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Nassim Taleb changes his view on Bitcoin

In a conversation with Naval Ravikant at BlockCon in 2018, Nassim Taleb criticized people who called Bitcoin a ponzi scheme. Now he's one of those people. Here's how it happened and a humble response.

Here is a snippet of the conversation with Naval in 2018:

Now, he calls Bitcoin a mega-Ponzi.

How did this happen?

Back in February he announced that he was selling off all his BTC because it was too volatile and called it "a failure (at least for now)".

Recently, he expanded on his view of Bitcoin's failure as a currency.

Source: Nassim Taleb tweet May 26.

If Bitcoin is supposed to be a currency and it has failed, then it's inherently worthless regardless of the price it trades at. Yet it's price keeps going up and down like crazy, creating an opportunity to profit from hype and speculation. People who have no idea what it is buy it because other people buy it and because it has been increasing in price, so they expect it to simply keep increasing.

Eventually people in the know will cash out, leaving a ton of people holding inherently worthless digital assets. Then, reality will catch up and everything will collapse resulting in a lot of unsuspecting people losing a lot of money.

Sound familiar? That's right, sounds like a ponzi scheme. A recent quote tweet from Nassim summarizes this position.

It feels weird being on the other side of Nassim Taleb and Warren Buffet on something, but allow me to push back a little. Is there some speculation? Certainly. Overvalued? Definitely possible. But literally everything is speculation and it's a ponzi scheme?

I disagree 😬. Here we go...

Speculation/overvalued is very different from pure scam. Seems fair to say Tesla is very likely overvalued - it's 5x the market cap of the largest automaker in the world, Toyota, who made over 10M cars last year whereas Tesla did 500k. But that doesn't make Tesla a scam/ponzi scheme, they actually do make cars and are a real business. Similarly for Bitcoin, there is a real use case for it - not simply just a global Madoff scenario.

Money has always been an idea, a concept. Those pieces of polymer in my pocket are only worth anything because we all just, in a way, collectively agree to act as such.

"Money is the bubble that never pops." - Naval Ravikant

Yes, there's a system behind the pieces of polymer "backing" it, but the same for Bitcoin - just a different type of system. These different systems each have pros/cons. As for "money", there are simply a set of criteria as to what makes a good medium for the concept. While Bitcoin is not perfect when it comes to these criteria, there is a global group of people working on improving/fixing it.

Then there are reasons/factors that dictate exchange rates between currencies, and therefore the same for Bitcoin to any other regular currency. Yeah, that exchange rate is probably inflated due to hype and speculation but that doesn't alone make it a scam. Hype and speculation happens with stocks too. Doesn't make them inherently scams.

I've compared stocks and Bitcoin, but they actually aren't really anything alike. That's what I think made Buffet hate Bitcoin, because there's no real business behind it and he's used to looking at businesses. Bitcoin's "business" model is a currency. Yes, some people are just buying it because others are buying it due to the hype, and some people are investing/speculating on it.

The investment/speculation is that the demand, use cases, and eventual economy of a digital native currency will be big and therefore it's future exchange rate will be large - and deserved. It's still early so, yeah, it's probably overvalued (at the moment) due to hype and speculation compared to what it's actually doing/being used for currently.

Amazon was probably overvalued to what it was during the dotcom boom 20 years ago because of the hype around the industry. But that didn't make it a scam - today it's the 4th most valuable company and most certainly a real business. This is essentially how I'm interpreting Nassim's position. It's 1999, the price of an asset is going wild and he's extremely skeptical that the asset will live up to expectations, to the point of already calling it an outright failure.

No longer believing in its ability to accomplish its mission, he speaks out against it. Because in the meantime many people could lose a lot of money by listening to the hype.

I still have hope in Bitcoin.

Want to comment? Head on over to the tweet:

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