THE BITCOIN PHENOMENON
For those of you who extol the fortunes of Bitcoin, you’re in seventh heaven. Within the past several days the market value of a single coin surged to $5,832. At the end of 2016 its price was about $950, but thereafter skyrocketed to its present worth, a sixfold increase. Believers in Bitcoin say it’s the money of the future, a digital alternative to the other established currencies such as the dollar, the euro or the yen.
For those of you unfamiliar with this device, it’s “digital currency” created in 2009 by an unknown person. Transactions involve no banks, no transaction fees and allow anonymity. Bitcoins are stored in a “digital wallet,” which exists either in an imaginary bank account, known as a cloud, or on a user’s computer. You may think of them as peer-to-peer currency, in that no central authority issues new money or tracks transactions. This task is managed collectively by the “network.” They are sent – or signed over – from one addressee to another, with each user maintaining multiple addresses. This technique entails a fast and presumably reliable payment network with easy access. In this way they may be bought, sold, and used to purchase things from those entities which accept them.
What will become of this milieu is hotly debated, as it’s mostly unregulated. Whether Bitcoin rises or falls in value seems to be dependent upon the euphoria of its supporters, so its history has been one of wild volatility. You might note the field of cryptocurrency is not confined to this single example. At present there are more than 1,100 other players, though all far less prominent than Bitcoin.
As you might guess, there are analysts, such as Thomas Lee, founder of Wall Street firm Fundstrat Global Advisors, who predicts Bitcoin will enjoy broader adoption as a “store of value” similar to gold. Others, however, view it as a passing fancy which will be a relic of the past within the next few years, and fade from memory as did the 17th century Dutch tulip bulb mania.
A final thought: As to the future of this digital currency concept, despite the monetary success of Bitcoin thus far, I agree with the doubters. I firmly believe any investment craze easily prone to manipulation and with no sound basis for value must end – normally amidst chaos and recrimination. We shall see what the future holds.