In 2007, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a former Wall Street trader turned professor, described the idea of a “black swan” event. Black swans are defined as being rare, of major consequence and impossible to predict, though he tempered their predictability with an acknowledgment that, in hindsight, they are explainable.
A confluence of events has arisen in 2020 to create a black swan event unlike anything the world has witnessed since the Great Depression. It dwarfs even the 2008 financial crisis.
After the global financial crisis of 2008, Taleb spoke of the importance of factoring in the possibility of black swan events and argued that their impacts are more catastrophic if systems are propped up artificially. Taleb believed in creative destruction, rendering black swans less potent when they arise.
Having been insulated from downturns for 12 years, the global economy has proven unable to cope with the assault that these unprecedented times have launched upon it. The magnitude of the impact of “COVID winter” has proven Taleb right.
The seismic health emergency has unleashed a series of interconnected shocks and coincided with other phenomena at play, leaving the global financial system reeling in the aftereffects.
These are the very conditions for which Bitcoin (BTC) was designed.
The seismic event: a 100-year pandemic
The coronavirus spread from Wuhan, China, to all parts of the country during New Year celebrations and would soon make its way around the world. The United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Iran and Spain would bear the brunt of it after it originally swept through China, South Korea and Japan.
It has left untold damage. As we approach the end of April, it has put over 25 million Americans out of work, with lockdowns in place in most of the nation. The country’s financial capital became the new epicenter after Wuhan and northern Italy before it. The virus overwhelmed Spain’s healthcare system. Within five months, it has claimed more than 200,000 lives worldwide.
Aftershock one: stimulus packages
With unprecedented unemployment filings and workplace closures, governments have unleashed stimulus packages to help get their citizens through the shutdown period. According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, Congress’s fourth stimulus bill of $500 billion has taken the total cumulative dollar amount of relief packages in the country to $2.4 trillion, including spending packages and tax cuts.
Globally, governments have pledged over $8 trillion in cash injections and relief to small businesses and households. Germany and Italy have committed over 30% of their respective gross domestic products in coronavirus aid.
With the travel and retail sectors ravaged by the suspension of almost all commercial activity, the economic impact of the pandemic is likely to last years, if not decades. No amount of stimulus can support economies through the full extent and duration of the fallout.
Aftershock two: central banks race to the printers
The U.S. Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to zero in mid-March as it became clear the virus had made substantial inroads into American lives and markets. It launched a $750 billion quantitative easing program to shore up the financial system.
Japan renewed its commitment to quantitative easing, which the Bank of Japan has been pursuing for over a decade. The Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the People’s Bank of China followed suit. With barely any abatement from the monetary looseness in the world’s major economies that has followed the global financial crisis, quantitative easing has begun to look like the new normal.
Taleb recommended allowing weak systems to fail so that economies would have the arsenal to deal with potentially catastrophic blows. Following the Lehman Brothers collapse, it appears nobody heeded his advice. There are very few levers left to pull other than to print money to purchase assets.
Stock markets aren’t buying it. While they have recovered somewhat, March 23 saw the S&P 500 down 34% from its peak in February.
Oil futures dipped into negative territory as a glut of oil made it more expensive to store. The breakdown in talks between Saudi Arabia and Russia left the world with increasing production levels just when COVID-19 caused governments to close down their economies, needing far less energy resources than usual.
The concurrent crypto event: Bitcoin’s looming supply shock
In mid-May, Bitcoin’s block rewards will fall from 12.5 to 6.25 BTC. The third halving will result in Bitcoin’s annual issuance falling to a rate that places its stock-to-flow ratio around that of gold. And the smart money wants in. Cryptocurrency fund manager Grayscale recorded its highest ever inflows in the first quarter of 2020.
Bitcoin-related chatter on Twitter was dominated by the coronavirus in February, by gold in March, and has recently seen an uptick in halving related topics as the event approaches. Bitcoin is the only asset to have fully recovered from its coronavirus-related plunge in mid-March.
Do-or-die for Bitcoin
Debate around Bitcoin’s most promising use case has raged since it was invented. To some, it is a hedge against inflation. To others, an escape from the corrupt, inefficient banking and financial services infrastructure. Some like to spend it. Others like to invest in it. Others prefer to use it to speculate.
In reality, Bitcoin can be any of those things to different people. Regardless of what Bitcoin does best, it is quite clear that the current circumstances in which we find ourselves represent an alignment of many of the risks from which Bitcoin is ideally suited to shelter us.
The world faces a glut of fiat and oil. Bitcoin supply is about to head in the opposite direction. Bitcoin was inspired by a financial crisis and a mistrust of centrally controlled money.
It is Bitcoin’s time to shine. And whether it does or not will determine whether it becomes the central focus of the future of finance or little more than a short-lived historical novelty.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Paul de Havilland is a fan of disruptive technology and an active investor in startups. He has experience covering both traditional and emerging asset classes and also pens columns on politics and the development sector. His passions include the violin and opera.