For something that has the potential to earn as much money as cryptocurrency investing, there are two critical facts that need to be considered as to when to finally sell. First, how many more bubbles will there be? Second, what will the world be like when those bubbles occur? Here, I present why I'll be significantly reducing my exposure to cryptocurrencies after the next bubble.
Each cryptocurrency bubble has had a group of people associated with it. The 2011 bubble occurred when enthusiasts in math started to recognize that coins had potential. The first 2013 bubble seemed largely associated with the rise of criminality - Mt. Gox and its schemes, Charlie Shrem's deals with drug dealers, and the Silk Road. The second 2013 bubble caught the attention of entrepreneurs and a handful of big investors like the Winklevoss twins. While the story is still being written about the 2017 cycle, what stands out to me is how coins like ETH were absolutely destroyed far below any reasonable valuation, so I'm going to suggest that the story of this cycle was that the first large blockchain projects were starting to come about and investment in those projects was responsible for the bubble.
Understanding the reasons for the bubbles is important to project what will cause future bubbles. In 2014, I assumed there would be three more bubbles, caused by the following:
- Large investors from the stock market
- Everyone owns a bit of cryptocurrency
- The "world currency" bubble
Likewise, I believe the traditional financial markets are going to be left behind on cryptocurrencies. There will never be an "investor" bubble where brokers are piling money into funds, because government will continue to be ineffective here just like it is becoming in almost all areas as technology is leaving it behind. The products for people to invest will be blockchain-based and will either be direct to consumer or will involve companies that avoid regulations with clever software. Banks that want to get involved in the industry will need to form new companies to avoid strict regulations.
That leaves two bubbles left, if you eliminate the "investor" bubble:
- Everyone owns a bit of cryptocurrency
- The "world currency" bubble
Once everyone owns a bit of cryptocurrency, then they can start paying for things with it. I used to think that the catalyst for a bubble would be Amazon accepting bitcoin cash or litecoin payments. It seems that instead what has happened is the opposite effect - companies don't accept coins until customers request to pay in them. Thus, we won't see big companies accepting coins until after the next bubble happens.
After companies start accepting cryptocurrencies, there would be the final world currency bubble. This is the big one where the financial systems of the world change almost overnight. However, a key difference between me and many others is that I don't believe that the world is doomed to a depression that's going to start tomorrow. I don't think that will ever happen, and therefore, dollars losing their value isn't what will cause this final changeover.
But what if it turns out that facebook's Libra, or another stablecoin, becomes the world currency? If that happens, traditional currencies like the dollar or euro don't have to retain their value at all. The corporations issuing the stablecoins can use other assets that will be needed by humans in the future to maintain the value of the coin, like electricity and rare earth metals.
If one agrees that people are dissuaded from using non-stablecoins solely because of their volatility or complexity, then their only remaining use is speculation, the world currency bubble will not happen (because the stablecoins will not rise in value as they are purchased), and we are left with one remaining bubble:
- Everyone owns a bit of cryptocurrency
I believe the risk posed by corporations creating stablecoins, the inability of the Core developers to come up with a compelling plan to keep transaction fees low in the immediate future, and the mounting evidence after ten years that it is possible the only use case for bitcoin will ever be speculation, has significantly increased the probability of this "one more bubble" outcome.
Looking at bubbles by price
One reason to suspect the upside for cryptocurrencies is limited is to look at the total available money in the world. If we look at the M1 supply of US dollars, you can see at https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/M1 that it's about $3.850 trillion. That implies that if all the money stored in banks and in cash dollars were converted to bitcoins, and there were 21 million bitcoins available, and the bitcoin domination index were 33%, the price would be $61,111. The M1 supply here is only for US dollars, and doesn't include a lot of other US assets that have value, like cars and real estate, so there is a lot more value available in the world.
It's also important to note that the price of bitcoins is $61,111, that doesn't mean that all the money in the United States has been spent on cryptocurrency. The price of bitcoins is just the price people are currently willing to pay to obtain them. In a bubble, the price will rise far above the sustainable value before crashing back down.
However, the value is worth considering to see what a reasonable range of stable prices would be. After the last bubble, we would expect price to fall to the "stable" price, or very slowly rise from it. The idea being passed around in charts that bitcoins can be worth $5m for the long term is absurd. There isn't even enough money in the world to sustain that valuation for an extended period of time because that $5m would be worth far less than $1m is today, given that so much of the money is being spent on coins. After a few hundred thousand, measuring coins in dollar values ceases to have meaning, because it implies that the value of the dollar is declining as a result of the bubble.
Thus, don't be fooled by the idea that bitcoins can be worth many million dollars as a speculative investment. The only way that can happen is if the dollar starts to lose value, and in that case, bitcoins would need to be useful to buy stuff other than dollars at exchanges. And they can't be used for everyday commerce, because the Core developers have no reasonable long-term plan to make cheap transactions possible.
The last bubble will occur when the price reaches a high level that can be attained by speculation, and crashes when the price is about to move over into a level that cannot be supported by speculation alone. I propose that that price is reasonable to be attained in the next bubble.
What will the world be like?
Next, let's discuss what the world could be like over the next few decades. There are a number of resources that one can find on the Internet about predictions for the future, and I'll direct you to perform your own research rather than repeating it here. An incredibly detailed view of one of the important technologies, artificial intelligence, can be found at https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/01/artifici ... ion-1.html.
For those who are not familiar with trends in computer science, the general consensus among scientists seems to be that technological change is exponentially accelerating, so that the world a few years from now will be as different as the world was 20 years ago. Artificial intelligence will be the dominant force for change. Some day, there is likely to be a "singularity" where change occurs so fast that someone today could not understand what the world has changed into after that point. The median time scientists place for these dramatic changes to occur is in 2040. But, if you've been following this for years like I have, you'll see that the prediction keeps moving earlier every time a poll is conducted. If the consensus is incorrect, it is more likely to occur earlier rather than later due to this trend.
One of the technologies that is not discussed in that article, and which seems to receive little press, is neural implants. These are devices that allow people to communicate with computers by thought. For example, implants currently exist to allow paralyzed people to move a cursor on a screen, with which they can then control a wheelchair or type text. Eventually, these devices will allow people to send text messages, thoughts, and even whole experiences to each other. They will eventually be non-invasive, where a person can wear a helmet instead of having a brain implant. Elon Musk even founded a company to research such implants.
The first people to receive an implant will have an unfathomable advantage over normal people. It doesn't take much bandwidth to transmit text over Bluetooth, so a profound improvement in intelligence could be obtained simply by hooking the brain up to a database curated by ultra-powerful AIs. Currently, if I'm developing a trading engine, I need to search the Internet for the name of each exchange to find the URL of its API. This task might take an hour if I had to look up 100 exchanges. I would have to do the search, then input all the URLs into a spreadsheet, and spent 10 seconds looking up the URL I need when I want to implement that exchange. With a memory implant, I would not need an hour to collect the data, as the first person to do it had already collected it on the server, and it would take 100ms instead of 5s to "know" the URL, which I would be able to type (or think) exactly into the program without forgetting and having to recheck the spreadsheet.
I would be able to develop this trader at least 10 times faster than a normal person. That means I would be able to make a huge amount of money with this new ability. This money would then allow me to upgrade my implant to the latest technology, which would allow me to recall higher-bandwidth images from the Internet, and so on. Therefore, those wanting to earn as much money as possible need to get the first safe implants available, or else they will be left behind just as many people without a college degree are left behind today.
A similar line of reasoning applies to anti-aging technology, which will likely emerge beginning this year with the release of studies on senolytic drugs. Young people can get more done than old people, so you will want to be able to buy treatments to keep you young, and to buy better treatments when they become available.
If this future comes to be, then how one should invest is simple. You want to sell during the bubble right before this technology is about to become possible, and use the money to upgrade and heal yourself. After that, you can use your abilities to earn as much money as you need. If aging reversal and implants are available in, say, 2030, and the length of bubble cycles increases, then it's possible that the next bubble's high will not be reached again before the technology becomes available.
Is a lack of comprehension the problem?
The Bitcoin Core's decision to go with the unworkable Lightning Network has resulted in a "multi-coin" future, which I wrote about previously and firmly believe is the end state of these markets. I do not believe that bitcoin, or any one coin, will suck up all the value. 90% of all the coins we have ever mined still exist, after all. The multi-coin future has resulted from usage increasing faster than the transaction limits allow. It means that people will need to be able to convert between a number of coins to do business if cryptocurrencies were to become widespread.
The counterargument presented to the comprehension problem is that all we need is a "simple UI." Supposedly, someone is going to create a wallet like Apple created an iPhone, this wallet is going to make cryptocurrencies trivial to use, and that trivial ease of use is what will cause people to flock to coins en masse. facebook recently put out yet more pictures of what's supposed to be a "revolutionary" wallet for its Libra cryptocurrency, as have about 100 other companies over the past few years. My view, however, is that wallets are as simple as they ever can be.
The problem with the "UI moment" argument is that coins have been around for more than a decade now. If there were some easier way to design a wallet, it would already have been done. There are a number of easy to use wallets, and copying and pasting a destination public key is not something limited to the exceptionally intelligent. If it is true that the main reason that everyone doesn't use cryptocurrencies already is that they are too difficult to understand, then I believe that no technology will ever exist that will enable people who cannot currently understand how they work to use them.
I don't know what the probability is of a lack of comprehension being an issue, but since that probability is undoubtedly greater than zero, there is a nonzero chance that the world currency bubble will not happen until after humans are augmented with implants. As I pointed out above, you want to be able to afford the technologies to upgrade yourself, so those who believe cryptocurrencies are too difficult for the average person to understand shouldn't be waiting until the last bubble to take profits.
The negative outcome
The article linked above also discusses a negative outcome for humanity. In that one, the world will be destroyed in some way, because insanely powerful weapons will become unbelievably cheap. Terrorists will either get these implants first and outsmart everyone else to kill us all, or someone will create an AI designed to kill everyone. An alternate negative outcome is one where people inadvertently create a computer that becomes uncontrollable and uses up all the air and light on the Earth to perform some meaningless task. For example, an industrial AI has a failsafe to turn itself off, but the programmers use the wrong units and it digs up the entire earth looking for one cubic mile of gold rather than stop mining after finding one cubic millimeter. It also build weapons to protect itself from humans until its task is completed.
I also think it's worth considering a final outcome: one where the world doesn't change that much at all. The only way that outcome occurs is if there is some unknown obstacle that will significantly slow all technological progress within the next 20 years or so. Given that one has never arisen, that seems pretty unlikely.
So let's use a table to examine the possible outcomes of technology after 20 years and suggested reaction to those outcomes:
|What happens in 2040||Probability||Action to take|
|Humans experience an extinction-level event, such as an AI takeover, a genetically engineered terrorist plague, a global war with an unimaginably powerful weapon, or something else||50%||Either we die, or life will be not worth living for the survivors, so we should live life to the fullest before this happens|
|Neural implants arrive and humans begin increasing in intelligence enough to control AI when it comes about||40%||I want to have enough money to always be upgrading to the latest implant, given the immense advantage the latest implants will have in earning money over previous ones|
|Neither of the above come to pass and no aging treatments are identified, so I die of cancer or heart disease or an accident||10%||I need to have enough money to retire and care for myself in old age|
If the world is going to end, then I might as well enjoy life now before I die along with everyone else. If neural implants and aging cures are developed, a select few people are going to be running the world - and those are the people who had enough money to afford the first technologies and earn more money using better implants. Finally, in the unlikely scenario that the future is like today, then I should lock in my gains while I'm still young and live out the rest of my life, instead of waiting on a world currency bubble that might not happen.
In this article, I presented several reasons why it is too risky to hold current cryptocurrencies beyond the next bubble. There is no "beautiful UI" waiting to be discovered, and it is possible that many people will never take the initiative to learn how to use cryptocurrencies. Despite a decade of existence, no "killer app" has emerged and it is possible that speculation and value storage will be the only use case ever identified. After the next bubble, stablecoins like facebook's Libra could begin eating away at the marketshare of the largest current coins. And the price range of the expected next bubble is in line with the maximum price ranges that would be reasonable for bitcoins to ever achieve absent its use as a world currency.
In the wider world, neural implants, aging treatments, and other technologies will start becoming available. These technologies are fundamentally different and radically more powerful than those that came before, and people who want to stay ahead will need money to buy them. The risk of the world ending after 20 years due to AI catastrophe is high, so planning for a long-term future may not be warranted. And if the next bubble is the last, then it will grow sufficiently large that most people who bought bitcoins in 2013 or 2014 or late 2018 will be able to safely retire.
Events always change, so I will reevaluate this post if one of a number of things occur. If the Bitcoin Core reverses course and decides to immediately increase a very large blocksize, that would consolidate transactions into one chain and would make people more likely to use coins due to the reduced complexity for both users and developers. If a major economy announces its intention to transition to a deflationary coin that has capacity like bitcoin cash, that would disrupt everything. If facebook's Libra falls apart, then that might indicate that stablecoins are not the future. If the next bubble tops out this year at a low value, then it may not have reached every possible person in the world. Most importantly, if there is evidence that coins are actually being used for commerce, rather than speculation, then the cycle of bubbles may not burn itself out once everyone has been reached.
For now, the balance of probabilities does not suggest that bitcoins, or any one of the existing coins, will become the world currency, or at least will not given the amount of time you or humanity has remaining.