Money Talks

The Bitcoin Dream Is Dead

Bitcoin’s recent 25% plunge illustrates why it will never be a true currency

James Surowiecki
Marker
Published in
6 min readJan 13, 2021

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An illustration of a conceptual Bitcoin placed behind clouds in the sky as a rainbow crosses the sky.
Illustration: Delcan & Co.

On May 22, 2010, a Bitcoin developer named Laszlo Hanyecz bought what may have been the most expensive meal in human history when he paid someone 10,000 Bitcoins to pick up and deliver him two pizzas from Papa John’s. Given that one Bitcoin is now worth more than $30,000, those pizzas cost, in retrospect, somewhere north of $300 million.

Nowadays, of course, no one would think of shelling out Bitcoin for something as mundane as a pizza without thinking first about how much money they might be giving up in the future. In the years since Hanyecz’s splurge, Bitcoin has gone from being an interesting experiment in decentralized finance to being the best-performing asset of the decade, rising more than 10,000,000% since 2010 and jumping 220% last year alone. There’s a Bitcoin ticker on every finance website. Legendary investors like Paul Tudor-Jones, Stanley Druckenmiller, and Bill Miller speak approvingly of its prospects, and companies like Square and MicroStrategy have invested their corporate cash into Bitcoin. Despite being extraordinarily risky and volatile — as evidenced by the 25% drop it took between last Friday and Monday afternoon — Bitcoin has, in some sense, been admitted to the club and is now seen by many as a plausible competitor to assets like gold. But along the way, something odd happened: Bitcoin completely lost its original reason for being.

Bitcoin was, after all, not designed to be a speculative asset. It was designed to be a currency, a new medium of exchange that people could, and would, use to transact daily business with each other. (That’s why we call it a cryptocurrency.) When Bitcoin was first introduced to the world in 2008 in a white paper, its mysterious creator, who dubbed himself Satoshi Nakamoto, described it as “a purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash [which] would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a…

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James Surowiecki
Marker
Writer for

I’m the author of The Wisdom of Crowds. I’ve been a business columnist for Slate and The New Yorker and written for a wide range of other publications.