Sunday, February 21, 2021

 A Bitcoin for Your Thoughts?


I am not a crypto fan for a variety of reasons; for one it feels like a pure Ponzi scheme, for another it has no ties to a physical commodity (think gold standard), and it can be seized electronically at will by almost any major government...but there is one trait that is very, very interesting about Bitcoin: The IRS wants to know on your 2020 1040 "At any time during 2020, did you receive, sell, send, exchange, or otherwise acquire any financial interest in any virtual currency?" Unfurl the red flags.

Why does the Deep State want to know whether you have virtual currency? Well dear readers, taxation is a by product of any benefit. This first example of this phenomenon in the United States sparked the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791. Whiskey had become a store of value; tilled fields planted with rye ultimately harvested and distilled into whiskey became in many respects this country's first portable, stable, and universal currency. Naturally the government wanted to tax this store of value. Hence the brewing discontentment which resulted in the Whiskey Rebellion.

Ultimately a paper currency was introduced which was backed by silver and gold; this metallic standard lasted well into the 20th century until under the Nixon administration the gold standard was revoked in order to pay for the escalating costs of the Vietnam War. The result was disastrous for working Americans as their purchasing power collapsed and inflation raged. The amount of paper currency, fiat money, in circulation exploded.

Gold has been a universal store of value for over 5,000 years...maybe even longer. "God's money" gets its value from the toil required to obtain it; gold is rare, it cannot be made by man, it is portable, and it looks really cool too! Almost every civilization that had some access to gold made it the backbone of their civilization's economy; even today vast hordes of gold are stored by central banks around the world.

Virtual currency offers central bankers even more of an advantage over paper money; not only can a limitless supply be created, but it can be tracked, seized, and controlled with ever more sophisticated means; virtual currency is big data's dream scenario...information about consumers can be collected en masse and interesting scenarios develop such as migration patterns, spending habits, and legal status.

As adoption becomes mainstream, the question arises with a theoretical limit of 21,000,000 (21M) Bitcoin how high in USD can it possibly go? An investing analogy to the Great Tulip Bubble was that during peak mania, a single bulb could purchase a house...so assume a nice house and we're talking about possibly $1M. Tulip mania did not end well, and I suspect Bitcoin will also end poorly.
If paper currency is just fiat money, tulips are just flowers, and Bitcoin is potentially a Ponzi scheme what is an investor to do? Felix Zulauf from this week's Barron's had a very interesting take: "Millennials are buying Bitcoin instead of gold...I don't believe that Bitcoin will ever make it as money used in daily payments. It is too complicated, the price is too volatile, and "mining" it requires too much energy. But as long as people think Bitcoin as a safe store of value, the price could go higher, and it could become a mania."

Finally, as Steve Jobs famously used to end his product launches..."one more thing." Research indicates that Bitcoin is an environmental disaster given the amount of energy resources it consumes to "mine" the virtual currency and where does some 20% of the world's Bitcoin mining take place? China's Xinjiang region, "where the U.S. government says a genocide is occurring."

A possible solution? Let's get back online with the gold standard by digitizing gold. I hope the next craze in virtual currency is GoldCoin.