping a Central Bank for creating such a Journal and Network for their own currency. This would remove the need for people to use Visa/MC kind of things for trading. They would then be able to use their own currency for trading. The only difference with Bitcoin would be that there will not be miners, only CB that would create the currency to issue those notes.

    Such a CB sponsored network will change the way we bank. Or the way banks work. The banks will still be able to take your money and note it somewhere in their network. And then you will be able to use their services to make transactions. But it will be clearer then that you don’t own your own money.

    The Bitcoin would be useful for International trading, or for people who are paranoid of the govt :-). Also with such a CB sponsored network, people would be able to do anonymous transactions, and they can also move money from Local Currency to Bitcoin and vice-versa more easily using both the Journals.

    The bitcoin would still be a decent store of value.

    There are two things required for Bitcoins to reach the next level.

    1) Bitcoins need to find a way to be useful. Currently they are basically being used for speculation. This speculation has provided it with value. They need to move into trading. This cannot happen unless there is an easy way to convert money to bitcoins, and vice-versa. The exchanges at present are a legal landmine. This must change. I think this will change slowly as govts get used to crypto-currencies. And will learn to work with them, and some of them will introduce their own.

    2) To reach a high Capitalization. The capitalization is a few Billion Dollars. Not really much. It would need to reach at least 10 Trillions or more to become stable enough, for normal people to hold bitcoins. Otherwise it will remain on the fringes. I have a theory that post crisis, the paper gold market will disappear. Currently the Paper Gold/Silver market works as a Speculative Hedge, to the tune of $500B/day. The reason IMO why people Hedge with paper gold/silver is that it remains stable over time, and is expected to be a store of value, also over physical gold/silver the transaction costs are very low. Bitcoin provides these features. It is a Store of Value, the transaction costs are very low. So I expect this trading will move over to Bitcoin, providing it the stability and volume, that bitcoin needs for the future.

    • Anand:

      Ha, as I was writing this, I was wondering: well, will I hear from Anand, again? BTW, there is a new BTC post on the heels of this one.

      Always appreciate your insights and in particular, your no-fear objectivity—quite unlike the conservative authoritarians I decry in my follow on post.

      I think your 2 concerns sort themselves out provided there are enough goods and services to buy with BTC. In the most simple view, either BTC becomes a medium where you can readily exchange your own products and services for BTC and in-turn, purchase others’ products and services with BTC, or it remains a fringe geek thing.

      We’ll see.

      My biggest concern, as I allude to in my follow on post is debt/credit. There is simply no way to have a robust economy, in my opinion, without debt, i.e., the ability to sell your future labor or productive achievement now, at a discount (a loan). But even more, for the scale of economies now, money creation via debt (debt is money; or, a security bound in a promise to repay, which is tradable either individually or bundled with other debt) is kinda required. There is a vast difference between loaning people money that you have, then don’t because they have it, and loaning them money you’ve created as debt (I know you understand all of this).

      To me, fractional reserve banking is the very essence of the grease that’s built the world. The world as we know it was built on debt and in it’s vast history, all summed up, over 99% or it has been paid back, with interest.

      But, BTC can be changed and enhanced. Someday, we’ll probably have “fractional reserve BTC,” the difference being that it will have been a unanimous change or enhancement to the code that enough nodes agree upon for all nodes to adopt, and it will be transparent.

      Implications are exciting to me. Far from worrisome.

      Free the Animal.

    • Actually somehow I had lost your link in my feedly. And for a few months was too busy to even notice that I hadn’t read FTA for a long time. Not that I was reading others much.

      I don’t see the point of having fractionally reserved BTC. The fractionally reserved BTC will not be BTC. Yes, companies can trade in BTC, and provide a fractionally reserved instrument. But it will be like fractionally reserved gold. ie there will be nothing like the Central Bank to backstop, any bank runs.

      I actually like currency (the debt), because it is the easiest to use. BTC will be as easy when we have legal exchanges for converting currency to BTC. Not before that. Currently it has fringe uses and people are speculating on it. I am bullish on its future, because there are needs that it is best placed to fulfill, but it still has ways to go.

      When we get good exchanges, then you could buy something with your currency, and the exchange does a conversion transparently to BTC, buys the stuff, and for the seller, it converts to the sellers currency from BTC. So although the medium of transaction was BTC, no end consumer needed to know about its use.

      This way buying locally or globally would be the same. The buyer only uses his currency and the seller uses only his currency. And this is the way it must be because BTC will never be as stable as a currency. Even if BTC gets a huge Capitalization, it will still not be as stable as a currency managed by a CB, simply because its quantity in the market cannot match the requirement always. Consumers/Businesses prefer to know how much money they have. People can store some wealth as a Store Of Value for a long time, and wouldn’t care about its price fluctuation. But this they won’t do for something that they want to use regularly. And they don’t have to, due to the efforts of a CB.

      Even when I think of my investment in BTCs, it is a speculation. Its not something like my investment in gold. With gold I do not care what the current price is. I know it will be valuable forever. With BTC, you never know, there could be something else around the corner. Although I think that is very low probability. Still the time scale matters here. I wouldn’t expect anything else from other people.

      My second concern (high capitalization) is not very important, although it would help a lot. But the first one having Legal Bitcoin Exchanges is critical.

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