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Is bitcoin the economic antichrist or a savior for struggling nation states?
This debate played out in the headlines this week in lengthy dissections of bitcoin’s apparent growth in Argentina, a nation plagued by economic mismanagement and hyperinflation.
But, while bitcoin may be seen as a potential savior for one long-struggling economy, rumours of bitcoin’s biblical ties were levied by a right-wing publication in the latest sign that the debate over the technology is expanding its reach, in sometimes peculiar ways.
Bitcoin in Argentina
Sparking the most comment this week was The New York Times’ decision to publish an adaption of Nathanial Popper’s new book, “Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money”.
In his lengthy exposé, Popper discussed how the digital currency could potentially transform Argentina’s dysfunctional financial system.
Popper’s excerpt read:
“With its volatile currency and dysfunctional banks, the country is the perfect place to experiment with a new digital currency.”
The prediction is certainly interesting given that Bitcoin Market Potential Index (BMPI) – which ranks the potential utility of bitcoin across 177 countries – found that the digital currency had the most potential in Argentina.
Popper shared his encounters with Dan Castiglione and Bea Fernandez, two Buenos Aires-based bitcoin borkers, touched upon Argentinian-born, Xapo CEO Wences Casaraes’ experience and outlined the various economic difficulties facing the country’s traditional finance system.
Reflecting on the situation, the journalist noted:
“Less than half of the population use Argentine banks and credit cards. Even wealthy Argentines fear keeping their money in the country’s banks.”
Given the precarious economic situation, Popper asked Castiglione for his opinion on global ventures like Xapo and whether the digital currency could really succeed in Argentina.
“If people don’t use it [bitcoin], it will go to trash, like anything that isn’t used in this world. If people use it, then it has a future,” he said.
Writing for Fortune, Chris Matthews made a few retaliatory – albeit valid – points. He noted:
“Argentines, at least the most technologically savvy of them, are turning to bitcoin as a way to exchange their pesos for what they’re actually worth, rather than what the government says they should be worth. Bitcoin, in other words, is simply a way for Argentines to make an end-run around their banking system, which works with the Argentine government to force its citizens to use the ever-devaluing peso.”
Matthews continued: “This is illegal behaviour by any other name, but Argentines, like bitcoin broker Dante Castiglione, aren’t worried.”
Still, he was quick to note the perhaps more negative connotations of its support, concluding:
“If bitcoin were to really take over Argentina, that would be the very sad result of the Argentine government’s inability to put in place broadly beneficial economic policies and to reform its institutions so that the Argentine economy actually works.”
Banks and the blockchain
Popper’s piece also discussed the role that banks may decide to play in determining if disruptive technologies such as bitcoin and the blockchain can have lasting value outside of perhaps more troubled countries like Argentina.
Mike Orcutt, from MIT Technology Review, weighed into the debate with his piece “Why Bitcoin Could Be Much More Than a Currency”, noting what many bitcoin aficionados have argued in the past: it is not believed that the blockchain could survive without bitcoin.
“One twist, though, is that bitcoins themselves are still inherent to the process: they provide the incentive for people to help make all this happen. Verifying transactions and storing their data in the blockchain earns miners newly minted bitcoins.”
Orcutt continued: “In other words, any service that aims to use the blockchain as a general-purpose database will have to pass a bitcoin (or a fraction of one) around in the process. Or it will have to find some other way to motivate miners to put the information into the ledger.”
A piece in The Economist, titled “The Next Big Thing: or is it?” looked into the blockchain’s application by traditional finance institutions such as banks, echoing Orcutt’s thoughts about the underlying principle of incentivisation.
The article concludes by citing Patrick Collison, co-founder of Stripe, a payments processor, who said:
“Just because bitcoin didn’t succeed as a currency doesn’t mean blockchain will succeed as a technology, but the experiment is important to run.”
The possible uses are legion, but the killer app is still missing, concluded the article.
The Mark of the Beast
Of course, maybe bitcoin is just a sign we’re all doomed.
Bitcoin has previously been associated with the Antichrist, with Christian blogs and forums making the connection between the digital currency and the Apocalypse.
The Book of Revelations, in the Bible’s New Testament, provides ample evidence to suggest that both a “one-world government” and a “one-world currency” will come to exist under the rule of the Antichrist, and his sidekick, Satan.
We can all rest assured, however, because this week, Newsmax, a right-wing political site, discerned that there was no such link between the digital currency and the Antichrist.
The piece, aptly titled “Bitcoin and Bible Prophecy: 5 Reasons the Cryptocurrency Shouldn’t Be Considered the Mark of the Beast”, began:
“The Mark of the Beast is thought to be among the characteristics of the ‘tribulation years,’ and some believe bitcoin is in a position to fulfil the prophecy by coming or morphing into the one-world currency the anti-Christ will use to gain economic control worldwide.”
For those not in the know, the Mark of the Beast refers to the a term that is associated with the Beast of Revelation. In most manuscripts of the New Testament and in English translations of the Bible, the number of the Beast is 666.
The article caught the attention of Fusion‘s Kevin Roose, who said:
“Bitcoin is many things: an innovative cross-border payments platform, a hilariously bad short-term investment, a facilitator of illegal drug purchases and Winklevoss space trips. But here’s some good news for fans of the cryptocurrency: it is almost certainly not an indicator of the apocalypse.”
The writer, referred to the Newsmax article, adding:
“Among the reasons bitcoin is probably not the harbinger of the Antichrist’s coming, the site writes, is that it’s probably not stable enough to be used to gain control of the global economy, as the book of Revelation predicts will happen during the seven-year tribulation that follows the rapture.”
It concluded: “It’s also a decentralised, peer-to-peer currency, which means that even if the Antichrist did try to use bitcoin to hasten the end of the world, it would be difficult for him to gain control of the entire blockchain.”
Even with bitcoin’s potential still being hotly debated, it seems we can take comfort in the fact that it is likely not a spawn of the devil.
Newspaper image via Shutterstock