Bitcoin’s 21 million limit is a boomer myth

To genuinely appreciate the value of bitcoin, one must recognize that the perceived cap of 21 million does not accurately reflect reality


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We’ve all heard it. There will only ever be 21 million bitcoin. With 19.6 million already mined, time is of the essence to secure one’s rights to a piece of digital sovereignty. 

But what if the situation was even more paramount? A supply of 21 million is already not enough to go around, and anything less would raise the stakes that much more. 

To genuinely appreciate the value of bitcoin, one must recognize that the perceived cap of 21 million does not accurately reflect reality. In doing so, not only does a clearer understanding of bitcoin’s true scarcity and value proposition come into focus, but it also instills greater confidence when navigating market cycles. 

By using bitcoin’s actual supply as a frame of reference, those periods of volatility suddenly become all the more insignificant. Conversely, during times of market euphoria and price appreciation, bitcoin’s true scarcity makes for a compelling case to accumulate even at the top while others begin to realize profits.

Reassessing bitcoin’s 21 million

The largest stash of bitcoin in the world belongs to its creator, Satoshi Nakamoto. Thanks to on-chain sleuths, we know that Nakamoto was one of the only miners on the network in Bitcoin’s earliest days, allowing the pseudonymous creator to amass a whopping 1.096 million coins. To this day, the only transaction to ever occur from Nakamoto was the famous 10 BTC sent to cryptographer and early pioneer Hal Finney.

These million coins or so make up most of what are often referred to as “zombie coins,” or coins that have not moved since Bitcoin’s first official exchange traded price. Totaling 1.457 million, heuristic analysis of UTXO’s hint that it’s safe to consider these coins as gone forever. 

Just like that, nearly 7% of Bitcoin’s supply is effectively inaccessible. That 21 million is getting smaller. 

But this only scratches the surface of the sheer extent of lost coins. Data suggests there are millions more that haven’t budged since Bitcoin’s earliest days. Likely associated with other early miners or poor souls who lost the keys to their archaic wallet, on-chain analytics tell a different story of Bitcoin’s actual supply. 

In their research report, Cointime Economics, analysts David Puell and James Check surmise that anywhere from 3.89 million to 4.87 million coins could be considered lost. This estimate includes Satoshi’s holdings as well as the zombie coins.

Read more from our opinion section: As bitcoin’s price soars, I’m having fun and staying poor

While they acknowledge there is some ambiguity when trying to quantify the number of lost coins, let’s take the lower bound of their estimate for the sake of brevity. If 3.89 million coins can be considered permanently lost, gone to eternity, never to be seen again, Bitcoin’s original 21 million is now down to 17.11 million, an 18% reduction.

Is that FOMO building up yet?

Making matters worse (or better depending on how much bitcoin you already have), there is a growing cohort of individuals and institutions who are set on never parting with their precious bitcoin. The actual scale of holding that is permanently removing coins from circulation can’t be accurately measured, and any estimations will have to wait for more time to pass. But rest assured, they’re out there. 

Take the poster child of holding, Michael Saylor, as evidence. As CEO of MicroStrategy, he and his company have embarked on a historic accumulation of around 205,000 bitcoin, plus another 17,000 stockpiled for his personal reserves.

When asked if he ever had plans to sell his holdings in a recent interview, he candidly remarked, “I’m gonna be buying the top forever.”

And just like that, another 1% of Bitcoin’s supply that will never see the light of markets again. 

Saylor represents just a fraction of the tens of thousands, if not millions, of investors out there with an increasing propensity to hold on, no matter how bad a bear market gets or how high a bull market goes. Consider the supply held by long-term holders steadily growing and hitting an all-time high in the midst of a brutal crypto winter as proof. 

Read more: Bitcoin sets another all-time high Monday flirting with $72,000

The harsh truth is that Bitcoin is far more scarce than we were led to believe. Accounting for the known lost coins and estimating the coins that holders won’t part ways with, it’s safe to assume that the initial supply has been reduced by somewhere around 20%. That means there are less than 16.8 million bitcoin to last us until the final block is mined.

So, as we approach another halving, witness the unprecedented buying spree of Wall Street’s bitcoin ETF sponsors, and await the influx of buyers that so often arrive during bull markets, the stage is set. Time is of the essence to grab your slice of the bitcoin pie; there are only 16.8 million left, probably even less. Act accordingly. 

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