One of the more subtle but profound events that took place in the past few months is a reduction by half in the rate at which bitcoins are produced. It is a characteristic of the Bitcoin protocol that such a change takes place every four years. This transition was baptised by the community of Bitcoin enthusiasts as “Halving Day”. It was a significant event at several levels. Symbolically, “Halving Day” is a reminder of the built-in coin scarcity that is at the core of the Bitcoin economy. There was a general sense of excitement in online forums devoted to Bitcoin discussion in the days and hours previous to the “halving”. Remarkably, “Halving Day Parties” were held in several cities: nothing less than the social celebration of a software function. A ritual was born from the code.
In economic terms, though, the halving did in fact result in a drastically reduced number of new bitcoins, from 300 to 150 per hour. This severe cutback in production of new coins is likely to have been a factor, among many, in the recent price rises. This is why, in a remarkable demonstration of foresight, Bitcoin miners actually celebrated that their “pay” was being cut in half.
Another reason why the “halving” was a significant event is that, being the first one since Bitcoin’s 2009 inception, there was some expectation about how it would unroll, technically. Would the network assimilate the change seamlessly, or would it cause unexpected bugs to emerge, wreaking havoc in the whole economy? The technical uneventfulness of this change at the protocol level of the Bitcoin network reaffirmed the confidence in the overall soundness of its design.