$20 to Send: Western Union Gets Revenge on Bitcoin for Ad Parody
As Bitcoin network congestion and transaction fees hit new highs, it’s interesting to remember cheap sending costs were once one of its primary selling points. A popular Western Union ad parody that became a meme in 2014 is particularly poignant.
According to Bitinfocharts.com, the average transaction fee on the Bitcoin network on December 12th, 2017 was $21.74 USD. Jochen Hoenicke’s popular rainbow-colored unconfirmed transaction charts show that, since December 7th, any transaction with a fee lower than 70 sat/B (satoshis per byte) would struggle to get even one confirmation.
The only time congestion was worse (and fees were technically higher) was in June 2017. However, even one satoshi is worth a lot more now than it was then — making fees far higher in USD. Since fees are calculated per-byte and not by value, even a small transaction value can incur a high fee.
Western Union Doesn’t Look So Bad Now
A 2014 parody meme mocked Bitcoin’s old enemy Western Union for charging (what seemed at the time) a ridiculous $5 fee to send $50, “for pickup with the U.S.” Bitcoin, on the other hand, would send any amount for one cent.
“Moving money far better”, the meme promised. At least one thing is still true — Bitcoin’s still better at reaching anyone with a connected device than Western Union will ever be.
In November 2014, Western Union took great offense at the parody. Bitcoiners mocked the money transmission specialist even harder when it attempted to remove all copies from the internet with DMCA takedowns.
Paying a five dollar transaction fee to send $50 would seem appealing to bitcoin users now — anything that low would risk not going through. Western Union, you could say, finally has its revenge.
We tested sending $50 USD in bitcoin today, using the standard fee set on a Trezor wallet. It recommended an $11.49 “normal” fee at 388 sat/B, or a $7.19 “economy” fee at 243 sat/B. To actually guarantee payment in a timely manner (est. 20 minutes) it asked for $12.59, 424 sat/B.
Another test transaction of $10 from three days previous, with a fee set at 50 cents (which would’ve seemed large once upon a time) wasn’t faring so well at press time:
(Of course, you can’t actually send dollars on the Bitcoin network and the WU meme never mentioned the possibility of fiat conversion fees at either end — but that’s an argument for another time.)
Bitcoin Is Not Electronic Cash Anymore
No-one in Bitcoin mentions Western Union much any more, anyway. In fact, using Bitcoin as a means to transact or facilitate commerce at all is getting rarer.
BTC in any amount is a precious thing, a digital investment asset to be acquired and kept in safe storage for future years. Anyone in possession of a whole BTC will be a millionaire and John McAfee’s manhood will remain healthily intact.
The heading on Satoshi Nakamoto’s 2008 Bitcoin White Paper reads simply “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System”. It does not mention that a bitcoin could (or should) also be a static asset for hodlers to leave their children. Nor is there any mention of Lamborghinis.
Fees for each transaction block go to the miner (or pool) that confirms it. Notably, Satoshi’s White Paper does refer to these fees becoming an economic incentive for miners to keep the network secure, as block rewards shrink. It’s not clear if he intended it to happen within the first ten years, though.
You’re Stupid for Using Bitcoin as Money Anyway
People who actually used bitcoin as money before 2017 are now themselves mocked, their every past purchase converted into December 2017 prices and are constantly reminded of how much money they’d have now if they hadn’t spent it. The same goes for anyone sending necessary small transactions for purchases, or to introduce newcomers.
Replies like “BTC has gone from $1,000 to $16,000 in less than a year so stop complaining about $12” aren’t much comfort to those who only joined the party last week. Also cold is the call to “use LTC/DASH/BCH/etc.” — as bitcoiners should know well by now, it’s not the payer who gets to choose the currency used.
Some have spent years trying to get those around them interested in Bitcoin — and now they are, it’s not the same. In 2017, many businesses use bitcoin exclusively to pay suppliers and staff salaries, and don’t have the option of waiting for things to calm down.
Perhaps things will get better once second-layer solutions like Lightning Network are functional. Unfortunately they’re not yet, and their everyday practicality hasn’t been tested on a mass scale.
2018 will see much transformation and soul-searching for Bitcoin, other cryptocurrencies, and the people who use them.
How do you use bitcoin in 2017? Should we still think of it as digital cash? Let’s hear your thoughts.
Images via Reddit, Jon Southurst, Pixabay