“There was a joke on social media, some guy lost his sex drive because he sold bitcoin after the China ban.”
And with that, Bobby Lee, the CEO of China’s oldest cryptocurrency exchange BTCC, launched into a scheduled speech extolling the virtues of bitcoin. Coming at the end of day one of the two-day technical conference Scaling Bitcoin last weekend, the talk amounted to a pep rally largely aimed at classical bitcoin bogeymen – the state, ICO scammers and those who don’t get it.
But while he was speaking to just a few hundred of the foremost technical experts on the subject, it’s ironically those in the wider world who Lee might have been better off addressing in his full remarks.
“Bitcoin’s value does not come from the endorsement, acceptance or regulation from governments. Bitcoin’s value comes from the inherent failures, limitations and inconveniences of the fiat money system,” Lee said in a tone befitting a grade school science teacher.
From there, he proceeded to defend the price of bitcoin – up more than 600 percent on the year – not as a bubble, but as evidence the protocol is proving its utility as the best way to hold value in the digital age.
Far from being tepid about the market, Lee argued those who have been on the fence should invest in bitcoin today, telling the crowd:
“The last year, bitcoin has proven itself. What I tell my friends now, is as long as bitcoin is under $10,000, it’s your chance to get in. For those of you [who] think it’s too expensive, if you look in the rearview mirror, bitcoin has gone up 10x in the last year.”
Lee went on to describe bitcoin as “very cheap,” arguing that prospective buyers shouldn’t look at the current price, but rather conceive of the potential the protocol could have when more of the world’s assets migrate to the blockchain.
“Bitcoin is like buying gold at a 98 percent discount. If you think it’s too late, if I had thought that back in 2012, I would not own bitcoin,” Lee continued.
Jam-packed with no shortage of attempts to entertain, the speech went on to outline common “mistakes” made by more novice bitcoin traders, including four that Lee cited as the most detrimental. These included: “indecisiveness,” “not buying enough,” “selling after a small gain” and “selling during a panic crash.”
“When you first learn about bitcoin you hesitate, the answer is to not be hesitant,” he said.
Still, the talk was not without its more serious moments.
For example, Lee opened up at length about the difficult situation for his startup, which has pivoted internationally after finding itself on the receiving end of the negative actions that can occur when bitcoin “challenges governments.”
This September, the Chinese government moved abruptly to shut down ICOs (the sale of custom cryptocurrencies for fundraising), at the time, allegedly acting behind the scenes to take exchanges offline.
In response to the news, the market reacted strongly – dropping below $3,000 after hitting a new all-time high of $4,000 in the weeks before. Lee went on to note that “no one dares talk about” what happened next: the effective doubling of the price.
And while no formal ban was made, Lee affirmed his belief that China still “doesn’t want to see bitcoin anymore,” and that to his knowledge, no trading or price information can be displayed to consumers.
“No ICOs, no bitcoin, ethereum, litecoin, no more. That’s the rule right now. I don’t know where you buy bitcoin in China. It’s like buying guns and pornography in China,” he said.
That’s not to say he doesn’t see the market ever coming back, but he’s not optimistic about the timeline.
State cryptos are coming
While there was focus on China, the remarks are perhaps best seen as part of a broader point: state actors will and are trying to infringe on bitcoin.
Lee made clear he believes the actions in China are simply the first sign of what the bitcoin community has long suspected will occur, that central banks will try to issue “digital crypto versions of their money system.”
“Those will be state-controlled, state-supplied. Today bitcoin accounts are freely generated, those will be assigned to you and assigned identity. I don’t think we’ll be close to a decentralized cryptocurrency,” he said.
Lee, however, was adamant in his belief that bitcoin – and by extension, its developers or businesses – shouldn’t bend the knee in response.
“I don’t think bitcoin needs to cater to any culture or nationality of its users. Bitcoin is global, it cuts across all language and cultural barriers.”
Bobby Lee image via Pete Rizzo for CoinDesk