As Digital Currencies Struggle, Watch for Progressives To Try To Regulate Them to Death

The Federal Reserve and the Treasury staff have always disliked digital money because they can’t control it.

An advertisement for Bitcoin cryptocurrency. AP/Kin Cheung, file

We need to talk about cryptocurrencies, sometimes called digital currencies or even alt-currencies.These currencies are traded outside the banking system. They have been developing their own digital ecosystem and, yes, their prices can fluctuate quite a bit.

Of course, we’ve seen it recently. Just on a year-to-date basis, the digital currency exchange company Coinbase is off 72 percent. The most widely traded alt-currency Bitcoin is down 37 percent. Another, Ethereum, is down 44 percent.

According to surveys, 16 percent of Americans own cryptocurrencies — quite an increase from the 1 percent who owned them in 2015, according to the Pew Foundation survey.

The Coinbase exchange has 90 million people involved, according to its documents. Overall, there was $2.9 trillion worth of digital currencies in market circulation through November. There was $500 billion circulating in November 2020, so you can see this is a huge quantum leap. One way or another, in one form or another, I think digital currencies are here to stay.

I would say the issue with digital currencies, first and foremost, is that it’s an internet thing. It’s internet-based, it’s internet-driven, it’s internet-traded, and, at least at the moment, it is not run by the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, or other government regulators of the marketplace. That was always the spirit of the thing when it got started years back. Think of Bitcoin as having a libertarian soul.

During the Trump administration, we talked and thought about digital assets. One big debate was whether Bitcoin, for example, is a currency in the classical sense of providing efficient transactions. Or is it a commodity? Or is it just a plain investment?

Currencies versus commodities versus investment labels would matter for regulatory purposes, but none of these issues have been decided yet.

Institutionally, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury staff have always disliked digital money because they can’t control it. Those folks like to control, which is probably one of the biggest problems for our whole economy, let alone alt-currencies.

Investors are very upset now because they have lost a lot of money in recent weeks. I get that, and I feel their pain. But a lot of risk assets have lost a lot of money in recent weeks.

The Nasdaq is off 27 percent year to date. Consumer discretionary stocks have lost 29 percent. Telecom is down 27 percent, infotech 25 percent. Want more?

Well, the semiconductor index is down 28 percent. S&P Homebuilders is down 24 percent. S&P Retail is down 29 percent. JPMorgan Chase is down 25 percent. Citigroup is down 23 percent. Goldman and Bank of America are down 22 percent.

So, with inflation rising and market interest rates going up and the Federal Reserve swearing on bibles on a daily basis that it’s going to drain liquidity from the inflated economy, it’s been a rough year no matter what you own. Whether you own bonds, stocks, leverage loans, junk bonds, Bitcoin: Really, outside of energy, investing hasn’t been that much fun this year.

So, the digital currency world has been hit hard — harder than other asset classes — but as President Carter once said, in his finest moment, some things in life aren’t fair. When investors invest, they should have their eyes wide open.

I hate to see anyone lose money, but it happens in a free market capitalist system. I’m surprised President Biden hasn’t blamed the inflation crisis and his collapsing poll numbers on Bitcoin — it’s about the only thing he’s left off his laundry list.

I’m going to bet that the radical progressives in his administration will oppose digital currencies and try to control them and regulate them to death, just the way those progressive central planners and big-government socialists want to regulate and control everything else in the economy. That’s my hunch.

Finally, I think there will be some movement for more transparency in the digital currency world, particularly the exchange companies, though they are already covered by the SEC. Investors will want to know more about reserves behind these companies, and capitalization, and will look for some standardization in their accounting and their reporting.

That could be done voluntarily by the digital currency people themselves — there’s an interesting thought. In our banking system, remember, the FDIC provides $250,000 to guarantee deposits and the SIPC guarantees $500,000. I doubt if digital currencies or their exchanges will get anything like that protection in the foreseeable future, and frankly that suits me just fine.

An interesting final thought for me involves the dollar: If it were really King Dollar, if it were really backed by a reliable standard of value, if we really knew our Central Bank was keen on defending the value and purchasing power of our dollar, if we really embraced King Dollar — then this alt-currency movement might not have grown up quite so fast. Then again, the inflation wouldn’t be so high, and the risk of the economy sinking wouldn’t be so high. Just saying.

So, live a little. Take a couple risks in life. Digital currencies might be one of them.

From Mr. Kudlow’s broadcast on Fox Business News.

The New York Sun

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