Is Bitcoin the bubble, or is Bitcoin the pin?
That's the question some of the top minds in cryptocurrency have been asking as calls of a "Bitcoin bubble" grow louder. It's hard to deny that Bitcoin was distinctly bubble-ish at the end of 2017, finishing the year up nearly 1,800% from where it started.
An increasing number of crypto leaders have called out the ability of digital assets to democratize finance and globalize market access, drawing sharp differences with it from that of fiat currencies based on the actions of a select few, former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen included among them.
"Here you've got Janet Yellen telling not only normal people that they're too stupid to understand the reasoning behind quantitative easing, she's telling Congress they're too dumb, that they don't have any business looking into her reasoning for quantitative easing," said Coindesk head of research Nolan Bauerle.
Bauerle explained that many leaders in the crypto world argue that it's the dollar, and not Bitcoin, that's a bubble. That's because the Fed and other policy leaders are "devaluing the dollar that everyone is working for," Bauerle said.
The argument ties in well to a key aspect of the founding ethos for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies: immunity from inflation. When anonymous Bitcoin creator Satoshi first established the coin, he created it such that there are only ever going to be 21 million Bitcoins in the world. In the minds of crypto evangelists, the finite supply means Bitcoin is immune to the orchestrated inflation that occurs when the Treasury prints more money.
"If you go back to a macroeconomic argument, there's an argument there that fiat is a bubble. We don't know how many U.S. dollars there are," Bauerle said.
"Put it this way -- one Bitcoin is still worth one Bitcoin. And how many dollars it's worth is a reflection of the devaluation of the U.S. dollar, not necessarily the other way around," Bauerle said.
He noted that a lot of the leaders in Bitcoin don't view it as a bubble, but rather as the pin that will pop a larger, more ominous bubble -- the fiat currency of the United States.
"It's a matter of perspective," he said. "Is Bitcoin worth more dollars because Bitcoin's value has gone up, or is Bitcoin worth more dollars because the dollar's value has gone down?"
It's worth noting that Bitcoin has steadily shed value over the past few weeks, dipping as low as $5,947.40 on Feb. 6, according to Coindesk. That's after the cryptocurrency soared to a high of $20,089 on Dec. 17.
The U.S. dollar index, which compares the greenback to a basket of other currencies, has moved lower about 2.8% since the start of the year. Bitcoin, on the other hand has decreased 47.3% in the same time.
Bitcoin could trade between $6,000 and $60,000 in 2018, simply because of its "hyper volatility" and reflexivity, said Ari Paul, chief investment officer and co-founder of BlockTower Capital.
"The higher Bitcoin goes and the faster it gets there, the more likely it is to crash," Paul said. The reflexivity of the currency means that as it rallies, it invites everything from regulation to speculation to scams from bad actors.
By the end of 2018, Paul is looking for Bitcoin between $15,000 and $85,000.
But at the end of the day, the price of Bitcoin is irrelevant, said Andrew Ittleman, founder and partner at law firm Fuerst Ittleman David & Joseph. Ittleman has focused his law career on fintech regulation, white collar criminal defense and anti-money laundering compliance.
"Nothing about that has changed from when Bitcoin was $100 apiece or $1,000 apiece," Ittleman explained. It's about "powerful ways to communicate, share value, send money," he said, not a means to turn a profit.
"The downturn or the drop in value over the last few weeks in my opinion is more of a consequence of the $20,000 value just not being realistic at all," Ittleman said.
"I just really have a hard time imagining a Bitcoin being able to hold onto a value of $19,000 or $20,000," Ittleman said. "It just doesn't make sense to me."
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