Weaknesses of Bitcoin

This is going to be a long critique of Bitcoin.
Executive Summary:
1. Bitcoin has no law, no law enforcer, so trusting anyone online is stupid. Every single service that takes and stores your money (online wallets, exchanges, instant transaction processors) has incentive to steal. You might as well ask some random stranger to hold that money for you.
2. No inflation, only deflation. Result: Hoard it, no reason to spend it!
3. Bad structural issues. Pooled mining controls most nodes in the network, so to break the system, you need only a few bad apples.
4. Not easy to setup, own and transact for non-geeks. Wallet lost is money lost. Transaction time takes ~10-60mins!
I have a friend who’s really vested in Bitcoins. He was really excited about it, bought a few bitcoins and thought I’d share his enthusiasm, which I did initially. I mean, whats not to like?
Its a decentralized, pseudo-anonymous digital currency that uses elegant algorithms to make it all work. When I first found about it, I spent a couple of days reading all about the algorithms, how there really is no bitcoin per se, its the transactions that get recorded. How double spending is avoided by having to perform work (computation work) to confirm a transaction. How every node in the bitcoin network has all the transactions so far, so there’s no centralized authority making it all work. The algorithms are mathematically sound, as long as no one discovers any shortcuts for the hash inversion problem (this is what needs to be computed to confirm a transaction)
I’m thoroughly impressed with the technical aspect of Bitcoin. It really is remarkable, considering what its designed to do, create a currency out of thin air, on the interwebs. No Fed, no physical notes/coins, no change in money supply (total amount that will be generated it fixed, although the actual amount increases overtime to approach the limit). So naturally my next question was: should I invest in this?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: Hell No!
Extremely long answer: Theoretically, Bitcoin is perfect. Here’re a few major weaknesses of Bitcoin (the way I see it) in reality.
No law to back it up, so no trust incentive, no moral incentive
Governments have laws that prohibit cheating. These set of rules and consequences induce trust in transacting with people you’ve never met before/don’t know anything about. Basically you’re trusting the government to make rules prohibiting cheating and its ability to enforce it by punishing law breakers. Why would you trust the government to do this? This is a line of reasoning that can take a long time to explain, so I’ll just say that personally, I believe that the gov (at least the US gov) does catch most of the law breakers, and if it goes out of line, we the people will bring it back on track. In short, if a lot of folks are getting screwed over, we’ll make sure our voices are heard and changes are put in place to rectify that which is broken. Now sure, there are cases when people cheat peoplebrokers steal their clients money, when government doesn’t punish law breakers. Its not perfect, as can be clearly seen in the last few years. But it kinda works.
In bitcoin land, there are no rules, and absolutely no enforcers. If people cheat even when there are stiff penalties for them if caught, imagine what people would do if there are NO penalties for being caught except perhaps reputation being tarnished for some online identity. For example, take the case of one of the biggest currency exchanges likemtGox. It looks legit, works, with decent depth of book. However this exchange as no Terms of Service(TOS). It does not guarantee anything. In case they shut down tomorrow, they have no obligation to people to transfer back their money. Worse still, you could siphon client money to their own purposes all the while showing it on their site. When would they get caught? When everyone takes out their money at once. They could then just shut down and dissappear, or even worse, pretend to be hacked, that some clients money was stolen and “explain” the missing money. Well, that exchange did get hacked and money was lost! Who’s to say it wasn’t them stealing from their own clients money and blaming it on a “hacker”?
The other side of this issue: Market manipulation. With the pseudo anonymity, there could be 2-3 accounts in mtGox with the same user which trade back and forth and create fake transactions/prices. What happened in 1920’s in US in the stock markets can and surely ishappening here. This is the wild wild west.

No Inflation!
Situation: You have 2 dollars and an equivalent amount of gold (at current prices). Which would you like to spend to buy a loaf of bread?
Hint: its the currency that will reduce its value.
Three years from now, the amount of gold on earth will be steady, but dollars would be worth less, due to inflation. Knowing your money will be worth less tomorrow make you want to spend it now. Otherwise rational people end up hoarding it, expecting it to go up in value. Thus there is no real economy for bitcoins. Its only miners and buyers, both hoarding bitcoins, knowing that as the Difficulty rises, their value of bitcoins increases exponentially as more people join and mine bitcoins.

Bad Structure
All the elegant algorithms cannot avoid collusion between nodes with majority computational power. This is because pooled mining nodes control make up most of the bitcoin network’s CPU power. Since these pools are essentially running mining software thats propagated from a single user, they are essentially one giant botnet which is currently working on mining. This reduced the number of nodes that need to be controlled to control a majority of the computing power on the network, which in turn enables people to do just about anything. Sure, something obvious would get caught by other people and then they can spawn their own thread of transactions, ignoring the new blocks added from the others, but that assuming they don’t segregate the network and report transactions selectively.

Ease of Use
Working through a transaction in bitcoin is hard. You send your transaction and wait for 10-60 minutes for confirmations. There’s no surety your transaction is valid, because at any time, but the odds go down significantly with every new confirmation. Instant transactions require third-party services again requiring your trust.
All in all, very unstable, very risky.
That to me explains the insane recent volatility and the crazy returns.
And its the returns that suck people in. Its a temptation that will overwhelm logic. The explanation for getting caught up is: “Even if its a bubble, I can still make money by buying in now and cashing out at the top.” Sadly given that other’s will certainly do the same, timing the top is more a game of chance than skilled trading. Currently bitcoin is propped up by illegal activities, misguided believers, goldbugs, speculators and early adopters who’ve seen their investments soar and who now have massive interest in bringing in more people to realize gains.
In my opinion, unless at least the trust issues and inflation are changed in the current system, this is very likely going to fail, or inflate until it pops.

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