Stripped of the technical mumbo-jumbo, Bitcoin, like all currencies, is an agreement among those who buy and sell it that it has a certain value — not a fixed value, but a determinable one set by the marketplace.
Anyone can start a digital currency merely by announcing it, like issuing stock in a company with no assets. However, Bitcoin’s founding father, Satoshi Nakamoto, was the first to devise a workable, secure and equitable way to generate and control “ethernet money” (as in ethereal) so savvy investors would actually buy it. Now, workboat operators should be at least aware of the transactional possibilities inherent in Bitcoin.
The workboat industry itself is quickly globalizing, and domestic operators who have long paid accounts by paper check (sent by something called a post office) and received income by wire transfer are having to consider better, faster, and more secure ways to transfer money. Some esoteric payment methods have recently evolved, like photographing paper checks and texting the photographs (how quaint that seems already) and direct cell-phone-to-cell-phone payment, but now comes a monetary system so democratic, so foolproof against fraud and manipulation, that anyone working globally (across time zones, cultures, across the dangerous waters of conflicting laws and regulations) will immediately appreciate Bitcoin’s utility as a payment mechanism, if not as an investment.
Mr. Nakamoto — long may he remain as mysterious as he is today — designed Bitcoin to be controlled by its users through the combined powers of computing and real-time (i.e., Internet) digital communication. The fact that it has survived several upheavals, a lot of negative press and is still gaining value, speaks volumes in the international commodity marketplace (money being a commodity) where volatility is an understatement. Even the early doubters now recognize that Bitcoin is here to stay. An article in this week’s Business Insider goes even further, claiming that “Bitcoin’s blockchain … has the potential to transform the world of finance and beyond.”
Mr. Nakamoto hasn’t said whether he intended Bitcoin to facilitate drug dealing and murder-for-hire — in fact, he hasn’t spoken at all — but unfortunately it has done both. The harsh (some say draconian) sentence recently handed down to Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht is in part a testament to the fear an unfettered currency can generate in the bellies of governmental overseers: without Bitcoin there would have been no Silk Road. But Mr. Nakamoto would certainly point out, if he actually exists, that Bitcoin, like gold and greenbacks, can’t be blamed for what people do with it.
What are the advantages of Bitcoin for a global workboat operator? How about instant, free payment to or from anyone anywhere with a computer and an Internet connection or secure, instant, verifiable confirmation of receipt (remember those fake wire transfers and SWIFT codes?). And then there is the anonymity of both payor and payee. (There are many legitimate reasons why commercial interests in the free-for-all of world trade might want to keep legal and proper transactions private.) Finally, there’s freedom from exchange rates and monetary controls. A Venezuelan friend told me recently that Bitcoin is on its way to becoming the Venezuelan national currency.
An hour of Internet research is all it would take for a CFO of a workboat company who is already conversant with common payment structures to see whether Bitcoin warrants investigation. It could be an hour that’s well spent.