Cryptocurrencies – Foolish and Gullible?

Posted in Good Advice, Our Blog
Crytpocurrency Taxation

Paul Krugman, opinion columnist with the New York Times in a recent article cast a cold eye on crypto dealings.

In an excerpt he opined that “in the past, cryptocurrencies kept going up by attracting an ever-growing range of investors. Crypto was once held by a small clique that often had the feel of a cult, motivated in part by a combination of libertarian ideology and fascination with the clever use of technology. Over time, rising crypto prices drew in large numbers of additional investors and some big Wall Street money.

And in the past year or so, crypto marketing has gone really mainstream, with endorsements from celebrities — including Matt Damon, Kim Kardashian and Mike Tyson — not to mention political figures like Mayor Eric Adams of New York and the (unsuccessful) Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel, who declared his intention to make Ohio “pro-God, pro-family, pro-Bitcoin.” Given all this, it’s hard to see who else there might be to recruit into crypto investing.

One disturbing aspect of this marketing push, by the way, is that those who bought cryptocurrencies relatively recently — and have therefore lost a lot of money in the crypto crash — probably consist disproportionately of the kind of people most likely to be influenced by celebrity endorsements. That is, they are probably poorer and less sophisticated than the average investor and badly positioned to handle the losses they’ve taken over the past few months.

In any case, as we look forward, the value of cryptocurrencies will have to rest on their underlying economic uses, which are …

Well, that’s just the thing. I’ve heard many discussions in which crypto supporters have been asked exactly what economic role crypto can play that isn’t more easily and cheaply achieved through other means — debit cards, Venmo, etc. Other than illegal transactions, in which crypto may sometimes offer anonymity, I have yet to hear a coherent answer.

As it is, cryptocurrencies play almost no role in economic transactions other than speculation in crypto markets themselves. And if your answer is “give it time,” you should bear in mind that Bitcoin has been around since 2009, which makes it ancient by tech standards; Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. If crypto was going to replace conventional money as a medium of exchange — a means of payment — surely we should have seen some signs of that happening by now. Just try paying for your groceries or other everyday goods using Bitcoin. It’s nearly impossible.

And then there’s El Salvador, which tried to force the process by making Bitcoin legal tender and heavily promoting and subsidizing its use, in an attempt to make it a true medium of exchange. All indications are that the experiment has been an abject failure.

But can crypto really have become such a big deal without any clear economic rationale other than pure speculation? Can it really be just a bubble inflated by FOMO, fear of missing out? Those who question crypto’s purpose are constantly confronted with the argument that the sheer scale of the industry — at their peak, crypto assets were worth almost $3 trillion — and the amount of money true believers have made along the way proves the skeptics wrong. Can we, the public, really be that foolish and gullible?

Well, maybe the crypto skeptics are wrong. But on the question of folly and gullibility, the answer is yes, we can.”

Krugman sure makes you think.

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