But do you know Ethereum, with a total value of coins in circulation of close to $20 billion? Bitcoin Cash, which split off from the original Bitcoin on August 1, lost about half its value within hours, then nearly quadrupled by the next day?
Or, rounding out the Big Four, Ripple -whose currency is known as XRP -which shot up to about 40 cents by mid-May from less than a cent at the end of March? Then there are over 800 lower-value and often creatively named coins among those listed on Coinmarketcap.com.
One can buy FedoraCoin (its jaunty symbol being the Justin Timberlake-approved hat), CannabisCoin (one guess what it looks like) or, to choose one of many bringing up the rear, Quartz, currently priced around three-thousandths of a cent. (Bad news for those who bought it at just under $2 at the end of May).
After years as a niche market for technologically sophisticated anarchists and libertarians excited about a decentralised financial network not under government control, digital coins may be on the verge of going mainstream. “It’s the wild, wild West,” said Ron Ginn, 35, founder of a private photo-sharing service called Text Event Pics in St Augustine, who has taken all his money out of the stock market and put it into Ripple and real estate.”
This is like getting to invest in the internet in the ’90s. I’m very bullish, but I expect to make a couple million dollars off very little money. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Finance is getting its internet.”
Cryptocurrency has understandable appeal to millennials who came of age during the 2008 financial crisis and are now watching the rise of anti-globalist populism threaten the stability of the international economy.
“There’s a low cost for entry, you don’t pay a lot of fees and millennials are the most tech-savvy,” said John Guarco, 22, a recent Duke graduate who, like most of the people interviewed for this article, asked that names of the coins in which he has invested not be published for fear of being targeted by hackers.
Unlike previous generations, many of these greenhorn investors don’t have pensions, are mistrustful of socking money away in mutual funds and are fully accustomed to owning digital assets that have no concrete properties.
As traditional paths to upper-middle-class stability are being blocked by debt, exorbitant housing costs and a shaky job market, these investors view cryptocurrency not only as a hedge against another Dow Jones crash, but also as the most rational – and even utopian -means of investing their money.
But there are dissenters who are less sanguine about the future of cryptocurrency, arguing that we are in the midst of the biggest bubble yet, fueled by speculative trading in Japan and South Korea, and pointing to previous Bitcoin crashes as justification for their skepticism.