Bitcoin is a Ponzi

Jorge Stolfi

What is a Ponzi?

A Ponzi scheme, or "ponzi" for short, is a type of investment fraud with these five features:
  1. People invest into it because they expect good profits, and

  2. that expectation is sustained by such profits being paid to those who choose to cash out. However,

  3. there is no external source of revenue for those payoffs. Instead,

  4. the payoffs come entirely from new investment money, while

  5. the operators take away a large portion of this money.

Investing in bitcoin (or any crypto with similar protocol) checks all these items. The investors are all those who have bought or will buy bitcoins; they invest by buying bitcoins, and cash out by selling them. The operators are the miners, who take money out of the scheme when they sell their mined coins to the investors.

Features 3, 4, and 5 imply that investing in bitcoin, like "investing" in lottery tickets, is a very negative-sum game. Namely, at any time, the total amount that all investors have taken out is considerably less than what they have put into the scheme; the difference being the amount that the operators have taken out. Thus the investors, as a whole, are always in the red, and their collective loss only increases with time.

The expected profit from investing in such a scheme is negative. While some investors who cash out may make a profit, that comes at the expense of other investors, who will lose more than their "fair" share of the general loss above.

Features 1 and 2 make the scheme a fraud, rather than simply a bad investment (or bad "musical chairs" gambling game). As a minimum, the operators should warn investors of the negative-sum character and negative expected profit. In the case of bitcoin (and all other cryptos), not only that does not happen, but there are thousands of promoters and "investment experts" who predict impressive price increases and/or claim that bitcoin will have massive uses in the future that would somehow make it valuable. Apart from the mendacity of those claims, those promoters never point out that such massive uses would not translate into revenue for the investors.

The observation that investing in cryptocurrencies is a ponzi scheme is not new or a cheap shot. Among many others, it was expressed in 2014 by economists Nouriel Roubini of NYU [CDK1] and Kaushik Basu of the World Bank (WB) [CDK2] and echoed by investment analyst David Webb in 2017 [CFO2] and by WB's president Jim Yomh Kim in 2018 [CFO1].

Common Objections

Edited on 2021-01-03: "(or any crypto)" --> "(or any crypto with similar protocol)", since e.g. stablecoins do not fit the definition.

Last edited on 2021-01-03 17:48:17 by jstolfi