Yanis Varoufakis on Bitcoin's Economic Fallacy of Composition

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"Capitalism nearly died in 1929, and tens of millions did die in the war that ensued, because of this toxic fallacy that underpinned the Gold Standard then and Bitcoin now. Which fallacy? The fallacy of composition, as John Maynard Keynes called it.

Its essence is a tendency to extrapolate from the personal realm to the macroeconomic one. To say that if something is good for me – if a practice is sound at the level of my family, business, etc. – it must also be good for the state, government, humanity at large. For example, yes, parsimony is a good thing for me, personally. If I can’t make ends meet, I need to tighten my belt; otherwise, I shall sink more and more into debt. However, the exact opposite holds for a macroeconomy: If, in the midst of a recession, the government tries to tighten its belt as a means of eliminating its budget deficit, then public expenditure will decline at a time of falling private expenditure. And since the sum of private and public expenditure equals aggregate income, the government will be – inadvertently – magnifying the recession and, yes, its own deficit (as government revenues fall). This is an example of one thing (belt-tightening) being good at the micro-level and catastrophic at the macro level.

Similarly with gold, Bitcoin, and all other ‘things’ of exchange value: If you have gold, it is good for you if its supply is limited, fixed if possible. Same with Bitcoin, silver, dollars. (Nb. It is why the rich and powerful traditionally opposed expansionary monetary policy, crying ‘hyperinflation’ at the drop of a hat.) So, yes, if you are invested in Bitcoin, or for some reason you are elated every time its dollar exchange rate rises, you have every reason to think that its algorithmically fixed supply is a good thing, a feature. But, there is a price for that: A fixed money supply translates into a deflationary dynamic which, in a system prone to under-employing its people and under-investing in things society needs (i.e. capitalism), is a catastrophe in the making.

The Gold Standard is, indeed, a great source of insight into how dangerously primitive Bitcoin maximalist thinking is. Suppose Bitcoin were to take over from fiat currencies. What would banks do? They would lend in Bitcoin, of course. This means that overdraft facilities would emerge allowing lenders to buy goods and services with Bitcoins that do not yet exist. What would governments do? At moments of stress, they would have to issue units of account linked to Bitcoin (as they did under the Gold Exchange Standard during the interwar period). All this private and public liquidity would cause a boom period before, inevitably, the crash comes. And then, with millions of people wrecked, governments and banks would have to abandon Bitcoin. In short, just like gold, Bitcoin is eminently… abandonable (once it has done enormous damage). Put differently, either Bitcoin will never take over from fiat money or, if it does, it will cause huge unnecessary pain (before being abandoned)."