Crypto is “Monopoly money”

FTX won't be the last crypto scandal, because cryptocurrencies mirror the worst aspects of the finance industry.

Cryptocurrency tokens
(Image credit: © Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The fall of Sam Bankman-Fried “serves as a cautionary tale for all those who believe that they are immune to the laws of financial gravity”, says Maximilian Marenbach on Bankman-Fried has been convicted of fraud by a New York court and faces decades in prison. 

FTX, his cryptocurrency exchange, stole billions of dollars from customers’ deposits and illegally passed the cash to Bankman-Fried’s trading operation, where it was gambled away on high-risk cryptocurrency speculation. The “hubris” and “arrogance” that brought down FTX late last year are all too common across the tech industry.

Bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency, has shrugged off the scandal to rally 125% so far this year, although it is still 40% short of its November 2021 peak. Crypto enthusiasts argue that Bankman-Fried was just a bad apple, says Molly White in The New York Times. Nonsense. The lack of controls and market manipulation that once made him a billionaire are rife in the crypto industry.

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Take the widespread practice of issuing a digital “token” with no inherent value, “pumping up the price” and then “using that inflated valuation” to borrow real money. Many crypto operations rest on “an imaginary foundation” of such worthless tokens. FTX won’t be the last scandal.

The FTX trial exposed the “credulousness with which millions of crypto believers”, who are generally suspicious of traditional banks and brokerages, instead entrusted their savings to cowboy outfits like FTX, says Bloomberg.

Traditional finance has its problems, but crypto – full of opaque, unregulated operations rife with “conflicts of interest” – is even worse. Most digital assets generate no income and are “fundamentally worthless” beyond their speculative value. Unless, that is, “you’re looking to launder money”.

The most promising use case for crypto might be in the huge video gaming industry, says Jon Sindreu in The Wall Street Journal. Gamers are already “immersed in a digital world” and are certainly willing to pay for “a Darth Vader suit or flashy virtual gun”. But digital bank transactions already fill that demand better than blockchain technology. Attempts to create game-based currencies have quickly succumbed to speculation, with people playing not for fun but to win tokens that can be cashed out.

Cryptocurrencies are “Monopoly money”, says Jemima Kelly in the Financial Times. The industry doesn’t create value – indeed, it arguably destroys it. Yet this “nihilistic” universe – where one user’s gain is another’s loss – only mirrors the worst aspects of the wider finance industry, where much so-called “financial innovation” is also “a game of... finding gaps in existing rules and exploiting them” until regulators catch up.

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