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New ideas attract not only visionaries and pioneers but also charlatans and fools. The former group understands the nature and potential of the new idea and attempts to extend it in new ways.
The latter observes the success of the former and expects similar results through blind imitation and empty hope, rather like the Melanesian cargo cults which arose after World War II when the American military abandoned its airports there.
This analogy is absolutely appropriate to characterize the many alternative cryptocurrencies modeled on Bitcoin, which are collectively referred to as altcoins.
Technologically, they are all very similar to Bitcoin: Some altcoins incorporate interesting new ideas, but there is an essential feature of Bitcoin which they all lack.
It is not a matter of its technology, but rather of history and community. Quite simply, a medium of exchange that is more widely accepted on the market is more useful than one which is not. This is known as the network effect. An initial imbalance between two nearly equal media of exchange will benefit whichever is more widely accepted until a single one overwhelms the rest.
There is no limit to this effect: Because it was started earlier and has had a greater opportunity to grow and attract users, Bitcoin has a market larger by a wide margin than all the markets of all the altcoins put together, and this makes it vastly more useful as a currency.
To defeat Bitcoin, an altcoin would require not just superior technology, but such vastly superior technology as to be an advance over Bitcoin comparable to the advance Bitcoin represents over fiat currency. Furthermore, a truly great innovation would much better serve people by being incorporated into future versions of Bitcoin rather than by requiring them to switch to something else. Indeed, the people who have proposed new ideas that are actually good, such as Zerocoin and mini-blockchain , did not develop their own currencies around them, but have simply described their usefulness as features.
The Bitcoin community is not just overwhelmingly larger but of overwhelmingly better quality as well. Bitcoin is surrounded by real entrepreneurs working hard to create new and useful services for Bitcoin. This does not mean that there is anything intrinsically wrong with altcoins: Can anyone really expect to create something of value by rereleasing Bitcoin under a new name and with a few tiny changes to its source code?
What makes Bitcoin great cannot easily be duplicated. Thus, while the Bitcoin community matures and grows as more and more entrepreneurs are attracted to its potential, the altcoin communities can only whine for attention. What is a cryptocurrency actually for? I say that its purpose is to become money. It is obvious that creating altcoins impedes that purpose. Altcoins can only be explained if we believe the purpose of cryptocurrencies is to make money rather than to become money.
If you can trick people into investing in your new altcoin, then you can make a profit trading it or mining and selling it. All the arguments of the altcoin promoters serve as misdirection from that basic purpose. They have developed a series of fallacies capable of fooling newcomers into joining them, but they are all disingenuous. Thus, the altcoin communities are not just embarrassing, but dangerous. Desperately wishing to be taken seriously despite having nothing worthwhile to offer, they will say absolutely anything to convince other people to join them.
They persist in saying things easily refuted by economic logic, common sense, or verifiable facts. They become belligerent when challenged. This is all they can do because they have nothing of value to offer. They are great at conning people because they have succeeded in conning themselves, and it is impossible to tell where self-deception ends and outright lies begin. This is bad for Bitcoin and bad for the people who are fooled. The claims of the altcoin promoters deserve refutation not because they are intelligent but because they are repeated ad nauseam.
Ultimately their content is secondary and the real problem is the foregone conclusion to which they are all directed. If the arguments I discuss here are eventually discredited completely, the altcoin promoters will just grope for new ones rather than admit to being wrong.
Thus, it is quite possible that in the future, what I say here will no longer correspond to what they are saying. Because of what I have said above, however, it is safe to assume, whatever they are, they are all wrong.
First of all, Bitcoin already has competition. It competes with the dollar, with PayPal, and with the banking system as a whole. It has plenty of competition. Second, there is no reason that competition is necessarily good for its own sake. If people compete to be the most productive, then that is good because the result is more production.
If people compete to control the government, then this is bad because the result is that the government will be controlled by the most ruthless and unscrupulous people. However, in an economy capable of supporting only one business for a given product or service then really there should only be one of that kind of business.
In the case of a currency, it is inherently most useful when it dominates its competition. The less competition a currency has, the more useful it is. Third, a currency is simply a standard that people agree to use as a medium of exchange. For the most part, it is awkward to have competing standards. Do we really need competition between the mile and the kilometer, for example? Suppose automobiles had just been invented and two groups, because of vested financial interests, got into arguments about whether it was better to drive on the left or the right side of the road.
The greatest benefit to ordinary people would come not from prolonging such competition, but from its resolution. Finally, there is competition within the Bitcoin community, and this is the sort of competition that actually benefits people. There are exchanges, payment processors, online stores, and so on. Every time someone starts a new Bitcoin business, he benefits the Bitcoin economy.
Every time someone starts an altcoin, he makes it worse. A related point is the argument that altcoins can be used as experiments to learn about how different ideas might work in practice. This use is completely legitimate and necessary.
However, an altcoin that was understood to be an experiment would not be treated as an investment or an independent products. If this is how altcoins are treated, this would be fine. My objection is to the lies and scams. An experiment is worthless if the people running it are constantly lying about it. In the Bitcoin network as it works today, all nodes receive all transactions. If Bitcoin grew to be a very large network, that could be a lot of transactions that all need to be communicated to everyone.
Altcoin promoters seem to imagine a world in which their own favorite altcoin has a status very roughly equal to that of Bitcoin, where each currency will be used for different kinds of things. This is impossible because the network effect always favors imbalance.
However, even in the very unstable situation of two roughly equal block chains, it is not necessarily true that there will be reduced network traffic as a result. If people had to work with both networks, they would still have to receive every transaction from both networks. And if people had to exchange their funds often enough from one currency to another to fulfill different purposes, this could easily result in a greater number of total transactions.
Network load is a problem that technology can overcome without requiring us to rely on an inferior system of money. This is possibly true today, but there is no guarantee that it will be true in the future.
The idea is, you sell bitcoins for some altcoins and then buy bitcoins again. There will then be no connection between the bitcoins you had before and those you have now. However, because altcoins are inherently unstable, there is no reason to expect them to remain useful for that purpose.
In order for a currency to retain value, there must be enough people who want to hold it, not just people who want to quickly trade in and out of it.
An altcoin would have to be good for something other than money laundering—something good enough that at least some people would want to hold on to it more than they wanted to hold on to bitcoins—if it is to be good for money laundering. Thus, if you really want to launder money, support ZeroCoin as an upgrade to Bitcoin. Barring that, you would probably be better off trading through a commodity more likely to retain value, such as gold or silver.
This is by far the most ridiculous argument I hear on this topic. The wisdom of the crowd is superior to any person so people should not presume to tell the market what to think, right? I find this view utterly idiotic. To be consistent the people who make this argument would have to say that Consumer Reports is as tyrannical as Joseph Stalin. To take this to its logical conclusion, suppose everyone just sat back to let the market decide.
None of them could make an argument that one product was better than another. There could not even be any consumer reporting to protect people from scams and shoddy products. When a libertarian steps back to let the market decide something on which he has some legitimate insight, then he is preventing the market from working as well as he otherwise might. It is a fact that the market makes stupid choices all the time, and there is nothing wrong with me saying so.
This in no way means that I do not understand the systematic superiority of market processes over state centralization. If I want the market to win out over the state, it is ridiculous not to engage in a debate over the correct decisions to make such a victory likely.
There is a class of very similar cryptocurrencies that rely on an algorithm called Scrypt as the hash function. I shall refer to them as Scrypt-coins. They also have faster block generation times and a different coin mining schedule. In fact, none of them even have white papers, perhaps they are so unoriginal that there is nothing to write about. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the Scrypt-coins are surrounded by the loudest, least intelligent, and most obnoxious communities, and the arguments supporting them are either fallacious or detached from reality.
When Bitcoin first came out, it was possible for anyone to mine coins with his CPU. GPU mining remained profitable for some time thereafter because the price of Bitcoin continued to increase as more people became miners. Once these technologies were developed, GPU mining would become obsolete as well.