Spell it Out: What, exactly, backs Bitcoin?

On August 1 2017, the value of a Bitcoin was at $2,750 US dollars. Today, just over one month later, it is poised to leap past $5,000 per unit. With this gain, many people are asking if Bitcoin has any genuine, inherent value. Is it a pyramid scheme? —Or is it simply a house of cards ready to collapse when the wind picks up?

In a past article, I explained that Bitcoin fundamentals ought to place its value in the vicinity of $10,000.* (At the time, it was less than $450, and had even fallen to $220 in the following year).

For many consumers viewing the rising interest in Bitcoin from the stands, there is great mystery surrounding the underlying value. What, if anything, stands behind it? This is a question with a clear and concise answer. In fact, it has a very definitive and believable answer—but it is easiest to understand with just a little bit of historical perspective.

At one time, G7 fiat currencies were backed by a reserve of physical Gold or the pooling or cross-ownership of other currencies that are backed by gold. That ended in 1971 when the Bretton Woods agreement was dissolved by president Richard Nixon in Ithaca NY.

Today, US currency is backed by “The good faith and credit of the American worker” (This is the government explanation of intrinsic value). But in truth its future value is loosely tied to one simple question: Does the typical vendor or consumer (for example, someone accepting a $20 bill in exchange for a movie ticket or 2 large pizzas) expect it to buy these same things in the next few months?

A considerable number of speculative components contribute to the answer. For example:

  • What About the Big Picture? DEBT! Everyone knows that a house built on debt cannot thrive forever without a continuous stream of productivity and income. Is the money being printed without a commensurate added value to the nation’s capacity to repay debts?
  • Public Trust: Good faith goes beyond debt. Can consumers and creditors be certain that a change of government won’t cause rampant inflation or a willful failure to retire future debt? Can they be assured that their fellow workers will continue to produce and export manufactured goods in ever increasing quantity?
  • Guns & Tanks: Citizens are compelled by law to pay their taxes in official state currency. Even for those who attempt to fly under the wire or use alternate currencies during the tax year, this ultimately forces fiat currency to be recognized and honored.
  • Geopolitical Stability: We have been a debtor nation for decades and we have significant political and economic disputes with our largest creditors (China and nations of oil-rich gulf states). What would be the effect of them (a) moving away from the dollar as their reserve currency, or (b) investing the trillions of dollars they have earned in some other country?

This list is not exhaustive, but all constituents boil down to two fundamental concepts: Supply-and-demand and How long will demand last?

The dollar is an invention of a transient government. Even with a long history and complex banking framework, it is no more real than Bitcoin. Supply and demand for any commodity is based on popular recognition, anti-counterfeit features, innate desire and public goodwill. The real question is what contributes to the desire to own or spend Bitcoin?

The answer is that Bitcoin is backed by something far more reliable and trustworthy than the transient whim of elected legislators. It is backed by something that carries more weight than the US government. What could possibly guaranty the value of a Bitcoin? After all, it does not convey ownership in gold, and it has no redemption guarantee. There is no picture of Caesar on the coin. (In fact, there is no coin at all!)…

Answer: Bitcoin is backed by math, a firm cap, a completely transparent set of books, and the critical mass of a two-sided network. Although it can be taxed (like any asset), it can be owned and transferred with impunity and without recourse. These may not seem like critical components of intrinsic value, but they are. In fact, they define intrinsic value in the modern era.

Related:


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, produces The Bitcoin Event, edits A Wild Duck
and is keynote at this year’s Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

BCH: Did I throw away $$$$? Perhaps…

Yesterday was D-Day in the Bitcoin world: On Tuesday, Aug 1st 2017, Bitcoin Cash (BCH) forked off of Bitcoin (BTC). For anyone with control over their wallet and private keys, they now have an equal amount of BTC and BCH.

I have a Bitcoin wallet. Yet, I don’t have any new Bitcoin Cash—and I have no one to blame but myself. Will I ever get the BCH associated with my pre-fork coins? I think that it is likely, though certainly not assured. If not, it will still be my fault. After all, I had fair warning from the company that I trust as custodian of my assets.

A Cryptocurrency Mantra:
“Woe be the person who trusts decentralized cash to a custodian”

I trust Coinbase for good reason. I left my BTC in my Coinbase wallet and vault throughout the fork. Let me tell you how I view the risks of failing to remove my coins before August 1…

  1. Coinbase was clear in warning that BTC withdrawals would be frozen before and after a fork. No problem…I had no immediate need to access my coins.

2. Coinbase warned they had no plan to support BCH—not even for withdrawal after a fork.

I accepted this 2nd warning, even though their reasoning and motives were terribly weak. But, today, I feel very sore. I need a morning after pill! Bitcoin still trades at the level of the past week—about $2700 US/BTC. But my non-existent BCH holdings have significant value! It was briefly as high as $750 per coin, and is now trading at $475. This means that even if I have no desire to save or spend the new coin, I no longer have the option to liquidate my forked asset. I lost a slam-dunk opportunity to capture 17½%.

We’re not talking about a theoretical gain or a gain that assumes liquidation at a momentary spike. We’re talking about right now—a missed opportunity to pocket thousands of dollars!

Am I angry? Not really. I am disappointed in my lack of initiative, but I have only myself to blame. For the record, I don’t believe that I have a reasonable legal claim against Coinbase. After all, they warned me! But, I hope that they will give me my forked coins—eventually. They have already acknowledged to conspiracy theorists that they will not keep the forked BCH, in the event that they create a conversion mechanism. In that case, they will allow withdrawal by the owner of the associated BTC. Now that they see dramatic fractional value, how could they not complete the fork?!

Where Does This Leave Me?

I’m not poorer today than I was yesterday, and I am surprised to find that I have not lost value in original Bitcoin. But, I missed a zero-risk opportunity to gain 17½% overnight. It was staring me in the face and I passed it up. At least I draw comfort in my confidence that Coinbase will complete the fork. Please, Coinbase: Complete the fork!


Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & Bitcoin Event, columnist & board member at Lifeboat, editor
at WildDuck and will deliver the keynote address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Free, Online Blockchain Courses

I develop Bitcoin and Blockchain courses for a profitable venture—And so, I may be shooting myself in the foot with a competitive referral. But, hey!—It’s for a good cause.

Jeremy Boris; Zero to 60 in six months

Jeremy Boris has a degree in business management. He became interested in blockchains a few months ago. In just the first half of this year, he has leapt beyond the realm of enthusiast. He already casts himself as a blockchain developer.

Now, Jeremy seeks to spread the joy (and the potential for career income). Here is his annotated list of free, online blockchain courses, covering all six critical technologies.

Everyone needs a starting point. This is a great one!

Wallet Security: Cloud/Exchange Services

3½ years ago, I wrote a Bitcoin wallet safety primer for Naked Security, a newsletter by Sophos, the European antivirus lab. Articles are limited to just 500 hundred words, and so my primer barely conveyed a mindset—It outlined broad steps for protecting a Bitcoin wallet.

In retrospect, that article may have been a disservice to digital currency novices. For example, did you know that a mobile text message is not a good form of two-factor authentication? Relying on SMS can get your life savings wiped out. Who knew?!

With a tip of the hat to Cody Brown, here is an online wallet security narrative that beats my article by a mile. Actually, it is more of a warning than a tutorial. But, read it closely. Learn from Cody’s misfortune. Practice safe storage. If you glean anything from the article, at least do this:

  • Install Google Authenticator. Require it for any online account with stored value. If someone hijacks your phone account, they cannot authenticate an exchange or wallet transaction—even with Authenticator.
  • Many exchanges (like Coinbase) offer a “vault”. Sweep most of your savings into the vault instead of the daily-use wallet. This gives you time to detect a scam or intrusion and to halt withdrawals. What is a vault? In my opinion, it is better than a paper wallet! Like a bank account, it is a wallet administered by a trusted vendor, but with no internet connection and forced access delay.

Exchange and cloud users want instant response. They want to purchase things without delay and they want quick settlement of currency exchange. But online wallets come with great risk. They can be emptied in an instant. It is not as difficult to spoof your identity as you may think (Again: Read Cody’s article below!)

Some privacy and security advocates insist on taking possession and control of their wallet. They want wealth printed out and tucked under the mattress. Personally, I think this ‘total-control’ methodology yields greater risk than a trusted, audited custodial relationship with constant updates and best practice reviews.

In case you want just the basics, here is my original wallet security primer. It won’t give you everything that you need, but it sets a tone for discipline, safety and a healthy dollop of fear.


Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & Bitcoin Event, columnist & board member at Lifeboat, editor
at WildDuck and will deliver the keynote address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Incentivize Bitcoin Miners After All 21M BTC Are Awarded

Individuals who mine Bitcoins needn’t be miners. We call them ‘miners’ because they are awarded BTC as they solve mathematical computations. The competition to unearth these reserve coins also serves a vital purpose. They validate the transactions of Bitcoin users all over the world: buyers, loans & debt settlement, exchange transactions, inter-bank transfers, etc. They are not really miners. They are more accurately engaged in transaction validation or ‘bookkeeping’.

There are numerous proposals for how to incentivize miners once all 21 million coins have been mined/awarded in May 2140. Depending upon the network load and the value of each coin, we may need to agree on an alternate incentive earlier than 2140. At the opening of the 2015 MIT Bitcoin Expo, Andreas Antonopolous proposed some validator incentive alternatives. One very novel suggestion was based on game theory and involved competition and status rather than cash payments.

I envision an alternative approach—one that also addresses the problem of miners and users having different goals. In an ideal world the locus of users should intersect more fully with the overseers…

To achieve this, I have proposed that every wallet be capable of also mining, even if the wallet is simply a smartphone app or part of a cloud account at an exchange service. To get uses participating in validating the transactions of peers, any transaction fee could be waived for anyone who completes 1 validation for each n transactions. (Say one validation for every five or ten transactions). In this manner, everyone pitches in a small amount of resources to maintain a robust network.

A small transaction fee would accrue to anyone who does not participate in ‘mining’ at all. That cost will float with supply and demand. Users can duck the fee by simply participating in the validation process, which continues to be based on either proof-of-work, proof-of-stake — or one of the more exotic proof theories that are being proposed now.


Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & Bitcoin Event, columnist & board member at Lifeboat, editor
at WildDuck and will deliver the keynote address at Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Bitcoin closes in on (US) $2000; Why it matters

At the beginning of 2016, Bitcoin was fairly steady at $430. Richelle Ross predicted that it would finish the year at $650. She would have been right, if the year had ended in November. During 2016, Bitcoin’s US dollar exchange rose from $433 to $1000. In the past 2 months (March 24~May 20, 2017), Bitcoin has tacked on 114%, rising from $936 to $2000.  [continue below image]…

If this were stock in a corporation, I would recommend liquidating or cutting back on holdings. But the value of Bitcoin is not tied to the future earnings or property value of an organization. In this case, supply demand is fueled—in part—by speculation. Yes, of course. But, it is also fueled by a two-sided network built on the growing base of utilitarian adoption. And not just an adoption fad, but adoption that mirrors the shift in our very understanding of bookkeeping, trust and transparency.

Despite problems of growth, governance and regulation, Bitcoin is more clearly taking its place as the future of money. Even if it never becomes “legal tender” in any country—and is used only as a mechanism of payments and settlement, it is still woefully undervalued. $2000 is not an end-game. It is a beginning.

Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & The Bitcoin Event. He is a columnist & board member at Lifeboat Foundation,
editor at WildDuck and is delivering the keynote address at the 2017 Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.

Bitcoin ETF Buzz Offers Short Term Opportunity

If you follow Bitcoin at all, then you know that its value is spiking. It has already surpassed a massive spike on Thanksgiving night 2013, and this weekend, a single Bitcoin surpassed the cost of an ounce of gold.                             [continue below image]

Like any commodity, the exchange value of Bitcoin is driven by supply and demand. But, unlike most commodities, including the US Dollar, the Euro or even gold, the eventual supply is capped. It is a mathematical certainty. Yet, demand is affected by many factors: Adoption as a payment instrument, early signs that it is being considered as a reserve currency, fascination by Geeks and early adopters and its use as a preferred tool by some criminals.

But chief among reasons for acquiring Bitcoin is speculation. Whether it is buy-and-hold or day trading, speculators still outnumber those who use Bitcoin to settle debts or to buy and sell other products and services. (Earlier this week, I argued that speculation is responsible for 85% of demand and of transactions—but that’s another story).

It’s a bit ironic that speculation—in the early days of a new market—retards organic adoption. It contributes to uncertainty and volatility, and it reduces the fraction available to the markets that make it both useful and liquid. Yet, in free markets, speculation is a necessary and critical antecedent to adoption.

This week, short term speculators have an unusually keen opportunity to profit, especially if they know how to buy a ‘put’ or sell a ‘call’ (i.e. to leverage a bet for or against the direction of Bitcoin, without actually acquiring any). For example, you can bet that an exchange-traded stock will fall, because it has an options market. But it’s not as easy to bet against commodities that lack a futures or options market.

I am not going to give advice in this article. I am not a licensed investment professional and although I am bullish on long term, organic adoption of Bitcoin, I really don’t have an opinion on the current news or the short term prospects for a pull back. But, if you have an opinion on a current news event, then there is an immediate opportunity for you to make (or lose) a significantly leveraged sum in the next few days…

SEC and ETFs  (Alphabet soup of investment banks)

Next weekend, on Saturday March 11, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) will approve or deny an application for the first regulated, recognized and significantly backed Bitcoin Exchange Traded Fund (ETF). Why is this significant? Because most investments are not hand picked by individual investors. Most investors choose the level of risk or diversification that seems reasonable for their life stage and then they leave the decisions to a formula, a market sector basket, or a fund manager. That is, they invest or park their money in a fund rather than betting on Space-X, PayPal or the local electric company.                             [continue below image]

If approved, an ETF potentially adds massive new demand for a commodity, by offering a financial instrument than can be subscribed by the vast fraction of funds, investors, pensioners and speculators who prefer to leave asset management to an organization, outside broker or formula.

The first ETF application is created and backed by the Winkelvoss twins. They were Olympic rowers, but found fame & fortune by contracting Marc Zuckerberg to create an early platform for Facebook. If their application is approved, a dozen more investment banks, brokers and hedge funds are standing by to jump in with both feet.

This morning, Cointelegraph put the odds that the ETF will be approved at 50%. Some analysts place the chances even higher. But consider that Bitcoin has already spiked dramatically in the past few weeks. The excitement is already reflected in the price. So, where is the opportunity?

The opportunity, as with any speculative decision, is in the dissonance between your research and hunch compared with the overall market expectation reflected in the current price. So, for example, if Bitcoin is accepted as the basis for an ETF (and if it continues to grow in more fundamental adoption), the current price is actually remarkably low. Under these assumptions, it hasn’t even begun its period of rapid ascent. Perhaps more obviously (and even more short-term), if you believe that an ETF will be blocked by regulators, then the recent rise is likely to be reversed quickly, at least in the minutes after the March 11 decision is announced.

So how can you profit from your belief that a commodity will drop in value? I leave that to your personal investment knowledge and research or your financial advisor. My purpose is not to advise, nor even to teach about puts and calls. It is to point out that a few people will win or lose a lot of real money this coming weekend—at least on paper. And it all hinges on whether they can correctly predict the outcome of a regulatory decision process.

Again, Bitcoin is a very limited commodity, There are only 15.2 million coins today, and there will never be more than 21 million coins. This does not present an obstacle to adoption, because the coins can be sliced smaller and smaller as needed. In a noteworthy demonstration of ‘good deflation’, there will always be enough units for everyone—even if the entire world adopts it for every transaction under the sun.


Ellery Davies co-chairs Crypsa & The Bitcoin Event. He is a columnist & board member at Lifeboat Foundation,
editor at WildDuck and is delivering the keynote address at the 2017 Digital Currency Summit in Johannesburg.