The Bitcoin Boom: In Code We Trust(附全文翻译)

Andrea Chronopoulos

编辑按:《The Bitcoin Boom: In Code We Trust》是原始标题,于2017年12月18日发布在纽约时报上,作者是Tim Wu。文章发布当时的比特币价格折合人民币大约是99394.87元,本文发布时的价格折合人民币是:87898.8元(今日涨17.4%左右),算是写在比特币大跌之际。



The Bitcoin Boom: In Code We Trust

By Tim Wu
Dec. 18, 2017

You don’t need brilliant financial analysis skills to notice that Bitcoin is in a bubble. It has grown in value from about 39 cents to over $18,000 in just eight years and recently attracted broad media attention by doubling in just a few days. The conventional wisdom had been that illegal and illicit transactions — buying drugs or transferring money out of Argentina — accounted for much of Bitcoin’s value. Today the mainstream view sees mere greed and speculation.

Yet as Bitcoin continues to grow, there’s reason to think something deeper and more important is going on. Bitcoin’s rise may reflect, for better or worse, a monumental transfer of social trust: away from human institutions backed by government and to systems reliant on well-tested computer code. It is a trend that transcends finance: In our fear of human error, we are putting an increasingly deep faith in technology.

Bitcoin may be in a bubble, but not all bubbles are created equal. Some are shimmering nothings, reflecting little more than an underlying pyramid scheme. But others are like ocean swells that could become enormous waves. Consider the tech stocks of the late 1990s — a bubble, to be sure, but in retrospect, was Amazon really overvalued?

What gives the Bitcoin bubble significance is that, like ’90s tech, it is part of something much larger than itself. More and more we are losing faith in humans and depending instead on machines. The transformation is more obvious outside of finance. We trust in computers to fly airplanes, help surgeons cut into our bodies and simplify daily tasks, like finding our way home. In this respect, finance is actually behind: Where we no longer feel we can trust people, we let computer code take over.

Bitcoin is part of this trend. It was, after all, a carnival of human errors and misfeasance that inspired the invention of Bitcoin in 2009, namely, the financial crisis. Banks backed by economically powerful nations had been the symbol of financial trustworthiness, the gold standard in the post-gold era. But they revealed themselves as reckless, drunk on other people’s money, holding extraordinarily complex assets premised on a web of promises that were often mutually incompatible. To a computer programmer, the financial system still looks a lot like untested code with weak debugging that puts way too much faith in the idea that humans will behave properly. As with any bad software, it can be expected to crash when conditions change.

We might add that major governments — the issuers of currency, the guarantors of banks and enforcers of contracts — do not always inspire confidence. Governments can be tempted to print money recklessly or seize wealth brazenly from their citizens — Venezuelan hyperinflation and Indian demonetization are recent examples. But even the most trusted governments can be dubious. Europe, riddled by internal struggles among states, is still in shock about the planned departure of Britain from the European Union. China is a secretive authoritarian state that can lash out against its citizens and rivals when it feels insecure. The United States, perhaps the main guarantor of world solvency, is some $20 trillion in debt, constantly on the verge of default and headed by a serial bankruptee who prizes unpredictability. It is little wonder that the world’s citizens might be looking for alternatives.

Bitcoin’s fans don’t entirely distrust human institutions. It is rather that they’d prefer not to need to trust humans to keep their promises, when we know that we humans are deeply fallible. That might seem cynical, but perhaps it is appropriately humble. As Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym for the person or persons who invented Bitcoin, puts it, “the root problem with conventional currency is all the trust that’s required to make it work.”

This all helps explain the popularity of Bitcoin as an asset independent of government, mainstream banks and their various shenanigans. But still, is it really worth anything at all? It is based on a “blockchain,” a technology that creates a decentralized public ledger and rigorously tracks transfers. It is maintained by its users, and no government can mint more coins. Bitcoin isn’t backed by any sovereign, and unlike a stock or a bond, it gives you a claim to nothing other than Bitcoin itself. Yet that illusory quality is true of most forms of money, a shared hallucination that we tolerate as long as it works. If enough others value something, that can be enough to make it serve as a store of value. Sure, Bitcoin will crash again, but over its lifetime, it has already withstood multiple crashes, runs and splits. It actually feels tested.

This isn’t to idealize Bitcoin. Despite its virtual nature, it is still a human institution, facing its own misdeeds and governance problems. Odds are that Bitcoin may never function well as a general medium of exchange (something you can buy things with) because of its wild fluctuations, but might work fine as a store of value that you can sell. It may, like Netscape circa 1995, be portending changes to come. But Bitcoin has captured something. As much as we may love other humans, it is now in code we trust.



你不需要有聪明的财务分析技巧来注意到比特币的泡沫。在短短八年时间里,它的价值已经从39美分增长到了18000美元以上,最近引起了媒体的广泛关注,短短几天就翻了一番。人们对比特币传统的看法是,非法和非法交易 – 从阿根廷购买毒品或转移资金 – 占比特币价值的很大一部分。今天的主流观点只看到贪婪和投机。


比特币可能处于泡沫中,但并非所有的泡沫都是平等的。有些会闪闪发光但只不过是金字塔式的传销计划而已。但其它就像海浪一样,可能会变成巨大的浪潮。想想20世纪90年代后期的科技股- 当然是一个泡沫,但回想起来,亚马逊真的被高估了吗?


比特币是这个趋势的一部分。毕竟,这是基于一系列人为的错误而激起了比特币在2009年金融危机期间被发明。在经济强大的国家支持下的银行一直是金融时代的黄金标准 – 金融可信度的象征。但他们表现鲁莽,醉酒下处理其他人的金钱。它们持有非常复杂的资产,在一切互不相容的情况之下作出的承诺。对一个计算机程序员来说,金融系统看起来还像是一个没有经过检验的代码程式,反影了人们对人类行为正确的想法抱有太大的信心。和任何不好的软件一样,当条件改变时,它可能会崩溃。

我们可以补充说,主要的政府 – 货币发行人,银行担保人和合同执行者 – 并不总是激发信心的。政府可能会肆无忌惮地肆意打印钞票,或者从公民身上肆无忌惮地夺取财富 – 委内瑞拉的恶性通货膨胀和印度的去货币化是最近的例子。但即使是最值得信赖的政府也是可疑的。欧洲在各国内部斗争的冲击下,对英国计划离开欧盟仍然感到震惊。中国是一个秘密的专制国家,在感到不安全时,可以抨击它的公民和对手。美国,也许是世界偿付能力的主要保证者,大约有20万亿美元的债务,一直处于违约边缘。毫不奇怪,世界上的人们可能正在寻找其它可靠的替代品。

比特币的粉丝并不完全不信任人类机构。相反,当我们知道我们人类是很容易犯错的时候,他们宁愿不要相信人类去遵守诺言。这可能看起来愤世嫉俗,但也许是适当的谦虚。正如发明比特币的人的假名中本聪(Satoshi Nakamoto)所说,“传统货币的根本问题就是可以令它运行必须的信任”。


这不是对比特币的理想化。 尽管它是虚拟的,但它仍然是一个人类的制度,面临着自身的弊端和治理问题。比特币可能永远不能成为一个通用的交换媒介(你可以买东西的东西),因为它的波动非常大,但是作为一个你可以卖的价值储存,它还是可以的。 它可能像1995年左右的网景(Netscape)一样,预示着即将到来的变化。 但比特币已经引起重视。 尽管我们还会爱其他人类,但现在我们更信任代码。


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