The Bitcoin Bust

Apr 11 2013 @ 3:39pm

Yesterday, the value of the newfangled currency plummeted 61 percent:


Timothy B. Lee points out that Bitcoin has crashed and recovered several times before. Yglesias expects this cycle to continue:

The problem is that if the price of a bitcoin is on a steady upward trajectory, then nobody’s actually going to want to spend a Bitcoin on anything. And if everyone’s hoarding their Bitcoins, then the network is actually useless. Then, since it turns out to be useless, you get a crash. The funny thing is that once the upward spiral comes to an end, then the technological virtues of the Bitcoin platform come to the fore again. If nobody wants to hoard Bitcoins, then Bitcoin-as-platform looks like an attractive alternative to elements of the payment system. But when Bitcoin starts looking attractive again, you should get a renewed hoarding cycle.

Jerry Brito argued recently that Bitcoin’s valuation doesn’t necessarily matter:

Bitcoin will work as a seamless payment system so long as you can get in and out of it quick enough to mitigate volatility. That is largely a technical consideration, but it could also depend on the market’s liquidity, which conceivably could be hurt by speculative hoarding. I haven’t given this much thought yet, but given that bitcoin can be denominated down to eight decimal places, I’m not sure it will be a big problem anytime soon.

Felix Salmon thinks Bitcoin is too volatile to work well for payments:

Currently, it can take an hour for a bitcoin transaction to clear, which means that the value of the transaction when it clears can be radically different from its value at inception. Bitcoin only works for payments if you can be reasonably sure that its value will remain reasonably steady for at least the next hour or so.

McArdle bets that governments will restrict Bitcoin’s growth:

I think that governments can make it so difficult to translate your bitcoins into the real economy that most people simply won’t bother. And the more successful that bitcoins are–the better they become established as an alternate currency–the more likely it is that rich-world governments will swoop in and make it prohibitively difficult to use bitcoins to procure real-world goods in developed countries. At that point you’ve essentially got a novelty currency like greenstamps, which can be exchanged for only a limited supply of goods, and maybe some developing-world travel.

Eric Posner calls the currency a “Ponzi scheme”:

A regular Ponzi scheme collapses when people realize that earlier investors are being paid out of the investments of later investors rather than from the returns on an underlying asset. Bitcoin will collapse when people realize that it can’t survive as a currency because of its built-in deflationary features, or because of the emergence of bytecoins, or both. A real Ponzi scheme takes fraud; bitcoin, by contrast, seems more like a collective delusion.