Why do we need Bitcoin? It’s not because Bitcoin is simply a better form a currency. If that were true, then people would already be adopting in droves and we would see governments and regulators opting in because of Bitcoin’s superior qualities. It’s our belief that Bitcoin is better in many ways, but for most people, the current financial system is good enough that that they aren’t yet looking for an alternative. For many, they aren’t even aware that an alternative is possible.
It’s for this reason that a lot of people talk about Bitcoin’s ‘killer app.’ They hope that some useful aspect of Bitcoin will come to light that will make it instantly relatable to most people and tip the scales in the direction of adoption. Over the last few months, with the price of Bitcoin continuing its disheartening sag, there have been multiple quotes and articles stating that the real value of Bitcoin is in 2.0 or blockchain functionalities. It’s true that these are going to be key and transformative. It is also true that they are going to peak in tandem with and not leading Bitcoin’s real killer app – its ability to hold and transfer value anytime, anywhere, to anyone, without the need of a middleman to handle the transaction or a government to give approval.
The reason that Bitcoin hasn’t tipped into mass adoption yet is not that Bitcoin’s killer app isn’t killer, it’s that it’s not killer yet. In a world where governments, banks, and money itself could be trusted implicitly, Bitcoin would have no place to thrive. The financial crisis of 2008 showed that we could not trust those institutions to act in the interests of the mass of people. We witnessed that they act in the interests of the wealthy elite, and really only in the interests of those elites. It was the abuses by those elites that brought about that crisis, and little enough has been done to remedy the problem. Rather, to all appearances, we have another, and worse, financial crisis coming our way. If and when that crisis hits, as long as Bitcoin has had enough time to build out its key infrastructure, and as long as enough people know about it to take action, Bitcoin will be the safety net for millions
The trigger point for Bitcoin’s success, therefore, is likely not going to be some internal use case; it will be a massive financial sector failure that causes widespread panic and forces masses of people who would normal not risk their futures on something as speculative as Bitcoin to suddenly see it as their last option to rescue their futures. Until that time, we are going to continue to see slow adoption, slow build out of the infrastructure, and a stagnant or declining price. The price will stagnate or decline due to the numbers of now wealthy early adopters cashing out small portions of their holdings to improve their lifestyles and miners needing to pay for electricity and upgraded mining equipment. Any bet on the price of Bitcoin should not be for the next day or the next week – when almost any medium to large holder of Bitcoin can swing the price through large buy or sell order – but in the long term against a catastrophic event that looks all but inevitable.
Here are some recent news stories that caught our eye that speak to the true use case of Bitcoin – protection from the next financial crisis.
The first story comes via Bill Moyers. Bill reports that the Republicans, just barely after starting there tenure in the majority of both houses of congress, have taken up measures to target the Volcker rule. This rule, put in place by the Dodd-Frank bill seeks to reinstate something like the Glass-Steagall rule which essentially forbids banks from gambling with their customers’ money. This latest attack on the Volcker rule failed, but further attacks on it are considered likely. It is the intention of the Republicans to create a laisse-faire system in which all profits reaped by the banks are private, but all losses are public as the public bails the banks out with their taxes. This system is in-effect a reverse Robin Hood scenario that drains money from the poor and middleclass and funnels it to the wealthy.
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The next story comes via the New York Times where it is reported that the banking industry has been helping out overworked lawmakers by writing the laws that regulate the banks themselves. Citigroup, it reports, wrote a bill that sailed through congress over the objections of the Treasury Department and which would exempt banks from a broad range of trade regulations. Many passages of the bill were word-for-word the draft submitted to legislators by Citigroup – meaning that in many cases our legislators are little more stenographers for those who write their donation checks. It is of course no surprise to find out that those who submitted and voted for the bill were largely winners in the donation roulette from Wall Street.
The two previous stories come on the back of this story from Wall Street on Parade that relates the story of Carmen Segarra. Segarra is a former SEC regulator who found herself in hot water for wanting to actually regulate. She met broad resistance for wanting to do her job and was finally fired for refusing to be, as the SEC would have it, a team player. It should be no surprise that this is the case given that revolving door that exists between people who work as regulators and people who pull down large paychecks at the firms that they formerly regulated.
Although I am focusing on stories here that show how the wealthy and privileged are doing their utmost to weaken regulations that protect not only us, but them, against their excesses, but how the regulators themselves are unwilling to use the tools at their disposal to keep everyone driving in their own lane, let’s not forget that there are also broad attacks in progress against the safety nets millions are relying on. Welfare, unemployment benefits, and even Social Security are under attack. Despite massive un- and under employment, the media is full of blame-the-victim stories. If people are poor, it’s because they choose to be or are lazy, and not because the opportunities for success simply do not exist to the degree they do for people who were born with trust funds. You can read more about that here, on Think Progress.