The Indicator from Planet Money - Bitcoin - The Religion

As the value of a bitcoin recently passed $50,000, market watchers struggled to explain how a virtual currency could reach such dizzy heights. One possible answer? It's kind of like a religion.

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everyone is Cardiff visit indicator from Planet Money on Tuesday of this week, February 16th, the price of a single Bitcoin climbs of a $50,000 for the first time ever any earlier Bitcoin with price at less than $10,000. So it did more than Quinn to fold in a year. What is going on? That's a question that a lot of experts in finance and economics. I've been trying to answer in the roughly 12 years of Bitcoins existence as a currency Bitcoin is not backed by any government like the dollar is backed by the US government. It's value is derived entirely from the continued faith that people who own Bitcoin halving its future and then the show I'm speaking with Joe wiesenthal he's the executive editor news for Bloomberg digital and Joseph published this fascinating article in Bloomberg businessweek arguing that faith is exactly the

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A framework for understanding Bitcoins appeal because it's mysterious Vanishing Creator. It's early Apostles its rituals and even its holidays Bitcoin is a lot like a religion after the break Joe tells us why understanding this about Bitcoin also explains why it is so popular now,

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Joe wiesenthal welcome to the indicator. Thanks for having me. So do we know that Bitcoin was created back in 2009 to be a currency that doesn't need a centralized authority to give it legitimacy in government. No Central Bank. It was meant to be a truly peer-to-peer digital currency but its Origins are totally mysterious and enigmatic. So that seems like the right place to start the analogy between Bitcoin and religion. Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I don't think you can talk about Bitcoin at all without sort of discussing the fact that it was created by someone who is very profit like this person Satoshi Nakamoto. We don't know his real name at all. We do know he created it but there are a lot of things about him that our Prophet like we know the fact that it's some point he seems to have disappeared or died or the part of the earth. He wrote this thing called the white paper, which is originally

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The sort of I think it's just a 10-page document essentially outlining how a digital peer-to-peer money would work and it was this huge problem that people are trying to work on for a long time. And in this paper, you just spelled it out exactly how it work that document that he wrote is like it original founding spiritual document. He also wrote other text for example on message boards The bitcointalk Message Board, it might be similar to a talmud in which is a commentary on the original vision. And even today people go back and look at that white paper or look at his comments on the message board to try to Divine meaning it to try to guide them in terms of the direction that they're taking the movement right from job. You've got a mysterious founder who prematurely left the realm so to speak and with his followers and initially encountered him, and he left Behind These sacred texts all day.

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How much resembling a profit loss of aspects of him Prophet like another thing of course that we associate with profit is a certain level of selflessness right that they want to do something that's good for the world. Do you want to give something in one of the extraordinary things? Is that as far as we know he himself or whoever he is he or she never profited personally Bitcoin the total value them as of right now, it's closer trillion dollars the Bitcoin in satoshi's wallet, which can be seen would make him theoretically one of the richest people in the world. There's never been a coin sold from that. But again, it's because there is this sort of we can identify this mystical origin that all these things associated with the prophet Satoshi are still out or so. Yeah and definitely in Bitcoins early years. There were a lot of what you might call proselytizers Apostles Saints people just spreading the word when it was still this small friends like movement.

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And from what I understand, they even have holidays exactly, right? So it's not just that there is like this called again. What are some things that we think of in a religion? There's obviously is a belief system but there's also just things that people in the religion do practices rituals observed and you see that was Bitcoin there holidays, once every four years the issuance of a new Bitcoin to Clyde's in half. They called the having a Harvest Festival accept. It only takes place for years. There is VE day that sort of famous. I think it was 2011. Someone bought a pizza for Bitcoin. I think that pizza today would be worth about half a billion dollars or something like that. But again people recognized that day every year and this is Bitcoin Pizza day and show again in like literal holidays that are on a calendar sanctification of time really important has been a lot of Bitcoin scandals through the years and a lot of doubters who kind of said

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You know Bitcoin will only ever be useful for things like money laundering or other Shady things where it's helpful to use a currency that no Central Authority is watching the doubters might still nothing proved right about that by the way, but the point is that much like religion it took some time for Bitcoin to start gaining a wider more mainstream acceptance to the point where it is now or even day Wall Street investors and a few good companies have bought Bitcoin with their cat. Who knows if that'll last but it took a while to get here friendly. Everybody is familiar with somebody in their life who like acquired Bitcoin and then literally just will never talk about anything else again, and it is sort of this weird like brain virus like someone is suddenly someone will get into it and that's all they tweet about it's all they talk about especially in the early days. I think if you look at them as sort of relieved

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Convert suddenly that behavior makes more sense into that point. The sword is the vilification the evilness of central Bankers the evilness of Fiat money the evilness of the federal bailouts and everything like that again, I'll sort of consistent with the idea of a sort of religious metaphysical world. You also know from a lot of surveys that the US in other parts of the world have become more secular and also that in the last couple of decades things have been really disappointing from an economic standpoint. So I guess it kind of makes sense that people will be looking for a replacement something to believe in something to be passionate about and I guess I'm wondering if based on your reporting on bitcoin that seems to fit into the story of why Bitcoin is become so popular emerged in the immediate way.

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Of the great financial crisis, which was probably one of the most sort of shattering episodes for people literally around the entire world in terms of shaking their faith shaking their Aristotle believe in any sort of the legitimacy of existing institutions. And I do think that like it is a form of identity that it fills a need that people have and people always point this out that there are various secular things that people do that seem to fill some of the space that was deserted, you know left open by this slow disappearance of religion, you know, you often to hear it's like organic foods or yoga or things like that and I think Bitcoin absolutely is one of the things that people can sort of identify with people like being part of something bigger. They like these started the shared language to share jokes this year memes that perhaps traditional forms of ID.

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Maybe like religion are there currently not getting from that? Thanks so much.

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This episode of the indicator was produced by Brittany Cronin and Emma Peasley with help from Julie Moon. It was fact-checked by samsa and edited by Patty Hearst indicator is a production of NPR.

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Decades before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s Marcus Garvey attracted millions of followers with a message of black self-sufficiency and black nationalism in Africa are Black History Month special series The seismic influence and complicated Legacy of Marcus Garvey podcast from NPR.
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