Bitcoin’s Civil War

bitcoin

What does the world need less than a computer-generated currency called bitcoin? I’d say two computer-generated currencies called bitcoin.

But for at least the time being, that’s what it has.

A two-year feud about the future of bitcoin led a group of frustrated cryptocurrency enthusiasts to break away in a technical maneuver called a “hard fork.” The result: Bitcoin Cash, a confusingly named offshoot of bitcoin.

As Dan Morehead, founder and CEO of Pantera Capital, told Wired, “Bitcoin’s an incredibly well-known brand and to the extent it’s fracturing into various pieces, that’s confusing to regulators and consumers.” Many of those regulators and consumers were, rightfully, wary of bitcoin to begin with. This fracture is unlikely to improve anyone’s opinion.

The debate that led to the hard fork centered on the limit on the number of transactions the bitcoin network could handle, called the “block size” limit. Without diving into the details, the disagreement boiled down to those who see bitcoin as a commodity – the digital equivalent of gold – and those who would like it to become a cash substitute. (This despite the fact that it is not truly in a position to act that way.)

Bitcoin Cash may simply fade away if too few people use the bitcoin alternative. But other virtual “currencies” have split successfully – Ethereum forked in 2016 and both resulting blockchains (digital ledgers that track transactions) are still running – so it is possible that bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash may both linger.

As columnist Matt Levine observed at Bloomberg: “…honestly who knows; you should not expect bitcoin markets to operate sensibly.”

As I have previously written, bitcoin is a solution in search of a legitimate problem. We can easily understand why hackers and other bad actors might want an untraceable, seizure-resistant asset they can readily move across borders and exchange for genuine government-issued cash. But why does a legitimate business want to use bitcoin instead of the banking system?

Banks do charge sometimes-steep fees, it’s true. Bitcoin is much cheaper to move around – but only if you don’t factor in its frequent and wild swings in value against genuine money.

Suppose you are an American tenant, and you had agreed back in February 2017 to pay your landlord two bitcoins per month in rent. At the time, your rent would have been equivalent to about $2,000. In late July it would have been more than $5,000. Obviously, your landlord would have been ecstatic, but things could just as easily move the other direction.

And you have to keep your bitcoins someplace. You can’t stuff them in a mattress, because they aren’t physically real. You can’t deposit them in a legally organized and regulated bank. You can only leave them in some form of digital wallet, most of which are maintained by the companies that also perform trading services. But what happens if some of those bitcoins held by such custodians should disappear?

Hint: There is no Securities Investor Protection Corporation or Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that covers missing bitcoins. It’s the Wild West out there.

And now we have a bitcoin clone. Its value will fluctuate not only against real money, but against the original bitcoin. (Bitcoin Cash settled in its first day of trading at around 10 percent of the value of original bitcoin, The Wall Street Journal reported.) In other words, it solves none of bitcoin’s original problems, and creates several more.

This is an idea whose time has not come and, I suspect, never will. Remember what happened to Confederate money when the government that had issued it ceased to exist. Bitcoin never had government backing in the first place. It is legal tender for nothing. And now we have two of them.

You’ll have to celebrate without me.

About Larry M. Elkin 553 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

Visit: Palisades Hudson

2 Comments on Bitcoin’s Civil War

  1. “You can’t stuff them in a mattress, because they aren’t physically real. You can’t deposit them in a legally organized and regulated bank. You can only leave them in some form of digital wallet, most of which are maintained by the companies that also perform trading services.” This is totally incorrect – while all wallets are technically digital, cold storage is often a safe option and I can, in fact, stuff my printed Bitcoin wallets in my mattress.

  2. “but only if you don’t factor in its frequent and wild swings in value against genuine money” How “genuine” is fiat currency… the U.S. version being subject to more than 100 years of Federal Reserve manipulation that has devalued the dollar more than 98%?

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