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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Paul Krugman: Bubble, Bubble, Fraud and Trouble

"This will end badly":

Bubble, Bubble, Fraud and Trouble, by Paul Krugman, NY Times: The other day my barber asked me whether he should put all his money in Bitcoin. And the truth is that if he’d bought Bitcoin, say, a year ago he’d be feeling pretty good right now. On the other hand, Dutch speculators who bought tulip bulbs in 1635 also felt pretty good for a while, until tulip prices collapsed in early 1637.
So is Bitcoin a giant bubble that will end in grief? Yes. But it’s a bubble wrapped in techno-mysticism inside a cocoon of libertarian ideology. And there’s something to be learned about the times we live in by peeling away that wrapping. ...
In principle, you can use Bitcoin to pay for things electronically. But you can use debit cards, PayPal, Venmo, etc. to do that, too — and Bitcoin turns out to be a clunky, slow, costly means of payment. ... There’s really no reason to use Bitcoin in transactions — unless you don’t want anyone to see either what you’re buying or what you’re selling, which is why much actual Bitcoin use seems to involve drugs, sex and other black-market goods. ...
So are Bitcoins a superior alternative to $100 bills, allowing you to make secret transactions without lugging around suitcases full of cash? Not really... Bitcoin ... is ... an asset whose price is almost purely speculative, and hence incredibly volatile. ...
Oh, and Bitcoin’s untethered nature also makes it highly susceptible to market manipulation. ...
But what about the fact that those who did buy Bitcoin early have made huge amounts of money? ...
As Robert Shiller, the world’s leading bubble expert, points out, asset bubbles are like “naturally occurring Ponzi schemes.” Early investors in a bubble make a lot of money as new investors are drawn in, and those profits pull in even more people. The process can go on for years before something — a reality check, or simply exhaustion of the pool of potential marks — brings the party to a sudden, painful end.
When it comes to cryptocurrencies there’s an additional factor: It’s a bubble, but it’s also something of a cult, whose initiates are given to paranoid fantasies about evil governments stealing all their money (as opposed to private hackers, who have stolen a remarkably high proportion of extant cryptocurrency tokens). ...
So no, my barber shouldn’t buy Bitcoin. This will end badly, and the sooner it does, the better.

    Posted by on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 at 03:06 PM in Economics, Financial System | Permalink  Comments (23)


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