Everything you need to know about Bitcoin
Wednesday January 10, 2018,
19 min Read
In order for cryptocurrencies to succeed, people need to understand at a basic level what they are. Nobody needs to learn complicated cryptography or Blockchain.
Here’s the problem: most people who know a lot about Bitcoin can only speak “tech.”
I was at a conference recently. I was the keynote speaker but had zero talk prepared (as usual). It was a crowdfunding conference so I “crowdsourced” my talk.
I asked the audience: I can talk about entrepreneurship or I can take 15 minutes to explain Bitcoin without using any technical jargon — clap for which one you want.
Almost 100 percent of the people wanted to learn about Bitcoin without the technical jargon.
People are hungry for this. They don’t want to hear about “crypto” or “Blockchain.” They just want to know what all this Bitcoin stuff is about.
Back in 2013, I thought Bitcoin was a scam. I was wrong.
First, some credentials.
In early 2013 I had my doubts. I started reading everything I could. Then I got my hands dirty.
I’ve been a coder/programmer since 1985. I decided to code up a Bitcoin- only store (maybe the first ever) and sell my book, Choose Yourself on it before it was released on Amazon.
It was very hard. I had to develop the store from scratch since there were no easy tools to help me. There still aren’t (hint: business opportunity).
Once I launched it, quite a few people bought my book. I sold a PDF of my book for 0.1 Bitcoin. Bitcoin was then $60 so I sold it for about $6 per PDF. Right now, it’s as if I sold each PDF for $1,600. I sold many copies.
I went on CNBC when they heard I was doing this. The anchor asked me, “Did you just do this for publicity?”
I said, “Well, I’m on national TV so I guess it worked.”
Another thing worth noting: most of my customers came from one domain name (they had to submit their email addresses for me to process the sale): Amazon.com. Make of that what you will.
A few months ago I started writing about cryptocurrencies again. I saw so many people getting involved in scams, I wanted to help.
The other day I had an Uber driver who thanked me for helping him “get it.”
And last night at a restaurant, at the end of the meal the waiter shook my hand and thanked me for helping him “finally” begin to understand what Bitcoin was about.
In order for cryptocurrencies to succeed, people need to understand at a basic level what they are. Nobody needs to learn complicated cryptography or Blockchain.
Just understand why now. Why this is important for us a society.
Two critical reasons Bitcoin is historically important and here to stay
Just understand these two reasons. Then you will know the potential for Bitcoin. And you will be popular at cocktail parties.
A) The history of money
Every new style of money solves the major problems of the last style of money.
If I have a bag of rice and I need shoes, what if you make shoes but you only need half a bag of rice. Do I get half a pair of shoes?
Barter has a lot of problems. In the above, coming up with the rice-to-shoes exchange rate is difficult.
Then coming up with thousands of exchange rates just to go out and buy groceries is almost impossible.
PLUS, what if you have to move (your kingdom is attacked). How are you going to carry all that rice? All of those shoes?
Money has two purposes:
- as a store of wealth/savings
- to make transactions
There’s a third, which Ray Dalio, the head of the largest hedge fund in the world, Brigewater, told me the other day. But we’ll get to that later.
Barter is horrible as a store of wealth. And for transactions, best case it’s very difficult.
But problems lead to opportunities. Which leads to…
- Precious metals/coins
Gold and silver are scarce. It’s hard to mine them.
But it’s hard to forge them because you can measure by weight.
So the scarcity combined with the lack of forgery makes them good choices for money. I can convert my rice into gold coins, you can convert your shoes into gold coins, and now we can trade and now we can buy whatever we want.
As a store of wealth, it’s not great but not horrible.
If my kingdom is attacked and I have to move, gold and silver are easily stored and carried as designed jewellery.
BUT, two problems.
One: what if you live in a country that doesn’t have any gold mines. Now you either have to trade for gold or start attacking countries: (this did not work out so well for the Aztecs).
Two: what if you wanted to buy a house right now — are you really going to bring a truck of gold bars to the closing? Or if you have to move to another country and you have a lifetime worth of savings, are you going to ship all of your gold bars to your new home?
People say that gold is “real” as opposed to (later) paper money and cryptocurrencies.
This is not really true. Gold is a rock. But it does have industrial uses (silver is better for this because of price but still…). Gold and silver are great electric conductors, can be used as SILVERware. Can be used as antibiotics (hence great for fillings on teeth).
So we can say that gold money is “backed” by something that has real use with value associated with it.
But we still have to solve the problems above.
3) Paper money backed by gold and...paper money Countries made paper money that was like a contract with the government that all of that money can be converted into gold.
This was great for transactions (easy to carry paper money).
This was great for store of wealth (put the money in a bank and you can go anywhere). The first banks for paper money backed by gold helped fund every war in Europe in the 1800s. Good job!
When paper money is backed by gold it also puts a clamp on inflation. You only have as much paper money in a country as there is gold in that country.
So you can trust the government to not go crazy printing money that is not backed by gold (like German in the 1920s when trillions of Marks were printed and Germany went into an inflationary death spiral that was at least one cause for World War II).
BUT, why benefit the countries where gold is easy to mine and punish the countries where gold is hard to mine.
Also, the world is expanding in every way: more people, more technology, more innovation, more THINGS.
I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing (see: Germany above) but sometimes countries need to balance debt with money printing to manage their fiscal policy.
The US went off of gold in the early ’70s in order to fund the financial needs of both the Vietnam War and the social improvement programmes of Lyndon Johnson.
This created inflation.
Paper money will often lead to this situation. Someone will say: why do we need the gold part?
Again, might be good or bad. There’s a lot of debate. Did money printing save the US in 2008 and 2009? Maybe. Or will there be future problems caused by this? Maybe.
Nevertheless, there are other problems with paper money that need to be solved:
a. No privacy
If I’m making a sizable (greater than $1,000) transaction, I’m usually not using cash but either a credit card or a money wire.
So that means your bank knows. Other banks know (the bank you are sending money to, the Federal Reserve, the local Reserve bank, etc).
Government agencies know (the IRS, the NSA, etc).
Potentially sites like Google and Amazon know depending on what payment services you use and what you are buying.
So you have no privacy on your transactions with paper money.
If I send a friend in Korea money, I go through my bank (fee), local reserve bank (fee), Federal Reserve (fee), international wiring system (fee), their central bank (fee), their local reserve bank (fee), their local bank (fee).
That’s a lot of fees. Those fees help create inflation because every transaction needs to have a profit on top of those fees.
Something like $200 billion in forged money is circulating right now.
d. Human error
This is a CRITICAL problem. There are so many opportunities for human error. When you transfer money, they can send to the wrong account. Or a bank’s software can be hacked and you lose all of your money.
Or, most importantly, the Federal Reserve in the US can decide to print another trillion (like 2009) and, without your permission, the value of your dollar has gone down.
In the US we’ve been lucky. But all of South America hasn’t been so lucky (all of their currencies crashed in the ’80s. Most of Asia wasn’t so lucky in the ’90s (their currencies wiped them out). Russia in 1997 was wiped out.
Many countries have relied on humans to print (or not print) money and the slightest human error can wipe out an entire country’s economy.
The United States has been lucky. For now. But this is a HUGE error we risk every day.
These are the basic problems. There are more (theft, for instance).
e. What is backing paper money?
Only our trust. I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist. But the reality is: a dollar is a piece of paper. Just like gold is just a rock.
How do they make us trust that the money has value?
They put “In God We Trust” on it. They put George Washington. They put the signature of the Secretary of Treasury (pretending it’s a contract).
And, for the weirdos, they even put a pyramid with an eye on it.
And that’s supposed to be why we trust it. I don’t trust it.
4) Bitcoin (and, btw, Bitcoin is not the end. There will be a “5”)
Bitcoin solves the problems above.
a. Human error: there is no printing of money. There is a fixed supply of 21,000,000 coins
How do I know this? I’m a skeptic. So I read the software behind Bitcoin. I read it over and over until I could figure it out. In one part of the code they clearly define how many coins can be “mined”/printed (printed is the wrong word but I’m using it here to make the connection with paper money). And there’s another part of the code which “enforces” the first part.
Like with every other form of currency, an exchange (like a bank) that stores your Bitcoin can be hacked and money can be stolen.
BUT, I only keep a small amount of money in an exchange. You can get a storage drive, store your money, and put it in a safety deposit box. So even if the exchange is attacked, you still have your money.
ALL theft can be prevented this way with Bitcoin. You can’t do this with paper dollars because if you have too many dollars, how will you store them? Ditto for gold.
The software guarantees that Bitcoins can’t be forged.
I can send you a Bitcoin and nobody knows who is sending it, who is receiving it, and no government institutions are aware of it.
Some bitcoin transactions have small fees. But it’s nothing like the fees of going through six banks in the transaction described above.
What’s backing it?
There’s about 1,000 man-years of science backing Bitcoin.
The underlying technology of Bitcoin, which involves heavy amounts of cryptography, financial know-how, and basics of contract law, plus the “Blockchain”, has hundreds of use cases that we have only just begun to play with.
EVEN IF Bitcoin is never used as a coin (although note: it’s being used every day as money) there are hundreds or thousands of other uses for Bitcoin that have nothing to do with the basic money use.
I won’t get into the weeds here: but suffice it to say that ALL of contract law can be (and will be) eventually replaced by Bitcoin.
And ALL of logistics will be replaced by Bitcoin (e.g. UPS is replacing all of their internal logistics (tracking millions of packages every day going from millions of locations to millions of other locations) by Bitcoin technology.
There’s nothing behind paper money or gold like this.
Now…Bitcoin has problems also.
Hence the need for other cryptocurrencies. But that’s okay and not the topic for discussion here. Suffice it to say, Bitcoin solves all the basic problems of paper money, which solves the problems of gold, which solves the problems of barter.
HOWEVER, there is another reason why Bitcoin is here to stay and it’s so compelling.
Evolution of every industry
Everything in life evolves. Not only species but ideas.
Let’s look at some industries.
Five hundred years ago if you got sick, you’d either pray to a god to get better, go to a shaman, make a sacrifice, or assume you committed a sin that made you sick and would try to undo the sin.
Post-Renaissance, we had human “experts” called doctors who would either leech us to death, perform horrible surgeries that would kill us, or would pat us on the back, hammer our knee and say, “take two aspirin.”
Doctors aren't bad. They’ve saved many many lives. But Humanism has its limits. A known fact is that, on average, the moment when a doctor is most effective is his or her first year out of medical school. After that, statistically downhill.
Now when you go to a doctor, you get tests. You get blood work, you get an MRI, an EEG, an X-ray, the X-ray might go into a database and an AI algorithm matches it against other X-rays (does it match a tumour X-ray or a non-tumor X-ray?). We even get genetic testing to see if our illness is in our chromosomes.
Then, armed with data, often a computer will tell us the correct solution (and even a computer can do the robotic surgery needed), or a human will help interpret the data (but there’s room for human error here).
So medicine has evolved from
Theism → Humanism → Dataism
Let’s pick another industry:
Three thousand years ago if two countries went to war, the kings would perform massive sacrifices to their gods the day before.
In the Bible, whosever’s God was stronger (Baal versus Yahweh being a notable Hebrew battle), that group would win the war.
Fragments of this exist right now: “may the Force be with you,” said to Luke before he flies out to fight the Death Star.
For the past 500 years, whoever had the most humans on the ground, the most bullets, then the most planes, then the most bombs, would win the war.
War is being fought every day now. EVERY SINGLE DAY. Every day, some country tries to bring down the electric grid of Poland.
Every day, every Fortune 500 company is attacked by “bot armies” coming from…nobody knows.
I’ve been involved in the cyber security space for 25 years or more.
I once was talking to a company who helps Fortune 500 companies fight “bot armies.” All of the employees were top PhDs who were the experts in their fields.
One guy told me, “No matter how smart we are, they are smarter.”
Who are “they?” The people making the bot armies. Where do they come from? We don’t know. They come from everywhere. They are just smarter than us.
Elections are rigged. Companies are attacked. Information is stolen.
We have been in World War III for at least 20 years and it will never end. Dataism has taken over war.
“In God We Trust”
“George Washington.” A picture of Independence Hall. Or the White House. Anything. Anything at all so that we trust humans with what we are given in exchange for the hard labour we do every single day.
Do we trust humans? I tend to trust humans. But that is maybe not so smart all of the time. Humans make a lot of mistakes and that’s been the downfall of so many companies, so many families, and so many…everything.
Bitcoin and now other cryptocurrencies.
Thousands of man-years of science. Hundreds of thousands lines of code that have been checked by the best programmers.
Dataism prevents forgery, keeps privacy, recreates all contract law, avoids fees, avoids theft. And this is just a small sample of what data does for money.
“In data we trust” for better or worse. But it works.
The natural evolution of money has arrived. And it’s not only Bitcoin but other cryptocurrencies.
Why do we need other cryptocurrencies?
Why do we need more than one currency at all? Why is there a US dollar and a Canadian dollar?
FOR NO REASON. Just an artificial border created in 1770 and we have two different currencies.
Cryptocurrencies have what I call “problem borders.”
One coin is better than Bitcoin for making contracts (Ethereum).
Another coin is better for privacy (Zcash. A problem with Bitcoin is that although there are no names on a transaction, I can see the size and the time. So privacy is still a slight problem).
Another coin might be better for solving a problem of decentralised storage (as opposed to storing all of your photos on one centralised spot that can be hacked like Google Drive). Bitcoin doesn’t address this problem.
Problem borders create new currencies.
Is it too late to invest in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies?
Right now, this reminds me of the internet in 1995–6. There’s a bit of irrational exuberance in new coins. Prices are going crazy.
There will be a massive pullback. BUT, the legitimate coins are here to stay and will keep going.
Amazon, of course, pulled back when the internet pulled back. Now it will eventually be a trillion-dollar company. Many companies that started in the ’90s have survived and thrived and were great long-term investments that have paid off.
Cryptocurrencies are the “internet of money.” The internet is here to stay and so is the internet of money.
We are only in innings one of the cryptocurrency shift in our money.
Will cryptocurrencies replace paper money?
Yes. Eventually. It might not be Bitcoin although Bitcoin will always exist.
But each country, to solve the problems of paper money, will eventually switch. Countries that are debating it include Israel, Estonia, Venezuela, Argentina.
Countries that will use some aspects of cryptocurrency technology in their central bank will soon include China, Korea, Russia, and yes, the United States.
And many countries will reject cryptocurrencies but their population will shift en masse to cryptocurrencies in order to avoid corruption, human error, theft, etc. First on my list for this is Argentina.
What will the value of cryptocurrencies be?
When I first wrote about this, all cryptocurrencies added up was about $200 BILLION. Now it’s around $750 billion. Although I do view many of the currencies as scams so the number is really smaller.
That’s the “SUPPLY” of cryptocurrencies.
The DEMAND is the amount of paper money + gold that exists.
That number is $200 TRILLION.
So in order to go from ONE TRILLION to 200 TRILLION that’s a 200x gain. In other words, $10,000 turns into $2,000,000.
And if you focus on the legitimate currencies, the gains are much greater.
So, again, we are very much in the beginning of this. There is no other investment opportunity in our lifetime greater than this. And we ARE at the beginning.
What are the legitimate cryptocurrencies?
There are many. I don’t want to get into the weeds here and discuss all the technology.
And I also don’t like all the speculative trading that is going on in cryptocurrencies. Speculation leads to scams and bubbles.
But just like there were internet companies that survived the bust and became the companies we use every day, there are cryptocurrencies that exist now that we will use every day 10 years from now.
You said on CNBC that Bitcoin will go to a $1,000,000? Were you kidding?
Bitcoin hit $20,000 recently. We just said it could go at least as much as 200x higher. That’s $4,000,000. So even at $1,000,000, Bitcoin will be a buy.
How else can one make money in the Bitcoin sector?
You don’t have to be a software developer.
When the gold rush hit in the 1800s, Levis Jeans became the big winner. And the companies that sold “picks” and “shovels.”
There will be many pick-and-shovel companies in the Bitcoin space.
Sites that have the latest Bitcoin news and analysis will do well. Exchanges will do well. Companies that help integrate traditional companies with the deeper parts of Bitcoin technology will do well (like whoever is helping UPS integrate Blockchain tech into their logistics).
Companies that help new cryptocurrencies launch will do well.
And on and on.
Someone said you said “Bitcoin is a Ponzi scheme” in early 2013. Why should we trust you now?
First, I’m always a believer that the best investment is in yourself. This will provide greater than 200x returns.
That said, I was wrong in early 2013.
I’ve been a software guy for over 25 years. I’m able to do my research. Which I did.
By May 2013 I had already done enough research to build my own Bitcoin store, go on CNBC and discuss Bitcoin, and be an advocate when it was just $60. This is all public info.
But, for me, focusing on my physical health, emotional health, creative health, and spiritual health will always be the most valuable “currency” I can develop and trade in.
Could Bitcoin be just a fad?
Paper money DOES have the problems described above. Someone has to solve those problems. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies solve them.
And every industry evolves. Cryptocurrencies are the “in data we trust” way in which money is evolving.
And $750 BILLION believes in me on this.
Who is Satoshi?
Satoshi is the secretive founder of Bitcoin. He is worth many many billions in Bitcoin right now. He is anonymous and reporters, governments, etc. have never figured out who he is.
That said, a number of people know who he is. I read his blog every day. He is a secretive person and nobody wants to blow his cover.
Well, what should I do now?
Don’t listen to me.
a. Get an account on Coinbase(or wherever). Buy $10 worth of Bitcoin just to taste and feel it.
b. Then read. Read a lot.
Here are some books not about Bitcoin that are worth reading:
Sapiens by Yuval Hurari
The Evolution of Everything by Matt Ridley
The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson.
Antifragile by NassimTaleb
There’s a lot of discussion of cryptocurrencies on Reddit and Twitter. DO NOT read those. Most of those discussions are filled with trolls although there are some decent sources there.
Blogs/sites: start with Coindesk and CoinTelegraph. You'll find the rest as you read more.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)