As the largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, Bitcoin’s (BTC) effectiveness as a medium of exchange is still a matter for debate. Unlike fiat money that is inherently infinite in supply and must be managed by a central bank, Bitcoin is akin to gold in that it is commodity money with a finite supply of 21 million.
However, the supply cap is not the major stumbling block for BTC as a medium of exchange, but rather, the transaction throughput. While Satoshi Nakamoto envisioned Bitcoin as a peer-to-peer electronic cash system capable of facilitating online payments without a central counterparty, seven transactions per second on average is hardly the standard for scalability.
Indeed, scalability is only one of three major metrics required for any currency system to succeed as a medium of exchange along with adoption and liquidity. There is an argument to be made of Bitcoin’s growing adoption around the world across several strata of the global economy.
Price volatility that has seen Bitcoin peak at $58,000 and then briefly fall below the $30,000 mark within the first two months of 2021 likely indicates lingering issues with liquidity. However, it’s important to note that the current period is being characterized by a bullish advance that began in October 2020. Ultimately, some analysts expect Bitcoin’s volatility to level out as more institutions take up positions in the market.
What do the critics say?
Bitcoin’s scalability problem is even older than the network itself. Indeed, upon first proposing the system back in 2008, James A. Donald replied to Satoshi Nakamoto with: “The way I understand your proposal, it does not seem to scale to the required size.”
This astute observation has been at the heart of some of the more contentious and controversial debates within the Bitcoin ecosystem. Disagreements over how to solve the problem have even resulted in multiple hard forks.
These days, when Bitcoin critics cannot definitively dismiss BTC’s store of value proposition, scalability seems to be a low-hanging fruit with which to craft some anti-Bitcoin soundbite. Speaking during the 2021 Daily Journal annual shareholders meeting, Berkshire Hathaway vice-chairman Charlie Munger remarked that Bitcoin will never become a global medium of exchange due to its price volatility.
The 97-year-old billionaire investor is no stranger to espousing anti-Bitcoin sentiments. Indeed, together with Warren Buffett, the two Berkshire Hathaway chiefs have been responsible for some of the more colorful negative remarks among Bitcoin. From being “rat poison squared” to “trading turds,” Munger once slammed BTC investors for celebrating the life and work of Judas Iscariot.
Munger, like Buffett, is among a class of Wall Street Bitcoin critics who have often claimed that Bitcoin has no intrinsic value. However, with the price of BTC continuing its relentless upward advance over the past decade while attracting significant institutional interest, detractors now seem to be left with only the scalability argument.
Even among mainstream crypto adopters, Bitcoin’s inability to scale at the base protocol level also seems to be a significant issue. In an address during the Future of Money conference back in February, Mastercard executive vice chair Ann Cairns declared that BTC was not suited to its crypto payment plans.
According to Cairns: “Bitcoin does not behave like a payment instrument […] It’s too volatile and it takes too long to transact.” As previously reported by Cointelegraph, Mastercard recently announced plans to offer support for cryptocurrency payment on its network.
Lightning Network node count rises, but slowly
Together with the 10-minute block creation time, the one-megabyte block size acts as the actual transaction throughput constraint for the Bitcoin network. The block size debate of 2017 that ultimately led to the Bitcoin Cash hard fork proved the adamance of Bitcoin purists to the 1MB block size…