We’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.