Within the usually boring procedure of shepherding another massive infrastructure bill through Congress last month, a fiery debate erupted over the future of cryptocurrencies and digital assets.
The Senate bill contained broad language to ensure tax and regulatory compliance on all cryptocurrency transactions, regardless of origin, as a revenue generator.
However, traditional financial transactions cannot compare to the complex algorithmic crypto world of mining, staking, rewards, and smart contracts. It is easy to see why many digital currency enthusiasts were alarmed.
In a hackneyed manner no one saw coming, the entire future of the crypto industry, including projects such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Non-Fungible Tokens, and blockchains, was thrown into peril.
Amendments to adapt the language or delete it outright were proposed. But following Senate rules, even a single voice of opposition could kill them. Or, in this case, a desire to spend $50 billion more on defense spending killed them. And that was that.
To be clear, America deserves a fair and substantive debate on the nascent crypto space. If we are to consider regulation, we need testimony from innovators, entrepreneurs, advocates, and skeptics. Instead, we witnessed a collage pasting marathon, with proposals and taxes glued together without even a thought for millions of crypto consumers.
Most shockingly, however, the rules have actually very little to do with the innovative nature of the crypto space and everything to do with how much money legislators thought they could extract from the industry and token holders. This was laid bare in the Biden administration’s fact sheet on the infrastructure bill, which claimed the $1 trillion plan would be funded by “strengthening tax enforcement when it comes to cryptocurrencies.”
Despite the inelegance of these proposals, there are smart and consumer-friendly policies we can adopt on cryptocurrencies and crypto projects.
To begin, federal agencies can concentrate on the causes of fraud and abuse. With every successful crypto token or coin, there are dozens of scam sites or exchanges that defraud users or siphon all digital assets they can before they shut down, known in the industry as a “rug pull.”
By focusing resources on dishonest brokers and projects committing fraud, the government could save millions of consumers from losing their hard-earned money, all the while differentiating between bad actors and good ones. This would help boost confidence in the system overall.
Second, any crypto regulation should make technological neutrality a core tenet, meaning that government should not declare winners or losers. Just like the vinyl record was replaced by the CD-ROM and then the MP3, governments should not choose a preferred technology and instead allow innovation and consumer choice to make that determination.
The less than a decade-old crypto industry hosts an intense competition that rapidly changes each day. Whether through algorithmic mining (Proof of Work) or block validation (Proof of Stake), users and entrepreneurs are testing and adapting best practices. If the government endorses one method or outlaws another, because of environmental or technical concerns, it risks backing the wrong horse and stifling innovation.
Third, regulators must not pigeonhole cryptocurrencies only as investments fit for taxing, but rather as technological tools that empower consumers and foster innovation. A unique crypto asset class, separate from traditional securities, would help users benefit from the decentralization and encryption that these projects offer while ensuring reasonable taxation of gains.
Last, regulators must provide legal certainty to the budding crypto sector or risk pushing all crypto activity to the black market, where no rules or regulations will be followed. The disastrous effects of the Drug War on cannabis users or victims of 1920s Prohibition underscore this point.
Clear guidelines that allow crypto companies to open bank accounts, take out insurance, and compensate workers legally will safeguard innovation, continue to create value for entrepreneurs and consumers, and will allow firms to pay taxes and follow rules. This will be vital.
Legislators should view the crypto industry as a friend rather than a foe. With more opportunities will come more investment, more jobs, and more innovation – and that means we’ll all be better off.