Flaws in Bitcoin make a lasting revival unlikely

“BE MORE BRENDA,” said the ads for CoinCorner, a cryptocurrency exchange. They appeared on London’s Underground last summer, featuring a cheery pensioner who had, apparently, bought Bitcoins in just ten minutes. It was bad advice. Six months earlier a single Bitcoin cost just under $20,000. By the time the ads appeared, its value had fallen to $7,000. These days, it is just $4,025 (see chart).While the price was soaring, big financial institutions such as Barclays and Goldman Sachs flirted with opening cryptocurrency-trading desks. Brokerages sent excited emails to their clients. The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), one of the world’s leading derivatives exchanges, launched a Bitcoin futures contract. Hundreds of copycat cryptocurrencies also soared, some far outperforming Bitcoin itself. Ripple rose by 36,000% during 2017.Get our daily newsletterUpgrade your inbox and get our Daily Dispatch and Editor’s Picks.The bust has been correspondingly brutal. Those who bought near the top were left with one of the world’s worst-performing assets. Cryptocurrency startups fired employees; banks shelved their products. On March 14th the CBOE said it would soon stop offering Bitcoin futures. Bitmain, a cryptocurrency miner, appears to have pulled a planned IPO. (Miners maintain a cryptocurrency’s blockchain—a distributed transaction database—using huge numbers of specialised computers, and are paid in newly minted coins).The speed with which the bubble inflated and then popped invites comparisons with past financial manias, such as the Dutch tulip craze in 1636-37 and the rise and collapse of the South Sea Company in London in 1720. Cryptocurrency enthusiasts like to claim a more flattering comparison—with the 1990s dotcom bubble. They point out that, despite the froth, viable businesses emerged from that episode. But the cryptocurrency fiasco has exposed three deep and related problems: the extent of genuine activity is hugely exaggerated; the technology does not scale well; and fraud may be endemic.Consider
Read More