Tuesday 6 April 2021



These points are about private ‘digital currencies’ like Bitcoin, not about central bank e-currencies, on which I will write another time. In what follows, the term ‘Bitcoin’ is used to refer also to other types of cryptocurrency.

Bitcoin’s growth from just being a tech curiosity was driven by popular discontent with banks and banking systems, mainly in the US after 2008.[1]



Supply & Demand

One aspect is a digital ‘coin’, whose supply is generated by a computer algorithm that is progressively more difficult to solve and which supposedly reaches an absolute limit. (Supporters hope computing technology does not catch up too quickly!)

Demand for this coin could drop to zero, but instead has been boosted by a prolonged period of extremely low, even zero-negative, interest rates and erratic stock markets and commodity prices. These made other outlets for surplus investor funds look less attractive, and have led to a big jump in speculative interest.

The market for Bitcoin and published prices are now run through relatively new exchanges, some of which have been hacked with the loss of coin accounts of users. Financial companies have also moved into offering Bitcoin-related funds to their clients, as another way to collect management fees.


Another important aspect of Bitcoin is the ‘blockchain’ transfer mechanism for shifting ownership of the coins. This is a form of Internet-based system, running outside of the private banking system of any country. This has also been an attraction, especially for those annoyed with bank charges. But central banks, and others, are now copying blockchain systems for the secure transfer of information and titles of ownership. Official e-currencies will also be a challenge to Bitcoin.

Even students of idiotic populism are bemused that some people have placed trust both in an algorithm and in a transfer mechanism they do not understand, and over which they have no means of redress or protection (like deposit insurance) if anything goes wrong.

A small number of sellers of goods and services have begun to accept payment in Bitcoin, largely as a marketing and PR exercise. But the Bitcoin amount to pay still depends upon its price versus the currency in which the goods and services are priced. No wages or salaries are paid in Bitcoin; neither can any taxes be paid in Bitcoin.

Price risk

The sharp trend higher in Bitcoin prices since October 2020 has continued to fuel demand, despite the dramatic volatility. ‘Buy on dips!’ is the speculative mantra for now. But a strongly rising trend means that nobody would be foolish enough to borrow Bitcoin and make it a long-term liability. This will certainly limit any wider use of Bitcoin in the economy, though it would add to its attraction as a speculative asset. If Bitcoin prices fall, that could easily prompt an extreme depreciation, given the nature of the demand for it so far. Even a flattening out of Bitcoin prices would risk an abrupt reversal; especially if/when global interest rates begin to rise.


Tony Norfield, 6 April 2021

[1] In my previous article about Bitcoin here, I underestimated how far low interest rates and speculative mania would boost its price, but the key points I made there remain valid.


Unknown said...

Hi Mr. Norfield,

Sorry to read you don't like Bitcoin and other crypto currency (which you chose to all lump on one pile). I think your argument lags depth.
Bitcoin obviously has some weaknesses, but also a lot of potential. There are a host of other crypto currency technologies with a host of different configurations and options. Given that decentralized finance is a relatively new field, there is a lot of room for new ideas from all sorts of directions. I recommend you steer your thinking towards how crypto currency can be a force of good instead. Who knows, you might just become art of something amazing. Either way, good luck with your research,

All the best,


Anonymous said...


Are there any books you could recommend to socialists who want to better the global financial system but who are not fluent in financial jargon and maths?

A simple guide to different types and qualities of securities and fund managers etc?


Tony Norfield said...

Reply to Tom: Unfortunately, almost all the books I have come across on the global financial system have at least one of the following problems!
(a) They do not understand how the system works or many of the relevant details about financial operations.
(b) They focus on more historical events or previous aspects of the global system's development that are not so relevant today.
(c) They are gripped by a facile anti-finance populism that essentially endorses the idea that regulation, nationalisation, etc, can solve the underlying problems.
(d) They are almost exclusively focused on the USA (maybe adding in the IMF & World Bank), so ignore how the financial system is part of the overall mechanism of imperialist rule by all the major powers.

The only books that come to mind now that do not have these issues are:
(1) My own book, 'The City: London and the Global Power of Finance' (of course!), and
(b) the book by Francois Chesnais, 'Finance Capital Today: Corporations and Banks in the Lasting Global Slump', reviewed on this blog, here: https://economicsofimperialism.blogspot.com/2016/11/financial-claims-on-world-economy.html

I would suggest that to help overcome any problems you may have with technical definitions and jargon, etc, that you look up the term on Wikipedia.