Bitcoin has always been hard to understand. Even Satoshi, its author, complained about that. The problem isn’t so much its complexity, but its newness – there’s really almost nothing to compare it to.
Having nothing to compare to is also a problem related to the prices of Bitcoin and the other cryptos. We’ve never seen currencies start from nothing and grow into serious players. We’ve always had silver and gold, at least in the background, but more or less all other currencies (certainly in our time) have been imposed by force.
Bitcoin, unless I’m forgetting something, is the first independent, world-recognized currency to pop up in a long, long time. And because of that, understanding its price is complicated.
The Two Economies
The key to understanding the price of cryptos is realizing that there are two separate crypto economies: the speculative and the commercial. These two economies are currently bumping into each other and occasionally running over each other… sometimes synergistically and sometimes antagonistically.
The speculative economy is the one that shows up on the news. It’s the home of both serious speculators and hucksters promising Lamborghinis. The speculative economy tends to be philosophically shallow, focusing on price and more or less nothing else((Which is not to say that all speculators care about nothing but price.)). This is the economy of CNBC, the futures markets, and get-rich-quick schemes.
The commercial economy is the one that doesn’t show up on the news. It’s the economy of actual commerce and hardworking developers. The commercial crypto economy tends to be philosophically deep. The people who are struggling to build and spread this technology are doing it because they believe in the better future it can bring into the world. This is the economy of Bitcoin taxis in Africa, international settlement transactions, and millions of smallish transactions between friends and business associates.
What we had in late 2017 was the speculative economy running to excess and overflowing the commercial economy.
What we had in late 2018 was the speculative economy flowing back out and draining liquidity from the commercial economy.
This has been inconvenient for many of us, but it’s something we’ll have to put up with. Evidently this is the way new currencies form.
The Primacy of the Commercial Side
While it appears mundane to the outer world, it’s the commercial crypto economy that really matters.
If there were no utility to Bitcoin and the others, they would have no value at all, save as a curiosity. And without underlying value, speculation would be ridiculous. And so it is the commercial economy that underlies everything. And for those of us who are serious about cryptocurrency, this is the economy we need to stay busy with, building and promoting.
And there is so much to be done.
Consider first that there are some two billion humans with no access to fast and simple financial transfers. That is, they have neither a bank account nor the associated services. These people are perfectly situated to become crypto users. They have the inherent need of trade and they generally have cell phones. And with crypto, that’s enough. Early crypto developers are working in these areas already, but there will be huge needs in this sector for a long time.
Consider also that nearly every cryptocurrency is immune to capital controls. Sadly, we can probably expect more of these in the years ahead, and cryptocurrency is, as we say, censorship-resistant. You can send money to anyone with a connection, anytime and in any amount.
Cryptocurrencies are also immune to monetary inflation… perfectly, mathematically immune. There are a fixed number of currency units in Bitcoin and its children, unlike the units of government currencies, which are created billions at a time by the actions of elites rather than by market participants. The value of the US dollar has fallen 90% over my lifetime because of such actions.
So, which is a better place to put the fruit of one’s labors? Government currencies are all but guaranteed to lose value consistently. Cryptocurrency is all but guaranteed (aside from speculative waves) to retain value.
Finally and probably most importantly, crypto is a path around a dangerous and tyrannical set of government currencies. I’ll leave off the details for today, but central banks and their associated systems have become networks of surveillance, control, and dominance. For the sake of our species, they need to be made obsolete.
So, in the long run, cryptocurrency is terribly attractive, first of all for its direct benefits, and secondarily as a speculation.
Until all these things play out, we’ll have to put up with speculative waves rolling back and forth over the commercial crypto economy.
More than that, we need to get even more serious about building the commercial side. Not only does the world need this, but the larger the commercial side, the less damage waves of speculation can cause.
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