Cryptocurrency is a giant scam, although a complicated scam that uses technobabble, heterodox economics and populist anger to obfuscate its functioning. A pitch perfect scam for the post-truth era of social media where trust in institutions and experts is at an all-time low.

The overarching idea of cryptocurrency is based on a complex set of myth-making built on a simple unifying aim: to reinvent money from first principles independent of current power structures. Rarely in the history of technology has there been any invention that has been the nexus of discussion along many dimensions of human experience and divides technologists on the ethical implications of its existence the way that cryptocurrency does. It has emerged as one of the most intriguing and destructive socio-technical phenomena of the early 21st century, capturing the zeitgeist in economics, technology, politics, law, ethics, culture, and monetary policy.

Cryptocurrencies are undeniably an economic bubble, but it is a bubble on a scale that we are yet to experience. Nevertheless, the Nobel laureate Robert Shiller gives us a framework for understanding this phenomenon in his Narrative Economics (Shiller 2017), which describes the epidemiology of bubbles that perpetuate "stories that motivate and connect activities to deeply felt values and needs". Cryptocurrency is primarily driven by the twenty-first century narrative of distrust in financial institutions coupled with the need for continuity of the financial services traditionally provided by these institutions.

While all software is political, some software is more political than others. Cryptocurrency can best be understood as a reaction to the 2008 Global Financial crisis and the synthesis of technolibertarian ideology with growing distrust in financial institutions. Within this context, technology has influenced the financial services sector and had a profound influence on popular economic discourse. It is a technology that remains extremely divisive in its approach to disruption and its political ends. The divisions over cryptocurrency are based on a philosophical question: Do you worry more about the abuse of centralized power, or about anarchy?

For those who fear anarchy, cryptocurrency is the fantasy of a financial system free of democratic oversight whose efficacy is based purely on technology and free-market forces. For those who fear centralized power, cryptocurrency is a hedge against the overreach and corruption of big government and a financial services sector whose greed and excesses were made clear during the financial crisis. This philosophical divide falls loosely along existing political ideologies. The cryptocurrency school is often ideologically adjacent to existing right-wing economic schools of thought, although it is, not entirely contained within that political sphere. It is a phenomenon that many individuals have co-opted(Klarin 2020) for many ends as a result of its general misunderstanding.

In this critique, we will survey the state of cryptocurrency, its political imaginaries, and the outcomes it has achieved in the last decade. In the “fake it til’ you make it” culture of Silicon Valley and libertarian ideologies, it is widely accepted to ignore externalities of technology until a critical mass is reached, and the benefits of the technology can be realized in hindsight.

Nevertheless, cryptocurrency in the present moment has profound technical, privacy, economic, ethical, and environmental shortcomings that need to be discussed. The constellation of these shortcomings, lack of innovation, and potential for vast public harm form the case against the cryptocurrency(Diehl n.d.).

Diehl, Stephen. n.d. “The Case Against Crypto.” Accessed February 17, 2022.

Klarin, Anton. 2020. “The Decade-Long Cryptocurrencies and the Blockchain Rollercoaster: Mapping the Intellectual Structure and Charting Future Directions.” Research in International Business and Finance 51 (March).

Shiller, Robert J. 2017. “Narrative Economics.” American Economic Review 107 (4): 967–1004.