Why I'm Skeptical About Crypto-Currencies

"If Bitcoin were to keep rising to $1,000,000 per unit, as many investors hope and pray, there wouldn’t be enough electric power in the world to keep it going."

The author is a prominent American social critic, blogger, and podcaster, and we carry his articles regularly on RI. His writing on Russia-gate has been highly entertaining.

He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed 'The Dystopians' in an excellent 2009 profile, along with the brilliant Dmitry Orlov, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.

<figcaption>It sure looks like a mania</figcaption>
It sure looks like a mania

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Shoeshine boys in airports ‘round the world must be whispering about Bitcoin as the crypto-currency coils upward to tickle the $10,000 line. Ethereum’s roaring up, too, along with most other cryptos, from Byteball Bytes to Tattoocoin (Limited Edition). Whatever else you think about it, this action is sending a message, perhaps several.

One would be Get Rich Quick, of course. Eight months ago, you could have copped Bitcoin for a mere $1000, and around Labor Day it touched $5000, which seemed, well, figment-ish. In the last two weeks it went all out hockey-stick, doubling. To a certain sort of mind this must seem irresistible. The result: a good old-fashioned mania. Digital tulip bulbs.

Another message probably goes something like duck-and cover. Some nervous nellies are seeking shelter in Bitcoin as they detect tremors in the more traditional markets creeping ever-higher to new records. To some degree, Bitcoin may be doing the job that gold used to do, providing the aura of a “safe haven” from a possible global financial mega-storm. The last time such an event came out nowhere (ha!) after the “permanent plateau” of 1929 collapsed, the government confiscated as much physical gold as it could get its paws on. So who wants to be there? (Echo answers….)

These days, the zeitgeist also points to new-and-improved government monkey business for shoving global populations into cashless monetary regimes where the authorities could monitor and control (and collect a vig on) all transactions — and there is the theory, at least, that Bitcoin’s block-chain computer math would be secure from any government’s clutches.

I’m not so sanguine about Bitcoin’s supposed impregnability, nor about many of its other appealing claims. The Mt. Gox affair of 2014 must be forgotten now, but back then some sharpie hacked 850,000 Bitcoins (valued over $450,000,000) out of the exchange, which was processing almost two-thirds of all the Bitcoin trades in the world. Mt. Gox went out of business. Bitcoin tanked and then traded sideways for three years until (coincidentally?) the Golden Golem of Greatness was elected Leader of the Free World. Hmmmm…..

Not many readers understand the first thing about block-chain math, your correspondent among them. But I am aware that the supposed safety of Bitcoin lies in its feature of being an algorithm distributed among a network of computers world-wide, so that it kind of exists everywhere-and-nowhere at the same time, a highly-valued ghost in the techno-industrial meta-machine.

However, the electric energy required for “mining” each Bitcoin — that is, the computations required for updating the block-chain network — is enough to boil almost 2000 liters of water. This is happening world-wide, and a lot of the Bitcoin “mining” is powered by coal-burning electric plants, making it the first Steampunk currency. If Bitcoin were to keep rising to $1,000,000 per unit, as many investors hope and pray, there wouldn’t be enough electric power in the world to keep it going.

Pardon me if I seem skeptical about the whole scheme. Even without Bitcoin bringing extra demand onto the scene, America’s electrical grid is already an aging rig of rags and tatters. There are a lot of ways that the service could be interrupted, perhaps for a long time in the case of an electric magnetic pulse (EMP). I’m not convinced that crypto-currencies are beyond the clutches of government, either. Around the world, in their campaign to digitize all money, there must be a deep interest in either hijiking existing block-chains, or creating official government Bit-monies to seal the deal of total control over financial transactions they seek.

Anyway, there are already over 1300 private cryptos and, apparently, a theoretically endless ability to create ever new ones — though the electricity required does seem to be a limiting factor. Maybe governments will shut them down for being energy-hogs.

My personal take on the phenomenon is that it represents the high point of techno-narcissism — the idea that technology is now so magical that it over-rides the laws of physics. That, for me, would be the loudest “sell” signal. I’d just hate to be in that rush to the exits. And who knows what kind of rush to other exits it could inspire.


Source: kunstler

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