Ethereum Fever Dream Crippled Our Economy. It’s Time We Wake Up
On August 11, 2021, a USA Today article featured the headline, "Millennials are quitting jobs to become crypto day traders." The image at the top of the piece depicted Benjamin Franklin wearing dark sunglasses. A money tree enveloped in storm clouds was Photoshopped onto his right shoulder. A bald eagle descended through lightning to pluck a hundred dollar bill from the top. The piece began with Jessica Menton documenting the story of Hamez Trezhnjeva, a 27-year-old Albanian immigrant who left
40 thoughts on “Ethereum Fever Dream Crippled Our Economy. It’s Time We Wake Up”
I’m getting pretty tired of these tbh. Just because you threw a few dollars around leveraged trading on some random speculative exchanges doesn’t make you an expert. Just because you dabbled in some NFTs doesnt make you an expert. Crypto is literally reimagining the financial system and in year two of doing so (Defi only really started in earnest in 2020). There will be BS and grifters and scams no doubt. Experimenting will be tried and will fail. In the end the technology is there to create instant settlement, at almost no cost, trustless with no middle man. That disintermediates trillion of dollars.
Blows my mind the victory laps people are taking when if you just zoom out a bit you can see shit like bored apes or terra or whatever else won’t matter much in 5 years but the tech will.
Let me be absolutely clear about something, because it seems it may have been lost somewhere, or at least lost on one reader: I don’t care what any one individual reader is “pretty tired of.” Heisenberg Report is, was and always will be, a site dedicated to what I believe to be uncompromising, informed commentary about the most pressing market, socioeconomic and political issues of the day. That judgement is mine, and mine alone, to make. If you aren’t enamored with my editorial choices, you have two options: Don’t read a given article which you suspect might offend your sensibilities, or cancel your subscription. What you don’t have the option to do, though, is dictate my editorial decisions. Thousands of people trust me to make those decisions every day, trust which is exemplified not by any token (get it?) monthly subscription fee, but rather by the valuable time they spend on the site. There’s nothing more irksome to me than being implicitly instructed about what my editorial choices should or shouldn’t be. I’ve been around long enough, and I’ve been successful enough in this particular small endeavor, to be confident that my choices are good ones. If you’re not confident in those decisions, the “exit” door is wide open, just like the “enter” door which, by the way, is more than I can say for the decentralized web, where countless unfortunate souls are hopelessly trapped in illiquid tokens and NFTs.
Careful, TD. I know how it feels to take losses. Certainly, the losses in crypto this week are a test for its long-term viability. I sympathize with the losses you may be incurring with your investments. But I cannot sympathize with arrogance.
Innovation in the financial system has been ongoing since the dawn of markets. Crypto is asserting itself, but it is part of a long series of innovations. It’s just getting started, really. And I would say it requires further innovation and enhancement. I believe the technology needs to evolve to make crypto more widely available before it can really get a substantial foothold.
Heisenberg is just doing his job and having a good time. He bought into crypto. He learned about it. He wrote about it and shared his learning. What more do you want from him? He did not claim to be the Isaac Newton of crypto. He simply reported his experience.
Evidently those who were part of the $1.5 tril loss in the crypto markets over the last year or so were not Isaac Newtons either.
Even Isaac Newton couldn’t beat a roulette wheel. (I say that speaking as someone who personally lost a fortune trying to empirically beat the crypto markets for a few years, although I got out before the current rout.)
That’s not to say it must always be a roulette wheel. Just that it has been so far, because the practical applications are much still too far from being fully realized to bank on yet. If there had been a way to make speculative bets on the HTTP protocol, you would probably have seen similar cycles in 1992-93 and for a number of years following. Actually you sort of did, peaking in 2001. And yet, here we are, 20 years later, and those who said the entire internet had no practical use, simply because pets.com was a silly and predictable bust, couldn’t have been more wrong.
The traders aren’t buying “the tech”. They are buying the coins and NFTs. While the tech may still matter in 5 years, what they are actually buying may not. Going back to 2000, the actual technology had value but the dot-com and tech stocks did not.
How much of crypto is actually “tech”, versus simply financial schemes? You can always use valid technology to make worthless stuff. Going back to 2008, the securitized debt pyramid was built on a whole lot of innovative financial technology, but we know what happened.
Maybe the retail crypto traders’ savings, down payments, rent money, etc are simply the fodder that the machine needs to consume to build the brave new future. “Sad! that you lost all your money, we appreciate your contribution to the cause. Your losses are our revenue!”
You hit the nail on the head. It’s not because the tech is exciting or has potential that products built with it have value. The tech speak was so embedded in the promotion of these products as a smoke screen. One can build a beautiful bridge using the latest innovation in cantilevered steel but if it goes to nowhere, it’s not valuable.
And it was interesting when it was created, but not useful like html or Java. So someone got the idea to monetize it by calling it a new form of currency. With a lot of marketing they sold the hype that it would bring about a new era of democratized and uber secure financial transactions. Now we know it’s not well suited to any of that. Perhaps there is enough crypto money sloshing around to motivate someone to make it work as hyped.
Spoken like someone who hasn’t spent a single second learning Solidity.
Those making these comments should remember Robert Metcalfe, the inventor of ethernet, predicting in 1995 that the internet wouldn’t be around in two years (like many other short-sighted luminaries who made similar predictions around that time.) And ask themselves how much more technical expertise they have than the inventor of ethernet.
I’ve been out for close to 2 years, so things may have changed, but my perception based on 4 years of being deeply involved in crypto and defi is that you’re not right about that.
The coins and NFT are getting a lot of press. I don’t personally know anybody who fell for the NFT hype.
But I knew a lot of people who were in it for the tech. There was a lot more talk about development and other underlying issues than about, say, dogecoin, although that may have been a function of the discords and telegrams that I gravitated towards.
Although I am out for now and have been for a while, I am still “in it for the tech”. Having a programmer and tech fanatic for some 40-odd years now and a technology professional for 35, I can’t escape the obvious ramifications. Barring things going horribly wrong (which, yes, could happen) decentralized computing is coming, period. The financial issues, and libertarian posturing about ditching fiat currency, are a distant second concern at best.
Don’t be misled just because the very substantial number who are primarily interested the technology aren’t getting the press. I knew many, many, many of them personally.
“small businesses which close their doors are gone forever.”
Is this factually correct? You always get 40-something tired of working for The Man and willing to risk a share of their retirement fund on a restaurant, a mom and pop hardware store or a plumbing outfit – especially if a couple of bankruptcies the year prior clear up some space on the market…
I see you left out the first part of my sentence. Here, I’ll help: “In many cases, small businesses which close their doors are gone forever.”
I think H is factually correct… here’s one metric:
“Across the 16 years from 1998 to 2014, the small business share of GDP has fallen from 48.0 percent to 43.5 percent.” Seems like a trend to me.
That’s a short summary, follow the link in that article to the full PDF report and you’ll find a graph (Fig 2) showing nearly straight line decline over that time period, not even a wiggle’s deviation across 2007-09. H didn’t even propose a trend, just stated a truism, but the implied trend of that truism is that “gone forever” contributes to a decreasing contribution from small businesses, and that trend is just so, at least here in the U.S.
I’m not exposed to Luna or Terra in any way so there are no losses I’m concerned about. I am very happy with the content here or I wouldnt be here. I am happy to push back on you though when you discuss things you obviously have a bias on. My issue is you are fighting at strawmen. I’ll just skip these pieces in the future but I think you are handwaving (along with many folks on twitter who you often deride) what will be a key undercurrent of most careers in 10 years just because you may or may not have played around on SpookySwap.
I’ve “played around” on more than SpookySwap. I’ve played around on Curve, Convex, Raydium, GMX, Dopex, Tomb, TraderJoe, Sushi Swap and so many more that I can’t even remember them all.
You are (grossly) underestimating me here.
And in NFTs: Foundation, SuperRare and Rarible in addition to OpenSea.
Also, folks, note how the reader (above) says this: “…the technology is there to create instant settlement, at almost no cost.”
Well, that’s interesting, because anybody who’s actually transacted on Ethereum with any kind of regularity knows that’s the furthest thing from the situation as it exists currently, especially during heavy traffic windows where the chain is under strain.
Let me give you an example.
Last weekend, Yuga Labs sold thousands of “land parcels” for an unreleased imaginary meta world called “Otherside.”
The cost of one parcel was, conservatively, around $5,000. Do you know how much it cost to successfully buy one? Well, let me tell you: In some cases $6,000 (again, conservatively).
So, the cost of the transaction was more than the make-believe land itself.
And that’s assuming you managed to buy one in the first place. Quite a few people weren’t so lucky. In fact, that massive auction cost would-be buyers more than $250,000 in failed transaction fees (according to a CoinDesk analysis of Etherscan). So, all told, users paid $250,000 in transaction fees for digital “land” they didn’t even receive.
To their credit, Yuga refunded those fees a few days later.
The debacle effectively paralyzed the entire Ethereum blockchain, driving up fees for unrelated transactions. I know this because I attempted some such transactions during the sale to test it out.
So, please, spare me. I may not be an “expert” (whatever that means in this context), but readers can be sure about one thing: Generally speaking, I know what I’m talking about. “Settlement” on Ethereum is, at times, not only not “instant,” but effectively impossible. During those periods, “settlement” comes not “at almost no cost,” but in fact at a cost that can be multiples of the digital item you’re trying to buy.
Think about it this way: You go to Starbucks in Grand Central during the morning rush and order a White Chocolate Mocha and a cake pop. The barista says, “That’ll be $12.67.” You insert your Visa chip card. The transaction is pending for 30 minutes. You miss your train. Finally, you ask the barista to cancel it. She says “Ok, it’s canceled.” Not only do you walk away with no coffee and no cake pop, but the failed transaction costs you $86, and on top of that, the cancelation itself cost you another $11. The total cost of getting no coffee and no cake pop was $97.
That’s Ethereum during heavy traffic. And everyone who’s transacted with regularity over the period during which gas prices steadily rose knows this. It’s a standing joke even among adherents.
Again outside of your wheelhouse. You can toss around some strawman on Bored Apes. This is like pricing the stock market in shares of Berkshire. The system is currently like trading was 10, 20, 30 years ago with bid spreads and high costs at the base layer. Everything is already moving to layer two.
Volume on layer two is <$1, and over $5B in activity was conducted there in this month along. This is where everything is moving. Doesnt even mention the <$0.10 fees on avax, sol, near etc if you dont think that is the case.
Finality (settlement) is essentially instant across all layer one chains and at most 10 minutes. Not T+2.
I’m just going to stop having this debate but happy to discuss further elsewhere if you truly want to understand whats going on.
Learn to read the room, man. H has skills earned through the rough and tumble of real life. He knows what he knows and you know what you know. That knowledge doesn’t have to be the same. All I do know is that in spite of 50 years in the real and academic worlds I still have hell of a lot to learn and this site is better place for a for a seminar than any other I’ve seen.
In (another) response to TD,
I already “truly understand what’s going on.” I have a Phantom wallet. I’ve transacted on Solana god only knows how many times. I’m fully aware of how fast it is. I’m also aware it’s crash prone. As for the rest, obviously the first thing I did when I ventured into this was add every chain I could possibly add. So, the idea that you’re telling me something new (e.g., “the <$0.10 fees on avax”) is simply inaccurate. I’ve transacted on all of these chains — well, I mean, probably not all of them, but certainly on anything that counts — nobody who hasn’t used AVAX would have any business writing about this at all, so for you to suggest Avalanche is new to me is a strawman of its own, something you surely realize by now.
The difference between you and me is that you seem unwilling (or, at the least, reluctant) to consider the possibility that you’re wrong — that this isn’t the future — that it’s all going to disappear.
See, I’m a different type of person. I embraced the idea that I might be wrong. And then I went out in search of evidence to prove myself wrong. I documented that quest in these pages over dozens of articles. You know, the articles you’re “getting pretty tired of.” Your attempts to trivialize that fall flat because you’re constructing your own strawmen. Most obviously, you single out SpookySwap and make no mention of Curve or Convex or all the other far less cartoonish examples I’ve discussed at much greater length than I have anything to do with Fantom (as distinct from Phantom, the SOL wallet, of course).
You also continually trivialize Yuga as though it’s somehow out of bounds for criticism. A multi-billion-dollar valuation and dozens of millionaire Ape owners beg to differ. So, by the way, does Andreessen Horowitz.
My suspicion, based on your comments, is that you simultaneously know a lot and very little about this world. I think you’re better informed in many aspects of it than I am, but not nearly as informed on others. I also think that, contrary to your characterization, it’s me who has the holistic view and you who’s missing the forest for the trees.
As this ecosystem continues to implode (and it probably will), I’m going to keep documenting it. Eventually, if it all collapses entirely, I’d implore you not to do what most people do when pyramid schemes collapse: Blame someone else, posit a conspiracy, rail against anyone who reports the facts and claim you exited in time and/or didn’t hold any of the assets that collapsed.
As Harley Bassman would put it, “It’s never different this time.”
Gotta like the Harley Bassman reference, H.
As an aside: He bought Ethereum last year.
I’ve had a suspician that the missing workers had all become crypto billionaires. Thanks for the confirmation.
So how do we encourage people to actually work for a living wage?
Though I haven’t been asked, my last job was to establish an Entrepreneurship Center at a respectable university and I held an endowed chair in entrepreneurship for more than 10 years. Our center helped found 2000+ of those “mom & pop” companies spoken of above. I put solid seed funds in more than 100. Anyone can google this info but as a reminder, 50% of all startups are gone in 5 years, two-thirds are gone in ten years and 20% don’t even last a year. In addition, a large proportion of the survivors are “lifestyle” businesses that don’t return minimum wage to their owners, who regardless of that opportunity cost, stay on because of the satisfaction they feel they derive. Finally, the failure rate for startups by young people who can’t get a job they like is much higher than average.
I’ll make an observation that may receive a poor reception but in the last 10 years+ of my teaching career it became increasingly clear that a rising proportion of my students was just not interested in doing anything that required concentration of anything more than an hour. To be fair, 10% of my students met my standard for a top grade, they would be somebody that anyone, including me, would love to hire. There were some good ones in the next 20%, but below that prospects weren’t great. Anyone who has seen the movie “Slacker” knows what I mean. Another thing that really got to me was the percentage of students who preferred to cheat than work. The percentage of self-reported cheaters at our business school averaged 75%! This number is about average for colleges across the country. The idea that somehow there exist shortcuts to success in life, now we euphemistically call them “hacks,” is rampant. We have Robinhood, crypto, and other attractive outlets for dreamers, just like we had penny stocks from Jersey boiler rooms in the 60s. My daughter hires a couple hundred tech educated types a year and she assures me I’m not imagining things. Acquiring and retaining qualified help is becoming almost impossible in today’s environment. As one final piece of evidence of the young lady who is “trending” on the Internet the last couple of days because she claims she has been lied to for years because she didn’t understand that the lunch hour is not paid time and one still has to work eight hours at a real job.
I’ve heard the same from friends of mine who are teachers (at all levels). There’s a lot of research on the subject. Here’s a piece from the NYT newsletter a couple days ago: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/10/briefing/adolescent-mental-health-crisis-us.html
Thanks Prof Lucky. I saw some of the same when I was invited by a friend to be a quest lecturer for a couple of Econ classes in 2009. As I sat waiting in the back for me to be called up, I scoped out the students. Fully 40% of the students, mostly the guys, were glued to their iPads and laptops. But then, absent the electronic devices, I normally was one of those slackers in the back during my undergraduate days! If I even bothered to attend classes.
As to the fate of small business, back 15 years or so I felt compelled to look into small business hiring. At that time financial media was chock-a-block with stories of how small business accounted for so much job creation and hiring demand. It turned out that was true, but what was overlooked was that small business was also responsible for a large percentage of the job loses each year as many of the ventures failed. Back then, it pretty much netted out. The stats you cite reflect that reality.
A question and a comment:
In your experience and opinion, why do most of these businesses fail?
As regards to finding quality labor, I believe society as a whole does a terrible job of unearthing talent. I understand if you want to find a doctor, the guy who stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night isn’t a viable choice–some skills you just have to have. But there are a lot of teachable skills that employers want potential employees to already have. Whenever there is a “search committee” for a job, you know the final result will be suboptimal.
I didn’t write the original comment but 20 years ago I participated in a grant funded program to help new and existing small businesses develop a business plan. I worked with a dozen participants to develop their plans. As anyone who has put together a business plan knows, a comprehensive plan is a lot of work and only two participants completed the process. Both realized their initial plan was unlikely to succeed and they both modified their plans as a result. Both are still in business today. I have no idea what happened to the others. It seems the typical business plan is to rent a storefront, fill it with a bunch of old furniture, hang an antiques sign out front, and then a miracle happens, and they are rich.
I agree with your comment regarding people having no interest in doing anything that requires concentration anymore. It has made the workplace a real bummer man. :Old (37 year old) man yells at cloud:
Stepping back just a bit further …
The pot has been stirred quite a bit here. Depending upon how one looks at it, the conversation and, potentially, the opportunity for shared understanding is enlarged. I am a spectator, and it’s illuminating just to follow the chat. I liked the Grand Central Starbucks example about transaction cost.
As I said above, I would like to see wider acceptance and use of crypto. As technology always evolves, so will crypto. And I believe the tech needs to evolve before crypto can be more widely adopted.
When it becomes as inexpensive and mindless as using a Visa card, we won’t be talking about it here. But I reckon until it becomes more functional and widely used, we will be talking about it here. By all means, H., keep sharing.
For the broader community here, this is a useful conversation. Crypto is a change. Broader use and application will require time. We’re not talking about a software application or a cloud platform. We’re talking about transactions in new currency. That’s a little bit different.
I am still at the point in my comprehension of cryptocurrency’s, Metaverse, and NFT’s that I can’t believe people would invest any hard earned money in any of that.
Now, if one was trying to manage illegally-gotten money and move it around; then it makes sense.
I am still intrigued by blockchain, as a replacement of recording property rights- but why we need a cryptocurrency, other than an electronic USD ( issued and controlled by US Treasury); I do not understand. How could any cryptocurrency achieve anything close to the “universally believed in myth” of the USD and the USA?
As annoyed as I can be with the deficiencies of the US government – of course I would choose to put my hard earned money with team USA over someone that no one has met. Seems pretty obvious.
I would just echo that I’ve very much appreciated the content across the board. I’ve learned so much more about all these topics, including crypto and defi, than I ever would have in years of studying on my own, and it’s rare that I miss an article. As for crypto, call me a skeptic (and I might very well end up being wrong), but wouldn’t be the first time I’ve missed out on the next big thing.
Color me with the same crayon. Hardly a day goes by when there isn’t a story about a crypto fail, hack or theft. There’s more to secure financial transactions than proof of the chain. Hope, hype and hysterics make it nearly impossible these days to have rational discussions. Climate change is a real problem that threatens the survival of homo sapiens. How are we handling that challenge. On a global scale every year is worse than the last. Humans have faced these situations in the past on a smaller scale and the track record is not good. A crypto account isn’t going to do much good when the global climate resembles a pizza oven.
I’m a software engineer with two computer science degrees. The tools to build things with software have made it so easy, that you don’t need to understand algorithms / underlying data structures. This enables tech grifters / hand wavers / smoke and mirror folk x100. Same as it ever was.
As for crypto, sure, the glorified spreadsheet is cool (and the same idea as peer to peer file sharing (which was actually valuable), but in the end it’s hard to imagine a high value for any of these coins. Running compute in the cloud is cheap and its only going to get more inexpensive.
Great thread H. Hats off to you here.
Wave, thank you, any thoughts on how quantum computing will affect the cryptoverse?
I am by no means delusional. Bitcoin can go to 0. Ethereum can go to 0. All others coins can go to zero.
I still think Ethereum is the best risk-reward bet on the table and I have sized it as such.
I applaud you that you did your due diligence, I did mine and we came to different conclusions.
Will circle back to this thread in a year or two and see who’s right.
I’m certainly looking forward to the fireworks. Meanwhile, how about those tulip bulb futures?
Yes, that was a great comment section. Based on the comments from my wife (30+ year middle school teacher) what’s going on in the education system scares the crap out of me.
I went from working conferences, to participating and distributing chosen takeaways. H. crypto recon is highly valuable to me. I have always had a negative crypto sentiment and am thankful to not need to spend any more time at this juncture, checking that sentiment. A year or two from now? We shall see.
Oh, dag. Just a general apology: this appeared linked beside a post that came out today; I read, dove in and replied to comments without noticing until afterwards that this conversation is over a month old. To those annoyed by necroposting, I apologize.