To understand Bitcoin, we need to also understand the history of money. This is a long and complex topic that has changed dramatically over the last 400 years, and has a total history of more than 3000 years. In order to understand both money, and bitcoin, we need to understand that there are two distinct functions that money has, that are independent of each other, but both influences money’s value: the payment function of money, and its storage of value function.
Both of these features have important functions for money, but it is important to understand how each one of these affect money differently. I cover this in more detail in what is the intrinsic value of bitcoin, and bitcoin as commodity money.
The best way to think of it is that bitcoin is a threat to both common storage of value; such as precious metals like gold and silver, but it is also a threat to normal fiat money because of the bitcoin payment network. These two features of bitcoin create one type of money that is superior to both precious metals and fiat currencies. To understand why bitcoin works as money, we need to understand the history of money over the last century.
The History of Banking
To understand banking, we need to know what is a mode of exchange, how did it come about, and why it was needed in addition to a storage of value.
A mode of exchange is just that, a mode in which you can engage in the exchange of one good for another. Before modern money, this could be anything that was commonly exchanged, and the value was well understood by the general public. Throughout history, this has been everything including bushels of wheat, tobacco, land, etc. As long as both parties understood the value of what was being exchanged and chose to accept it, it could function as a mode of exchange.
As gold became the common standard for exchange during the mercantilism era, there became substantial risk in carrying large amounts of precious metals. Instead of carrying around a brick of gold, people could carry around notes that were redeemable at banks for the same amount of gold as the note. This is how banking has been practiced for most of its existence. It has only been in the last century that fiat paper money with no convertibility to a commodity has become the norm.
It is substantially important to understand that fiat money came about to represent an actual storage of value to make real payments. The only reason fiat money ever did come about is because it was a technological innovation that was fiat money. To be able to spend the value of gold, but carry it around in a lighter paper form what a huge technological development that fundamentally changed how exchange was preformed. This allowed for people to continue commerce in the same ways as before, but now with their wealth from the threat of theft.
Ironically, the creation of banking notes that can be redeemed for a storage of value also created the needed framework for the current system of fractional reserve banking that all states use today. This created a kind of banking system where banks no longer operated on how much money they have available, but they operate on only a fraction of the total they should have available. Banks use this system to cheat their profits by using the multiplier effect to multiply their profits–and their losses. These losses can become so substantial that it can destroy the entire banking system and economy. This is what happened during the Great Depression, and more recently during the 2008 meltdown.
The Bretton Woods Era
near the end of WWII, the allies came together in secret meeting in Bretton Woods to negotiate how the new global economy would be built. Keynes wanted an International Clearing Union which would use a fair international banking currency based off of trade deficits called the Bancor. This became the official position of the UK when negotiating at the BW conference.
Keynes’ idea was rejected (despite its popularity), and instead the dollar was to replace the international currency unit, which today gives the U.S. a special power in international finance call exorbitant privilege. To do this, $35 was set as the redeemable price for one ounce of gold (almost twice what it was worth when it was seized from U.S. Citizens back in 1933), and what would become the IMF was setup. Keynes understood the huge issues this would create in international monetary system, and offered incredible insight to how this would play out 20 years later.
This system would have worked, if the U.S. was not cheating on their balance of payments. From 1945 to 1971 more and more U.S. dollars started circulating around the globe because the U.S. was importing more than they were exporting–creating a negative balance of payments. In fact, so many dollars were exported like this that the U.S. could not cover all of the outstanding gold that the dollars represented. The French were suspicious of this in the 1960s and started to repatriate their gold, which led to Nixon shock. In 1969, Nixon announced that the dollar was no longer convertible to gold, and created a 10% tariff to protect american industries from the shock of this. $35 was no longer worth an ounce of gold–it was worth nothing.
In order to make sure that the dollar did not enter into a death spiral of hyperinflation, Nixon as put in place tariffs, wage freezes, and a fixed exchange rate until he figured out what to do to give the dollar value. In 1973, Henry Kissinger struck a deal with the Saudi King. In exchange for arming and supporting the Saudis and their brutality domestically, they would agree to sell oil in only U.S. Dollars. This created the ‘petrodollar‘ which propped up the value of the dollar now that it was no longer exchangeable. So from 1973 on, the dollar was no longer worth gold, but oil.
Nearly thirty years later we can see the evidence of how decoupling the dollar from gold has shattered faith in the global monetary system and the dollar. This had huge consequences for the purchasing power of the dollar and everyone who used it. Below is a chart of the purchasing power of the dollar since 1970–today the dollar of 1970 can only purchase $0.18 of goods today–it lost more than 4/5th of its purchasing power in just 45 years.
The Theft of The World
Now that money was no longer tied to the actual value of commodities and is free-floating, it became possible for the theft of the productive capacity of not just entire nations, but the world itself through the monopolization of money by state governments. Slowly over decades, inflation simply caused for the slipping purchasing power of not only the dollar, but all fiat currencies. This was done so slowly and deliberately that few could understand what Keynes had warned people of so many years before:
“Lenin is said to have declared that the best way to destroy the capitalist system was to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some. The sight of this arbitrary rearrangement of riches strikes not only at security, but at confidence in the equity of the existing distribution of wealth. Those to whom the system brings windfalls, beyond their deserts and even beyond their expectations or desires, become ‘profiteers,’ who are the object of the hatred of the bourgeoisie, whom the inflationism has impoverished, not less than of the proletariat. As the inflation proceeds and the real value of the currency fluctuates wildly from month to month, all permanent relations between debtors and creditors, which form the ultimate foundation of capitalism, become so utterly disordered as to be almost meaningless; and the process of wealth-getting degenerates into a gamble and a lottery. Lenin was certainly right. There is no subtler, no surer means of overturning the existing basis of society than to debauch the currency. The process engages all the hidden forces of economic law on the side of destruction, and does it in a manner which not one man in a million is able to diagnose.”
–JMK, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919)
Today the inflation that we face is not due to new gold being introduced to the fractional-reserve banking system, but from the value of the dollar simply decreasing. Today there are more dollars in the world today than yesterday due to quantitative easing (i.e. making more dollars). The decrease in the purchasing power of the dollar is a direct loss to you and everyone using the dollar; and a direct gain for the government and banks who benefit from the creation of new dollars. We have been told that these are good men, and that they will use monetary policy to create price stability and keeping unemployment low, but the facts show something much different and much more insidious.
Failure of Gold as a Storage of Wealth
Gold has been used as a storage of wealth for millennia because of the total fungible nature of gold. However, what happened from the start of the 20th century, to the end of WWII, was a consolidation of gold in the hands of the State through legal confiscation and violence. By 1973, almost all gold was in the hands of the state through force and theft.
This was done in two distinct ways. There was state-to-state confiscation of gold and precious metals, such as the reparations from WWI and imperialism. This concentrated gold in the global north in the hands of a small number of elite bankers and business magnates. The other way was through the war that governments carried out against the private wealth of their own citizens.
This can be seen throughout the world with the restrictive legislation from states around the globe; such as Executive Order 6102, The Australian Banking Act 1959, and the Indian Gold (Control) Act 1968. Instead of protecting citizens from the tyranny of wealth seizures, holding gold actually made people a target for the state. Through this violent seizure of wealth, governments essentially gained an oligopoly on gold. This allowed for governments and their allies in banking to manipulate the price of gold through holding or dumping; but more importunately, they have rendered gold meaningless as a source of payment and storage of value. Today, almost no one will take your gold or silver as payment, despite the fact it truly is worth more than paper money.
The Need for Protection From The State
It should be obvious that the greatest threat to ones personal wealth is not some foreign or personal aggressor, but the State itself. This puts us in a predicament because the State is the owner of the means of exchange, and the arbitrator of all legality. Through controlling the means of exchange, the State can manipulate the value of the dollar on a large scale for its own benefit (such as quantitative easing or unlimited funding for war), while also being the gatekeeper of the finance system. The greatest issue with this is that even if you find a suitable alternative means of exchange (like bitcoin), the state can still call it illegal, and bring violence to you and your family for not complying.
If one is to control a large portion of wealth, it can only be done with the explicit approval of the State. At any time they can choose to seized you wealth, and you can go to prison. The accumulation of large amounts of wealth becomes impossible without the approval of the State in modern society. If the State does not approve of it, they will call it ‘money laundering’ and treat you as a criminal. This means that it is impossible for someone to be against the state, while still being able to control their wealth. This helps explain why the state is so active in financial oppression against its own citizens, while allowing for out right crimes to be preformed by some of the largest banks in the world, and letting police execute its citizens.
This explicitly displays that the State has the power to stop these criminals today, and yet they choose not to do so. This is because the government is in bed with these organizations. Politicians receive ‘donations‘ from these companies and former CEOs are given elite, secure jobs from the government later down the line in exchange for this. These companies have bought laws and protection for themselves at the direct expense of other citizens through the corruption of the legal, and political system. It should be clear and obvious for all to see: we cannot recover this system of government, economics, and finance, and we must reject the system as a whole.
Now that we have bitcoin, we can actual do that. Once we reject the money of the State, and their crony capitalist bankers, the value of their fiat money will collapse. The State will no longer be able to pay for their wars, bloated salaries, or mechanisms of fear and terrorism. There will be a great unwinding and no one will accept their shitty paper money anymore.
The State over the course of the last hundred years has pulled off one of the greatest stunts ever: getting people to believe that paper is worth more than real commodities. Through the slow theft of gold for paper, people have been robbed of their ability to have independent wealth. Wealth today can only be acquired at the good will of the State because the State monopolizes the legal authority for how you can get money. The State, and their banker allies siphon off as much value as they can from the productive capacity of normal, hard-working people through devaluing fiat money through quantitative easing and interest.
From the end of gold standard in 1933, to all of the usurpation that brought us to where we are today, it should be clear that governments cannot be trusted with our wealth. Bitcoin and digital currencies offers people a chance to have a financial system that does not empower the State, or elite banks, but protection us from them.
Bitcoin is a global payment system, and storage of wealth that allows for a new system of finance and economics to be built. One based upon the principals of mathematics, privacy, and provability. A new system where we are not punished for saving and protecting our wealth, but rewarded. A system that understands, respects, and protects people’s right to privacy, and their right to conduct commerce with anyone in the world, no matter what State has their bootheel on their back, demanding a portion of their wealth.
Change is coming, and it will be radical, and it will change the world for the better.
Next: The Absolute Value of Crypto