What kind of feedback has my book received over the past week? Here are a few threads on reddit:
- Has anyone taken a look at this new Bitcoin critique? A few chapters in and I’m finding it scarily convincing
- New book: The Anatomy of a Money-like Informational Commodity: A Study of Bitcoin
- Everything that’s wrong with Buttcoin. PDF shows why bitcoin will never succeed.
- This is going to be heavily ignored but this is really important. A long well written paper about the issues with bitcoin.
I am called any number of names on these threads and stylistically was equated with “Gish Gallop” and a “word soup” thesauri.
Hass McCook (“Bit_by_Bit”) weighs in at one point in the first thread saying that these claims are only valid in August 2014. McCook had similar sentiments as noted in Chapter 3. However, no word on the MV=MC issue that was brought up in that same chapter, it will always apply no matter what the efficiency of the mining equipment. This cost basis was also independently confirmed by a miner.
Today a friend pointed to a new post by Mircea Popescu which takes aim at me (not my book): “No, you don’t have something to say on the topic.” In it he claims I am a “boneheaded teenaged male approach to learning.” Not a word about the marginal costs of mining. In fact, he also claims that there is no data “per se” in the book which is curious since there is actually a lot of data in the book.
This is a common rejoinder; some vocal advocates not looking at actual data from the blockchain. In some ways their timeline looks like this:
- 2007: First lines of BTC code written
- 2008: Whitepaper revised and published
- 2009: Blockchain put into production
- 2009 – 2014: data created, but the only valid data is fiat prices, the rest is not real data “per se”
Aside from the ad hominem’s above what has been the criticism?
Peter Surda, a researcher, disagreed with my points on inelastic versus elastic money supply but didn’t go into many details in a short email exchange.
I received a number of encouraging emails from a variety of readers and was named one of thirteen “Big Thinkers” in this space, though I doubt some of the other candidates would like me to remain in company with them.
I have had some responses with a couple others, including L.M. Goodman (creator of Tezos), on Twitter this past weekend — though this is largely unrelated to the book itself.
What does this mean?
Partisanship may be impacting scholarship, especially the Myth of Satoshi variety.
No, Leah Goodman did not uncover who Satoshi was. But one thing was clear from that episode in February was that some partisans do not want the individual who created Bitcoin to be taken down from the pedestal they have put him on; they want their caricature to be immutable. Just like some historians have tried to revise history to make their heroes look impeachable, so to has the veneration of Satoshi. If Bram Cohen had anonymously released BitTorrent a decade ago, would BitTorrent have had a similar following due to its mysterious beginnings?
I hold no ill-will to the person or group that comprised Satoshi, but it is clear from the evidence cited in chapters 9 and 10 that he, she or they did not consult an actual economist or financial professional before they created their static rewards and asymptote money supply. This is a mistake that we see in full force today in which the quantity of money available has shrunk due to theft, scams, purposeful burning, accidental destruction, etc. Satoshi recreated a deflationary inelastic economy and much to the chagrin of the self-appointed purity police, it is not being used the way he expected it to (actual commerce) and is instead being used for things it is relatively useful for (e.g., donating to Wikileaks, gambling).
What other economic and environmental issues are still being ignored?
Jake Smith, creator of Coinsman recently published a new article on mining in China. Yet despite being, in his own words, a “true believer” and interviewing other “true believers” in the mining space, he missed the unseen calculation, the economics of extracting and securing rents on this ledger unit which consume scarce resources from the real economy. This is not something that it is unknown, there is an economic formula to explain it: MV=MC (as described copiously in Chapter 3). There is nothing magical or mysterious about mining as other people in the reddit thread point out how mining is currently an environmental albatross or as Fred Trotter dubs it, a “black hole.”
Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued its Consumer advisory: Virtual currencies and what you should know about them. The advisory (PDF) gives a cursory look, in layman’s terms of what are the challenges and risks of participating in this space.
What does this mean?
While it is unclear as to the motivations of some of the “true believers” are, they collectively did underestimate the costs of consumer protection and/or did not put it as a top priority for mass consumer adoption. But why would they? Consumer protection is usually expensive, its unglamorous and its centralized (which apparently is a “no-no”).
For example, generally speaking, most people do not like having their possessions stolen. And in the event something is stolen, in practice, individuals prefer to take out insurance and even sue those responsible for damage (torts). If instead of promoting and building illicit markets (like Dark Market and Dark Wallet), these same developers and early investors had funded a start-up that helped track down these stolen funds, or start a non-profit to help get stolen coins, it would have been an amazing public relations coup.
To be balanced, theft takes place across the spectrum of services. It also happens on the edges of Visa’s network. The difference is Visa offers insurance which is built into their cost structure (highly recommend reading Richard Brown’s recent post). Insurance alone is just another product and has nothing to do with the protocol. And this specific point (for the individual user) could be resolved sooner or later (e.g. Xapo already offers some home-made insurance). However, insurance does not change the economics behind Bitcoin, especially since lost coins are permanently and constantly removed from the money supply.
Then again, there is a built in incentive to allow this theft to occur — stolen coins need mixers and exits which could potentially benefit developers and investors of those services; and simultaneously as more coins drop out of circulation this increases the value for those holding the remaining supply.
In addition, a vocal group of these “true believers” do not think Bitcoin has an image problem. Yet it has a massive PR problem, for similar (albeit smaller) reasons that Tylenol had in 1982: customers and their families do not like getting burnt. The only group I am aware of that tried to immediately help the victims of the Mt. Gox debacle was Goxcoin (here’s the LTB interview of it). In contrast, thread after thread on reddit was filled with bullies saying “no big deal.” It is a big deal to normal people with real responsibilities beyond downvoting skeptics on reddit and pumping stories about Bitcoin curing cancer and ending wars. And Mt. Gox liabilities won’t be resolved for at least another year. Instead of cyber bullying merchants into adopting bitcoin payments, these same hectors could have created a company catering towards recovering stolen property (e.g., loss recovery specialists). It was a lost opportunity.
In contrast, Blockchain.info has a mixing service called SharedCoin based off the CoinJoin feature from Greg Maxwell. Blockchain.info recently crossed the 2 million ‘My Wallet’ mark but as I noted in Chapter 4, the vast majority of these likely go unused. This past spring, one of their representatives claimed that they receive about 15 million visitors a day, but what this actually is, is largely API traffic (external websites pulling charts from their site). They probably do not have close to 2 million users let alone 15 million visitors.
How few? We have an idea based on their own internal numbers, MyWallet transactions is flat over the past 12 months. If there were 2 million or 15 million users, we would probably see a gigantic uptick in usage elsewhere on the blockchain (e.g., TVO would skyrocket, tx fees to miners would skyrocket, etc.).
What this all means is that, while they do not release actual user numbers, that at least a minority of wallets are probably ‘burner wallets,’ dumped immediately by individuals wanting to mix coins. This is great for those who need to mix coins but not so great for consumers who just had their coins stolen. How to resolve this going forward?
Incidentally in May, Roger Ver (an angel investor including in Blockchain.info) was extorted by a hacker who had figured out a vulnerability in Ver’s security. Ver put a 37.6 bitcoin bounty on the hacker and the hacker eventually backed down; Wired and CoinDesk each did an article on it. Yet during the same month, coins were stolen from others and when the users came to reddit for help, they were ridiculed for not having done the 27 steps to make a paper wallet. No Wired article was written for them and in turn — speculatively — their coins could have been mixed on a site like Blockchain.info. As a result, why would normal consumers ever want to use Bitcoin after that experience?
Perhaps user behavior and therefore the data will change in the future. Consequently blockchains in general will probably find other niches beyond what Bitcoin is being shoehorned to do today. This includes, other chains and platforms that may be able to help firms like Wageni Tech accomplish its goals in Kenya by helping farmers move, manage and track produce to market in an attempt to bypass middlemen and introduce transparency. Bitcoin may be able to do that one day, but maybe not at the current $40 per transaction cost structure. Start-ups such as Pebble, Hyperledger, Tezos, Tendermint, Dogethereum (Eris), Salpas, SKUChain, Stellar and several other funded projects in stealth mode may be able to as well (remember, Google was the 15th search engine and the iPod was at least the 9th MP3 player).
This is not to say that “Bitcoin” has collapsed or will collapse, nor is this to single out Ver (he has done a lot to try and create value in this space and even donated 1,000 bitcoins to FEE last year). Instead it may continue to evolve into is something called Bitcoin-in-name-only, (or BINO as I refer to it in chapter 16) and it probably will continue to be used for what most risk-tolerant consumers use it for today: as a speculative commodity and as a way to pay for things that credit cards cannot be used for.