Craig Wright and crypto sceptic Nouriel Roubini find common ground

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Left to right: Max Studennikoff (chair), Nouriel Roubini, Brock Pierce, Bobby Lee, Tone Vays, Craig Wright.

Craig Wright appeared on a boisterous panel at the CC Forum conference in London alongside the distinguished economist Nouriel Roubini—famous for having predicted the financial crisis of 2008, earning himself the nickname “Dr Doom” (which was less useful after he’d been proved right).

Despite his warnings about the financial system before 2008, Roubini was more positive about the role of the big banks in clearing up the mess afterwards: there is “nothing wrong with anything central banks are doing.” Quantitative easing helped avoid a great recession, he said. The lessons of the 1930s had been learnt: “the system has worked.”

Roubini displayed some of his characteristic scepticism in relation to cryptocurrency, of which he has already been a critic. He began by attacking one of the proposed uses of the blockchain: “A world in which everything is tokenised is a world of barter—if there’s a Coke coin and a Pepsi coin, it’s chaos. The Flintstones had a more sophisticated system.”

In some respects there was a surprising level of agreement between Roubini and Craig Wright. Wright questioned the use by other crypto business panelists of “centralised” as a description of the current financial system—in contrast to their visions of a decentralised crypto-based future. He pointed out that the world has more than a hundred fiat currencies and thousands of different ways in which people can pay: “so what do you mean by ‘centralised’?” Roubini agreed that the so-called “centralised financial system” is not centralised, whereas, he went on “everything in the crypto world is centralised.”

The dispute that never really caught fire was between Wright and Tone Vays, the former Wall Street analyst and crypto specialist who has made plenty of less than complimentary comments about Wright on social media. On the panel, Vays only contradicted Wright’s assertion that Bitcoin is essentially a “tracing system”—i.e. not anonymous. “Totally ridiculous,” said Vays.

The real fireworks involved neither Wright nor Vays. They began when Roubini claimed that “we don’t have a problem with inflation, except with shitcoins.” Bobby Lee, an entrepreneur and board member of the Bitcoin Foundation, produced a hundred dollar bill and demanded that Roubini admit it was worth less than it had been 30 years ago. Roubini would only say he’d rather have it than crypto, which had suffered massive falls in value. There followed several minutes of people talking over each other – which was by turns entertaining and tedious.

Again Wright found himself on the same side as Roubini in predicting disaster for cryptos (excluding Bitcoin SV, which he does everything to develop and promote). Wright said that in 2020 Bitcoin will be seized by governments, pointing out that there was already a precedent for coordinated government action in the shutting down of Liberty Reserve, when many countries had cooperated.

Brock Pierce the crypto entrepreneur (and former child actor) struck a positive note when he said that although ninety-nine per cent of crypto projects will fail—as happened with early Internet startups—the work will deliver long-term innovations and, “I encourage Craig Wright to continue to innovate because we don’t know where the answer will come from.”

Roubini stuck to his sceptical guns, saying he didn’t believe that in years to come there will be “hundreds of cryptocurrencies competing with fiat.” Again, there would have been agreement between Wright and Roubini on this, because—although he didn’t get a chance to say it—Wright believes that there will only be one: Bitcoin SV.

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