Bitcoin Utopia? Interest Is Sky High in This Euro Nation
Interest in bitcoins has reached fever pitch around the world in the last month, helping the price soar to an all-time high earlier this week. But there's one euro zone country that's firmly tuned into the zeitgeist more so than even the U.S. or Japan.
According to Google Trends, Finland is the country with the most number of Google searches for the word "bitcoin" in the past 12 months.
"Finland has a very strong geek culture and tradition, DIY-culture and can-do attitude. Many digital innovations, like IRC (Internet Relay Chat), Linux and SSH (Communications Security Corporation) are developed in Finland," Vesa Linja-aho, an engineering and economics lecturer at a Helsinki university told CNBC.com.
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In proportion to population, Finland has the most members of Mensa in the world, a society for people with ultra-high IQs. The country also has a fairly young population with 12.2 percent of the 5.4 million population aged between 15 and 24 years old, according to Eurostat. The average for the 17 countries that share the euro is 11.1 percent.
Linja-aho travels the country to lecture students about the alternative currency as well as owning a few himself. Merchants that accept bitcoins in Finland include auto parts dealers, tool shops and even a vegetarian restaurant, but Linja-aho is quick to point out that the currency is not widely accepted.
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Finland's long running current affairs TV show Ajankohtainen Kakkonen sparked interest last August by broadcasting a special documentary on the currency. Paivi Heikkinen, a division head at the Finnish central bank even allayed fears by telling the show that the currency wasn't illegal.
"I think every educated person knew that even before, but for skeptics the statement was good," Linja-aho said.
Bitcoin prices surged nearly 360 percent over the past month to an all-time high of $147 on Wednesday on growing uncertainty over fiat currencies and the turmoil in Cyprus.
The Cypriot bailout, which led to losses for bank depositors and capital controls, spread doubts across Europe about the safety of money in bank accounts and raised fears that Cyprus would be a template for future bank restructurings.
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"The general public opinion in Finland is against bailouts and support for crisis countries. People in Finland pay high taxes and tax evasion is generally reprehensible. [But] I know many people in Finland that use bitcoin to avoid taxes (and mandatory employer fees) when paying salary for small job assignments," Linja-aho said.
The growing skepticism about the euro and the libertarian streak in Finland could lead to further gains for bitcoins. But Vili Lehdonvirta, a researcher from Finland at the London School of Economics, told CNBC.com the bitcoin community wasn't big enough to capitalize on that.
"What pessimism there is in Finland is mostly nationalistic/isolationist in character, wanting to go back to the [Finnish] markka. The libertarian-minded bitcoin enthusiast network is not large enough to have any presence in national political discussion," Lehdonvirta said.
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Linja-aho believes bitcoins will take many years to catch on unless there is very severe inflation or a severe failure with the euro currency.
"Finns are usually skeptical for new things, especially when they concern money and paying. Young people and computer geeks will adopt bitcoin faster," he said.
—By CNBC.com's Matt Clinch