It’s going to take a long time to get back on track
It’s the end of summer and return to work or school for many people. Crypto has had a boring summer, no matter how you cut it. In terms of prices, we’re pretty much where we were 90 days ago, roughly. (See chart below)
However, beyond that quantitative metric, the industry malaise will continue as long as we have a hostile US regular (the SEC). Sadly, the crypto industry has a lot of headwinds to fight through. Every bit of good news is quickly tempered by regulatory realities.
The non-US market that wants to shrug off the SEC is not so immune to what happens in the US. The US is still that locomotive engine that needs to go full speed to power the rest of the industry. So, we can’t just depend on the rest of the world to pave the way on its own.
What could lift things permanently is a lot of things:
1. SEC change of regime and / or change of rhetoric
2. US Congress passing some law(s)
3. Bridges working seamlessly between L2s & from Ethereum to non EVM chains (eventually it should be just “VM”,- the blockchain as one virtual machine)
4. Many more consumer apps with a dead-easy mainstream user experience, leading to millions of committed users that use these apps daily
5. Spot ETF products for Bitcoin & Ethereum (a few of them)
6. Lower gaps between promise and reality for any new / existing blockchain projects (ie lower the hype)
7. No extraordinary bad actors for a full year (ie no significant scams or security exploits)
8. Moving the conversations away from the technical realm that currently dominates (speeds & feeds won’t matter much, but interoperability & user experience will matter). Degrees of decentralization debates are overdone.
9. Players consolidation at the L1 level which is Ground zero (there are far too many competing & non-interoperable L1’s & that works directly against much needed network effects) [related to #3 & #9]
10. Established companies adoption of blockchain / crypto not in an opportunistic way, but more fundamentally
11. Emergence of better / newer / more (human) role models in the crypto space
12. Crypto techies that can better explain the business aspects and applications of what they are building; less tinkering, more useful tech. We also need more no-code tools to put in the hands of non-tech users.
Of course, all these points are being worked on. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that it will take a while to get there as these aren’t going to be realized overnight.
Each one of these recently published regulatory actions mentions the disclosure aspect several times and offers some guidelines for meeting them. However, none of them were detailed enough, nor specific enough about the peculiarities of digital assets and emerging (or established) projects that depend on the token’s utility.
Of course, several cryptocurrency projects claim to be sufficiently decentralized, and beg the question: are disclosures necessary? However, being decentralized is not a cop-out for the avoidance of responsibility to disclose comprehensive information about the performance and evolution of a given project.
My counter-argument here is that even the most decentralized tokens such as Bitcoin and Ethereum could benefit from more cohesive disclosures about their evolution via performance metrics and indicators to prove their market status.
Saying that a given protocol is open, therefore anyone can see their on-chain data is not enough, and certainly not a good reason for stopping to disclose a comprehensive view about the ecosystem. The problem with blockchain related data is that information is disjointed, tough to read and not cohesive enough for human comprehension or interpretation. Granted, a flury of analysts publish their own spins on given projects, but the quality of many such reports can be improved, and they don’t replace the requirement for base level data and information.
Disclosures don’t only protect consumers against excessive and unchecked promotion, they also allow for better correlation between success realities of projects and their market valuations. In essence, disclosures help make token holders and institutional investors better informed and more comfortable with digital assets.
The formalization of disclosures is coming to crypto projects, whether decentralized, centralized or nascent. We should better prepare for it and embrace it.
The SEC has momentum, and they can move much faster than Congress, sadly. The only way to make headways is to throw the SEC a curveball, distract them, think out of the box, do something different, or wait for an unexpected event to change the variables.
Some candidate ideas could have a faster gestation period than passing a Bill.
It can go either way, and the type of outcome will determine how significant this might be for the industry.
4/ State Legislation Mess
In the absence of federal agencies’ leadership, several states are enacting legislation touching pieces of the blockchain industry. Although this patchwork of local regulation may or may not be congruent with the national strategy, it’s possible that one such Law might tip the attention and create a new sense of urgency. Notable mentions are California’s DAO Bill, Texas’ Mining Bill, Florida’s proposal to ban CBDCs, Wyoming’s Bill on private crypto keys, etc. Regardless, this underscores the mess this is creating.
5/ Self-inflicted Event
The SEC’s arrogance was asserted when they either sued or fined the top four US actors, Ripple (XRP), Coinbase, Kraken, and Gemini. It’s possible that something starts to crumble under Gensler’s dictatorial and domineering style of leadership.
6/ A Major US Bank Endorsement
Although major US banks have been absent from any crypto cheerleading, that can change on a dime. These banks are under pressure to become more open-minded about the inevitability of the blockchain and cryptocurrencies. If one of them makes a bold move, others will be fast followers.
7/ Unexpected Turn in the FTX Trial
The trial is set for October, but it could get delayed, or we might see a speedy outcome. There hasn’t been a shortage of unexpected twists and turns, and that will probably continue as more layers of the onion get peeled.
8/ The US Dollar Tumbles
Many are sounding the alarm bell on the continuing weakness of the US dollar versus other world currencies, some of which are competing to replace its supremacy. Then you need to compound the US Fed’s insatiable appetite to print more USD, and the theory that cryptocurrency is a good alternative hedge against the devaluation of the dollar. The chart to keep an eye on is the US Dollar Index (DXY), which has been on the decline, dropping from 110.88 in November 2022 to 101.61 in early May 2023.
9/ Senate Flip
Midterm elections could flip the Senate toward a Republican majority which might embolden the US House to act more aggressively pertaining to cryptocurrency.
Of course, the probabilities are low for some of these scenarios, but everything is possible. We need a breakthrough because the current path for change is very slow.
And breakthroughs often come as a result of unexpected surprises.
As expected, the Democrats praised Gary Gensler and threw him soft ball questions.
Unsurprisingly, the notable Congressmen that skewered Chairman Gensler the most were Reps. Patrick McHenry, Tom Emmer, and Warren Davidson. To add to this wonderful trio, a newcomer, Rep. Byron Donalds delivered a final coup de grâce that summed it up.
Contrasted with the fireworks-heavy preceding day, that hearing was a bit of a whimper. Democrats were wishy-washy on supporting stablecoins. Rep. Maxine Waters had the audacity to declare that we “are starting from scratch”, a very sad statement that typified how politics can quickly lead to a stalemate when each side digs deeper into its own positions. Sadly, that Hearing was short, and ended in a status quo situation despite the fact that many in the crypto industry had high hopes for seeing stablecoin-related legislation be the first to get passed, given the many months of preparations.
Thankfully, the European Union saved the week, with something tangible. Almost three years in the making, the Markets in Crypto-Assets Regulation (MiCA) was passed by the European Parliament. Although not perfect, it did usher clarity and an willingness to fold crypto into the traditional financial system. Clearly, the EU doesn’t want crypto to be an outlier. This was a good step in the right direction, especially when contrasted with the US policy of trying to keep crypto outside of the financial system while tightening the noose on it.
Former SEC Chair Jay Clayton said it well this morning on CNBC.
But why wasn’t he so hawkish and effective as the SEC Chair for four years?
The US Congress needs to take a strategic approach to Crypto by grabbing the bull by the horns.
The US Congress should stop proposing crypto-related Bills like throwing mud at a wall to see what sticks.
A search on the federal GovTrack website with the keyword “cryptocurrency” reveals eighty-one (81) cryptocurrency-related Bills have been introduced by Congress since 2014. They are spread across various topics: taxation, CBDCs, stablecoins, token classification, commodities aspects, consumer protection, ransomware, mining, foreign issues, and code of conduct for ownership by US officials.
These are good topics because they are part of the nitty gritty aspects of blockchain, but that’s not the right approach. Tackling these matters one by one requires some good knowledge of crypto because they are nuanced topics where details matter. Except for a minority, most Congress Members do not have sufficient knowledge about blockchain and cryptocurrency to go granular on it. Therefore these are not the right starting points hoping that one of them will pass or make a significant impact on the currently stagnating regulatory environment for crypto.
Instead of getting lost in the weeds, Congress needs to be more strategic about it. They should just focus on passing a single Bill as a manifesto declaring crypto as essential to US security, its economy, prosperity, and ongoing technological leadership.
Let’s call it “The US Cryptocurrency Leadership Act”. This Act would direct all government agencies to facilitate and prioritize innovation around blockchain-enabled technologies, cryptocurrency, and their adoption across society, government, and business.
Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party has this text in their recently published Japan’s NFT Strategy for the Web 3.0 Era: “The arrival of the Web 3.0 era is a great opportunity for Japan. But if we continue as we are now, we will surely miss the boat. We should design our national strategy to develop our digital economy in the Web 3.0 era, utilizing NFT and crypto assets, and position it as a pillar of growth for new capitalism.”
This was an excellent example of how to state the intent of a country’s leadership. As for the US, here’s what the text of this hypothetical Cryptocurrency Leadership Act would look like. The first paragraph is taken verbatim from the White House Framework for Responsible Development of Digital Assets which started off well but went downhill right after.
US Cryptocurrency Leadership Act
The digital assets market has grown significantly in recent years. Millions of people globally, including 16% of adult Americans, have purchased digital assets—which reached a market capitalization of $3 trillion globally last November . Digital assets present potential opportunities to reinforce U.S. leadership in the global financial system and remain at the technological frontier.
While US government agencies and regulators are already aware of the potential risks pertaining to their oversights, the US needs to prioritize the innovative and entrepreneurial aspects of this emerging market to allow it to achieve its full economic growth potential.
Blockchain technology and cryptocurrency are essential innovations that the US must lead in. Just as the US achieved leadership with e-commerce and web-enabled businesses during the early days of the Internet, we need to seize the opportunity of this next technology phase representing the Internet of money.
Today, the US has some catching up to do. The lack of regulatory clarity has already hindered the full entrepreneurial potential of this sector.
The US leadership will have implications for our economic security, trade, and the strength of the US dollar. Therefore, the US must develop a sound strategy focused on blockchain-based technologies and cryptocurrencies, and let innovation play the role it should.
The risks within cryptocurrency are manageable, but they should not become impediments to making progress toward the propagation of this technology.
With that in mind, we are ordering the SEC to reverse its current course and provide additional clarity and openness toward cryptocurrency. Instead of focusing on enforcement actions that are costly and damaging, they should rather dig into their panoply of existing capabilities, and redirect their resources to start updating rules and regulations pertaining to cryptocurrency and blockchain-enabled technologies.
Within 90 days, being the lead agencies, the SEC and CFTC must come back and present together updated regulatory actions that are coordinated and aligned within their current scope and mandates in order to make crypto more friendly in the United States.
Coordination is important and should be accomplished vertically within each topic instead of horizontally by governmental agencies. Today, various departments have published what they see from their vantage point, but this siloed approach has resulted in overlapping and sometimes conflicting conclusions (e.g. the SEC disagreeing with the CFTC on the status of Ethereum). Instead, we need to tackle these various topics, one by one across agencies, which would result in a cohesive view that is coordinated and harmonized. For example, there should be a single token classifications report that transcends any particular agency treatment. This approach would yield more clarity because the market is organized that way.
Here are the parts that should be addressed by this strategic report, along with our expectations on the direction that should be taken.
Exchanges: create a new license class for digital assets exchanges crypto including details on risk, KYC/AML, and reporting standards, along with specific requirements for all allowed services: listings, custody, brokerage, audits, fees, marketing, ancillary services, etc.
Tokens: we should allow token-based innovative business models to be tested, iterated upon, and perfected in order to maximize their chances for widespread adoption at scale.
ICOs and token generation events: we need to allow tokens to be created, and a path for them to become tradable at a given time in their maturity cycle.
Licenses: we need a single place where all required crypto-related licenses are clearly visible in order to make navigation of the regulatory maze more approachable.
Exchange Traded Funds (EFTs): EFTs proposals should be considered without prior bias or prejudice against them for being in the crypto space.
Consumers: US consumers should be allowed to trade cryptocurrency or participate in emerging token projects at some maturity levels, and based on risk factors related to their income and net worth brackets.
Disclosures: disclosure standards for token-based projects should be published and followed by tokens that are listed on US exchanges.
AML/KYC/CFT: existing processes around these practices should be rolled in
Taxes: clarity around tax treatment for crypto assets, including staking, and other DeFi-related income.
NFTs: we need confirmation that NFTs are not securities, rather they are collectibles. They are potentially the future of loyalty programs, community rewards, and membership perks, therefore the NFT market shouldn’t be burdened by regulatory uncertainty.
DeFi: DeFi is not perfect, but it’s innovative. It should be allowed to continue growing with the right guardrails, not roadblocks.
DAOs: DAOs should be allowed to register as corporations.
Banks: banks should be allowed to offer on/off ramps to crypto, hold a % of their assets in cryptocurrency, become certified custodians, and own or back USD-based stablecoins.
Mining: Responsible cryptocurrency mining practices should be allowed according to published energy consumption standards. No state should ban mining.
In the meantime, the SEC and the CFTC should place a moratorium on all crypto-related lawsuits, except for clear fraud cases.
With this Act, it is useful to compare the advent of blockchain technologies and cryptocurrency to the arrival of the automobile at a time when the transportation infrastructure consisted of dirt roads. Gradually, the shift was made to paving roads and later creating highways, along with updating the rules of conduct. These updates allowed cars to reach their full potential as they became faster and safer.
Today, if we don’t allow for the paving of new infrastructure rails and if we don’t modernize parts of our regulations, we will see a disastrous mismatch similar to what might have happened if fast/modern cars would have continued to drive only on dirt roads: chaos, traffic jams, and dust in the air would have been part of that outcome.
This Cryptocurrency Leadership Act also calls for the creation of a joint government-private sector salvation committee consisting of a bipartisan group of 10 government members and 10 private sector leaders working hand in hand to oversee the direction and implementation of this new chapter in US cryptocurrency policy.
Let’s take the high road on crypto. Let’s be strategic about it.
Let’s hope the US Congress can start thinking about passing this one Act to unlock this industry’s potential, unchoke the choking, and pave the way for US leadership.