What articles will help my dad understand why he should NOT buy Bitcoin?
March 5, 2022 6:29 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone suggest articles or websites aimed at non-technical laypeople that explain Bitcoin and make a moral or environmental case for not investing in it?

Apparently my cousin has been talking up Bitcoin to my father (in his 70s, liberal). We just had a phone conversation where he mentioned that he was thinking of buying some bitcoin and I tried to explain to him that he should not, but was perhaps more heated than I should have been (I used the phrases "pyramid scheme" and "crime against the planet" multiple times).

He asked why he's been hearing good things about it, and why, if it's so bad, important figures aren't speaking out against it (he asked about Chomsky). He asked me if I knew of something that he could read to learn more about it.

I'm hoping someone has already written an article laying it out (bonus if it focuses on the moral case), but what I'm finding in web searches is mostly boosterism.
posted by aneel to Work & Money (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: If he is into Chomsky, here is a piece from Jacobin (far-left magazine) on why it is a Ponzi scheme. And from the same site, an interview with Stefan Eich who has done some work on economics and human rights based on looking at his page at Georgetown.

I couldn't find much on what Chomsky thinks other than "it will pass". He doesn't seem to want to give it much thought.
posted by chiefthe at 7:18 PM on March 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Why Bitcoin is Bad for the Environment - Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker
posted by theory at 7:23 PM on March 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

Maybe not the tone you're looking for, but Cracked on crypto pretty much nails it: "It's easier to lose, far more volatile, slaughters the environment, and can't be exchanged for the vast majority of goods and services."

I mean, that and a chart of its movements over the last year.
posted by some little punk in a rocket at 10:00 PM on March 5, 2022

Best answer: Some of Stephen Diehl's writing on the topic:

The Case Against Crypto
The Oncoming Ransomware Storm
The Internet's Casino Boats
posted by secret about box at 10:43 PM on March 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Dan Olson's very dense, very sharp video essay "Line Goes Up - The Problem with NFTs" is getting loads of attention for his critical take on NFTs, but it's packed full of info about market bubbles, Bitcoin, Ethereum, and crypto in general.
He's not a fan.

The video is long, but dryly funny and highly watchable - over 6 million views, and there's Bitcoin stuff right at the start.
posted by tula at 11:19 PM on March 5, 2022 [6 favorites]

I liked the "we saw what you could do with the tech before anyone made it, and it's false in every promise" of this guest lecture given by an engineer called David Rosenthal.

It remains an injustice that people in the USA lost their homes in 2008-10 and European countries imposed "austerity" on the poorest who couldn't afford the recession it caused while pushing money into the pockets of the people who created the mess -- but "screw you, I'll create my own banking system without central government" needs core of consensus that's ultimately centralised by powerful people having access to technology.
posted by k3ninho at 2:22 AM on March 6, 2022

1. Maybe your dad should be focusing on what he should be investing in — in my opinion, index funds, and more particularly, a selection of stock index funds and bond index funds, depending on his time horizon.

2. By and large, the question of what anyone should or should not be investing is awfully hard to answer without attending to the particular details of the investor. But the default is: if you’re not a super-knowledgeable investor, there are many circumstances in which index funds are the best alternative. Nerdwallet’s article on “What Is An Index Fund?” Is perfectly passable; there are others.

3. It seems to me that asking “what should Dad be investing in” and “what shouldn’t Dad be investing in” are at the very least highly related questions. But I apologize for not answering your precise question.

4. Inquiring about Bitcoin is worrisome to me from an investor perspective, because to me it looks a lot like gambling. Gambling isn’t investing, and people who are asking “What should I gamble on?” are not investors.
posted by PaulVario at 6:56 AM on March 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

https://web3isgoinggreat.com/ is a fantastic resource covering the endless scams plaguing the entire industry, and provides lots of useful examples of the wide range of criminal activity around the whole boondoggle with links to the individual stories.
posted by rambling wanderlust at 9:23 AM on March 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

Your dad might enjoy Matt Levine's Money Stuff email newsletter (here), which often touches on crypto from the point of view of someone who worked at an investment bank and covers this stuff professionally: "I have argued for a long time around here that the biggest problem for most investors who are thinking about buying cryptocurrencies is remembering their passwords. It is just bafflingly easy to lose crypto, in the simple sense of accidentally misplacing it, whereas it is more or less impossible for a modern institutional investor to misplace stocks or bonds."

He's not against crypto per se, but he talks a lot about the... oddities... of it, at lot: "Honestly I could read these stories all day. Here is a fact about me: I did not mine Bitcoin in the early days, so I do not now have thousands of Bitcoin that are now worth tens of millions of dollars, so I do not, for instance, own a $25 million plot of oceanfront land in Barbados, as one person in this article does (even after losing some of his Bitcoins). I admit that I occasionally envy the people who bought Bitcoin early for nothing and are now billionaires and retired. One thing that soothes this envy is reading about people who bought Bitcoin early for nothing and are now theoretical centimillionaires but lost their private keys and can’t access the money. I may have no Bitcoins, but at least I haven’t misplaced a fortune in Bitcoins... If you’re a person who bought some Bitcoins and lost the password then, oops, that’s tough for you, and we’ll all have a laugh about it. But if you are a professional investing firm who bought some Bitcoins with your investors’ money and held them as a fiduciary for those investors, and then lost the password, then you probably can’t be a professional investing firm anymore. That’s not good."
posted by BungaDunga at 10:22 AM on March 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone! I was specifically looking for written materials (my father is a retired professor of English), but the Line Goes Up video is such a good backgrounder that I'm going to suggest he watch at least the first couple chapters and the conclusion, and then follow up with some of the readings.

A lot of the arguments require at least a general understanding of what Bitcoin is in the first place, and what claims proponents have been making, which is a piece that I think my dad is missing.

For what it's worth, I'm not worried about my father losing money by "investing" in Bitcoin. I'm more concerned with him perpetuating a system that, if he understood, he would abhor.
posted by aneel at 9:23 PM on March 6, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is coming from completely the opposite angle as some of the earlier suggestions, but if he likes reading multiple perspectives he might get a kick out of it:

The Christian case against Bitcoin and blockchain

The same author followed up with:

The technological case against Bitcoin and blockchain
posted by clawsoon at 9:46 AM on March 7, 2022

(I liked the "proof of waste" phrase from the "Christian case" article in particular.)
posted by clawsoon at 9:47 AM on March 7, 2022

The "technological case against" article attempts to be what you're looking for:
So, this post is an attempt to equip those who aren’t computer experts with enough knowledge to engage with the main technological claims of blockchains, and how they measure up in reality. I won’t go into mathematical detail, and I will obviously simplify in some cases, but try not to make any simplifications that mislead.
posted by clawsoon at 9:54 AM on March 7, 2022

"Any application that could be done on a blockchain could be better done on a centralized database. Except crime."
posted by sindark at 4:10 PM on March 7, 2022

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