The Deep State and Cryptocurrency

There have been plenty of articles about the “Deep State” vis-a-vis President Trump. I’m not going into that; if you’re interested, Google is your friend. Rather, I’m going to look at the Deep State and cryptocurrency.

On May 1st the Wall Street Journal published an article titled, “World’s Second Most Valuable Cryptocurrency Under Regulatory Scrutiny” [pay link]. In the article, the Journal discusses possible regulatory action against Ether:

Bitcoin has largely escaped government oversight, but regulators are examining whether other widely traded cryptocurrencies should be regulated as securities, according to people familiar with the matter.

And today I received an email from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC):

If you’ve ever been tempted to buy into a hot investment opportunity linked with luxury travel, the Securities and Exchange Commission has a deal for you.

Check out the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy’s mock initial coin offering (ICO) website that touts an all too good to be true investment opportunity. But please don’t expect the SEC to fly you anywhere exotic—because the offer isn’t real.

The SEC set up a website, HoweyCoins.com, that mimics a bogus coin offering to educate investors about what to look for before they invest in a scam. Anyone who clicks on “Buy Coins Now” will be led instead to investor education tools and tips from the SEC and other financial regulators.

“The rapid growth of the ‘ICO’ market, and its widespread promotion as a new investment opportunity, has provided fertile ground for bad actors to take advantage of our Main Street investors,” said SEC Chairman Jay Clayton. “We embrace new technologies, but we also want investors to see what fraud looks like, so we built this educational site with many of the classic warning signs of fraud. Distributed ledger technology can add efficiency to the capital raising process, but promoters and issuers need to make sure they follow the securities laws. I encourage investors to do their diligence and ask questions.”

The website features several of the enticements that are common to fraudulent offerings, including a white paper with a complex yet vague explanation of the investment opportunity, promises of guaranteed returns, and a countdown clock that shows time is quickly running out on the deal of a lifetime.

As poker players know from “Black Friday,” regulators believe that which is not clearly legal is illegal. And regulators make up the deep state, and have made it quite clear what’s coming on the horizon. The regulators are going to act.

Are there legitimate ICOs? Of course, but given what regulators view as rampant fraud and abuse in cryptocurrency, the regulators are going to act. The Journal has this quote:

Peter Van Valkenburgh, director of research at Coin Center, said declaring ether a security “would make a shambles of U.S. innovation policy. It’s going to throw up a lot of barriers that aren’t necessarily sensible.”

Mr. Van Valkenburgh may be right, but there’s no doubt in my mind that’s the direction regulators want to, and will likely, go.

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