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The mother and father of all cryptic skeptics


Admit it – you already hate that this article exists.

That same is not a small testament to the man he talks about, Dr. Nouriel Roubini, the economist and professor tweetsThe interviews and public testimonies of this year seem to have treated the entire cryptocurrency movement with all the tenderness of an insubordinate inmate.

In the process, Roubini has probably become the incarnation of an incumbent intellectual class that sees cryptocurrency as responsible not only for a massive price bubble but a flurry of scams and scams that have weighed billions of consumers with the promise that their a sign of choice could eradicate everything from poverty to disease.

"Did the mother and father of all the bubbles explode?" It is still so that Roubini describes what others have called the next Internet, and if there is any hope that will soften his position when the cameras are not rolling, Roubini quickly rejects it.

"Words are not a provocation", he reiterates.

In person as in video, it draws almost no distinction between the technology and the opaquely opaque industry that has sprung up around it, even going so far as to reject bitcoin's answer to the problem of double spending, its fundamental technical innovation, as if he had earned it, he is a place in a "museum of the future on the intelligent economy of the past" – and little else.

Over two days of interviews, this is the closest that will get a compliment.

However, if there is a moral for our extended conversations, it is this: while the innovators of the crypto community are ready to ask others to see their vision (and ignore their flaws), Roubini is living proof that they are not always so empathetic as to extend this courtesy to others.

In fact, what is surprising in Roubini's case is how unilaterally it is inspired by hostility. After all, it is not a recent appearance in the world of economics, where it has remained in the balance between rock stars and "run-in" status in the decade following its 2006 prediction of a global financial crisis. Moreover, it shares many of the same criticisms of the financial system as cryptocurrency enthusiasts.

Have you ever stopped reading one of Roubini's articles? Have you ever read your 37-page testimony before the United States Senate? (He suspects you do not have.)

But if Roubini is to blame for his happy hyperbole, for his casual ease of technology and for the mastery of English that betrays his long journey to the United States, then the Encrypted Enthusiasts are guilty of not trying to read beyond his sounds and understand his arguments.

From his office at New York University, Roubini is ready to direct the dialogue on the scars that he has accumulated in the consequent war of words. Denial-of-service attacks, death threats, spam e-mails: if Roubini sees the worst in cryptocurrencies, he has also seen the worst among his supporters.

With a leg on a desk, he breaks a Kind bar while discussing his answer.

"When people try to bite you … Not just dogs barking but biting … Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth …" he says, then clenching his lips to punctuate the lost sentence.

Behind a desk, here it is, finally, the weary professor who wonders what the hell happened in class while he was in the hall.

First of all, some complaints

Ordering good from the villain in Roubini's arguments, however, is a daunting task.

If Roubini is in the best of cases a passionate advocate of economics and the learning license he understands, a disservice is often made in conversation.

A good part of this seems to come from two factors. One, Roubini's beliefs are actually quite simple, and two, often hide his point of view in response to tangential themes.

Roubini looks at his phone in his offices at New York University.

When asked about the specifics of his research, Roubini is ready to give an answer, citing a study that has read on the high rate of bankruptcies of ICO: "in any legitimate industry, in the first place we do not get 81 % of scams, "he says – that is, before starting to denigrate the association of crypto with the alt-right ideologies and anti-semitic conspiracy theories.

Asked if bitcoin can be seen separately from other cryptocurrencies, with code or less mature markets, gives a strong answer – "bitcoin is based on blockchain and cryptography and authentication based on job proof" – before moving on to the subject as it is "AI, machine learning and a combination of big data and internet of things" that will revolutionize finance.

"Ninety-nine percent of any crypts and blockchains are vapourware," he continues.

In Roubini's mind there is a clear connection between all these points. However, it is hard not to feel as if Roubini sometimes avoids your question or simply uses it as a vehicle for any point or grievance that would send to the fore.

For example, he is accused of being in the pockets of the banks that seems to have the most intense transmission time and the ire, despite the fact that this is not raised in any questioning.

"It makes no sense, I wrote about the financial crisis and the distortions that lead to the financial crisis," he says, adding his detractors: "They know nothing about money, so they want to reinvent everything, decentralize everything".

My attempts to stop the flow from one subject to another seem to be doing little to break Roubini's momentum, and later, we are going to address how unjustly classified as anti-innovation.

"People tell you that you're a dinosaur, you throw this nonsense in. If you believe in innovation, you have to believe in blockchain or crypto, it has become a passing fad," he says. "There are thousands of fintech companies, they will not give you a shitcoin."

If you're about to leave now, read the sentences above. In short, Roubini believes that the crypt does not work because it does not provide results, that the encrypted entrepreneurs demonstrate a lack of knowledge of the economy and underestimate the impact of other technologies.

So far, none of all that is questionable. Later, it offers a more subdued grip, an unusual thing as it could be characterized as a sober and salient distillation of its opinions.

"I try to give you the skepticism of an economist, I could not understand anything deep about technology," he says. "My opinion is that digital and mobile payment systems are working, and they all have to do with fintech."

A detour to the Valley of Death

However, if Roubini can be praised for strong convictions, deeply buried, it is difficult to say how he came to some of his conclusions. Is it someone who studies deeply or goes with his stomach?

It is a question that was first asked to Roubini, particularly in his New York Times profile simply titled "Dr. Doom." "When the economist Anirvan Banerji expressed his response to Roubini's speech, he noted that Roubini's predictions did not use mathematical models and rejected his impressions as those of a career opponent, "reads an excerpt.

In fact, in our conversation, Roubini seems to see between suggesting that his opinion is driven by research, and other times, indicating that it is simply the result of identifying human nature.

In fact, this last seems to be a common denominator in the predictions that have defined his career to date – his sentiment on the American real estate bubble and the crypto crash have both been inspired, he says, from times when he has been in able to recognize realities beyond numbers.

"I was in Basel for Art Basel [in December 2017]. Thousands of people go there because they're big parties and they do not know anything about art, and everyone would tell me, "Should I buy bitcoins?" ", Remember." The price action every day has nothing to do with the fundamentals. Even strangers approach you and say, "Ah Roubini, should I buy bitcoins?" "

"It was the same light bulb that I drove to Las Vegas and Death Valley, and I saw thousands of empty houses, people without brains, FOMO is the driver of every bubble," he continues.

Alone, the fuzzy lines between Roubini the researcher and Roubini the I guess may not be much for conversation – at some point it even makes a joke about economists and weathering – but they are more problematic when they apply the same logic to his opinions on technology.

On some topics, Roubini ends up looking like a supporter of cryptocurrency, using similar language and assurances to support his statements.

Yes, you can really own these cards on the blockchain.

Take for example its insistence that technology should be easy to guess. "I'm not a tech guy, but I also understand the logic of what concerns technology … just enough for a lay person who wants to understand it," he says.

The statement seems to confuse two realities that are certainly true for all technologies – they can be extremely simple to use, but they also contain intricate almost unknown complexities that end up being completely protected by the user. Still, it's an emphasis that does repeatedly.

"I've read dozens of documents … about Casper and sharding … technology is complicated, but an intelligent person should be able to read one thing … it could be astrophysics, popular science … so that a reader of the Wall Street Journal could have a sense of it, "he says.

Here, he often draws experiences on the Internet, in which he describes himself as one of the first to adopt the technology. According to Roubini, he also codified in basic HTML, using Microsoft Frontpage, in the early years & # 90; a work that led to a simple blog that collects links on previous financial collapses and that helped him create a business initial advice.

(Unfortunately, the blog, originally hosted by NYU, no longer exists.) Roubini states that the content has been transferred to a website for Roubini Global Economics, a later consulting firm, and that blog posts and all of its documents are disappeared.)

"I wanted to know why things were falling apart," he recalls. "They were all the blogs, the papers on Indonesia, Malaysia, it was a great set of pages and a directory, I had hundreds of thousands of people using this piece of trash and every page was a country and a secondary topic. "

But if Roubini benefited from an information distribution platform that lowered costs so that his writings were accessible worldwide (or at least to those who owned expensive, squared-off computers and dial-up Internet connections), he did not recall similarities with cryptocurrency.

"It was sub-pages and I could make hyperlinks, but it was all done by itself, everyone used the internet because it was incredibly useful, I went on the internet and I know when there's technology, you know certain things that change completely, "he says.

Now, remove the names here and enter your favorite cryptographic words.

Finally, the points

Shortly thereafter, Roubini and I greeted a taxi and took our topic through the streets of New York. The sky is still gray with a rifle, but it is lighting up, and so are my prospects for a more participatory conversation.

Me: "Can we be new?"

Roubini: "Yes, but I do not think it's a new idea that can work".

Me: "And the new markets that are digital where the frictions on the exchange are high?"

Roubini: "Why do people use the Amazon or Microsoft cloud? Because there is a package of services and these things have a certain price, so competing with them will be impossible."

Me: "But we do not want to democratize finance? Allow more people to have more opportunities."

Roubini: "People say in this space … the paternalistic government does not let me invest in. It's a good reason why it can not be sold to non-accredited investors."

And back and forth, until, finally, I think I start to see the points.

Roubini greets a taxi in New York.

Stripped of all the hyperboles and the internet slamming their breasts, Roubini can be seen as having three fundamental critiques when it comes to cryptocurrencies.

While cryptocurrency advocates view the financial crisis as a problem that can be eradicated from intelligent code and removing power from incumbent players, Roubini views central banks and incumbents as necessary inventions that have fostered market stability.

Secondly, it does not believe that tokenised services can be used in areas where they could compete with real goods and services, which could simply adjust their prices. ("Dentacoin is a failure." Say, you've got most dentists, even 10 to 30 percent, using dentacoin … they coordinate and increase the price of the services you need the token … they're creating a sign. ")

Third, and perhaps more importantly, he believes that the exploitation of any good or service to make it marketable on a blockchain can reintroduce problems that economists believe they have already solved centuries ago through the creation of money.

"I wondered if bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies and resources could meet the definition of money or currency," he says in a rare reserved moment. "There are standard definitions, one key is a unit of account, otherwise you will end up in barter."

Me: "Do not you think that computers can programmatically swap cryptocurrencies?"

Roubini sighs and looks at me as if I were someone who failed Economics 101.

We will always have Dallas

Coming from time to time is exhausting, without any of us falling into an intermediate position. Even if credit is due, Roubini does not seem to lose his energy.

Just when it seems that all hope is lost, however, a small miracle appears on the street in the form of a soothsayer called Dallas. Sitting next to a scuffed sign, she is offering readings for $ 10.

Sign up for the readings of fortune in the streets of New York.

Say what you want about Roubini, it is not without sense of humor, or even a playful will to listen to others. Soon, he bought my idea that we should ask you questions about the future of money and get them to sort out our arguments.

Roubini (in Dallas): "The question is, he believes there is a great future for bitcoins and cryptocurrencies, I think there is no future for bitcoins and cryptocurrencies, so we need someone like you who can read in the future, and tell us . "

She looks at us, surprised, but she is buying it.

Dallas: "That's the thing on which you invest, as if I bought it for a certain price … salt".

Roubini: "He thinks it's the future of money and it will change everything."

Dallas: "I do not think it is."

Pete: "And this is your psychic opinion?"

Dallas: "It's my psychic opinion".

Pete: "So … it will not be useful at all."

Dallas: "Well, I had people who were involved and it did not go so well … It's really hard … really confusing."

We thank you and, to my surprise, Roubini reaches his wallet and actually pays his $ 10.

Good for some laughs, but not worth it, I think as we go back to the office. Still, Roubini seems to dwell on the conversation, and seems quite impressed for me to believe that he thinks the conversation was worth it.

As we leave, he is smiling, considering.

He adds:

"You know, many psychics … they're just good psychologists."

Now, think about what he says about us.


HyperDragons / MixMarvel art (@mixhyperdragons)

Photo by Pete Rizzo for CoinDesk

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