Finance, like most human inventions, is constantly evolving.
In the beginning it was basic: food was traded for livestock, and livestock for resources like wood, or maize. It progressed to precious metal, such as silver and gold. And now, the next step in financial evolution has come to light.
This new form of currency has been constantly evolving over the past decade, developed by an unknown person and maintained by a collective group of the brightest minds in technology.
It’s a new form of money that is created and held digitally, and the most important part, of course, is that no government owns it, or decides its value – the peer-to-peer network community does.
We call this new money, ‘Bitcoin’.
Historically, U.S. currency has been based on gold – you could give a dollar to the bank and receive a set amount back in gold. In contrast, Bitcoin isn’t based on silver or gold – it’s based on mathematical proofs validated by a public ledger called blockchain technology.
Bitcoin is generated through a complex sequence of mathematical formulas that run on computers; the network shares a public ledger using blockchain technologies that record, and validate, every transaction processed.
A single institution, such as the government, does not control the Bitcoin network.
The idea behind the technology has always been – and remains – one of decentralization – that is, remaining completely independent of a central authority, like a bank, a government, or a country.
Anyone can access the open-source software that makes Bitcoin work, and its those individuals interested that maintain it.
But, who invented Bitcoin? Is it a valid and legitimate currency like USD? And why did nobody think of this before?
But before we begin, let’s talk about the creator of Bitcoin – or rather, the anonymous pseudonym that first published a concept.
How Did Bitcoin Start?
There are many questions about Bitcoin, but the most common one to be asked is, “Who created it?”
That answer is not straightforward, because the identity of the creator remains a mystery. All we have is a pseudonym – Satoshi Nakamoto.
The accounts are no longer active; the coins in his wallet have never been spent.
Satoshi Nakamoto has disappeared from the world, or so it would seem.
Fast Company recently published an article suggesting that Satoshi Nakamoto could be a group of people, including Neal King, Vladimir Oksman, and Charles Bry. Apparently, these three people filed for a patent related to secure communication just two months prior to the purchase of the Bitcoin.org domain. Perhaps it’s a coincidence; perhaps it’s not.
What we do have, however, are facts:
- On October 31st, 2008, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” was posted to a cryptography mailing list, published under the name “Satoshi Nakamoto”. The whitepaper outlined the foundation of how Bitcoin would operate.
- On August 18, 2008, an unknown person or entity registered the Bitcoin.org domain.
- On January 8th, 2009, the first version of Bitcoin is announced, and shortly thereafter, Bitcoin mining begins.
The mystery that surrounds Satoshi Nakamoto is fitting; privacy was a key value for both Bitcoin, and its users.
Others have tried to claim his mantle – most recently an Australian man named Craig Wright, who has since withdrawn his claim.
While we may never know who first created Bitcoin, we do know that the technology he started has left ripples in the financial industry.
Bitcoin has risen to fame thanks to individuals such as the Winklevoss twins controlling and growing the market, and major events that have defined this new technology’s existence such as the Mt. Gox Ponzi scheme disaster.
The people involved and the events that occur are a constant reminder that this market is unregulated and seem to fall in line with Satoshi Nakamoto’s goal of creating a decentralized network.
What is Bitcoin Used For?
Currency must have value to ensure stability.
The most common way for a person to judge a currency’s value is what they can use it on; Bitcoin is no different, and a host of vendors and merchants now accept it alongside, or in place of, fiat money.
One early adopter of Bitcoin was the computer retailer Dell. In fact, when Dell started accepting Bitcoin, it became one of the largest companies to do so internationally.
While the digital currency may total for just a fraction of the retailer’s total transaction volume, there are other key reasons why the growth of Bitcoin could be aboon for the retailer.
Dell reported earnings of $59 billion during 2015. Traditional transaction fees range from 2 to 3 percent of the purchase price – with Bitcoin, it’s much, much lower, nearing non-existent – saving the retailer a lot of money in the future.
Other companies, such as Expedia and Cheapair, have also started accepting Bitcoin, along with technology conglomerate Microsoft : users can add funds to their accounts with Bitcoin to purchase apps, games, and other types of digital content.
The acceptance of Bitcoin is a strategic decision on the part of these companies, most of which are reaching out to solidify their position with tech-savvy audiences.
There’s a lot of benefit to Bitcoin, and a variety of reasons for its use, including :
- Faster Payment: Accepting wire transfers and checks is time consuming, and it can take several days for payment to clear. Bitcoin is faster and can take a matter of minutes, rather than days to process payment.
- Lower Transaction Fees: The cost to accept Bitcoins is lower compared to other payment methods, such as credit cards or Paypal.
- Independent of Governments: Since Bitcoin is decentralized, you own it – no authority has the right to take away your Bitcoin. People with concerns about mainstream banking systems unravelling find this a major benefit.
- Elimination of Chargebacks: Once Bitcoin is sent, that’s it – you can’t chargeback, like you would with a credit card payment, which eliminates ‘chargeback fraud’ often used by criminals and scammers.
- Protection Against Inflation: With a fiat currency, the government can print as much money as it desires – this drastically decreases the value of currency, and may result in inflation. In contrast, Bitcoin has a fixed number – after they have all been ‘mined’, no more Bitcoins will be created. Scarcity is an important aspect of currency which protects it from inflation.
- Ownership of Currency: With Bitcoin, you own your coins. With other forms of digital fiat – such as Paypal – your assets may be held, and your account eventually suspending, locking you out of your earnings. Bitcoin puts you in control.
Is Bitcoin a Commodity, or a Currency?
Bitcoin is both. While it can be used to purchase items from major retailers, it’s also treated as property by government jurisdictions, such as the IRS.
The IRS issued a guide on Bitcoin for tax purposes, stating it will treat virtual currencies as property for federal purposes. They go on to state that:
In some environments, virtual currency operates like “real” currency — i.e., the coin and paper money of the United States or of any other country that is designated as legal tender, circulates, and is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance — but it does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction.
The notice provides that virtual currency is treated as property for U.S. federal tax purposes.
Typically, property is almost always something tangible that can be held in the physical realm.
The IRS goes on to state that:
General tax principles that apply to property transactions apply to transactions using virtual currency. Among other things, this means that:
- Wages paid to employees using virtual currency are taxable to the employee, must be reported by an employer on a Form W-2, and are subject to federal income tax withholding and payroll taxes.
- Payments using virtual currency made to independent contractors and other service providers are taxable and self-employment tax rules generally apply. Normally, payers must issue Form 1099.
- The character of gain or loss from the sale or exchange of virtual currency depends on whether the virtual currency is a capital asset in the hands of the taxpayer.
- A payment made using virtual currency is subject to information reporting to the same extent as any other payment made in property.
In addition to the IRS’s guidance, the United States Commodities Futures Trading Commission in 2015 that Bitcoin is, in fact, a commodity.
The Future of Currency
Bitcoin has garnered a lot of attention over the past decade, despite constant declarations of its death – 99 Bitcoins keeps a running tab of ‘Bitcoin obituaries’.
Despite all of this, Bitcoin’s future has remained bright. Greater adoption rates, and an increasing number of brands accepting the currency (you can get a full list qui) means the long-term view on Bitcoin is that it will see market maturity as time progresses.
Mainstream investing vehicles, such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and Futures trading, including Bitcoin will be a major help to reaching that market maturity. Bitcoin Futures are already trading on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), and legislation to create a crypto ETF is in the works.
These securities will help stabilize cryptocurrency prices and mitigate volatility, which will help the public’s confidence grow in favor of Bitcoin.
It’s important to understand that, much like the early days of 1992, Bitcoin is a new technology – and new technologies can take decades to reach critical mass.
But, much like the Internet, no one wants to miss out on the ‘next big thing’ – and Bitcoin is the biggest thing yet. Constant updates are occurring to Bitcoin thanks to what is called a “hard fork”.
These constant updates ensure that digital currencies continue to experience growth through technological development.
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