The crash of crypto is bound to happen for the same reason that all Ponzi schemes eventually crumble: There is not an infinite supply of new people willing to pay ever-increasing prices for the stuff that you currently own. The more interesting question is not whether many small-time investors will lose a lot of money on their crypto investments, but what will happen when they do?
Here is what will happen when hundreds of thousands of younger investors are smashed by the crypto crash: They will be radicalized. This will not be experienced as simply a decline in prices, because crypto represents much more than a simple investment to its most fervent adherents — it represents a way out of the American trap. It represents the existence of opportunity, the possibility of economic mobility, the validation of the idea that you, a regular, hard working person without connections, can go from the bottom to the top, thanks to nothing but your own savvy choices. When that myth is shattered, disillusionment with the American system will follow. Unfortunately, given the realities of the moment, these newly disillusioned and radicalized and angry and broke people are far more likely to turn to fascism than to socialism.
Crypto, a portfolio of inherently worthless online tokens, is already sustained almost entirely by myth. Its value proposition is so inscrutable that when it melts down, almost any narrative could be crafted to plausibly explain it. It was the Fed! The government! The leftists who hate entrepreneurialism! It was the dark and devious forces of the shadowy deep state! Anything will do. It will enforce the priors of those who placed their faith in crypto as a good substitute for the American dream — a crowd of Barstool Sports readers and tech libertarians and the types of people who used to buy silver bars from Alex Jones before they turned to Bitcoin. The crypto-evangelist population skews heavily towards a sort of New Age libertarian, anti-government right wing-ism, and when they see their financial dreams evaporate, they will likely set their sights for revenge on the things they already despise. The broad effect will lead to a large number of newly angry, bitter, disillusioned, hopeless people who are too steeped in the culture wars to turn towards working class solidarity, and instead turn towards hate.
So, if you want to amuse yourself during these end times, think about how much the timing of the crypto crash might end up affecting the basic existence of American democracy itself. If the crash strikes, say, six months before the 2024 presidential elections, it could be sufficient fuel to propel Donald Trump or one of his acolytes back into the White House and to further poison the national dialogue with rage and a spirit of vengeance. A fun thing to speculate on.
The specifics of these changes, of course, are unpredictable. But I feel safe saying that, when history looks back in hindsight, it will see crypto as a gargantuan bubble that — as capitalism always does — wiped out the finances of tons of small people who could not afford to be wiped out, and left the rich mostly intact, all because it was able to convince regular people to believe that this time was different. The delusion that salvation from capitalism can be found in new, more clever capitalism is incredibly seductive, and always wrong. Let’s hope that we snap out of it before it’s too late.
Eulogy made by Hamilton Nolan