Back to the future: Why Bitcoin is still a game-changer
Bitcoin is awakening humanity to its own sovereign capacities, says Ben Caselin of AAX. Here’s why the world’s first cryptocurrency is still at the cutting edge of finance and culture.
Caselin will be a co-host at the Bitcoin & Beyond Summit on Nov. 10 sponsored by AAX and Forkast. To attend the virtual event, register here.
Bitcoin may have taken a back seat in the collective consciousness of the crypto community this year as the non-fungible token scene took off and decentralized finance enjoyed an Indian summer, but the coin that started it all has been back in the headlines lately. Bitcoin has returned to valuations last seen during the heady peaks of spring, BTC futures funds began trading on Wall Street earlier this month, and a Central American nation has adopted it as a parallel currency.
The world’s original cryptocurrency remains the subject of debate, concern and criticism, but for a number of crypto watchers, 2021 marked the beginning of the end of traditional finance, with Bitcoin poised finally to transform the space.
“A few hundred years ago, we were still in a world that was ruled by emperors — shahs, sultans, kings, czars… Within a span of 80 years that all disappeared,” Ben Caselin, the head of research at crypto exchange AAX, told Forkast.News in a video interview. “Things change.”
As things have changed, Bitcoin has also changed. The peer-to-peer payment network described in mysterious Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakomoto’s original 2008 whitepaper has evolved into an asset class held by a wide range of investors — from retail traders to traditional finance sector businesses to governments. Caselin insists that in order to navigate a crypto space that has grown well beyond Bitcoin, it is critical to recognize Bitcoin’s core principles, which extend beyond its technology.
“Bitcoin is not just a technology. It’s not just an asset,” Caselin said. “It’s also a set of principles, and it is also a very unique entity now in this world, just like the internet … Bitcoin is the awakening of humanity to its own sovereign capacities.”
Amid the rise of new blockchains with more powerful functions and faster transactions, concerns have grown that Bitcoin is being outmoded. With thousands of cryptocurrencies and blockchain applications appearing, many investors have diversified their crypto portfolios.
“There’s a lot of experimentation going on,” Caselin said. “If you really want to stick to the Bitcoin network, you could almost say that things that really succeed in the altcoin space perhaps will eventually graduate to Bitcoin.”
Bitcoin broke its own price record this month to trade at US$66,930, and Caselin believes that institutional adoption will be the deciding factor in whether it rises further.
“For Bitcoin to keep rising, more capital needs to come in, and that cannot just be small money,” Caselin said. “It makes sense in the bigger scheme of things that now it’s the time for institutions. But they also have to kind of go through … cultural transformations.”
Watch Caselin’s full interview with Forkast.News Editor-in-Chief Angie Lau to learn more about why Bitcoin is still the next big thing.
- Bitcoin in El Salvador — far-sighted or foolish? “It is brave at this stage in the market. Because the market is still only 2% or 3% adoption. And so, because of that, it’s susceptible to more manipulation … volatility … Most importantly, it’s susceptible to a lot of criticism, ignorance and prejudice … So I think at the core, El Salvador’s move was a very bold one. I think it’s very important for Bitcoin. It’s really raised the profile. It’s all wonderful that we get these comments from the International Monetary Fund, and we get reluctance from the World Bank, and we get some downgrading from (credit rating agency) Moody’s.”
- The diversification argument: “Generally, Ethereum, Bitcoin… they move in unison. Sometimes Ethereum will move a bit faster. But then yesterday — or two days before — it just didn’t. It went down while Bitcoin went up. So yes, there is this kind of arbitrary movement, but I would still say that generally cryptocurrencies move together … So the diversification, I don’t know if it’s that strong yet as an argument, it does (matter) in the short term.”
- The role of institutions in Bitcoin’s rise: “For Bitcoin to keep rising, more capital needs to come in, and that cannot just be small money. Of course, it has to be big money. So the 100% rise from here still needs, like, more than a trillion dollars — it needs for it to double in size. And retail doesn’t necessarily have a trillion dollars lying around. So, of course, it makes sense in the bigger scheme of things that now it’s the time for institutions. But they also have to kind of go through … cultural transformations.”
- Can Bitcoin change humanity? “Bitcoin is the awakening of humanity to its own sovereign capacities. So as they engage the asset, they become aware that it’s important to self-custody. It’s important actually that money can flow over borders freely. It’s important that money cannot be diluted by third parties that are not democratically elected, etc. There’s a lot of these things that we can only realize. We realize them for a while, but that we realize en masse as we are, as we are kind of confronted with an alternative. And so Bitcoin offers that alternative.”
Angie Lau: How and why did Bitcoin become Bitcoin? What’s the current state of the world’s first blockchain-powered currency? And what lies ahead in its future?
Welcome to Word on the Block, the series that takes a deeper dive into blockchain and all the emerging technologies that shape our world at the intersection of business, politics and economy. It’s what we cover right here on Forkast.News.
I’m Editor-in-Chief Angie Lau.
Well, what a year 2021 has been for Bitcoin so far. But it’s not over yet. The last quarters of the recent years have been nothing short of amazing for those deep in the crypto rabbit hole. And for those even further down this hole, Bitcoin may be a hero. Or could it be a villain?
A hero or villain, they all have stories to tell. The tale of Bitcoin has been told a thousand times and more. But there are still chapters that haven’t yet been explored.
We’re going to be taking a look at some of them on Nov. 10, at Forkast’s first virtual summit in partnership with crypto exchange AAX, called Bitcoin & Beyond.
And today, this is a sneak preview to some of those stories, some of those conversations, and some of the top thought leadership among blockchain voices in this space. They dive into the past, the present and the future of Bitcoin.
Well, joining me right now is the head of research at AAX, who is going to be my partner in crime — Ben Caselin — at our Bitcoin & Beyond Summit.
Ben, welcome to Word on the Block.
Ben Caselin: Yeah, thank you very much. I’m looking forward to the conversation and looking forward to the Bitcoin & Beyond Summit.
Lau: Yeah, I’m super-excited about it. When people watch this, and it’s just going to be right around the corner, it’s going to be a realization that Bitcoin is truly part of the conversation. The reason why we’re putting this together — it’s been an incredible decade for Bitcoin or blockchains or the cryptocurrency space, where once upon a time, it was all about the crypto punks and the ‘OGs,’ and now we have institutional and traditional players in this space. Increasingly, this is the ecosystem that we serve.
Well, let’s talk about the year it’s been for crypto and NFTs. It’s just been incredible. We saw (an) accelerated institutional embrace of crypto. We saw digital JPEGs selling for millions of dollars, decentralized finance — I can keep going, but let’s talk about the one thing that started it all: Bitcoin.
How did we get here? What is it about Bitcoin that draws retail and institutions alike? And what do you see in the marketplace from your perspective at the exchange?
Caselin: As an exchange, we’ve not been in the space since the beginning, since 2009. There were no exchanges. And, actually, Bitcoin then wasn’t something that you would go out and buy. It was something that you would generate. It was something that you would do some work for on your laptop. It’s funny — you can kind of generate these coins. People would maybe learn about it on forums and study the white paper and the dream of the million-dollar Bitcoin — it’s been there since the beginning — but I think very few people saw that as something viable or realistic.
The way I look at the first 10 years of Bitcoin would be kind of the ‘decade of emergence.’ And so in the decade of emergence, anything that’s emerging comes with a bunch of characteristics that characterize at that age. And since the decade ended, I think now we’re in the decade of adoption, which looks very different, and it may come with a few different challenges as well. It’s still an emergent technology, but in the decade of emergence, there are certain challenges, and I think most of them have been overcome. And now we’ve entered a new phase and so, new challenges ahead.
Lau: Yeah, those challenges also reflect the kind of liquidity that we’re seeing in this market, where once upon a time it was, ‘OK, well, if that’s what you want to do with your money, go for it.’ And it was just a closed loop until it became more and more and more, whereas once upon a time you could buy a pizza with Bitcoin — a lot of Bitcoin. And that was the running joke. Whereas now, it really feels like people’s store of value. This is an asset class that’s covered in the space. It’s covered by us, it’s served by the ecosystem. And that also leads to more regulatory scrutiny, as well. Now there’s more liquidity in the market, where there’s more participants. When more and more people are coming into the space, there are challenges when it comes to adoption. Do you see that as being part of the narrative right now for the next decade? What do you think of it?
Caselin: It’s so different. So many different people participate in this space. You could say that in the early years, when Bitcoin was suddenly used for WikiLeaks, the FBI got involved. There’s always been a tension with all types of formal structures and established structures and institutions. That’s already since the early days, but perhaps the concerns are different. So now it’s the everyday people going into Bitcoin, its institutions, and potentially later on, funds that maybe manage people’s retirement funds. so the concerns will be more… more complex. It’s not just a matter of, ‘Oh, this is being used to fund the drug trade or other illicit or fraudulent practices.’ This is just… it wants to be legitimate, and new concerns have arisen that maybe five years ago, were just not on the table.
Bitcoin is set apart because of a number of reasons — and not so much that it means that all other things and all other enterprises in the space are not valid. It’s just that we need to distinguish it very clearly from what Bitcoin represents as a kind of non-sovereign, permissionless, decentralized network. Then we see a lot of innovation that’s using blockchain technology, which is very exciting and it’s leading to a lot of growth in the space.
But it really depends on how the space evolves — and especially in relation to regulators and in relation to government — that we can see where value will actually converge. So you could say… you could argue that the more pressure on the space, actually, the more value will actually converge on Bitcoin, because Bitcoin is the safe haven, the safe-haven protocol, the safe-haven asset, the safe-haven network. But if regulators are more open to see and let things grow organically, then we can see a continuation of new cryptocurrencies being issued almost every day and new exchanges coming up.
Right now, there’s a lot of freedom in the space, and, of course, there are some restrictions coming in. Not to speak to any regulators’ intentions, but I do think that there is an awareness that you can’t just cut this off. You need to kind of see where it’s headed, because you don’t want to miss out on the growth opportunity. And that’s not just from a financial perspective — that’s from a geopolitical perspective, from a legal perspective, from a domestic political perspective. There’s a lot of reasons why you would want to not just dismiss these developments.
Lau: I absolutely agree. I think that was one of the things that we thought about when we were really trying to figure out what were the kind of conversations we wanted to have for the conference — who we wanted to invite to the stage to actually have a really thoughtful and insightful conversation about this.
It’s a great point — there’s an increasing bifurcation of policy in this space. Right here in Asia, we just reported on China’s increasing clampdown on cryptocurrencies, the mining industry, and we actually have great sessions on that. And then on the other side is just the kind of language that we’re hearing from the West, which is… no plans to clamp down on crypto. So there seems to be this… at least not the kind of pressure that we’ve necessarily seen from a policy standpoint. How do we navigate this space?
And I was very excited that some of the top names have confirmed — Sam Bankman-Fried, one of our favorite guests here on the show at Word on the Block — to explore that… what that can look like. We have Carolyn Malcolm of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development — the head of blockchain policy — joining us… Sheila Warren of the World Economic Forum. These are really just really great, thoughtful macro-observers in this space. To your point, Ben, the challenge is lending more and more and more to that.
So a question for you is how does one navigate, especially when it’s not just Bitcoin anymore? There are these thousands of other cryptocurrencies out there, there are altcoins, and more and more and being developed. So how to navigate this space?
Caselin: Sure. Actually, it’s very interesting that you put in the perspective of the Bitcoin & Beyond Summit. What I just mentioned is we need to acknowledge that Bitcoin is a kind of in a sphere of its own. And then we see a lot of innovation around it. And we don’t know yet how these things will evolve in the larger scheme of things. But I think with Bitcoin & Beyond, at least the intention is to recognize that if we place Bitcoin in the center, we start seeing what is the actual revolution that’s happening, and it’s been happening for a long time already.
And then the ‘beyond.’ The beyond doesn’t necessarily mean we have to talk about NFTs, but we can. It doesn’t necessarily mean we should talk about proof of stake protocols, but we could. But the beyond question is also to build in the recognition that Bitcoin is not just a technology. It’s not just an asset. It’s very safe if we talk about Bitcoin as another asset. And I think, you know, the friends in legacy (finance) will be happy to just talk about it as another portfolio allocation. But Bitcoin is more than just an asset, and it’s more than just a technology. It’s also a set of principles, and it’s also a kind of a very unique entity now in this world, just like the internet is very unique. You can’t just connect some things together and say, ‘Well, now we have the internet.’
Bitcoin, as such, is more than the sum of its parts. And then you get the whole geopolitical restructuring that could come from this that we can already see glimmers in Latin America, and perhaps on the African continent, and even perhaps in Asia, because we saw Laos also take some steps towards Bitcoin. So it’s also a story. And the way that I see it very, very specifically, I see Bitcoin also as a kind of discursive phenomenon. So it’s something that we talk about. It’s something that we think about, and then it’s something that informs our thinking. And so Bitcoin & Beyond, as a summit, there’s one thing we can do… we can do on-chain analytics. You can study the chain and say, ‘Well, this is what’s happening at a high resolution really at the level of protocol and at the level of the blocks.’ We can also do price analysis. And then you’re just looking at the expression of Bitcoin real-time — it’s going up, it’s going down, it’s trading sideways, there were some liquidations. This is also valid, but I believe that these conversations that we can have are part of Bitcoin’s growth. So our knowledge and our insights and our agreement that we can come to, over the long term expresses itself in Bitcoin as well?
Lau: But a lot of the conversation is also centering around ‘Is Bitcoin passé? Is it yesterday?’ There are a lot of new kids in town that have smart-contract functionality that have higher transaction rates… all of these things. There’s also this challenge. The technology has evolved beyond what Bitcoin can do. Therein lies the debate.
Caselin: Yes. Well, there lies the debate if we reduce it to a technology, because then you get exactly what you say, which is, ‘Hey, here’s a technology and there’s a better technology.’ But if we look at the principles as well… so, for example, the principles of being non-sovereign, meaning really there is no place that can lay claim to the network, that can lay claim to being at the kind of… the origins of it. Even if today we found out who Satoshi Nakamoto was, it’s already become a kind of transcultural thing. And so that is Bitcoin. That’s an important principle, especially if you look at it from a security point of view, and if you want to put things into a global scale, as soon as you get an American project or a Russian project or a Japanese project, suddenly we’re beginning to put this into national frameworks, or we’re going to put it into these kind of divisive frameworks. Bitcoin is just kind of floating around. I think that’s important to see. If we don’t reduce it to technology, then, and we place Bitcoin at the center of it, it’s not mutually exclusive. We can see this in the expression of side chains or second layers or third layers. I think that’s much more where we’re headed. I know at this moment there’s a lot of discussion, and I think people want to see their price go up or they want to also have success. Or, very justifiably, they’ve created something which, from a technical perspective, is better than Bitcoin. But I think that probably what we’ll see over the coming few years is much more integration. And what you want as your base layer is not any type of enterprise run by a single individual, run by a single team or identifiable nodes, or just 19 nodes or 20 nodes. You want it to be something that’s really peer-to-peer, global in structure. And on top of that, you can build any project you like.
Lau: So what do you think of what’s happening in El Salvador? Trying to use it as a national currency — for lack of a better description. This is a national digital currency that’s now being used in El Salvador. Bitcoin — are we seeing more and more coming up? What does this actually mean for Bitcoin, if there are those who are investing in that original digital currency, and where it’s going to go?
Caselin: Yeah. So I think it was very unexpected that it was El Salvador. In retrospect, you could say, ‘Oh, it’s so logical.’ But actually, it’s unexpected. We didn’t know this would happen.
The first thing we should say about it is that it is very brave. It is very brave for the leader of a country to take this step and this risk — it’s still a risk. First of all, to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender, that is already something that really requires quite some courage at this stage. Maybe later, when other countries come aboard, maybe it’s different. But at this moment, to be the first mover is always difficult. Secondly, it’s quite brave to come up against U.S. hegemony. There’s a lot of bad experiences in Latin America. We don’t have to get into the political details of it, but I think everybody knows that Latin America for a long time has been the backyard of the U.S., and I think this is a really brave step to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, we have our own sovereign prerogative as well.’
And thirdly, it’s brave at this stage in the market. It’s not about volatility — that’s just one thing. It’s just that it’s only 2% or 3% adoption. And so because of that, it’s susceptible to more manipulation, you could say… and it’s susceptible to more volatility.
Even those things are not that important. Most importantly, it’s susceptible to a lot of criticism, ignorance and prejudice. And so you have to deal with all these things. At the core, El Salvador’s move was a very bold one. It’s very important for Bitcoin. It’s really raised the profile. It’s all wonderful that we get these comments from the International Monetary Fund, and we get reluctance from the World Bank, and we get some downgrading from (credit rating agency) Moody’s. Everybody has to show their true colors at this point. And I think Bitcoin forces everybody to show their true colors. And when you’re a global institution that’s tasked with protecting countries and making sure that their legal tender is supported, and you fund structural adjustment programs to help build countries up, it’s somewhat odd that you would be so discouraging of this bold step instead of being supportive.
We can guess this, right? People’s interests and people’s power — and people or institutions — their status and wealth is all tied up into a system that Bitcoin or Bitcoiners think will inevitably crumble or become less centralized, at least.
Lau: Well, therein lies the power of this technology, which is peer-to-peer and disintermediated by centralized institutions or bodies. And you essentially described many of these agencies, and you hinted at the tension that exists. Is it brave or is it foolish? It’s still part of the international monetary system, and there are still rules that they are bound to. There’s still serious money that wants to participate, but maybe they feel not so good about it now. Also, there are a lot of implications we don’t know because El Salvador is the first.
Caselin: Yes. We don’t know. However, if we just look at the core principles and we say, look, here’s a country… they have not abandoned the U.S. dollar, so you could say they don’t have the full exposure to Bitcoin’s volatility. It is possible to pay people and immediately move into U.S. dollars. So let’s say it’s not so much the risk of volatility, but rather what you say, which is (that) they could get some problematic relations with donors and the big funds that help them and these agencies.
But maybe we should go more to the core of it and just say, for a country to take its sovereign right to make this decision and to put a (type of) money in the center of its society that maybe doesn’t depreciate over time over the long term, that that is not susceptible to external central bank policies… that doesn’t necessarily require countries to take the kind of political adjustments in order to get money, because that is factually what the IMF has been doing for many, many years in Africa and Latin America — many, many years. And not always for the benefit of the populations.
There’s a good example after World War II in Europe, and that’s basically the whole experience of building countries up. It’s pretty big to say, like, ‘Hey, if you make these adjustments in your country, we’ll give you money.’ That’s a power play that I think El Salvador very rightfully wants to see if they can become less reliant on. That’s kind of how I see it. It may be foolish, but in the long term, I think it’s the right thing to do, and it’s no different than, a few hundred years ago, we were still in a world that was ruled by emperors — shahs, sultans, kings, czars… Within a span of 80 years that all disappeared. We still have some royalty left that cuts ribbons, but generally it’s all disappeared within 80 years, and we’re talking about thousands of years, or at least hundreds of years, of these kinds of royalty cultures. Things change.
Lau: They absolutely do change. What do you think is the current state of Bitcoin right now — the overall condition of the market? What would you say 2021 was (like as) a year for Bitcoin?
Caselin: (When) 2021 started, of course, it had gone past its all-time high of US$20,000 from back at the end of 2017. It kept rising. People were getting bullish. (MicroStrategy co-founder) Michael Saylor stepped in and converted or transitioned into the kind of the Bitcoin standard. We saw some other surprising, surprising entrants into the space, including (Tesla founder) Elon Musk. That’s all at the start of 2021. And then we had a crash in May, which was about a 50% crash, which is not moderate. We can’t say that it’s just a little crash, but it was something that was taken with a lot of confidence. The crash was immediately followed by a period of — that’s ongoing — accumulation and very obvious by those players — not so much the institutions. It’s more the players that understood the game. And there are plenty of non-institutional traders, just retail traders. They may have a lot of Bitcoin, but they understand the game, and they know when Bitcoin crashes like this, fear will grip the new entrants into the space. For them, it’s just a matter of accumulation. You’ll find a lot of Bitcoiners that are quite seasoned in the space. They actually enjoy bear markets. And it makes sense because if you’re absolutely convinced that Bitcoin will continue to appreciate in value, you’re absolutely convinced and you have like, let’s say, a nine-to-five job or whatever you’re doing, you need plenty of time to build up your Bitcoin holdings. So I think we’re seeing a maturity. There’s more maturity in this space. But when we say maturity, we can’t just place this image on it that we already have of what it means to be a mature market. Like, this is a different type of mature market, and the maturity takes on a different shape.
Lau: A maturity perhaps lies with the market participants. The demographics have changed. To your point, Ben, we heard the term ‘institutional adoption’ all year long involving Bitcoin. Can you talk about the rate of Bitcoin institutional adoption this year and how you’ve seen it accelerate the space a little bit?
Caselin: For Bitcoin to keep rising, more capital needs to come in, and that cannot just be small money. Of course, it has to be big money. So the 100% rise from here still needs, like, more than a trillion dollars — it needs for it to double in size. And retail doesn’t necessarily have a trillion dollars lying around. So, of course, it makes sense in the bigger scheme of things that now it’s the time for institutions. But they also have to kind of go through … cultural transformations.
So, for example, there’s a discussion around custody. Institutions need custodians. They need other third parties to hold their Bitcoin. I wouldn’t say that I’m against it. That’s great. They need it, so wonderful. Do it. Same with an (exchange-traded fund) — sorry to be jumping a bit, but it’s the same concept. Same with Bitcoin ETF. It’s very exciting. It’s great. It gives access to people that may be in their country, cannot legally access a cryptocurrency exchange, or they don’t dare to go to a cryptocurrency exchange. Or maybe they want to stay away from these peer-to-peer exchanges. Great. Get an ETF and buy some shares. That’s all good. However, we should be aware… and social institutions, even if they have a third-party custodian, of principles like permissionlessness, borderlessness, or the fact that it cannot be seized… confiscated. These are all kind of features of Bitcoin that are not for sale. They’re not for sale on the stock market, so to speak. You miss out on some of these features when you place it with the third-party custodian, and that’s fine… it may be fine. But I think we should be aware of these kind of core principles. Bitcoin is… it professes a culture of self-custody. It professes a culture of growing the autonomy of either an individual, a community or a country.
If you look at the kind of macro-situation beyond just finance alone, I think this is the theme of this decade. And so, what is the state of Bitcoin? Bitcoin is the awakening of humanity to its own sovereign capacities. So as they engage the asset, they become aware that it’s important to self-custody. It’s important actually that money can flow over borders freely. It’s important that money cannot be diluted by third parties that are not democratically elected, etc. There’s a lot of these things that we can only realize. We realize them for a while, but that we realize en masse as we are, as we are kind of confronted with an alternative. And so Bitcoin offers that alternative. And if you ask where we are right now, I think people are waking up to the fact. And so this bull run that we’re seeing, I know it’s impressive, but it’s not that impressive compared to the other bull runs. It’s not that impressive. It’s OK. But maybe it’s fine. Maybe it should be like this — a steady climb, very determined, enough room for conversation, enough room for delving into the things that actually matter. That’s kind of how I see it.
Lau: We talked about the origins of Bitcoin, and how it was really just for a very self-selected group of like-minded people, and it was very much a cultural nomad effect. It was its own entity, its own concept, its own philosophy. And then there were also fears that it was fueling drug deals and criminal activity. Present day, there’s still notions of that, but recognize — to your point, more than a store of value — this is present-day. Corporate treasury is here, publicly-traded companies are investing in it or have exposure to it, institutional hedge funds… you name it. How does it go from this anti-culture to almost increasingly mainstream? It’s amazing to see.
Caselin: It’s people coming in because they can recognize that there’s a good reason for Bitcoin’s price to go up. In the end, price is the ultimate marketer. At our summit, if I’m correct, (Coindesk Chief Content Officer) Michael Casey is coming on. He has a lot of thoughts — I’m sure we can ask him about it — he has a lot of thoughts around how the Bitcoin network and Bitcoin mining can be used for communities to basically mine as a community. For households to be able to plug into a network and expend some of their electricity, whether it’s solar or whatever, to earn some Bitcoin. I think the real opportunity lies in local wealth generation. So it’s exciting for funds and for big institutions who already have a lot of money to put their money into Bitcoin and get more money. That’s an exciting thing because that’s what kind of moves the economic engine. But what moves the social? Making more money is not enough. It’s not enough for a society to be uplifted. Making money can make just a few people very rich and the rest of society stays behind. So that’s not the exciting thing. It is exciting for price. It’s exciting for a sense of legitimacy. It’s definitely exciting because our governments, wherever we are — I will offend everybody, but I don’t mean to offend anybody — but our governments, their interests all are tied into these funds — we know that — into the banking system, the legacy system. So, of course, it’s great because if the banks and the institutions and the funds are getting into Bitcoin, it means it’s going to be safer. But the real opportunity lies in community wealth generation. Bitcoin mining is location-agnostic. If you have a waterfall somewhere really far in the mountains, basically you can set up a whole mining infrastructure and then connect to a satellite or whatever, and that’s it — you can mine Bitcoin. And so the opportunities for communities that right now may be living on the periphery — and this is very strange, but you could almost say that the majority of people are living on the periphery, which is strange because you’d expect that the center to be filled with more, but it’s not the case… it’s a pyramid structure at the moment — so that majority on the periphery can benefit greatly from local wealth generation. I think that’s when we’ll see growth beyond.
Lau: Well, it explains Africa, it explains. Asia explains a lot of emerging and developing nations that have seen the opportunity to leapfrog and participate in wealth generation in a way they’ve not been able to do before.
And so now let’s look at beyond. There are other networks designed for Bitcoin protocols, as we all know. Some of them are exclusive groups that define NFTs… smart contracts… blockchains. In the mainstream, you go watch a movie, they accept Dogecoin as payment. They use Paycoin if you’re in South Korea at retailers. There’re so many choices. So how important is the growth of various cryptocurrencies in the industry, and from an investor’s perspective, what are your thoughts on diversifying crypto assets?
Caselin: Before the diversification argument, there’s a very good point for many cryptocurrencies to exist. Diversification is one reason, but there are other reasons as well.
So one is actually what you said. In the beginning, Bitcoin spoke to a niche group of computer scientists, enthusiasts, maybe some libertarians that like the idea, or maybe some gold bugs that are looking for some upgrade to their world views. That’s fine. So that’s very exciting for them. But other cryptocurrencies can speak to other interests. So let’s say a token like Basic Attention Token. This is the brave browser token. This speaks to people that are interested in navigating the internet and who are not happy with all the ads that they see on YouTube or whatever. That is their concern. And so this token will speak to them and be attractive to them. There was a point — I don’t know if it still exists because many coins have come and gone — but the coin, what was it called… Civil… there was a whole kind of journalistic media…
Lau: Yeah. And they’ve signed up a number of publishers, and there’s another team. It was so ambitious, but it was kind of too early. It was great, but it was an exercise that didn’t work out.
Caselin: But that’s a good example of appealing to people that care about journalistic objectivity and freedom. Even if they don’t exist anymore as a project, it’s been a great conversation to see what disintermediation means in that field, and what does it mean on the internet, and what does it mean when it comes to art, and what does it mean when it comes to gaming? So all of these sectors around us that we all live in, it is actually questioning, ‘What does it mean to decentralize this? And what does it mean to empower it with assets that are native to the internet?’ So that’s another function that I think is very important, and we shouldn’t dismiss it.
No. 3 is something that even the most toxic Bitcoiners will agree with — which is that there’s a lot of experimentation going on. And if you really want to stick to the Bitcoin network, you could almost say that things that really succeed in the altcoin space perhaps will eventually graduate to Bitcoin. So we can see this already with some NFTs like the Satoshibles. This is actually not necessarily proof that they’re successful, but they’re moving to Stacks, and then you could say they’re on the Bitcoin network. But that’s just still part of the experimentation phase. But if you look over the long term, let’s say we develop NFTs on Solana or whatever. It doesn’t matter what chain we develop these NFTs on, that are like land titles or something, like, very important that maybe you want your children to inherit and their children to inherit, then it will make sense to eventually kind of migrate these to a very safe network.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s no value in all of the development that’s gone before it. So that’s a third kind of function. And then you have the diversification.
This is really, I would say… it’s still untried and untested. There are moments when, let’s say, two days ago we saw Bitcoin go up… we saw most top altcoins go down, except for Axie Infinity and Shiba. That doesn’t mean that, if you hold Bitcoin, that you should hold 10% of your digital assets holdings in Shiba, just because we saw that in the market. Generally Ethereum, Bitcoin… they move in unison. Sometimes Ethereum will move a bit faster. But then yesterday — or two days before — it just didn’t. It went down while Bitcoin went up. So yes, there is this kind of arbitrary movement, but I would still say that generally cryptocurrencies move together, except for stablecoins. Also, they are also affected. So the diversification, I don’t know if it’s that strong yet as an argument, it does (matter) in the short term. And you know, if you’re in the middle of a bull run and you have a few tokens, it’s a good feeling. If Bitcoin stops going up and it goes down a bit, and suddenly you see Solana go up, that’s a good feeling. But other than that, I wouldn’t build my whole investment strategy around that structure.
Lau: So, Ben, how do you view the future?
Caselin: How far away?
Lau: Yeah, that’s a question that we’re asking at Bitcoin & Beyond, and maybe we’ll use it as a cliffhanger because, of course, we’ll welcome our audiences to our first virtual summit, coming soon, Bitcoin & Beyond. You can register on our website at www.forkast.news, and you can join me, you can join Ben. What is Bitcoin & Beyond? We talked a lot about it, but if you, Ben, can sum it up, what is one takeaway that you hope we can get from all of this?
Caselin: Well, what I really hope to see — because I think we have a lot of different speakers who come from different backgrounds and if you follow Twitter, there’s a lot of animosity and yelling and shouting — but I actually think all of these people are respectable. And I think when you put these people together, and we don’t treat them like experts or gods, they’re just people in the space with great experience and great insights. And it would be great if we can come to more clarity generally, and more inspiration and confidence. And much deeper than I can go, but I just know that there is so much depth to be had, and it’s not about price predictions. I mean, we can do some price predictions, but whatever Bitcoin goes… 100 million… OK.
Lau: So yeah, leave that for the day-to-day market pundits. I think at the end of the day, if you’re going to be in the space, understand the complexities of it, where it’s going, where it’s been, who’s driving the developments and many, many more. Ben, thank you for giving us a little preview. Truly appreciate it. And I’m really excited about this summit that’s happening on Nov. 10. Thanks for joining us.
Caselin: I want to say one more small thing, Angie — one more small thing. I know I’m breaking the whole rhythm, but Angie, one more thing that I really want to say is at this summit, I feel like it’s not so much that we’ll discuss what we think will happen in the future, it’s actually the idea that we can decide — not you and me, not people at the summit, but people, just the people — humanity can actually decide what’s going to happen with Bitcoin. And I think when we see that, and we know that as we grow and we have these conversations, and in 10 years, we have 15% adoption, and in 20 years we have 30% global adoption, and we don’t just see it as people holding Bitcoin in their wallets, but we also see it as people that have embraced some of the principles and have expanded upon them, and have implemented that in their businesses and in their dealings, and their kind of households, and in their political aspirations, then we’re creating the future together. I think if we can do that, that’s very awesome. Sorry for the disruption.
Lau: All good. Ben Caselin there, Head of Research for AAX. Thanks for joining us. And thank you, everyone for joining us on this latest episode of Word on the Block. We hope that you’ll join us Nov. 10 in Asia, Nov. 9 evening if you’re in the U.S., but we’re truly around the world, around the globe for all time zones. I’m Angie Lau, Editor-in-Chief at Forkast.News. Until the next time.