Trump's odd tweets about cryptocurrency did everyone a favor

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Steve Sokolowski
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Trump's odd tweets about cryptocurrency did everyone a favor

Post by Steve Sokolowski » Fri Jul 12, 2019 10:11 am

Yesterday, Donald Trump posted three odd tweets about cryptocurrencies in general, and bitcoin and Libra in particular. I call these tweets "odd" mainly because they are true, which is not the case for almost everything else in Trump's feed, including what immediately precedes and proceeds them.

Here are the relevant tweets, concatenated to work around twitter's character limit:
I am not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, which are not money, and whose value is highly volatile and based on thin air. Unregulated Crypto Assets can facilitate unlawful behavior, including drug trade and other illegal activity. Similarly, Facebook Libra’s “virtual currency” will have little standing or dependability. If Facebook and other companies want to become a bank, they must seek a new Banking Charter and become subject to all Banking Regulations, just like other Banks, both National and International. We have only one real currency in the USA, and it is stronger than ever, both dependable and reliable. It is by far the most dominant currency anywhere in the World, and it will always stay that way. It is called the United States Dollar!
Given that this topic seems well above Trump's typical comprehension level, and that most of his tweets focus on his election, his investigations, or the media, it's likely that one of his subordinates was directed to compose these messages for a specific purpose. While it might at first seem that the tweets are just a rant about cryptocurrencies, a careful reading of these tweets suggests that the purpose of the tweets is to link Libra to criminals and negative perceptions about coins, so that legislators and regulators will be more likely to try to rein in facebook's ambitions.

The first of the three tweets, about bitcoin and unlawful behavior, is 100% accurate. After 10 years, most activity on the bitcoin blockchain is still created by speculators trying to earn a buck off each other, and criminals who conduct their schemes with bitcoins. One piece of supporting evidence for how misunderstood and poorly used cryptocurrencies are today is that even the criminals are infecting computers with ransomware that requests payment in fully transparent bitcoins, rather than using a currency they can actually spend like Monero. While Trump may be seen as reinforcing bitcoin's negativity in the eyes of readers, he is primarily trying to attach this negative perception of cryptocurrencies to Libra by associating it with bitcoin and mentioning criminals.

The third tweet, about the dollar, is the typical patriotic feel-good message by Trump, and says nothing important, so let's ignore that part. It's the second tweet - about Libra - that is what this series of tweets is aimed at.

Trump is mentioning what many lawyers and industry experts have said for a while: that what Libra is doing is operating as a bank. The business model is similar to PayPal's. PayPal made the platform nearly free, with the fees barely covering the costs of things like credit card merchant fees. Similarly, Libra wants to make its coin free to use, with the exception of network transaction fees. In both cases, the money is the product. They aim to attract as much money as possible, and then earn interest on the huge reserves they collect. Libra may not be interested in operating as a fractional reserve and issuing loans like most banks do, but they intend to invest their reserve in interest-bearing securities, and that interest is not being passed onto the customer.

If facebook could grow this coin to, say, $1 trillion in deposits, then 2.5% interest allows the alliance members to suck $25 billion in profit per year from the economy, because this money would have otherwise been in bonds owned by the customer earning that interest - or at least in savings accounts that pay more than zero.

While the law is not equal to common sense, most people believe that a company that takes money from people and stores it is a bank. When you go to a physical bank and give them some cash, they give it to the Federal Reserve and you have a balance with the bank. When you go to facebook's partners and buy Libra, they put the money into a fund of these securities and you have coins equal to your portion of the huge amount of money facebook has. Even though the law varies between states about what a bank is, I bet that the average person would say that facebook is opening a bank. Trump is trying to reinforce this belief to turn public opinion in his favor before trying to take action against facebook.

It's important to point out who Trump is not trying to influence. Trump is not targeting the SEC, as he already has three of the five commissioners in agreement with him in regards to the evils of cryptocurrencies. He has not made a bitcoin ETF any less likely, as its likelihood was already close to zero and remains so due to factors I've explained in previous articles. Trump is not targeting Congress, since divided government is not going to work with him to pass additional laws, especially during an election year. Trump is not trying to executively ban bitcoins, an action which, besides being potentially unconstitutional, would face stiff opposition from corporate lobbyists that now see dollar signs in trading and investing in them. Banning bitcoins due to the criminal aspect would be counterproductive, because bitcoins have been a boon to the police, who now can easily track drug dealers' money trail with significantly fewer resources than before.

Trump is really good at appealing to the lowly educated person using common sense. With this tweet, he just did the world, and all of us, a huge favor. He started the process of turning public opinion against Libra by associating it with negative stereotypes of cryptocurrencies. Then, he appealed to people's common sense and suggested that, in addition to being a coin criminals could use, Libra would be a bank. As I stated before, Libra's widespread adoption on a global scale would be disastrous for both free cryptocurrencies and for society in general. While Trump remains a vile, reprehensible, and racist man, he at least did a little bit of good today.
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