5 months ago


Malta Business Review

Malta Business Review LETTER FROM SILICON VALLEY Continued from pg 16 taking all these things that have not been a currency in the past, and turning them into currencies that can be exchanged in various different ways.” For most people, it is currencies—the kinds that can be converted into fiat money, and deposited into a bank account—that are the incentive, and the end game, for participating in transaction-verification technology. “I’ve been hearing ‘this is a bubble, it’s a scam’ since I got into the space, in 2013,” Arianna Simpson, an early-stage investor, said onstage. “If you understand the technology, you realize that there may be bubble activity on the price, but the technology is really important. The idea of a blockchain is going to become, I think, pretty ubiquitous in the next couple of years.” Outside, the sun dropped; a man stopped to snap pictures of the conference through the glass, and a small child hopped back and forth on the sidewalk, waving. The woman to my left opened her Brit + Co goodie bag—a small, drawstringed canvas sack, printed with a dollar sign and containing, among other things, a fake hundred-dollar bill and colorful plastic sunglasses with dollar-sign lenses— and removed a yellow-frosted cookie with the Bitcoin logo on it, which she surreptitiously ate. Though the speakers emphasized, for legal reasons, that they were not offering financial advice, the general consensus on how to participate wasn’t particularly novel: buy a little bitcoin (“as much as you feel comfortable never seeing again,” Alexia Bonatsos, a venture capitalist, advised); start experimenting with different wallets (the ways, or places, to securely store one’s public and private keys, used to send and receive currency); and play the long game. Take advantage of resources, such as Linda Xie’s guides to cryptoassets and Laura Shin’s “Unchained” podcast, and ask knowledgeable friends for access to Listservs and online communities—in short, network and Google. (It doesn’t hurt to have some technical know-how; for security reasons, it’s safer to have a hardware or paper wallet than to use the more user-friendly platforms recommended by Morin and Bonatsos, like Coinbase or Robinhood.) “Think, obviously, about the risk of what you’re putting in,” Simpson said. “But really think about what is the risk of not investing, and not learning and not participating. Because I think, over a period of The idea of a blockchain is going to become, I think, pretty ubiquitous in the next couple of years decades, if you invest the time, invest money, and start really participating, you will do well.” There is something utopian, and appealing, about the potential for cryptocurrency to provide an opportunity for more equitable wealth distribution. In San Francisco, where it’s easy to become inured to the phenomenon of people becoming shockingly wealthy overnight—Facebook, when it went public, in 2012, was rumoured to have created a thousand new millionaires—it’s also nearly impossible to forget that these windfalls are still rarefied, reserved for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and tech workers, those smart or lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. For the most part, the people I know who are curious and excited about cryptocurrency don’t work in tech, and don’t have a ton of money to burn. Cryptocurrency is the closest thing they have to employee equity, itself a speculative asset; it’s their opportunity to be in the right place at the right time. They’re largely writers and academics, activists and artists, even some tech workers looking for a change. Their career paths and aspirations are precarious, their financial futures uncertain. There is the feeling that, if the tech industry hasn’t already come for their livelihoods, then it’s only a matter of time. Investing in cryptocurrency is an experiment, a hedge against the future, something of a Hail Mary pass. Just as the economic—and political—power of tech’s new socioeconomic class is inchoate, largely untested and unexplored, the same could be true of those whose fortunes arrive through investments in cryptocurrency. Money doesn’t just move; it has a profound ripple effect. It is exciting to imagine a more diverse group getting in on the game: perhaps the personal, political, and social interests of this power will look different from the interests of the élite that came before. (Already, an anonymous bitcoin enthusiast and early investor, who goes by the moniker Pine, has put eighty-six million dollars’ worth of bitcoin into the Pineapple Fund, which has since donated more than fifty-three million dollars to fifty-six nonprofits.) Still, on a Forbes list of the richest people in cryptocurrency, published in early February, the top twenty beneficiaries identified by the magazine were already entrepreneurs, privateequity investors, or venture capitalists. (They were also all men.) Toward the top of the list were Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, who together hold between nine hundred million and 1.1 billion dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency. Profit is proportional, relative. Making—and losing—millions is a different kind of game when one has millions to begin with. Last weekend, Vitalik Buterin, a co-founder of Ethereum, posted a precaution about the volatility of cryptocurrencies on Twitter. “Reminder: cryptocurrencies are still a new and hyper-volatile asset class, and could drop to near-zero at any time,” he wrote. “If you’re trying to figure out where to store your life savings, traditional assets are still your safest bet.” I thought of when, several weeks ago, at an Italian restaurant in the northeast corner of the city, a man and woman in their early thirties, sharing tiramisu on what appeared to be an algorithmically assisted date, engaged in a frank discussion about their digital assets as my table pretended not to eavesdrop. The man confessed that he had purchased a single bitcoin, long ago; the woman made a face that looked like something between pity and vague fondness. “At work, we call bitcoin ‘the fuck-you money,’” she said. She raised her hand to her cheek and rubbed her thumb against her index and middle fingers. “ ‘Forget your 401(k). We got that f***-you money.’ ” This struck me as a strange way to think about one’s 401(k), until I realized what she meant: retirement planning is quaint and archaic—a relic of an outmoded financial system—in the face of swift and massive profit. I looked over at one of my friends, a social worker who had just recently sold a modest amount of the cryptocurrency Ether—not fuck-you money, but not nothing— at a four-thousand-per-cent profit. He blushed. It might have been the blush of complicity—or perhaps it was the look of a thirtysomething American, without a retirement savings plan to begin with, wondering if he had sold himself short, and been too hasty to get off the ride. MBR Anna Wiener lives in San Francisco and works in technology Creditine: The New Yorker 36


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