Submitted by Keith Hilden, Squawkonomics
Squawk Walk Singapore: Local Perceptions and Bitcoin's Future in Singapore
I have just returned from a very enjoyable trip to Singapore, in which our goal was to determine the sentiments and level of knowledge people had about Bitcoin in order to better determine Bitcoin's future in Singapore. That journey took me to the pulsating central business district of a vibrant Singapore, traditional neighborhoods completely recast in the face of new immigration and rigorous central planning, and the newcomer immigrants and permanent residents where languages like Thai and Japanese punctuate the linguistic air of Singapore accentuated English. What we found out about Bitcoin sharply contrasted with that of what we learned about Bitcoin in Taiwan.
Bitcoin has a future here in Singapore, but it is a future that inevitably will be co-opted by central planning and control. The majority of locals who did not have the best sentiments regarding Bitcoin cited the lack of central control, ironically the reason in other countries why Bitcoin enjoyed its meteoric rise. Bitcoin is expected to be pilloried with payment gateways and other payment process implementation mechanisms to streamline the Bitcoin protocol into a fashion that the locals are familiarized to and prefer- a robust payment method with savings applications that is guaranteed by an actual organization against loss. Look no further than this lagging indicator, taken around the Promenade of the central business district overlooking the Marina Bay Sands casino, that Bitcoin's future in Singapore is a co-opted system run on the familiar rails of global multinational corporations.
Bitcoin's culture in Singapore seems set in the trajectory of government involvement and control, far different than the cryptophile tech savvy liberty proponents calling for a much different future of decentralization, individualism, and confidence through peer-reviewed transaction confirmations. Indeed, it appears that Bitcoin is headed for a schism in how governments and populations in different countries wish to administer and implement Bitcoin in their own countries, resulting in strange family gatherings of statism and libertarianism driving Bitcoin's future across various countries in the world. The big picture is an unfolding dynamic of converging discordant forces of libertarianism and statism at the crux of a grand showdown, as the battle lines for control of Bitcoin are drawn in places like Singapore, Germany, and China.
Singaporeans we talked to seemed to prefer government control over Bitcoin due to their perception of government being able to control price fluctuations and guarantee against loss. However, when asked if they would accept an independent organization guaranteeing Bitcoin transactions, most of the Singaporeans we talked to would also be fine with that. Almost all Singaporeans we talked to were not satisfied with the current Wild West status quo they perceived as a downfall to Bitcoin's development.
Singaporeans we talked to as a whole expressed a rock-solid confidence in their government's ability to guarantee the financial system, banking system, and the stability in the Singapore dollar. Singaporeans also questioned the need for Bitcoin when there was a plentiful array of payment methods around Singapore. Very few Singaporeans saw Bitcoin in the light of an advantageous vehicle in which to store savings, and most cited volatile fluctuations in the Bitcoin price for that reason.
Singaporeans further were not clear what was backing Bitcoin and thus were not clear as to how Bitcoin's price could be so high. However, when the US came into conversation, the conversation veered many a times to the US money printing by Ben Bernanke, and the inflation and debt arising from that. Some of them had even likened Bitcoin to the US dollar, in the sense they felt nothing was backing either of them, and had no guarantee behind it. However, many Singaporeans spoke of US monetary and economic problems as if from a different part of the world that didn't impact them in the slightest.
In comparison between what we learned in Singapore and Taiwan:
#1 People in Singapore had a drastically lower concern about cyber security with Bitcoin than did people in Taiwan.
#2 People in Singapore trusted the government to guarantee the financial and monetary system much more than people in Taiwan did. No one in Taiwan explicitly said they didn't need Bitcoin due to confidence in their government.
#3 People in Singapore were at the same time more willing to try Bitcoin out, while people in Taiwan were much more conservative and cited the need to limit their exposure in Bitcoin and use it from arm's length.
#4 Knowledge about Bitcoin in Singapore was remarkably higher than it was in Taiwan.
And for a fascinating insight on how people in Taiwan view Bitcoin, check out our Squawk Walk Taipei from last week: