Cryptocurrencies, Network Effects, and Switching Costs

37 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2018

See all articles by Will Luther

Will Luther

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: 09/17/2013


Cryptocurrencies are digital alternatives to traditional government-issued paper monies. Given the current state of technology and skepticism regarding the future purchasing power of existing monies, why have cryptocurrencies failed to gain widespread acceptance? I offer an explanation based on network effects and switching costs. In order to articulate the problem that agents considering cryptocurrencies face, I employ a simple model developed by Dowd and Greenaway (1993). The model demonstrates that agents may fail to adopt an alternative currency when network effects and switching costs are present, even when all agents agree that the prevailing currency is inferior. The limited success of Bitcoin?almost certainly the most popular cryptocurrency to date?serves to illustrate. After briefly surveying episodes of successful monetary transition, I conclude that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are unlikely togenerate widespread acceptance in the absence of either significant monetary instability or government support.

Suggested Citation

Luther, Will, Cryptocurrencies, Network Effects, and Switching Costs (09/17/2013). MERCATUS WORKING PAPER, Available at SSRN: or

Will Luther (Contact Author)

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