Short Bytes: Bitcoins, a form of digital currency that operates on the principles of cryptography, has lately come under the scanner of the authorities throughout the world. So, it’s become necessary to know what are Bitcoins, how it works, the legal status of Bitcoins as well as what holds in the future of Bitcoins.
In the year 1976, F.A Hayek, in his book “The Denationalisation of Money,” propagated the establishment of competitively issued private money. In the mid-70s, what seemed like a farfetched idea was conceived by yet another Economist in the year 1999. Milton Friedman, an American economist who received the 1976 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, predicted of time where internet, (still in a nascent stage then) would help abolish the role of a government and evolve a currency free from the shackles of the government control. Less than ten years later the prophecy came true when Satoshi Nakamoto, a Japanese, invented a form of cryptocurrency called “Bitcoin.” The origin of Bitcoins can be traced to the aftermath of the global recession and money crisis of 2008 that shook the whole world economy.
What is bitcoin? How does it work?
In the simplest form, Bitcoins can be described as a “Peer to Peer Electronic cash system.” Bitcoins can be used as a method of payment for numerous goods and services and for simple transactions like purchasing vouchers, paying bills, etc. In different jurisdictions, Bitcoins are treated as a property, currency, virtual asset, good, security or commodity for the purpose of trading on a stock exchange or commodity exchange.
Essentially Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, i.e., it operates on the principles of cryptography to manage the creation of Bitcoins and securing the transactions. Cryptocurrencies are managed by private parties, without the need for a government authority to monitor the currency system. The currency has been designed in a way that the number of total units of Bitcoins in circulation will always be limited. Going by the pace at which Bitcoins are being minted, the last unit will be mined around the year 2140.
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The cryptocurrencies essentially work on the Blockchain system. A Blockchain is a public ledger of Bitcoins that is designed to record all the transactions. The chronological order of Blockchain is enforced with cryptography and each new ledger update creates newly minted Bitcoins. This is designed in a way that Bitcoin wallets can calculate their total balance and new transactions can be verified. The integrity and the chronological order of the block chain are enforced with cryptography.
The buyer and seller can enter into transactions by using their Bitcoin wallets that are secured by a secret piece of data called, a “Private key.” The key is used to authorise the transactions by the owner of the wallet, and cannot be normally tempered by anyone, once it is issued. The transactions are performed by adding the Bitcoin wallets on an exchange, acting as a facilitator for sale and purchase of Bitcoins. All transactions are displayed between the users and usually begin to be confirmed by the network through a process called “Mining.” It is essentially the process of creating new Bitcoins out of the total Bitcoins that are designed to be “Mined” using computers. The transactions transfer the value between the users and get recorded in the Blockchain, ensuring that each transaction is valid.
Is Bitcoin legal money?
The legality of Bitcoins is controversial, while some jurisdictions have express laws and regulations to deal with Bitcoins, others still fall in gray areas. As per a recent bill in Japan, Bitcoins and other virtual currencies have been given legal recognition and are accepted as a mode of payment. While in China, trading in Bitcoins come under the regulatory restrictions imposed by People’s Bank of China.
In the U.S.A, different states have adopted varying approaches to Bitcoins. Recently a U.S Magistrate in the state of New York ruled that Bitcoins are not money, while a contradictory stance was taken by a judge in Manhattan, who ruled that bitcoins are acceptable means of payment. The Internal Revenue Service in the United States, defines bitcoin as property rather than currency for tax purposes. The U.S. Treasury, by contrast, classifies bitcoin as a decentralised virtual currency.
In Russia, reportedly, Bitcoins may soon be regulated in a bid to tackle money laundering, though, in the past, Russia has expressed its displeasure with Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies. In India, as of now, no regulations have been framed by either Reserve Bank of India or Securities and Exchange Board of India, the two contenders, for the purpose of drafting regulations pertaining to Bitcoins and acting as a watchdog.
In India, who ultimately acts as a regulatory authority can only be decided based on whether the government decides to treat Bitcoins as “Currency” or “Security/Commodity.” As per current Indian laws, “Currency” can only be issued by the government but the residuary powers in this regard lie with the Reserve Bank of India which can notify “Bitcoins” as currency. After the demonetization drive in India, the demand for Bitcoin has more than doubled in less than two months. The Indian government has reportedly set up an inter-disciplinary committee to regulate the Bitcoins amidst the apprehensions that the black money hoarders may have invested into Bitcoins.
Bitcoin trends in 2017
Bitcoins are extremely volatile in nature. While the future trends for Bitcoins can’t be predicted with utmost certainty, as per a report published on Forbes, the market is set to show strong waves in the favor of cryptocurrencies, as predicted by a crypto market intelligence startup. As per the latest position, The 24-hour average rate of exchange across USD Bitcoin markets is US$1184.87, the 7-day average is US$1204.85, and the 30-day average is US$1080.26 confirming only the volatility of Bitcoins.
There are possibilities that some countries may introduce an Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) to make Bitcoin Trading easier and accessible. While a similar application to create an ETF has been rejected by The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the chances of other countries adopting it are not bleak. Currently, sale and purchase of Bitcoins is a multi-step process. Creating an ETF would make it possible for the investors to buy Bitcoins through the stock market.
Further, In the future Blockchains, the underlying technology to Bitcoins may bring revolution in the music industry. Cryptography could transform the music industry by using Blockchain ledgers. As per reports, an attempt is being made to bring music distribution under the cryptography. This can be done by adding the music to blockchain and letting the users distribute the music by paying a sum. This can also bring down music piracy.
To sum up the discussion, it can be said that while Bitcoins may not replace the “Fiat Currency” anytime soon, but there has been a phenomenal growth in the acceptance of cryptocurrencies around the world. While the investors may still be reluctant to invest in Bitcoins, given the high risks associated with it, the demand for Bitcoins has grown manifold. In the end, it could be argued that a good legal and regulatory framework for Bitcoins would help the investors decide the viability of Bitcoins in the long run.
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