What Economists Don’t Understand About Bitcoin

Of all the things to irritate a Bitcoin enthusiast, perhaps the worst is when economists come out with their negative opinions regarding Bitcoin. Paul Krugman, the prince of establishment economists, recently publish “Transaction Costs and Tethering”. The article explained why he believed Bitcoin would collapse, and was designed to create controversy.

The first thing we all need to realize is that Bitcoin is at its core an anti-establishment construct, whereas economists are all “buyers” of the current system and believe it is working well. These economists look at HODL’ers belief that Bitcoin is a hedge against the fiat system as a fringe bet, whereas Bitcoiners generally believe there are major problems endemic in the system.

Bitcoin as an Inefficient Protocol

The common point naysayer will make (and Krugman did rest heavily on this point) is that Bitcoin is extremely inefficient. The amount of electricity it uses and fees charges for transactions is higher than any option in our current system, and it is a step backwards.

What these criticisms fail to factor in is the fact this is all on purpose. Efficiency isn’t always a good thing. The army maxim “two is one, and one is none” could be considered inefficient, but sometimes survival is more important than efficiency.

Efficiency is what has brought about much of global warming and pollution. It was “more efficient” to do things a certain way, but that also led to short-term compromises of the future. And as more investors come out to say we can expect major problems in our future due to the way the economy has been run, it is possible that the way the pensions, fiscal deficit and financial markets have been managed might not have been the safest way.

Safety in Volatility

Bitcoiners tend to believe that Bitcoin is a safer method than the current system, even though there is a high degree of volatility. All the risk is visible, like waves on a lake, whereas the dangerous part lies beneath the water.

The argument that the current fiat system has held up well is true, but that says nothing about where the market is going to go in the future. As we know regarding investment funds, past performance doesn’t indicate future returns. This applies to the entire financial system and is exactly why Bitcoin is taking such a strong hold on the zeitgeist at this period in time.

Economists seem generally unable (or unwilling) to grasp the idea of an impending crash that changes the entire economy. But then again, were they ever able to accurately predict crashes and crises in the past?

What This Means For the Future

The fact that this group of financial experts can’t understand the “doom and gloom” predictions of those who are pro-Bitcoin says a lot about how they think about risk in the markets. The future is always uncertain, and an improvement in efficiency today says nothing about improvements that may occur tomorrow. It may be preferable to have a robust solution that can withstand a massive crisis than to put all of our trust in banks.

If anything, the real estate crash of 2007 and continuing sovereign debt crisis should be enough of a problem that we can all admit the system isn’t perfect. Yes, the US dollar has served the economy well until now, but the future is always uncertain. Efficiency has gotten us this far without major calamity, but it might be time to focus on safety in the markets as well. And as anyone who has struggled to put a life jacket on knows, safety is inefficient.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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