Bitcoin, Easter Island-ism, and the Cowardice of Green New Dealers

It is hardly a secret that Bitcoin mining consumes ginormous amounts of energy (we’ll leave other cryptocurrencies out of the discussion since it’s not necessary to include them to make our case).

It is also hardly a secret that Bitcoin has no legitimate use:

“Speculation for speculation’s sake” is not a legitimate purpose; the social benefit of speculation is to facilitate price discovery in markets for assets of societal value. Oh, and possibly to provide entertainment if it doesn’t come at a high cost to the general public. There are tons of existing speculative vehicles and venues, and broadly speaking, they provide some net benefit or at least don’t do much harm.

By contrast, the profligacy and and destructiveness is reminiscent of Easter Island, where a once-thriving society came to ruin by depleting its a resource for the purpose of display.

According to Jared Diamond,1 Easter Island was an environmentally marginal location, literally the most remote habitable land, but made viable because the islanders, who’d colonized the island only some hundreds of year back, built study boats which were essential to fishing. European explorers in the 1700s found only a burnt-looking island they first thought was only sand, with scrub and a few scrawny trees. That wasn’t how the Easter Island was when first settled. Per Diamond:

For at least 30,000 years before human arrival and during the early years of Polynesian settlement, Easter was not a wasteland at all. Instead, a subtropical forest of trees and woody bushes towered over a ground layer of shrubs, herbs, ferns, and grasses. In the forest grew tree daisies, the rope- yielding hauhau tree, and the toromiro tree, which furnishes a dense, mesquite-like firewood. The most common tree in the forest was a species of palm now absent on Easter but formerly so abundant that the bottom strata of the sediment column were packed with its pollen. The Easter Island palm was closely related to the still-surviving Chilean wine palm, which grows up to 82 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter. The tall, unbranched trunks of the Easter Island palm would have been ideal for transporting and erecting statues and constructing large canoes. The palm would also have been a valuable food source, since its Chilean relative yields edible nuts as well as sap from which Chileans make sugar, syrup, honey, and wine.

As most of you know, those trees were harvested to transport and build platforms for the famed Easter Island statues. Diamond’s account explains how the settlers depleted both plants and animal life (seabirds were originally an important part of the diet) over the years. But the idea that the natives destroyed an essential resource….for what purpose? ritual? display?…arrests the modern imagination.

I have been stunned at the failure of governments to crack down on Bitcoin and crypto due to their significant and obvious role in facilitating crime and tax evasion (although as we’ll discuss below, India has announced that it is implementing the most stringent anti-crypto policies in the world). There is or should have been no other side to this argument if anyone dimly credible with political clout had made a stink early on. Banks’ failure to act as opponents is curious but they find making nice with bad guys to be highly profitable (look at Standard Chartered’s money laundering abuses as a starter). They’ve also faffed about to see if they could devise businesses around blockchain (which has long looked like a technology hunting for an application).

But libertarian world views are so deeply internalized that officials don’t bother taking a stance until lobbyists show up, although once in a while activists can get their attention.

So where have the environmentalists been? Look at this excerpt from a February Truthout article:

That’s part of the reason why Bitcoin mining has a growing environmental impact. In 2018, Princeton Professor Arvind Narayanan estimated in congressional testimony that the Bitcoin network accounted for slightly under 1 percent of world electricity consumption — a bit more than the electricity consumption of the state of Ohio or the state of New York. Scientists writing in the journal Nature warned in 2018 that Bitcoin’s growth could single-handedly push global emissions above 2 degrees Celsius. More recent estimates found that the carbon emissionsof Bitcoin mining “sits between the levels produced by the nations of Jordan and Sri Lanka.” The University of Cambridge Judge Business School’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index estimates that Bitcoin mining will consume more than 120 terawatt-hours of electricity globally this year — more energy than Argentina. (One terawatt-hour is equal to outputting 1 trillion watts of energy for one hour.) Researchers have also found that Bitcoin mining is more energy-intensive than mining both gold and platinum.

As the price of Bitcoin skyrockets, so do the incentives to mine it.

Who are the sources? Professor Narayanan is an IT expert, as opposed to a climate change authority. The authors of the 2018 Nature paper are all with the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, from the departments of Geography and Environment, Biology, Botany, Tropical Plant and Soil Science, and the Pacific Biosciences Research Center and the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology. In other words, various environmental scientists, from a school that has done a lot of environment and climate change work, but I don’t see it referenced in the sort of mass publications that would indicate that they have policy clout. The fact that it’s the University of Cambridge’s business school, and not some Big or even Any Name Environmental Group/Person that created the Bitcoin energy consumption index is telling.

Elon Musk offering to take Bitcoin for Teslas has a spotlighted Bitcoin as an energy miscreant. And the business press has led the criticism. From The environmental idiocy of Tesla’s bitcoin bet in the Financial Times:

Last week, Tesla disclosed it had invested $1.5bn of its reserves in bitcoin and unveiled plans to accept payments in the cryptocurrency for its electric cars, albeit “initially on a limited basis”….

There’s just one hitch: it’s hard to square this new enthusiasm for crypto with environmentalism. For bitcoin isn’t environmentally neutral — it’s carbon-tastic idiocy. And the cheerleading of Musk actually makes it worse.

Critics deride bitcoin as useless, saying it lacks income and utility. Yet this punter’s plaything has serious environmental consequences. “Mining” bitcoin — the process by which the supply of coins is augmented — requires electricity on a vast scale to run the computers involved. According to the Dutch economist, Alex de Vries, it chomps through around 78 terawatt hours (TWh) a year globally — equivalent to the consumption of Chile, a country of 20m. Each bitcoin transaction uses the same amount of power as 436,000 through the Visa payment system.

The BBC, using the Cambridge tool, came up with an estimate more than 50% higher:

Bitcoin uses more electricity annually than the whole of Argentina, analysis by Cambridge University suggests…

Cambridge researchers say it consumes around 121.36 terawatt-hours (TWh) a year – and is unlikely to fall unless the value of the currency slumps.

And from Frank Leroy at CryptoLucid:

This is how insanely bad Bitcoin is for the environment: If you buy a Tesla car (around 40 000 $) in Bitcoins, the impact of the mining of those bitcoins is around 80 tons of CO2. This is 4 times more than the saving of CO2 you can expect from this car (compared to a gasoline one) on its entire lifetime (around -20 tons).

Just this week, Bank of America sounded a further alarm, about rapid increase in Bitcoin energy consumption. Via Bloomberg:

The energy used by the network of computers that power the digital coin is comparable to that of many developed countries and rivals the emissions from major fossil-fuel users and producers such as American Airlines Group Inc. and ConocoPhillips, according to a report by Bank of America Corp. The level of emissions, which have risen alongside a spike in Bitcoin’s price, have grown by more than 40 million tons in the past two years….

“What I’m concerned about is the pace of growth in the demand for energy,” Francisco Blanch, head of commodities and derivatives research at Bank of America and lead author of the report, said in an interview. “The rate of change is enormous — nothing is growing at this pace in the energy world.”

Bitcoin transactions are processed by miners — crypto slang for companies that operate a vast array of computers. Miners compete to confirm transactions and get new coins awarded in return — but they require huge amounts of energy to run. Buoyed by increased competition, only a handful of such firms — most China-based — controlled about 50% of all the computing power on the network, Bloomberg News reported last year.

According to Bank of America, it’s since become even more concentrated, with roughly three-quarters of so-called hash power now concentrated in the country. That, too, is worrying to Blanch, as almost 60% of Chinese electrical generation is derived from coal-fired plants.

Notice the Federal government bar? I would assume that it includes the activities of the US military.

The point here is simple: calling for a ban on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is the lowest of low hanging climate change fruit. Yet the idea is nowhere to be found in the Green New Deal, which actually should come as no surprise. The Green New Deal refuses in any way to advocate for conservation, unless that “conservation” comes about via additional resource expenditure, like retrofitting buildings. Its proponents appear allergic to anything that might dimly resemble a hairshirt. They serve up the illusion that we can save the planet and keep modern civilization more or less as it is as long as we throw money at building out new “green” tech. This “no sacrifice” isn’t just wrong-headed, it’s destructive, since people who ought to know better will carry on as if no fundamental changes are needed.

One of the ironic proof is it you search on “Green New Deal” and Bitcoin, even on neutral search engines like Qwant, the majority of the articles regard the Green New Deal as a plus for Bitcoin because spending or at worst not clearly a negative. For instance:

And it’s not as if governments can’t act, they are just refusing to. Of all places, neoliberal India is starting the strictest crackdown to date. The problem from the environmental perspective is that this move is just to get rid of competition for an official digital currency….which has yet to be created. Still, the move illustrates that it’s perfectly possible to be bloody-minded. From Reuters:

India will propose a law banning cryptocurrencies, fining anyone trading in the country or even holding such digital assets, a senior government official told Reuters in a potential blow to millions of investors piling into the red-hot asset class.

The bill, one of the world’s strictest policies against cryptocurrencies, would criminalise possession, issuance, mining, trading and transferring crypto-assets, said the official, who has direct knowledge of the plan….

[T]he bill would give holders of cryptocurrencies up to six months to liquidate, after which penalties will be levied, said the official, who asked not to be named as the contents of the bill are not public.

Officials are confident of getting the bill enacted into law as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government holds a comfortable majority in parliament.

I don’t see how it’s possible to prevent catastrophic climate outcomes given this level of complacency, cowardice, and self-indulgence. Many years ago, Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway explained how “no” became a managerial taboo. From the Financial Times:

For people in any position of authority the ability to say no is the most important skill there is. All good parents must say it often. So must all good managers. No, you can’t have a pay rise. No, you can’t be promoted. No, you can’t travel club class. No, we are not going to an offsite workshop to discuss living our core values….

Put like this it sounds banal, though actually it’s heresy. An illogical love of Yes is the basis for all modern management thought. The ideal modern manager is meant to be enabling, empowering, encouraging and nurturing, which means that his default position must be Yes. By contrast, No is considered demotivating, uncreative and a thoroughly bad thing.

We need to say “no” to lots of activities to tighten our carbon belts. If we can’t muster up the gumption to say “no” to pointless energy hogs like Bitcoin, the planet will eventually do it for us. And the planet will be much less nice about it.


1 Some recent scholars have tried challenging Diamond, by asserting that Easter Island’s inhabitants were in fact good husbanders of their resources. Most reviews point out that the new work straw mans Diamond. From what I can tell, it does not disprove Diamond’s central claim, that deforestation put the island society in a tailspin. And moving the estimate of when that happened later doesn’t somehow shift blame to Europeans, since they didn’t harvest the critical resources, particularly the trees.

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  1. Taurus

    Ironically the ad which got served to me with this article is “Buy crypto on Coinbase” :)

      1. chuck roast

        Nice. I could have used that line when I was a kid, but the priests would have served me up a backhander.

  2. KD

    It has been pointed out that cryptocurrency is a means of doing quick, affordable foreign currency exchanges with less of a spread than going to a bank, so not entirely useless or criminal.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That’s false and misleading.

      First, your crypo transaction is taxable, so if you aren’t paying taxes on gains, you are engaging in tax evasion, which is a crime. You are required to report regardless.

      Second, given the slow execution time of crypto transactions, you have basis risk, as in slippage between when you agreed a price and when you execute the related trades.

      Third, by contrast, if you are dealing in foreign currencies at a tourist/casual level, the IRS isn’t going to bust your chops if you buy some euros and then take them back to a bank later to go back to dollars and made a deminimis profit. You do get crap rates if you turn in paper currency, but most people keep their leftovers for a future trip. I’ve traveled internationally extensively (as in one trip, 5 continents in eight weeks) and the rates on ATM withdrawals overseas are excellent for retail-sized transactions. There are also services like MoneyCorp (used by professional traders) which give good rates and low fees if you need to send money abroad.

      But if you are trading FX professionally, introducing crypto creates an additional transaction, dollars to crypto, crypto to foreign currency, with more basis risk than dollars to foreign currency, an additional trade with spread, more reporting.

    2. vlade

      There’s so much wrong with this that I don’t know where to start. Neither of the three things – quick, affordable and less spread holds.

      Never mind that there’s a ton of fintechs that do FX transfers that really are quick, affordable, and cheaper than banks – and none of them uses crypto.

      1. Rabbit of Caerbannog

        There are *a lot* of non-cryptocurrency banking alternatives such as Alipay that do all that cryptocurrencies do except don’t have a massive distributed database that requires huge amounts of energy to mine & maintain. And if you think ETH’s new Proof of Stake approach will work, think again. PoS coins never last long because PoS is not a costly signal of ‘trust’ like PoW.

    1. vlade

      No. I had a look at it, and doesn’t do anything that a current technology can’t do as well or better, under real-life scenarios.

      Crypto has been around for ages, with uncounted billions being thrown at it, and PR that for anyting else would have cost another billions, yet has to show any significant large scale application. Well, TBH, Merkle trees have been in use for quite a while, so solve very specific problems that are usually entirely invisible to the end user, but I count that as “current technology” since they have been around since 1988.

      1. Martín

        I pointed out a project that has been going on for 10 years now, supported by many different companies and currently in use throughout the world, in very real-life scenarios such as covid19 vaccine distribution.

        There might be a reason why, after 10 years, they are still in business in a very competitive market.

        And I’m just pointing out that the reason that they may go under is because bitcoin might drag them if it crashes.

  3. Cocomaan

    Great post. Reminds me of another story of speculative energy extraction/environmental destruction.

    Recently the Pebble Mine up in Alaska ran into trouble and breaking ground has been delayed for political reasons (including some real foot in mouth moments by the company). Environmental activists have been working overtime to make sure that the mine cannot get at what’s considered to be one of the largest untapped gold deposits in the world. Some new and very destructive mining technology has made it accessible only recently. This ain’t panning, it’s a form of strip mining and chemical blasting:

    If you run in environmental circles you know about pebble mine. Probably a good twenty or thirty years of people devoting their lives to the cause has led to today’s stalemate.

    I doubt environmental activists know what Yves is talking about above. But it’s interesting to hear the activists talk about greed of the mine owners regarding a speculative material to be extracted from this valuable wildlife area.

    1. ChuckTurds

      Pebble is primarily a copper project, which makes the battle over its existence especially interesting. The green new dealers will need A LOT of copper, nickel, rare earths etc to transform the economy to a ‘green’ one. Are they willing to trash some pristine wilderness to help achieve that goal? Probably not I think. We may know in a couple months when the response to Northern Dynasty’s appeal is due. Though that might just be the start of the legal battle.

  4. vlade

    I haven’t seen a single use-case where crypto would be better than an existing technology. All the ones that are there are play-stuff at best, and often with so unrealistic assumptions it’s laughable (“we can track your data and make sure its not tampered with” “How about inputs?” “Er..” “So, how different are you from a PK encryption/signature?” “Eh we have a transaction history that can’t messed?” “And? Did you miss the point on inputs?”)

    But the governments are now scared of doing anything on this front, because then they would be immediately under attack as a technological-luddites by the invested parties. That is despite the fact that the crypto and block chain, if it was actually taken over by the govt, would be the most big-brotherish thing ever (which is why quite a few Gulf states are quite keen on it, as is China).

    Remove it out of the existence, the sooner the better.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      A question here: Its not a topic I’m well versed on, but quite a few Central Banks are looking at Crypto – from what I understand, as a means to make monetary policy more efficient (i.e. bypass the private banks). This seems reasonable to me (at least, in the absence of proper democratic control and consistent application of fiscal/monetary policy).

      Any opinions on that?

      1. vlade

        I don’t buy the argument that the CBs could make monetary policy more efficient by direct control.

        The levers CBs have on monetary policy are now one-level indirection, but they are very powerful (liquidty and capital requirements), if CBs are willing to exercise them.

        There’s a lag in the application, but IMO it’s a plus, not minus. It’s a cost you carry for fire-breaks, i.e. a stupid decision doesn’t kick in immediately.

        IMO if CBs were, via crypto or anything else, able to control money creation directly to the last penny, we’d see more, not less problems with monetary policy, as the urge to tinker at the edges would be overwhelming (because CBs are believers in the marginal stuff, and don’t do state-jumps), with effects being immediate – or alternately, to supress the urge the controls would mean it would be “automated”. *shudder*

        In effect, we’d have a full-reserve banking (because any and all money would have to be created by the CB first, explicitly), that would be either over-regulated (tinker at the edges) or under-regulated (just set it to a constant stream of new money being created).

        Moreover, it would limit the fiscal policy (because any new money would have to be first created by the CBs), and in fact, due to the removing of the lag, it would merge monetary and fiscal policy.

        Just an opinion, take for what it’s worth.

        1. JEHR

          I’m sorry but monetary policy is not the same as fiscal policy: monetary policy deals with interest rates and money supply which is set by the central bank; and fiscal policy is the amount of government expenditure and taxation regulated by the elected government representatives. To merge these activities you would have to have government-elected representatives becoming the governors of the central bank. What am I missing?

          Re: Easter Island: “But the idea that the natives destroyed an essential resource….for what purpose? ritual? display?…arrests the modern imagination.”

          Well, my imagination is not arrested as I can see the present day population creating infinite (almost) numbers of buildings using trees and/or concrete until there are only buildings left as monuments to the (former) population of people-builders if we do not save the environment.

          1. Harry

            Isnt that simply an arbitrary distinction? If the monetary and fiscal authority is the same what exactly is the distinction?

            I suggest private banks exist to pick winners and losers for capital markets. If the banks dont or cant do this then someone else has to. If no one in the private sector does it then it must be the state which steps in. But since we are not big on the state allocating economic resources too directly then we will have to pretend the banks are expert at it.

      2. Thuto

        My understanding is that central banks (CBs) are looking at CB issued digital currencies, not crypto currencies in the classic sense. The two are often used interchangeably but they aren’t the same thing, one big difference being issuance, the digital currencies will still be centrally issued by a monetary institution (and fully backed by it) while crypto currencies are mined by different miners across the blockchain. This is an important distinction to keep in mind. As for whether this will result in more efficiency, well, private banks have acted with wanton disregard for the health of the system by flooding it with cheap money, would it be such a bad idea for CBs to wrest back some of the control, imho probably not.

      3. Harry

        My understanding is it would cut out the middle man. Rather than having to execute monetary policy via banks, you could conduct direct. Necessary when banks are capital starved or sensibly wish to avoid lending to an insolvent private sector.

        It seems to me that banks are actually past their sell by date. The informational advantages are generally overstated for large banks and large data collectors will probably soon have an informational advantage over banks. At which point all the banks are doing is holding the CB hostage.

        Consider credit markets. Much of this is no longer market made. There is no liquidity in the secondary market. So the banks are practically vestigial. Eventually the asset managers intend to trade direct with each other. Hence Tradeweb etc. At which point shouldnt the CB provide its liquidity direct to the buyers of corporate credit?

        A Digital Krona or Digital Yuan will allow the privilege of dealing directly with the CB to be extended to the entire private sector.

  5. Snorky

    Yeah, but how much energy is “wasted” on the banking, finance, and investement industries, their infrastructure, their grossly overcompensated piratical employees, their estates, and their toys? Wouldn’t it be better if they all owned nothing and liked it, wearing cassocks, and toiling monastically at growing their own vegetables on a commune somewhere? I bet that collectively, they and their super-rich employers use more than 1% of the world’s energy, most of which gets pissed away on one form of high cockolorum or another.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You appear to be new here, and it shows.

      We have rules here, which are that comments need to adhere to well-recognized standards of argumentation and evidence. We require readers to review our comments Policies so you understand our ground rules and you clearly haven’t.

      Your comment does absolutely nothing to refute the post, which means you’ve conceded the argument. You instead are engaging in a logical fallacy informally called “whataboutism”. From Wikipedia:

      Whataboutism, also known as whataboutery, is a variant of the tu quoque logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument.

      Wikipedia goes to great lengths to depict Whataboutism as a favorite Soviet propaganda technique.

      You also appear to be ignorant of the fact that banking and financial services, unlike Bitcoin, are ancient because they are essential to commerce. Ur in 1788 BC had factoring (lending against receivables), secured lending, loan trading and proto-securitization (selling of fractional loans), venture capital (syndicated equity participation in expeditions to procure spices), and derivatives. Simon Johnson described in his classic Atlantic article, The Quiet Coup, that through 1980, employees in financial services were paid on the same level as average workers in all industries; it was the Reagan-promoted shift to an economic model that promoted consumer borrowing and asset price inflation instead of growth in worker wages that led to financialization and an explosion in pay in many areas of finance.

      We’ve criticized numerous unproductive and exploitative practices in finance, such as HFT, private equity (the fees are outrageous and the general partners cheat; we also criticized the government cooperation with PE’s move into buying and renting single family homes), payday loans, unicorns that will never make a profit, along with pervasive exaggerated prices, and an oversized finance sector. We’ve been particularly critical of asset management as a drag on economic activity. This is only a partial list.

      So take your misguided attacks elsewhere. Why don’t you actually go do something yourself rather than take erroneous potshots at those of us who have?

    2. Halcyon

      Yves has already thoroughly had a stab at this for whataboutism, but I feel I should point out that not only is it whataboutism – it’s whataboutism that is always brought up by Bitcoin defenders even though it has been refuted time and time and time again.

      Since Bitcoin as a cryptocurrency is not and cannot possibly scale to “replace” banking and finance (some level of which IS necessary) it’s a silly comparison. All the sillier when Bitcoin currently emits vastly more CO2 and wastes more energy than the VISA payment network, while processing only a few hundred thousand transactions a day to VISA’s 150 million.

      It’s like comparing CO2 emissions from that one prototype jetpack to emissions from all of transportation.

      But even if you hadn’t done the maths (and many honest brokers have), the reason why is apparent and trivial. Bitcoin does transactions by replacing a trusted third party with energetically expensive “proof of work.” Given that you have this extra phase in a transaction, designed to waste electricity on a meaningless mathematical puzzle simply to prove that work has been done, Bitcoin transactions on blockchain will always consume more energy than alternative transactions.

      1. Dante

        Incorrect. Bitcoin as a payment network is a settlement layer, more akin to SWIFT or BIS than Visa.

        Visa (or its equivalent) would be one of many layer 2 solutions that sits on top of the Bitcoin network.

        Economists love to ignore externalities when it suits them. Very convenient when comparing Bitcoin to the status quo when the latter is defined by just the tip of the iceberg.

        1. Halcyon

          Okay, I’ll bite.

          Have you got any evidence that SWIFT or BIS consumes more energy than Bitcoin on-blockchain transactions do?

          If you want me to compare Visa to swapping bitcoins on the exchange, i.e. via a trusted third party “Layer 2” solution, or the Lightning Network (which doesn’t work and has been stuck in development hell for years), then I ask: what’s the point of Bitcoin that relies on a trusted third party? and we’ll be comparing one thing that works very well to a think that has absolutely no use.

          The digital pet rock is not a currency, nor will it ever be.

        2. Harry

          Im not sure economists love to ignore externalities. Perhaps some economists. Others spend a lot of time pointing out externalities.

  6. Cocomaan

    Also want to comment that there seems to be an “academic industrial complex” devoted to trashing Jared Diamond. This is probably because people have actually read his work, which is a sin when it comes to a lot of academia, esp anything outside the hard sciences.

    1. SufferinSuccotash

      The Enigmas of Easter Island by John Flenley and Paul Bahn (Oxford University Press, 2002) provides the scholarly backup for Diamond’s work. When Europeans found the place on Easter Sunday 1722 the island’s population had long since crashed and the remnants were living in strongly fortified caves, terrified of being killed and eaten by their neighbors.

      1. vao

        In the past 15-20 years there has been further research taking advantage of the newest techniques for core sampling and analysis to elucidate the ecological evolution of Easter Island. The basic conclusions:

        1) forest cover varied quite significantly across millenia, driven both by human activities, climate variations (medieval climatic optimum and little ice age), and the interaction between them;

        2) deforestation did not take place in one continuous, rapid process, but in phases, with forests recovering (partially or totally), as human settlements (and corresponding tree felling) relocated across the island;

        3) a significant driver for deforestation was clearing land for agriculture; temporary forays on Easter Island may well have taken place long before the permanent settlement around 1200 CE.

        From all that, it seems to me that overpopulation, just as the little ice age was at its height, were at least as important in the terminal bout of deforestation as a frenzy of erecting moas.

        By the way: when European discovered Easter Island, there were still (small) trees — the toromiro — but once the island was turned into a giant grazing ground for sheep, the relentless munching of trees and saplings caused the extinction of that last endemic tree species. Thor Heyerdahl managed to save a few seeds from the very last, dying specimen. So yes, we can shift a little portion of the blame to the Westerners for the ecological wasteland that is Easter Island.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          I focused on the trees. It’s a simplification of the Diamond argument but it makes the point. The large trees were critical to building sturdy boats, which in turn were essential to fishing which in turn was important to not over-exploiting the island (he explains why close-in fishing wasn’t terribly productive, the early islanders ate a lot of porpoise). Diamond even points out the cutting of the “last tree”wouldn’t have been seen as significant because at that point, the remaining trees were small and scrawny.

          1. vao

            There is no contradiction to what I stated. The sediment record shows that deforestation (for agriculture, for building boats, for erecting moas) followed settlements across the island, and forests recovered after settlements moved.

            Overpopulation combined with changing climatic conditions meant that deforestation accelerated, forest (and other natural resources) recovery became impossible and the die was cast. So,

            But the idea that the natives destroyed an essential resource….for what purpose? ritual? display?…arrests the modern imagination.

            is inexact. Statues were certainly a contributing factor, but the decisive one? Doubtful.

            Besides, all civilizations do sacrifice essential resources (starting with their own young, healthiest, strongest members atop pyramids, down cenotes, into pyres or whatever, or entire herds, or valuable objects such as weapons, tools, jewelry requiring significant resources for their elaboration into lakes, etc) to rituals and displays, so Easter Island does not strike me as special in this respect. What is peculiar is the context in which it occurred — an isolated island with a particularly fragile ecosystem.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              No, general arguments don’t refute specific evidence. You’ve basically handwaved and failed to refute the substantial proofs that all point in the same direction.

              Diamond explains why large trees were critical to at least slowing what looked to be an inevitable collapse scenario. Only those trees could be used to build sufficiently seaworthy boats to have fishing produce a meaningful component of islanders’ diets.

              It is also indisputable that moai platforms (and likely the mechanisms for transporting the moai to their spots) were a very significant use of the very same critical resource. There is similarly no evidence that the moai construction slowed as the large trees became more and more scarce.

              Once fishing was no longer an option, the decline accelerated. The researchers have tracked how food sources changed dramatically over time.

    2. jabberwocky

      The Jared Diamond narrative on Easter Island leaves out a fundamental feature of the modern collapse there (as opposed to the initial collapse, which was followed by the establishment of a fairly stable population). This is the issue, there are many similar sources on this:

      “Easter Island in Polynesia, famous for its mysterious carved statues, was wiped out by guano slave raids. In 1862, a third of the population (1000 men) was kidnapped in a slave raid and shipped to the Chincha Islands, where they were forced to work in the guano quarries. As many as 900 died there, and after a few countries protested, the remaining 100 were repatriated to the island, carrying disease with them. The rest of the population was then wiped out by disease.”

      As far as Bitcoin, I suppose tax evasion and money laundering are issues – but compared to the global scale, the offshoring of billionaire wealth into capital tax havens, the role of major banks like HSBC in drug cartel money laundering (usually dealing with large sums of cash), well, maybe Bitcoin allows the lower classes to engage in these activities alongside the aristocrats?

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        But at what cost in global warming CO2 emissions?

        And at what cost in electricity taken away from productive thingmaking and thingdoing in order to feed the bit-coining?

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        The slave raids are irrelevant to the thesis. The island only have about 2200 ish natives in 1722. Peak population was way over 7000, some have claimed as high as 20,000.

    3. occasional anonymous

      Not really. A lot of the criticism of him is well supported. His Easter Island thesis is mostly sound, but his Guns, Germs, and Steel ideas, that he’s much more famous for, are pretty disliked by academics because they simply don’t hold up. Aside from basically just being repackaged geographical determinism, and not actually radical or innovative, he cherry-picks data to support his conclusion, and often gets details, minor and major, outright wrong. His entire account of the Spanish conquest of the new world, the titular guns, germs, and steel, is basically pure nonsense. Especially the guns and steel part: in fact the natives mostly weren’t afraid of the guns, which were loud and smokey but mostly ineffective, at least in the numbers the Spanish could bring to bear, and steel did not particularly confer much of an advantage against obsidian weapons, especially when the guys with the obsidian outnumber you to a ludicrous degree.

      The conquistadors conquered the Aztecs mostly because they were able to make alliances with other native nations who, for pretty obvious reasons, wanted to take the Aztecs down. The Spanish were able to make themselves crucial players through a combination of sound politicking and a considerable degree of pure luck. Had Montezuma simply swarmed the outsiders and had them exterminated when they first showed up on the beach, which in hindsight he should have, history would have played out very differently. Or at least differently until more Spanish showed up later in much greater numbers.

      If you ask a historian or anthropologist who specializes in Mesoamerica about Jared Diamond’s ideas, you’ll likely just get a tired sigh. Not because of jealously, but because Diamond is basically an outsider who doesn’t know what he’s talking about who has come into the thing they’ve dedicated their professional lives to with a sledgehammer, bashing everything in sight to force it to fit his model of history. By training he’s a doctor, who dabbles in birds and ecology on the side. I’m not saying outsiders aren’t allowed to come into another field because they don’t have the proper Sacred Credentials™, but when a lot of people who do specialize in a certain thing have criticism of a guy who doesn’t specialize in that thing, there is perhaps value in honestly engaging with their criticism, rather than just poo-pooing them and assuming they’re just jealous and being petty.

      It’s good that there’s a major move away from Great Man history, but I’m not sold on people claiming they’ve discovered the Krabby Patty secret formula of history either. I had a brief infatuation with the Cliodynamics stuff, but then Peter Turchin himself completely disabused me of that when I actually watched a lecture he gave where it turns out his vaunted model is really just a slightly more sophisticated version of how a Civilization video game runs. He openly admitted there are variables in his modeling that literally don’t matter, and when he showed off some of its historical predictions, there were things like the Roman Empire expanding forever, far beyond its historical borders. Yes, Turchin will say that when things like that happen they of course tweak the model until it more closely aligns with real history, but to me it indicates that perhaps the very notion of modeling something like the entire sweep of human history is an inherently nonsensical, unachievable goal. Because while there are indeed often underlying dynamics that push events and trends in certain directions, human agency is still absolutely a thing, both at a social level and in terms of individuals. Three of the biggest examples that jump out to me are Alexander, Genghis and his Mongols, and Napoleon. You can to a large extent explain the French Revolution and the subsequent wars in grand historical terms, but you can’t explain Napoleon through any sort of abstract historical process. There is no underlying reason for historical events to have by necessity produced a Napoleon, and you can’t just write off his vast impact as something that would have inevitably happened without him. You have in Napoleon an example of an individual who became in and of himself a historical pivot.

  7. zagonostra

    I’m way out of my league on this topic, but if “the social benefit of speculation is to facilitate price discovery in markets for assets of societal value” could you say that crypto currency provides “societal value” in communicating the confidence in the dollar/national currency that investors/speculators have? But even if the answer is yes, based on effect on climate, it seems suicidal.

    I recently saw an interview with Max Keiser touting Bitcoin and then read an article by Wolf Richter at Wolf Street calling it a Ponzi scheme. I was leaning toward the latter’s position. I don’t like anything that harms the environment, so I from that perspective alone, I think gov’t should step in.

      1. Wukchumni

        There will be scant evidence Bitcoin ever existed in the future say hundreds of years from present, not that there’s much evidence now aside from valuation discerned from reading about it online. (just how much electricity does the internet use as opposed to mining Bitcoins?)

        Cryptocurrencies are islands unto themselves, not really of any use aside from making money as far as I can tell, at least the Easter Island moai were useful in attracting tourists many hundreds of years later, not dissimilar to Egyptian pyramids being of little use after they were completed aside from being burial plots for the proto .01%’ers, but look at the dividends they’ve paid since, would anybody really be attracted to go to modern day Egypt if they hadn’t been built?

        I’ve mentioned previously how there are no instances of hyperinflation under what is nearly a pure digital financial playing field (physical currency being a token amount of monies) the last episode being Zimbabwe and old fashioned paper money.

        How do you get there from here, i’ve wondered?

        Bitcoin is performing like Bizarro World hyperinflation (turning $10 into $50,000 in a decade) where instead of people getting wiped out, its just the opposite.

    1. occasional anonymous

      Keiser is an idiot. Was the interview you saw by chance the one with Jimmy Dore? I was really disappointed when I saw he gave Keiser a platform. Dore should have a much better grasp of money matters because he’s interviewed Stephanie Kelton before. I genuinely like Dore, but there are times I really wish he would lay off the pot and instead try engaging his brain more. What he learned from Kelton should have helped him to see some very obvious flaws in bitcoin.

      Bitcoin is literally a ponzi scheme. It’s a speculative asset with zero (ZERO) underlying value or use beyond facilitating the purchase of illegal drugs and child pornography. Its dollar value continues to rise because useful idiots continue to pump money and energy into pushing its value up.

      And even if it were an investment asset with some real staying power, the very fact that we’re talking about it in terms of dollar values shows that it has completely failed as being a currency. It isn’t money, anymore than rare art is. Few and far between are the places you can use bitcoin (or any other crypto ‘currency’) to buy anything. When proponents brag about it ‘going to the moon’, they don’t seem to realize that even if it were true (it isn’t, it’s a bubble that will burst sooner or later) that that is a very different thing from their stated goal of making a new viable form of money.

      When all is said and done bitcoin will have produced a small number of millionaires (millionaires in terms of actual money like dollars, I mean), and a much greater number of people who have thrown away their savings, and have nothing to show for it but a bunch of burned out hardware (what crypto mining does to GPUs is a terrible sight. And as someone who games, these idiots ruining the graphics card market by buying up so many cards leaves me with a particular resentment) and power bills they can’t afford to pay.

  8. diptherio

    Just have to quibble with the out-of-date Easter Island theorizing. The story we all got was probably mostly European fantasizing, as it turns out:

    Now, new evidence from archaeological investigations has overturned a popular myth about the demise of the Rapa Nui civilization on the island. For centuries, observers believed that the Rapa Nui suffered a catastrophic population crash. But there is no scientific evidence to support this idea, say a group of researchers in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity. That story about environmental collapse and warfare you read about in Jared Diamond’s bestseller Collapse? Totally wrong.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This was the one I referred to that straw mans Diamond. Just go read his article, to which I linked. It has EXTENSIVE and irrefutable evidence from scientists who’ve done deep bores into island soil and have documented the unfavorable changes in islander diet over the centuries and the incontrovertible proof of the loss of most island flora and fauna.

      The work in this paper is superficial compared to the documentation of the changes in the island’s ecology over time. It’s based solely on archeological work that found that the islanders were still making stone statues after 1722, using radiocarbon dating and “Baysean analysis”. The first European visit in 1722 found a comparatively small number of islanders (est. over 2000) who were in poor health and a virtually tree-less island, and flimsy canoes (you needed sturdy canoes to fish, for reasons Diamond explains).

      In other words, the entire counterclaim rests on allegedly newer statues, which is extremely thin evidence compared to the extensive scientific studies summarized by Diamond. I don’t see this as remotely dispositive. For instance, some researchers have shown the maoi can be moved using ropes alone:

      But they still needed wooden platforms. I don’t see any consideration of the possibility that older partly completed statues were finished and wood already on the island was repurposed to making new platforms.

  9. farmboy

    Speculation also adds liquidity to thinly traded markets that otherwise wouldn’t function and historically speculators get blamed when markets go wrong or bust.
    Treasury or the Fed could short BTC until it goes to zero, no one would step in front of that trade, just do it quietly without comment

  10. Mikel

    The sell point of the crypto is that because the dollar is now not perceived as scarce it doesn’t have value.
    How do they make the crypto scarce?
    And then, if crypto is allegedly supposed to have high hopes of being used as more of an everyday global currency, how can it remain scarce?
    The whole “hair on fire” screaming by crypto sellers/recruiters about the amount of money being printed seems contradictory.

    1. Martín

      You set it up so that no more than a set number exists. That’s how you make it scarce. It remains scarce because, well, no more than a set number exists.

      This concept is not something new, it’s akin to how money used to be backed by gold (until it wasn’t).

      There are several serious issues with crypto these days, but I don’t reckon this one being one fo them.

      1. occasional anonymous

        Deflationary currency is inherently a problem. There’s a reason that no one backs their currency with gold or any other finite material anymore; it’s actually a profoundly stupid idea.

  11. Mikerw0

    This article is an important step towards the whole basis on which we price power (electricity). While easy to articulate, and harder to do, would be to implement a pricing scheme that results in low or no societal activities to pay a premium price.

    Much of what we do on the internet is of low utility (maybe a value judgement by me) but consumes increasing amounts of power for servers and storage — for example the proliferation of streaming services. These, like bitcoin, either get power at an industrial price, which is typically less than half the residential rate, or claim to be moving towards “net zero” which they are doing by buying carbon credits.

    I know of one bit coin miner that is getting very cheap hydro power — how can this make sense societally?

    Beating climate change, if even possible at this point, needs a focus on both the supply side of how we generate electricity and the demand side of how we use it. Pricing can become a very powerful ally in the latter if we change our mentality.

    PS I think China has announced they are shutting the coal plants in their northwest that serve the bit coin miners(?).

  12. shinola

    -“I have been stunned at the failure of governments to crack down on Bitcoin and crypto due to their significant and obvious role in facilitating crime and tax evasion…”

    Perhaps not so stunning if you consider how much bribery is involved in what laws get passed and/or enforced.

  13. ian

    Bitcoin uses proof of work, which requires a lot of energy. Proof of stake, which is planned for ethereum, won’t have these energy issues.

    1. warpig

      And, as the end of bitcoin coin mining begins to near end of cycle, meaning no more new BTC will be mined, the cost of mining will also descend. There are just too many variables to come up with a “bitcoin bad” conclusion. Usually this comes from people who have only a marginal idea of how crypto works.

      1. Halcyon

        The final bitcoin is unlikely to be mined. I’ve seen projections that put that date at 2140 – by which point it will long since cease to be economical to “mine” the coins.

        Cryptocurrency enthusiasts suggest that at this point, the payment network will continue to work because people will be willing to pay the (by then exorbitant) transaction fees to exchange the coins.

        Bridge. Brooklyn.

  14. Aumua

    I somehow doubt that the state of Ohio consumes 1% of global electric output and I’d love to see the source for that figure. None is given in Professor Narayanan’s Senate committee report. Additionally the Sciencedirect article above puts Bitcoin energy consumption at 45.8 TWh per year (in 2019), and Wikipedia puts global energy consumption at 157,000 TWh (in 2013). That is less than .03%, not 1%. This is not to say that I disagree with the blog post’s basic premise, but I’m also cognizant that Big Scary Numbers may be overinflated by various old money groups with a vested interest in spreading FUD about cryptocurrencies, such as Bank of America, the producer of the figure above. It has been interesting and instructive to watch the attitude shift in places like NC from disdain toward disgust and actual visceral hatred towards Bitcoin, up to and including calls for public capital punishment of miners. These kinds of shifts in opinion don’t just spontaneously happen. They’re disseminated from on high and filtered down through various channels.

    (edit: I had to remove all cited links from my post in order to even be considered for moderation)

    1. Halcyon

      You’ve conflated energy and electricity, and used an out of date number for Bitcoin, which matters because activity has intensified along with the price, which is what the speculators care about. (Cambridge researchers recently put it at 121TWh; that would be around 0.5% of global electricity consumption, which is order of magnitude correct and not order of magnitude wrong as you had it.)

      But more particularly, why should we care if it’s 0.5% or 0.01% or 1% when it is all utterly wasted on not even doing anything useful?

      The ad hominem attack on NC is uncalled for. I am a random internet guy. My only “interest in spreading FUD” is because crypto enthusiasts annoy me by pretending their speculative asset is a viable currency that will somehow replace the banking system. (It won’t; if it could, they would ban it; instead, it has already been co-opted by it as a speculative asset.)

      1. Aumua

        I used a number from 2019 for Bitcoin, true. But I also used a number from 2013 for global electricity output (which analagous to energy in this case). Either way, 121 TWh / 157000 TWh is in fact .077% so check your math, sir.

        Also I did not ad-hominem NC. I simply reported some things that I’ve recently heard said here (and elsewhere), and offered that public opinion is possibly being shaped in part by narratives coming from private banks and other big Capital interests (who are also interested in driving the price down if they are themselves speculating on it).

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The idea that banks have any interest in pushing Bitcoin down is silly. This is Bitcoin investors trying to rationalize price drops. If they wanted to squash it, it’s cheaper and way easier to enlist regulators and pols.

        2. Halcyon

          I don’t know how to tell you that electricity output is not “analogous to energy”. Energy output is typically on the order of ten times electricity output (roughly). You simply cannot use them as interchangable numbers and make the same claim. If someone tells me something is equivalent to 1% of electricity output vs total energy output, I know there’s a big difference in what we are talking about.

          So, since you want to check my math, here’s what I did.

          In 2018, world total electricity final consumption reached 22 315 TWh. That’s from the IEA. You will note significantly less than energy because not all energy consumed is turned into electricity.

          Then we have 121TWh. Dividing those gives 0.54% , as I said.

          I will grant you that this is a common mistake that lots of people make (including some of the critics of Bitcoin who loosely toss around energy vs electricity consumption without being clear enough on the distinction), but given that I pointed it out and you responded with the same mistake again, I’m spelling it out.

    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      Part of the attitude shift at NC in particular may be due to a rising realization of just how much electricity bit-coining pre-empts from other uses of electricity, and how much brute gross electricity bit-coining will pre-empt into the future. Some of that electricity is/will be made by globally warming carbon-burning.

      I will not use crypto currency. And I will not tolerate those who do.

      1. Aumua

        Well then you can not-tolerate me if you want, but while I don’t exactly use Bitcoin I do speculate on its use a store of value and asset class. No one who is even a little knowledgeable about cryptocurrencies thinks Bitcoin will ever be widely used as an actual currency. There are other blockchain projects which will be much more suited to that and many other practical applications, and which also do not take massive amounts of electricity to produce and use (other than general computer usage, which appears to be with us either way).

        1. occasional anonymous

          No one who is even a little knowledgeable about cryptocurrencies thinks Bitcoin will ever be widely used as an actual currency.

          Now this is actually an example of pure FUD. Are you effing kidding me? The goal of cryptocurrencies to become money is literally in the name. Go to any crypto hangout and you’ll find it filled with people who are convinced widespread adoption is just around the corner. And if your argument is that “okay, well, most of the people into crypto don’t actually understand it, unlike sophisticated sages such as myself”, holy hell, that’s sure comforting! You sure chose a sound thing to invest your money in!

          I hope for your sake you end up cashing in and getting out before it all goes completely pear shaped, because otherwise you’re going to be left holding absolutely nothing. At least with tulips people got a nice flower at the end of it all. The same can’t be said of bitcoin.

          There are no practical use cases for crypto. None. At its core it is a ludicrously slow database; it’s literally worthless as a way to do anything.

          PS invest in dogecoin, it’s totally not a meme scam guyz

        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          So you speculate on Bitcoin? Then you are directly responsible for whatever small part of bitcoin’s huge and growing CO2 emissions your speculation helps to justify and propel.

          Not very greenWoke, are you ?

          1. Aumua

            No and I didn’t say I was. I mean I do have ambivalent feelings about it, but also my attitude is that I’m gonna get me a piece of that REAL stimulus, while the gettin’s good. As long as markets are being propped up by the Fed’s promise of unlimited liquidity or whatever, I continue to make significant money, even up to a potentially life changing amount. For someone who has lived most of his life under the poverty level, that means something. This thing is happening whether I’m participating in it or not. I’ll leave it to others to agonize over the CO2 and cry “tulips!” for now.

            1. Basil Pesto

              I’m happy for you, but do you not think it possible that your defence of Bitcoin, such as it is, might be a rationalisation informed by your position in it? I mean, is it really your submission that Yves’ longstanding opinion

              is possibly being shaped in part by narratives coming from private banks and other big Capital interests

              and not that BitCoin is transparently knackers? (unless you speculate successfully, which, again, good for you. There’s no point rationalising that.)

              I mean, Yves frightens me sufficiently that I wouldn’t countenance posting something of that level of condescension here.

            2. drumlin woodchuckles

              So you’ll do the libertarian thing and speculate in mass-energy-squandering and let others agonize over the CO2 problem you are helping in your own small way to worsen.

              Well . . . alrighty then!

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        It’s not an “attitude shift”. We’ve been opposed to Bitcoin from the get-go. We didn’t want to dignify it by writing about it. We thought the occasional link and “prosecution futures” more than sufficed.

        1. Aumua

          Well, get ready to write about it some more because the “media attention” phase of the market cycle is just getting going.

  15. Larry Gilman

    While it’s true that the Green New Deal does not speak of reducing or banning Bitcoin, meat consumption, automobiles, or anything else, your judgment on this omission — “cowardice” — seems to me overharsh, given that our society has turned its back on even the painless suite of measures it does prescribe. If Bernie et al. did flash a scrap of hairshirt, we would be smothered under withering commentary about the political cluelessness of the Left, the self-indulgence of preferring the perfect to the practicable, virtue signaling, the Gray New Deal, etc. The Green New Deal is the closest thing so far to a science-proportioned climate effort to bid seriously for implementation in the US; its creators have earned better from us, I think, than a moral hocker on their glasses.

    1. Keith Newman

      I agree with you Larry. I was very involved about 15 years ago with devising a politically palatable climate change discourse. I live in Canada where the carbon footprint is very high. Setting aside the obvious targets like the tar sands in Alberta, it is very difficult to get people to give things up in the absence of a clear and immediate emergency during which everyone, no exceptions, must make big sacrifices. Give up your car, use the bus, greatly reduce consumption of most things in a consumer society, eliminate most air travel, provision ourselves locally, stop eating most meat – all at once…Yikes! Good luck with that!
      Hence my eventual conclusion that politically the only feasible avenue is to slowly reduce the population of the developed world. Interestingly, this would be happening on its own right now if our economic and political overlords weren’t fervently working to stop it.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Maybe the political overlords are working to stop rich-world overpopulation. Maybe they are just using stealthy slow methods, like filling the environment with endocrine disrupter chemicals to achieve
        sperm count reductions below the level of functional fertility viability.

      2. occasional anonymous

        Feeling constrained to try and shape a ‘politically palatable climate change discourse’ is itself an example of the cowardice. There’s no such thing. Our entire civilization has to change, and when that doesn’t happen by choice, it will happen against our will. And it won’t be pretty or fun. There’s no way to make this fact palatable, and not being willing to tell people that is craven. They might not listen (they probably won’t, and in fact they’ll probably hate you for saying it), but they have to be told it because it is true.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      No, I am sorry, it IS cowardice.

      Giving up cars or cows is disruptive in terms of jobs and patterns of living.

      Bitcoin is profligate, of zero societal value, and has no entrenched base of people defending it save speculators, and speculators signed up for the possibility of losing it all. There was NO constituency with even the teeniest political juice and yet they’ve said nothing.

  16. Edward

    Maybe governments could place limits on the energy used for “mining”, just as they place limitations on car exhaust.

  17. Steven Greenberg

    One potential use for bitcoin could be as a means of making payments more cheaply than using a credit card. I am not sure I can’t get my bank to do a billpay for free, though.

    Lately, I have started to wonder who gives the miner some bitcoin for the effort of mining. There is no central bitcoin authority to award bitcoin to the miners.

  18. drumlin woodchuckles

    You can’t apply regulitarian approaches in a libertarian culture. You can try, but you will get riots, either quiet ones or noisy ones. And the Libertarians have spent several decades libertarinfecting and libertariantaminating the culture.

    If some green-minded people wish to degrade and attrit and strangle -back bitcoin, they will have to take commanding power in one or maybe several states, including the power to staff their states’ Public Power Commissions with cultural regulitarians. They could then try forcing all electricity sellers-buyers within their state’s borders to abide by a charging/pricing concept whereyby residential and industrial and hospital and every other electricity user pays the exact same price for electricity. And the price will have to increase in progressive increments as the amount of electricity used by every user increases. As users go up the progressive further-increments of more-use, the price-rises for each next increment of use will increase from mild to moderate to punitive to torturous.

    This might control bitcoin’s use of electricity along with everyone else’s within that state.

    If it can work in that state, maybe electro-conservationists can take commanding power in other states,
    and spread the model of progressive price-rises for progressive electricity-consumption rises. Eventually, that might limit the amount of electricity the bitcoin miners can throw at their mining.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      If you think Bitcoin owners would riot, you are smoking something very strong.

      And that’s before you get to the fact that libertarians don’t believe in collective activity.

      1. Paul Kleinman

        While that’s true of the 95% of libertarians with the delusion they can simply go about their business without societal impact, it’s the few, like the Mercers who organize anti-societal collective activity by brainless libertarian drones, like bloated queen ants. (Sorry, couldn’t call them bees, my favorite little critters )

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          And that would be a quiet riot.

          We will need to restore regulatarian culture to dominance in America in order to build the social consensus for regulatory imposition and enforcement before we can use the Mighty Tire Irons of regulation against the Bitcoin Libertarians . . . . like Elon Musk who just announced that he will accept payment for Teslas in BitCoin. Thereby hoping to inject value into his massive BitCoin purchase.

  19. Phillip Cross

    I used to think that intervention, followed by crash, was where this mania was headed. Then I found out about the history of Amway and the dating back to the Ford administration.

    As far as our elected officials go, if there is money in it for them personally, then anything is on the table.

  20. The Rev Kev

    Not to make light of this whole Bitcoin fiasco (well maybe a bit) I can see a great scifi story emerging from this situation inspired by the Easter Island statues. So before the end of the year a variant of Coronavirus arises that is 100% lethal and before long the entire human race is wiped out from the face of the planet. There are no survivors. Two year later a Portal Gateway opens up and a First Contact team arrives from Interstellar Command but discover that alas, they are too late. Quickly a team of Planetary Engineers is sent through to stabilize the climate while archaeological teams spread out to investigate this strange, new world.

    Much to their surprise and amusement, it is quickly worked out that this planet’s so called “computers” used a base-two system. It is quickly appreciated that if they had arrived another century later, that the hard drives would have degraded and be unreadable so all the hard drives of this world are downloaded – including everybody’s internet history. It is found that human speech recorded on those hard drives mostly consists of buzzes and hisses but the process of translation starts.

    An intriguing mystery arises as all these computer systems are analyzed. It is found that an appreciable amount of computer power is involving in processing but both the inputs and outputs make no sense. At first it is thought that perhaps they were being used to solve the planet’s critical climate situation but this is quickly disproved. Engineers report that massive amounts of energy were being used for these calculations so it must have been for something vital. Translations of the inhabitant’s languages are of little use as there are no contexts to translate words such as “Kardashian” or “IdPol” or “BitCoin.” And so begins one of the unresolved questions of space – just what the hell the human race was doing with all those calculations and what they were for. The End.

    1. Edward

      Maybe do a remake of “Dr. Strangelove”, but with countries threatening each other with cryptocurrencies. Or maybe the computers become self-aware, terminator-style and wreak havoc.

  21. eg

    Even the name “cryptocurrency” is misleading. Fiat currencies are tax credits, which Bitcoin is not.

    Bitcoin is an electronic gambling token.

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