By Shawn Langlois, MarketWatch
MarketWatch photo illustration/Everett Collection
Between such potential topics as Trump, the national anthem, #MeToo, and whether oysters really belong in stuffing (GTFO), there’s not enough Brunello in all of Tuscany to take the edge off the likely family squabbles this Thanksgiving.
But halfway through the first course, you might find yourself longing for one of those conflict starters when somebody turns to you, a family member who knows things, and says: “Hey, you know things. Explain bitcoin /zigman2/quotes/31322028/realtime BTCUSD +0.09% to me.”
Now, there are two ways to approach this thorny question.
First, if you desperately want to get back to the football game, you might want to try quickly deflecting with the technical take and borrowing this definition from one prominent bitcoin developer :
“Sure, Uncle Frank. It’s actually pretty simple,” you explain. “Bitcoin is the ledger of not-previously-spent, validly signed transactions contained in the chain of blocks that begins with the genesis block (hash 0000000000 19d6689c085 ae165831 e934ff763 ae46a2a6c 172b3f1b60a 8ce26f), follows the 21 million coin creation schedule, and has the most cumulative double-SHA256-proof-of-work.”
Conversation started. And ended. At this point, ol’ Frank decides it’d be better to help scrape the cheese off the casserole dish than to venture a follow-up.
If you want to be a good relative, however, you’ll take the opportunity to enlighten with a useful definition that even your grandma might understand:
“Bitcoin is essentially virtual cash. Unlike the dollar or the euro, it’s not backed by any country’s central bank or government. It can be traded for goods or services over the internet. Bitcoin can be stored in digital wallets, which —”
By now, somebody will surely interrupt with a just-please-stop-talking gesture.
See, your uncle doesn’t care about the practical uses of bitcoin. He doesn’t dabble in the dark web. He doesn’t have any fundamental grievances with fiat currency, his dial-up connection works just fine, and he’s been hiding in gold since his Pets.com investment went to the dogs.
Truth is, when you do get asked the bitcoin question, it’ll be about one thing: making money. The insane 700%-plus surge in less than a year, along with an explosion in alternative digital-coin offerings, has propelled cryptos into the mainstream, and you, the guy who knows things, will be asked how one can profit from it.
So what do you say? Suggest your relatives load up right before the collapse, and they’ll be talking about you every Thanksgiving for generations to come, even if you’re not invited. Tell them to stay away and prepare to be beaten senseless with the FOMO stick with every uptick. Which is to say you’re in hot water either way.
Best you can possibly do is to lay it out and let them make the call.
Explain to them there are several schools of thought on the cryptocurrency future. Believers are convinced bitcoin is changing the world, and, if that’s the case, there’s really no telling how high it’ll go from here.
John McAfee — yes, that John McAfee — said earlier this year that bitcoin, which just topped $8,000 for the first time, will take out the $500,000 mark in three years, or he’ll, uh, self-cannibalize. A hedge-fund manager recently said bitcoin could eventually be worth $1 million . Wildly bullish takes aren’t hard to find.
Then there are the naysayers, which include some Wall Street heavyweights. Jamie Dimon called it “a fraud.” Credit Suisse said it’s “the very definition of a bubble.” To Warren Buffett, it’s “a mirage.”
Perhaps consider the Josh Brown route . The popular financial blogger earlier this summer used Coinbase to buy a small amount of bitcoin as a learning exercise. “I’m not a disruption hippie or an early adopter or a visionary or an evangelist,” he wrote. “But I’m too curious to not experience bitcoin ownership for myself.”
So the best advice is to go vanilla. Your script: It’s not for the faint of heart. Don’t do anything stupid. If you want to get in the game, dabble.
Atulya Sarin, a professor of finance at Santa Clara University, summed up this approach nicely in a piece he recently penned for MarketWatch: “The large variation in possible outcomes and value by definition makes bitcoin a speculative asset that can represent a small part of a well-diversified portfolio.”
You probably won’t win the Most Exciting Thanksgiving Chat of the Year trophy, but you might hold on to your guy-who- knows -things title. Leave the fireworks to somebody else.
Now: How about that Donald Trump, eh?
Bitcoin: The World’s Most Dramatic Bubble Ever?
Investment manias throughout the centuries have ranged from tulips to tech stocks to housing; is bitcoin different? Image/Video: Daniel Epstein