Other than widespread fascination over its meteoric price rise, much of the discussion around Bitcoin in 2017 has revolved around questions over the future direction of the protocol, most specifically the highly charged scaling debate and the implementation of SegWit. With the forthcoming fight over the 2x part of SegWit2x, the blocksize issue remains unsettled and the community will stay firmly focused on this over the coming months, as it should.
While I have my own opinions on the subject (I’m against forcing a blocksize increase just because some companies agreed to it), I don’t spend enough time on Bitcoin to consider myself any sort of authority on the matter. Therefore, I pretty much keep my mouth shut and let people who spend all their time on the topic have at it. Nevertheless, when I feel I have something to add to the Bitcoin conversation I certainly don’t shy away, which is what inspired today’s post.
A headline that caught my attention yesterday was the following published by CNBC: Real Estate Project in Dubai to be the ‘First Major Development Where You Can Purchase in Bitcoin.’ Upon reading the article, it appears the move is in large part a marketing gimmick (a smart one), but I don’t think it’s just that. I believe those involved in the development genuinely find Bitcoin interesting and want to support it, which is consistent with a significant conclusion I’ve arrived at based on many other data points.
2017 has been the year when an increasing portion of the 1% finally started to embrace Bitcoin. Not a huge percentage by any means, but certainly enough to affect the price. We can call them the early(ish) adopters of this wealthy class. Specifically, this real estate project highlights the fact that adoption of Bitcoin amongst people with significant financial resources is happening faster than many realize. Why does this matter?
While it obviously matters to price, I’m thinking way beyond that. For starters, more wealthy people moving into the space helps provide some degree of political protection since we know that people with significant financial resources influence public policy. Just as Silicon Valley VCs coming into Bitcoin in the relatively early days helped provide political protection, so too will the involvement of more and more wealthy people. While that’s pretty important, I’m thinking beyond that still.
As I was reading the CNBC article I kept thinking to myself, “who in their right mind would part with Bitcoin for one of these apartments if they can spend their fiat instead.” As deflationary money, Bitcoin is structurally superior to the U.S. dollar or any other government/central bank run currency printed in unlimited quantities to prevent corrupt bankers from taking a loss. Sure, there will be those very early adopters who happen to have tens of millions of dollars in Bitcoin, thus representing the vast majority of their net worth. For them, it might make sense to spend some of their fortune on stuff like this real estate project, but for most people this is not the case. Most Bitcoin holders have far less than 50% of their net worth in Bitcoin, with much of the rest likely in shady central banker fiat currencies. These people will not be rushing to spend their Bitcoin on an apartment or anything similar, so what will cause Bitcoin to function more as a transactional currency? What needs to happen, and why does it matter?
Based on what I read, the Dubai real estate development does not seem to be offering apartments for sale in Bitcoin so they can get access to the crypto currency to hoard, but rather, they will immediately turn the proceeds into fiat via BitPay. I could be wrong about this, but that’s my assumption. If that’s the case, then this isn’t really drastically different from some of what we’ve seen in the past. What I’m really looking out for is the day when people start accepting large sums of Bitcoin as payment with the intention to hold it. Once this starts to happen, we’ll know some major changes are afoot.
While it’s true this may never happen, if Bitcoin continues along the successful path it’s currently on, forward thinking people inevitably will try to offer items for payment in Bitcoin, not for marketing reasons, but for the express purpose of obtaining Bitcoin. Why would they do this you ask, rather than just go to an exchange or buying OTC? My answer is that we may very well get to a point where whales want in, but simply cannot buy the amount they want without pushing price through the stratosphere. If that point arrives, the best option might be to sell assets for Bitcoin in order to obtain the desired stash. How will we know when that day has arrived?
Just because someone wants to acquire a bunch of Bitcoin doesn’t mean those who own it will part with it so easily. This is where discounts might come into play. If we enter a very inflationary future, the only way to pry Bitcoin loose from dedicated hodlers might be to offer discounts on real assets to those willing to pay in Bitcoin. That Miami condo you’re thinking about selling? Offer a 10-15% discount to those willing to pay in Bitcoin. I find it only marginally interesting when goods or services are offered for Bitcoin these days. What will really get my attention is if sellers start offering their wares at a discount to Bitcoin buyers.
The above probably won’t happen in earnest until the public really starts to lose faith in government/central bank currencies. When we hit that point, selling Bitcoin for fiat would carry too much risk for a holder and the only way one will feel incentivized to part with it is if real assets are offered at a discount, to the fiat price.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that the environment described above never occurs, but if things continue along their current trajectory the chances are increasingly likely. For me, the sign that things are entering a totally new era for Bitcoin, and money in general, is when sellers start to offer discounts for those willing to pay in Bitcoin. I’ll be watching very closely for that day, because it could very well represent a major inflection point in monetary history.