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Cryptos, NFTs And Tokens: Provisional Conclusions And The Reasons Why

  • Martin Baker, award-winning journalist and head of communications at Money&Co., comes to some conclusions on cryptos, digital currencies and NFTs.

“I can tell if a cryptocurrency is going to go up or down. All I have to do is look at it. Why? Because I’m young.”

  • George, aged 18, speaking at the time of the first big bull run of Bitcoin in late 2017.

 

You have to hand it to the youth of today. Each generation seeks to separate and define itself by creating its own sub-cultures, its own patois of meaning. This present lot – I speak as a man in his late middle years with George as a stepchild – has done it much better than most. Their gleefully constructed barrier of cognitive dissonance extends way beyond impenetrable vocabulary.

Through the creation and promotion of cryptocurrency today’s young innovators have created financial models and systems of value storage and financial exchange that operate in a parallel universe, intersecting only with the mainstream world when the cryptos leave their digital wallets and are exchanged for mainstream currency or directly for physical assets – providing Elon Musk is taking Bitcoin as payment at the time.

Once upon a time, the older generation’s concern about what went on behind the closed teenage bedroom door centred on interminable games of Fortnite, drug use and underage sex. Now the worry is that the youngsters might bring the world’s financial system to its knees. One thing is certain: the teenagers’ love of cryptocurrency has morphed into something much bigger. Mainstream finance is now confronted with Cryptoland, the financial universe of cryptocurrencies, corporate and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), and some other digital bits and bobs, including Decentralised Finance (DeFi). All this has dragged the topic of money and our understanding of it upstage and centre. This summer, the US satirist Bill Maher did an opening monologue on cryptocurrencies and the trust that underpins currency systems. The mainstream rages at its exclusion…

Finance is a good subject for satire, if a little neglected. I wrote my first book, a series of lampooning satirical essays on liberal market capitalism and its bonkers behavioural excesses back in the mid-1990s. A Fool And His Money preceded Freakonomics, and was a singular work back then – money was deemed an unusual subject for humour. But the joke is now very much at the expense of the system. The mainstream world of investment banking, central banking and regulation, complete with its political overlords, is struggling frantically to catch the crypto moonbeam in a jar. In attempting to control and modify the new system, the old system is being forced to change itself.

The quote that heads this article brought to mind the old adage about youth being wasted on the young – but it also inspired me to look into cryptocurrencies, with Bitcoin then (late 2017) as now at the head of the pack. My intention was to apply the old-school techniques of journalism (I have worked as a reporter, investment editor and editor-in-chief at The Times, The Independent, The International Herald Tribune and elsewhere) to this fast-expanding sector of the digital economy. In the space of six weeks, I produced a 20,000-word e-book Bitcoin, Cryptocurrencies and Blockchain – Mining Truth from Fiction, and discovered that the classic disciplines only take you so far in this area.

Anonymity isn’t a given in most cryptocurrencies, which by the very nature of the blockchain on which they are based can be audited. But opaqueness is seen as the norm. The assessment criteria I was using for cryptos were totally different from George’s. I was looking for asset-backing (a pound is no longer a promissory note for the delivery of a pound of precious metal – but it’s backed by confidence in the UK government, economy and the bank of England). But George and his cohorts were examining Distributed Ledger Technology (aka blockchain), peer-to-peer networks (cutting out discredited and untrustworthy nation-state governments), proof of work (a sign of dedication for crypto “miners”) and cryptographic hashes.

Not only is the bedroom door well and truly slammed shut, but the system created behind it has almost no overlap with the mainstream world, except for the bit where cryptos finally leave their wallets (see above) and are sold on token exchanges – with the $100 billion-plus IPO of Coinbase now dwarfing most conventional share and derivative-instrument exchanges in terms of market capitalisation (as denominated in old-fashioned dollars).

The analytical journey of the preceding blogs has led me to the following conclusions:

 

  • Regulators and nation states hate cryptos – unsurprising in itself, as cryptos are supported by people who loathe central control and the nation state
  • There is intense competition between countries to achieve financial hegemony with their own central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) as a proxy for true, independent cryptos
  • There is also competition between nation states and the international financial community to provide digital money; this also affects the mix of the money supply and what we think of as money
  • The genuine independence of crypto technology (shared-ledger or distributed-ledger technology [DLT]) is elusive and subject to attack – which is partly why Decentralised Finance (DeFi) is becoming so popular
  • DeFi or no DeFi, Cryptoland is the subject of political struggle, subject to market manipulation, and despite all the worthy protestation, often no more than a corrupt scheme for hiding wealth
  • Cryptoland’s past is a mixture of idealism and chicanery, but it is here to stay

 

Next up, I’ll offer the evidence for these conclusions.



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