The Doorstep: Comment les crypto-monnaies et les NFT peuvent changer l'ordre mondial, avec David Yermack

24 mars 2022

De la publicité pour les crypto-monnaies au Super Bowl à Save the Children qui accepte les dons en bitcoins, la conversation sur les crypto-monnaies s'est généralisée. Jusqu'à présent, plus de 100 millions de dollars ont été collectés par le biais de dons en crypto-monnaies pour l'effort de guerre de l'Ukraine, à la fois à partir des portefeuilles officiels du gouvernement et des NFT individuels. Cela va-t-il révolutionner le financement de la guerre, permettre aux oligarques d'éviter les sanctions ou ouvrir la voie à une acceptation plus large des monnaies numériques dans le monde ? David Yermack, professeur à la NYU Stern, revient pour discuter de ces questions et de l'avenir des crypto-monnaies avec Nick Gvosdev et Tatiana Serafin, Senior Fellows à Carnegie Council .

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Welcome, everyone, to this edition of The Doorstep podcast. I am your co-host, senior fellow at Carnegie Council, Nick Gvosdev.

TATIANA SERAFIN: And I'm Tatiana Serafin, also a senior fellow here at Carnegie Council, excited in a moment to bring back Professor David Yermack from the New York University Stern School of Business to speak with us about all of the big crypto and nonfungible token (NFT) news coming out of Russia and Ukraine and what it means for us here at The Doorstep.

But before that, Nick, today is the one-month anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It's a big moment. President Zelenskyy of Ukraine spoke to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders today who are meeting with President Biden. What are you hearing coming out of those meetings if anything? What are you expecting to happen? Is there going to be a huge shift now that we're moving into the second month of war?

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think, from the perspective that we look at, the doorstep perspective, what is fascinating about this meeting is the sense of the doorstep issues that are lurking in the question of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and what the NATO and allied response ought to be. Most analysts had assessed that a Russian invasion would be swift, there would be changes on the ground within days, and we would all be presented with some sort of fait accompli.

Instead, what we have seen is that Ukraine has shown that a middle country can hold off what technically is a great power—we may have some doubts about how good or effective the Russian military, government, and economy have been—but this has also raised the question: Is there a compelling need for Western intervention?

With the doorstep what is interesting is that you have very divergent views. One is that, because of some of the trends we're going to be talking about later with David, people's ability to be connected to this war, to this invasion, even more than the Gulf War or the Iraq War. That people can be geo-locating events, they are in touch with family and friends, they are getting real-time information, has led to people wanting to do more. On the other hand, there is also concern about getting involved and then the costs and the risks.

What the leaders are doing is fascinating: they want to send a signal that Ukraine is being helped—all of the weaponry, the aid, and assistance that is going through—but also managing domestic constituencies that want to do more with those that want to do less.

Also, with other doorstep issues that are coming up with rising prices for food and for energy, as political leaders deal with questions about supply chains, we really are I think on the cusp of moving forward with what some of our earlier guests have talked about, notably Ash Jain: Are you going to see democracies much more willing to trade with each other and do business with each other, even if there is a higher upfront cost, because of the sense that in the long run you can't rely on autocratic nations for key goods and services, and will this lead to more domestic spending?

Finally, the last thing that is fascinating—and to hear this at the NATO meeting and the EU meeting that will be taking place—is all of this move to rapidly move us towards a Green transition and that we have to do more and we have to do it more quickly. I am sure that there are climate activists who are, on the one, hand gratified but, on the other hand, scratching their heads that it wasn't Greta Thunberg who was able to do this, it was Vladimir Putin who has really given the Green energy agenda a massive shot in the arm. So we may see the emergence of an odd marriage of geopolitics with climate activists to really move us forward on the Green agenda and to have those be part of the agenda—less on the NATO side, more on the EU side with the United States and Japan in those talks—moving forward.

What is interesting is to see how political leaders very much have a sense that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has doorstep implications from the fact that people are getting unfiltered information to the fact that they are carefully monitoring what people are paying for what they are buying in the stores and at the gas stations.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think this is happening at a particular moment when communications are so prevalent and so important. It's not only that everybody feels they have an opinion, it's that everybody has access to different points of entry into a story. So whether you're looking at it from the climate angle or the child refugee angle, there is so much information that you can find out there, which is fascinating—we will speak about this with David in a second—but I think it has really empowered people, as you mentioned, Nick, to feel like they can have an opinion, say something, speak up, which many—for example, celebrities—are doing.

We are in a lot of awards season. A lot of celebrities are speaking up. They are hearing from their fan bases about Ukraine. They are talking a lot about Ukraine. We have the Oscars coming up. I will be so interested to see how much is said on that front because that is a big platform that gets a lot of attention.

We have spoken about it. I want to give a little plug to our book talk which we did last week with Erich Schwartzel, Red Carpet: Hollywood, China, and the Global Battle for Cultural Supremacy. I think we raised some important issues about communications, censorship, and Hollywood, so ahead of the Oscars, for those of you who want to have a listen and maybe give some context to what is going on and how we are linked here at The Doorstep to the world—not only to the war but to China, which also is playing a part in this war.

Now I am so excited to speak to David. Thank you so much for joining us, David. It is so nice to see you, especially as I know you just came off a plane in Frankfurt. We will hear about that later, I'm sure.

It has been less than a year since we've spoken with you, but it feels like advances in crypto and NFTs and everything ethereal have taken off over the past year, especially over the past month I would say. A headline from USA Today announced, "This is Our First Crypto War." Research from the Pew Center says more and more Americans have at least heard of crypto than when we spoke in June last year.

I am not sure where we are, though. What are the true real advances? You walked us through it last year, and we are hoping you could take us through what is really going on—what is real, what is just a headline?—so our listeners, our audience, can really understand the impact at the doorstep.

Could we start with that first headline? Is this the "first crypto war?" Is that a true headline?

DAVID YERMACK: I think that's maybe an exaggeration. There are crypto stories on both sides of the Russia-Ukraine war. On the Ukrainian side, the government is using the Bitcoin blockchain and several other blockchains to crowdsource donations from people around the world who have sent in—the last estimate I saw was about $130 million worth of crypto—and they are being careful not to spend it on weapons but on things like protective flak jackets, medicine, and relief for displaced people, all sorts of humanitarian reasons that people are probably very comfortable donating to.

On the Russian side it's not nearly as well documented, but there is a lot of concern that the people under sanctions are using crypto to get capital out of Russia or out of wherever they have it parked and are trying to hide it in crypto. I am not sure that's going to work out because crypto is very traceable. In fact, it might be a big mistake for why these oligarchs go on the Bitcoin blockchain.

But there has been a lot of concern about this. There were hearings in the U.S. Senate where I think Elizabeth Warren was trying to make some points about how this needs to be shut down because it enables capital flight by bad people. I think we'll probably learn more about this, but definitely there are people trying to opt out of the Russian financial system in any way that they can, and this is one possible route of escape for them.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Can you discuss that a bit more because some of the big boosters of crypto all the way to the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine were saying: "Crypto allows you to escape national governments, it allows you to safeguard your wealth, and you'll be able to move invisibly, seamlessly through the global economic system."

Why isn't that playing out once I turn everything into Bitcoin or Dogecoin, the notion that "I have now escaped national jurisdiction and the Americans—or even international, for that matter—can't touch me," when that was such the selling point, I would say, of at least some people towards crypto, that this was the currency that liberated you from government control? Can you explain a bit more about maybe why simply holding your funds in crypto doesn't automatically mean you have magically escaped government regulation?

DAVID YERMACK: The relevant problem for people right now in Russia is they have essentially been kicked off of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) network, which is really the conduit for most cross-border transactions, which is a very serious problem for anyone trying to move money into or out of the country.

There is no real way to exclude people from the Bitcoin blockchain or the Monero blockchain or any number of others. They are just decentralized networks that run all over the world, anywhere that there is an Internet connection.

It is correct that it is seamless and it's very rapid, you can really instantly move money around the world much faster than you could on the SWIFT network, but it's also extremely transparent, that you can actually see the funds go from one wallet to another.

The wallets are not labeled like "Mr. Oligarch," you just see bits and bytes, but with a very minor amount of detective work you can usually identify who is behind the wallet. In fact, it may backfire on them by bringing much more transparency into the scale of their wealth and where they have kept it because you do have to move the assets onto and off of the Bitcoin blockchain and those points of entry and exit are really where governments are going to pounce.

When we talk about this in class, you tell the students: "Never buy drugs on a blockchain because you leave a record for the government. Always pay cash because cash really can't be traced." I think you could just give the same advice to a Russian oligarch: "Never try to launder money on a blockchain because they'll be able to find you."

The other problem is one of scale. The Bitcoin blockchain just doesn't accommodate that much traffic that could really enable someone to move billions of dollars illicitly; maybe tens of millions if you did it in small chunks over a period of days, but you would again leave a lot of footprints and it would be very hard work to get all that done. It's not really a realistic alternative if you have a billion-dollar problem. I think for smaller fish, people kind of at the margins, people who maybe met Putin once and are just trying to scurry out of the country, this might be useful, but for the Abramoviches and Boris Berezovskys of the world and so forth, no.

TATIANA SERAFIN: What's interesting, to your point about small-scale and regular Russians and entrepreneurs, is there is a huge amount of middle class that might want to leave the country or might be stuck outside of the country.

I was doing some reporting. For example, in Indonesia you have a lot of Russians stuck there, and the way they are trying to get at their money is using crypto, which I don't think we foresaw when we talked last year.

Can you talk about the use by mainstream retail—not even investors because they're just trying to get their money back? We talked a lot last year that it can't be a currency, but people are really trying to use it to get currency.

DAVID YERMACK: We have actually seen this for years in Iran, where there are small businessmen, rug merchants, who want to import and export their products. Iran has been cut off of the SWIFT network for decades.

If you are just a small businessman or a member of the middle class, not part of the political establishment, maybe we don't want the sanctions to impact you. We have had a lot of discussion about Russia: Is it just Putin who we're trying to crush or is it all the working families, all the businesspeople, who are probably not supporters of what is going on?

With crypto you can on a small scale use this as an alternative. In fact, it's probably simpler for many of these folks than using the SWIFT network, even if it were enabled and legal, because it's quicker and cheaper.

You have an interesting market there that has political arguments on both sides of whether you would wish this to be allowed, but I think these are not people that governments will take the time to track down. They are just very small fish in a bigger pond. They are more interested in the political leadership, the billionaires who are behind the big defense companies, and so forth.

TATIANA SERAFIN: You mentioned Elizabeth Warren, and I know President Biden also mentioned we have to look at this Alpha (active return on an investment) clause, we've got to regulate it more. On this scale, though, one of the things we talked about last year was that there is no regulation, that people have been slow and not are onboard. What has happened in the last year? Has much happened? Is there a lot of movement?

DAVID YERMACK: There is a lot of talk but not much movement. You have third parties who are intermediaries. I think most members of the public know that if you want to invest in crypto you open an account at a place like Coinbase or Binance that in fact will be regulated under our money transmission laws and so forth. If you involve a third-party intermediary—and I think most people will do that for the convenience—then you have pretty traditional regulation that is taking form around those entities.

But if you simply want to open a wallet on the blockchain, it's as simple as having an app on your cellphone. If you are reasonably comfortable with the technology, there is no real way to regulate you. You really have to rely on voluntary compliance. The Internal Revenue Service has said if you make money on crypto you have to pay taxes, but for them to get the list of the people who have actually done that would be very, very difficult and it would probably exceed the value of the taxes due.

In theory, anyone moving money across borders has to comply with "know your customer" and all kinds of Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) regulations to make sure that you're not sending money to terrorists. But again, for FinCEN, which is part of the Treasury Department, they just don't have a third party they can rely on to centralize and arrange the data for their convenience, and they don't have the resources in the government—and probably never will—to do this one person at a time.

It's really the decentralization, the lack of any third-party entity like a broker or a bank who has a list of everybody's accounts and tracks all their activities. If you're just a bunch of free agents with wallets sending money to each other, it's very, very difficult for the government to catch up with these people. Any one person that they're looking for, they can probably find them, but to look at 10 million people and say, "Which of these people owe tax to the U.S. government for capital gains?"—impossibly complicated.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: It's fascinating what you're painting as a picture here because the traditional understanding of financial safe havens—and we're seeing this with Switzerland now certainly—is that you had to be a big player, and what you're saying here is that in some ways this democratizes the ability to move money and to do some concealment, and in fact being a smaller fish is probably better.

DAVID YERMACK: It's much easier for a smaller person, yes. I don't think we can rely on Switzerland anymore either. It's clear that the Swiss have crossed over. They shut off the Russians, just like everybody else, and the Russians are furious about this.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Right, the national jurisdictions. But again, as you said, moving a billion dollars is going to be difficult and will attract a lot of attention, but crypto may be the financial tool of the small investor, the small player, for being able to take advantage of these features rather than the big players.

What does that say for the future? We have talked about Russia and Ukraine in the context of the invasion and the tourists in Indonesia and elsewhere, but what does this do for people around the world who live in jurisdictions either where currencies aren't necessarily stable or where people may want to stash money in order to be able to get out? I'm thinking of starting in places like Hong Kong, but elsewhere, is there a future where crypto becomes the safety valve for the world's middle classes; or again do you think governments will start to regulate this?

DAVID YERMACK: There are states like Venezuela that you can point to where the currency has gone into freefall and people have almost reverted to barter, commodities like flour taking the place of the national currency, and you do see heavy concentrations of Bitcoin use in those areas where people are using it for precisely the reasons that you said.

Let's say you're a Russian architect with 20,000 rubles in your bank account. I think taking those 20,000 rubles and buying Bitcoin is one of the smarter things that you could do, then head for the airport with a one-way ticket, and then you can get those Bitcoins wherever you land. They will be available to you as long as you can connect to the Internet.

I think what governments really need to be concerned about is if this technology ever scales up. Right now Bitcoin does four transactions per second worldwide, which is just not very many, but it is something that can be improved upon, and in fact many of the other coins that are out there have taken the design of Bitcoin and made it more efficient, more robust, and so forth. I think Bitcoin still enjoys a first-mover advantage, but I think progress is inevitable, that this will scale up and will eventually become a big problem for governments.

I think they may need to reconsider not only the approach to financial regulation but whether it's even worth their time. Is this simply a human right to move money around the world without surveillance and taxation?

I think the people who started the Bitcoin project and some of the predecessors to it were libertarians who really saw this as something that the government shouldn't be able to monitor: "It's an invasion of privacy and a restriction on your freedom." I'm not sure I agree with that, but that was the motivation of the people who designed this.

The only thing missing is the scalability. The technology is extremely clever, but at the moment it is still very small. It can't handle trillions or even billions of dollars that typically move every day through the regular financial system, but 10–20 years from now I wouldn't make any assumptions that that isn't going to be possible.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Last year you said, "El Salvador is an aberration and we'll see what happens there;" and then this year we have Eric Adams, our new mayor here in New York City, being paid his first check in crypto, and all of a sudden everybody is talking about it. I don't know that everybody understands it, but it is more of an acceptable piece of the conversation.

DAVID YERMACK: The Eric Adams thing—and I would put it right next to the mayor of Miami, Florida, who did something very similar—those shouldn't be seen as anything other than publicity stunts that are trying to attract businesses to the city, to give an aura of crypto friendliness.

What I said about Eric Adams—and I was interviewed god knows how many times—was: "If he wants to take his paycheck and invest it in Bitcoin, whatever, that's his business, but it has no real significance for this city." The regulation of currency is typically at the national level and to a certain extent at the state level, but municipal governments one way or another don't have much to do with this.

It generated an immense amount of news coverage. I'm not sure it really resulted in any change in the footprint of the technology in New York because we already did have this Silicon Alley neighborhood, a pretty vibrant crypto community in the city, but I do think Miami has perhaps established itself as somewhat of a tech hub. If you believe what you read in the paper, everyone is moving to Miami and leaving Silicon Valley. There may be other reasons, like inheritance taxes, that play into that as well.

It has been kind of fun to see the way that this has migrated into popular culture and how politicians see it as part of their brand that can attract a certain demographic. I think at this point the need to explain to people what this is and why did anyone invent this is no longer necessary. People are familiar with it. They see that it is sort of a rebellious, edgy, disruptive currency, and it is something that young hipsters have an affinity for, and this doesn't do anything to hurt its popularity I suppose.

TATIANA SERAFIN: Speaking of that, the way I came to this piece and why I thought we needed to do this now for so many reasons was a friend of mine who owns a gallery sent me her Instagram link to NFT U-kraine, which was a platform of NFT artists creating digital artwork and then using the proceeds to donate to Ukraine. I thought, Wow, is this really something?

In the process of all this I found the crazy people—Christie's $69 million NFT artwork being sold, which maybe generated a lot of press in a certain area but certainly wasn't really why it spread—and I thought: My goodness, what is going on with NFTs and NFT digital art. And then, how can this be used for activism?

I know that is three separate questions but maybe we can start with: Yes, okay, people know of crypto and Bitcoin, but what are NFTs?

DAVID YERMACK: An NFT is an entry in a blockchain that allows you to register a piece of property. Ironically, this goes back to the invention of the blockchain, which predates Bitcoin by about 17 years. The first blockchain was launched in the early 1990s by cryptographers at Bell Labs who were interested in registering intellectual property.

If you make a beautiful digital picture, I can just copy the file and say that I made it, and it can be very hard—provenance has been a problem in art for hundreds of years—but a blockchain, because the entries are sequential, if somebody enters before somebody else with a replication of the property that they want to identify, that provides essentially the same thing that the registry of deeds at the courthouse does, but in a way that can't be backdated. It is much more robust, and, since it's decentralized, there is no politician controlling the access to it, and so forth.

NFTs have evolved into a way to register creative property. Some of this is digital art. The Beeple that sold Christie's for $69 million is the outlier, but there have been lots of novelty collectibles like the CryptoPunks and the Bored Apes that have become rather prestigious, and some of these have sold for millions of dollars.

There has also been a very successful commercialization of the sports industry through series like the National Basketball Association (NBA) Top Shot, where you can get limited-edition video clips that you would collect like you might have collected baseball cards or comic books in hardcopy form.

This is spreading very quickly not only in the sports world but in areas like fashion, where there are limited-edition NFTs of accessories like handbags, luxury jewelry, and whatever.

It is partly a support platform to market a real product—so if you're a football team with a series of NFTs, it's a way to attract and hold on to your fan base—but in its own right these things have become very valuable. If we do begin to live part of our lives in the metaverse, they may have even more promise and potential.

Lots of innovation is taking place in this space. The one that has really been very successful is the NBA Top Shot, which has just totally revolutionized the collectible space by bringing digital media into an area that is widely in demand by sports fans.

TATIANA SERAFIN: I think it allows a lot of people the opportunity to participate in this space. It does tend to trend younger, from what I have been hearing from my students trying to get me into it.

Especially over the last month, the fact that people have been talking so much about it and its use for activism, which is related to politics and political purposes, this movement away from just entertainment or owning something to using it to influence, do you think that's concerning? Should it be more looked at, more regulated?

DAVID YERMACK: It's an interesting question, and it almost gets into areas of free speech.

You began with the example of Ukrainian artists who are creating limited-edition digital art to essentially raise money for a charitable cause. Unless there is a scam behind this—and there may well be; I would be a little bit careful about this—I don't think there is a lot of concern.

When politicians begin selling NFTs—what if Donald Trump was selling NFTs of his speech on January 6, limited editions—that might get into campaign finance laws, and there is already a lot of regulation there. What if a Supreme Court nominee sold NFTs of her appellate opinions? All kinds of possibilities are here, some of which may or may not raise ethical questions, but I think the imagination of the promoters is the only real limit to this.

The nature of media is changing so quickly. Like you said, the younger generations really expect a mobile phone app to convey most of what they do in terms of their personal lives. There are businesses actively addressing this in the arts, finance, sports, and so forth, and the NFT is a point of entry for a lot of these applications. I hear about this stuff from my kids. It's very interesting what people are doing.

I think, like a lot of collectible fads, though, some of this stuff is going to have a very short half-life. Do you think these Bored Apes will really be selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars five years from now? I'm not convinced of that, but time will tell.

NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: One of the things, both in your discussion of crypto and then discussing the nonfungible tokens, is it presumes access to the Internet, and we have had some issues. Obviously, in this country we talk about a "digital divide." There has been talk about not only what Russia has done internally but externally of severing connectivity to the larger Internet.

As you said, more people are living online, more people are living in the metaverse, more people expect to have this. What do you think this is going to do with normalizing the idea that Internet access isn't just a privilege or a service but really is a utility or that everyone should have access for it? Is there going to be a "chicken and egg" that crypto drives digital access or that because people want these things they're going to demand it? As you said, people are expecting to live more of their lives in this realm.

DAVID YERMACK: It has become a big infrastructure issue in the United States. You probably know that the bill that was passed last August had a lot of money for bringing the Internet to remote parts of the United States that up until now have not been very well served. During the pandemic, when we all went to school on Zoom, there were clearly parts of the country where this was difficult for poorer families and in communities where commercial providers had never seen the opportunity to build out the fiberoptics.

Just like access to drinking water and electricity, I think access to the information artery of the Web has come to be seen in the United States as a necessity, and you even see entire cities having free Internet as you walk down the street. I know they have this in Philadelphia and so forth. I expect this will be pretty universal.

An interesting problem is in the developing world where they simply don't have reliable electrical grids. I think a lot of the disappointment perhaps with crypto is that it was seen as a way to promote financial inclusion—people who can't get bank accounts could get Bitcoin wallets and so forth—but you need an electrical connection, you need a grid that is going to provide electricity reliably 24/7, and that is not really the case in sub-Saharan Africa, for instance. I have actually written a research paper on this. It is very interesting to see which countries have been more successful and which have not, and it has a lot to do with the legal system promoting infrastructure investments.

The other dimension to this—and it was reflected in your question—is countries where access to the Internet is turned on and off for political reasons. I think the standout example of this is known as the "Great Firewall of China," where the Chinese very regularly limit who can go online and where you can go and so forth.

What was interesting in Russia was the downloading of virtual personal network (VPN) software that can bypass the typical government censors. For whatever reason—either the Russians haven't figured out how to suppress those or they see this as a bridge too far—the day the war started there were zillions of downloads of VPNs because people just assumed that the government would begin censoring the web and they wanted to bypass that.

Even at the NYU campus in Shanghai—which raises a lot of troubling questions about academic freedom in my opinion—when I talk to the faculty and the students there, they say, "We don't have any problems because we have a VPN."

I say, "I'm not going there until I can read The New York Times online."

They say, "Well, you can read it on the VPN."

For me that's not good enough, but these workarounds that people can use I think only highlight the necessity of this. Certainly in the business that I'm in, doing academic research, if you can't communicate with colleagues around the world, exchange data, and get information from primary sources, you can't really do scholarship, whatever field it is that you work on.

I think that in countries that are very authoritarian about access to information in the long run it compromises the spread of knowledge, the growth of the economy, and all of the good things that come from education and learning. I think, just like access to clean water, to sanitation, to transport, and so forth, access to information via the Internet is an absolutely vital piece of infrastructure. It is nice to see the United States acting on it, but I think it really is something that should be urgent in every country in the world.

TATIANA SERAFIN: What is the role of private business in that? We see Elon Musk with his Starlink satellite, and that has kind of saved Ukraine and allowed us—speaking of access to information, I have friends who get alerts here in the United States when there is an air raid in the town of their families, then they post it on Facebook, and then we all reply in horror. It's as if this was next door, but without this Internet connection that wouldn't exist.

DAVID YERMACK: In fact, I think the best example of this was when the invasion began it was picked up as traffic by Google Maps. You could see traffic jams on the Ukrainian roads because people could see in real time how the tanks were moving in a way that exceeded military intelligence.

This is an old debate in infrastructure about whether governments or private companies are better providers. I think in this country it probably goes back to the Erie Canal when it was built 200 years ago. I'm not going to be able to do justice to the nuances of this, but you do see people like Elon Musk competing with government providers and often doing the job better.

In the United States we really do have a tradition of trying to privatize this. If you're getting Internet, you're probably getting it from Verizon Fios, Comcast, or one of the big national communications companies, but other countries have taken different approaches.

I think the answers are closely intertwined with questions of property rights and tax policy. It's not a simple area, but definitely private capital and private entrepreneurs play an interesting role in this space. Elon Musk and others like Richard Branson before him and so forth have been very clever about bringing services to people that they wouldn't have been able to get through more traditional providers.

TATIANA SERAFIN: It's so interesting. I am going to leave off on that note and ask you to come back next year to see where we are because I don't think we could have predicted where we are today last June.

DAVID YERMACK: Yes. I am so glad that I began to work in this area because every day you wake up and there are just new things to learn about it. It keeps you young intellectually and it keeps students coming to the class. It's certainly an interesting time, but all the times have been interesting really. I have been doing this for eight years now.

The one thing we didn't mention but probably should have is that President Biden put out a big directive about three weeks ago saying that the United States needs to start working on a national digital currency, which to me is the biggest issue of all. China has already launched theirs.

If you do have me back next year, maybe that will be somewhat down the road. It is being worked on by people at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Boston Federal Reserve. It has the potential to really change the way all of us interact with the financial system in the United States, but as usual we are playing catchup with other countries that are a little bit further ahead with this.

TATIANA SERAFIN: All right. You're on. National digital currency, next talk next year.



NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thank you very much.

DAVID YERMACK: Okay. Thanks for having me on.

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