Should we ‘out’ Bitcoin creator, Satoshi?

Everyone likes a good mystery. After all, who isn’t fascinated with Sherlock Holmes or the Hardy Boys? The thirst to explore a mystery led us to the New World, to the ocean depths and into space.

One of the great mysteries of the past decade is the identity of Satoshi Nakamoto, the inventor of Bitcoin and the blockchain. Some have even stepped forward in an effort to usurp his identity for fame, infamy or fortune. But in this case, we have a mystery in which the subject does not wish to be fingered. He prefers anonymity.

This raises an interesting question. What could be achieved by discovering or revealing the identity of the illusive Satoshi Nakamoto?…

The blockchain and Bitcoin present radically transformative methodologies with far ranging, beneficial impact on business, transparency and social order.

How so? — The blockchain demonstrates that we can crowd-source trust, while Bitcoin is much more than a payment mechanism or even a reserve currency. It decouples governments from monetary policy. Ultimately, this will benefit consumers, businesses and even the governments that lose that control.

Why Has Satoshi Remained Anonymous?

I believe that Satoshi remains anonymous, because his identity, history, interests and politics would be a distraction to the fundamental gift that his research has bestowed. The world is still grappling with the challenge of education, adoption, scaling, governance, regulation and volatility.

Some people are still skeptical of Bitcoin’s potential or they fail to accept that it carries intrinsic value (far more than fiat currency, despite the absence of a redemption guaranty). Additionally, we are still witnessing hacks, failing exchanges and ICO scams. Ignorance is rampant. Some individuals wonder if Satoshi is an anarchist—or if his invention is criminal. (Of course, it is not!).

Outing him now is pointless. He is a bright inventor, but he is not the story. The concepts and coin that he gave us are still in their infancy. Our focus now must be to understand, scale and smooth out the kinks, so that adoption and utility can serve mankind.

Related Ruminations:


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck, hosts the New York Bitcoin Event and kicked off the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai. Click Here to inquire about a live presentation or consulting engagement.

Is Bitcoin a store of value?

Bitcoin has many characteristics of a currency. It is portable, fungible, divisible, resistant to forgery, and it clearly has value. Today, that value came close to $20,000 per coin. Whether it has ‘intrinsic value’ is somewhat of a moot question, because the US dollar hasn’t exhibited this trait since 1972. Today, economists don’t even recognize the intrinsic value of gold—beyond a robust, international, supply-demand network.

Lately, Bitcoin is failing as a viable currency, at least for everyday consumer transactions. The settlement of each transaction is bogged down with long delays and a very high cost. The situation has become critical because of squabbling between miners, users and developers over how to offer speed transactions or lower the cost of settlement. Bitcoin forks and altcoins such as Dash and Bitcoin Cash demonstrate that these technical issues have solutions. Since Bitcoin is adaptable, I believe that these issues are temporary.

But an interesting question is not whether Bitcoin will eventually become a consumer currency. It is whether Bitcoin can distinguish itself as a store of value, rather than just an instrument for payment or debt settlement. After all, a Visa credit card, a traveler’s check and an Amazon gift card can all be used in retail payments, but none of them have value unless backed by someone or something. US Dollars on the other hand are perceived as inherently valuable. They carry the clout and gravitas of institutions and populations, without users questioning from where value arises. (This is changing, but bear with me)…

What about Bitcoin? Does owning some bitcoin represent a store of value? Yes: It absolutely does!

Bitcoin is a rapidly maturing two-sided network. Despite a meteoric rise in exchange value and wild fluctuations during the ride, it is the epitome of a stored value commodity. Regardless of government regulation, adoption as a consumer payment instrument, or the cost and speed of transactions, it has demonstrated stored value ever since May 22 2010, when Laszlo, a Bitcoin code developer, persuaded a restaurant to accept 10,000 BTC for 2 pizzas.

The “currency” accepted by the pizza parlor wasn’t a gift card. It was not backed by a government, a prior deposit, dollars, gold, the promise of redemption, or by threat of force or blackmail. When a large community of individuals value, exchange, and can easily authenticate something that has none of those underpinnings, that thing clearly has stored value.

In this case, value arises from its scarcity and a robust supply-demand-network. Because its value is not tied to a government or to other commodities, its exchange rate with other things will be bumpy, at first. But as it is recognized, traded and adopted as a stored value token, the wild spikes will smooth out.

A tipping point will precipitate rapid adoption when…

  • when some vendors begin to quote prices in Bitcoin (rather than national currency)
  • when some of these vendors retain a fraction of their bitcoin-revenue for future purchases, payments or debt settlements—rather than converting revenue to fiat/national currency with each sale

Bitcoin is clearly a store of value, and it is beginning to displace gold and the US dollar as the recognized reserve currency (it is gradually becoming the new gold standard). But before Bitcoin can serve as a widely adopted everyday currency (i.e. as a payment instrument—with or without the stored value of a currency unto itself), it must first incorporate technical improvements that speed transactions and lower cost.

This is taking longer than many enthusiasts would have liked. But, that’s OK with anyone who keeps their eye on the big picture. Democracy is sometimes very sloppy.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. Last month, he kicked off the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai. Click Here to inquire about a live presentation or consulting engagement.

Revisiting Bitcoin Fair Value Calculation

In an April 2014 article, I demonstrated how one might approach a fair Bitcoin valuation.

  • Original Methodology: What fraction will Bitcoin capture
    of the float needed to support daily global commerce?

My methodology was based on the demand that Bitcoin would generate if it displaced a small fraction of cash and credit used for retail and commercial payments around the world. At the time, Bitcoin had a value of USD $450. I estimated that if it captured 5% of global payments, it would have a fair value of about $10,000/BTC (I didn’t complete the calculation—I left that up to the reader. That’s because I was concerned that publishing such a prediction would cause me to lose credibility as an economist and blogger. For what it is worth, I also predicted that a rise to $10,000 would take 5~8 years.

As you might imagine, my friends and family urged me to unload my BTC investment. The April 2014 price of $450/BTC seemed very high to most armchair analysts. After all, thirteen months earlier, it had been just $45.

Yet, now, just 2½ years later, Bitcoin has reached $18,000 per coin. Last week, on Dec 7, 2017, it climbed 40% in just 40 hours, and 120% in less than 2 months. Naturally, this leaves everyone asking if Bitcoin’s rapid rise in value represents an investment “bubble”.

…And so it is time to update the calculation of a fair value for Bitcoin. I can’t do better than point to a terrific prediction model described by Divyanth Jayaraj. His answer to a question at Quora presents a sound basis for valuation—much better than my original valuation method. How so?…

  • Reserve Methodology: What fraction of int’l business will be
    settled with the transfer of Bitcoin instead of Gold or Dollars?

Jayaraj

Bitcoin is rapidly demonstrating viability as a reserve rather than a daily transaction currency. Few people believe that Bitcoin will replace national currencies throughout the world, but it very well may replace gold for government and interbank settlement, and for large intercontinental purchases of commodities, such as oil, grain or airplanes.

Sure! When developers and miners get a handle on transaction cost and delays, it may also become a de facto instrument for retail payments and debt settlement even among consumers. But, even if Bitcoin never achieves this status, Divyanth’s excellent analysis is still valid.

I won’t steal the author’s thunder. Click the link and learn what is very likely to be a fair future value for Bitcoin. Prepare to digest a very large number. I didn’t think of this valuation methodology, but I agree that it represents a realistic peek into the future.

For a few other methods of determining Bitcoin’s inherent value, check out the links at the bottom of my original article. But that was then and this is now. Give extra weight to this newer analysis. The methodology is more accurate given what we know now.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes A Wild Duck and hosts the Bitcoin Event. He was keynote at Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai. Click Here to inquire about a presentation or consulting engagement.

Bitcoin: up 120% in less than 2 months

At the end of October, I delivered a keynote speech at the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai. That was just 5 weeks ago. When I left for the conference, Bitcoin was trading at $6,300/BTC. But in the next few weeks, it reached $10,000. Last week, I liquidated part of my investment at just under $13,000/BTC. Now, Bitcoin is about to cross $16,000. (I began writing this 10 minutes ago… But it has risen another $1600.00 since then. Now, it is $17,000).

Dear Reader: I believe in Bitcoin. Yet, there is a “But” in the last paragraph below…

I believe in Bitcoin. Its rise is not fueled solely by investor hysteria. Rather, it is a product of delayed appreciation for a radical, transformative network technology.

In the mid 1970s, the microprocessor was spreading to every consumer gadget. It started a trend toward tools that added power and enjoyment to all facets of life. And they were quickly becoming faster, lower-power, lower-cost and more ubiquitous. If you understood the potential of the computer chip before mainstream investors, you couldn’t really invest directly in the microprocessor. After all, it is a platform improvement. But you could come very close—You might have invested in Intel, Fairchild or Texas Instruments.

Jump forward 20 years: In the mid-1990s, the Internet was spreading to every class of citizen and to all corners of the earth. But just as with a computer chip, you could own a web site, but you couldn’t own a piece of the internet’s market potential. You can’t invest in an idea, unless you are the inventor and you hold a patent.

But, 5, 6 and 7 years ago, many individuals saw the future. They understood that Bitcoin is transformative. They recognized that—contrary to popular misconception—Bitcoin is backed by something more tangible than dollars, Euros and Renminbi. More importantly, it exhibits the potential to become the global reserve currency. And it continues to do so, even as internal bickering threatens its utility as a consumer payment instrument. That’s because it diverts liquidity away from gold and national FIAT. Ultimately, it forces governments to be transparent and accountable to its citizens. This is further reinforced by rampant inflation in countries around the world and a growing list of trading partners who seek alternatives to the US dollar.

But, just like real estate, the supply of Bitcoin is capped. No one can produce more. It’s the math, stupid! Even if you only realized this one year ago, you still would have reaped a 2000% return on your investment as of this morning. (I am cherry-picking here, but Bitcoin had just crossed $630 on October 20 2016).

Let’s be clear: This is not a dot-com bubble or a 17th century Dutch tulip bulb mania. It is far more comparable to the 19th century California gold rush. The only frenzy is to acquire a functional instrument that is still trading for far below par value—but with the strange caveat that hoarding retards liquidity and the ‘functional’ adoption that we need to sustain long-term value.

The Bottom Line

In the grand scheme of things, Bitcoin is still undervalued—even at $17,000/BTC. It will fall and it will rise, but it will certainly be valued higher years from now.

…But, I must admit that this sudden and urgent race into outer space is a bit unsettling. From an investor perspective, it is not rational to leave when I recognize that the exuberance is rational. Yet, here we are at $17,000. I am taking some bitcoin off the table—A bit of bitcoin. I have taken some Bitcoin off the table.

Will Futures Market Affect Bitcoin Value or Viability?

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CBT) is likely to begin listing options contracts for Bitcoin futures. And the CBOE is very likely to follow suit. What impact will this have on the value of Bitcoin holdings around the world? And what impact on it’s use as a money transmission mechanism?

This Financial Times article* explains that an internationally accessible options market will create the first opportunity for betting against Bitcoin, other than unloading coins which were previously purchased. Some individuals feel that this could precipitate a crash in the Bitcoin exchange rate.

I disagree. Buying “puts” or Selling “calls” against a commodity risks upward spikes, because individuals writing an uncovered option must make good on the contract buy buying it, even if the price has recently run up. This pushes the commodity even higher into the stratosphere—until the buyer unloads to realize his gains. This magnifies short term volatility (sometimes massively), but has no effect for long users or term buy-and-hold investors.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it also has no effect on the utilitarian value of Bitcoin as an instrument of debit, payment and settlement. Volatility has no real effect on payment users or long term investors. But adding sanctioned financial markets—even risky ones, like CBT options—adds demand to capped commodity. Like real estate, no one can make more Bitcoin. There will never be more than 21 million units. So, in this respect, the new market will push ever more early investors into millionaire territory.

* Disclosure: I had no role in this article, and I do not know the author. But The Financial Times was a sponsor for my keynote presentation to the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai 3 weeks ago (End of October 2017).

 

Big insight from tiny fraction of bitcoin owners

Quick—Take a guess: How many individuals own at least 1 BTC?

I was asked this question today at Quora, a popular Q&A blog covering a variety of technical and economic disciplines. Under my alias “Ellery”, I am the most viewed author on Bitcoin and the blockchain.

While this question may sound like a factoid for a trivia game, the answer has far reaching impact on your pocketbook and your future. It goes to the heart of a debate between warring factions: In the 2nd half of this answer, I address a more pressing question:

Is Bitcoin a pyramid scheme? Or are we still early on the adoption curve?

But, let’s start with the question at hand…

There is no certain answer to the number of people who own Bitcoin or how many own more than 1 BTC. We know that tens of millions of wallets have been created, but this certainly doesn’t help. Although the value of every single wallet is publicly disclosed on the blockchain (most have a zero balance), there is no way to determine who owns each wallet. Some may be controlled by organizations or custodians on behalf of many individuals, while others may be just one of many wallets with a single owner.

Most of my Bitcoin is in a wallet or a vault hosted by Coinbase, the San Francisco exchange. When I log into my account to view my wallet ID, I see that I have dozens of wallets—all valid. The large number of wallets is not related to my wealth. Rather, it a byproduct of my many small transactions. Coinbase creates a new wallet each time that I buy, sell, or purchase something with BTC. There are good reasons for this practice, but it certainly muddies the correlation between wallets and number of owners.

There are 16.6 million coins in circulation today (a bit less, since some have been irretrievably lost). That puts a cap answering the question. There cannot be more than this many people with a full BTC—currently worth about USD $5900.

But, we know that the number of individuals with a full coin is considerably less. After all, many people in my own circles own dozens of coins, and Satoshi is very likely to hold 1 million BTC. Coinbase and Bitstamp are just two of very many custodial exchanges (i.e. they offer a cloud wallet or vault service to their clients). They host many hundreds of wallets with more than 50 coins. In almost each case, the client has provided single-user taxpayer information to these services, and so it is very unlikely that a significant fraction of these wallets belong to more than a single person or family.

And, let’s not forget that a far greater fraction of exchanges fly under the covers. That is, they don’t collect taxpayer information or report the wallets that they administer to any authority—nor to analysts or journalists like me.

So, while no one can accurately estimate the number of individuals who own 1 or more BTC, the answer is very likely under 2.5 million, worldwide. 1

The number of people who have heard of Bitcoin is growing rapidly. In the United States, fewer than one in twenty people were aware of Bitcoin just 2½ years ago (at the beginning of 2015). By September 2017, almost one in four USA adults has a reasonable idea what it is—and many of them have an opinion about its future. 2

There will never be more than 21 million bitcoin. This is a mathematical upper limit. Compare this with the current US population of 323 million. So even if all Bitcoin owners are in America (they are not!) and if no one owns more than 1 BTC, fewer than 1 in 19 Americans could own a full Bitcoin today and fewer than 1 in 15 after all bitcoin are mined.

If we consider the global population of 7.6 billion, fewer than 1 in 458 people could own a full Bitcoin today. Since most early adopters have more than 1 BTC, the actual fraction is probably much smaller than 1 in 25,000 individuals.


In the introduction, above, I said that the question about how many people own more than 1 BTC leads to a more profound question. In fact, this innocent trivia question, leads to insight about adoption and the economics of investing in a deflationary instrument as it spreads beyond speculators, into commerce and all sorts of institutions.

Moral of the story…

The original question asks for a simple number. It doesn’t ask for editorial perspective. But it’s tough to resist. With fewer than 1 in 25 thousand people owning a bitcoin, a reasonable question is:

Will adoption increase, even if interest is limited to only one sector?

For example, what if Bitcoin falters in all but one of these venues?… Bleeding edge geeks, collectors, investors, p2p payments, interbank transfer, debt settlement, or treatment in some regions as a full-fledged currency.

Answer: Even if Bitcoin continues to show strength in just one of these areas, it will eventually be used or accumulated by millions of new users—even if they don’t realize it!

Do you see where I am going with this? Even if you believe that Bitcoin will…

  • never be treated as a store of value (this is nonsense of course),
  • only be used on one continent (nonsense, again),
  • never erode payment & settlement services such as Visa or PayPal (it already has),
  • that governments can successfully block payments or deter growth (they cannot—and they are gradually realizing that it does not interfere with taxing or spending or sovereignty),
  • that another digital coin will overtake Bitcoin (it cannot—the reasons are subtle, but they are well understood)…

Even if you believe in all of these limiting factors, the overall demand for Bitcoin has barely begun. We have not even started climbing the hockey-stick curve toward limited adoption as an occasional, alternative payment mechanism.

At conferences and in my own classroom, I am often asked: Should I still acquire Bitcoin? —Or is it too late? After all, it has risen from a fraction of a penny to $6,000 in just a 7 years. And from under $1000 to $6,000 this year alone!

I am not a financial advisor. I often speculate, but never offer guidance. I embrace the wisdom that past performance is never an assurance of future gains. But, I ask students to look at the assumptions and at the math: Unlike US dollars, shares in Apple, pork bellies or gold pressed latinum, Bitcoin is firmly capped. There will never be more than a paltry 21 million coins. That means that each coin absolutely, positively must increase in value with even a modest adoption scenario.

The Argument Against Bitcoin

Bitcoin is a pure supply-demand commodity. Since the supply is fixed and well understood, the only argument against acquiring Bitcoin arises from a belief that demand will dwindle. This is the argument of someone who believes that Bitcoin will fail to gain any further traction in any sector.

Perhaps you believe that something else will displace it, or that governments will find a way to effectively defeat it. If you have been reading my Blog (or my Quora answers) for more than a few months, then you already know that neither scenario is realistic.

I believe that investment in Bitcoin a speculative asset retards adoption. I defend this opinion in many interviews and articles. Although I hope for fewer speculators and more ‘legitimate’ users, I own an outsize share of the world’s future value store, transfer media and fungible, liquid asset. I am guilty of the speculation that I seek to deter.


1 & 2 CRYPSA Research, Feb 2015 and Oct 2017, Cryptocurrency Standards Association. Polls conducted at Rein’s New York Deli in Vernon CT and Spectrum Center, Irvine CA.


Ellery Davies co-chairs CRYPSA, publishes Wild Duck and hosts the New York Bitcoin Event. He sits on the New Money Systems board at Lifeboat Foundation and kicks off the Cryptocurrency Expo in Dubai this month. He frequently consults and presents.

Jump into Bitcoin with Intuitive Understanding

In the past, I have written articles for beginners:

More recently, I have written about economics of adoption, tech issues / growing pains, and the politics of a stateless money that cannot be controlled:

It’s time to try something different. The largest segment of society is still sitting on the sidelines. They want to know more about Bitcoin, but they don’t want baby steps. They are business people, students, armchair economists or investors—and they want to get up to speed quickly.

Grab a cup of coffee and view these two videos by the eloquent and charismatic Andreas Antonopoulos. They can bring anyone up to speed on the economic and geopolitical ramifications of Bitcoin—without wading through code, math or gobbly-geek. If you are college educated or experienced in finance or economics, these short presentations are all you need. You can fill in the blanks with your own experience or by checking out the articles linked above. They provide the missing details.

Who is Andreas Antonopoulos?

No one knows who is Satoshi Nakomoto, the effusive genius behind Bitcoin and the blockchain. So without an inventor or founder to appear on TV news interviews or the evening talk shows, we have Andreas Antonopoulos as the charismatic face of Bitcoin. He is intelligent, passionate, incredibly articulate and he is an advocate for individual empowerment.

Like Andreas, I teach a class on the Blockchain, give academic lectures, consult to banks and businesses, write columns and develop courseware. But there is no way to get around the fact that I run a distant second behind Andreas. His voice (and his widow’s peak hairline) are associated with the most important financial development of the 21st century.

I first met Andreas at the 2015 MIT Bitcoin Expo. Later that month he was keynote speaker at the New York Bitcoin Event at which I was co-host and producer. Way back then, Andreas told me that Bitcoin would never become a money—and so, it would never be a threat to national currencies. Well, if these two videos are any guide, then he has certainly changed his mind. Either way, my more popular peer is now in violent agreement with my view of Bitcoin’s full potential, and so it is no accident that these videos will also give you a dose of our shared economic and political perspective.

  1. Fake News, Fake Money (26 minutes)

2. Money as a System of Control (17 minutes)

These videos don’t describe how Bitcoin works, where to obtain it, or how it is mined. Those are just details. Instead, the videos put Bitcoin into perspective against the history of money and the geopolitical interests of governments. Once you have viewed the videos, browse the articles linked at the top of this page. They backfill the details. Then, you will have become a Bitcoin pundit the quick way…by jumping into the deep end of the pool!