Bitcoin, an online-only currency scarcely four years old, is breaking out to new highs this week and now sports a total value of $2.8 billion. Just a few months ago, it looked like this economic experiment as the world’s first decentralized technology-based form of money would crash and burn. Since then, ConvergEx’s Nick Colas points out that the U.S. government has shut down a large drug website which accepted bitcoins and promised further scrutiny of its uses; and omputer science experts have warned that bitcoin is neither especially private – one of its notional values – or especially well constructed. The market doesn’t seem to care, with incremental demand from U.S. citizens (through Second Market) and Chinese nationals leading the path higher. Could bitcoin still fail? Sure. But, as Colas notes, its success to date speaks to how much the world is changing… Technology – properly packaged – can engender enough trust to develop a new asset class.
Bitcoin will eventually have to develop a lot more infrastructure to be a useful global currency, to be sure. But there’s close to $3 billion of real money to help back that transition. Link
Bitcoin has come under fire by the US government and others as being a source of funding for ‘bad people’ – and somehow this is an argument to attack the currency itself. But this is fallacious reasoning, as the 2nd largest holder of US Dollars are drug cartels (1st being global central banks) and just because drug cartels use the USD to deal doesn’t encourage law enforcement to raid the Federal Reserve or attack banks who use US Dollars. In any event, Bitcoin surging again after such attacks at least shows international interest in an alternative currency.
Bitcoin has been called a cryptocurrency because it is decentralized and uses cryptography to control transactions and prevent double-spending, a problem for digital currencies. Once validated, every individual transaction is permanently recorded in a public ledger known as the blockchain. The calculations required to authenticate transactions are completed using a network of private computers often specially tailored to this task. The operators of these computers, known as “miners”, are rewarded with transaction fees and newly minted bitcoins. However, new bitcoins are created at an ever-decreasing rate. Once 21 million bitcoins are distributed, issuance will cease. As of August 2013, approximately 11.5 million bitcoins were in circulation.
In 2012, The Economist reasoned that Bitcoin has been popular because of “its role in dodgy online markets,” and in 2013 the FBI shut down one such service, Silk Road, which specialized in illegal drugs (whereupon the FBI came into the control of approximately 1.5% of all bitcoins in circulation). However, bitcoins are increasingly used as payment for legitimate products and services, and merchants have an incentive to accept the currency because transaction fees are lower than the 2 to 3% typically imposed by credit card processors. Notable vendors include WordPress, OkCupid, Reddit, Chinese Internet giant Baidu, and Humble Bundle.
Speculators have been attracted to bitcoin, fueling volatility and price swings. As of July 2013, there is relatively small use of bitcoins in the retail and commercial marketplace in comparison to relatively large use by speculators.