Understanding the Cryptocurrency Boom: A Ground-Level Assessment

I recently came across a December 1996 San Jose Mercury News article on tech pioneers' attempts to carry the pre-browser Internet's bulletin board community vibe over to the new-fangled World Wide Web.

In effect, the article is talking about social media a decade before MySpace and Facebook and 15 years before the maturation of social media.

(Apple was $25 per share in December 1996. Adjusted for splits, that's about the cost of a cup of coffee.)

So what's the point of digging up this ancient tech history?

  1. Technology changes in ways that are difficult to predict, even to visionaries who understand present-day technologies.
  2. The sources of great future fortunes are only visible in a rearview mirror.

Many of the tech and biotech companies listed in the financial pages of December 1996 no longer exist. Their industries changed, and they vanished or were bought up, often for pennies on the dollar of their heyday valuations.

Which brings us to cryptocurrencies, which entered the world with bitcoin in early 2009.

Now there are hundreds of cryptocurrencies, and a speculative boom has pushed bitcoin from around $600 a year ago to $2600 and Ethereum, another leading cryptocurrency, from around $10 last year to $370.

Where are cryptocurrencies in the evolution from new technology to speculative boom to maturation? Judging by valuation leaps from $10 to $370, the technology is clearly in the speculative boom phase.

If recent tech history is any guide, speculative boom phases are often poor guides to future valuations and the maturation trajectory of a new sector.

Anyone remember “push" technologies circa 1997? This was the hottest thing going, and valuations of early companies went ballistic. Then the fad passed and some new innovation became The Next Big Thing.

All of which is to say: nobody can predict the future course of cryptocurrencies, other than to say that speculative booms eventually end and technologies mature into forms that solve real business problems in uniquely cheap and robust ways no other technology can match.

So while we can't predict the future forms of cryptocurrencies that will dominate the mature marketplace, we can predict that markets will sort the wheat from the chaff by a winnowing the entries down to those that solve real business problems (i.e. address scarcities) in ways that are cheap and robust and that cannot be solved by other technologies.

The 'Anything Goes' Speculative Boom

Technologies with potentially mass applications often spark speculative booms. The advent of radio generated a speculative boom just as heady as any recent tech frenzy.

Many people decry the current speculative frenzy in cryptocurrencies, and others warn the whole thing is a Ponzi scheme, a fad, and a bubble in which the gullible sheep are being led to slaughter.

Meanwhile, tribalism is running hot in the cryptocurrencies space, with promoters and detractors of the various cryptocurrencies doing battle in online forums: bitcoin is doomed by FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about its warring camps, or it's the gold standard; Ethereum is either fundamentally flawed or the platform destined to dominate, and so on.

The technological issues are thorny and obtuse to non-programmers, and the eventual utility of the many cryptocurrencies is still an open question/in development.

It's difficult for non-experts to sort out all these claims. What's steak and what's sizzle? We can't be sure a new entrant is actually a blockchain or if its promoters are using blockchain as the selling buzzword.

Even more confusing are the debates over decentralization. One of the key advances of the bitcoin blockchain technology is its decentralized mode of operation: the blockchain is distributed on servers all over the planet, and those paying for the electricity to run those servers are paid for this service with bitcoin that is “mined" by the process of maintaining the blockchain. No central committee organizes this process.

Critics have noted that the mining of bitcoin is now dominated by large companies in China, who act as an informal “central committee" in that they can block any changes to the protocols governing the blockchain.

Others claim that competing cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum are centrally managed, despite defenders' claims to the contrary.

Meanwhile, fortunes are being made as speculators jump from one cryptocurrency to the next as ICOs (initial coin offerings) proliferate. Since the new coins must typically be purchased with existing cryptocurrencies, this demand has been one driver of soaring prices for Ethereum.

As if all this wasn't confusing enough, the many differences between various cryptocurrencies are difficult to understand and assess.

While bitcoin was designed to be a currency, and nothing but a currency, other cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum are not just currencies, they are platforms for other uses of blockchain technologies, for example, the much-touted smart contracts. This potential for applications beyond currencies is the reason why the big corporations have formed the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (https://entethalliance.org/).

Despite the impressive credentials of the Alliance, real-world applications that are available to ordinary consumers and small enterprises using these blockchain technologies are still in development: there's lots of sizzle but no steak yet.

Who Will The Winner(s) Be?

How can non-experts sort out what sizzle will fizzle and what sizzle will become dominant? The short answer is: we can't. An experienced programmer who has actually worked on the bitcoin blockchain, Ethereum and Dash (to name three leading cryptocurrencies) would be well-placed to explain the trade-offs in each (and yes, there are always trade-offs), but precious few such qualified folks are available for unbiased commentary as tribalism has snared many developers into biases that are not always advertised upfront.

So what's a non-expert to make of this swirl of speculation, skepticism, tribalism, confusing technological claims and counterclaims and the unavoidable uncertainties of the exhilarating but dangerously speculative boom phase?

There is no way to predict the course of specific cryptocurrencies, or the potential emergence of a new cryptocurrency that leaves all the existing versions in the dust, or governments' future actions to endorse or criminalize cryptocurrencies. But what we can do -- now, in the present -- is analyze present-day cryptocurrencies through the filters of scarcity and utility.

In Part 2: The Value Drivers Of Cryptocurrency, we analyze the necessary success requirements a cryptocurrency will need to excel on in order to become adopted at a mass, mainstream level. Once this happens (which increasingly looks like a matter of "when" not "if"), the resultant price increase of the winning coin(s) will highly likely be geometric and meteoric.

Sadly, the most probable catalyst for this will be a collapse of the current global fiat currency regime -- something that increasingly looks more and more inevitable. This will destroy a staggering amount of the (paper) wealth currently held by today's households. Which makes developing a fully-informed understanding of the cryptocurrency landscape now -- today -- an extremely important requirement for any prudent investor.

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Editor's Note: The above is a guest post by Charles Hugh Smith with PeakProsperity.com.

Acclaimed environmentalist and author of "Apocalypse Never" Michael Shellenberger joined Glenn Beck on the radio program Wednesday to warn us about the true goals and effects of climate alarmism: It's become a "secular religion" that lowers standards of living in developed countries, holds developing countries back, and has environmental progress "exactly wrong."

Michael is a Time "Hero of the Environment," Green Book Award winner, and the founder and president of Environmental Progress. He has been called a "environmental guru," "climate guru," "North America's leading public intellectual on clean energy," and "high priest" of the environmental humanist movement for his writings and TED talks, which have been viewed more than 5 million times. But when Michael penned a stunning article in Forbes saying, "On Behalf of Environmentalists, I Apologize for the Climate Scare", the article was pulled just a few hours later. (Read more here.)

On the show, Micheal talked about how environmental alarmism has overtaken scientific fact, leading to a number of unfortunate consequences. He said one of the problems is that rich nations are blocking poor nations from being able to industrialize. Instead, they are seeking to make poverty sustainable, rather than to make poverty history.

"As a cultural anthropologist, I've been traveling to poorer countries and interviewing small farmers for over 30 years. And, obviously there are a lot of causes why countries are poor, but there's no reason we should be helping them to stay poor," Michael said. "A few years ago, there was a movement to make poverty history ... [but] it got taken over by the climate alarmist movement, which has been focused on depriving poor countries, not just of fossil fuels they need to develop, but also the large hydroelectric dams."

He offered the example of the Congo, one of the poorest countries in the world. The Congo has been denied the resources needed to build large hydroelectric dams, which are absolutely essential to pull people out of poverty. And one of the main groups preventing poor countries from the gaining financing they need to to build dams is based in Berkeley, California — a city that gets its electricity from hydroelectric dams.

"It's just unconscionable ... there are major groups, including the Sierra Club, that support efforts to deprive poor countries of energy. And, honestly, they've taken over the World Bank [which] used to fund the basics of development: roads, electricity, sewage systems, flood control, dams," Micheal said.

"Environmentalism, apocalyptic environmentalism in particular, has become the dominant religion of supposedly secular people in the West. So, you know, it's people at the United Nations. It's people that are in very powerful positions who are trying to impose 'nature's order' on societies," he continued. "And, of course, the problem is that nobody can figure out what nature is, and what it's not. That's not a particular good basis for organizing your economy."

Watch the video below to catch more of the conversation:

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Dr. Voddie Baucham, Dean of Theology at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia, joined Glenn Beck on the radio program to explain why he agrees with Vice President Mike Pence's refusal to say the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

Baucham, who recently drew national attention when his sermon titled "Ethnic Gnosticism" resurfaced online, said the phrase has been trademarked by a dangerous, violent, Marxist movement that doesn't care about black lives except to use them as political pawns.

"We have to separate this movement from the issues," Baucham warned. "I know that [Black Lives Matter] is a phrase that is part of an organization. It is a trademark phrase. And it's a phrase designed to use black people.

"That phrase dehumanizes black people, because it makes them pawns in a game that has nothing whatsoever to do with black people and their dignity. And has everything to do with a divisive agenda that is bigger than black people. That's why I'm not going to use that phrase, because I love black people. I love being black."

Baucham warned that Black Lives Matter -- a radical Marxist movement -- is using black people and communities to push a dangerous and divisive narrative. He encouraged Americans to educate themselves on the organization's agenda and belief statement.

"This movement is dangerous. This movement is vicious. And this movement uses black people," he emphasized. "And so if I'm really concerned about issues in the black community -- and I am -- then I have to refuse, and I have to repudiate that organization. Because they stand against that for which I am advocating."

Watch the video below to catch more of the conversation:

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We're going to be doing an amazing broadcast on Thursday, July 2nd, and we will be broadcasting a really important moment. It is restoring truth. It is restoring our history. It is asking to you make a covenant with God. The covenant that was made by the Pilgrims. And it's giving you a road map of things that we can do, to be able to come back home, together.

All of us.

And it's never been more important. Join us live from the Standing Rock Ranch on Blaze TV, YouTube and Facebook at 8:00 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday July, 2nd and restore the hope in you.

Make sure you join us and use the hashtag and spread the word, fight the mob today and you'll save $20 on your year of subscription. We need you now more than ever.

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On last week's Wednesday night special, Glenn Beck revealed where the Black Lives Matter organization really gets its funding, and the dark money trail leading to a cast of familiar characters. Shortly after the program aired, one of BLM's fiscal sponsors, Thousand Currents, took down its board of directors page, which featured one of these shady characters:

Ex-Marxist professor and author of "Beyond Woke," Michael Rectenwald, joined Glenn Beck on the TV show to fill us in on the suspicious change he discovered on the Thousand Currents webpage and the Communist terrorists who is now helping run the organization. (Fortunately, the internet is forever, so it is still possible to view the board of directors page by looking at a web archive from the WayBack Machine.)

Rectenwald revealed the shocking life history of Thousand Currents' vice chair of the board, Susan Rosenberg, who spent 16 years in federal prison for her part in a series of increasingly violent acts of terrorism, including bombing the U.S. Capitol building, bombing an FBI building, and targeting police for assassination.

"Their whole campaign was one of unbelievably vicious, murderous cop killings, assassinations, and bombings," explained Rectenwald of Rosenberg's terror group known as the May 19th Communist Organization or M19.

Watch the video below to catch more of the conversation:


Glenn's full investigation into the dark origins of the funding behind Black Lives Matter is available for BlazeTV subscribers. Not a subscriber? Use promo code GLENN to get $10 off your BlazeTV subscription or start your 30-day free trial today.

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