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.

Click here to read the report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

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

On Wednesday's TV show, Glenn Beck sat down with radio show host, author, political commentator, and film critic, Michael Medved.

Michael had an interesting prediction for the 2020 election outcome: a brokered convention by the DNC will usher in former First Lady Michelle Obama to run against President Donald Trump.

Watch the video below to hear why he's making this surprising forecast:

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On Thursday's "Glenn Beck Radio Program," BlazeTV's White House correspondent Jon Miller described the current situation in Virginia after Gov. Ralph Northam (D) declared a state of emergency and banned people carrying guns at Capitol Square just days before a pro-Second-Amendment rally scheduled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Jon told Glenn that Gov. Northam and the Virginia Legislature are "trying to deprive the people of their Second Amendment rights" but the citizens of Virginia are "rising up" to defend their constitutional rights.

"I do think this is the flashpoint," Jon said. "They [Virginia lawmakers] are saying, 'You cannot exercise your rights ... and instead of trying to de-escalate the situation, we are putting pressure. We're trying to escalate it and we're trying to enrage the citizenry even more'."

Glenn noted how Gov. Northam initially blamed the threat of violence from Antifa for his decision to ban weapons but quickly changed his narrative to blame "white supremacists" to vilify the people who are standing up for the Second Amendment and the Constitution.

"What he's doing is, he's making all all the law-abiding citizens of Virginia into white supremacists," Glenn said.

"Sadly, that's exactly right," Jon replied. "And I think he knows exactly what he's doing."

Watch the video to catch more of the conversation below:

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Ryan: Trump Louisiana Finale

Photo by Jim Dale

Part One. Part Two. Part Three.

At the end of Trump rallies, I would throw on my Carhartt jacket, sneak out of the press area, then blend in with everyone as they left, filing out through swinging doors.

Often, someone held the door open for me. Just 30 minutes earlier, the same person had most likely had most likely hissed at me for being a journalist. And now they were Sunday smiles and "Oh, yes, thank you, sir" like some redneck concierge.

People flooded out of the arena with the stupidity of a fire drill mishap, desperate to survive.

The air smacked you as soon as you crossed the threshold, back into Louisiana. And the lawn was a wasteland of camping chairs and coolers and shopping bags and to-go containers and soda cans and articles of clothing and even a few tents.

In Monroe, in the dark, the Trump supporters bobbled over mounds of waste like elephants trying to tiptoe. And the trash was as neutral to them as concrete or grass. They plodded over it because it, an object, had somehow gotten in their way.

It did not matter that they were responsible for this wreckage.Out in the sharp-edged moonlight, rally-goers hooted and yapped and boogied and danced, and the bbq food truck was all smoke and paper plates.

They were even more pumped than they had been before the rally, like 6,000 eight year olds who'd been chugging Mountain Dew for hours. Which made Donald Trump the father, the trooper, God of the Underworld, Mr. Elite, Sheriff on high horse, the AR-15 sticker of the family.

Ritualistic mayhem, all at once. And, there in Louisiana, Trump's supporters had gotten a taste of it. They were all so happy. It bordered on rage.

Still, I could not imagine their view of America. Worse, after a day of strange hostilities, I did not care.

My highest priority, my job as a reporter, was to care. To understand them and the world that they inhabit. But I did not give a damn and I never wanted to come back.

Worst of all, I would be back. In less than a week.

Was this how dogs felt on the 4th of July? Hunched in a corner while everyone else gets drunk and launches wailing light into the sky? configurations of blue and red and white.

It was 10:00 p.m. and we'd been traveling since 11:00 a.m., and we still had 5 hours to go and all I wanted was a home, my home, any home, just not here, in the cold sweat of this nowhere. Grey-mangled sky. No evidence of planes or satellites or any proof of modern-day. Just century-old bridges that trains shuffled over one clack at a time.

And casinos, all spangles and neon like the 1960s in Las Vegas. Kitchy and dumb, too tacky for lighthearted gambling. And only in the nicer cities, like Shreveport, which is not nice at all.

And swamp. Black water that rarely shimmered. Inhabited by gadflies and leeches and not one single fish that was pretty.

Full of alligators, and other killing types. The storks gnawing on frogs, the vultures never hungry. The coyotes with nobody to stop them and so much land to themselves. The roaches in the wild, like tiny wildebeests.

Then, the occasional deer carcass on the side of the road, eyes splayed as if distracted, tongue out, relaxed but empty. The diseased willows like skeletons in hairnets. The owls that never quit staring. A million facets of wilderness that would outlive us all.

Because Nature has poise. It thrives and is original.

Because silence is impossible. Even in an anechoic chamber, perfectly soundproofed, you can hear your own heartbeat, steady as a drum. A never-ending war.

I put "Headache" by Grouper on repeat as we glided west. We were deadlocked to asphalt, rubber over tarface.

And I thought about lines from a Rita Dove poem titled "I have been a stranger in a strange land"

He was off cataloging the universe, probably,
pretending he could organize
what was clearly someone else's chaos.

Wasn't that exactly what I was doing? Looking for an impossible answer, examining every single accident, eager for meaning? telling myself, "If it happens and matters the next year, in America, I want to be there, or to know what it means. I owe it to whoever cares to listen."

Humans are collectors and I had gone overboard.

Because maybe this wasn't even my home. These landmarks, what did they mean? Was I obvious here? When I smiled, did I trick them into believing that I felt some vague sense of approval? Or did my expressions betray me?

Out in all that garbage-streaked emptiness — despite the occasional burst of passing halogen — I couldn't tell if everything we encountered was haunted or just old, derelict, broken, useless. One never-ending landfill.

Around those parts, they'd made everything into junk. Homes. Roads. Glass. Nature. Life itself, they made into junk.

I cringed as we passed yet another deer carcass mounded on the side of the road.

As written in Job 35:11,

Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds in the sky?

Nobody. Look at nature and you feel something powerful. Look at an animal, in all of its untamable majesty, and you capture a deep love, all swept up in the power of creation. But, here, all I saw were poor creatures who people had slammed into and kept driving. Driving to where? For what reason? What exactly was so important that they left a trail of dead animals behind them?

So I crossed myself dolorously and said an "Our Father" and recited a stanza from Charles Bukowski's "The Laughing Heart"

you can't beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.

Out here, nothing but darkness. Needing some light, by God. Give me something better than a Moon that hides like an underfed coward.

Jade told me about some of the more traumatic things she'd seen while working at the State Fair.

"Bro, they pull roaches out of the iced lemonade jugs and act like nothing happened."

"All right but what about the corn dogs?"

"You do not want to know, little bro."

She looked around in the quiet. "Back in the day, the Louisiana Congress refused to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21," she said. "They didn't want to lose all that drunk gambler money. So the federal government cut off funding to highways."

We glided through moon-pale landscape for an hour before I realized what she had meant. That there weren't any light poles or billboards along the road. Nothing to guide us or distract us. Just us, alone. And it felt like outer space had collapsed, swallowed us like jellybeans.

Like two teenagers playing a prank on the universe.

In the cozy Subaru Crosstrek, in the old wild night, brimming with the uncertainty of life and the nonchalance of failure, we paraded ourselves back to Dallas. Alive in the river silence that follows us everywhere.

New installments come Mondays and Thursdays. Next, the Iowa caucuses. Check out my Twitter. Email me at kryan@blazemedia.com

The Iowa primary is just around the corner, and concerns of election interference from the last presidential election still loom. Back in 2016, The Associated Press found that a majority of U.S. elections systems still use Windows 7 as an operating system, making them highly susceptible to bugs and errors. And last year, a Mississippi voter tried multiple times to vote for the candidate of his choice, but the system continuously switched his vote to the other candidate. It's pretty clear: America's voting systems desperately need an update.

That's where blockchain voting comes in.

Blockchain voting is a record-keeping system that's 100% verifiable and nearly impossible to hack. Blockchain, the newest innovation in cybersecurity, is set to grow into a $20 billion industry by 2025. Its genius is in its decentralized nature, distributing information throughout a network of computers, requiring would-be hackers to infiltrate a much larger system. Infiltrating multiple access points spread across many computers requires a significant amount of computing power, which often costs more than hackers expect to get in return.

Blockchain voting wouldn't allow for many weak spots. For instance, Voatz, arguably the leading mobile voting platform, requires a person to take a picture of their government-issued ID and a picture of themselves before voting (a feature, of course, not present in vote-by-mail, where the only form of identity verification is a handwritten signature, which is easily forgeable). Voters select their choices and hit submit. They then receive an immediate receipt of their choices via email, another security feature not present in vote-by-mail, or even in-person voting. And because the system operates on blockchain technology, it's nearly impossible to tamper with.

Votes are then tabulated, and the election results are published, providing a paper trail, which is a top priority for elections security experts.

The benefits of blockchain voting can't be dismissed. Folks can cast their vote from the comfort of their homes, offices, etc., vastly increasing the number of people who can participate in the electoral process. Two to three-hour lines at polling places, which often deter voters, would become significantly diminished.

Even outside of the voting increase, the upsides are manifold. Thanks to the photo identification requirements, voter fraud—whether real or merely suspected—would be eliminated. The environment would win, too, since we'd no longer be wasting paper on mail-in ballots. Moreover, the financial burden on election offices would be alleviated, because there's decreased staff time spent on the election, saving the taxpayer money.

From Oregon to West Virginia, elections offices have already implemented blockchain voting, and the results have been highly positive. For example, the city of Denver utilized mobile voting for overseas voters in their 2019 municipal elections. The system was secure and free of technical errors, and participants reported that it was very user-friendly. Utah County used the same system for their 2019 primary and general elections. An independent audit revealed that every vote that was cast on the app was counted and counted correctly. These successful test cases are laying the groundwork for even larger expansions of the program in 2020.

With this vital switch, our elections become significantly more secure, accurate, and efficient. But right now, our election infrastructure is a sitting duck for manipulation. Our current lack of election integrity undermines the results of both local and national elections, fans the flames of partisanship, and zaps voter confidence in the democratic system. While there's never a silver bullet or quick fix to those kinds of things, blockchain voting would push us much closer to a solution than anything else.

Chris Harelson is the Executive Director at Prosperity Council and a Young Voices contributor.