Bitcoin is not crypto

Bitcoin is the best digital monetary system due to its rock-solid core properties, its fairness to all participants and – crucially – because it eliminates trust. Despite publicly being declared dead hundreds of times every year since its birth, Bitcoin is now the world’s most secure large computer network with millions of users worldwide. Robust in design, it continues to grow, with the Lindy Effect already suggesting that it has a very long future indeed.

Since Bitcoin’s inception in 2009, many thousands of imitators have been created – ‘crypto’ as distinct from Bitcoin. But because Bitcoin is the first successful digital money, any crypto trying to be money, irrespective of its characteristics, cannot compete with Bitcoin’s established network effects. Even near-identical copies ‘hard-forked’ from Bitcoin itself have all diminished in value, participation and security relative to Bitcoin over time. As time passes, this network effect is getting stronger. It is a key reason why no crypto network comes close to Bitcoin’s value, and – due to Metcalfe’s Law – is unlikely to do so in the future.

Some cryptos are better than Bitcoin at various non-monetary things, e.g. using less power, being more private, and acting as a platform for other cryptos and so-called ‘smart contracts’. But all cryptos are inferior to Bitcoin at being money. This isn’t just due to Bitcoin’s network effect: it is also because almost all cryptos suffer from one or more of four critical shortcomings.

First, most cryptos rely on trust because they eschew Bitcoin’s proof-of-work consensus mechanism for the misleadingly named ‘proof of stake’. In reality, this is proof of nothing because it trusts subjective abstract power (the opinion of the privileged), rather than verifying objective physical power (via computational work irrefutably done). By design, proof of stake also increases centralisation, ensuring the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful: in proof of work, work begets wealth, but in proof of stake, wealth begets wealth.

Second, most cryptos are less censorship resistant than Bitcoin because, instead of being controlled by a large number of ordinary users, they are instead effectively controlled by a small number of privileged users. Even though they cloak themselves in the verbiage of decentralisation, they are in reality decentralised in name only.

Third, far from being sound and fair monetary systems, many cryptos are scams with sizeable ‘pre-mines’, where before launch insiders take a large proportion (or even most of) the coins which will be created. This exacerbates the problems of proof of stake, with the insiders accruing even more profit and control at the expense of the outsiders.

Fourth, many cryptos do not have a hard monetary limit, or that limit is not clearly defined. This makes them vulnerable to inflation, where the privileged participants can be enriched at the expense of the others.

Some crypto creators have genuinely noble intentions, and are trying to improve on Bitcoin: it may be the most secure and decentralised computer network in history, but its limited transaction throughput means it is not particularly scalable. Unfortunately, these attempts all fail due to the so-called ‘blockchain trilemma’, which states that security, scalability and decentralisation cannot all be achieved together. Bitcoin wins by not trying to resolve this trilemma at all on the ledger itself, instead incentivising large-volume small-value transactions to move to second-layer networks with far higher capacity than any crypto's blockchain.

Note that Bitcoin’s superiority as money isn’t only the opinion of individual Bitcoiners. It’s also the view of large financial institutions.

“Bitcoin is fundamentally different from any other digital asset. No other digital asset is likely to improve upon bitcoin as a monetary good because bitcoin is the most (relative to other digital assets) secure, decentralized, sound digital money and any ‘improvement’ will necessarily face tradeoffs.”
– Fidelity Research Study 'Bitcoin First: Why Investors Need to Consider Bitcoin Separately from Other Digital Assets', 2022.

Bitcoin is not crypto.