Zeke Faux

A broad view of the state of modern cryptocurrencies from the perspective of an investigative financial journalist. Unlike many commentaries this work has involved serious investigation, including travel to crypto industry conferences and some less-than-enthusiastic participation in some of the activities (or scams) on offer.

The investigation starts by investigating Tether, a so-called “stablecoin” whose value is supposedly backed one-to-one by US dollars, making it essentially a digital proxy for a real fiat currency that can be injected into crypto exchanges and traded for other, more speculative, assets. But is Tether actually backed by all the dollars it claims? – by the end of the book we still don’t know, but we do know that the industry behaves as if it is, despite evidence to the contrary, because if it isn’t the entire industry is insolvent. There simply wouldn’t be enough dollars in the system to allow people to cash out.

There are some fantastically wry observations, not least how crypto presents itself as a system offering zero-trust interactions but is actually a system requiring quite extraordinary amounts of trust because of the lack of regulation, supervision, or insurance. It places participants entirely at the mercy and good intentions of actors who have every temptation to cheat behind the scenes. And the attempts to make crypto respectable (for example making them legal tender in El Salvador and Lugano) are offset by other, less credible, schemes (such as non-fungible tokens of low-resolution images trading for millions of dollars).

It’s hard to get to the end of the book without forming the opinion that all crypto is at best a techology desperately in search of an actual application, and at worst a huge confidence trick that plays on the ability of the sophisticated and unprincipled few to attrat money from those who’ve been sold a dream – and who believe it because it at least offers some hope of escape from their current circumstances.

5/5. Finished Monday 13 November, 2023.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)