The Government Crackdown on Bitcoin

Many advocates of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have a naïve belief that their digital assets are “beyond the reach of governments,” “cannot be traced” and “cannot be frozen or seized.”

But it’s really not true.

On Sept. 12, China announced that it was banning the launch of initial coin offerings (ICOs) in China and closing all Chinese bitcoin exchanges. The next day, it was reported that China demanded the books and records of those exchange customers and all transactions.

From there, it’s just a short step to arresting customers for violating foreign exchange and tax regulations in China.

The attack on bitcoin does not stop with China.

North Korea’s cyber-brigades have hacked into South Korean bitcoin exchanges both to steal customer bitcoins and demand bitcoin ransom to cease the attacks. North Korea is building up a bitcoin stash to pay for weapons and food as the U.S. ramps up sanctions on conventional banking channels.

This operation reflects the fact that using bitcoin on the dark web is a haven for criminals, arms dealers, tax evaders and state enemies of the U.S. How long will it be before the U.S. joins the effort to shut down, interdict and disrupt bitcoin message traffic on the dark web and the bitcoin exchanges themselves?

Bitcoin prices fell 40% in response to these and other developments before stabilizing to some extent. But it remains highly volatile.

Now, I said it last week, but I’ll say it again…

When it comes to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, I take a laissez-faire approach. Do your own thing. If you want some bitcoin in your portfolio as part of a diversified bundle of assets, that’s up to you. If you want to speculate in some of the other lesser-known cryptocurrencies, that’s fine, too. You might make a lot of money.

My only advice is buyer beware. You need to take the time to understand how it works and what the risks are.

Governments enjoy a monopoly on money creation and they’re not about to surrender that monopoly to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.

But governments know they cannot stop the technology platforms on which the cryptocurrencies are based. Blockchain technology has come too far to turn back. These are usually called the “blockchain,” but a more descriptive term now in wide use is “distributed ledger technology,” or DLT.

There’s no denying that fortunes have been made and still will be made in various DLT applications.

And while I’m not necessarily a fan of individual cryptocurrencies, I am a believer in this technology.

Governments don’t want to kill it; they want to control it.

They seek to do so using powers of regulation, taxation, investigation and ultimately more coercive powers, including arrest and imprisonment of individuals who refuse to obey government mandates with regard to blockchain.

As I also explained last week, blockchain depends on critical infrastructure, including servers, telecommunications networks, the banking system and the power grid, all of which are subject to government control, as the Chinese action shows.

That’s the back door governments will use to regulate and control the blockchain.

There’s something else to consider about cryptocurrencies…

If the power grid goes down for whatever reason (ask Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma), good luck accessing your bitcoins. Bitcoin may have made you a millionaire on paper. But what good does it do if you can’t access it when you need it most?

People will always accept gold and silver in emergency situations. My advice is to stock up before the crisis strikes.

They will be unavailable once a crisis arrives.

I was actually singled out in this past Saturday’s New York Times for my advice on “how to survive the apocalypse.”

Holding gold, silver and other hard assets is definitely part of that plan.


Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning