Crypto: A Pyramid Scheme?

Crypto: A pyramid scheme!
Photo by André François McKenzie on Unsplash
Thank you to @cnbctechcheck for having me on! I realize that “cryptocurrency is a gambling token and pyramid scheme” is a simplistic argument, but… pyramid schemes are not that complicated, and I think it’s useful to say it on TV for all those intimidated by blockchain woo
Let me tweet a little longer for people who want more than a sound bite. By its own criteria, crypto was supposed to be a decentralized currency that no one person or government could control, a safe store of value compared to fiat money. By all those criteria it has failed.
Instead of having no points of control, cryptocurrency is run like middle school—everything is determined by what the popular kids like or don’t like that day. If Elon Musk has a double espresso this morning, the price will go up, if he tweets after bong rips, it will go down.
The decentralized part has failed entirely. Cryptocurrencies are mined by massive operations that concentrate power to such an extent that the raison d’être of the blockchain —no one participant is supposed to be able to monkey with it—gets really shaky.
The promise of crypto as a stable store of value against inconstant fiat currencies has failed, too. The volatility on all time scales is extraordinary, and it’s coupled with illiquidity, particularly in a crisis. If there’s a bank run on crypto, good luck selling!
For Bitcoin, the maximum transaction rate is something like four transactions a second, *globally*. And each transaction burns as much electricity as an American home does in four weeks.
As I said on the show, these are not the growing pains of a new technology. We’ve had blockchain longer than we’ve had Pinboard! Imagine if you could only save one bookmark a day and it cost you $15 in fees each time, and also I stole your car
The one area where crypto has been genuinely disruptive and innovative is in the field of ransomware. There’s an entire industry around it now that could not exist without an underregulated way of moving large sums of money. That’s the niche crypto fills
Finally–and this is the part I feel like a yokel on TV—you can’t buy things with it! If I built a bookmarking site and for 13 years it couldn’t save bookmarks, I hope someone would call that out. The decentralized, unregulated currency is none of those things. It’s a casino chip.
The one thing *all* pyramid schemes have in common is that when you put your money into it, you’ve convinced yourself that this time it’s different. Look at the story crypto boosters tell and compare it to the reality. Trust your own eyes, and don’t be intimidated by the tech!
And if you want to gamble on cryptocurrency, have at it! There are certainly fortunes to be made or lost, just like at any casino, and I don’t want to step between anyone and their tendies. Just remember you’re gambling, and not investing.
There’s a final, institutional point around the cryptocurrency bubble. My point of view is not original in any way, huge numbers of tech people who understand the blockchain share it. But the investor class is wedded to cryptocurrency and will not brook criticism of it.
I made gentle fun of Bitcoin last week and got myself publicly called an idiot and blocked by one of the most prominent investors in the valley. A lot of people in this industry can’t afford to antagonize deep pockets, and you won’t hear their honest opinion publicly expressed
But don’t mistake this tacit silence for affirmation that this technology is useful. Nobody tells Pharaoh that pyramid building is a poor use of everyone’s time unless they live safely outside the kingdom

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