There are two phrases no person should ever utter. The first is, "Do you know who I am?" and the second is, "This time it’s different." The first suggests vanity beyond reality, since obviously the person being spoken to doesn’t know who you are or, even worse, doesn’t care. The second suggests naivety about history and humanity. So when anyone says bitcoin, for example, is unprecedented, your scepticism levels should zoom into the red zone. One of the key features of people who argue that "this time it’s different" is that their evidence is often temptingly convincing. Bitcoin prognosticators argue that the virtual currency’s chief virtue is that its design is attuned to the modern digital era and consequently contains utilities that "fiat currency" does not. The key to that design is a distributed ledger that records every debit and credit instantly, frictionlessly and freely. The ledger constitutes a threat to institutions that impose themselves between creditors and debtors, oth...

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