Tuesday, December 19, 2017

"If No One Spends Bitcoin, How Can It Have Value?"

Medieval mint, engraving by Leonard Beck (1516).
It’s hard to imagine a world without penny candy and nickel newsreels, but for most of human history, petty transactions were a pain in the ass.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, coinage was a labor-intensive process. Metal had to be melted, refined, hammered, and cut. Because it took just as much effort to hammer out a small coin as it did a big one, mintmasters were inclined to create only the largest denomination coins.

If it weren’t for taxation and church collections, the state would have had no reason to issue small denominations at all. To encourage the creation of small change, medieval states authorized seigniorage — mints reduced the relative quantity of silver in small denominations to offset production costs.
Production costs of coinage (brassage).
Debasement! Where legal tender laws are enforced, bad money drives out good. Creditors complained that debts were being repaid in shittier coins than what was lent out. In states without legal tender, the large-denomination coins became the unit of account, and smaller coins had a floating exchange rate depending on their level of debasement.
The more the small denominations were debased, the worse the exchange rate got. Seeing small denominations as a poor store of value, people melted them for the commodity silver, exacerbating the small-change shortage. Small coins provided liquidity, but the liquidity service was not valuable enough to counteract debasement.

The biggest transaction cost is trust.
The title question is backwards. Value does not come from the ability to spend; the ability to spend comes from value. The full-bodied large coins were more valuable than liquidity-providing small coins because the gold and silver content securely constrained their supply.

There are plenty of cheap solutions for illiquidity. When small coins were scarce, retailers and craftsmen issued lead and copper tokens as a substitute for change. The tokens had no commodity value, but customers accepted them because they trusted their local businesses....MORE
Earlier today:
"Why you can’t cash out pt 1: Why Bitcoin’s “price” is largely fictional"
"I'm trying to sell some of my Bitcoin, and the whole process is so terrible, it's almost hilarious"
"Skyrocketing fees are fundamentally changing bitcoin"