2022 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Euro becoming tangible. 20 years ago, we could have hoped a lot from that experiment. Greater European unity, more countries adopting the Euro, and perhaps even an enlargement of the Union.
While a few small countries did adopt the Euro during that time, the United Kingdom did not. Rather, it recently left the Union. Those who were hoping for an unprecedented simplification in the global economy may be disappointed.
Rather than that, the currency landscape has arguably gotten even more complex, with the appearance of "cryptocurrency". Or rather - since that wasn't enough - of tens of "cryptocurrencies". Which brings me to the apologies.
In the second half of 2018, I publically declared, on this very blog, that Peak Crhypeto was over. For once, I allowed myself a bit of optimism. The world had come to its senses before losing any contact with reality.
How could I get things that wrong?
Obviously, the pandemic. With travel bans and inventory shortages, individual savings skyrocketed, boosting the stock market to unprecedented levels. With increased prices for all investment assets, investors looked elsewhere, to all investment opportunities, either real or imaginary. Crhypeto's value reached new highs.
Second, so-called stablecoins. By bridging crhypetocurrencies with actual currencies, "stablecoins" created truly valuable cryptocurrencies.
But that's only a small part of the explanation. The other impact of the pandemic was to disrupt everything. It disrupted offices, causing remote work to explode. It disrupted IT teams and law enforcement, as well as politics, causing a rise of rogue states and criminality. The damages caused by ransomware attacks reached incredible levels.
But I am not writing this to apologize for failing to predict the pandemic and the breadth of scammer imagination. I am apologizing for missing a phenomenon which was already visible in 2018. In 2018, I thought greater fool theory was the only explanation for crhypetocurrency's value, since these "currencies" didn't store value. I knew criminals used crhypeto. What I didn't realize is that money laundering has been solving the one essential property crhypeto lacked to become an actual currency: storing value. With billions of USDs at play, laundering gives crhypetocurrencies huge value.
Crhypeto is basically Switzerland. But it's even better than. Crhypeto is Switzerland-on-demand: a way to create a credible tax haven, without any territory nor any cost. The recipe couldn't be simpler. Basically:
- Create a new currency. No need to coin, just coin it with a credible, apparently legitimate name.
- Create a website that justifies why Dogecoin is unlike all the others.
- Try asking your fellow crooks to trade some Dogecoin with their variant so it looks a little better.
- Attack organizations and demand a ransom paid in Dogecoin.
- Sell some Dogecoin to your victims, in exchange for real currency.
- In case you failed the last steps, offer Dogecoin at a discounted price to foolish investors.
...and if you're more technological than charismatic, you can avoid the first 3 steps and do without any marketing by hijacking another Dogecoin instead.
Do the black market and "stablecoins" alone justify a valuation of trillions of USDs? Unlikely, but what matters is that money laundering and stablecoins give crhypeto some actual value, which somewhat stabilizes its market value and brings the much-needed bridge with the real economy, attracting non-foolish investors. And that important value fuels fools. The increasing number of participants in turn brings greater credibility to the concept. So both sides build upon each other: dreamers enjoy the criminal side's laundering capacity, while criminals profit from the credibility brought by fools and backed crhypeto, multiplying the hype. The system is complete.
Peak Crhypeto may only come at Peak Ransomware, or even Peak Crime. I can only hope that time will come soon.
The approach I used to advocate towards crhypeto was laissez-faire. At some point, the bubble would burst, providing a learning opportunity to all those involved.
I assume most of the market value of unbacked crhypetocurrencies still comes from hype, so I still think valuing economic education should be our first protection. But in light of these evolving dynamics, the proper response needs to be reevaluated. Each unbacked crhypetocurrency should probably be treated like a country which facilitates money laundering.
Wishing the next decades will see more Euro and less crhypeto,
Mea culpa, and happy 2022