Bitcoin in the near future, what would that look like?

 

Bitcoin in the near future, what would that look like?

Should Governments Stop it? The Bitcoin community is already preparing for such an attack. One reason 6102 was so successful is that the government could just go to banks who held gold on behalf of citizens, and seize at point of custody. So every January 3rd, users celebrate “proof of keys” day, where it is customary to withdraw any Bitcoin they own on exchanges or in the custody of third parties to wallets that the end users control. “Not your keys, not your coins,” first popularized by Bitcoin educator Andreas Antonopoulos, is a community mantra. With more than 10 percent of the American population using Bitcoin, if enough people self-custody, then a 6102 attack would be of limited effect. Given that the keys to your Bitcoin account are typically in the form of 24 seed words that can be written down, hidden, encoded, or memorized, a military home-by-home raid couldn’t work very well and would constitute a mass set of human rights violations.

Another attack vector could be a ban on the act of Bitcoin mining itself inside democracies. Today, many mainstream media articles describe Bitcoin as an environmental disaster. In reality, it relies heavily on renewable energy (estimates range from 39 percent to 74 percent), consumes a lot of stranded or excess energy, and could very well have a mostly green future. But given the poorly-informed narratives around the subject, one could imagine a world in which the Biden Administration restricts Bitcoin mining as part of a Green New Deal.

The “two-Bitcoin” problem is perhaps the biggest existing threat to Bitcoin users today. If the top 25 global exchanges in the US, EU, and East Asia agreed to end user withdrawals, then that would effectively bifurcate the system. Bitcoin inside the bubble would be “whitelisted” and Bitcoin outside could be “blacklisted” — meaning, if a merchant accepts Bitcoin from you that is not on a certain list, they’d be running a risk. No matter how private you are with your Bitcoin, it wouldn’t matter. You’d need to find people willing to accept your Bitcoin with no trail. Such laws would force users into peer-to-peer markets, where buyers don’t care about coin history.

Even still, there are lots of barriers to this attack. Exchanges would lose millions of customers and billions of dollars of business. The “DeFi” ecosystem would potentially collapse, given it relies on users being able to purchase ETH with dollars on big exchanges and then withdraw to trading platforms like Uniswap. Companies in this space would vigorously resist any change that would prevent citizens from withdrawing Bitcoin or any cryptocurrency to self-controlled wallets.

As these examples show, there are plenty of kinds of regulatory attacks that should concern Bitcoin users, and they are much more likely than cryptographic or hashrate attacks on the network, but the reality is that many legal attacks have already happened, and they have been ineffective.

In 2017, the Chinese Communist Party restricted the ability of its citizens to exchange RMB for Bitcoin. Shortly thereafter, the Indian government did the same, followed by the Pakistani government and several others. In other words, the two largest governments in the world tried to cut off Bitcoin access to their citizenry at the most obvious point: the on and off ramps where citizens exchange local currency for Bitcoin through exchanges.

Last year, the Indian Supreme Court reversed this rule, and Bitcoin is no longer restricted. The government is again seeking to pass a bill prohibiting Bitcoin and all non-state cryptocurrencies, while also launching a digital currency to be issued by the Reserve Bank of India, but in the meantime, local usage grows. In China after the 2017 restrictions, some companies moved to other countries in east Asia, but continued to do business with Chinese customers. Two of the biggest exchanges for the Chinese market, Huobi and OKCoin, still service millions of Chinese. In Pakistan, Bitcoin is de facto banned, but adoption is exploding.

In Nigeria, the government is currently promising to freeze the bank accounts of any citizens who are identified as buying or selling Bitcoin. This regime has tried similar tactics before, but all have failed. What these actions actually accomplish is to drive citizens into harder to control peer-to-peer markets, and into the arms of risk-tolerant entrepreneurs committed to helping their fellow citizens access a better financial system.

In the United States, the recent last-minute attack by Secretary Mnuchin aside, American financial activity is increasingly monitored under laws like the Bank Secrecy Act. In line with this trend, cryptocurrency exchanges have introduced more stringent identification requirements for their customers, as well as increasingly small withdrawal limits. So far though, Americans are still easily able to buy Bitcoin and withdraw it to wallets they control, and this will be defended by new powerful allies.

Senator Lummis and Congressmen Davidson, McHenry, Emmer, and Soto, as well as state leaders like Miami mayor Francis Suarez, have all come out in support of Bitcoin, whether by hosting the whitepaper on their websites, promising to fend off overly-restrictive regulation, or pledging to make their jurisdictions hotspots for Bitcoin entrepreneurial activity and innovation. Mayor Suarez, for example, is pushing for employees of the city of Miami to earn a percentage of their salary in Bitcoin, for residents to be able to pay taxes in Bitcoin, and to include Bitcoin as part of the city’s investment portfolio.

Some argue that corporate America will try to attack Bitcoin. But so far, it seems that big companies are instead trying to join the party. In the past few months, Tesla, Microstrategy, Square, Grayscale, and others are buying up billions of dollars more Bitcoin than the amount being produced through mining. And, as savvy investors will realize, ultimately you can’t separate Bitcoin from its cypherpunk nature. Bitcoin is only valuable as an asset because of its decentralization, since no one can arbitrarily change its rules or decide to print more. Driven by self-interest, Wall Street may ironically end up being one of the biggest cheerleaders of this new technology that Washington can’t control.

So far, it seems that when governments try to ban or restrict Bitcoin, it ends up merely accelerating the adoption of the currency inside their countries. Governments that have failed miserably with their Wars on Drugs may find stopping people from holding something that’s invisible, borderless, and teleporting much more difficult. In democracies, governments will face major obstacles from the tech and financial industries, but also from the fact that restrictions on Bitcoin ownership can clash with free speech, privacy, and private property protections. Confiscation will require brutality, and it’s not clear that all governments have the stomach or ability.

In the end, Bitcoin’s biggest defense is human nature itself. We are greedy and self-interested, and this applies to our governments. Already, some authorities are starting to mine or are encouraging mining. This is happening everywhere from Beijing to Kentucky to Siberia to Ukraine. As the price rises, more and more are buying into Bitcoin’s value as a long-term store-of-value and inflation hedge. Just as some governments with weak currencies have been forced to dollarize, others in the future could be forced to accumulate Bitcoin. It’s a rivalrous planet.

Why would a government attack Bitcoin if it could gain more from using its energy monopoly or ability to print fiat to buy some? The rich and powerful will always design systems that benefit them before everyone else. The genius of Bitcoin is to take advantage of that very base reality and force them to get involved and help run the system, instead of attacking it.

In a world with friendly US regulators, rogue regimes mining Bitcoin to print dollars, and citizens of the world demanding an asset that can’t be inflated away, the incentive to attack Bitcoin is dwindling.

In the end, the only way to kill Bitcoin may be to make it so that people don’t need it anymore. If no one wants a devaluation-proof, censorship-resistant, permissionless, borderless, non-discriminatory, teleporting financial asset, then no one will feed it energy, and it will die. Perhaps humanity can come up with another technology that addresses these needs.




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