The Truth About Bitcoin and Internet Security
“The root and source of all monetary evil is the government control of money.”—Friedrich Hayek
Rising into a gray Baltimore dawn after nearly two hours of rousing live video, I feel less like a prophet on the way to the White House tomorrow, and more like a hungover pilot after a bombing raid.
I detonated predictions of “doom” for Bitcoin and Ethereum, the two leading blockchains, dim futures for 5G wireless spectrum auction winners, and dethronement of the dollar as reserve currency by new cryptocurrencies, including one to be launched by China’s central bank.
The rule in predictions is to tell what or tell when, but never foretell both at once. But I declared that it would all happen in the whopping year of 2020, glowering down at us less than three months away.
The doom for Bitcoin and Ethereum is only partial. They will survive my bombs, but will sink into specialized niches suited to their particular limitations.
Today, I will discuss the bitcoin prophecy.
Bitcoin and Blockchain: Looking Ahead
Bitcoin suffers from its 21 million cap on the number of total units to be released by 2040. It is already close to 17 million. Defining a currency by the number of units rather than by the price of each unit was Satoshi’s tactical coup. It evoked sugar plums in the minds of many purchasers and it accelerated — or even possibly enabled — bitcoin’s adoption. Its first miner and advocate Hal Finney calculated that as it took over its role in global transactions, each coin would ultimately be worth $10 million.
Each coin could be broken down into a potential 100 million “Satoshis,” each worth a dime. But the number of coins was rigidly limited.
The 21 million cap was a strategic error because it made bitcoin too volatile and speculative to serve as viable transactions medium or unit of account. The cap thus prevents it from functioning as a currency or monetary measuring stick.
Satoshi aimed to create “digital gold.” But as Mike Kendall, author of the authoritative Man on the Margin blog, has calculated, if bitcoin’s supply tracked the growth of gold through mining, there would be not 21 million units in 2140 but 316 million units.
The blockchain aims to be a distributed immutable database for timestamped transactions beyond centralized control. With a mathematical hash or fingerprint of all transactions on every node in the network, it is impossible to hack without capturing more than half the nodes.
While the cap attracted investors and traders, however, it disabled bitcoin and its blockchain architecture as a joint remedy for the twofold hacking crisis in the world economy — the hacking of internet sites by spies and saboteurs and the hacking of world money by Central Banks and politicians.
The more that is spent on internet security the less secure becomes the net. After cracking the threshold of one billion breaches of personal data in 2018, the net is on track for three billion breaches in 2019. While internet security becomes a bonanza business, the Internet becomes catastrophically less secure.
As a result, no one trusts anyone on the net and it disintegrates into national fragments. The exclusion of Huawei equipment from the US is chiefly the result of this technical failure causing a breakdown in trust.
Bitcoin is becoming a niche currency good for large international transactions and emergency use in broken economies such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe. But despite the rise of “Lightening’s” off-chain transaction channels, bitcoin has failed both as a currency for transactions and as a platform for applications.
Adding to the volatility flaw of the 21 million cap is the shrinkage of rewards for “mining.” Inflicting this effect is the quadrennial halving of bitcoin block rewards for the so-called miners who compete to assemble blocks of transactions and validate them for the system. This payoff is about to drop from 12 bitcoins to six bitcoins, reducing the total value of rewards from around $400 million to $200 million depending on the bitcoin price.
As bitcoin approaches its cap, it has a tendency both to centralization and fragmentation. With a decline in rewards, control migrates to an ever-smaller group of the most successful miners. When the system fractures into different coinages through what are called hard forks — now original bitcoin, bitcoin cash, and bitcoin Satoshi version — mining rewards shrink still further. The system becomes vulnerable to a centralized takeover called a 51% attack.
Mimicking gold, any coinage that can become a monetary measuring stick must seek a target not of total units but permanent price. With a set price, a coin will expand to the degree that it is demanded for investment and transactions. An expanding currency will attract more miners, more uses, and remain decentralized.
Bitcoin faces an inexorable choice. Abolish the cap or become merely an historic symbol: the vehicle for the historic breakthrough of bringing the blockchain invention to the world.
The blockchain remains the best hope for a solution to the dual hacking crisis: a new internet architecture that brings real security and new monies that escape manipulation.
New blockchain is coming. On Monday, I will analyze Ethereum and its many rivals and challengers.
Editor, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy