Every other Tuesday, half a dozen people get on a Zoom call and talk about how to expose what they see as a global fraud phenomenon: cryptocurrency.
The conversation is informal and they only talk for an hour or so at a time, said John Reed Stark, a former government lawyer who participates in the calls. The group, too it includes policy experts and technologists, has no official title or authority, but regular calls have become a centerpiece of a new phase of organizing the movement known as cryptoskepticism.
“It’s kind of a fleet of runaway minds coming together,” said Stark, who worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission for two decades and now teaches at Duke University Law School.
Those minds and dozens of others are organizing themselves into what has the makings of their own industry. Influential skeptics are recording more podcasts to try to poke holes in pro-crypto arguments. Think tanks are beginning to devote more resources to doubting the future of cryptography. In June, they gathered signatures for a letter to Congress criticizing the technology’s potential.
And next month, cryptoskeptics will hold what they said will be their first conference, a virtual event that will bring together people from London, New York, the San Francisco Bay Area and elsewhere. Scheduled speakers include Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., the chairman of a House investor protection subcommittee, British MP Alex Sobel, and actor Ben McKenzie, one of the most prominent crypto-skeptics who is writing a book about crypto and fraud. About 800 people have registered to attend, according to organizers.
The network even has its first unofficial lobbyist: Mark Hays, a consumer advocate who may be the only person in Washington whose day job is to be a full-time cryptoskeptic.
It’s a response to what crypto-skeptics see as a crypto movement that has dominated discussion of this still-new technology both online and in Washington.
“Big Crypto is organized,” Stark said. “The biggest problem is that there is no organized organization of crypto-skeptics. It’s a wide global network of people who occasionally talk together or work on projects, but we don’t have an organization.”
Skeptics come from all walks of life, from computer programmers and Silicon Valley founders to legal experts and hobbyist podcasters. And all these skills are useful.
“When you have billion-dollar funds lobbying on behalf of crypto, you’re going to have to counter that by publishing the most sordid details,” said Bennett Tomlin, co-host of the Crypto Critics’ Corner podcast, whose day job. used to be fraud detection in pharmacy claims. Some weeks, his show has been in the top 20 tech news podcasts, according to measurement firm Chartable.
Crypto skepticism dates back as long as crypto has existed. And while skeptics have drawn attention to social media and traditional media, especially since the value of bitcoin and other tokens has fluctuated wildly. and some crypto companies have collapsed into bankruptcy, it is only recently that they have begun to dig long-term to build a counterweight for crypto enthusiasts and the rich. defenders
Unless bitcoin collapses overnight, according to skeptics, there will need to be voices of skepticism for a while.
“There are a lot of crypto conferences that are exclusively pro-crypto and don’t bother to ask the questions, ‘Is this a good thing?’ Should we be doing this?” said Molly White, a software engineer who has been documenting cases of industry misbehavior on the website Web3 is doing great.
Collaborations among cryptoskeptics have been mostly ad hoc. In March, for example, White organized a group effort to write down a lengthy New York Times article they considered too credulous.
Stephen Diehl, a software programmer in London who is helping organize next month’s conference, said part of what has held skeptics back is a disagreement over how the cryptocurrency will develop over time.
“There are two different schools of thought: one that says it will burn and collapse, and others that think it should be actively curtailed,” he said.
“My job at the conference is to bring people from these two camps together and find a way forward,” he said. “I can see both perspectives. I’m a pragmatist.”
Crypto boosters are so far unimpressed with the organization’s efforts. Cointelegraph, an industry publication that refers to crypto as “the future of money,” greeted the announcement of next month’s symposium with the headline: “Haters to join first conference for cryptosceptics.”
The skeptics’ project has gained more urgency as officials in several world capitals weigh different options for regulating digital tokens. European Union representatives agreed to some new rules last month, and US lawmakers may follow suit next year. In anticipation, the crypto industry has gone on a lobbyist hiring spree.
Diehl said crypto-skeptics are aware of the need to work across borders, given that digital currency enthusiasts see its assets as stateless.
“It’s a huge transnational network of people interested in advancing policy across the Western Hemisphere,” he said.
In Washington, the task of moving policy forward falls in part on Hays. He is a senior policy analyst at Americans for Financial Reform, a coalition of progressive advocacy groups founded after the 2008 financial crisis, when bitcoin was just a twinkle in the eyes of computer programmers. But these days he said he spends almost all of his time not on crisis-era issues like mortgage-backed securities, but on crypto.
Hays said other Washington advocacy groups are devoting more time and money to research, but he said he is used to being outnumbered.
“This is pretty typical with progressive advocacy work,” he said. “As a general rule, we are less than on the other side. And cryptography has grown so dramatically that it’s taken a lot of different advocacy organizations to recognize that.”
Hays said he believes digital tokens “look and smell” like traditional securities and should be regulated accordingly.
On social media, where much of the crypto debate happens, some crypto-skeptics have resorted to some tactics to try to reveal what they believe to be the technology’s flaws.
Liron Shapira, a 34-year-old founder of several tech startups, has found that short video clips with bitcoin boosters’ own words can be embarrassing. It has achieved almost 1 million views aa video posted on Twitter where billionaire venture capitalist Marc Andreessen tried to explain the practical uses of Web3, a vision of the Internet promoted by crypto-promoters in which almost the entire web runs on the same type of distributed blockchain. technology as cryptocurrency.
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