back to article Whaddaya mean, NO REFUND? But I paid in Bitcoins! Oh I see...

Don’t tell anyone but I think I might have made an arse of myself again. It’s one thing to show oneself up among one’s peers but another to demonstrate publicly how thick I am front of people who are smarter, sharper, more successful and frankly a damn sight wealthier than me – a sector of society I generally refer to as "other …

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It's a step forward, apparently

Fiat money was sufficiently comprehensible that after the last crash we were able to look (with hindsight) at the smoke and mirrors that the financiers had thrown up to conceal bubbles that they had created to obscure the fact that the money had run out (been put into their pockets). Crypto-currencies will do away with that last iota of comprehensibility, so that the next time we get shafted, we won't even have the vaguest idea of how it was done.

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Re: It's a step forward, apparently

I would guess Mark Karpelès has fingers crossed that this is exactly how it is going to work.

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Silicon roundabout at its' err... best?

Usual entitled self indulgents think they are above the law.

Frankly if you indulge in Bitcons you deserve to get Bit.

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Always entertaining

I'm pleased that I am not the only one out of step with the rest of humanity.

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Anonymous Coward

Easier fraud?

I don't know. I'm not even going to pretend I complete follow crypto currency or the way a one dollar deposit somehow enables a bank to lend a gazillion against it, but the Mt Gox story seems to amount to "as usual, we've taken a lot of your money but we have an even less understandable explanation why this isn't our fault". I guess that's true innovation for you.

If I ever make a fortune I'll probably store in it in gold under my bed (or spend it on women and drink and waste the rest).

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Re: Easier fraud?

The Mt Gox explanation was painfully simple: "We wuz robbed. Since we have no external guarantees and no enforceable contracts, that means you're screwed. Sorry."

If I ever become a multi-millionaire, I'll buy myself a nice little semi in North London. Because you know the one class of people who are *never* going to be screwed by any sort of financial collapse or reform short of full-blooded revolution? Landowners.

The golden rule: who has the gold, makes the rules.

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Re: Easier fraud?

The bank trick actually isn't that hard. Your bank balance is effectively just a loan - the bank 'owes' you that much cash when you want it. It's easy for them to loan a lot more money then they actually have. This means huge profits for the bank (All that interest on money they don't even have!) and have some benefits for the economy in general (Access to low-interest lending is a powerful driver of economic growth, as it allows for companies to more effectively expand and adjust to changing circumstances). It's almost win-win, except for one small drawback - it introduces the possibility of the bank actually running out of money. Under normal circumstances this would be so unlikely as to be ignored simply for statistical reasons - there's no chance that all the banks customers are going to want to buy a new car simutainously - but it can happen in situations of mismanagement or a sudden loss of confidence - that is, if people believe the bank is struggling they will hurry to withdraw their money while they still can, which can contribute or cause the very collapse they fear.

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Nice piece.

I can think of a few more industry 'gatherings' I would like you to visit and write an article on.

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Re: Nice piece.

Which? I'll go if there are free Pringles.

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Happy

Re: Nice piece.

You'd be welcome in many business meeting rooms too. It's always nice to have someone to say the un-sayable. Particularly if it's someone else - given the unpleasant response so often meted out to the tellers of home truths.

You could be a sacrificial-goat-for-hire. Surely there's a Shoreditch business model in there somewhere. Particularly if you're willing to work for Pringles...

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Re: Nice piece.

Brighton SEO. Find out how desperate people are to throw money at Google and how much they are willing to pay firms to help them do it.

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Re: Nice piece.

You'd be welcome in many business meeting rooms too. It's always nice to have someone to say the un-sayable.

Not welcomed by all in attendance I'd imagine. In a previous role I was regularly taken to meetings with external "stakeholders". Officially I was there to offer technical advice, but in reality my boss wanted me there to say the unspeakable things she couldn't get away with.

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Re: Nice piece.

Bet you loved that role, though. I would...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nice piece.

You'd be welcome in many business meeting rooms too. It's always nice to have someone to say the un-sayable

Don't believe him Alistair, I can personally confirm he is being very liberal with the truth about this, for I am "he who says the un-sayable" in so many meetings, emails, telephone calls, conversations. etc. etc. No one wants you to attend their meetings, so they damned sure won't welcome you.

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Re: Nice piece.

I agree, there's a number of things we can point you at to get a developing picture of whats going on in the crypto currency scene.

Cambridge is about to "hit the map" when it comes to Bitcoin adoption. PM me if you'd like to know more and maybe even an article ...

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Re: Nice piece.

>> Brighton SEO

I've left this a bit late - all conference tickets are sold out. Not to worry, I'm sure everyone there knows what they're doing and their money is being well-spent.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Nice piece.

"Bet you loved that role, though. I would..."

It's fun, but they don't tend to last too long. Eventually telling people they are Doing It Wrong gets grating for everyone. Especially when heads start rolling and People High Up start making excuses to get rid of the 'troublemaker' - even if it's understood that's the point of you being there. The concept of having someone in to sweep out the weeds is good, until the weeds start appearing to be running the place...

Anon, because anyone who knows my name knows exactly what role I'm referring to and it's still a job that opens doors for me, so describing it as above might not be too wise ;-)

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Refunds

First of all - I also don't "get" crypto currencies yet, the big issue to my mind with bitcoin seems to be that its a finite resource (I've seen estimates of when the last coin will be mined), this suggests that there will come a day when the currency simply stops.

That being said, lets assume it does actually work over an extended period and deal purely with the issue of refunds. I think the suggestion of converting to a reference currency is the only practical approach, certainly it used to be the case that you could only submit a credit card settlement file once per day to avoid people gaming the exchange rate of foreign currency transactions.

Lets assume for a second that you have to refund the amount of the currency paid in its original form - this would create a very easy way to game the system. I take my bitcoins and buy something with fairly static value and low transaction costs (golds probably not a good example these days but for the sake of argument lets use that). I then wait. if the value of bitcoins rises then I demand a refund, if it falls I sell the gold in another currency.

Suppose I then buy £100 of this commodity every day (in BC equiv currency) on a rolling 30 day cycle with one purchase and one refund every day - at this point I profit from any rises in the currency but don't take losses from any falls.

The only way you'd get around this is if you required the merchants to hold the BC in that form for the refund period - but then they are in the position of not knowing the effective price at the point of sale.

Hence the need to convert to reference currency - which incidentally I believe is also a tax requirement (i.e. profit/loss must be reported in £GBP)

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Re: Refunds

There is no issue with refunding in cash. In fact you dont need to refund in the same method as purchase. Would you expect a shop to refund you using a cheque if you paid as such? so insofar as refunding in BTC there would be no requirement for doing so.

You wouldnt really game the system as no retailer would use BTC if the value fluctuated so wildly that they would make a loss (i.e. buy a TV for £400 in 'BTC' wait for the BTC to drop in value and return for refund in GBP, buy more BTC with the GBP refund and rinse repeat when BTC increases). Plus I imagine there are conversion fees attached to the BTC transactions anyway.

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Re: Refunds

You are assuming there that retailers are obliged to accept returns for products bought from their "bricks and mortar" entities. They aren't, as long as the goods are not faulty. Under the Sale of Goods act, a product which is faulty or doesn't last a "reasonable length of time" can be returned for a full refund. However if you go into a shop, buy something and simply change your mind after leaving the premises, the shop is well within its rights to refuse the return.

Many shops will accept a return anyway and refund cash or store credit as a sign of good faith (Argos' "no quibble" returns etc.) as it's just good business, but there's nothing to stop them refusing returned, fully functional/ usable goods purchased with BC.

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Re: Refunds

Danny 14,

Bitcoin isn't a method of payment, like a cheque or card. It's effectively a separate currency. Also it is so volatile that a £500 TV could lose £100 in several hours. There have been at least 2 days this month where Bitcoin has dropped about $100 in value.

Many retailers buy stock months before they sell it. Bitcoins were worth over $1,000 at one point in December last year. Last week it was fluctuating between $400-$500. So it's unlikely anyone would be paying their suppliers or staff in BTC.

Therefore if they do accept it, it'll be at exchange rates worked out at the time of transaction. And if they've got any sense, they'll want to sell those Bitcoins as soon as the transaction goes through. Refunds will then be processed in local currency, and converted back to Bitcoin at the point of that transaction.

Although I think this is all irrelevant. Personally I don't think Bitcoin will work. It looks like a fad to me. But even if it does, it was designed for international internet transactions - where you've got to deal with currencies and transaction fees anyway. That's not really an appropriate model for bricks-and-morter retail. Except maybe airport shops. Even then, you can get zero-weighted credit cards, which use the market exchange rate with no fees to the buyer. For the seller, the card fee is no more than the fluctuation risk of Bitcoins.

I once looked at the raw data from a Bitcoin exchange. They showed the last 10 tranactions on BitStamp. Now top dog, since deposing Mt Gox. Over about 5 minutes, there were 10 deals, each for either 0.1 or 0.2 of a Bitcoin. The price moved by about $10 (it was about $620 at the time). So the global trading price of Bitcoin moved by nearly 2%, over the course of a few minutes, from about $800 of transactions. What was that you said about not being volatile?

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Re: Refunds

>> You are assuming there that retailers are obliged to accept returns for products bought from their "bricks and mortar" entities

Goldmember, it's not clear who you're addressing in your comment because no-one else in this thread appears to have made this assumption. However, I'll accept it as directed to me. I did indeed mean refunds on faulty goods: my M&S anecdote (returning *unwanted* goods) was intended only to illustrate the limitations of the "it's like cash" argument. I was just as baffled by the argument that since most of the Bitcoins being spent in shops were being used to purchase food, a refund was unnecessary.

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Re: Refunds

First, I love this article.

As far as refunds, simply give back bitcoins. The value of all currencies fluctuate. In addition, the buyer and seller are equally at risk, as fluctuations go both ways. Bottom line, doing transactions in a currency whose value fluctuates is simply a risk of using it.

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Re: Refunds

What's this silliness about demanding bitcoins back?? I'm pretty certain that all the places in UK that proclaim to accept Euros give back change in pennies; and if you return the next day to ask for a refund, they'll pay you back in Pounds, not Euros.

Even though Bitcoins are accepted, that just means you are provided a transparent Bitcoin-to-Pounds exchange at the current rate, and if you ask for a refund the next day, the store may choose to exchange again their Pounds to your Bitcoins, if they wish, and at the current rate again… Whatever that is.

I don't see how customers could complain about this. Otherwise, you are basically getting the store to buy from you a lottery ticket, which you will buy back the next day only if it is a winning ticket.

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Re: Refunds

The solution is simple and already exists with certain online retailers that accept Bitcoin.

The answer is simply an arrangement where by the retailer never sees the Bitcoins, that part being handled by a third party payment solutions provider. You click "Pay with Bitcoin" and it's handed off to the payment provided just like a card transaction and the exchange rate is calculated and you pay.

The retailer gets good old fashioned cash from the payment provider, so should they need/want to issue a refund they can refund you in cash at the effective cash price you paid.

Of course this methodology is open to exploitation as a way to convert Bitcoin to cash, but I imagine many retailers would catch on if you were returning that many products.

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Re: Refunds

Actually, even if the value fluctuated a lot and the merchant only issued refunds in fiat, bitcoin payments would work just fine.

The example you provide of buying a TV using BTC and then getting a refund in GBP when BTC/GBP drops is no different than speculating on BTC/GBP directly on an exchange.

The merchant can protect themselves from the exchange risk, if they so wish, by immediately converting their BTC to GBP at the time of the sale. There are bitcoin payment processors (see coinbase, bitpay etc) that already provide this feature.

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Re: Refunds

Yes, I think this is obvious, but the real situation is to first set up a system where you can convert from a "home" currency to a currency that the retailer will accept, and then make an electronic transaction. Bitcoin is just a special case of this, it might even be added after people are already finding the system useful to pay a cooperating retailer in (pounds, dollar, euro, "loony") from their (pounds, dollar, euro, "loony") account. It is not the currency that counts, its that you have the network of retailers set up for the transaction, and it makes sense for other currencies, not just Bitcoin. Bitcoin is merely one of the more questionable currencies one could use in this system, or is used as some sort of Pavlovian stimulus for the non-thinking investor.

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Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

Dabbs touches on this briefly at the end of the article, but this is really the biggest problem with Bitcoin qua currency - even accounting for its vast impracticality.

Simply because it's based on a limited commodity, Bitcoin is strongly deflationary. It's like the gold standard of the turn of the 20th century - there's a reason we invented fiat currency! It's no coincidence that Bitcoin appeals to the same Austrian-economics right wing libertarian cretins as a return to the gold standard.

But I digress. Those of us that grew up in the 70s (or Germans who are permanently terrified of a return to Weimar economics - i.e. the paymasters of the ECB) are taught that inflation is a axiomatically bad thing. This is, of course, bollocks. Moderate inflation is a good thing - there's an argument that our inflation targets should be closer to 4%, not the 2% we have now.

Deflation is crippling - just ask Japan. During deflation, the best thing you can do with your money is sit on it. Investment and spending collapses, and your country enters a prolonged depression.

And if we think we have trouble with an oligarchic elite now, the problem would be so much worse without inflation there to erode inherited wealth.

In short, Bitcoin economics is awful on every level. It's almost as if it has been designed to undermine the ability of governments to control the supply of money and to heighten the power of entrenched wealth (and let's not forget all that lovely potential for tax evasion). And we, the techies, blindly buy into this agenda because it's shiny and new, and has "crypto" in the name, and we think being free from government influence is great when actually it's the only thing keeping the plutocratic wolves from the door.

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

"Moderate inflation is a good thing". It's good if you're in debt, yes. If you've worked hard for your money and saved a bit away for a rainy day (like a sensible person is advised to do), then it screws you over. It's a tax on savers. It encourages spending and debt and financial inability. I hate inflation and wish we'd stop trying to curtail it. If we start getting to a point where we're on the cusp of deflation, we can just print more money (like Japan did).

I don't buy the idea of permanent deflation either - I think it only lasts long enough to deflate whatever bubble has been building up for so long. It's the bubble that's the problem, not the boom. Bitcoin is one such bubble - it's a pyramid scheme by any other name. I don't understand why no-one else seems to notice this. Lack of transparency + technology seems to be the equation for bubble-building these days and it seems like the only sensible thing to do is to buy into it on the basis that govt. will support those who invest unwisely (as has been evidenced multiple times in the last decade).

Austrian economics is pretty much common sense when you think about it, I don't get why it comes under such fire (well I do, it's because Keynesian economics works on about the same time-frame as political voting systems). Traditional Austrian economics would *NOT* support bitcoin as you seem to suggest!

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

*I hate inflation and wish we'd stop trying to "promote" it

*It's the bubble that's the problem, not the "bust".

D'oh - not proofreading my own posts!

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

There are other crypto currencies that agree that deflation is a bad way to grow a currency. Dogecoin is adopting a 5% annual inflation after its initial mining run comes to an end in January and then gradually tapering it back.

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

DanDanDan,

Inflation does punish savers. But there's a remedy. It's called interest. Obviously we have to ignore the problem that you can't get any at the moment. That's because we're in recovery from a once-in-a-century (hopefully) financial crisis.

If savers can make a return which just beats inflation using banks, then the economy has a mechanism which allows for extra growth, by lending. I've seen many people talk about debt as if it's a bad thing. Or savers as morally superior to borrowers in some way.

Bad debt is a bad thing. Good debt can be a brilliant thing. It's what gave us the industrial revolution. It's what allows ordinary people to buy their house - which can be a way to be financially prudent, even though it's the biggest debt they'll ever take on. Innovation often requires money. Some of the most innovative people and companies don't have enough to innovate. So they have to borrow it somehow.

I don't buy the idea of permanent deflation either

Nothing's permanent in economics. But Japan has been in deflation for nearly 20 years. That's as close to permanent as makes no odds. It takes something to break out of deflation because of deflation. If savers can just sit on money and watch it get more valuable, then they have no reason to either spend, or invest. That entrenches the group of people with money even more, because it's even more expensive and risky to borrow - and you just get richer by means of already being rich. This is great for those with money, but not so great for those without, or those who would like to innnovate.

It's also hard for businesses, because they have to drop their selling prices by 1-2% a year (that's what deflation means), but their debt is still worth exactly the same amount of money. And has to be serviced with the same amount of interest.

Inflation reduces the value of debts. But then this can be covered by setting appropriate interest rates. Then everyone can win - savers get a fair return for the appropriate level of risk, borrowers can survive, innovators can get finance, business can borrow to invest. One of the major causes of the financial crisis was interest rates being too low. This was partly caused by large global imbalances. Such as China buying $3 trillion of US government debt in order to artificially keep their currency down. This had the side-effect of stoking a bubble in the global economy, as well as the intended effect of allowing China to grow its manufacturing base more than it would have been able to otherwise, by artifically lowering the wages of its own workers.

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

Well, that's an argument against using Bitcoin as one's national currency.

But usages such as Internet and international transactions still remain. Currently Paypal is largely used for this, but I don't see people criticising Paypal by considering what the economy would look like if everything (wages, taxes, etc) was done using and controlled by Paypal.

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

but I don't see people criticising Paypal by considering what the economy would look like if everything (wages, taxes, etc) was done using and controlled by Paypal.

Mark. ,

No, but then Paypal doesn't have fans who say that it's the future of currency. And I've also had discussions with several Bitcoin fans who have talked about it as an alternative currency, and mentioned how deflation is a good thing as it punishes borrowers and rewards savers.

Although I suspect that's because many people who push Bitcoin on forums are holding coins, and so hoping that their stock will be the stuff being made more valuable by deflation, as well as more widespread adoption.

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

Inflation punish savers only if you sit on your cash. Deflation forces you to sit on your cash, and as Japan demonstrated, this is very bad thing indeed. You do not want to sit on cash, believe me. A little bit of risk in your live will do everyone good, including yourself.

As for common sense solutions to economics, just like with other things, they does not always work and can actually make things much worse. Some things are non-intuitive, that's the cost of developed society.

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

"Austrian economics is pretty much common sense when you think about it,"

There's your problem. "Common sense" is not a reliable guide to the functioning of complex systems.

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

There's your problem. "Common sense" is not a reliable guide to the functioning of complex systems.

As my economics teacher said to me about once every lesson for half a year... Learning economics is the stupidest I've felt in any activity. Not understanding something when you're tired, or distracted is normal. Not getting complex maths or chemistry, once the equations get too much is normal too. But it took months of trying to catch up, and understanding the odd small piece until there was a eureka moment and things started to fit together.

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary@ spider from mars

"In short, Bitcoin economics is awful on every level. It's almost as if it has been designed to undermine the ability of governments to control the supply of money "

Well, governments have done such a good job of managing money supply haven't they? Wouldn't pay to let somebody else have a go, who knows what sort of mess they could make, eh?

Here's a thought for you: In the past decade global governments have (in practical terms) printed ten trillion more dollars than there has been incremental economic activity. But that money hasn't leaked out to the plebs, nor has it been lent to real productive businesses. Instead it has been held on the electronic registers of the big banks, where investment bankers have wondered whether it would be cheaper to hold it as cash earning no interest, or to speculate on emerging market debt, over-leveraged buyouts, or "invest" in secondary markets (shares), London property, commodities or the like. When the bets go bad, and sooner or later every winning streak comes to an end, then the bankers know they will be bailed out by exactly the people who haven't benefited from all this fake money sloshing around.

The reality is that central banks controlling the money supply has been EXACTLY the means by which the 1% enrich their pals, and make sure that you and I are the ultimate back stop for their theft. Most ordinary people have seen their living standards drop, prices rise, yet their pay doesn't go up. That's because for central banks and politicians there are two types of inflation: Asset price inflation that makes housing more expensive, and inflates the nominal value of existing excess wealth, that's GOOD inflation for the 1%ers. But the sort of inflation that erodes the value of your and my debts, and results in a pay "rise" each year, that's the BAD sort of inflation.

As for Japan and deflation, wait for Abenomics to play out. Japan has in three short years doubled the monetary base. The Bank of Japan was, in recent auctions, the only buyer of Japanese government bonds, meaning that the rest of the world is unwilling to lend money for ten years at 0.6% to the government of the third largest economy. This will not end nicely.

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

Bitcoin was designed to undermine the ability of governments to control the supply of money. It's popular because the recent financial mess has revealed that between incompetence and outright corruption, people have lost their trust in both government and financial institutions. They are desperate for an alternative system, even if it means looking to something unproven and fundamentally flawed like bitcoin. It's not a good alternative, but it's the only one around.

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

How again is Bitcoin deflationary? I'm pretty sure that deflation means that the supply of money is getting lower, so less money is in existance, on the other hand inflation would mean that more money is coming into existance.

At the moment Bitcoin is inflationary, due to the mining reward currently being 25 bitcoins. A long time in the future mining will no longer carry an inherent block reward, besides collected transaction fees, at which point Bitcoin will cease to be inflationary. But at this point no supply is lost either. Apart from the one or two invalid transactions here and there, which are usually not confirmed by miners, and maybe a few deaths of careless bitcoin owners, no bitcoins are ever lost, so saying it's deflationary is just plain wrong... Bitcoin isn't as two sided (inflation vs. deflation) as you would try to make people believe, because if supply remains unchanged, bitcoin is neither inflationary nor deflationary.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

Interest was and always is fraud, as is indirect partial defaulting on loads via inflation, the word usury was not invented for nothing, and is a valid concept even in secular terms; the whole idea of banking should be obsolete.

A suggested alternative incentive/compensation for loans is shared ownership, so shared risk (so incentive for the lender to limit the mutual risk) and no loans for spendthrifts!

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Re: Bitcoin is strongly deflationary

The real problem with Bitcoin is that it was designed to wildly enrich early speculators, leaving the rest of us with very little reason to use it -- basically transferring our wealth into their pockets upon buying in. So far that seems to be the only impact it's had.

It's always hilarious reading about people who think inflation shouldn't exist, as if the human population isn't constantly growing. If we were completely stable and stagnant, then zero inflation would work just fine, but aside from that something has to give when more people participate in an economy. This is basically the Bitcoin problem, people who already have some wealth would rather hoard it, since the value of that wealth increases as the economy grows. Inflation helps oil the economy in that case.

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Bitcoin

Is total bollocks I prefer real money you know £/$/€ or even Turkish Lira.Virtual currencies are all very well in SiFy but are a bit dubious in real life.

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Re: a bit dubious in real life.

Isn't that the real issue.

When the bank of england was established there was _confidence_ that the bank held enough gold to back the paper money it issued. this was required in the early days of the system, it eliminated the risk. we both know and agree what this piece of paper is worth, that worth exists elsewhere in the world, so we can use it as a safe intermediary in the supply of goods and services.

Over time the actual 'gold in the vault' was not required as people intrinsically had confidence in the system.

we all knew what a pound was, and what it was worth, so who needs a pound of gold in a bank somewhere?

On reading the article, i thought you almost got to the point of stating, there is _NO_ confidence in bitcoin. which will severely impede it's widespread adoption, beyond speculators and the wankers on Si cul-de-sac. Huge volatility and MtGox will do nothing to help this.

And further should it ever take root. HMRC _will_ take an interest in them and thereby remove the only real reason for their existence. avoiding tax.

fad, stupid fad, next please...

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Anonymous Coward

demand for Bitcoin options in shops is still tiny but growing rapidly in certain retail sectors

I work for a major Point Of Sale software vendor, and we have seen absolutely zero interest in BitCoin or any other crypto-currency. There is some interest in PayPal, since in some ways it's easier for small businesses than regular card payments, but that's about it on the means of payment front.

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Then you're doing it wrong, as I've found numerous people prepared to play if the hardware does what they need it to... and the hardware IS out there..... it's why I invested in it

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Anonymous Coward

Then you're doing it wrong

No we're not. As shown by the recent trade shows we've attended, absolutely no one is interested in crypto currency support in point of sale software. We're hardly going to develop something that no one wants or is unwilling to pay for - so we'll leave Bitcoin where it is, in the hands of a few neckbeards and tin foil hat wearers.

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demand for Bitcoin options in shops is still tiny but growing rapidly in certain retail sectors

Humph. These people have obviously never tried to use a Bank of Scotland pound note in London.

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Sounds like the kind of presentation where the organisers glare at me a lot for laughing very loudly at the presenters.

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