Searching for Satoshi
In my previous article located here (which I highly encourage you to read if you have not done so already) we outlined some of the basic principles related to Bitcoin and finally explored briefly what a world economy “run on Bitcoin” might look like.
I have been overwhelmed with the responses to that article (thank you) and the MANY questions from curious readers! Therefore in my next series of articles I will take some of these questions and do my best to provide a detailed response to each.
The first question(s) which we answer today concerns Bitcoin’s infamous original creator: Satoshi Nakamoto.
Who is Satoshi? Does it matter? Could his identity potentially ruin “the dream”?
As described in my previous article, Satoshi Nakamoto is the anonymous creator of Bitcoin. Nobody knows who he truly is; “he” could even be a group of people. Satoshi first brought his invention to light by publishing the link to his white paper in an email sent to an obscure cryptography mailing list in late 2008. Before long, an initial version of Bitcoin was released for download to the same mailing list which allowed these “cypherpunks” to start mining Bitcoin directly on their own personal computers.
These early days of the Bitcoin mailing list emails are still archived here for those interested in reading: https://satoshi.nakamotoinstitute.org/emails/
Satoshi took great care in all his emails and Bitcoin forum posts to not leave behind any clues to his identity. Experts have poured over all his correspondence for years and have still gotten nowhere. The last known correspondence from Satoshi before he “went dark” was in 2011 when in an email he simply wrote “I’ve moved on to other things. It’s in good hands with Gavin and everyone”. If he wanted to be identified, he would have already come forward by now.
Though given the direct threat Bitcoin poses to most of the World’s Governments’ source of power (the money supply), it certainly seems Satoshi made the wisest decision in choosing to remain anonymous and not end up on their radar. Did he have the foresight to see just how big Bitcoin would become even in those early days? Possibly. My personal view is that he did not and he really did just decide to move on to other projects.
Will the real Satoshi please stand up
Of course, there have been many theories and likely suspects as to who Satoshi might be. Mostly those early cypherpunks such as the late Hal Finney or Adam Back. Plenty of scam artists too such as Craig Wright have also come forward claiming to be Satoshi but so far no one has convinced the world they are the real Satoshi.
For someone to prove they are Satoshi, probably the most direct method would be for them to prove they have control over the estimated ~1.1million Bitcoin in wallets presumed to have been mined by Satoshi in 2009 and which have never been moved once in 11 years. As of time of writing, this Bitcoin fortune is worth an estimated $41Bn.
However though, given this amount of Bitcoin represents almost 5% of Bitcoin’s total supply, if Satoshi were to return and start moving his Bitcoin then the Bitcoin price would immediately sell off. This is because — as we know — Bitcoin’s price is inextricably linked to the market’s perception of its scarcity. Right now the market views the 1.1mm Satoshi Bitcoin as being “lost forever” (given Satoshi has so far never shown up to claim it) and hence out of the circulating supply and therefore this makes Bitcoin more scarce, increasing the price.
Last year on May 20th, there was in fact a “market scare” that Satoshi had returned to claim his Bitcoin when 40 BTC from a very old wallet (mistakenly presumed at the time to be Satoshi’s) was moved to another wallet:
Whilst 40 BTC in itself is not enough to move the market, the realization that the remaining 1.1mm Bitcoin of Satoshi’s could soon move too immediately triggered a sharp correction in the price of Bitcoin. As can be seen below, the market briefly panicked and sold off as it tried to price in the new potential supply of Bitcoin these long forgotten wallets would unlock:
However in subsequent days, on-chain analysis from experts proved that the 40 BTC moved from this wallet was NOT in fact Satoshi’s and the price of Bitcoin thus quickly recovered.
My view is that Satoshi will never return to claim this Bitcoin. If he was still alive and had control of the private keys he likely would have done so already. Either he is dead or has lost the private keys to these wallets effectively rendering the Bitcoin lost forever.
Even if he does return though and turns out to be someone we don’t like (e.g. a Russian hacker) does this “ruin the dream”? I don’t think so. Bitcoin has evolved so much since those early days when it was just a cryptography mailing list curiosity. No one person (even Satoshi) has the ability to control or influence the Bitcoin network anymore. Bitcoin is sovereign and has an inherent status-quo bias making it extremely difficult to change the rules in any substantive way. Bitcoin miners will do what is in the best interest of themselves at all times, not what the “creator” deems best. This is the beauty of decentralization. The identity of the creator does not matter anymore to the operation of the technology. Just like it does not matter anymore who invented the wheel.
Finally, even if Satoshi returns tomorrow and sells the entirety of his 1.1mm stored Bitcoin on the open market this would also not kill Bitcoin. Yes there would be price crash the likes of which we’ve never seen. But Bitcoin will survive as it has always done. The ultimate overall supply of Bitcoin is and always will be 21 million. Satoshi’s Bitcoin does not change that; it would just increase the circulating supply temporarily. Eventually the market demand for Bitcoin would absorb this and Bitcoin would march on, continuing to be the best store of value humanity has ever known.