Why Bitcoin & Crypto Is Not The Future (Ex-Citigroup Global Chief Economist Willem Buiter)

We speak to Willem Buiter, Global Chief Economist at Citigroup (2010-2018). In contrast to our interview with Bitcoin.com founder Roger Ver, Willem Buiter argues Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are essentially is an environmentally unfriendly, speculative fiat currency with no use countries trying to evade Western economic sanctions. He also disputes that it can be used as a currency and discusses why there won’t be mass-scale adoption.

Bitcoin’s rise reflects America’s decline

A little over 100 years ago, there was a bubble asset that rose and fell wildly over the course of a decade. People who held it would have lost 100 per cent of their money five different times. They would have, at various points, made huge fortunes, or seen the value of their asset destroyed by hyperinflation.

The asset I’m referring to is gold priced in Weimar marks. If this reminds you of bitcoin, you are not alone. In his newsletter Tree Rings, analyst Luke Gromen looked at the startling similarities in the volatility of gold in Weimar Germany and bitcoin today. His conclusion? Bitcoin isn’t so much a bubble as “the last functioning fire alarm” warning us of some very big geopolitical changes ahead.

I agree. Central bankers have over the past 10 years (or the last few decades, depending on where you put the marker) quashed price discovery in markets with low interest rates and quantitative easing. Whether you see this as a welcome smoothing of the business cycle or a dysfunctional enabling of debt-ridden businesses, the upshot is that it’s now very difficult to get a sense of the health of individual companies or certainly the real economy as a whole from asset prices.

The rise in popularity of highly volatile cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin could simply be seen as a speculative sign of this US Federal Reserve-enabled froth. But it might better be interpreted as an early signal of a new world order in which the US and the dollar will play a less important role.

The past four years of Donald Trump’s presidency and his toxic politics have taken a toll on the world’s trust in America. That has also diminished trust in some quarters about the dollar’s stability as the global reserve currency. This feeling reached an apex during the January 6 attack on the US Capitol building. As financial policy analyst Karen Petrou put it in a recent note to clients: “There are many casualties of this quasi-coup, but the US dollar may well be among them. It’s no more immortal than any other category-killer brand.”

Trump certainly devalued Brand USA. But he is also a symptom of longer-term economic problems in the US — problems which have in recent years been papered over by low rates and monetary policy, which kept asset prices high but also encouraged debt and leverage.

Bitcoin’s rise reflects the belief in some parts of the investor community that the US will eventually come in some ways to resemble Weimar Germany, as post-2008 financial crisis monetary policy designed to stabilise markets gives way to post-Covid monetisation of rising US debt loads. There are, after all, only three ways out of debt — growth, austerity, or money printing. If the US government sells so much debt that the dollar starts to lose its value, then bitcoin could conceivably be a safe haven.

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Why Silicon Valley Doesn’t Get Bitcoin with Dan Held

“Right now the risk/reward has never been better – maybe some VCs look at everything with the lens of early-stage investing where they expect a 100x pay off, what’s crazy is with Bitcoin you might actually get that.”
— Dan Held

Location: Remotely
Date: Thursday 28th January
Company: Kraken
Role: Director of Business Development

Jack Dorsey has been one of the leading public supporters of Bitcoin in Silicon Valley, stating his belief is that “Bitcoin has the potential to become the world’s sole currency by 2030”. In late 2020 Dorsey went a step further when his company Square put $50 million of Bitcoin in their treasury. Following the purchase, he tweeted “More important than Square investing $US50mm in #Bitcoin​ is sharing how we did it (so others can do the same).”

Jack Dorsey is a hugely influential figure in Silicon Valley, and his actions sent a clear message of his belief in the importance of Bitcoin.

Silicon Valley has mostly ignored Bitcoin, and Dan Held thinks this is a culture issue. While Silicon Valley values moving fast and breaking things, Bitcoin is the opposite. It is conservative, slow and most importantly, hard to change.

In this interview, I talk to Dan Held, the Director of Business Development at Kraken. We discuss Dan’s experience in Silicon Valley, what drives VCs to invest, and the changing Bitcoin narratives within Silicon Valley.

The Bullish Case for Bitcoin

With the price of a bitcoin surging to new highs in 2017, the bullish case for investors might seem so obvious it does not need stating. Alternatively it may seem foolish to invest in a digital asset that isn’t backed by any commodity or government and whose price rise has prompted some to compare it to the tulip mania or the dot-com bubble. Neither is true; the bullish case for Bitcoin is compelling but far from obvious. There are significant risks to investing in Bitcoin, but, as I will argue, there is still an immense opportunity.