“Love is the quality of attention we pay to things,” writes poet J.D. McClatchy. If that’s the case, then this week I loved Bitcoin and the U.S. Congress. A strange, sad combination, I know. But today’s email has plenty of opinions about both topics and if you’re only interested in one, just keep reading until you get to the other. I should also note that if you prefer to read about all the cats saved in Asia this week, I won’t be covering that hot news topic.
Last week I pointed you to an absolutely bonkers story about the digital art market and the rise of “non-fungible tokens”. Digital things are easily copied. This has wreaked havoc on everything from music to newspapers, with more chaos yet to come. Put succinctly, “non-fungible tokens” are a way to make sure something digital can’t be copied — and thus the booming market of million-dollar-plus digital pieces of art was born. If you can’t copy the digital image, that means you own the only copy, ergo it is valuable (although there are some caveats I’m skipping for brevity’s sake).
And lo! That’s what Bitcoin is — a digital thing you cannot copy, money that you cannot copy with a click of the mouse. Economists love to dismiss Bitcoin and explain how it has no intrinsic value, unlike the paper and plastic in your wallet. (If you want me to explain exactly how non-fungible tokens work, and why Bitcoin is a currency, just hit reply.)
Bitcoin, its crypto-currency competitors, and its cousins in the digital wallet industry are coming after the banking and financial sector the way craigslist came after classified ads. Already, deposit accounts at the largest bank in America (JP Morgan Chase) are roughly equal to the number of digital wallets in two major digital wallets (Venmo and Cash App). Digital wallets are entering the unsecured lending market, suggesting that traditional bank lending’s best days may be in the past. All that unused balance on your Starbucks app amounts to a loan where you are paying Starbucks 10% to loan them your own money.
Banks and the financial services industry have been screwing over the little guy for a long time, but they are also regulated and managed to protect assets. I learned this the hard way; while writing my book in 2012 (personalized, signed copies sent to all paid subscribers!) I bought Bitcoin in order to buy classified US Government material from hackers (book research, I swear!). In 2016, I lost about a third of my Bitcoin when the “wallet” (wallets being virtual banks for…