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Increasing Public Awareness Bolsters Potential for Blockchain Applications

What a horrible couple of weeks it has been for Bitcoin. The price of the leading cryptocurrency has fallen by half, from nearly $20,000 to as low as $10,000 and below. Maybe Bitcoin’s volatility has finally gotten the best of it. Maybe the inevitable crash has taken all the air out of the bubble. Maybe Bitcoin is dead. That’s a call that’s been made one or two times before.

But something else happened, too, something that was slightly transcendent. That was the publication of an article in The New York Times Magazine entitled “Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble.” It was as good a description of blockchain technology as I’ve seen. And it was in a widely circulated mainstream publication.

“If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the recent history of the internet,” author Steven Johnson says in the piece, “it’s that seemingly esoteric decisions about software architecture can unleash profound global forces once the technology moves into wider circulation.”

Blockchain is a software architecture that seems very likely to unleash those forces, if—as the piece itself helps to do—it crosses over into the mainstream. I highly recommend that article to people who are just beginning to engage with Bitcoin.

To people with greater experience and technical knowledge, I’ll recommend my own 2017 year-end piece for Coindesk. There I lamented the slow pace at which the social institutions around Bitcoin are growing. “That means that when bitcoin's price in fiat falls from whatever heights it reaches, it will plunge all the deeper and stay low all the longer.”

Bitcoin’s price has now taken the plunge, but so far it hasn’t fallen as far as it easily could have. Maybe with accretions of social capital—like the knowledge spread by The New York Times Magazine—Bitcoin and blockchains will begin producing more wealth and more liberty for all, sooner rather than later.

That’s bringing people like Paul Krugman to the table, exploring, still very skeptically, what gives with this thing called cryptocurrency. He sent out a short series of tweets looking into various dimensions of Bitcoin. A recommendation for him and others who think that “utility for payment of taxes” is what “backstops” our paper currencies today: study the subjective theory of value.