Anyone interested in understanding bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies should read Paul Vigna and Mike Casey’s “The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money Are Challenging the Global Economic Order.”
Most books about bitcoin are mostly hype, advocacy or technical. This is not that kind of book. Written by two Wall Street Journal reporters, the book takes a rigorous multidisciplinary approach.
Beginning with a history of money to provide context, the authors delve into the origins and development of cryptocurrencies before exploring the implications on the future of money, the impact on the unbanked and the potentially disruptive effect on the financial industry. They deftly explain the non-monetary, non-payment system applications of cryptocurrencies, like a verified and tamper-proof ledger of transactions. The book concludes with philosophical perspective on how cryptocurrencies may challenge the current global economic order.
As one might expect from two respected reporters from the crown jewel of the Dow Jones empire, their book is meticulously researched and very well-written. Their sources are comprehensive, the information verified and put together in a cogent manner. I found the book very accessible and easy to read.
There are a few quibbles. Cryptocurrency enthusiasts are a passionate crowd and some have taken offense to the authors’ cautious approach and the discussions of the flaws. And while thoroughly explaining the technology in language understandable by a mainstream audience, it may not provide enough detail to satisfy the serious technologist.
And as the former Director of the U.S. Mint, I have a different viewpoint on whether cryptocurrencies are revolutionary. Instead, I believe they are evolutionary. For example, the physical form of money has evolved from commodities to precious metal, to coins and paper bills and to electronic representations. Digital currency is just the next step in the development arc of money. All the prior forms peacefully co-exist today, albeit each of their market share has changed over time.
The same can be said with payment systems. From bartering to coins and bills, to paper representation of money like checks and money orders, to electronic funds transfer and credit and debit cards, using the Internet to transfer wealth is a logical evolution of payment systems. All these forms of payment systems continue to exist today as consumers use the payment system that is most convenient and effective for each particular transaction.
Regardless of whether cryptocurrencies are evolutionary or revolutionary, I wholeheartedly agree with the authors: cryptocurrencies will likely play a pivotal role to modernizing the notions of money and finance and help usher in help a new global economy worthy of the 21st century.
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