Bitcoin: Economics, Technology, and Governance
Böhme Rainer, Christin Nicolas, Edelman Benjamin, Moore Tyler
Bitcoin is an online communication protocol that facilitates the use of a virtual currency, including electronic payments. Bitcoin's rules were designed by engineers with no apparent influence from lawyers or regulators. Bitcoin is built on a transaction log that is distributed across a network of participating computers. It includes mechanisms to reward honest participation, to bootstrap acceptance by early adopters, and to guard against concentrations of power. Bitcoin's design allows for irreversible transactions, a prescribed path of money creation over time, and a public transaction history. Anyone can create a Bitcoin account, without charge and without any centralized vetting procedure-or even a requirement to provide a real name. Collectively, these rules yield a system that is understood to be more flexible, more private, and less amenable to regulatory oversight than other forms of payment-though as we discuss, all these benefits face important limits. Bitcoin is of interest to economists as a virtual currency with potential to disrupt existing payment systems and perhaps even monetary systems. This article presents the platform's design principles and properties for a nontechnical audience; reviews its past, present, and future uses; and points out risks and regulatory issues as Bitcoin interacts with the conventional financial system and the real economy.