How Silicon Valley and Wall Street arrived at a new gold rush called Bitcoin

Ars Technica: How Silicon Valley and Wall Street arrived at a new gold rush called Bitcoin

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For the last few years now, non-tech-oriented friends and family occasionally ask me: “So what do you think of Bitcoin?” My answer is nearly always the same: “It’s intellectually interesting, but not really practical.”

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Yes, the blockchain is a neat idea. But unless you’re regularly buying stuff on Silk Road copycats, or if you live in a country with currency controls, or if you’re a hardcore libertarian, I’ve yet to hear a good reason why Bitcoin makes practical sense for most people in everyday life. Put another way: it doesn’t yet have a clear killer app.

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Will Bitcoin ever reach that level? I don’t know. But I do know that today there’s a lot of very smart and very rich people who seem to think so. A few lines towards the end of Nathaniel Popper’s new book Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money cogently articulates this sentiment.

As Popper writes:

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Years earlier, Bitcoin had promised that it would spread its benefits to all its users, but by 2014 large chunks of the Bitcoin economy were owned by a few people who had been wealthy enough before Bitcoin came along to invest in this new system. Most of the new coins being released each day were collected by a few large mining syndicates. If this was the new world, it didn’t seem all that different from the old one—at least not yet.

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Cyrus Farivar summarizes at the end with…

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Still, after reading Popper’s history of Bitcoin, I personally remain unconvinced of its long-term viability as a means of everyday financial transactions. I come down on the Felix Salmon side—rather than the Ben Horowitz side—of the Bitcoin bet orchestrated last year by NPR’s Planet Money: “Five years from now, in January, 2019, we’ll poll a representative sample of Americans. If 10 percent or more say they have used bitcoin to buy something in the past month, Ben wins. If it’s fewer than 10 percent, Felix wins.”

What did they bet? A pair of alpaca socks—and possibly the entire future of money as we know it.