The price of Bitcoin is currently around $57,000 (see Chart 1). But what is the price of Bitcoin based on? It’s just a bunch of code that exists only in cyberspace. It’s not backed by the state. There’s no recourse to a central authority. There’s no underlying asset, no stream of income. There’s just the thing itself. But does that mean it has no inherent worth? The code on which Bitcoin is based does give it scarcity value. Only 21 million Bitcoin will ever be created. And that might be worth something. That scarcity is why some people refer to Bitcoin as ‘digital gold’. But the very scarcity on which Bitcoin is based might also be its undoing. Its scarcity may even, ultimately, render Bitcoin worthless.
Speculative buying can drive cryptocurrency prices down. This is contrary to the usual laws of economics. Blockchain technology limits how quickly transactions can be settled. This constraint creates competition for priority between different users. The more speculative activity there is, the longer it takes to make a payment. But the future value of cryptocurrency depends on its usefulness as a means of payment. Speculation therefore affects price formation through a channel that does not exist for other asset classes. This can explain the high price volatility of cryptocurrencies, and is consistent with the low adoption rate so far.
Blockchain is often discussed as if it is one single technology. But it is really a combination of several distinct features – decentralisation, distribution, cryptography, and automation – which are combined in different ways by different platforms. Some of these features may have benefits, while others may be unnecessary or even unhelpful – depending on the specific application. In this post, I consider whether and how these features may have different potential applications in financial services. Blockchain will only be truly useful in settings where one of more of these features solves a problem that existing technologies cannot.
The topics of central bank digital currency (CBDC) and distributed ledger technology (DLT) are often implicitly linked. The genesis of recent interest in CBDC was the emergence of private digital currencies, like Bitcoin, which often leads to certain assumptions about the way a CBDC might be implemented – i.e. that it would also need to use a form of blockchain or DLT. But would a CBDC really need to use DLT? In this post I explain that it may not be necessary to use DLT for a CBDC, but I also consider some of the reasons why it could still be desirable.