Who is right? Winklevosses for, Peter Thiel against bitcoin

Daniel Cawrey
Sep 26, 2013 at 16:40 UTC
Updated Sep 26, 2013 at 16:58 UTC

It is quite evident that when influential people talk about bitcoin, the masses listen. Strike up a conversation about virtual currencies with an everyday person in your life, and they will recall information received from major news outlets. Mainstream media likes to put things in a neat package so they’re easily understood.

The PRISM surveillance program, for example, will forever be linked to Edward Snowden because it is difficult to contemplate a secret monitoring program operated by secret people.

Snowden represents PRISM, and it could be argued that right now the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, are a representation of bitcoin to the public.

Hedge funds and bitcoin?

At the New York Value Investing Congress, the Winklevoss twins held court regarding the prospect of bitcoin.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Value Investing Congress is an annual meeting of hedge fund managers, a group of investors that err on the side of caution because they are investing other people’s money.

It’s intriguing why Tyler and Cameron chose such a conference to speak about bitcoin; it’s not something that could be considered a stable investment in the hedge fund world.

The fact that they are trying to bring a bitcoin exchange traded fund (ETF) to market might bear some reasoning behind the move.

The Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust ETF is a notable attempt to bring access to bitcoin investing to the masses. It is still somewhat difficult to invest in bitcoins.

Sure, there are a number of exchanges available, but the fact that bitcoin operates outside of normal investment brokerages can make the majority of traditional investors wary.

The SEC filing for the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust EFT by Math-Based Asset Services LLC occurred on July 1, 2013. Major selloffs in bitcoin that week led to a low of $65 per BTC. Source: Bitcoin ChartsThe SEC filing for the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust EFT by Math-Based Asset Services LLC occurred on July 1, 2013. Major sell-offs in bitcoin that week led to a low of $65 per BTC on Mt. Gox. Source: Bitcoin Charts

Confidence

Are the Winklevoss twins really the best representatives for bitcoin? That’s up for debate.

Anyone familiar with their history could suggest perhaps the twins were very fortunate to obtain a $65 million portion of the Facebook pie because of their early association with founder Mark Zuckerberg.

As it turns out, the Winklevoss siblings believe that they are owed more money from Zuckerberg, and have filed an additional suit against him.

But with that being said, they are wealthy and have put their money where their mouth is by investing in bitcoin. That’s something virtual currency investors can get behind.

Recently, the twins have been in the news about bitcoin again with some interesting concepts. They seem optimistic and prepared for mass media consumption to get people interested in trading in their fiat for BTC.

One idea is that the logical evolution of bitcoin will involve a nation adopting it as its currency.

“The next step for bitcoin is potentially becoming the currency of a country,” Tyler told the audience. “With bitcoin there are no bail-ins like in Cyprus”.

Could it become the currency of a country?

It would be interesting to know just what country might feel comfortable switching from government-controlled currency to a digital one that is decentralized.

While there are countries that have a money supply that is less than that of the total value of bitcoin, those numbers don’t factor in the economic realities of a nation in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

How would a country with bitcoin-denominated banknotes conduct trade with other countries?

The idea is a good one to pronounce, but the reality is that bitcoin lacks the structure to conduct any sort of economic policy.

It sounds like a total loss of control for a country. Yet it is possible a nation-state that utilizes something like the euro to trade might be able to make it work as an experiment.

What might be a more agreeable statement is that bitcoin is a new version of gold, which was another comment the twins made. “It’s gold 2.0,” said Tyler.

Someone can pay for a number of things with bitcoin at this point that you cannot do comparably with gold. So perhaps as a new store of value that could be more liquid, that makes a lot of sense.

Peter Thiel bearish on bitcoin

If you’re not familiar with Peter Thiel, it’s important to point out that the PayPal cofounder and BitPay investor is a contrarian.

That’s not to say he’s incorrect in what he says, but when he does say something it is because he believes in something different.

Take, for instance, his initiative to take smart young entrepreneurs and pay them not to go to college, but to build a company instead. The idea is that to Thiel, college is a drag on the economy; putting energy into building businesses and thus potential job creation is a better alternative.

Thiel told a German audience recently that he believes bitcoin has a “20% chance of success”.

Those who regularly read the news on CoinDesk might disagree. But the bigger picture is that despite the ultimate fate of bitcoin, digital currencies are here to stay.

Could Peter Thiel's skepticism about bitcoin come from volatile data points such as its total transaction volume? Source: Blockchain.infoCould Peter Thiel’s skepticism about bitcoin come from volatile data points such as its total transaction volume? Source: Blockchain.info

While there may not ever be a bellwether virtual currency that we all transact in, there will always be digital payment systems that appeal to subsets of the population.

Take Ven, for example, which is a digital payment system that is built upon sustainable principals like carbon offsets. Does Thiel really think that people are going to stop creating these new concepts for money?

Belief and trust

It’s easy to take statements that are said by successful people at face value. Yet the fact of the matter is that it will always be the people who lift up decentralized currencies.

Think about it like this: If the people trust, then they will transact. Without that, any payment method will fail.

These new ideas for money are not backed by a financial system, and they are not guaranteed by a government. If an economy can be built upon them, then so be it.

Does it matter what Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss say? Does it matter what Peter Thiel thinks will happen?

Maybe, but if there is a way for people to trade in fiat for bitcoins, and there is a diverse set of ways to spend them, then there’s value. That support is really what is important going forward.

What do you think about the comments from Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss? How do you feel about Peter Thiel’s prediction about the chances of bitcoin’s success? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image: Flickr / BTC Keychain

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