On October 31, 2008, bitcoin was born, with a clear political intention, the first decentralized virtual currency. Ten years later, this cryptocurrency feeds a complex ecosystem but it still does not convince in the highest economic spheres.
When it was first discussed ten years ago, bitcoin was born with a political vision.
It appeared in a white paper published online by Satoshi Nakamoto, a pseudonym whose real identity – person or group? – remains unknown, with the aim of “making online payments directly from one person to another without going through a financial institution.” .
This ambition was fueled by the bankruptcy of the US bank Lehman Brothers, which occurred a month earlier. The fall discredited the system of “traditional currencies in which a small elite of bankers get very rich, establish the monetary rules and impose them on everyone”, underlines Pierre Noizat, founder of the first French platform for the sale of bitcoins in 2011.
On January 3, 2009, at 18:15 (GMT), the first block that generates 50 bitcoins is created. The first transaction between two accounts takes place nine days later.
Bitcoin evolving for years outside the public radar, interested only computer enthusiasts or money launderers.
When it was born in October 2009, bitcoin was barely worth $ 0.00076.
On May 22, 2010, a Florida programmer pays a netizen 10,000 bitcoins to deliver two pizzas. It is the first transaction known in the real world, equaling then to the US $ 42 and marks the birth of “Bitcoin Pizza Day”. Currently, it would be equivalent to the US $ 64.2 million.
In 2013, the cryptocurrency already exceeded the US $ 1,000 and began to attract the attention of financial institutions.
The European Central Bank signals a dangerous operation while the former president of the US Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, celebrates its potential.
A few months later, the cryptocurrency suffers its worst crisis with the hack of the MtGox platform, where up to 80% of the bitcoins in circulation were traded. Its price is plummeting and it must wait more than three years to return to its late 2013 level.
The year 2017 is a “turning point,” says Noizat: the sulfurous currency goes from less than $ 1,000 to more than $ 19,500 in mid-December, according to Bloomberg figures.
Its total capitalization temporarily exceeds the US $ 300,000 million, according to the specialized website Coinmarketcap. The sum of the capitalization of all cryptocurrencies exceeds the US $ 800,000 million in January 2018, before the bubble bursts and the value of bitcoin progressively returns to around the US $ 6,400.
“The concept of virtual currencies, which existed before, has spread considerably” thanks to bitcoin, says analyst Bob McDowall.
There are currently more than 2,000 different cryptocurrencies.
To such an extent that the concept exceeded the simple statute of technological progress to become “almost a religion” for some, McDowall warns.
Anthony Lesoismier is the co-founder of Swissborg, a Swiss investment fund that proposes asset portfolios based solely on these types of currencies.
“The real revolution is situated at a philosophical level” by establishing a “new regime of society with more freedom,” he says.
On the contrary, the Turkish-American economist Nouriel Roubini claims that his praised decentralization is “a myth.”
“It is a more centralized system than North Korea. The miners are centralized, the exchanges are centralized and the programmers are dictators,” he denounced in a newspaper article.
Although the idea at the beginning was to use bitcoin as an exchange value, most observers recognize that it is now mainly used as a reserve or instrument of speculation due to its volatility.
“It takes 20 years for a network technology of this type to be fully installed,” explains Noizat, awaiting the arrival of a technical system that will speed up transactions: the network can currently only handle five to ten operations per second, compared to several thousand for Visa card operators for example.
Born to escape the traditional financial system, will bitcoin finally be integrated into it through the big banks? “You have to accept some short-term bridges” to generate the interest of the general public, considers Lesoismier, who defines himself as “an idealist” but also a “realist.”