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Sydnee Gatewood
Sydnee Gatewood
Articles (3539) 

Ray Dalio Commentary: What I Really Think of Bitcoin

From the Bridgewater Associates founder's LinkedIn blog

January 29, 2021

I am writing this to clarify what I think of Bitcoin. Please pay attention to what I am saying here and not what those in the media are saying I said because this is reliable. I am finding that those who want to promote Bitcoin (which is most people) are characterizing it one way while those who are against it (which are a few scared souls cowering in a corner) are characterizing it another way. As with most things I comment on, the reality has pros and cons and I am trying to be as accurate as possible to communicate what I understand these to be.

To reiterate, as I am not a Bitcoin/cryptocurrency expert, I believe my views are not valuable enough to be relied on so I shouldn't put them out. I know how much one needs to know in order to have a valuable opinion in the markets, so I wouldn't bet on my own views. Still, people demand my non-expert assessment of Bitcoin and clarifications in my own words are better than distortions in the media so here it goes, presented with the warning not to rely on it. The only thing I ask of you is that you read what I wrote here rather than pay attention to the sound bites in the media.

I believe Bitcoin is one hell of an invention. To have invented a new type of money via a system that is programmed into a computer and that has worked for around 10 years and is rapidly gaining popularity as both a type of money and a storehold of wealth is an amazing accomplishment. That, like creating the existing credit-based monetary system, is of course a type of alchemy—i.e., making money out of little or nothing. It, like the making of credit that made bankers rich starting with the Medicis around 1350, is making its inventors and those who got in on it early very rich and has the potential to make many more people very rich and to disrupt the existing monetary system. Those who have built it and supported the dream of making this new kind of money a reality have done a fabulous job of sustaining that dream and moving Bitcoin (by which I mean it and its analogous competitors) into being an alternative gold-like asset.

There aren't many alternative gold-like assets at this time of rising need for them (because of all the debt and money creations that are underway and will happen in the future). Because of what is going on in the world, besides there being a growing need for money or storehold of wealth assets that are limited in supply, there is also a growing need for assets that can be privately held. Because there aren't many of these gold-like storehold of wealth assets that can be held in privacy and because the sizes of their markets are relatively small, there exists the possibility that Bitcoin and its competitors can fill that growing need. It seems to me that Bitcoin has succeeded in crossing the line from being a highly speculative idea that could well not be around in short order to probably being around and probably having some value in the future. The big questions to me are what can it realistically be used for and what amount of demand will it have. Since the supply is known, one has to estimate the demand to estimate its price.

I should clarify what I said about its supply. Although Bitcoin is limited in supply, digital currencies are not limited in supply because new ones have come along and will continue to come along to compete so the supply of Bitcoin-like assets should, and competition will, play a role in determining Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency prices. In fact I assume that better ones will come along and displace this one because that is the way the evolution of everything works—i.e., new ways of doing things and new things always have and always will replace old ways of doing things and old things. Since the way Bitcoin works is fixed, it won't be able to evolve and I presume that a better alternative will be invented and pass it by. I see that as a risk. For those reasons the "limited supply" argument isn't as true as it might appear—e.g., if Blackberries were in limited supply they still wouldn't be worth much because they were replaced by competitors that were more advanced. I still don't know the answer to why that isn't a risk, but I would welcome my naïveté being corrected.

At the same time I greatly admire how Bitcoin has stood the test of 10 years of time, not only in this regard but also in how its technology has been working so well and has not been hacked. Still, to one holding digital/cyber assets at a time when cyber offense is much more powerful than cyber defense, the cyber risk is a risk that I can't ignore. When the Department of Defense can't protect its systems from being hacked it would be naïve to be totally comfortable that digital assets can't be hacked, which is one of the advantages of gold-like assets and is one of the risks of all financial assets. In fact I think that there is a good chance that someday we will see the financial system, which consists mostly of digits, be shown to be more vulnerable to disruption and/or to cyber blackmail than is now recognized. By the way, these things are now happening at a growing rate and can threaten the value of traditional financial assets. I am pointing out to you this warning to take or leave as you like. While I recognize that Bitcoin can be held offline via "cold storage," I understand it is difficult to do and that very few people actually do it. So, by and large, my understanding is that, by Bitcoin being digital and connected, it is not protected against cyber risks to my satisfaction. I look forward to being corrected.

As an extension of Bitcoin[1] being digital are the questions of how private it is and what the government will allow and not allow it to be. Regarding privacy, it appears that Bitcoin will unlikely be as private as some people surmise. It is, after all, a public ledger and a material amount of Bitcoin is held in a non-private manner. If the government (and perhaps hackers) want to see who has what, I doubt that privacy could be protected. Also, it appears to me that if the government wanted to get rid of its use, most of those who are using it wouldn't be able to use it so the demand for it would plunge. Rather than it being far-fetched that the government would invade the privacy and/or prevent the use of Bitcoin (and its competitors) it seems to me that the more successful it is the more likely these possibilities would be. Starting with the formation of the first central bank (the Bank of England in 1694), for good logical reasons governments wanted control over money and they protected their abilities to have the only monies and credit within their borders. When I a) put myself in the shoes of government officials, b) see their actions, and c) hear what they say, it is hard for me to imagine that they would allow Bitcoin (or gold) to be an obviously better choice than the money and credit that they are producing. I suspect that Bitcoin's biggest risk is being successful, because if it's successful, the government will try to kill it and they have a lot of power to succeed.

As far as the supply/demand picture is concerned, while the supply is known the long-term demand over the relevant long-term time horizon (because this is a long-duration asset) is tough to know, largely for reasons I mentioned. For example, since I view Bitcoin as being a gold-like alternative asset, I asked Rebecca Patterson and others at Bridgewater to do some calculations to calculate what if the value of private holdings of gold and then take percentages of those holdings and assume they were shifted to Bitcoin to diversify that type of holding. By way of example, what if 10% or 20% or 30 or 40 or 50% of private holdings of gold were shifted to Bitcoin to diversify holdings, or what if 10 or 20 percent of those who built Bitcoin and got on its wagon wanted to diversify into other assets like gold and stocks, or what if the government wanted to prohibit its use, or what if etc… what would these scenarios look like? They paint a picture that is highly uncertain. (You can read the full report here). That is why to me Bitcoin looks like a long-duration option on a highly unknown future that I could put an amount of money in that I wouldn't mind losing about 80% of.

That is what Bitcoin looks like to this non-expert. I am eager to be corrected and learn more. On the other hand, believe me when I tell you that I and my colleagues at Bridgewater are intently focusing on alternative storehold of wealth assets.

[1] When I use "Bitcoin" please take that to mean Bitcoin and its analogous competitors.

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