Maybe Bitcoin’s devotees are right, and it’s the currency of the future. Or perhaps it’s a ridiculous joke—a speculative, hilarious enterprise taken to its most insane conclusion. Given that the founder is nowhere to be found, it feels like a hoax, a parody of the global economy. That the technology used to implement it has, so far, shown itself to be impeccable and completely functional, and that it’s actually being exchanged, just makes it a better joke. The truth is, it doesn’t much matter if it’s a joke or not. It works.
.. I’m increasingly convinced there’s one thing that Bitcoins do that’s genuinely interesting. They decentralize trust. Trust is hard to earn; verifying transactions is a brutal problem, which is why PayPal locks down your account when there’s too much money flowing into it ..
That’s where Bitcoin thrives: where people would prefer to throw in their lot with anonymous strangers instead of the world economy. It’s gold-bug thinking reinvented for an age of fluid transparency and instantaneous transactions. And as such it’s an excellent indicator of anxiety. Where you see Bitcoins in action you find a weird and heady mix of speculative angst, a fear of being left behind, and people who appear to have lost faith in institutions, who feel most left behind. These are people who’ll trade in purely arbitrary tokens, willing to forgo the comfort of banking systems for the weight of mathematics and the Internet behind it.
Bitcoin isn’t tied to any commodity—besides trust. As a statement on the global economy, Bitcoin is hilarious. As a currency for the disenfranchised and distrustful, it’s as serious as can be.