You should be thankful for Bitcoin even if you didn’t get rich, even if you think it’s a scam, and even if the Winklevoss twins don’t feature in your fantasies of financial utopia.
You should be thankful for Bitcoin even if it was invented by a comic-book supervillain, and even if the code he futzed with in his basement a decade ago multiplied into a power-hungry Napoleon testing the limits of our electrical and electoral grids — as well as our sanity.
You should be thankful for Bitcoin even if it means every financial transaction in history will be written onto one of those endlessly long drugstore receipts.
You should be thankful for Bitcoin even if the most profitable use of all the world’s computing power today is solving Sudoku puzzles (in order to generate that endlessly long drugstore receipt).
You should be thankful for Bitcoin even if the insufferable tech bros and their Sudoku-solving supercomputers both spend their days running an infinite loop of the same word: “mine, mine, mine, mine, mine … ”
I know. I know. “Think?” Hasn’t Bitcoin mania caused people to do the opposite of thinking?
Yes. If all the bubbles in history from Dutch tulips to Disney superhero movies teach us anything, it’s that greed doesn’t heed.
And yet, Bitcoin
has made us think. It’s made us think about the very nature of money, the sheer weirdness of money, which most of the time we’re too busy spending, saving or worrying about to actually think about.
In the past month alone I heard kids on the subway debating fiat currency, Uber drivers ranting about central bankers — hell, even my mom has had some choice words about the best store of value. You don’t have to believe Bitcoin will herald a new era of nationless, inflationless finance to appreciate that it’s already achieved something unthinkable.
Bitcoin is a philosopher’s stone. It’s also a pet rock. It’s worthless, and it’s worth millions. It’s magic, and it’s marketing — and it reminds us that these same contradictions are true of all money.
What is money? Dictionaries and economics textbooks prove inadequate to answer, as Dickens’s flustered Mr. Dombey demonstrates when his son poses the question. Money is “coined liberty,” says Dostoyevsky. It is “frozen desire,” the writer James Buchan puts it in his superb book by the same title. “Money takes wishes, however vague or trivial or atrocious, and broadcasts them to the world, like the Mayday of a ship in difficulties.”
Is it really so absurd that some dude from MIT can point a finger and declare, ‘Let there be Litecoin,’ and suddenly he has enough cash to buy his own Caribbean island?
Money is a “social technology,” the economist Felix Martin says — one of the twin pillars on which civilization was built. Writing was the other. Of course, writing was originally money, too.
When prehistoric Steve Jobs unveiled the invention of writing in his Mesopotamian keynote five thousand years ago, writing’s killer app wasn’t poetry, philosophy or presidential tweets — it was keeping track of debts. The early adopters were the proto-CPAs, and they probably drove all their friends bananas gushing about the stone slab’s cuneiform factor.
All of this is to say the most important thing to remember about money is that we made it all up. Money is an act of imagination. It’s a fiction. The great American novel isn’t “Huck”; it’s the buck.
With that in mind, is it really so absurd that some dude from MIT can point a finger and declare, “Let there be Litecoin,” and suddenly he has enough cash to buy his own Caribbean island?
OK. That is still pretty absurd. It’s as…