Guest Post: Bitcoin: Money Of The Future Or Old-Fashioned Bubble?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Patrik Korda via the Ludwig von Mises Institute,

Bitcoin has been all the rage lately. The stuff, or lack thereof, runs on peer-to-peer technology, is fully decentralized, has no patents, and is open source. Currently, there are almost 11 million bitcoin units in existence and the maximum amount of bitcoin units that will ever be created by the logic of its design are 21 million. For more details on how they work, see the recent Mises Daily “The Money-Ness of Bitcoins” by economist Nikolay Gertchev.

The Issue

While bitcoins are designed so that they cannot be hyperinflated in name, they certainly can be hyperinflated in substance. Already, there are numerous knockoffs such as litecoin, namecoin, and freicoin in place. This is a particularly valid point because bitcoin is a starfish, i.e., it is fully decentralized. As stated by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom,

The starfish doesn’t have a head. Its central body isn’t even in charge. In fact, the major organs are replicated throughout each and every arm. If you cut the starfish in half, you’ll be in for a surprise: the animal won’t die, and pretty soon you’ll have two starfish to deal with.[1]

After the music-sharing service Napster went under, Niklas Zennström (the creator of Skype) stepped in with his creation called Kazaa, which had no central server that could be shut down. Eventually, such peer-to-peer programs became more numerous, to include Kazaa Lite, eDonkey, eMule, BitTorrent, etc. While this may be good news for people who like to download and share content for free, it certainly is not for people who are under the impression that bitcoin is a hedge against inflation. Those who compare bitcoin to a language neglect the fact that most people do not have an incentive to create a new language out of the blue. On the other hand, a great chunk of human history consists of people searching for the philosopher’s stone to magically produce gold. There can be no doubt that bitcoin has a built-in gold rush mechanism, which has already spilled over to litecoin and will be sure to spill over to subsequent knockoffs as well.[2]


Does bitcoin jibe with the Austrian stand on money? The only way to find out is to read what the great Austrians had to say. Let’s start with Carl Menger. In Principles of Economics, Carl Menger made the point that money, a general medium of exchange, has always tended to be the most “saleable” (i.e., “marketable” or “liquid”) commodity of the time.

What is saleability? It is not simply value. One may have a Picasso at home, which will fetch quite a sum at a Sotheby’s auction during a boom, but a Picasso, like a poem by Friedrich Shiller, a work of Sanskrit, or a decades-old bottle of red wine can never be the most saleable good. As Menger put it, saleability is the

facility with which [a good] can be disposed of at a market at any convenient time at current purchasing prices, or with less or more diminution of the same. (...) Compare only the number of persons to whom bread and meat can be sold with the number to whom astronomical instruments can be sold.

Menger went on to point out that cattle were the most saleable commodity in the ancient world. This is perfectly understandable in a world where bare-bones subsistence is a reality for most people and the structure of production is virtually nonexistent. As society progressed, however, cattle became less and less marketable.

As civilization progressed, Menger states that,

… peoples who were led to adopt a copper standard as a result of the material circumstances under which their economy developed, passed on from the less precious metals to the more precious ones, from copper and iron to silver and gold, with the further development of civilization, and especially with the geographical extension of commerce.

Gold won out due to a variety of reasons, such as being durable, amalgamable, malleable, divisible, homogeneous, and rare. Yet, the ultimate reason that gold won out is because it was the most saleable of commodities. As Menger went on to write,

Gold nuggets extracted from the sands of the Aranyos River by a dirty Transylvanian gypsy are just as saleable in his hands as in the hands of the owner of [the] gold mine, provided the gypsy knows where to find the right market for his commodity. Gold nuggets can pass through any number of hands without any decrease whatsoever in marketability. But articles of clothing, bedding, prepared foods, etc., would be suspect and almost unsaleable, or at any rate of greatly depreciated value, in the hands of the gypsy, even if they had not been used by him, and even if he had, from the beginning, acquired them only with the intention of passing them on in exchange.

This leads us to another criticism of bitcoin: It can never be the most saleable good. The reasoning for this is quite simple. Until the majority of the 7 billion or so people that inhabit this planet have either a smart phone or frequent access to the internet, a digital currency is out of the question.

Gold, on the other hand, is easily recognizable, as opposed to silver that may be mistaken for other metals such as nickel. Moreover, it melts at a relatively low temperature and is a relatively soft metal, which provides superior amalgamation and partly explains why it historically won out over metals such as platinum. If one questions the role of gold in the present monetary system, one only has to walk down the street in a metropolitan area and see a ‘We Buy Gold’ sign. Moreover, central banks hold gold and lots of it. They do not hold cattle, wheat, soybeans, copper, silver, or bitcoins.

Menger also wrote,

I am ready to admit that, under highly developed conditions of trade, money is regarded by many economizing men only as a token. But it is quite certain that this illusion would immediately be dispelled if the character of coins as quantities of industrial raw materials were lost. [3]

While it may very well be true that some early adopters valued bitcoins with what Menger described as imaginary value, the point of the most saleable good bears repeating. Gold is and has been seen as an object of beauty since the dawn of civilization. Thus, the argument that bitcoins are in accord with the regression theorem because a handful of people consume them as they would a Picasso, is like saying paper money has value because John Law or Ben Bernanke really enjoy playing monopoly. In fact, we might as well say that alchemy works, considering that a significant amount of human history and energy was spent in attempting to find the philosopher’s stone. Some people may enjoy work just for the sake of working. Unfortunately, this is not a sufficient justification for slavery nor the labor theory of value.


With the imminent hyperinflation meme fading away and no longer holding much water, the new reason to hold bitcoins is the anonymity, nay, the freedom that it provides. Want to gamble online or buy something illegal? Bitcoins are the solution. It is a way of circumventing the authorities and uplifting free and voluntary trade, or so goes the story. Unfortunately for many of the misinformed, the reality is toto caelo. It would be best to take it from bitcoin developer Jeff Garzik himself. The fun starts at 3:20.

The ironic part about this is that anyone and everyone who has participated in illegal activity using bitcoins, presumably because they thought it was anonymous, now has a permanent record of every single one of their transactions contained on the public ledger. Those who think they are clever by using add-ons such as Tor are just as foolish as those who think prepaid cards or smart phones are anonymous. Imagine if bitcoins existed 50 years ago. Chances are, none of the last three presidents (including Barack Obama) would have run for office.


Bubble Time?

The question left to be answered is whether or not bitcoin is once again taking the shape of a bubble. The answer is yes. There is present a reflexive pattern of people buying because prices are rising, and prices rising because people are buying. The myopic are extrapolating the price trend of the past four months, which they deem is normal, and in so doing they exacerbate it to the upside, thus attracting even greater fools. The inflection point will come when the continuity of bullish thought is broken. One thing is for sure, the amount of suckers left who are willing to jump on the moving and ever-accelerating train is drawing thin, and so are their pockets.

When prices for any asset go parabolic, it does technical damage to a chart. It is sort of like someone deciding to go full speed in the middle of a marathon. Surely, one would look good for a few minutes. However, at a certain point one would inevitably collapse, with the possibilities of finishing the race being greatly diminished, let alone doing as well as they would have otherwise.

Gold went parabolic toward the second half of 2011 to $1,900/oz., which did a lot of technical damage to the charts that gold is just now beginning to shake off. Like Icarus, who had soared too high and melted the wax on his wings, parabolic moves always end in a correction, and if prolonged, a crash. Ironically, the best thing that can happen for bitcoin naysayers is if bitcoin skyrockets to $300/btc within a week.

There is nothing anti-Austrian about acknowledging that there exists in the market place a lot of naïve, irrational, and misinformed players. During the dotcom bubble, for example, a maintenance and building company called Temco Services almost tripled in a matter of minutes in 1998. The reason is because by 1998 every other layperson was involved in the market. Thus, the level of competence significantly dropped. The ticker symbol for Temco is TMCO, which was fairly close to that of Ticketmaster Online, which was TMCS. Ticketmaster Online (then TMCS) just happened to trade publicly for the first time on the day that Temco Services (TMCO) tripled. Rising asset prices create euphoria, and euphoria significantly drops the IQ of the participants.

Another reason why bitcoin is so susceptible to bubble behavior is because it is perceived as being something new. “New era” thinking always attracts lots of attention. The tulip was introduced to Europe by way of Turkey in the middle of the sixteenth century. (In fact, the word tulip came from the Turkish tulipan, which means turban.) The tulip was perceived as something new to Amsterdam, a country which at the time possessed an abundance of newly discovered gold and silver from the New World. Likewise, the Mississippi bubble, which was perpetrated by John Law, promised vast riches to be had from the New World. The manias in railways, the radio, the internet, you name it, most of them involved something new or something perceived to be new.

There is no doubt that bitcoin is a spontaneous answer to the monetary instability that we see all around us today. On one side of the pond people are worried about the glorified currency peg known as the Euro and on the other about the amount of damage that Bernanke is willing to inflict upon the world’s reserve currency. However, let us not become so enamored of an innovative stateless solution that we forget Austrian economics and hitch libertarianism’s wagon to something heading for a crash.

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Seasmoke's picture

Tip toe thru the tulips ......

Looney's picture

Slightly off topic. Sorry, ZeroBoyZ and ZeroGirlZ!  ;-)

Lone Star stabbings…

I’m wondering, what will they ban now – box cutters, 10-pack spare blades, scissors?  ;-)


How about universal background checks on all box cutter purchases at Home Depot?




camaro68ss's picture

Sensible knife control, it for the children. Why do you need an assault style Swiss army knife with more then 7 tools on it? WHY!

Scarlett's picture

Wrap your message under an Austrian label whenever you want, cherry-picked arguments may or may not go against reality.

Yes, the speed with which this is happening is downright scary.  But what's happening is that a tiny fraction of the rich world economy is moving into bitcoin.  A very tiny fraction is moving into something that has only 11,013,225 units, and this year will produce less units than citizens of San Diego.  

Yes, there will be wild rides; yes, some fools will part with their money.  

But bitcoin *will* reach--one day--a valuation of 10 Billion, and it will still be a tiny fraction of the world economy.  That's what? Less than a week of Ben's weekly printer show.


Supernova Born's picture

What's more fragile than a physical bubble?

A virtual bubble.

serog's picture
Weird.  Mt.Gox just announced withdrawal limits.  Sounds vaguely familiar.
aphlaque_duck's picture

Yes, except the lower withdrawal limits are on BITCOIN, not USD.

Mt.Gox has always had withdrawal limits. You have to get approved by providing increasing levels of ID to move increasing USD/BTC off the exchange.

This is nothing new, and the implication is the exact opposite of what you're implying. This is only for protection of exchange users in case their key/password is stolen. Never keep funds on the exchange for longer than it takes to close your trade.

strannick's picture

Bitcoin. Its code is uncrackable because someone said so. Stay tuned for Bitcoin1 SonofBitcoin, WallbitcoinMart. I'll take the gold thanks.

aphlaque_duck's picture

Who says so? All we can say is it's open source, it's been scrutininzed, and nobody has broken it yet.

Scarlett's picture

None of the three layers of cryptographic security are known to have flaws.  If even one breaks, many incredible things will happen in the web.  To break bitcoin you have to break all three--SHA256, RIPEMD160, and ELLIPTIC CURVES--good luck with that.


The difference between a moron and an inteligent man is that a moron has lots of opinions and no doubt.  


“There are myths and pseudo-science all over the place. I might be quite wrong, maybe they do know all this ... but I don't think I'm wrong, you see I have the advantage of having found out how difficult it is to really know something. How careful you have to be about checking the experiments, how easy it is to make mistakes and fool yourself. I know what it means to know something. And therefore, I see how they get their information and I can't believe that they know it. They haven't done the work necessary, they haven't done the checks necessary, they haven't taken the care necessary. I have a great suspicion that they don't know and that they're intimidating people.”

--- Richard Feynman

Harlequin001's picture


'The difference between a moron and an inteligent man is that a moron has lots of opinions and no doubt.'

The difference between a moron and an inteligent man is that a moron buys Bitcoin because it thinks its worth something and an intelligent man buys gold.

Fixed it for ya...

fonestar's picture

Good luck getting past checkpoint charlie with all your gold bars.  I suggest shoving them far up your sphincter for maximum anonymizing effect.

Harlequin001's picture


You're not kidding are you, you truly are fucking stupid.

malikai's picture

Seriously? That's your answer?

I expected more.

Bearwagon's picture

Well, better luck with checkbook charlie ...

CompassionateFascist's picture

Bitcoin is the purest Ponzi that has ever existed. It'll look great, until it doesn't. Uncle Sugar will see to that. 

Dingleberry's picture

Scarlett is correct. If someone ever figured out how to break those codes, bitcoin would be the last thing the hackers would steal. It would be nothing compared to what they could steal elsewhere. Bitcoin would be a drop in the bucket.

Urban Redneck's picture

One hardly needs to waste the effort required to break Bitcoin's encrytpion in order to break Bitcoin.  

malikai's picture

Do tell how. PM me. Don't tell the rest of these chumps.

Just me and you buddy. We'll take over the world.

Overflow-admin's picture

If you have $10M to spend, you might actually break a SHA256 (even 10-pass).


Wonder what the CIA is doing with the Stellar Winds datacenter?

awakening's picture

If that happens, as already mentioned by others above, then the sharp drop in the price of bitcoin will be the least of our worries.

fonestar's picture

You fucking morons cannot see that Bitcoin is the best thing that ever happened to gold and silver!  That's because it is breaking the metric (the dollar) used to manipulate the metals.

But I know that you secretly love Ben, you love government, you love the idea of government and their little worthless pieces of paper.  Your a bunch of statists and socialists posturing as libertarians when it is sunny out.  You love waving your little pieces of paper around and say "I'm American and I love Ben, look at me!".

Harlequin001's picture

Looks like the fucking morons are not going to be losing their money on this one...

Unlike yourself of course...

walküre's picture

Bitcoin was hacked last week. Read on Mt.Gox website. Mt.Gox is 80% of BTC transactions and was HACKED. That's the end of that.

The BTC principle is stupid. You put common currency into the BTC concept and hope that at the end of the day enough retailers will accept BTC or hope that BTC will allow you to convert back to common currency.

It's too easy to shear sheep.

Ahmeexnal's picture


Couldn't agree more.

If the sheep piling up on BTC had instead used a working braincell and gone into physical PMs, we would have had bank collapse already and bankers would be hanging from lamp posts from the shores of Tripoli to the halls of Montezuma.  So while on one hand you can blame them for giving banksters one last oxygen tank, you also have to thank them for giving you more time to stack the smack.

Let them keep their FarmVille coins, they'll need them in virtual -and real- hell.

unununium's picture

It's a good idea to try a little something new once in a while.  You know.  Not to be so convinced on one's own correctness all the time.

Good luck waiting around for gold's exponential move.  And good luck with blaming the lack thereof on bitcoin.

fonestar's picture

...and FYI, the cypher punks were all up in this anarcho-libertarian shit years before most of you ever bought a Johnson Matthey bar.

NaN's picture

Cypherpunks, indeed. Been there, done that.


imbtween's picture


Wrong. "Bitcoin" was not "hacked" last week.

A private corporation's SQL database was compromised. The database had client bitcoin wallet data stored in it. The bitcoins were stolen when that data was taken and used.

What you're saying is "the corner store had its safe cracked last night and all the cash in it was taken!!!! THE USD WAS HACKED!!! WHO WOULD BE SO STUPID AS TO KEEP USD IN A SAFE?!?!?!?


Urban Redneck's picture

You're analogy doesn't work.  

However, keeping your extra digital Bitcoins in an exchange is just as dumb as keeping your extra digital fiat in a Bank.

The bigger problem is that a large and increasing number of people's Bitcoin Bank o' Mattress tends to be built on an insecure MicroSofty fundation, which is the preferred platform for worldwide digital hijacking.


The convenience of the Microsoft platform makes Bitcoin available to a wider audience (which increases the value of Bitcoins) but it also creates a legal vulnerability for any Bitcoin user (even on a more secure platform) who the .GOVs (or a even a twisted hack) decide to "unfriend" on a personal level... receipt of stolen property is a crime, and cries of "this is bogus, the NSA set me up, man" don't go down well with juries, until they figure out a way to exclude the sheeple.  Fortunately, the threat and interest of .GOV tends to be larger in the mind of the punk then in reality, but there are those isolated cases where the .GOV actually does care, or can use an extra pawn in a larger game... 



Royal Wulff's picture

It wasn't hacked. Mt Gox suffered a DDOS attack. Attackers used the DDOS to depress the price so they could buy more bitcoins.

francis_sawyer's picture

Well that inspires confidence...

fonestar's picture

You need to know what the fuck you are doing if you want to have confidence.  There's nobody to call if your wallet.dat gets hacked.  Good, you deserve it the internet is the wild west and no pussies or lawyers need apply.  Hack or be hacked.

Urban Redneck's picture

Well that's about the most fucktarded salesjob one could possibly come up with for a product they are trying to advocate the use of...

sessinpo's picture

Bitcoins are designed to go up regardless.


Look at their own fact. They state because of the limited quantity of bitcoins, they will suffer deflationary effects. The problem that most don't see is that while deflation seems good at the beginning, it becomes a BIG problem like hyperinflation becomes a big problem. Both end in currency destruction.

fonestar's picture

Bitcoin was never hacked moron

terryfuckwit's picture

just saying ... i would not install btc on a windows machine... linux is the way to go.. moronic zhers do not understand that btc exchanges are differant from btc itself. It is big boys pants stuff and for that reason most of you should stay away until you really understand wallet security and the ulnerabilities of operating systems. Every one can learn all this but diving in will leave you with burnt with a fraction of a btc demonstrate your security by destroyin wallets and resurecting later on a differant machines etc... "dont criticise what you can't understand.. your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.. the times they are a changin"(bob dylan)

CompassionateFascist's picture

"All your children belong to us now" 


                                                                  -  Harris-Perry

sessinpo's picture

This is where you show your lack of underderstanding.


Yes, you are correct that the "actual" bitcoin algorithm was not hacked. But what you miss is that bitcoin relies on anonymous exchanges to work.

After all, that is the benefit and selling point of bitcoins. The ability of a person to conduct transactions anonymously, quickly and circumventing the fiat dollar (until the last end user has to make the conversion back to fiat which is another fallacy of bitcoin left for another discussion).

In order for this bitcoin system to work, these exchanges, which includes the merchants using bitcoins can't be compromised. That was the hack. Not bitcoin itself, but the exchange.


Let me put it to you another way, one could conduct a DOS (Denial of Service Attack) on the exchange, and shut down bitcoin.

Genève Barbegazi's picture was a DDoS attack on the MT.Gox exchange and not on the bitcoin blockchain learn about hacking before you name drop it like some sort of fuckin Melvin... March 27th, 2013, the blockchain split due to tampering and the open source nature of BTC enabled it to be fixed in one hour.

Whilst I still hold phyzz, lets not forget that there is an opportuntiy cost to holding au/ag and that even thought the end always seems nigh, theres plently on muppets to face rape in the meantime....thats good youre long au (and i presume Ag as well) but what are you short and medium term?

BTC looks like tulips to me at the moment...but are you telling me your not going to BTFD once the next euro bandaid is slapped on this summer and the BTC sell off commences? 

Lets not forget that merkel needs to get re-elected in novemeber, so drahgi and his ECB minions are ahrd at work at the next easing policy that will ease tensions after a long Q2 so that the glorious chnacellor can rule over the fatherland again..........zis is only zee beginning!

jokes aside dude...decentralized currencies......its just another new market to play in....

Urban Redneck's picture

The blockchain hardly needs to be attacked in order to split.  That's the "beauty" of a distributed model.  As long as the events are relatively infrequent and only involve small splits then the number of schmucks who gets their digital stash VAPORIZED is manageable from a PR standpoint. 

TMLutas's picture

Everything is ephemeral. Keep an eye on the asteroid miners. They're likely to throw gold for a loop. 

WhiteNight123129's picture

Bitcoin is BOTH the money of the future AND a bubble.

Nothing mutually exclusive. During its acceptance period, it will swing widely.

But eventually it will no be used as a speculative instrument but as a payment and mean of exchange and regular store of value. It volatility will decrease when compared to a broad basket of currency to the point it becomes the money anchor.


jeff montanye's picture

i don't think i understand this bitcoin stuff fully or even halfly, but it seems bullish for gold.

aphlaque_duck's picture

Yes! Bitcoin complements PMs.

PMs last forever, and work if the power is out. Bitcoin lets you transfer value instantaneously, anywhere. It's perfect synergy - no need for banks/USD any more.

Harlequin001's picture

No it doesn't. You can't transfer it to me or my local petrol station.

BobPaulson's picture

Nowhere near the shoeshine boy test. I think it's overbought right now but doesn't qualify as a bubble if almost nobody I know has any idea what it is.