After 14 years, however, cryptocurrencies have made almost no inroads into the traditional role of money. They’re too awkward to use for ordinary transactions. Their values are too unstable. In fact, relatively few investors can even be bothered to hold their crypto keys themselves — too much risk of losing them by, say, putting them on a hard drive that ends up in a landfill.
Instead, cryptocurrencies are largely purchased through exchanges like Coinbase and, yes, FTX, which take your money and hold crypto tokens in your name.
These exchanges are — wait for it — financial institutions, whose ability to attract investors depends on — wait for it again — those investors’ trust. In other words, the crypto ecosystem has basically evolved into exactly what it was supposed to replace: a system of financial intermediaries whose ability to operate depends on their perceived trustworthiness.
In which case, what is the point? Why should an industry that at best has simply reinvented conventional banking have any fundamental value?
Furthermore, trust in conventional financial institutions rests in part on validation by Uncle Sam: The government supervises banks, regulates the risks they can take and guarantees many deposits, while crypto operates largely without oversight. So investors must rely on the honesty and competence of entrepreneurs; when they offer exceptionally good deals, investors must believe not just in their competence but in their genius.
How has that been working out?
As boosters love to remind us, previous predictions of crypto’s imminent demise have proved wrong. Indeed, the fact that Bitcoin and its rivals aren’t really usable as money needn’t mean that they become worthless — you can, after all, say the same thing about gold.
But if the government finally moves in to regulate crypto firms, which would, among other things, prevent them from promising impossible-to-deliver returns, it’s hard to see what advantage these firms would have over ordinary banks. Even if the value of Bitcoin doesn’t go to zero (which it still might), there’s a strong case that the crypto industry, which loomed so large just a few months ago, is headed for oblivion.
This content was originally published here.