FIAT currency tends to be *backed* by something, like an economy, like USA or European Union or even China. What is this backed by?
Wrong. An economy is not a backing. It does encourage confidence that the notes of debt may be exhanged of goods or services in the future, but a backing is a guarantee (e.g. hard assets) and an economy is not a guarantee.
FIAT currency tends to be *backed* by something
WRONG! Fiat currencies may or may not be backed by something: fiat means mandated by law. Coincidentally, fiat currencies are almost never backed by anything. (Why would this be the case I wonder?)
Currency is IOU notes that devalue over time. It is not a hard asset, like coal or copper
Money, and not currency, should be:
- Easily divisible
- Easily verified
- A store of value
Your currency might be IOU notes that devalue over time, but this does not have to be the case. Gresham's law is often paraphrased as, "Bad money drives out good." Good money is out there, and smart people are storing their wealth in something other than government mandated and systemically devalued currency. You can keep collecting something that the government can counterfeit apparently without consequence to itself, but definitely with consequence to its citizens.
Back to Bitcoin: it may provide all of the qualities of money listed above (the only item in question is a store of value). If you look back to the early colonies of what is now the United States of America you will see that fiat currencies worked -- because their supply was limited and they held their value. In this way, because Bitcoin is guaranteed to have a limited supply, they could be the only modern example of an unbacked currency (fiat or non-fiat) to be a safe store of value.
So basically, this is like "collector items", not currency. A very scare "resource", if you can call it that. You get 50 BTC after few months, meaning that basically you've just spent $50 in electricity to get your "free" money.
It is often said that a Bitcoin is a store of work which is incorrect. It may take work to "mine" one (your mention of electricity consumption) but the value of a Bitcoin is not a function of the input: it is a function of its rarity and its usefulness (supply and demand). The cost of "mining" Bitcoins is not irrelevant, but is simply an expense in an individuals decision to enter the market for Bitcoins.
Anyway, another fad "currency". Might as well collect "ISK in eveonline" or "gold nuggets in WoW" - same thing.
These do not have guarantees on their supply. Also, they have little usefulness outside the virtual world. Bitcoins may not have a well demonstrated usefulness, but it does meet the requirements for general commerce in the real world. There is already a functioning economy trading in Bitcoin (albeit small) and the fact that its value is 1 USD today means that it will be much higher in the future as the economy supporting Bitcoin grows (and as the US declines *ducks*).
Lesson: your "money" is really currency; Bitcoin may indeed be money. Also, this is all before exploring the additional benefits of Bitcoin: anonymity of transactions (if chosen) and the inability of any individual (or government) to control or exploit the supply.