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Mises: Is Bitcoin Money of the Future or Old-Fashioned Bubble?

Is Bitcoin Money of the Future or Old-Fashioned Bubble?

Mises Daily: Tuesday, April 09, 2013 by Patrik Korda

Bitcoin has been all the rage lately. The stuff, or lack thereof, runs on peer-to-peer technology, is fully decentralized, has no patents, and is open source. Currently, there are almost 11 million bitcoin units in existence and the maximum amount of bitcoin units that will ever be created by the logic of its design are 21 million. For more details on how they work, see the recent Mises Daily “The Money-Ness of Bitcoins” by economist Nikolay Gertchev.

The Issue

While bitcoins are designed so that they cannot be hyperinflated in name, they certainly can be hyperinflated in substance. Already, there are numerous knockoffs such as litecoin, namecoin, and freicoin in place. This is a particularly valid point because bitcoin is a starfish, i.e., it is fully decentralized. As stated by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom,

The starfish doesn’t have a head. Its central body isn’t even in charge. In fact, the major organs are replicated throughout each and every arm. If you cut the starfish in half, you’ll be in for a surprise: the animal won’t die, and pretty soon you’ll have two starfish to deal with.[1]

After the music-sharing service Napster went under, Niklas Zennström (the creator of Skype) stepped in with his creation called Kazaa, which had no central server that could be shut down. Eventually, such peer-to-peer programs became more numerous, to include Kazaa Lite, eDonkey, eMule, BitTorrent, etc. While this may be good news for people who like to download and share content for free, it certainly is not for people who are under the impression that bitcoin is a hedge against inflation. Those who compare bitcoin to a language neglect the fact that most people do not have an incentive to create a new language out of the blue. On the other hand, a great chunk of human history consists of people searching for the philosopher’s stone to magically produce gold. There can be no doubt that bitcoin has a built-in gold rush mechanism, which has already spilled over to litecoin and will be sure to spill over to
subsequent knockoffs as well.[2]


Does bitcoin jibe with the Austrian stand on money? The only way to find out is to read what the great Austrians had to say. Let’s start with Carl Menger. In Principles of Economics, Carl Menger made the point that money, a general medium of exchange, has always tended to be the most “saleable” (i.e., “marketable” or “liquid”) commodity of the time.

What is saleability? It is not simply value. One may have a Picasso at home, which will fetch quite a sum at a Sotheby’s auction during a boom, but a Picasso, like a poem by Friedrich Shiller, a work of Sanskrit, or a decades-old bottle of red wine can never be the most saleable good. As Menger put it, saleability is the

facility with which [a good] can be disposed of at a market at any convenient time at current purchasing prices, or with less or more diminution of the same. (...) Compare only the number of persons to whom bread and meat can be sold with the number to whom astronomical instruments can be sold.

Menger went on to point out that cattle were the most saleable commodity in the ancient world. This is perfectly understandable in a world where bare-bones subsistence is a reality for most people and the structure of production is virtually nonexistent. As society progressed, however, cattle became less and less marketable.

As civilization progressed, Menger states that,

… peoples who were led to adopt a copper standard as a result of the material circumstances under which their economy developed, passed on from the less precious metals to the more precious ones, from copper and iron to silver and gold, with the further development of civilization, and especially with the geographical extension of commerce.

Gold won out due to a variety of reasons, such as being durable, amalgamable, malleable, divisible, homogeneous, and rare. Yet, the ultimate reason that gold won out is because it was the most saleable of commodities. As Menger went on to write,

Gold nuggets extracted from the sands of the Aranyos River by a dirty Transylvanian gypsy are just as saleable in his hands as in the hands of the owner of [the] gold mine, provided the gypsy knows where to find the right market for his commodity. Gold nuggets can pass through any number of hands without any decrease whatsoever in marketability. But articles of clothing, bedding, prepared foods, etc., would be suspect and almost unsaleable, or at any rate of greatly depreciated value, in the hands of the gypsy, even if they had not been used by him, and even if he had, from the beginning, acquired them only with the intention of passing them on in exchange.

This leads us to another criticism of bitcoin: It can never be the most saleable good. The reasoning for this is quite simple. Until the majority of the 7 billion or so people that inhabit this planet have either a smart phone or frequent access to the internet, a digital currency is out of the question.

Gold, on the other hand, is easily recognizable, as opposed to silver that may be mistaken for other metals such as nickel. Moreover, it melts at a relatively low temperature and is a relatively soft metal, which provides superior amalgamation and partly explains why it historically won out over metals such as platinum. If one questions the role of gold in the present monetary system, one only has to walk down the street in a metropolitan area and see a ‘We Buy Gold’ sign. Moreover, central banks hold gold and lots of it. They do not hold cattle, wheat, soybeans, copper, silver, or bitcoins.

Menger also wrote,

I am ready to admit that, under highly developed conditions of trade, money is regarded by many economizing men only as a token. But it is quite certain that this illusion would immediately be dispelled if the character of coins as quantities of industrial raw materials
were lost.

While it may very well be true that some early adopters valued bitcoins with what Menger described as imaginary value, the point of the most saleable good bears repeating. Gold is and has been seen as an object of beauty since the dawn of civilization. Thus, the argument that bitcoins are in accord with the regression theorem because a handful of people consume them as they would a Picasso, is like saying paper money has value because John Law or Ben Bernanke really enjoy playing monopoly. In fact, we might as well say that alchemy works, considering that a significant amount of human history and energy was spent in attempting to find the philosopher’s stone. Some people may enjoy work just for the sake of working. Unfortunately, this is not a sufficient justification for slavery nor the labor theory of value.


With the imminent hyperinflation meme fading away and no longer holding much water, the new reason to hold bitcoins is the anonymity, nay, the freedom that it provides. Want to gamble online or buy something illegal? Bitcoins are the solution. It is a way of circumventing the authorities and uplifting free and voluntary trade, or so goes the story. Unfortunately for many of the misinformed, the reality is toto caelo. It would be best to take it from bitcoin developer Jeff Garzik himself. The fun starts at 3:20.

The ironic part about this is that anyone and everyone who has participated in illegal activity using bitcoins, presumably because they thought it was anonymous, now has a permanent record of every single one of their transactions contained on the public ledger. Those who think they are clever by using add-ons such as Tor are just as foolish as those who think prepaid cards or smart phones are anonymous. Imagine if bitcoins existed 50 years ago. Chances are, none of the last three presidents (including Barack Obama) would have run for office.

Bubble Time?

The question left to be answered is whether or not bitcoin is once again taking the shape of a bubble. The answer is yes. There is present a reflexive pattern of people buying because prices are rising, and prices rising because people are buying. The myopic are extrapolating the price trend of the past four months, which they deem is normal, and in so doing they exacerbate it to the upside, thus attracting even greater fools. The inflection point will come when the continuity of bullish thought is broken. One thing is for sure, the amount of suckers left who are willing to jump on the moving and ever-accelerating train is drawing thin, and so are their pockets.

When prices for any asset go parabolic, it does technical damage to a chart. It is sort of like someone deciding to go full speed in the middle of a marathon. Surely, one would look good for a few minutes. However, at a certain point one would inevitably collapse, with the possibilities of finishing the race being greatly diminished, let alone doing as well as they would have otherwise.

Gold went parabolic toward the second half of 2011 to $1,900/oz., which did a lot of technical damage to the charts that gold is just now beginning to shake off. Like Icarus, who had soared too high and melted the wax on his wings, parabolic moves always end in a correction, and if prolonged, a crash. Ironically, the best thing that can happen for bitcoin naysayers is if bitcoin skyrockets to $300/btc within a week.

There is nothing anti-Austrian about acknowledging that there exists in the market place a lot of naïve, irrational, and misinformed players. During the dotcom bubble, for example, a maintenance and building company called Temco Services almost tripled in a matter of minutes in 1998. The reason is because by 1998 every other layperson was involved in the market. Thus, the level of competence significantly dropped. The ticker symbol for Temco is TMCO, which was fairly close to that of Ticketmaster Online, which was TMCS. Ticketmaster Online (then TMCS) just happened to trade publicly for the first time on the day that Temco Services (TMCO) tripled. Rising asset prices create euphoria, and euphoria significantly drops the IQ of the participants.

Another reason why bitcoin is so susceptible to bubble behavior is because it is perceived as being something new. “New era” thinking always attracts lots of attention. The tulip was introduced to Europe by way of Turkey in the middle of the sixteenth century. (In fact, the word tulip came from the Turkish tulipan, which means turban.) The tulip was perceived as something new to Amsterdam, a country which at the time possessed an abundance of newly discovered gold and silver from the New World. Likewise, the Mississippi bubble, which was perpetrated by John Law, promised vast riches to be had from the New World. The manias in railways, the radio, the internet, you name it, most of them involved something new or something perceived to be new.

There is no doubt that bitcoin is a spontaneous answer to the monetary instability that we see all around us today. On one side of the pond people are worried about the glorified currency peg known as the Euro and on the other about the amount of damage that Bernanke is willing to inflict upon the world’s reserve currency. However, let us not become so enamored of an innovative stateless solution that we forget Austrian economics and hitch libertarianism’s wagon to something heading for a crash.

- - - - -

Patrik Korda holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from BISLA and currently lives in New York, NY, where he works in market research. Follow him and Professor Mark Thornton on Fighting Apoplithorismosphobia. See Patrik Korda's article archives.

You can subscribe to future articles by Patrik Korda via this RSS feed.



The Starfish and the Spider
was originally published in 2006

Consider that bitcoin started at $35/btc in March and is currently at $185/btc, this is an increase of 429%. However, litecoin started at $0.07/ltc in March and is currently at $4.49/ltc, this is an increase of 6,314%. It makes perfect sense for people to pile into knockoffs because the potential profits, due to starting from a much smaller base, are exponentially higher. This is the gold rush mechanism at work.

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Korda and Language:

Korda in saying that there is no incentive to create a new "language." Yeah there is, the Internet: the internet has proven to be a great communications protocol that facilitates interaction- When bitcoiners use the analogy of language to explain bitcoins, it refers to the bitcoin protocol. Korda mistakes the analogy between the bitcoin protocol and means of communication. He thinks that bitcoiners are referring strictly to a language.

There is ANOTHER argument that explain the market influence of bitcoin to that of a given language such as english. Yes english has the most market penetration in comparison to spanish; just as bitcoin has more market penetration than lite coin.

Yes there is an incentive for people to invent a new protocol better than bitcoins; but it has to offer something better than bitcoin (Look at my argument below with the yahoo/google example).

People cannot invent a better language; for other human languages would not offer something significantly different than the english language or spanish language. They would have to invent another superior communications protocol that is superior to any human language; hence, the internet example.


His other argument is based on adaptability: that bitcoins are not easily recognizable for lack of technology (or as recognizable as gold). No shit... This paper, along with the previous Mises article have the false underlying premise that technology will remain the same, stagnate, or not improve. Technology is increasing exponentially. Yes right now bitcoin only has a few "roads." This is why adaptability is only going to increase as time goes on. Start building bitcoin "highways."


His third argument is based on the insulting assumption that bitcoins are worth in reference to the value labor theory. Bitcoins are valuable because of their holistic make up as an amazing medium of exchange.

(excuse typos in a hurry.)

"We’ve moved beyond the Mises textbook. We’re running in the open market." - Erik Voorhees

value is subjective

The author doesn't know the basic premise of Austrian economics, which is that value is subjective.

If people value bitcoin because of its properties as a medium of exchange, then the sum total of the subjective valuations become a free market fact.

What determines whether bitcoin is good money is not what Carl Menger said -- it's what the free market decides.

Korda knows

I'm sure Korda understands the subjectivity of value. What you and others are missing is that a good needs value OUTSIDE of it's value as a medium of exchange prior to it becoming money. That according to Mises and the regression theorem.

If there's an argument to be made in favor of bitcoin's viability as money it is that Mises was wrong. I haven't seen a convincing argument for that proposition.

regression theory

I don't see any need for a free market currency to trace its origin to a time where it was valued for reasons other than its money properties. Perhaps this is a trait that happened spontaneously, but there is no need for this.

The only need for a free market currency is to possess properties such as: homogeneity, easily recognizable, conveniently divisible, durable, non-counterfeitable, rare, etc.

Anyway, this post argues that Bitcoin doesn't violate the regression theorem.

...But why is there demand for Bitcoin over USD?? This is a subjective valuation arising from properties such as anonymity, decentralized system of clearance, cryptographic trust, predetermined and defined rate of growth, built in deflation, divisibility, low transaction fees, etc.... inherent to the Bitcoin system.

The essential point is that once exchange can occur between a money (USD) and Bitcoins, providers of goods have a means by which to value Bitcoins as a potential medium of exchange. The money regression is satisfied, because taken back far enough we reach traditional commodity money: BITCOINS -> USD -> MONETIZED GOLD & SILVER [start monetary economy] -> [end barter economy] COMMODITY GOLD & SILVER.


The need for it is to have a

The need for it is to have a basis for it's exchange value. Right now, the exchange value of bitcoin is based entirely on speculation. I can't see that ending well if becoming money is the objective.

exchange value

Hold on. What about the exchange value of gold?

The reason gold is at $1,500 is not for it's non-money uses. Most of that value is for its money properties.

Gold was at $300 twelve years ago, is this 5x rise based on speculation?

You are correct, the cost of

You are correct, the cost of gold is not due solely to it's non-monetary use. Several things at play here... first, gold has a long, long history of being used as money, and would probably still be the common medium of exchange were it not for laws against using it as such. So it is still thought of as money and retains some value as money even though it isn't at this moment (although it will be again when the FRN implodes).

Second, indeed some of the rise is cost of gold is based on speculation. The difference is that it's not SOLELY based on speculation. There is not a chance in hell that the cost of an ounce of gold will be a nickel next week. If bitcoins were going for a nickel a piece next week most people wouldn't be surprised at all. Disappointed, maybe, but not surprised.


Okay, but in your opinion, isn't it possible that after, let's say, five years of equilibration, the market settles on the exchange value of Bitcoin being $100 each, or even $1,000 each?

Well, that's what the bitcoin

Well, that's what the bitcoin folks are banking on. Mises says it's not possible, not even conceivable, and I share his opinion. Your question even hints at the issue... $100, $1000... why not $.05 or $1,000,000? Think about the implication of that.

Btw, thanks for the civil discourse. I'm really not anti-bitcoin, I'm just pro-economics. Any actual discussion trying to reconcile what we're observing to what seems to be bullet proof theory is a good discussion.

~ My two BTC's

Bitcoins most powerful aspect is that it's decentralized and you are essentially your own bank account. It's anonymous, mobile, and secure.

When banks and governments fail and confiscate money, people will wish they have a percentage of their wealth stored in bitcoin.

When they pass laws & confiscate your gold and silver under severe penalties, people will wish they had a percentage of their wealth stored in bitcoin.

When SHTF and you have to be mobile, people will wish they had a percentage of their wealth in bitcoin.

When the wealthy people of the world start using bitcoin as their new "Swiss bank account", people will wish they had a percentage of their wealth in bitcoin.

I'm not an uber fan boy of BTC's; however, it's wise to be smart about the world at large. As history shows us that banks/gov will always steal, confiscate and destroy money/wealth. Any possible way that you can protect yourself, even if it's just a small percentage, is a VERY smart thing to do.

www.coinaxis.com - ~ Learn more about bitcoin/litecoin, and how they relate to the liberty movement.

Read this article last night

Glad someone posted it on here. I think Bitcoin is definitely bubbling, but I dont think the bubble bursting will be a death sentence for the currency experiment.

In the meantime, I'm wishing I had purchased a hundred bitcoins back in Jan 1. Up $30 today alone. Madness!

I was interested

I was definitely interested and intrigued by what has been brewing in the Bitcoin market. I think it is important to view it the same way as with any Wall Street trading. There is a big difference between investing and trading. One is a long term commitment and the other is short. I think we may find in the coming weeks or months that there are some who have gotten in on the Bitcoin movement, just has someone would jump in on a bullish stock. They will buy and hold it as long as they think it can rise and when it shows any ounce of instability, they will dump it for other currency. And that will make it even more volatile.

Maybe I'm not thinking this through completely, but if there is currency collapse in the U.S. and around the world, as has been discussed on this forum, how in the world will you be able to transact with your BTC (except by USB cable), if the phone company shuts down your service for not paying? If there is a long banking holiday, Cyprus style, how will you keep your electricity and internet rolling in order to access your Bitcoin wallet? Will AT&T and Verizon magically start accepting Bitcoin payment?

If the Sh*t hits the fan that bad

then you better have a remote farm with plenty of water and ammo to defend it. Gold and silver might not even be very useful in that scenario.

The real crash will very likely be less dramatic than that. Cell phones are everywhere in Tanzania, even locations that are hours from the closest electricity. All new smartphones have wireless capabilities and they can be set up to talk to one another directly without a need for a hub. The Internet is continueing to move towards a true meshnet which will make controlling or shutting it down much more difficult. If the Egyptians can keep digital communication going when the government does everything it can to shut it down then Ill bet that we will be able to do the same. As long as a huge EMP pulse doesn't fry all of North Americas electronics that is.

Bitcoiner, here

Bitcoiner, here. No doubt it's in a bubble. Nothing is bubble-proof, not even gold.

But just because it's in a bubble doesn't erase Bitcoins properties of money (as the last Mises article posted here confirmed for all y'all haters). It just means some people are getting a little overly excited about it.

The market will correct.

Why is this a bubble?

Why is a bitcoin in a bubble?

Would you say that Silver was in a bubble if it went up 500% or would you just say that it is just supply and demand price discovery after the price has been artificially manipulated for years.

We've never seen anything like Bitcoin, who says what the price should be?

How much would you pay to be free from banker oppression? How much would you pay to have wealth in a currency that cant be devalued? How much would you pay for privacy? How much would you pay to be free of taxation?

Maybe Bitcoins isn't in a Bubble, Maybe it's still severely undervalued.

I think there will be a bubble or two...

There are already many people going into bitcoin that do not even know how the technology works. There will be fear mongering from the media and the banksters. I dont see a bubble ever devaluing the whole bitcoin economy. I saw a dude make a transaction of 4,950,000$$$ he only paid a 2.30$ transaction fee!!! Bitcoins are not going anywhere.

Here is my analysis: Fiat money is inflationary; bitcoin deflationary. What is normal is that bitcoin keep going up until it reaches an equilibrium with Fiat currencies. This equilibrium can be seen at a much higher number than what we have now. From then on we can start really speculating about a bubble.

We will go through a serious of bumps till we get to that equilibrium, the lows will not last long.

"We’ve moved beyond the Mises textbook. We’re running in the open market." - Erik Voorhees

I agree. It's difficult to

I agree. It's difficult to quantify this as a bitcoin bubble. It's like saying there is a cell phone bubble. As new technology comes out and people discover new/innovative things, they tend to adopt them. The sheer number of new people interested in bitcoin will drive up the price. How many per day is that? 1000? 20,000? 50,000? 5,000,000?

The market will definitely correct itself; however, the price discovery of limited quantity bitcoins will go on for some time. I'm not so sure this is a bubble.

www.coinaxis.com - ~ Learn more about bitcoin/litecoin, and how they relate to the liberty movement.

Don't get me wrong...

Don't get me wrong, I definitely think Bitcoin's long-term valuation is going to be large. Very very large.

And while the political climate is right for Bitcoin, I still think there's a LOT more infrastructure needed before your average Joe can use it.

The Mises article is right about needing a smartphone for all practical purposes. (And unfortunately the amazing Bitcoin Card is a long ways off, I fear.) Some people can't even afford a cell plan, much less a smartphone. When we're all using Bitcoin, how do I give a bum a Satoshi or two? ;)

Good Point but

Just because you can't see how you would be able to give a bum a satoshi or two doesn't mean it can't happen.

All the problems and needs that will arise from a Bitcoin or Digital Currency system will be solved by the free market.

If the demand for providing satoshi's to bums is great enough someone will come up with a way for that to happen. I can already tell you there are ways you can do this today easily. As BTC Atms become available and more merchants start accepting BTC this will be much more easier to envision

Exactly my point

Exactly my point. Bitcoin needs time, technology and human investment to replace all the ways we use money. Until then, it can't possibly be valued at its maximum potential today. Where that actualy value is... well... it's anyone's guess. But based on the above, I'm guessing it's a little over-valued.

not exactly... mining bitcoin

not exactly... mining bitcoin in another system that has been rebranded (for example litecoin) is not spendable, and does not have the same value as bitcoins. its a completely different currency at that point. for example bitcoin is currently $223 / USD - litecoin is 4.39990 USD

it is true competing currencies

- Grow Mushrooms at Home

This article is pure propoganda written in a very slanted view

First of all.. The author States that Bitcoin can be hyperinflated with knock offs? Really? This coming from the missis institute. I thought they were in favor of competing currency's? and what evidence is there for his reasoning? Right now there are litterally hundreds of digital currency's yet Bitcoin has emerged as #1 currency by the free market. What a stupid Starfish analogy. Absolutely horrible.

His argument for anonymity is that it's not... Yea, if you attach your name to a Bitcoin and transact in illegal things using that Bitcoin, your not anonymous. It's like writting your name on a hundred dollar Bill and stating youre buying cocaine from John on it. Bitcoins is anonymous you just need to use some common sense.

Bubble? Its only a bubble if you value things in dollars.How much would you pay to be free from banker oppression? How much would you pay to have wealth in a currency that cant be devalued? How much would you pay for privacy? How much would you pay to be free of taxation? This is a patadigm shift.. we are living through a transformation of human history. Old rules dont apply.. bitcoins is only in a bubble if you value things in dollars.. and even then its not a bubble if the price never comes down.

I dont mind people who don't like Bitcoin. I believe they are foolish, stubborn, uneducated, and dogmatic.. but hey, that's there prerogative. It's just a shame how so many normally intellectually brilliant and honest folks have resorted to lies, smears, and propaganda because they are uncomfortable with the on going paradigm shift.

"This article is pure

"This article is pure propaganda written in a very slanted view."

Yes, and your rebuttal was the epitome of impartial, unbiased, objective analysis.


It will be fun to look back at these Bitcoin conversations in a few years.

a competing currencies have

a competing currencies have different qualities, otherwise, it would be the same thing and it wouldn't be competition. with bitcoin, however, it is simply a program, and that program can be replicated exactly, so there can always be more bitcoin programs each with 21 million coins, but called something else, but still work entirely the same. sort of like how different dollars are printed at different mints, but they still have the same function and are not competing with each other.


but they are not the same protocol for exchange. Hence, bitcoin knockoffs cannot operate within the same economy as bitcoin.

A crypto currency that offers something better than bitcoin is welcome. Just as Yahoo was dominating until google showed up with something better.

Thus far All of the other crypto currencies do not offer something better than bitcoins.

When it comes to technology it is really important to be the first, and to have the most market penetration. Bitcoin has both.

Korda's this part of Korda's argument makes no sense.

"We’ve moved beyond the Mises textbook. We’re running in the open market." - Erik Voorhees

Can't happen

There are literally Hundreds of exactly similar currency platforms and They are not valued as one would value Bitcoins. No one mistakes them as Bitcoins. Because they are not part of the Bitcoin platform they are an entirely different and non-valued form of currency. Value is all subjective, Even the Value for Gold and Silver. If people Value Bitcoin as a currency and it can be distinguishable and separate from all other forms of digital currency even though they function exactly the same then those currency's do nothing to lower Bitcoins Value.

then what makes bitcoin so

then what makes bitcoin so special then?

the creators did the best job of convincing everyone that nothing has value?

Article's been up for almost

Article's been up for almost an hour now, and none of the usual rabid Bitcoin defenders have commented yet?

I'm amazed. Maybe they're all busy trying to dump their imaginary money now...

I do believe that there will be a huge correction in Bitcoin

Does that mean I don't believe in the idea of Bitcoin or the fact that Bitcoin is a great alternative to the fiat central bank controlled system along with other forms of money? Just like paper money had copy cats(colonial scrip, confederate notes) gold had copy cats (copper, and tin to make brass) Bitcoin will undoubtedly also have some form of copying. Don't they say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery?

I'm not buying Bitcoins on an exchange and probably never will. Does that mean I won't accept Bitcoin for payment? Of-course I would! Just like some people trade Forex (foreign currencies like the Yen vs EU) some people will trade Bitcoin to try to profit. Does that make the Yen less usable because people are profiting from it? I don't think so.

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    Some people are in for a rude awakening.

    Bitcoin will never be more than a fad. Only 21 million will be "mined" so it could never support the needs of a population of 300 million much less a population of 7 billion. And if some individual was to somehow buy every bitcoin then how much would they be worth? Nothing, unlike gold or silver which are real. And at least if I use cash for a transaction then it can be totally and completely anonymous while nothing is anonymous with bitcoin.

    Bitcoin does nothing to promote liberty or freedom.