Josiah is an assistant editor at CCN. A former ancient and medieval literature teacher, he has been reporting on cryptocurrency since 2014. He lives in rural North Carolina with his wife and children. He holds investment positions in bitcoin and other large-cap cryptocurrencies. Follow him on Twitter @Y3llowb1ackbird or email him directly at josiah.wilmoth(at)ccn.com.
Bitcoin is the world’s first open-source, decentralized proof-of-work digital currency and platform powered by blockchain technology. Transactions on the network are peer-to-peer, cryptographically secure, and do not require an intermediary. Bitcoin was the first cryptocurrency to introduce the concept of non-tangible, programmable money that is stored on a public blockchain. The now-famous Satoshi Nakamoto released the Bitcoin whitepaper in 2008, referencing the financial crisis of that year. It discussed the implementation of a cashless, digital payment system to counter fallible fiat currency systems. By January 2009, the first Bitcoin was mined. Nakamoto publicly released his research to the cryptocurrency community soon thereafter. It remains the largest digital currency by market cap.
Because of bitcoin's decentralized nature and its trading on online exchanges located in many countries, regulation of bitcoin has been difficult. However, the use of bitcoin can be criminalized, and shutting down exchanges and the peer-to-peer economy in a given country would constitute a de facto ban. The legal status of bitcoin varies substantially from country to country and is still undefined or changing in many of them. Regulations and bans that apply to bitcoin probably extend to similar cryptocurrency systems.
The Bank for International Settlements summarized several criticisms of bitcoin in Chapter V of their 2018 annual report. The criticisms include the lack of stability in bitcoin's price, the high energy consumption, high and variable transactions costs, the poor security and fraud at cryptocurrency exchanges, vulnerability to debasement (from forking), and the influence of miners.
The price of bitcoins has gone through cycles of appreciation and depreciation referred to by some as bubbles and busts. In 2011, the value of one bitcoin rapidly rose from about US$0.30 to US$32 before returning to US$2. In the latter half of 2012 and during the 2012–13 Cypriot financial crisis, the bitcoin price began to rise, reaching a high of US$266 on 10 April 2013, before crashing to around US$50. On 29 November 2013, the cost of one bitcoin rose to a peak of US$1,242. In 2014, the price fell sharply, and as of April remained depressed at little more than half 2013 prices. As of August 2014 it was under US$600. During their time as bitcoin developers, Gavin Andresen and Mike Hearn warned that bubbles may occur.
By December, Bitcoin was on track to hit its all-time high thanks to a dramatic and steady increase in price. On Dec. 17, 2017, it reached $19,783.21, the all-time high that has yet to be broken. Unfortunately, that high was followed by a drop of about 30 percent, with a market correction that brought it down to under $11,000. The price did recover, reaching $16,000 again on Dec. 27.
If you are considering investing in cryptocurrencies, think of it like a trip to Vegas, self-made millionaire and best-selling author Tony Robbins suggests. In his own portfolio, Robbins directs a certain amount of money to risky ventures, but he doesn't rely on them to work out. For those investments, he said, "I know it is just for fun I'm investing, I know I could lose."
The use of bitcoin by criminals has attracted the attention of financial regulators, legislative bodies, law enforcement, and the media. In the United States, the FBI prepared an intelligence assessment, the SEC issued a pointed warning about investment schemes using virtual currencies, and the U.S. Senate held a hearing on virtual currencies in November 2013. The U.S. government claimed that bitcoin was used to facilitate payments related to Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.