Whenever you think of a large group of people packed into a conference hall to discuss digital currency, you probably can’t help but picture that clip of Max Keiser doing his best (one assumes) Jordan Belfort impression at the BTC convention in Miami in 2021, screaming from the stage “WE’RE NOT SELLING” and then ripping up paper money on camera because “it’s all going to zero.”
The Crypto Policy Symposium, which was hosted this week, definitely isn’t that (nor is it held in a conference hall). It’s the opposite: a digital currency conference for skeptics, or at the very least, the unconverted.
Rather than filling its speaking slots and panel discussions with people who are primed to get rich based on how many people they convince to hit the buy button on digital currency, the Symposium assembled a host of policymakers, academics, journalists, and engineers who sit all along the spectrum of crypto skepticism—from cautious-yet-reserved optimists to never-coiners.
In the opening remarks, tag-teamed by Software Engineer Stephen Diehl and Technologist Darren Tseng, it was made clear that the conference wasn’t about hating on innovation but presenting a critical perspective in an industry that will get you shouted down as a FUDer or plant.
“[The symposium]is dedicated to critical analysis of the crypto industry for individuals who are skeptical or concerned of the impacts these technologies have on our society,” said Tseng.
Diehl explained that the event has three goals: to inform the general public about the risks and externalities of digital currency assets; to engage with and help present relevant info to policymakers by connecting them with experts; for other crypto skeptics to network with one another.
Such an effort is particularly important now because the only perspective that gets any actual airtime is the bullish case for why BTC is a winning ticket to riches for you and everyone you know. And the consequences of that narrative being allowed to dominate the conversation without any pushback are grave and already tangible.
“In the presence of sclerotic public institutions, regulatory paralysis and multi-million dollar lobbying campaigns designed to slow down our institutions and make them incapable of legislating, it’s down to us to engage with the political process and help educate the public, protecting them from harm—with or without the government’s help,” Tseng said.
Fortunately, government help is on hand, or at least it was on day one. U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA 30th District) gave a keynote, with Alex Sobel, Member of Parliament for the United Kingdom, also on the agenda.
It was Rep. Sherman that gave the first remarks. He’s the chair of the investment protection and capital market subcommittee of the house committee of financial services. Sherman’s words were sobering: he warned of the ‘crypto bros‘ that are funneling billions of dollars into lobbying countries around the world, ensuring that the industry stays as lightly regulated as possible. The reason, says Sherman, is simple: they all stand to turn those billions into trillions as long as they can keep the crypto carousel going, in what he called “a scheme that would make Mr. Ponzi blush.”
“They have a lot riding on this and they’re willing to spend billions to make trillions. These billionaire crypto bros try to picture themselves…as Robinhood, trying to distribute wealth to the poor,” he said.
It’s exactly why you get grotesque spectacles like the BTC Miami conference: there’s very little money in telling people that crypto is a Ponzi. However, it turns out there’s quite a lot of money in telling people they’re a few clicks away from getting rich.
“Unfortunately, perhaps, there are no lobbyists dedicated to stopping tax evasion and sanctions evasion, like that allowed by cryptocurrencies,” Sherman added.
This idea was present throughout the Symposium’s first day, but was brought into sharp relief by the comments of Tonantzin Carmona, a speaker on the Predatory Inclusion panel and the David M Rubenstein Fellow at the Brookings Institute. She said:
“Part of the excuse that I often hear or read about is “well the technology isn’t advanced yet,” so the highlight is on the potential. So: “don’t reign it in now, because it has so much potential.” But this technology has been around for years already, and millions and billions have been invested into this space, but the technology still hasn’t progressed.
The same sentiment came through in one of the day’s later sessions, hosted by former BBC Journalist Rory Cellan-Jones with well-known skeptics David Gerard and Keith Pritchard.
“It’s not unreasonable to be so excited about your new technology that you think it’ll definitely take over the world given half the chance,” said Gerard.
“It rapidly became a talking point whenever someone objected to this stuff – ‘it’s just like the early internet.’ When you hear someone say this, it’s almost always used as an excuse for failure, every time,” he added.
That such cynical obfuscations have been successful would be tragic enough if it were just individual investors getting the short end of the stick. Still, crypto has crept into so many spheres and into the ledgers of so many large institutions (as large as nations), that the stakes are now much higher.
“It concerns me that small, poor countries like El Salvador have involved themselves in cryptocurrency. El Salvador now faces a debt crisis,” he said.
In many ways, Sherman’s remarks were an embodiment of the philosophy behind the entire conference. The space created by skeptics being shouted out of the industry has been filled with crypto bros with deep pockets and a pathological need to make them deeper—and the price that global society has already paid is far too steep.
So was the focus for most of the first day. The unchecked power of digital currency billionaires and their power of advocacy has already had some devastating impacts around the world. El Salvador is a good example and was given a fair amount of consideration on the Symposium’s Predatory Inclusion panel. Mario Gomez gave the audience some political background on the country to give some context for how Bitcoin mania has been able to capture the country’s government so effectively.
“In general, El Salvador has a lot of regulations. The problem is lack of enforcement.” Gomez said.
The economic turmoil in El Salvador—including, ironically, another government-affiliated Ponzi scheme that sapped more than 130 million from private El Salvadorian citizens—has vastly reduced the ability of its institutions to enforce consumer protection laws which Gomez said are actually relatively robust (on paper).
Gomez’s co-panelist, Fred Abrahams, relayed a story that began long before Bitcoin entered the public consciousness and serves as a troubling omen for where the digital currency rollercoaster might lead if left unchecked. In the early 1990s, the people of Albania discovered that the firms in which they had most of their investments—investments promoted by cronies of the government—were no more than pyramid schemes. The fallout was so extreme that it led to civil war in the country.
But the most vulnerable victims of this unchecked digital currency gold rush shouldn’t be forgotten just because there are also consequences on a national level. For example, the first day saw a panel on Predatory Inclusion, where the discussion was focused on stripping away the mythical promise of financial inclusion, which has become so closely tied to digital currency marketing babble that it’s often taken as a certainty. Such language is naturally directed at low-income communities, but when the product being pushed overwhelmingly works to help the billionaires at the top of the pyramid soak up value from the bottom, the reality is that such communities are ultimately forced further out of the financial system.
Back at the start of the day, when Congressman Sherman was wrapping up his opening remarks, he said something which might as well have been the banner motto for the whole first-day conference:
“I am opposed. I think anyone looking out for America or the international world order would be opposed. Anyone familiar with the role of money and power in politics will see that the money and power that crypto has conferred on its oligarchs is too much, and it’s why our governments have not acted to regulate crypto.”
Watch the BSV Global Blockchain Convention Dubai 2022 Day 1 here:
Watch the BSV Global Blockchain Convention Dubai 2022 Day 2 here:
Watch the BSV Global Blockchain Convention Dubai 2022 Day 3 here:
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