Bitcoins Aren’t All That Worth It


(Photo by Antana via Flickr)


(Photo by Antana via Flickr)
(Photo by Antana via Flickr)

New York is a hub of progress, so we shouldn’t be surprised to hear that “bitcoin” ATMs are now beginning to make their way into the big city.

Not many people know what bitcoins really are though. It’s a currency—a digital one—that has grown more and more well-known and widely used since their introduction in 2009. They have no government credit behind it, and are used in many countries. The power of ‘cryptocurrency’—money using the communication security method of cryptography to control creation and transfer—in the world is growing. As recently as this past week, the Jamaican Bobsled team was able to compete in Sochi because of the crytpocurrency “dogecoin” (yes, like the “doge” meme) being donated to the online project funding site CrowdTilt.

However, bitcoins have been the subject of more criticism than praise. For instance, the FBI seized an ample 28.5 million dollars’ worth of bitcoins when it shut down the drug trading website Silk Road, where the currency was commonplace. And now, in the face of New York City businesses such as the East Village bubble tea shop “Just Sweet” planning to open up the first bitcoin ATM in NYC, I can’t help but think it’s a big risk—one with little gain.

The value of bitcoins, unlike government-issued currency, is based almost entirely on peoples’ willingness to accept it. It’s for reasons like this that Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve, called bitcoin a bubble. It doesn’t have the credit of a government behind it, making it a favorite for many libertarians, but making many who still use cash skeptical of its value: in 2011 for example, the price of one bitcoin dropped from $30 to $2. The regulation of bitcoins falls into a peculiar territory as well. In a time when the city is still struggling in the aftermath of the country’s recession, small businesses should not work with a still relatively new currency that has experienced rapid fluctuations in value in the past. A universal currency seems nice on paper, but there are so many factors to take into account: the limited supply (capped at 21 million bitcoins), the bumpy exchange rates (one bitcoin online is currently nearly 900 US dollars—that seems great, but it was worth a paltry $17 only a year ago) and the relatively new technology behind it. Many people don’t even understand what cryptocurrency is—I personally only became aware of its existence a year or two ago. And while bitcoins being integrated into city life definitely has possibilities, they seem risky—and unnecessarily so.

I understand why people would think it’s a good idea. New York is often known as a central point for economic change and progress, and it only seems natural to encourage the use of bitcoins in various businesses around the city. However, there is the issue of bitcoins’ lack of permanence. Let’s say that this slowly but surely catches on, and businesses throughout the boroughs start to add bitcoin ATMs and integrate bitcoins into their business practices. But then there’s that looming presence of the bubble. Economists such as John Quiggins have stated that due to its nature and creation, the value of a bitcoin is due to drop to zero. For businesses seeking to use bitcoins, this means a whole lot of investment for nothing. And in places like the Upper East Side and Williamsburg, where small NYC businesses are already burgeoned by high rents and the typical restrictions of a small business, there is no point in investing in something that could become useless at any given time. And there are still many questions left unanswered: if and how to collect taxes, the number of cryptocurrencies that can be created and whether there would be a need for additional ATMs for different bitcoins, such as the “dogecoin,” just to name a few. It seems too confusing to the average consumer to become fully mainstream, at least at the moment.

Bitcoins may show progress for New York, but it doesn’t mean that we should take on the risk. For the average consumer, bitcoins are not only confusing, but present an investment which, in the face of the stable value and universality of cash, seems unnecessary. And for NYC businesses and businessmen and women on Wall Street, the fact that the value of a bitcoin is destined to drop to zero should be a giant indicator that bitcoins aren’t worth it—at all.