In the opening dialogue of her TED Talks “Why you think you’re right, even when you’re wrong”, noted skeptical savant Julia Galef delves into the infamous Dreyfus Affair, in which a Jewish French officer was wrongly convicted of high treason and imprisoned for life on Devil’s Island, not on the basis of any evidence – for there was no evidence against Dreyfuss, not even evidence of the circumstantial kind – but upon the confirmation bias of the detectives in charge of his case.
“As far as we can tell, the officers genuinely believed that the case against Dreyfus was strong, which makes you wonder: What does it say about the human mind that we can find such paltry evidence to be compelling enough to convict a man? Well, this is a case of what scientists called ‘motivated reasoning’. It’s a phenomenon in which our unconscious desires and fears shape the way we interpret information. So some ideas feel like our allies, and we want them to win, we want to defend them. And other ideas and information are the enemy. We want to shut them down.”
Galef is perhaps best known today for her debunking of what’s now called “The Straw Vulcan Fallacy” – the Hollywood driven idea that true rational decision making requires never making a decision until you have all the information, never relying on intuition, and eschewing all emotion. In short, the notion that to be rational is to be like Spock.
“Smart = Spock” is an idea that despite its inherently alien and alienating qualities feels like an ally to many people.
“Bitcoin investors = Smart”? Not so much.
We in the Seeking Alpha community – and the broader investment community as a whole – have a problem, and like any new and for the most part unwilling inductee of Alcoholics Anonymous, we’re not going to get very far down the road to recovery without first admitting it. The problem is this: At one time or another, we were all wrong about Bitcoin (Pending:COIN). We declared it dead and it didn’t die. We told everyone that FinCen would crush it in the cradle, and FinCen let it live. We watched it bubble up, explode, bubble right back up again, explode, play dead for three years, and bubble right back up again, and it’s made a lot of us look like fools. Even those of us like myself who wrote positive notes and conducted interviews with Bitcoin luminaries back in 2013 didn’t throw that much money at our own thesis.
And while every analyst is wrong from time to time – to err is human, after all – we don’t like admitting that we were wrong about the big things any more than your mother-in-law does. Want an example of just how much we don’t like admitting it? A few weeks ago, I read a comment by a Seeking Alpha contributor stating that his roommate had offered to sell him some Bitcoin a few years ago for $5 apiece.
When it comes to Bitcoin, most of us can relate to that story, though. I certainly can, after all I passed on Bitcoin when it collapsed to around $50 during the Mt. Gox Crisis (“What idiots those clowns were, paying $50 for a Chuck E. Cheese token!”). Around the same time, an associate of mine offered to pay me 8 BTC for an 8-12 page prospectus detailing their Bitcoin mining operation (Present day value: $33,233.44 USD). Did I write that prospectus, which might have taken me all of a Thursday to spin up? Hell no. No paychecks denominated in Chuck E. Cheese’s tokens for this analyst, thank you very much.
So it’s not like this guy was the only one who missed the train to Hogwarts. But it’s what he said next that blew my hair back: Not only was he okay with the call he made then, but also he would make the same call today. Bitcoin was a ridiculous bubble then, and it’s a ridiculous bubble now, and anyone who had any sense should avoid it like plague. He was going to be right about this, just you wait and see.
That’s the whole problem in a nutshell: “Just you wait.”
Fact: Bitcoin has been “just a bubble” for seven years now. And don’t let the “my favorite holding period is forever” crowd fool you: Seven years is a long time to be wrong about something. Warren Buffett dumped his IBM (NYSE:IBM) investment after just six years. A kid fresh out of high school would be just a year from graduating Med school and starting Residency in seven years. The average lifespan of a marriage that ends in divorce is eight years, and just think of how miserable most of those divorcees felt about being long and wrong on that one.
While we’ve all been waiting seven long years for that satisfying “I told you so moment,” Bitcoin has outperformed every other asset class in existence: gold, stocks, junk bonds, MLPs, the USD, comic books, you name it and it’s been buried. No matter how well you’ve done in the stock market – and the Dow is up by nearly 400% since 2009, so you’ve probably done pretty well – it pales in comparison to how well you would have done by putting even a fraction of that in Bitcoin. The only exception? Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), the company that single-handedly created a cottage industry of analysts crying “Bubble!” which Warren Buffett himself recently cited as his biggest “missed opportunity,” and I quote:
“I was too dumb to realize. I did not think [Bezos] could succeed on the scale he has.”
Hardly a signal endorsement of the “I’m right, you just wait and see! It’s tulips! Tulips, I tell you!” crowd.
Worse still is the fact that this is hardly the first time a non-conventional asset outperformed everything else. Prior to Bitcoin, the single most successful asset class was .Com domain names, an incredibly volatile, purely digital asset that paid no dividends, traded in largely unregulated exchanges, cost a fee to renew and had no obvious intrinsic value apart from what someone was willing to pay for it (sound familiar?); yet anyone who cracked open a dictionary back in 1994/95, registered every domain name under the letter “D” and squatted on it like an absentee landlord crushed the pros by every conceivable metric over every conceivable time frame.
My point is not to say that Crypto isn’t risky. Crypto is extraordinarily risky. If it belongs anywhere in your portfolio, then it’s in the 2% that can reasonably be set aside for speculative endeavors. However hard bitten a value investor you may be, whether your investing approach is GARP, dividend growth investing or something more programmatic like Graham’s Formula or Piotroski, you’d be hard pressed to argue that setting 2% aside for speculation in a basket of high risk/high reward projects is going to have a make-or-break impact on the other 98% of your portfolio.
If it’s not your cup of tea, fine. No one is forcing you to play in this pond. I wouldn’t recommend more than 2% exposure to the Weird Wild West of Biotech startups, but that doesn’t compel me to deny that other people make money in the Biotech space, or declare Biotech dead 151 times, or pen diatribes comparing every new Biotech startup to a fidget spinner. Let’s not make “an enemy thought” out of cryptocurrencies and cryptoassets by pretending we’re talking about pretty flowers, South Sea Bubbles and pink sheet stocks, or that analysts and talking heads that do are imparting some sort of deep wisdom as opposed to a full blown case of sour grapes when they do so.
As noted in my last article, it is beyond the scope of this or any article to function as a primer on the subjects. Instead, this article is designed to provide traders and investors who are already reasonably comfortable with these concepts with actionable intelligence beginning with a high level view of the immediate prospects, catalysts and potential pitfalls of the more established cryptosystems before proceeding to the finer details and recent developments as the series progresses, which means we’ll be going a little faster this time around. We’re also going to have to carve out some space to address a number of comments from the readers of my last article on the subject. Let’s get to it.
Bitcoin Cash is the result of a split in the Bitcoin community that was never supposed to happen. Two separate meetings – the first held in Hong Kong in the December of 2015, the second in New York in May of 2017 – were organized to prevent it. The event was preceded by raucous and divisive debate that lasted for more than two years and bitterly divided the Bitcoin community in the process to a degree not seen since the Android vs. iOS fanboy wars.
The statement of consensus issued after the New York conference was crafted to put an end to the debate once and for all in the manner most aptly described as a shock and awe campaign.
“We agree to immediately support the following parallel upgrades to the bitcoin protocol, which will be deployed simultaneously and based on the original Segwit2Mb proposal:
Activate Segregated Witness at an 80% threshold, signaling at bit 4
Activate a 2 MB hard fork within six months
We are also committed to the research and development of technical mechanisms to improve signaling in the bitcoin community, as well as to put in place communication tools, in order to more closely coordinate with ecosystem participants in the design, integration, and deployment of safe solutions that increase bitcoin capacity.
We welcome all companies, miners, developers, and users to join us and help prepare bitcoin for the future.
The group of signed companies represents a critical mass of the bitcoin ecosystem. As of May 25, this group represents:
58 companies located in 22 countries
83.28% of hashing power
5.1 billion USD monthly on chain transaction volume
20.5 million bitcoin wallets”
In terms of “who brought the gun to the knife fight”, it doesn’t get much clearer than “we have all the infrastructure, we have all the computing power, we have all the trading volume, and we have all the accounts.”
However – demonstrating yet again that “the perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum” (Finagle’s Law) – the hard fork previously considered to be merely a credible threat to keep the Bitcoin community in line behind the NYC/SegWit2x agreement was launched on August 1st anyway by a shabby crew of digital mutineers and a single mining consortium (ViaBTC), thus officially notarizing the divorce between the supporters of SegWit and the Big Blockers, with both sides laying claim to Satoshi Nakamoto’s legacy. In the process, roughly $10 billion was effectively airdropped on the crypto community, leading to a surge in cryptoasset prices across the board while simultaneously boosting the value of BTC even while the price of Bitcoin Cash soared.
This phenomenon puzzled many investors who adamantly rejected the idea of a “free lunch.” But as I pointed out at length in my last article, embracing the wrong metaphor in finance is often far more ruinous in terms of missed opportunities than adopting a more flexible posture towards The New & Unheard Of.
In the curious case of Bitcoin Cash, a financial precedent did in fact happen to exist that fit the evidence and for which was well understood in terms of conventional economic theory – namely, that Bitcoin Cash was analogous to the kind of corporate spin-offs that event-driven investors pray for where the two resulting companies are worth more separately than combined. After all, the Bitcoin experiment was now free to explore two different technological solutions to the same problem, the internecine war between the two factions had at last found some closure, and the relative ease with which the hard fork itself had been executed demonstrated the resiliency of the network.
Whether by happy accident or (as I believe) shrewd design, Bitcoin Cash provides Big Blockers like Jihan Wu and Roger Ver with a Walk Away Alternative if Blockstream decides to do what many expect and welsh on the 2MB hard fork provided for by the New York Agreement, even as Bitcoin Core developers (more commonly referred to as simply “Core”) are threatening yet another schism if the remaining counterparties to the New York Agreement do honor their agreement and raise the block size.
That leaves Bitcoin investors with three ways to play the upcoming “third Bitcoin” drama.
1) Pick a side to overweight and risk it being the wrong one
2) Don’t pick a side and hold all three coins at equal weight
3) Collect any further credited “airdropped” coins and sell all three for a protocol with a more stable governance model, a large user base and relatively deep liquidity (Ethereum and/or Litecoin) or embrace an alternative model altogether.
NEM, or New Economy Movement, is one such model. Based primarily out of Japan and launched in 2014 by an anonymous Bitcoin Talk forum contributor named “Utopianfuture” who was inspired by the cryptocurrency NXT (see IOTA’s development team below) and issued an open call for participants on the forum that led to a grassroots community of developers that have built NEM out to what it is today.
“NEM is the first crypto-coin that no wealthy person or early adopters can obtain a significant percentage of by using money to buy-in or by using a huge mining rig. That to me symbolizes a great sense of fairness and egalitarianism.”
Author’s Note: This is a major source of culture clash between Cypherpunks and the wider investing community, but it’s a gap that investors have to bridge if they’re going to understand this space. In the investing community – which has no experience with “Code is Law” or conception of Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) – business models relying upon “anonymous” and largely invisible founders like Satoshi Nakamoto and Utopian Future are immediately suspected of being scams. In Cryptospace, the opposite is usually true. Projects with CEOs, a board of directors or Silicon Valley VC-style structures like Blockstream or Ripple are almost always associated with nefarious intent, and are considered guilty until proven otherwise.
NEM is something of a cross between Ripple (its most direct and active competitor) and a lightweight version of Ethereum that features a Proof Of Importance algorithm which is designed to reward not only savers but also users who interact meaningfully within it in an effort to overcome the Paradox of Thrift often associated with Proof Of Work based systems, a blindingly fast Network that can process over 3,500 unique transactions per second, and a degree of institutional support from Japanese banks and investors alike; the former due to NEM’s Mijin proposal, and the latter from a combination of a higher degree of comfort with bleeding edge technologies – Bitcoin is considered a form of legal tender in Japan – and old fashioned nationalism.
The most important takeaway for investors considering NEM for the speculative slice of their portfolio is Mijin – mini “permissioned” or private blockchains that are custom designed for NEM’s budding portfolio of institutional clients (which include Hitachi), but – unlike Ethereum – reciprocity is built directly into the code. In other words, Mijin proprietary chains must plug into the NEM backbone, thereby enhancing the value of the public chain while eliminating the free rider concern associated with more hands-off projects like Ethereum.
Positive catalysts: “Catapult” release expected in early 2018. Catapult is NEM’s third major iteration and widely anticipated to be its “Windows 3.0” moment. The roll-out features a migration from Java to C++ for improved performance, optimized memory management, improvement in throughput, and ease of security configuration, featuring application specific servers. In short, Catapult represents NEM for the Enterprise.
Potential risk factors: Lack of a clearer roadmap and the developer’s determination to let the product speak for itself, an aesthetic that appeals more widely to Eastern rather than Western audiences.
IOTA hit Coinmarketcap’s Top 100 with a bullet at #9 in July and has continued to gain ground every since. Apart from its deep developer bench – David Snsteb, Sergey Ivancheglo, Serguei Popov, Dominik Schiener are the same team that was responsible for the build-out of the groundbreaking (if now dated) NXT ecosystem – the heart of IOTA’s value proposition is The Tangle, a form of distributed ledger technology based on the Directed Acyclic Graph that might best be described as “Blockchain without Blocks and The Chain.”
The Tangle grew out of a blind-spot in existing blockchain technology that IOTA’s team (originally part of a stealth hardware startup working on a new trinary processor) kept coming back to: The Internet of Things that companies like Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) and IBM were hoping to develop using Smart Contract technology – ADEPT, or Autonomous Decentralized Peer-to-Peer Telemetry – was an interesting PoC, but was unlikely to work as intended on a truly global scale. The first problem was the very volatility that blockchain investors found so attractive. No one was going to build a smart car, thermostat, washing machine or anything else on financial backbone with wildly fluctuating fees.
The second problem is that blockchain technology can be scaled rather easily for people-based transactions either by increasing the block size (Bitcoin Cash, Dash) or adding a Layer 2 “off-chain” network like Raiden or Lightning Network. But these solutions were both still likely to fail when it came to the demands of the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) economy, where billions of machines might ultimately log trillions of transactions – nanopayments – a second. Making that a reality implied a truly frictionless, fee-free payment system, one ill suited to either Blockchain or Smart Contract technology, both of which would become increasingly expensive to scale as the Machine-Economy exponentially grew. The more they looked into it, the more IOTA’s developers became convinced that an entirely new system was needed, one that enabled machine-to-machine microtransactions that could transfer very small amounts of value between IoT devices in a way that actually became more efficient as it scaled.
Hence, the Tangle.
Launch of Flash Network. This could be described as IOTA’s version of an L2 Raiden/Lightning Network, but having the Tangle as the base layer allows the whole stack to scale more efficiently (No fees to open payment channels, no miners).
Masked Authenticated Messaging (MAM): MAM allows for sensors and other devices to encrypt entire data streams and securely anchor those into the Tangle in a quantum proof fashion. As quantum computing edges closer to reality, existing approaches based on cryptographic algorithms like SHA-256 are likely to become compromised. Future implementations therefore require quantum resistant implementations.
Status: Beta Testing.
Potential risk factors: Though the Tangle is one of the few genuinely revolutionary ledger technologies to be developed since Satoshi’s introduction of the Bitcoin blockchain seven years ago, there is no viable path to achieve the kind of widespread adoption IOTA’s developers envision that does not run through IBM, Samsung and Intel (NASDAQ:INTC).
None of us learned to walk without banging our heads into the grounds a few dozen times. Failure is life’s great teacher. Making mistakes is how we learn, and school is never out. Success is the goal, sure, but success in one business venture is often a springboard for failure in the next. Winston Churchill once defined the key to success as going from failure to failure with undiminished enthusiasm – and, he might have added, a willingness to learn from your mistakes. I often wonder what Achilles, the fastest and most lethal Greek who ever lived, would have reacted had Hector fought him to a stalemate. Maybe Mighty Achilles would have taken a draw with a grain of salt and a sense of humor and learned something from it, but somehow, I don’t think so.
I think Achilles would have been shocked.
I think after his fellow Greeks dragged him off the sand in front of the gates of Troy, Achilles would have been back to brooding on the beach and wondering what god had conspired against him, telling himself that it wasn’t really a draw, that he had somehow won or would do so later after he healed. “Just you wait”, he’d say, “Just you wait and see.”
In the long term, we’re all right, but there’s nothing special about that, because in the long term we’re all dead, too. Playing Nostradamus is as easy as 1-2-3 so long as we’re allowed to make blanket statements over indefinite time frames. Biotech stocks will crash sometime in the future, and so will the Dow. Gold will (nominally) be worth more in the future, the USD less. Tech will bubble up and crash and bubble up all over again. Wall Street will find a way to tank the economy using some exotic new instrument or securitization model – maybe even Blockchain. “Hey, look, Ma! I can see the future! No hands!”
When it comes to Bitcoin, Ethereum, NEM, IOTA, Ripple, Dash, and the rest of the crypto universe, investors are better served by Charlie Munger calling Bitcoin “rat poison” six feet away from Bill Gates calling it a “tour de force” and Warren Buffett sitting between them saying “I think either Bill or Charlie is right” (yes, this actually happened). At least with Charlie, Bill and Warren, we know where they stand: Charlie will never love it, Bill will never hate it, and Warren (if he had the option) would bet on both.
In conclusion, let me just add that pointing out that most of the ICO market is “in a bubble” – which it is – isn’t particularly valuable information, given that Crypto – like Biotech – is in a perpetual state of Boom and Bust. Saying “it’s a Bubble” on one end of the curve and “See! I told you so!” on the other end only to grumble about “Bubbles” again when the valuation of the market jumps x25 two years later is like saying that weeds grow in the spring, dies in the winter and pop up again in the spring, and thinking yourself a raving genius for being the first to notice the trend.
Valuable information would involve taking the time to apply basic research the projects you claim to know so well that comfortable writing about them for public consumption. Valuable information would be noting how closely the leading Cryptos taken as a mixed basket of currencies, assets, tech startups, tolls and voting rights are starting to mirror and even outperform the traditional venture capital firms whose funding model they’ve upended. Valuable information would be asking what the supply/demand curve for Bitcoin is going to look like when the CFTC greenlights the first Bitcoin derivatives market in 2018. The answers to those kind of questions are what’s going to give you an actionable edge in this market, and they’re but a few of the many subjects I plan to delve into in the articles to come. But first, you have to say it with me: “I was wrong about Bitcoin.”
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.
Originally posted here:
Bitcoin And Why You Think You’re Right (Even When You’re Wrong) – Seeking Alpha
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