Commentators are often dismissive of Bitcoin buyers, writing them off as naive victims of a fraudulent bubble. But if we look more carefully, we can trace the history of Bitcoin through five key narratives. Each has drawn in a different group of buyers and in doing so contributed to its long-term growth in value.
Pierre Bourdieu’s work on symbolic value in the field of cultural production is surprisingly useful as a model for explaining the value of financial assets. As my recent posts have argued, financial value depends on symbolic narratives that claim certain qualities for the assets concerned and seek to associate them with particular theories of value. Bourdieu’s account of the art market examines similar processes of attributing value to works of art.
For mainstream economists, the prices of financial assets like shares and derivatives are determined by objective assessments of the future revenue streams that the holder of the asset is entitled to. But it is far more plausible to see them as the outcome of interactions between a variety of different financial valuation conventions, or lay theories of value as I called valuation conventions in my earlier post. This post reflects on the contributions of John Maynard Keynes, André Orléan and Jens Beckert to explaining how valuation conventions influence financial asset values.
Different people may assess the value of a thing differently, but to reach agreement on values, they need to offer explanations of those assessments in terms that other people can find reasonable. Usually this means that they will need to invoke socially acceptable standards of value to justify their assessments. I call these standards lay theories of value, and this post introduces this concept.