Early Zerohedge Coverage of Bitcoin
ZH WSJ Gavin Andresen 46-year-old lead software developer for the Bitcoin project
The terrifying part of his job is that almost all of the current Bitcoin services now use the same software, so that “any change to the core code has potentially disastrous impact. If everybody rolls out a new version and there’s some problem with it, the whole Bitcoin payment network could grind to a halt.”
So trading has been disrupted and Bitcoins have been stolen and lost. But Mr. Andresen says they have been counterfeited only once, and the problem was identified and resolved. It could happen again in the future, he warns, though he believes it is highly unlikely.
Politicians and their appointees are entirely cut out of Bitcoin’s monetary loop. This is a significant difference between Bitcoin and government-issued fiat currencies. Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Richard Fisher calls the U.S. dollar a “faith-based currency.” In other words, its value rests on the belief that the government will not print so many dollars that each one becomes nearly worthless. Like Bitcoin, the world’s dollars, euros, yen and pesos carry no guarantees they can be redeemed for gold or some other commodity at a fixed price.
It’s true that deflations have sometimes accompanied economic disaster, but also economic triumphs. For example, in “Money, Markets & Sovereignty,” Benn Steil and Manuel Hinds describe the second phase of the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. between 1870 and 1896. Prices fell by 32% over the period, but real income soared 110% amid robust economic growth, expanded trade and enormous innovation in telecommunications and other industries.
It’s almost time for Mr. Andresen to get back to work. He shares some useful advice about Bitcoin: “I tell people it’s still an experiment and only invest time or money you could afford to lose.” If only investors could as easily follow that advice with fiat currencies.
Mr. Freeman is assistant editor of the Journal’s editorial page.
BOA on bitcoin
A 50 minute wait before payment receipt confirmation is received will prohibit wider use. Fifty minutes is the time needed for enough additional blocks to be added to the chain to protect against double spending. This is less of an issue for two parties that know each other because they trust the other will not double spend, but when dealing with an anonymous counterparty this creates a high level of unhedgeable risk. As a result, in the absence of a central counterparty verifying transaction/clearing Bitcoin is likely to remain illiquid, and will prevent it from becoming a significant international currency.
Bitcoin could become a major means of payment for e-commerce and may emerge as a serious competitor to traditional money-transfer providers, BofAML notes in a report today, adding that as a medium of exchange, Bitcoin has clear potential for growth, in our view. Despite Greenspan’s inability to find “value”, BofAML prefers not to call the crypto currency a bubble, and assigns a maximum fair-value of $1,300, but does warn that the 100 fold increase in Bitcoin prices this year is at risk of running ahead of its fundamentals. Via BofAML’s David Woo, How to assess Bitcoin’s fair value? The value of Bitcoin has risen 100 times over the past year, raising the question of whether it is a bubble. To answer this question, we need to be able to assess its intrinsic value. We don’t offer a forecast for Bitcoin, but below are our preliminary thoughts on how to approach the fair value question. Bitcoin’s is both a medium of exchange as well as a store of value. In our view, it is easier to think about fair value by treating these two purposes separately. Value as a medium of exchange As we have argued already, Bitcoin has some attractive attributes as a medium of exchange, especially for e-commerce. What could be the fair value of Bitcoin if it were to become a dominant medium of exchange for e-commerce that accounts for, let’s say, 10% of all the payments for B2C transactions? Let’s do the following exercise:
Is Bitcoin a bubble? Assuming Bitcoin becomes (1) a major player in both ecommerce and money transfer and (2) a significant store of value with a reputation close to silver, our fair value analysis implies a maximum market capitalization of Bitcoin of $15bn (1BTC = 1300 USD). This suggests that the 100 fold increase in Bitcoin prices this year is at risk of running ahead of its fundamentals.
Well, bitcoin dropped quickly on BOA approval before the year ended… Banks provide excellent contrarian timing as always.
Citi’s Steve Englander notes, by others as revolutionizing the financial system. Market acceptance of alternative currencies now looks to be growing a lot faster than the pace at which the supply of Bitcoin and Bitcoin wannabees is expanding the Internet money supply. The responses fell into five categories which we feel are well worth considering before trading or utilizing the digital currency (including Bitcoin’s role in reserves management). Englander’s previous “Bitcoin as a currency” report generated a lot of comment.
Conclusions: i) Reserve managers will not be the first to adopt Internet currencies but they have incentives not to be the last; and ii) The USD would likely be undermined on its international role, were this to occur. 3) First mover advantages This may be the most contentious area. Bitcoin fans argue that being the first in any area where there are networking economies gives you an immense advantage. Replicability is not an issue because potential imitators will find that businesses and households will sign up with the network that gives them the greatest ability to interact. The analogy is drawn to Internet retail and social media businesses where the business model can be copied but where a couple of companies at most dominate the space. (On the other hand, I still have my login/passwords to a variety of ‘first movers’ services that no one under 40 would even recognize.)
The speculative surge in Bitcoin may be a disadvantage if you can find a substitute that has similar characteristics but less of a speculative component. The question is how expensive is it for a business or individual to have more than one internet currency and how much of a disincentive is it to hold a Bitcoin if the price is high, when there are good substitutes with lower prices. 4) The Bitcoin ecosystem is growing exponentially There is a short to medium term Bitcoin argument that goes something like this. We are just scratching the surface of payment system/alternative currency development. Whatever the competitive environment, in a market that is growing exponentially fast, any reasonable player will get bid up. Ultimately when market growth flattens out, there will be a sorting out of winners and losers, but that flattening out is not visible anytime soon, barring disaster.
Those who think this is the internet in 1997 should recall that the NASDAQ was back to 1997 levels in 2002, and even briefly touched 1996 levels, so getting in early may mean getting in really early. Just as with the railroads and Internet, it may revolutionize society more than it makes money for investors.
Market acceptance of alternative currencies now looks to be growing a lot faster than the pace at which the supply of Bitcoin and Bitcoin wannabees is expanding the Internet money supply
Among skeptics, a minority think that security is a much bigger issue than proponents admit.
‘Liberty Reserve’ And Why Some Money Launderers Are “More Equal” Than Others
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
– George Orwell’s Animal Farm
This is how the Wall Street Journal describes the story:
The money was virtual, but prosecutors say the crime was real.
Officials brought charges against a group of men who allegedly manufactured an Internet-based currency to launder about $6 billion in ill-gotten gains, a sign of authorities’ rising concern with digital cash.
Liberty Reserve, which was incorporated in 2006, was a “bank of choice for the criminal underworld,” according to the indictment, which said the operation allegedly laundered the money through 55 million transactions before it was shut down earlier this month. The company has about one million users world-wide, including about 200,000 people in the U.S., according to prosecutors. They called the plot one of the largest money-laundering operations ever uncovered.
A spokesman for Liberty Reserve couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. Prosecutors said Tuesday that they arrested five of the seven men charged in the indictment Friday in Spain, Costa Rica and Brooklyn, N.Y., and charged them with operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business. The officials said they plan to seek extradition of those arrested abroad, and that the two remaining men are at large.
On Tuesday, in the first use of the 2001 Patriot Act against a virtual currency, the Treasury Department invoked a section of the law to choke off Liberty Reserve from the U.S. financial system. The Treasury’s proposal would prohibit U.S. financial institutions from opening or maintaining accounts for foreign banks that process transactions for Liberty Reserve and require special steps to guard against any transactions involving it.
Ok, now let’s compare the above to the way the authorities went after major financial institutions found laundering hundreds of millions of drug cartel money. HSBC is the most high profile example. From Reuters:
(Reuters) – HSBC Holdings Plc agreed to pay a record $1.92 billion in fines to U.S. authorities for allowing itself to be used to launder a river of drug money flowing out of Mexico and other banking lapses.
Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel and Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel between them laundered $881 million through HSBC and a Mexican unit, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.
“We accept responsibility for our past mistakes. We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again. The HSBC of today is a fundamentally different organization from the one that made those mistakes,” HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver said.
Bank officials repeatedly ignored internal warnings that HSBC’s monitoring systems were inadequate, the Justice Department said. In 2008, for example, the CEO of HSBC Mexico was told that Mexican law enforcement had a recording of a Mexican drug lord saying that HSBC Mexico was the place to launder money.
No bank or bank executives have been indicted. Instead, prosecutors have used deferred prosecutions, under which criminal charges against a firm are set aside if it agrees to conditions such as paying fines and changing its behavior.
The difference in approach and in the application “justice” could not be more clear. In the case of Liberty Reserve, the entity was isolated from the U.S. financial system and those arrested will be targeted for extradition. Meanwhile a global manhunt is most likely on for the two remaining men at large. In other words, “money laundering” was uncovered and the “justice” in this case is that the operation was closed and the participants arrested. Ok.
Compare that to the HSBC settlement. No bank or bank executives were indicted despite the clear fact that there was a great deal of irresponsibility and criminality involved here. Not only that, but the bank merely has to pay a portion of its profits and life goes on. Like the IRS agents, they say they are “sorry” and promise to never do it again. That’s what happens when oligarchs or their minions break the law. When a regular citizen breaks the law, your life is ruined forever.
The crackdown on Liberty Reserve has nothing to do with “money laundering.” It’s about a cartel of “too big to jail” banks and the fraud financial system they operate eliminating any players that try to encroach on their turf. That isn’t capitalism, or socialism and it certainly isn’t anything close to freedom. It is a parasitic, oligarch created feudalistic structure that must be done away with. I often hear people say “we never learn from our mistakes.” Incorrect. People learn from their mistakes when there are consequences to their actions. Of course criminals don’t learn from their mistakes when there are no serious consequences to their crimes. Jail time would do the trick for a lot of bankers, politicians and bureaucrats.
In the meantime: Some money launderers are simply more equal than others.
(liberty reserve was one of the means of legacy funding for bitcoin exchanges, also confer charlie shrem bitinstant)
It can be used for money laundering.
Of course it can be used for money laundering — ANY currency can be used for money laundering. Currencies are neutral — that is their purpose! Currencies are valuable precisely because they can be exchanged for anything else — that’s why we use them!
Moreover, dollars and Euros and Pounds are used for money laundering every day. Consider the recent money laundering crimes of HSBC and Wachovia/Wells Fargo. These banks laundered hundreds of billions of dollars for violent drug cartels. And consider that this amount of laundered money is several hundred times the value of every Bitcoin in existence.
No one from either bank went to jail. Neither bank was shut down. Neither bank suffered more than a minor fine. So, how much of a concern can money laundering really be to governments and banks? Clearly not much.
But, since they accuse Bitcoin of being used for bad things, let’s be clear about the situation:
- Every mafioso uses government money.
- Every drug smuggler uses government money.
- Every terrorist uses government money.
- Every pornographer uses government money.
- Every criminal of every type uses government money.
They also use the telephone system and the mail and banks and a wide variety of government services. But government money is good and Bitcoin is bad?
The argument fails.
It could destabilize the current system.
A tiny, new currency is a threat to the long-established king of the hill? Comparing Bitcoin to dollars, Euros and Yen is like comparing an ant to a dinosaur. This is a threat?
Please understand also that no one is forcing anyone to use Bitcoin. If you don’t think it’s a great idea, you don’t have to use it. If its price movements (relative to dollars) bother you, you don’t have to use it. How is that destabilizing to the current system? It is entirely separate.
And what of the current system? It was falling apart on its own before the Bitcoin program was ever written. And I could go on at length on the insane levels of government debt, hundreds of trillions in derivatives, rehypothecation, and innocent people being forced to bail-out failed banks.
The current system has massive problems, but none of them can be blamed on Bitcoin.
This argument fails also.
Bitcoin provides no customer protection.
Well, no, it doesn’t. Bitcoin is a currency, not a legal system.
What is implied by this argument is that the government banking system does protect customers. That is an outright lie. People are ripped-off via the banking system every day. And more than that, consider what happened just a month ago in Cyprus: Thousands of innocent people were ripped-off BY the banking system — purposely — all at once and without recourse. This argument is, really, an insult to one’s intelligence.
And I should add something else: If Bitcoin is used properly, the crime of identity theft (a big problem with government money) vanishes – there is no identity available to be stolen.
So, again, the argument fails. Only those people who believe anything a government says will buy it.
In the End
In the end, it is said, we judge ourselves. Bitcoin has now put governments and banks in the position of judging themselves. They will write their own verdicts.
It should be interesting to watch.
As we first noted here (regulation) and here (supervision), the US government has been gradually encroaching on the independence and freedom of the virtual currency. This week, as The Washington Post reports, the government escalated. The feds took action against Mt. Gox, the world’s leading Bitcoin exchange. Many people use Dwolla, a PayPal-like payment network, to send dollars to their Mt. Gox accounts. They then use those dollars to buy Bitcoins. On Tuesday, Dwolla announced that it had frozen Mt. Gox’s account at the request of federal investigators.
Considering the great antipathy the central planners have toward such legacy money as gold and silver, is it any surprise that they would move aggressively and rapidly to halt the emergence of yet another alternative to fiat, especially one which the ECB made it very clear will not be tolerated in an insolvent world. Because all is fair in preserving the FIATH…
Rethinking Money With Bitcoin Quadrupling Since Cyprus
ince the beginning of the Cyprus debacle (followed by Russia’s call for repatriation of all offshore capital and then Japan’s willful debasement of their currency), which appears to have awoken many to the fact that banks and politicians can’t be trusted , the ‘price’ of the virtual currency Bitcoin has quadrupled – touching an incredible $162 this morning. While most people believe the only way to ‘spend’ this currency is on drugs or blogging sites, Liberty Blitzkrieg’s Mike Krieger points out there are in fact hundreds of places (growing daily) where this as-yet unregulated store of wealth can be spent. However, what is really driving this surge in demand for a different kind of ‘money’ is the wholesale loss of faith in the status quo – nowhere is this clearer than in the words and actions of the people of Cyprus and this devastating clip capturing the thoughts and feelings of ordinary Cypriots after their bank accounts were frozen. “Nothing has started yet… everything is going to fall down like dominoes because people don’t trust the banks.”
and perhaps this last bump is due to Portugal’s latest attempt at herding cats…
And the following insightful brief documentary is how real people – not the mouthpieces projected on TV – feel in the streets of Cyprus about the confiscation of their savings…