Open Letter to a Cryptocurrency Trader

’Cause, with all the economics hashtags I’ve dropped, these cats write me all the time.

Deacon Rodda
physical bitcoins, one-hundred dollar bills, girl blowing bubbles, man in ski mask, house of cards, wolf in sheep’s clothing, children playing musical chairs
physical bitcoins, one-hundred dollar bills, girl blowing bubbles, man in ski mask, house of cards, wolf in sheep’s clothing, children playing musical chairs
physical bitcoins, one-hundred dollar bills, girl blowing bubbles, man in ski mask, house of cards, wolf in sheep’s clothing, children playing musical chairs
physical bitcoins, one-hundred dollar bills, girl blowing bubbles, man in ski mask, house of cards, wolf in sheep’s clothing, children playing musical chairs
physical bitcoins, one-hundred dollar bills, girl blowing bubbles, man in ski mask, house of cards, wolf in sheep’s clothing, children playing musical chairs
physical bitcoins, one-hundred dollar bills, girl blowing bubbles, man in ski mask, house of cards, wolf in sheep’s clothing, children playing musical chairs
physical bitcoins, one-hundred dollar bills, girl blowing bubbles, man in ski mask, house of cards, wolf in sheep’s clothing, children playing musical chairs
physical bitcoins, one-hundred dollar bills, girl blowing bubbles, man in ski mask, house of cards, wolf in sheep’s clothing, children playing musical chairs
physical bitcoins, one-hundred dollar bills, girl blowing bubbles, man in ski mask, house of cards, wolf in sheep’s clothing, children playing musical chairs

Hi [ insert name of real person who totally isn’t a bot ],

I hope that the following letter will be well received and that it will clarify my brief statements earlier. I also hope that you will understand that — while I have criticisms of the occupation you’re engaged in and advocating for others — I do not mean these as criticisms of you. I deeply believe that no one does anything wrong if they understand the thing. That belief itself is a complex idea that is out of scope for this conversation, but it is relevant. I would not spend time correcting what I believe to be a mistake if I believed that you, or anyone, would make such a mistake on purpose.

Yes, crypto-speculation can be profitable.
No, that doesn’t make it okay.

What I am asserting is that speculation, whether on gold, Bitcoin, Ethereum, or Pokemon cards, produces no consumer goods or services. Speculation also fails to steward any resources or create any social stability or peace. It does the exact opposite of these. Together, these three functions describe all of the ways in which value can actually be created in an economy: creating goods and services, stewarding resources to prevent waste and organize systems, and establishing the peace and stability needed to do the first two things.

When a rush of people get into an occupation which is unproductive in these basic ways — that actually serve life — it has negative affects throughout society.

The dominant, but demonstrably flawed, school of thought that is market economics states that anything that makes someone money contributes to gross domestic product ( GDP ) and is therefore productive. However, this is just an assumption. It has no basis in reality or even in economic theory. ( Yeah, it’s weird, but even an idea that is accepted by an entire field doesn’t qualify as a legitimate theory; it’s an axiom. The difference is quite significant. Article for another day. )

Let’s imagine that you and I sell a rock back and forth to each other. We could take a single hundred dollar bill and one rock from the garden and generate hundreds of thousands of dollars of real market activity by passing them back and forth. If we recorded that activity in a ledger it would raise GDP. According to market economics this would have to be considered socially beneficial market activity. And, obviously it is not. ( Of course, once these transactions are recorded they become taxable. So, the government is quite supportive of this GDP based idea of what is good for society. ) The example sounds absurd. But, it is actually exactly what Bitcoin traders are doing.

I am not asserting that there is anything wrong with cryptocurrency itself, but that there is something fundamentally antisocial about the speculation market built around it. It is the same thing that was wrong with the Californian gold rush of 1849, or the Dutch tulip mania of 1636. There is nothing new here. Speculation is fundamentally parasitic and a blight on society. And, the blight is not small. In both of the above examples antisocial behavior became the social norm. The exact forms of the social disorder vary by time and place. Robbery, exploitation, sex trafficking, drug addiction, and impoverishment, though, are historical mainstays of speculation driven economies.

No person can ever derive true benefit from sustained and advancing parasitism. The more money one makes as a parasite, the less human they become. Piles of money cannot make up for the damage caused to the individual who generates them in this way, let alone the damage to their community.

Now, this is the most subtle point: Even parasitism is not wrong in itself. Humans, more than any other mammal, have an especially pronounced period of parasitism. We live for nine months as a strict parasite. Then, for about eighteen years ( a little longer for Millennials ), we learn to slowly diminish our parasitism. As humans, tolerance of diminishing parasitism has turned out to be one of our greatest advantages, but the key term is ‘diminishing’. #notallmillennials

When a person builds their personal independence on a foundation of parasitism, they introduce a developmental block into their own life. They can never move into interdependence with a community. They can only remain an isolated and wandersome being or form mutually destructive, codependent bonds.

Interdependence, by contrast, is the condition of beings which are whole in themselves voluntarily enmeshing themselves with others to create greater wholes. A parasite may be introduced into a thriving interdependent structure, such as a family adopting an orphan. If the interdependent structure has sound practices, it will immediately set to work helping the parasite to overcome its parasitic qualities — raising the child.

If a Bitcoin trader is a member of a healthy community, there are two things which can happen: The community will help that person to stop their antisocial habit, or the entire community will become a parasite. In the latter case, the Bitcoin trader brings resources into the community, and the community doesn’t question where those resources are coming from or at what other community’s expense. The whole community becomes parasitic and is corrupted.


There are a lot of threads to unpack here, and there are whole books written on each of the ideas introduced in this short letter. But, I believe that this description of the problem will — for anyone truly interested in their own wellbeing and their service to a community — prompt some pause concerning the idea of market speculation.

Whether it is Bitcoin trading, day-trading stocks, or just moving baseball cards around on eBay, consider the impact on the world when someone makes a profit without actually contributing real value.

The symptoms of speculation are everywhere. And, the worst symptoms are suffered by the individuals who decide to take part in this destruction. These symptoms include: isolation, nihilism, insatiability, and anxiety. I wouldn’t trade any amount of money to live a life in which these cognitive maladies were constant undertones. And, I hope that you will watch out for their subtle entrance into your thinking. They do not come with overbearing assaults. They creep in subtly. And, they can be heard in the undertones of the statements made by someone in the grips of speculation.

That’s all I have to offer for now. I truly hope that helps.


P.S. Please, if you know anyone suffering from an interest in speculation, share this article with them. It was written to one Bitcoin trader who got at me in the social media DMs, but it applies pretty broadly to lots of folks — good folks. These kinds of antisocial activities are just a part of the water we swim in. Society insists that the ideology of capitalism is unavoidable, that it is “The Nature” of our civilization. Big unlock, it isn’t. Capitalism, the ideology, is just one of many frameworks some people apply to their decision-making. There are many other ideologies, some just as pathological, others somewhat less so. And, none of them have any power in themselves. It is the people, organizations, and communities who make decisions according to their understandings of their ideologies who have power.

And, if ever I write anything that you find to be a productive furtherance of some conversation, or just tickles you a bit, please let me know. I do my best to put good thinking and sometimes even a little research into these pieces. But, I don’t consider any of these sets of ideas to be closed to discussion. A little below, you’ll find a form for submitting responses.

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C. Rain

I thought I'd let you know I really appreciate your recent letter about crypto trading. I got involved in crypto this fall and have been studying it, and to a degree trading in it, ever since. Your letter put to words some issues that have been floating in the back of my mind.

I am thinking about factors that complicate your point though. In particular, there's an assumption that legitimate income comes from value-added activities. The problem I see with this is that it seems like an idealised view of market economics where people do something of value, and get fairly compensated for that value added. It's great in theory, but in practice, all too often, doing something of real value is a privilege reserved for after work. Work on the other hand is often exploit or be exploited (or both). To your credit you mentioned something like this in the PS of the letter, so obviously my point is on your radar.

Anyway thanks for writing the letter, it's just what I needed to hear.


D. Rodda

Thank you for digging into this. The issue is a big one, and it is creating an substantial degree of impact in the world. And, I completely agree that there is a lot more to ponder here than could be entirely captured so briefly

I would love to know what words I put to what issues that have been floating in your mind, and what prompted the initial floating?

Re: complications, yeah, economics is complicated.If it wasn’t, I’d have more time to paint.

This idea about legitimate income coming from value added services is dubious. I’m pretty sure I didn’t imply that. I’m not even quite sure what you mean by value-added services, so maybe I did. The qualifier ‘value-added’ has seen some miles and may imply a few different things at this point. Since I can’t be sure if you’re referring to an assumption that is generally held in society or seems implicit in my writing, I’ll just note that I mention three ways in which value is created and services are only half of one of them. The other being the creation of goods, which is economically distinct. And, the other two methods of creating value are not generally considered services.

Further, the origin of value is a somewhat separate issue from the legitimacy of income, and the mechanisms of compensation. Value is not cost, cost is not price, and price is not income. And, fair compensation is some next level shit to talk about in itself ( really not something you can just drop into a conversation without making waves ). Like, “What do we mean by ‘fair’?” is a bigger question than everything previously covered.

Side note: I would assert that astronomically more destruction is caused by folks trying to make something fair by intuition than by anyone dispensing with the idea all together. So, if one doesn’t have the time and bandwidth to get to the bottom of that rabbit hole, they’re better served by forgetting they ever heard the word ‘fair’.

I’m bothered by this notion that doing something of real value would be reserved for after work. I understand that exploitation occurs. It is the standard operating policy of our modern age. What does that have to do with whether or not someone does something of value? Emergency medical professionals are exploited — every one of them. Is their work any less valuable because they are exploited? Our railroads were built by slaves. Do they fail to carry stuff? Is carrying stuff from coast to coast not valuable?

All of these components of the economy are related to each other, like heart and lungs. They wouldn’t make a lot of sense without each other. But, value, cost, and price are all separate things. And, even together, they don’t quite add up to the basis of fairness or legitimacy by any sensible standard I know.


C. Rain

A couple things- I think you miss understood my term "value-added activity." I mean that to be very broad and include the construction and sale of goods, although "activity" sounds more like "service" than "goods" so I understand the confusion.

I take your thesis to be something like- financial speculation (including crypto speculation) adds no particular value (service, goods, or otherwise), and is essentially parasitical. It leaches off of the economy and community without giving anything back.

I think this is a good point, but questions arise. Does parasitical speculation include long-term investing? I think one could argue that the fundamental capitalist structure of investors bankrolling projects and then syphoning off capital created by those implementing the project, is itself ethically grey at best.

It's ethically questionable. But then again, it's so embedded in how the economy works that shooting for the least bad version of the structure might be our only option.

So the question is, is there a meaningful distinction between speculation and day trading on one side, and long-term investing on the other? Maybe I should ask the question- does ethical investing exist, and if so what does it look like?

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