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Plenty of people will tell you they're getting rich off of bitcoin. They could be right. But there's another group of bitcoin owners that aren't so ecstatic. Because they might be rich, too, but they lost the passkey that would let them get at their digital fortune. Syl Turner is in that second, less glamorous group. When he got around one-and-a-half bitcoins seven or eight years ago, they were nearly worthless.
So worthless he bunked the hard drive that held the key somewhere and now he can't remember where. Today on the show, we join Syl on a digital treasure hunt, as he ventures into his attic looking for what could be the key to his bitcoin wallet, and tens of thousands of dollars. It's all or nothing. In the decentralized anti-governmental world of bitcoin, you can't file a claim for damaged or lost currency. You've either got the key, or you don't.
Then Kimberly Grauer and Jonathan Levin of Chainalysis help us figure out how much bitcoin has been lost and why it's so difficult to track down, and try to figure out if there's any way to find Syl's vanished riches. The percentage of Americans who said, yes, is three - three.
And I have some of those answers. And it suggests that the 3 percent is a little high. Subway - I think some Subways accept bitcoin. But there's also a bunch that say - this one says Litecoin. A few say Coinbase, which is a bitcoin cryptocurrency exchange. So these people are using bitcoin to buy other cryptocurrency. So I think the 3 percent we can take safely as a ceiling. And I feel like the real number is probably lower. I did. And I actually would like to start the conversation by giving full credit to Felix.
And, Felix, please, let me know your sock size so I can get you those socks. Like, I have a really hard time saying, I was wrong. I usually say it really fast, or I say, I was wrong, but. And not only did he cop to being wrong, he had, like, this whole analysis of why he was wrong. It was actually an impressive way to be wrong. And let me kind of go into that. One was timing, which I Like, a longer-term bet, I would've won. Eventually, I am right.
Also, it's much more interesting. And this is - Ben thought bitcoin would work like other big, open source technology projects. What you see with those kinds of projects, Ben says, is developers - you know, coders - they just start solving one problem after another. So the projects just get better and better. I mean, he said that's the way the Internet itself developed. It started out with no security, but, you know, like, we got security.
It started out with no naming, but we got that. There was no way to distribute addresses. We got that. So, like, it just kept evolving along because it just met the needs of the user community. He thought the code that powers bitcoin would just get better and better and, very quickly, it would obviously be this safer, faster, more private, cheaper way for people to buy stuff online.
That did not happen. Bitcoins just became so valuable that the people who worked on the system didn't want to make it any better. They just wanted to lock everything down and keep it the way it was. The thing that he thought was going to happen happened. The fact that bitcoins became so valuable meant that people didn't really want to use them to buy stuff. They'd rather just hang onto them.
But even Felix is surprised by the way things actually turned out. I mean, there were two things which I expected would happen which didn't happen. One is I expected the price would probably go to zero, and it didn't. It went way up and to the right. And the other is that I expected that there would actually be use cases over the following five years that, even if people weren't using it to buy stuff in stores, and that was my side of the bet, I imagined it would be used for remittances, or, somewhere along the line, it would have evolved.
Especially if it had grown to be worth thousands of dollars per bitcoin, then it would be used for something. I have a theory about that. So in the real world, his firm invested tons of money in bitcoin companies. And they seem to have done great on those investments. They seem to have made a tremendous amount of money. We don't know exactly how they've done, but one thing we do know is they were an early investor in this company Coinbase, which we mentioned.
But seriously? You are willing to take the same bet all over again? So this time, for this bet, he wanted to make it about cryptocurrency more generally. And then there was one other change he wanted to make to the bet, and that was he wanted to move it outside of the U.
But let's be honest. Credit cards work really well here, so there's not that much of an incentive for people to switch to some cryptocurrency. GOLDSTEIN: So he wanted to do it in some country where credit cards were not so widespread and where, if there were some new, simple app on your phone, you didn't have to apply for a credit card, you could just pay instantly and easily like that, you know, it might really take off.
Ben, what are the stakes this time around? And it gets better with age. And if you buy it, you can drink it, and that's - and you're a very happy person because it's delicious. And if you don't drink it, you can keep it in your cellar, and it retains its value. And it's got - it's a much better store of value than any cryptocurrency will ever be. So I will bet you a year-old bottle of Madeira that you will not be able to find 10 percent of Mexicans using cryptocurrency to buy anything in five years' time.
Like, I don't know. I just like the pairing. They decided, in addition to the bottle of Madeira, to bet something called an ether, which is one of the big cryptocurrencies that's popped up in the last few years. But still, people are betting like crazy with ether, and it's worth a ton of money, in which case, he gets the best of both. Or he could lose. Can I say that's what's kind of frustrating about this bet for me? It's very gentlemanly. I want somebody to, like - to admit total and utter complete failure, you know?
In fact, last year, Ben's firm, Andreessen Horowitz, actually bet much more on crypto than they have before. So obviously, a slightly bigger bet than a bottle of Madeira and an ether, and we will be tracking that bet as well. If you have heard people making wild predictions about the future and you think we should have them on and make them commit to a bet, please tell us.
You can email us at planetmoney npr. Today's show was produced by Sally Helm. Alex Goldmark is our supervising producer. Bryant Urstadt edits the show. Here we go. It goes, hi, Felix. Enjoy your socks. I got you an extra pair in case you wear a hole in one doing the victory dance. OK, so they do feel very soft, I have to say.
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|M4a1 s basilisk csgo betting||The Indicator NPR hide caption. Enlarge npr planet money podcast bitcoins image. One day around Thanksgiving of this year, Syl Turner noticed that it seemed like suddenly everybody was talking about bitcoin. We go looking for lost billions. Oh, wait. Syl Turner is in that second, less glamorous group.|
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