I was going to post this as a response in the Press Hits sticky, but I've decided to just make an entire thread for it. Please just move on if you can already tell that your response will be this:
So, I want to spend some time trying to flesh out some of badness that's easily overlooked in Grant's arguments. I'll take a single example from his BitCoins: Four Objections
The issue is that BitCoins have no broadly-held use value and therefore cannot gain the necessary status for becoming a money...
We have the makings of an argument here. The conclusion is that bitcoin cannot gain the necessary status for becoming a money. A premise for that conclusion is that bitcoins have no broadly-held use-value. Of course, those propositions together don't make a valid argument, but that's ok because it's easy enough to fish out the unstated premise needed in order to form a valid argument. We get this:
Premise 1: If something does not have a broadly-held use-value, then it cannot gain the necessary status for becoming a money.
Premise 2: Bitcoin does not have a broadly-held use-value.
Conclusion: Therefore, bitcoin cannot gain the necessary status for becoming a money.
This is a valid argument, but are its premises true? The premises are at least controversial enough that to accept this argument out of hand would be to overlook some important issues. For example, what is it to have a use-value? What is it to have a broadly-used
Let's look at use-value for a second. Grant writes "In the case of use value, people value an item because they believe it will directly satisfy some desire of theirs.". Now, in the case of bitcoin we have a virtual item. This item is valued by some people. And why do they value it? Because it satisfies some of their desires! And what desires does bitcoin satisfy? I suspect it's things like the ability to use it to make instant/nearly instant digital transactions, international digital transactions, irreversible transactions, transactions with no or low transaction fees, transactions without a single centralized authority, transactions without the need to register personally identifiable information, donations to organizations with which other powerful organizations and governments disagree and disprove of, and so on. Clearly, bitcoin has a use-value for people for whom features in that list (and others that aren't) are valuable
. Bitcoin has use-value to some people
But, does bitcoin have a broadly-held
use-value? I'm happy to concede the second premise that right now it doesn't have a broadly-held
use-value. But, let me ask this. On February 5th, 2009 bitcoin, if it had any use-value at all at the time, had use-value to one person – Satoshi Nakamoto. Let's check something. At that time did bitcoin have a broadly-held
use-value? This is silly. No, of course it didn't. For the sake of argument, because I don't know the stats, let's say that by April 1st, 2009, bitcoin had 10 participants – that is, 10 people for whom it had use-value. Let's do another check. Did bitcoin at that time have a broadly-held
Now let's ask a slightly different question. On April 1st, 2009 was bitcoin's use-value broader
than it was on February 5th, 2009? Yes. It's use-value on April 1st was more
broadly-held than on February 5th. That need not mean it's use-value was broadly-held, only that is was more broadly-held than before (I might not be tall but it would still be correct to say of me that I'm now taller than I was when I was 4). What about now compared to then? It's use-value is quite clearly and very significantly more broadly-held
than, say, on April 1st, 2009. My question is this: If it's true that bitcoin's use-value can become more broadly-held
at one time compared to another, then it seems reasonable to believe that it can
become sufficiently more broadly-held
such that it's broadly-held enough to be, well, just broadly-held (say, relative to society at large).Simply put, contrary to premise 1, it seems well within the realm of possibility for something (some exchangeable) to, in fact, not have a broadly-held use-value at a certain time, yet still be able to gain the necessary status for becoming money (and a subsequent time).
Let's generalize Grant's argument:
Premise 1': If P does not have Q, then P cannot gain the necessary status for becoming R.
Premise 2': P does not have Q.
Conclusion': Therefore, P cannot gain the necessary status for becoming R.
Let's try it out in a non-bitcoin case:
Premise 1'': If a human zygote does not have lungs, then a human zygote cannot gain the necessary status for becoming an infant.
Premise 2'': A human zygote does not have lungs.
Conclusion'': Therefore, a human zygote cannot gain the necessary status for becoming an infant.
This is obviously absurd. Human zygotes, by and by, frequently gain the necessary status for becoming infants despite the fact that they don't have lungs. Why should this argument type not apply to human zygotes and becoming infants, but should apply to bitcoin and becoming money? Right? I mean we should expect that if premise 1'' holds it's because it's based on some general principle that if something doesn't have a certain property, then it can't gain the necessary status for becoming the sort of thing that must have that property. But, clearly, and with very little imagination, we can think of all sorts of things that start out not having a property and then, by and by, become
the sort of thing that must have that property. There are lots of Ps that become Qs despite the fact that those Ps don't have all of Q's properties. That's just what it is for things to change.
Bitcoin may, in fact, not end up becoming money (and we're granting here that being broadly-used is actually a necessary property of a money, which we could probably, and should probably contend). But it's not that its failure to become a money will be because it could not have
become a money, because at some time it didn't have a necessary property of money, as Grant claims. There's nothing impossible about bitcoin gaining
the property in question – a broadly-used use-value. It has use-value. It can
gain a broadly-used use-value.I
see lots of this sort of sloppiness in Grant's arguments. But, hey, maybe I have logicfail. So, help me out, please.