I may have gotten a little carried away in the GQ thread about bitcoins, so I’m starting this one. The debate is if bitcoins are of net harm or net benefit to humanity as a whole. It seems as if we’re reaching a tipping point in the general awareness of bitcoins, at least here in the US. A few players set to be drafted into the NFL in a few days, including the likely #1 pick, have announced that they will be converting large sums of their pay into bitcoins. There was a top of the website article on this issue on ESPN’s website earlier today. Thus I think it’s worth having the debate again. I’ll start with two issues, but I don’t want to limit the discussion to just these two.
Let’s start with the electricity used in bitcoin mining. Here’s one article from the BBC which reports the amount of yearly energy consumption used in bitcoin mining is enough to power the country of Argentina for a whole year. Bitcoin mining uses about 0.5% of all electricity generated worldwide. That’s certainly not good for reducing our CO2 output.
The other negative that I see is that there isn’t anything of value underlying the currency other than that energy that is used in the mining and the blockchain itself (which I admit to not having a good understanding of). US dollars, euros, pounds, etc. have value because people in the US, Europe, the UK, and every other country around the world, produce things of value. The currencies are then used to keep track of the value of stuff produced, whether tangible goods or services.
This second issue, of course, is only a problem for those people who have decided to purchase bitcoins. It does seem to me to demonstrate, however, why the whole thing doesn’t make any sense.
So have at it. Are these two negatives valid complaints? What other negatives have I missed? What positives am I overlooking?
Bonus question. For those of us who come down on the net negative side, myself included, can governments do anything to realistically discourage or stop bitcoin mining?