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Bitcoin The Almighty Buck

Why Isn't Bitcoin Booming? (nytimes.com)

Posted by EditorDavid on Saturday March 12, 2022 @02:34PM from the unstablecoins dept.

"Bitcoin was seen by many of its libertarian-leaning fans as a kind of doomsday insurance," argues a columnist in the New York Times, "a form of 'digital gold' that would be a source of stability as the world grew more chaotic and unpredictable....

"But Bitcoin hasn't boomed.... Bitcoin prices are down 10 percent in the past month, and Ether, the second most popular Crypto coin, is down roughly 15 percent.Day-to-day usage of cryptocurrencies isn't picking up the way you'd expect, either. Bitcoin trading volume rose after Russia invaded Ukraine, but it has remained relatively flat since, suggesting that people aren't rushing to trade their rubles and hryvnia (Ukraine's currency) for digital currencies. Russian oligarchs don't appear to be using crypto to evade sanctions en masse, either, despite initial fears that they might...."

The column ultimately argues that bitcoin isn't playing a central role in the unfolding crisis. "Which raises the obvious question: Why not?" One possibility is that crypto is still too confusing and too difficult for normal people to use, especially during a war. Internet access is spotty in many parts of Ukraine, and reports have suggested that even the country's elites are struggling to convert their assets into crypto.

Another possibility, popular among skeptics of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, is that Bitcoin is still too volatile to be useful as a hedge against economic and political instability. "The Bitcoin and crypto communities have been selling a false narrative all these years that Bitcoin is supposed to be a safe haven from the traditional financial markets," said Jimmy Nguyen, the president of the Bitcoin Association, a cryptocurrency trade group. (His group promotes a Bitcoin spinoff, Bitcoin SV, that sees itself as a more useful version of the cryptocurrency.) Bitcoin is doomed, Mr. Nguyen argues, because it can be slow and expensive to process transactions, making it less useful for paying for things. "And so a lot of Bitcoin supporters have had to come up with this argument that it's meant to be a reserve asset," he said.

Kevin Werbach, a professor of legal studies and business ethics at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, floated a different theory. Bitcoin's earliest and most vocal adopters, he said, tended to be libertarians who saw cryptocurrency as a kind of insurance policy against hyperinflation and government corruption. But the more recent price swings in the crypto markets attracted a surge of speculators who viewed Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies mainly as investments, and cared less about their political implications. "There's a tremendous amount of rhetoric around Bitcoin in particular that suggests that it's predominantly a means of escaping from the government-issued fiat currency system," he said.

"And yet most of the activity, according to basically every rigorous study that's been done, is predominantly people speculating...."

CNN got another reaction from Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of "The Future of Money: How the Digital Revolution is Transforming Currencies and Finance."

The professor's opinion? While bitcoin "has failed in its stated purpose as a medium of exchange for conducting transactions, it has become a speculative financial asset..." The Russian government cannot count on bitcoin to evade sanctions — after all, payments for international transactions still need to be settled in real money such as dollars or euros. Furthermore, cryptocurrencies cannot in any significant way prevent a country's currency from collapsing in value relative to major reserve currencies since those values are determined in formal financial markets. Cryptocurrencies might in fact hurt Russia if they are seen by the country's citizens as a better option than the plunging domestic currency. Thus, bitcoin might end up precipitating a flight of deposits from Russia's banking system and even as a conduit for capital flight out of the country.

Testing can show the presense of bugs, but not their absence. -- Dijkstra

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