Scarcity, the idea that some one thing is finite, has been thus far not applicable to the digital realm. Until the arrival of bitcoin, nearly anything that was of digital nature could be duplicated without recourse. Due to the ease of reproducing computer code, the problem of double-spending was the unsolved mystery of viable digital money. However, the innovation of the blockchain ledger has added a potent economic function to the equation of online exchange: digital scarcity.
The Introduction of Digital Scarcity
Beyond the realm of money supply, bitcoin has enabled everything from informational products, media, art, and more to be delivered in a manner where ownership is mathematically verified. Because digital ownership can now be determined, it proliferates a scarce quantity of goods. Digital scarcity marks the emergence of a new cohort of potential business models.
“Bitcoin is a remarkable cryptographic achievement and the ability to create something that is not duplicable in the digital world has enormous value.”
– Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google
The attribute of scarcity in bitcoin is not necessarily derived from the actual file information itself, but the method in which the information is stored. The difficulty in reworking the cryptographic proof-of-work which has hashed and timestamped the property with the creator’s digital signature represents the construct of scarcity. The difficulty of reworking this cryptographic chain then, is directly correlated with the difficulty of duplication (double-spending), as more hash power would be required to retroactively alter the information’s assigned ownership. Information hashed at the very beginning of the blockchain for example (such as the genesis block), could be viewed as nearly unforgeable in comparison to information hashed in the last 10 minute block because it would take magnitudes more computational power to rework that section of the chain.
The Digital Economy’s Missing Layer
Scarcity is a fundamental layer of any economic system. Without scarcity, there be no need for money. In a perfectly abundant world, resources would be limitless and money would serve no need because exchange would be entirely unnecessary.
Bitcoin introducing digital scarcity represents a milestone in the development of a totally digital economy, one which has the capacity to stand independent of national economies. In the years ahead, it is likely we will see new business models arise from the potent characteristic of digital scarcity.