As part of CMC's end-of-the-year wrap-up, we shine a light on what Bitcoin has been up to as the rest of the crypto market has struggled.
Bitcoin is the longest-living, market leading OG cryptocurrency. For better or for worse, it has given birth to the entire cryptocurrency industry. Many believe that Bitcoin has fulfilled its mission as peer-to-peer digital cash, bringing freedom to people worldwide. Users of the oldest cryptocurrency range from political dissidents
like Alexey Navalny to financially excluded Venezuelans
. It has the highest brand recognition of any project in the space and works exactly as advertised. Perhaps it does not have the bells and whistles of newer projects, but it also doesn’t have their implosions (see Luna) or constant network shutdowns (see Solana). Amidst all the chaos in the markets this year, Bitcoin keeps relentlessly producing block after block after block. Despite some in the cryptocurrency space viewing it as "legacy tech," it remains the market leader for a reason.
One of the reasons for Bitcoin's success is its design simplicity, which limits the threat surface of attacks. Its smart contract functionality may be highly limited, but this has helped it avoid hidden leverage and the corrosive problems of MEV. It does not have stablecoins, which curtails the protocol-level influence of large centralised players like Circle and Tether. Had the ETHPOW fork been more contentious, stablecoin issuers would have had an outsized say. Bitcoin’s simplicity makes it resilient.
Many cryptocurrency enthusiasts critical of Bitcoin’s “old fashioned” technology fail to understand that most cryptocurrency projects are parasitical of Bitcoin's pristine censorship resistance. Regulators and lawmakers realize that Bitcoin cannot be easily censored, so these projects pretend to be similar to Bitcoin and avoid scrutiny. Moreover, market participants also know that they can easily exit these weaker coins into Bitcoin at the push of a button if needed, so they are happy to park their wealth there temporarily. Many think that these projects will always exist in the shadow of Bitcoin.
In recent years, Bitcoin has solidified its position as "digital gold," with countries and companies adopting this narrative. While the 2017 bubble saw numerous projects attempting to be “the next Bitcoin,” Bitcoin was the undisputed king of its category by 2022. Competitors now seek to be “smart contract platforms” rather than digital money. With crypto lenders and exchanges defaulting on their obligations and DeFi protocols getting hacked left right and centre, the simplicity of keeping Bitcoin in cold storage is increasingly appealing. Staying humble and stacking sats, as some would say.
Bitcoin hasn’t escaped the price volatility of 2022, having lost ~60% of its value year to date. But it has avoided the devastation of many other market participants. Investors in Luna, depositors of Celsius or users of FTX have found themselves completely wiped out. What these projects have in common is the complexity of their narrative: numerous tokens, intertwined in a myriad of ways, offering both yield, price stability and the allure of exponential growth. Ultimately, they provided none of that and imploded within days. Bitcoin eschews complexity, it promises neither yield nor price stability. Instead, it offers resilience.
Those that were misled by the siren call Celsius, Luna, FTX and the like are looking for answers. Self-custody and censorship resistance are narratives that struggle to compete with “get rich quick” while the market is hot, but their value has been re-established recently. Hardware wallets have had record sales
since FTX’s collapse. People have learned hard lessons about trusted third parties
and protocols obfuscating risk with complexity. It is a great opportunity for Bitcoiners to embrace them and educate them on Bitcoin’s ethos and mission.
Yet there are concerning trends. The Lightning network continues to grow, but at a pace far slower than most advocates anticipated. Bitcoin has lost mindshare among speculators and technology enthusiasts to Ethereum. More worryingly, Bitcoin is losing market share to stablecoins, which function as digital bearer instruments that can now reach those who previously only had access to Bitcoin. Even in markets that require a higher degree of censorship resistance, such as dark net markets, Monero is gaining ground. Furthermore, there are growing concerns that its transaction fees may not compensate for the decline in the block subsidy
The Bitcoin community must address the challenging task of maintaining the predictability and simplicity of the protocol without shutting out impactful innovation. A careful balance must be struck between the users’ needs and Bitcoin’s mission. Ideology cannot trump reality, Bitcoin’s future development must be practical, not just theoretical. There are encouraging examples of forward looking research, such as the fellowship sponsored by the Human Rights Foundation for roll ups on Bitcoin
Despite these challenges, Bitcoin remains the king and will likely continue to lead in 2023. However, it cannot afford to rest on its laurels: it must continue to evolve and adapt to the changing landscape.
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