Bitcoin’s Wild Ride
Posted June 22, 2022
The first big Bitcoin crash I experienced was in 2013. It felt from a wild high of $60 down to something close to $15, as I recall. It felt then like everything was falling apart. I had already been writing about the topic and many people had mistaken my enthusiasm for a buy signal. So, yes, I felt somewhat responsible.
I had a good friend who was into the thing too. I called him. He calmed me down. He said that I should rally around my deep understanding of the technology and its use case, and stop trying to predict the market. Good point. I calmed down and by the end of the year, the price hit $1,000. But that day forward I never worried about the wild price swings.
Another quick story. About the time that Bitcoin hit $1,000, a friend threw money in. Of course, it crashed again to $350. He was furious. He never said so outright but I knew that he blamed me. A couple years later, he was in the money again and never happier. Now he works for a blockchain builder.
The point is that this technology is still new by any standard. Therefore, it is volatile. Seeming certainties can turn quickly to questions. Surprises are around every corner. Those who have been willing to put up with the surprises have done extremely well, while those who expect a quick turnaround have suffered as they always do.
What Is This Thing?
In simplest terms, Bitcoin was invented to be a stateless money for the Internet. It has fulfilled that function beautifully. Even now, there is simply no more secure and independent way to get money across borders than using the stuff peer to peer, one wallet to another. In that sense, it has fulfilled the wildest dreams. It has a use case. It has never been hacked. Governments all over the world are trying but failing to copy it.
And yet, the technology also served as a kind of template into which anyone on the planet could pour their hopes and dreams. The hope that it would achieve universal acceptance pretty well fell apart in 2014, once it was unable to scale to meet the growing demand. The block size was kept small to retain the decentralized ledger but that also mitigated against wider acceptance.
Many other tokens stepped up with more ability to scale, but none of them caught on in a way that is universal. Still today, the competition is fierce for which token will become that much-needed thing.
Others saw it has a pathway to perfect privacy. It was never that. Transactions are recorded forever on the blockchain, not by name but by public address. With enough sleuthing, authorities can figure out who gave what to whom, when, and how much.
Mostly, of course, people saw it as a means of making money. Here things get dicey because no one knows the right price of Bitcoin or where it is headed. The slogan “to the moon” took hold for many people and they threw into the asset more than they could really risk. Depending on the timing of the decision, those people were either elated or deeply depressed at the results.
Others have seen Bitcoin as a safe haven, a replacement for gold. Is it? The results are complicated. If by safe haven, you mean a place for long-term storage that is protected against the exigencies of state power and central bank inflation, it has performed generally well. But if by safe haven, you imagine an asset that moves independently from financial markets and earns its own price without regard to external financial conditions, it’s another matter entirely.
Boom and Bust
The trajectory of financial markets is always easy to see in retrospect. The trick is to understand where we are in the midst of the cycle.
I admit to be rather taken aback the price did not soar with the beginning of lockdowns in 2020. I would have expected a huge move into this asset once it became clear that chaos was upon us. It did not happen. Instead, that huge rally waited for 2021. We all assumed that this was a response to the mad money printing by the Fed and represented a speculation that Bitcoin had a real future as an alternative asset.
What we had not anticipated and did not see at the time was that Bitcoin in fact was behaving not like an alternative to conventional finance but as part of the machinery. This is because so many institutional investors had gotten involved. Its ups and downs were following financial markets fairly closely, much to everyone’s amazement.
Looking back, it’s obvious now why this was happening. The money printing by the Fed was flowing into all financial assets, Bitcoin among them, as well as the entire crypto sector. An enormous bubble was developing, though it was not entirely visible to people who had come to believe that Bitcoin had already carved out for itself its own market path.
The resulting carnage rivals anything in the history of this industry, falling from a peak of $65,000 all the way to $19,000 in the course of a few weeks. Old timers in the industry found the whole thing to be rather hilarious because it was repeating history on a grander scale. Newer investors did what they always did: slap their foreheads in regret.
I was in constant communication with many people during this crash. Not one of them was worried. They still aren’t. What they see here is a sector with a brilliant future that will likely face an endless number of these house cleanings. Yes, it makes life difficult for institutions like Coinbase that have built up on the assumption that the price would have a firm floor in the event of a crisis but individual owners did not sweat a single drop.
I often return to the wise advice of my friend from 2013. Understand the technology and the use case and don’t sweat the price swings. That still strikes me as correct. And sure enough, we have again witnessed the look of overoptimism and over pessimism. Some very smart money scarfed up as much as possible when the price hit its lows and they are the ones who will benefit when the new highs come.
When will those new highs arrive? There is simply no way to know but we know this much: what this remarkable technology has done everyone said was impossible only twenty years ago.
The world needs a stateless and independent money more than ever. We are headed toward unprecedented upheaval in finance and money as well as politics and culture. It’s going to be a wild ride. My best and most honest opinion is that during these times, Bitcoin and other sound tokens will be our friends.
That does not mean that they are all completely immune from the exigencies of financial booms and busts. But it does mean that there is a case for confidence in its future.