ANALYSIS - This virtual currency, free from public or state intervention, does not have all the attributes of a real currency.
It was worth 1 cent in 2010, 5000 dollars two months ago, more than 10,000 dollars today. The vertically rising curve of the value of bitcoin, the now famous virtual currency, is beautiful to observe as the satellite image of a tropical storm in formation. Fascinating and disturbing at the same time. Frustrating too: everyone looks at her wondering why he did not buy a little when it was worthless! The temptation of easy tumbling is besides winning the general public. This may explain the recent offensive of the most respected voices in the economic and financial world against bitcoin.
It's "a scam," according to the boss of the first US bank Jamie Dimon, "a threat to financial stability," according to Randall Quarles, vice president of the Fed. Two Nobel economists as different as the American Joseph Stieglitz and the French Jean Tirole also sounded the alarm. For the first, the bitcoin is a "bubble", and it "should be prohibited". For the second, it has neither "intrinsic value" nor "economic reality". And Friday, it is the governor of the Bank of France François Villeroy de Galhau who warned: "Those who invest in bitcoin do it at their own risk."
"There must be no ambiguity: the bitcoin is in no way a currency," said the central banker. This position is at the heart of the debate. Can bitcoin claim to be a currency, like the euro, the dollar and other currencies?
Bitcoin has no coins or notes. But this lack of physical support is not enough to exclude it from the circle of currencies. After all, most transactions in dollars or euros are (in volume) dematerialized. And it is now possible to live, especially in Scandinavia, by spending absolutely cash. Bitcoin does not have more value reserves built up. But again, that does not make it necessarily different from the big currencies. Central banks have no longer for a long time their gold stock the counterpart of the currency they issue.
The essence of the currency lies in its exchange function: the buyer and the seller recognize the same value and accept it unreservedly to settle their transactions. Since bitcoin has created its ecosystem, in which users actually use it as a currency, it could be considered a currency.
But any monetary system is based on trust: that of the seller, who is certain that a value is attached to the payment he receives; that of the buyer, who is certain that his interlocutor accepts his method of payment. To date, this two-way certainty, both nationally and internationally, has not been found better than to recognize central bankers as guarantors and, behind them, states (or currency unions). State like the euro). Does money inevitably come from public power? Old debate. Pure liberalism does not necessarily recognize the privilege of broadcasting as a sovereign function of the state in the same way as security and justice.
Bitcoin, for its part, frees itself from public or state intervention. The system would guarantee the algorithm, and trusted third party not an institution, but the mass of users who, thanks to the technology of the "blockchain", are each depository of its effectiveness. Can it, then, become a currency which, emancipated from the state and the central banks which make their power of emission a steering instrument of the economy, would be an expression of a form of liberal ideal even libertarian? Voire.
For there are fundamental contradictions between the conception of bitcoin and the possibility of making it a currency, at least on a large scale. First, the bitcoin is by nature an opaque system, based on an algorithm whose creator is unknown and whose key was thrown into the well after its design. This creates mystique, but does not encourage confidence ... Then, the system is asymmetric: are only able to create bitcoins that those who have the ability to calculate (and taste for the material!) For the make. Finally, bitcoin is a finite system: the algorithm ends after 21 million units created. This point partly explains the current speculative fever fueled by the anticipation of scarcity.
If Churchill was right about democracy, "the worst regime except all the others," the same may be true of our current monetary organization. The bursting of the bitcoin bubble, if it occurs as many predict, may give some value to the trust that has been created over the centuries and not without incident, public authorities in the use of their national currencies.
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