Warren Buffett said bitcoin “is a mirage” and compared it to checks and money orders.
“A check is a way of transmitting money, too. Are checks worth a whole lot of money just because they can transmit money? Are money orders? … The idea that [bitcoin] has some huge intrinsic value is just a joke in my view,” Buffett said on CNBC last week.
A statement as bold and dismissive as his should be countered, because if Mr. Buffett believes what he is saying, then he is vulnerable to misleading millions of people.
My generation grew up looking to the “Oracle of Omaha,” as he’s known, as a wise sage of finance. And so it is with the utmost respect that I must correct his analogies and his prediction that bitcoin is a mirage. People who listen to him on bitcoin are missing the opportunity to understand a system that is truly better than the one we have now.
In 2013, if you had put your money with Berkshire Hathaway your investment would have appreciated 23 percent, while bitcoin surged 4900 percent. Those are returns that are orders of magnitude greater, and no investor should ignore that fact.
It is easy to act dismissive about bitcoin. The technology is sophisticated and most people have a preconceived notion that bitcoin is lawless territory, a sort of “hacker heaven.” I am fortunate enough to have friends and colleagues who have studied computer science and are highly knowledgeable about encryption, and distributed computing. They have spent hours with me teaching me about the inner workings and benefits of the bitcoin protocol and Blockchain technology, which is a record that shows where bitcoin are located.
Before finding capable teachers, I was skeptical as well. The learning process took time, I had to suspend my disbelief and I had to learn things that were difficult for me to conceptualize, but I did it because people I respect said it was worth my attention.
My business-consulting firm Articulate Ventures has been paid in bitcoin for real work that we did. And with those bitcoin we bought office supplies from Overstock.com. Mirages don’t turn into dry erase boards, or office pens, only money does that. I assure you bitcoin is real to my clients — and the stores I purchase things from.
Bitcoin is also not a mirage to the one million people with wallets registered on Coinbase. It is real to all of the people who push $12 million dollars of volume through the bitcoin network daily, and counting. And it is real to the estimated 6,000 Argentinians who can still afford to feed their families because they bought bitcoin before their currency collapsed.
Mr. Buffett is wrong to analogize bitcoin as a check or money order because bitcoin does not represent money, it IS money. If someone sent me a check for $100, that check is just a promise to give me dollars. When someone sends me bitcoin, it is instantly spendable in its current form. I need not “cash a check” because bitcoin is already money. Do not think of bitcoin as a means to transfer dollars, it holds value by itself and it is highly liquid.
Bitcoin allows us to instantly send money to one another securely, without relying on a financial middleman who works bankers’ hours, charges transfer fees, and gambles with depositor’s money with the potential to do harm to the economy and needs to be bailed out with tax dollars.
The fact is that the financial system is outdated. Thousands fall victim to credit fraud every day. Merchants who accept those cards pay 2.7 percent off the top, and banks charge anywhere from $10 to $50 for wire transfers, and transactions take days to settle. Merchants can accept bitcoin for fractions of a percent, and transactions settle in 10 minutes. These are innovations that have will enable more people to participate in the economy.
It is also critical that we not view Mt. Gox as a failure of bitcoin. Bitcoin did not fail; its encryption was not hacked. Instead, it was a failure of the people running an exchange. The rugged beauty of the bitcoin system is that individuals are responsible for their own investments. We do not live under the belief that someone will bail us out if something happens, so we take security on as a personal moral responsibility. Our world is better when individuals take responsibility for themselves.
I know Mr. Buffett claims to only invest in things he understands, so I hope he will take the time to learn more about bitcoin. Bitcoin performs all the necessary functions of money. It is a unit of account, a store of value; it is easily transferable and divisible. Unlike government printed currencies, it is immune to debasement from any government that isn’t fiscally responsible enough to pay their bills.
My generation has learned a great deal from Mr. Buffett’s proven strategy of investing, so it is difficult to suggest that he is wrong about something. Mr. Buffett did so much with the currency we had before, I can’t even imagine what he will do with a currency that has these qualities.
The future is always uncertain, that is why mankind is always searching for an oracle, even though we know there is no such thing. We can only look at what is happening around us and learn about what is possible. Bitcoin is gaining more ground than ever before and no one should dismiss the awesome power of cryptographic currency. Even if you aren’t ready to buy, it is absolutely worth paying attention to. Now is the time to learn.
Disclosure: Articulate Ventures has not done any consulting work for bitcoin-related businesses but has had retainer contracts paid for in bitcoin. Vance holds bitcoin privately.