Revisiting the investment case for bitcoin
EVERY TUESDAY for most of 1979-80, the Blitz wine bar in Covent Garden was host to an influential club-night. London was then a run-down city. The Blitz was a seedy spot. What made it remarkable were the Blitz Kids, the extravagantly dressed Tuesday-night regulars. A teenage Boy George worked in the cloakroom. The door policy was strict. To get in, said Steve Strange, who ran the club-night, you had to look “like a walking piece of art”. Mick Jagger was once refused entry.
在1979到1980年的大部分时间里，考文特花园的“闪击”（Blitz）酒吧每周二都会举办轰动一时的夜店聚会。当时的伦敦破败萧条。这个酒吧也是个乌烟瘴气的地方。让它不同凡响的是一群衣着夸张的周二之夜常客，人称“闪击小孩”（Blitz Kids）。当时十几岁的乔治男孩（Boy George）在那里的衣帽间工作。那儿的入场规定十分严格。周二看场子的史蒂夫·斯特兰奇（Steve Strange）说，要想进来，你看起来得“像一件行走的艺术品”。米克·贾格尔（Mick Jagger）曾被拒之门外。
This all seemed shallow and transient. The make-up, the get-ups and the evident disdain for people who were not walking pieces of art were marks of unseriousness. Yet the Blitz Kids, a mix of art students and urchins, would go on to shape popular culture, according to “Sweet Dreams: The Story of the New Romantics”, a new book by Dylan Jones. This brings us to another hangout for oddballs, fantasists and drop-outs: bitcoin. To most people it seems at best a fad, at worst a con-job. But it refuses to disappear. And its price in dollars is up by around 150% since March.
这一切看起来肤浅而短暂。浓妆艳抹、奇装异服、对那些没有行走艺术品范儿的人赤裸裸的不屑——看起来都像是闹着玩的。但是，迪伦·琼斯（Dylan Jones）在新书《甜美的梦：新浪漫主义者的故事》（Sweet Dreams: The Story of the New Romantics）中指出，由艺术生和坏孩子组成的闪击小孩之后却塑造了流行文化。讲到这里，就带出了另一个怪咖、幻想家和辍学生的聚集地：比特币。对于多数人来说，比特币往好了说是一种时髦，往坏了想就是一场骗局。但它拒绝昙花一现。自3月以来，其美元价格已经上涨了150%左右。
It is hard to have a sensible conversation about bitcoin. To show interest is to invite contempt from sceptics and an inbox stuffed with get-rich-quick proposals from boosters. But a nagging thought will not go away. What if these crypto-kids are on to something just as the much-derided Blitz Kids were? After all, as well as notoriety, bitcoin has ingenuity and scarcity on its side.
Start with the ingenuity. Even people who are hostile to bitcoin will concede that its technology is fiendishly clever. It is essentially a way of accounting for who has spent what. Instead of a central exchange to keep score, and to verify payments and receipts, it uses an electronic ledger that is distributed across the entire system of bitcoin users. The system’s dispersed nature means that tampering with the accounts would require gaining control over a majority of the network’s computers. That is an important source of trust in bitcoin.
A big part of its appeal to users is that no one official entity—no government, bank or tech firm—is in charge. (This is also what a lot of people dislike about it.) The system is self-regulating. It is also self-limiting. Bitcoins are “mined” when a computer solves a very time-consuming maths problem. It must identify a large number encrypted in the system’s code. Over time the remaining numbers become harder to find. Eventually the mine will be exhausted. Bitcoin’s supply protocol is as restrictive as the Blitz’s door policy. Only 21m bitcoins will ever be produced.
Millennial techies are at home with all this. The older technophobic crowd tends to be hostile. So be it. “That most people still hate bitcoin isn’t a bad thing,” writes Dylan Grice of Calderwood Capital, an alternative-investment boutique, in a recent letter to clients. This is to say that it is difficult to make a lot of money buying an asset that everybody likes. And as with the Blitz, the infamy and outrage is part of the allure. Older visitors might grumble that the music played there was unremarkable or that the venue was a dump. It didn’t matter. The club acted as a focal point for like-minded people. That is an underrated virtue. Thomas Schelling, a Nobel prize-winning economist and game theorist, contended that people gravitate towards focal points without formally agreeing to do so. His insight extends to asset markets. Gold bars—or bitcoins—have value if enough people tacitly agree that they do.
千禧一代的科技控对这一切甘之如饴。年长一点的“科技恐”则很反感。这没什么。精品另类投资管理公司卡尔德伍德资本（Calderwood Capital）的迪伦·格莱斯（Dylan Grice）最近在给客户的信中写道：“大多数人仍然讨厌比特币，这不是坏事。”意思就是说，去买一种人人都喜欢的资产很难赚到大钱。另外，和闪击酒吧一样，恶名和出格是其诱惑力的一部分。年长的客人可能会抱怨那里播放的音乐平平无奇，或者环境肮脏不堪。这没关系。这个夜店充当了志趣相投者的汇聚点。这是一种被低估的优点。获得诺贝尔奖的经济学家和博弈论专家托马斯·谢林（Thomas Schelling）认为，在没有正式达成过共识的情况下，人们也会向焦点汇聚。他的洞见也适用于资产市场。只要有足够多的人默认金条——或比特币——有价值，那么它就有价值。
What precisely might that value be? An honest answer is: “Who knows?” Bitcoin has no intrinsic worth. As with gold, there is no stream of future dividends to build a valuation around. Yet people have become comfortable with gold as an asset because it has been around for so long. Bitcoin is a newcomer, but its use is growing. So if you believe it has a future, you may want to own some, says Mr Grice. Indeed if you like gold as a hedge against a revival in inflation or some other calamity, you might consider transferring some of your gold allocation to bitcoin. It has advantages over the precious metal: it can be more easily stored and transferred, for instance. In some places, you can actually use it.
Bitcoin is a pretty tiny club. Beside it, gold looks as capacious as Wembley Stadium. The market value of all bitcoin is just 1-2% of the value of all the gold above ground. Scarcity is a trait of many things that are perceived to have value. Steve Strange, who sadly died in 2015, understood this fully. “The best move I ever made was turning Mick Jagger away at the door,” he said.