Just wrote an article exploring Mises's Regression Theorem and Bitcoin. Text is below. Basically I hope to persuade people that Bitcoin does not need inherit value to become money.
It’s been almost a month since my first post exploring monetary theory and crypto-currencies. I’m still working on the research into the inner workings of Bitcoin and crypto-currencies in general and while it’s been quite fun, it’s also very time consuming. So in the meantime I thought it would be nice to explore a part of monetary theory I find relevant to Bitcoin—Mises’ Regression Theorem (MRT).
I wrote about Bitcoin only one other time in a previous blog I discontinued sometime around 2013-2014. At the time there was some hype around Bitcoin and I was worried at how aggressively the libertarian community was pushing Bitcoin. My worry was that if Bitcoin turned out to be a scam, then the movement overall would take a big hit. To that effect I titled the blog post Bitcoin: Friend or Foe of Freedom?
My first thought was that Bitcoin violated MRT and hence was most likely a scam, but as I kept doing my research I changed my mind drastically.
But before we continue we should discuss what issues MRT helped to correct.
How Prices are Developed
The significant achievement of MRT is that it provides a credible theory on how prices develop in a monetary economy.
In economics 101 we all learn that prices for goods are set at the intersection of demand and supply curves. Demand curves are downward slopping indicating that that as the price of a good drops, we are willing to consume more of the said good.
This phenomenon is explained in economics by the concept of marginal utility.
Marginal utility is the derived satisfaction a consumer gets from consuming an additional unit of a good. This utility diminishes as the consumer continues to consume more of the same good. It’s safe to say we can all relate to this, for instance, most of us love chocolate, but after eating a few squares most of us will get sick if we continue to consume. Hence, our satisfaction from continuing to eat more chocolate will drop to near zero.
In economics, this is referred to as the law of diminishing marginal utility.
The law of diminishing marginal utility is why the demand curve for goods is downward slopping and in turn helps explain how the market formulates prices. This is where we run into problems though.
A demand schedule for a good is determined by the marginal utility of the good itself to the consumer, and the marginal utility of money, or simply the alternative uses of money to the consumer. However, to properly evaluate these alternative uses of money, the consumer needs existing prices of other goods in order to rank his choices. Therefore, in order for the market to formulate a price for good X, it needs the price of good Y, which in turn needs the price of good X. This circular argument represented a chasm in our collective understanding of monetary theory for a long time—until Mises came along.
Circularity and Bitcoin
But before we go on to explain how MRT addresses the problem of circularity, let us take a quick look at Bitcoin. Let us go back to 2008 when Bitcoin was first introduced into the market. Sure, you could easily argue that Bitcoin makes a better indirect means of exchange than paper money; it’s infinitely divisible, and as long as we have computers it’s more durable, it’s easily more portable than paper money, and one could easily make the argument the strength of the code has intrinsic value. This satisfies all the basic requirements for a particular good to become money in a society. Check, check, check, and check….With all that said though, how do you begin to formulate prices for goods in Bitcoin?
Let’s assume I’m a particular merchant selling my goods, how do I determine how many Bitcoins I am going to charge for my goods? My instinct is going to be to look at other merchants and see what they are charging their goods for in Bitcoin, so I can construct my own personal demand schedule for Bitcoins. Only problem is that other merchants are looking at me to do their own calculations. Hence, at first look it seems like Bitcoin is going nowhere fast.
Keep this issue in the back of your mind; we will get back to it.
Mises’ Regression Theorem
Ok so back to Mises.
Mises addressed the issue of circularity by suggesting an individual constructs his demand schedule of a certain good not by simultaneously looking at the prices of other goods on the market, but by recollecting the prices of the goods in a prior event in time. This will give the consumer a general array of prices in the economy from which he can rank his preferences and from there we can construct his demand schedule.
For example, if I am at the bread store holding $5, how do I decide how much bread to buy? First, I think of how much bread I already have at home, and rank my satisfaction of purchasing additional loaves, then I evaluate alternative uses of that $5 by recollecting previous prices of butter, fruit, and other goods. Based on these evaluations, I will rank the purchase of bread loaves either higher or lower than holding on to the $5.
While this model certainly works, the obvious problem is that at this point, the issue of circularity has been replaced by one of infinite regression. If today’s prices are determined by recollecting prices in a previous period in time, how are those prices formulated? By obviously looking at a period further back in time and so on the regression goes on indefinitely.
In MRT however, the regression is not indefinite. Eventually one would arrive at a period in time when the economy worked on a barter system. From the first instant that a merchant accepts a good from a trade not because of its end use, but because of its exchange value, the economy begins to formulate prices in terms of the accepted indirect means of exchange good. Once a particular good becomes the primary indirect means of exchange in an economy, and this good is accepted by the vast majority of participants, we term said good the “money” of that economy.
The implication of MRT is that for a good to become money, it must start out as a good that has perceived value in of itself. Otherwise it would never begin to be traded in a barter economy. After that, the qualities of durability, divisibility, and portability are essential to determine what good will function as money in a society.
Bitcoin and MRT in the Libertarian Community
There has been, there is, and will likely continue to be an intense debate in the libertarian community about the future of Bitcoin. Many of the detractors of Bitcoin use the MRT as proof that Bitcoin will never become money and hence is nothing more than either a pyramid scheme, Ponzi scheme, or fraud.
Peter Schiff is a prominent analyst and beloved figure in the libertarian community who has been a vocal detractor of Bitcoin. Although I have never seen him reference MRT directly, he employs a line of attack similar to the critics that charge Bitcoin with violating the MRT. The charge is that since Bitcoin has no end use in of itself, it has no chance to become money and hence all attempt to make it so are futile.
To Schiff, money must be a commodity. Gold for instance has a far longer history of being treated as money than bank notes; many detractors of Bitcoin—like Schiff—are in fact strong supporters of gold.
Detractors argue that gold instead of Bitcoin is perfectly compatible with MRT, since MRT explains gold’s emergence as an indirect means of exchange from the earliest barter economy to the last link between gold and the US dollar. To the gold bugs, it’s the use value of gold as jewellery that allowed gold to begin its emergence as money. Without this use, gold would never have developed as money.
Since Bitcoin really has no use or “inherit value” outside of indirect exchange, then it is in violation of MRT and hence can never become money. And since the valuations of Bitcoin are based on the future assumption that Bitcoin will become money, the whole thing is a swindle.
Why Mostly Everybody is Missing the Point
The predominant response by supporters of Bitcoin and MRT has been to come up with arguments as to how Bitcoin does indeed have some use value in of itself. In my view, some of the cases are good, while some seem downright silly. Either way this is an unnecessary step.
Bitcoin is perfectly compatible with MRT even if it has no use value.
As Davidson and Block point out in this paper (here). MRT says nothing about introducing a new indirect means of exchange in an economy that already has money. All MRT seeks to do is to explain how prices form originally, from the starting point of a barter economy.
Take central bank notes, nobody disputes that it is money in our society. Whether it’s Euros or US dollars none of these bank notes have direct uses other than possibly real expensive toilet paper. Despite this, prices for goods in terms of central bank notes developed. This is in large part because these bank notes could be converted to gold on demand, and since people had a history of the general array of gold prices in mind, this allowed them to evaluate alternative uses of these new bank notes. Now these participants in the economy could come up with new value scales that led to t...
Bitcoin vs. gold debate sees warning for Peter Schiff Read the rest of this post here Bitcoin Will Make Peter Schiff Kick Himself: Gold Bug Debates Pompliano - Financial Insider News Home On Jan. 19, famous crypto skeptic and gold bug Peter Schiff claimed on Twitter that he has lost access to his Bitcoin wallet and that his password is no longer valid. Schiff added that his BTC is now intrinsically worthless and has no market value. He also added that: “I knew owning Bitcoin was a […] Peter Schiff also commented on the much-anticipated bitcoin halvening event that is scheduled to take place next week. Euro Pacific Capital CEO claims that being long on the brink of the halving is the most obvious consensus trade, which is why the price of bitcoin will fall. He asserted that there is no demand for bitcoin to push the price higher. Co-founder and partner at Morgan Creek ... Bitcoin (BTC)price will never make it to $50,000, gold bug and crypto skeptic Peter Schiff has claimed in the latest attack on the largest cryptocurre Bitcoin (BTC) will make Peter Schiff’s gold arguments redundant if there is just a 1% chance it will succeed, Anthony Pompliano has told mainstream media. ‘You will be kicking yourself forever ...
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