Warren Buffett, Jamie Dimon and Jim Cramer all have the same advice regarding Bitcoin: Stay away.
In fact, Buffett has even gone on record, stating, "I can say with almost certainty that [cryptocurrencies] will come to a bad ending...we'll never have a position in them."
Unfortunately, these sages of investment wisdom are being attacked by their more contemporary counterparts, who believe -- as many hopeful "investors" do -- that blockchain and its cryptocurrencies are the greatest thing since the invention of the mundane wheel.
Back in October, one such founder of a cryptographic ledger company (whatever that means) wrote an open letter to Jamie Dimon -- CEO of JPMorgan Chase -- in which the author intelligently spelled out his distilled and perhaps controversial definition of what blockchain means (and what it doesn't mean).
I say "controversial" because his view on cryptocurrencies was more simplistic than usual, curtly defined as solely a "new asset class that enables decentralized applications."
Decentralized applications, he explained, are simply traditional applications -- like banking, file storage or payment processing -- that don't need a trusted, regulated intermediary (like a Bank of America, Dropbox or Visa).
But while the world regales in the use of these regulation-less systems and imagines what the bright future holds for blockchain technology, no one is talking about the underlying assumption that could be the downfall of both our society and economy as we know it.
We already know the worst thing about Bitcoin, and we ignore it at our own peril.
We all know what Bitcoin is being used for: subversive activity in the dark web on sites like The Silk Road. Although that's not 100 percent of its use, all crypto assets lends perfectly well to illegal activity.
Why? Because its entire existence is predicated on a decentralized application. It's designed to be used outside of the bounds of any regulation, by people who deliberately want to be "off the grid."
While the author of the aforementioned paper calls this "miraculous," I call it scary, because to support the use of these crypto assets is to support the wholesale migration of transactions away from trusted, regulated and legal facilitators and toward several lines of code.
Would you invest in a completely deregulated world?
While everyone races toward blockchain, I wonder how we should sociologically value our movement away from banks, legal systems and other pillars of our society. After all, with blockchain, we would need none of these checks and balances, because the whole point of blockchain is its indisputability.
Then, the question is, what happens to these institutions? Do they all go away? Do we become a society that relies solely on a chain of coded transactions and come to consensus that we can all live "off the grid?"
If we all want to be off the grid, does that mean we don't need institutions? Governments? Legal systems to settle the uncertainty that will presumably no longer exist?
Now, supporters of blockchain (who aren't internet drug dealers) might argue that our current "regulated" system is broken. That the insiders (descendants of the Illuminati or Masons, perhaps) aren't regulating our highest institutions at all, but are bilking them for their own profits.
Case in point: The 2008 financial crisis, which was regulated by everyone and prevented by no one.
And you know what? These people would be correct to point to any number of situations and say that our financial and government institutions -- just to start with -- would be much better off if we remove the moral hazard that inherently applies whenever we appoint human beings to direct them.
The trouble is that blockchain isn't reform; it's heretic to the way in which we've come to define "trust" in our society -- not based on the people who run our systems, but on the way in which the systems are built in the first place (with humans, by humans, for humans).
No matter where you stand, this is the beginning of a huge trend -- it just might not be as good as we all hope.
Here's the fundamental truth that nobody is talking about: If we agree that blockchain is the future, we must also agree that human-regulated institutions are useless, and that means we throw away some of the most inherent pieces of our society.
Surely the black-market criminals are celebrating, as are the anarchists. For the rest of us, I'm not sure how we can justify putting our trust in the hands of a system intrinsically designed to derail our most stable and fundamental institutions.
Then again, I've seen The Terminator and The Matrix. Perhaps this is the first step towards decentralizing our freedom as well.