Posts tagged with: Electronic commerce

bitcoin-wallBitcoin is dead, long live Bitcoin.

A few weeks ago the IRS killed off any chance that Bitcoin could become a mainstream currency. That’s probably for the best since it clears the way for it to become something much more important: the world’s first completely open financial network.

Timothy B. Lee has a superb article explaining why this could be transformative. Lee highlights one particularly helpful innovation:

One obvious application is international money transfers. Companies like Western Union and Moneygram can charge as much as 8 percent to transfer cash from one country to another, and transfers can take as long as 3 days to complete. In contrast, Bitcoin transactions only take about 30 minutes to clear, and Bitcoin transaction fees could be a lot less than 8 percent.

An “alternative to Western Union” doesn’t sound revolutionary, does it? Now look at this graphic produced by The Daily Mail which shows how much money is being sent by migrants to their families back home.
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Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Wednesday, March 5, 2014

bitcoin-deadLast year I wrote a series of blog posts about what Christians should know about Bitcoin. In response, one astute reader pointed out an odd juxtaposition: my conclusion seemed to imply that Christians should avoid Bitcoin “at all cost” and yet the Acton Institute accepts donations in Bitcoin. “I really want to know the rationale behind this,” he said.

Well, the rationale is easy enough to explain: Not everyone at Acton agrees with me. Like other nerds who have an interest in the intersection of economics, liberty, and technology, many of us at Acton disagree about the merits of Bitcoin. (I’d offer to place a gentleman’s wager on the future of the crypto-currency, but they’d want to bet using Bitcoin. Either way – whether it increased in value or went defunct – I’d end up the loser.)

Opinions are still divided, but the evidence that Bitcoin is doomed to failure piles up almost every day. Over the 8 month span from October 2010 to June 2011, the market value of Bitcoins skyrocketed 9667-fold from a value of $0.06 to $29. Later, when I wrote my series last April, a single Bitcoin was worth less than $100. Today, it is worth $660, and that’s after falling from a high of $1,100 in November 2013. A currency that can fluctuate from $0.06 to $1,110 in a three-year period is not a currency – it’s a speculative bubble.

Of course, we Bitcoin doomsayers have been waiting for the bubble to pop for some time now. We also tend to think that every new drop is a sign of it’s impending doom. Fellow naysayer Jonathan Last is sure, this time, that the end of Bitcoin is near:
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2amazonOn Monday, Amazon announced that it would immediately start offering Sunday deliveries. This new initiative will not only satisfy consumers who  do not want to wait all weekend for something to arrive, but it will also give the cash strapped U.S. Postal Service revenue as they will be making the Sunday deliveries.

This might be good news for the USPS and impatient consumers, but it effectively makes Sunday another weekday. Cecelia Kang, a reporter for the Washington Post, interviewed Acton Research Fellow Jordan Ballor for the story. He predicted that Amazon’s action will likely be copied by other large corporations:

Competitors such as Wal-Mart, eBay and Google are racing to satisfy consumers virtually around the clock, aiming to deliver products just hours after someone places an online order.

“Amazon’s announcement is another incremental development in the erosion of that restful space — Sunday — and another example of an erosion on the limits of market activity,” said Jordan J. Ballor, a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, an economic think tank.

Read “For the modern consumer, the week never seems to end” in the Washington Post. Also, See Ballor’s commentary about Blue Laws and Black Friday.

Every day we hear about contemporary, serious concepts (e.g., chained CPI) and new, silly fads (Vadering), but in the modern age it’s not always easy to tell which category a new idea falls into. Take, for instance, Bitcoin. As Jordan Ballor wrote yesterday,

bitcoinIt is certainly a phenomenon worth greater attention, and something of significant cultural, social and economic import. But I’m not buying Bitcoin, at least not yet.

My initial skepticism is in part due to my lack of familiarity with the details of the currency and its formation. I certainly need to learn more.

Many of us are in the same situation as Jordan. We recognize that Bitcoin is a significant phenomenon but need to become more familiar in order to develop an informed opinion and be able to “think Christianly” about it’s value and implications. While Bitcoin is not a topic every Christian should know something about (at least not yet), it does overlap with many subject areas of particular interest for Acton PowerBlog readers: business, technology, regulation, ethics, etc. For that reason, I thought it might be helpful to write a series on Bitcoin for Christians.

Over a series of three posts I’ll provide some background information on Bitcoin, explain how it works, and consider some of the reasons why Christians need to develop an informed opinion about the cryptocurrency. The purpose of these posts is not to tell you what to think about Bitcoin (though I have begun to form my own opinion) but merely to provide information that will help you to develop an informed opinion of your own.

We should start with the question “What is Bitcoin?” but before we can answer that we need to consider a more fundamental question, “What is money?” And that question brings us to the story of the rai of Yap.

What Yap Can Teach Us About Bitcoin
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Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bitcoin-coinsWe’ve had some intriguing discussion about Bitcoin at the Acton Institute offices today. It is certainly a phenomenon worth greater attention, and something of significant cultural, social and economic import. But I’m not buying Bitcoin, at least not yet.

My initial skepticism is in part due to my lack of familiarity with the details of the currency and its formation. I certainly need to learn more.

But also in large part my skepticism is due to my doubt about the productiveness of the effort that generates the currency. Is it merely fiat money without the pretensions? Is it the logic of subjective value-theory brought to the final conclusion? I worry that the computing power expended to mine BitCoins is vacuous and parasitic at its core. It does not represent a good or service that has been provided for or contributed to anyone.

A Bitcoin has value simply because people have decided it has value. People “mine” Bitcoins because, as Whately would note, “they fetch a high price.”

But what does a Bitcoin block represent in terms of actual human utility? I worry too that this is a system that relies parasitically on real-world resources, e.g. coal which provides a large part of the electricity, which is used to run computers so that they can then in turn “mine” something entirely virtual.

What is Bitcoin teaching us, really?

If you’ve had experience with Bitcoin or thoughts about the phenomenon, please share them in the comments below.