So, a while back, Atlas had paid me a couple BTC to write an article for him which would be posted on some website that he was working on. He had requested the rights to its usage, but seeing as the website he mentioned is nowhere to be found, I figured I would put it to some other use. I also sent him messages seeing if he still had any plans for the article, but I never received a response.
So, here it is...my Money/Bitcoin Article:
Money’s Fundamental Flaw: The Displacement of Value
To those of you who have stumbled across this article, it is likely that you frequent the Bitcoin community online forum at www.Bitcointalk.org
. I have been a Bitcoin- and forum user since the time immediately following the burst of the June bubble. One of the first posts I made on the community forum referenced an idea I have had about money for quite some time. Now, keep in mind that I am no economic genius. In fact, I’ve never taken a class in anything economically related as far as I recall. However, I have a feeling that what I am about to discuss is completely tangential to anything I or anyone else could ever hope to learn from a class on economics. After all, there is an a priori assumption that money is here to stay -- economics classes don’t question the value of money, they assume it.
Over the past few months, I’ve grown to love Bitcoin for a number of reasons. I’ll admit, many of these reasons are selfish ones. Speculation readily contributes to a large percentage of these reasons; who wouldn’t be enticed by the possibility of acquiring unfathomable wealth like the first generation of early adopters? The way I see it, the chances of getting rich from Bitcoin by jumping on-board early far exceed the chances of winning the lottery. In the meantime, day-trading Bitcoins is the perfect mix between adrenaline-pumping gambling and short-term investing.
My other reasons for liking Bitcoin are not selfish. In theory, I favor the idea of decentralized currency over current economic systems. I like the idea of being able to send money from point A to point B in the same, simple manner without the distance between points A and B becoming an issue. I like the idea of people being in control of their money and taking personal responsibility for it. And, I like that Bitcoin is sensitive to the future needs of humanity, especially in a world where instantaneous, international transactions can fuel global commerce and technological developments.
Now, these unselfish reasons don’t really matter to me. I suppose they would matter more if Bitcoin was a global reality. If this was the case, I would be forced to adapt to that reality as I have adapted to my current reality, the one in which fiat currency reigns supreme. But it’s the selfish reasons that keep me using Bitcoin at present, not the unselfish ones. Bitcoin is a source of income in the present. The name of the game is money, and fiat is the referee. And, even though I don’t like all the calls, I still can’t wait to play every day. In fact, I want to be an all-star.
Money is powerful. With money I can get people to do all sorts of things for me at my beckoning. Heck, with money, I bet I can get YOU to do all sorts of things for me. Maybe it’s just me, but I think all of us have drawn an imaginary money-line in our minds and we think, “If only I had x amount of dollars, I could live my life the way that I want to.” But, until you acquire enough wealth to surpass that imaginary threshold, money will always be at least a slight concern to you.
So, what’s the problem? Money is needed, isn’t it? How else can global commerce and industry function? Well, once upon a time, money hadn’t been invented yet. Bartering existed prior to the invention of money, but bartering seemingly doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of fulfilling the requirements needed for international trade. Here’s how I think a typical dialogue between large businesses might unfold in a bartering economy:
Company A: “Hi, is this Quaker? Yes, we would like to order 500,000 boxes of Captain Crunch, please.”
Company B: “Surely! And what might you be able to offer us in return?”
Company A: “We have properly amassed 10 million plastic spoons.”
Company B: “Click.”
Obviously, some globally-accepted standard of value is needed to execute such large transactions. Capitalism invokes competition which leads to big business; this is nothing we haven’t heard before. But, big businesses make big transactions and there is no way that the individuals atop the pyramid have any need for 10 million plastic spoons, cereal boxes, t-shirts, shoes, or even cars and houses. Without a global standard of value, these transactions are dead before they even get off the ground.
Allowing a caveat for a radical ideological shift (perhaps ‘true’ communism -- not the kind we have witnessed unfold throughout history that has undoubtedly failed due to greed, corruption, and deviants of the system), it thus seems impossible that international commerce can continue its frenzied pace without money. But, I would like to take on the ambitious task of raising the following question: Is the convenience of money and its contributions to global commerce worth it?
By now, you might be wondering where I am going with all of this. Enter Bitcoin. Bitcoin seems to be one man’s/community’s answer to the question, “If centralized currency is no good, what is a better alternative?” I would instead like to rephrase the question to read, “If centralized currency is no good, what is the best alternative?” And, having the critical mind that I do, I had to ask if the lack of money might, in fact, be preferable to monetary systems.
When people trade as in a bartering system, they are left to their own devices to determine if they got a good deal. Any person, no matter how stupid, can place their own subjective value upon a good they desire. Then, they can place their own subjective value upon goods they can offer in exchange. The whole deal turns into a very simple math problem: If the value I place on the goods I want is equal-to or greater-than the value I place on the goods I am offering, then I’m a happy camper.
Unfortunately, money doesn’t work like this. It doesn’t even matter if money is backed by something like gold or not, money does strange things to the human psyche. Let me give you an example. I don’t know what you love, but I love my guitars. One guitar, the first guitar I ever owned, is a beautiful American-made Randy Rhoads Jackson Half-V guitar. The craftsmanship on the guitar is incredible. The wood on this guitar, unlike cheaper guitars, sounds better with age, much like how fine wines mature over time. I also have two other guitars which are not so nice, but I love them all the same. Playing my guitars is intrinsically beneficial for me, and it makes me happy. In 100 out of 100 scenarios, I would always prefer to keep any of my guitars over, say, a watch. Watches don’t make me happy. They aren’t intrinsically beneficial to me. I don’t even care if the watch is resistant to nuclear explosions and is submersible to the depth of the Mariana Trench. But, if that watch is 24k gold, you better believe I’d prefer the watch. Hell, I’d even buy a brand new guitar and give it to you for the watch (if anyone reading this wants to take me up on this offer, let me know!).
So, what on Earth is going on here? Why on earth would I immediately prefer to have some “dumb rock” (i.e. gold) over something that leaves me content, satisfied, and happy time and time again? If someone offered me an aluminum watch for my guitar, I’d probably start thumbing through the section of psychotic disorders in my DSM-IV so that I’d at least have a conceptual framework to help explain the insanity of his offer. Well, here is what I believe is going on, and it is the crux of this article: Money displaces a person’s subjective value of a thing and redistributes it according to a currency’s accepted value. As a result, I argue that the simple existence of currency completely reframes our interpretation of reality. And, I don’t think this reframing is a good thing.
I assume that anyone reading this is already familiar with the pitfalls of fiat currency, but something akin to the gold standard does nothing to address this situation, either. A long time ago, rocks used to have a purpose. Rocks that could be shaped yet remain resistant to breakage would have likely been seen as more valuable in terms of utility than gold. These rocks were common enough that you could find them using your individual capacities. And, these rocks could be used to kill your dinner, help you cut it up, help to build the fire that would both cook your dinner and emit heat to warm you during the night, and help you to construct a safe, dry shelter. Actually, they can still do these things.
Whereas rocks that are capable of performing these tasks are quite common, gold is quite rare. It’s an interesting paradox that gold, though also capable of performing these same tasks, is regarded as so valuable, but the things that seem truly valuable are the “rocks” and other common elements that we depend on for survival on a daily basis. Do we have it backwards? Why does gold’s rarity contribute so highly to its value when far more common elements can help achieve many of the same tasks? While I understand that some valuable metals or stones have properties that make them suitable for specialized jobs (diamond’s extreme density comes to mind), one’s survival does not usually depend on these specialized jobs. Instead, we depend on tools that allow us to eat and sleep in comfort. We do not depend on diamond-etching.
Now, I’m sure there are plenty of specialized jobs in fields such as medicine or engineering that are enhanced by the properties of these rare metals or stones that do, in fact, cater to man’s survival and comfort. But, if these jobs promote healing, growth, and comfort, why is the price for these materials so high? Especially if life or happiness is at stake, why aren’t we giving them away? Is there not a way to make these materials available for jobs that aid people that doesn’t come with a ludicrous price tag? While this price tag may prevent the general population from hoarding these rare materials for themselves (thus preventing well-to-do companies from acquiring and implementing them for humanity‘s benefit), the problem of money creeps up again: If the value of these materials wasn’t determined by money, would people want to hoard them so badly?
In this way, money shapes our reality before our eyes continually and unrelentingly. Ironically, even those with large sums of wealth are controlled by its power, for it is the power of money that drives their desire to acquire it. Because we live in an age where basic needs are not typically a day-to-day concern, money gains additional power over us. It diverts our attention away from that which is intrinsically beneficial to us toward a realm of imaginative speculation fortified by the beliefs of billions of individuals. And these beliefs are very, very strong. These beliefs lead many of us (and, through law, direct us) to delve into nearly two decades of bureaucratic education just so we have a competitive edge in our quest for money. Our contributions to society are often measured in terms of economic output, and while this output may be indirectly related to a person’s well-being, it is in no way directly responsible for it. Contributions are not defined in terms of smiles or anything that remotely represents an operational measure for happiness. Isn’t happiness what we all want, anyway? By definition, wouldn’t a happy life be the most satisfying?
Now, I wouldn’t dare say that money has complete control over us, nor does its power completely influence our decisions. The closer we find ourselves to human tragedy, the more likely we are to make sacrifices to remedy it -- deep down, we know what is truly important, and money isn‘t it. Perhaps it is from this sequestered realm of human intuition that Bitcoin has sprung forth in all of it’s digital glory. Bitcoin is thoughtful, and while it does not address the problem of money as I have identified it, it proposes a bright alternative to traditional economic systems. Perhaps Bitcoin can, over time, dampen the power of money over people through decentralization, but this has yet to be seen, and the number of Bitcoin-related scams, alternative crypto-currencies, and phishing attempts allude to the idea that we are a long way off from securing a corruption-ridden economic future for mankind. I am fearful that we will never succeed as a species in overcoming a problem that we have created for ourselves, and equally fearful that we will continue to live our lives blindly influenced by the power of money, giving up our guitars and other things that make us grow as individuals for the additional capacity to exert control over others. Balance is needed to halt greed and corruption while simultaneously allowing for avenues to both economic growth and growth of the human spirit. And, while I remain skeptical, I hope that Bitcoin is the solution that proves me wrong.