What Happened to Bitcoin? – Jeffrey A. Tucker 4/14/24

Source: Brownstone.org

Those who involved themselves in Bitcoin markets after 2017 encountered a different operation and ideal than those who came before. Today, no one much cares about what came before, speaking of 2010-2016. They are only watching the upward price momentum and are thrilled for the increase in the asset valuation of their portfolio.

Gone is the talk of separating money and state, of a market-based means of exchange, of genuine revolution that would extend from money to the whole of politics the world over. And gone is the talk of changing the operation of money as a means of changing the prospects for freedom itself. The enthusiasts around Bitcoin have different goals in mind.

And during this entire period, the exact time when this digital asset might have protected multitudes of users and businesses from rapacious inflation growing out of the worst and most globalized experience of corporatist statism in modern history, made possible due to the money monopoly of central banks that funded the operation, the original asset that carries the symbol BTC was systematically diverted from its original purpose.

The ideal was nicely articulated by F.A. Hayek in 1974. Much of his career as an economist was spent arguing for sound monetary policies. At every important turning point, he faced the same problem: governments and the institutions they serve did not want sound money. They wanted to manipulate the currency system to benefit elites, not the public. Finally, he refined his argument. He concluded that the only real answer was a complete divorce of money and power.

“Nothing can be more welcome than depriving government of its power over money and so stopping the apparently irresistible trend towards an accelerating increase of the share of the national income it is able to claim,” he wrote in 1976 (two years after his Nobel Prize). “If allowed to continue, this trend would in a few years bring us to a state in which governments would claim 100 per cent of all resources—and would in consequence become literally ‘totalitarian’.”

“It may turn out that cutting off government from the tap which supplies it with additional money for its use may prove as important in order to stop the inherent tendency of unlimited government to grow indefinitely, which is becoming as menacing a danger to the future of civilisation as the badness of the money it has supplied.”

The problem in achieving this ideal was technical and institutional. So long as state money worked, there was no real drive to change it. Certainly the push would never come from the ruling classes who benefit from the present system, which is precisely where every old argument for the gold standard faltered. How to get around this problem?

In 2009, a pseudonymous developer or group released a white paper, written in language for computer scientists and not economists, for a peer-to-peer system of digital cash. For most economists at the time, its functioning was opaque and not quite believable. The proof came in the functioning itself which unfolded over the course of 2010. To summarize, it deployed a distributed ledger, double-key cryptography, and a protocol of fixed quantity to release a new form of money that operationally tied together money itself and a settlement system in one.

In other words, Bitcoin achieved the ideal about which Hayek could only dream. The key to making it all possible was the distributed ledger itself, which relied on the internet to globalize the nodes of operation, bringing a new form of accountability we had never seen in operation before. The notion of melding together the means of payment plus the mechanisms of settlement on this scale was something that had previously not been possible. And yet there it was, earning its way into the market with ever increasing valuations made possible by the distributed ledger.

So, yes, I became an early enthusiast, writing hundreds of articles, even publishing a book in 2015 called Bit By Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World. I could not have known it at the time, but those were in fact the last days of the ideal and just before the protocol came to be controlled by a consolidated group of developers who jettisoned entirely the idea of peer-to-peer cash to turn it into a high-earning digital security, not a competitor with state-based money but rather an asset designed not to use but hold with third-party intermediaries controlling access.

We saw all this unfold in real time and many of us were aghast. All that is left to us is to tell the story, which has not been done in a complete form until now. Roger Ver’s new book Hijacking Bitcoin does the job. It is a book for the ages simply because it lays out all the facts of the case and lets readers come to their own conclusion. I was honored to write the foreword, which follows….

Read More…