Even as bitcoin prices continue to hover around $20,000, investors await developments they hope will right the crypto ship. This month, Ethereum and Cardano will adopt, or 'merge' with, proof-of-stake blockchains; next year, the SEC could approve the first spot exchange-traded fund for bitcoin. In the meantime, boosters will stay busy propping up crypto's place in the culture through garish galas.

In New York, ‘JPEG speculators’ paid as much as $849 for last-minute tickets to the largest NFT conference to date. Across the Atlantic, Madrid played host to a bacchanal thrown by Mundo Crypto, whose anti-regulatory verve was too much for even Spain’s financial markets supervisor. The organisation spent €2 million attracting a number of celebrities, until it became known they had no licence to advise on financial instruments. Further north, the backlash coalesced in London, where the Crypto Policy Symposium marked the first convention for sceptics.

But none of this should dampen the hopes of crypto bros for long. The election of Liz Truss brings to office a British prime minister who – in her own words – wants to welcome cryptocurrencies ‘in a way that doesn't constrain their potential’. If she follows the lead of Portugal, which levies no capital gains tax on crypto, investors will seek to emulate what they’ve managed in Braga: the first property purchase in crypto.

Real estate is also the latest target for Andreessen Horowitz, the crypto world’s big angel investor. They recently funnelled $350 million to Adam Neumann, who wants his new property management software to double as a crypto wallet; the sum raised is coincidentally close to the amount his old company, WeWork, still loses each year. Nor has the bear market shaken institutional investors: last month, the asset managers Abrdn, BlackRock, and Charles Schwab all reached agreements or launched products linked to digital assets. Now, media ventures such as The Block, which specialises in crypto news, are tokenizing their paywall.

We’ll never do such a thing here at The Crypto Syllabus. But, we will continue bringing you selections that offer context and – the elusive hope – clarity on the subject. This month, read about why the 2017 ICO bubble should be seen as a networked scam; how social media hubbub has driven the uptake of these tendentious technologies; which geopolitical actors have been working on new payment infrastructures; where US settler-colonialism is still lurking in the crypto space; and much more.

If you follow this newsletter and enjoy the free reading lists we send, please do check out The Syllabus! Each week, we curate similarly high-quality content on 60 subjects in six languages.

Theorizing the 2017 Blockchain ICO Bubble as a Network Scam

ICOs were supposed to be a new, radically disruptive way of crowdfunding to finance the development of a new, radically disruptive blockchain technological ecosystem. All told, ICOs raised an estimated $5 billion in 2017 alone. But by all accounts – both from observers and participants, both during the bubble and after – the vast majority of ICO turned out to be scams.

The Law and Economics of Blockchain

Much like token prices, blockchain technology has in many ways been overhyped. But the fundamental aspects of the technology – an immutable, trustworthy digital ledger with bleeding-edge encryption – could have far-reaching implications for a range of economic transactions and political processes, including election law and voter turnout.

Infrastructural Geopolitics

The new trade mechanism facilitating humanitarian trade with Iran – INSTEX – is closely related to other efforts to install an infrastructural alternative to SWIFT. Ranging from payment systems to new CBDCs, the fracturing of infrastructural hegemony is showing how geopolitics play out in and through infrastructures.

Zones and Zoning: Linking the Geographies of Freeports with ArtTech and Financial Market Making

Freeports are known as spaces that attract foreign investment by de-coupling sovereignty and territory. This paper explains how they also enable, condition, and facilitate new ArtTech markets in the era of digital technologies.

Framing the Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Revolution

CBDCs offer new means to implement economic stimulation policies, like those launched in the context of Covid-19. They thus have the potential to play an important role in troubled economies in the future. What else do they portend for the financial sector?

Mediating and Mapping Climate Risk: Micro-Insurance and Earth Observation

The recent trajectory of micro-insurance and fintech platforms in Africa entail unique uncertainties: the ongoing problems of basis risk; costs imposed on vulnerable populations often unable to afford premiums; and issues of climate injustice, in which responsibility is placed on poor populations to manage climate risks they had little role in creating in the first place.

The Role of Media Coverage in the Bubble Formation: Evidence from the Bitcoin Market

This study offers three findings. First, during a bubble period, media coverage increases the next day’s bitcoin returns – no matter the tone. Second, media coverage has a negative effect on bitcoin trading volume, but only outside bubbles. And finally, bitcoin returns can themselves predict media coverage at any time.

From Money to Culture: The Practical Indeterminacy of Bitcoin's Values and Temporalities

Bitcoin is many things to different people. 'The proliferation of diverse human–Bitcoin relationships', as this paper terms it, is proof that cryptocurrencies – despite their problematic realities and the misplaced optimism they engender – are 'not only monetary but also cultural'.

Blockchain Financial Geographies: Disrupting Space, Agency and Scale

While the expectations for blockchain as a transformative force in finance are sky-high, the actual structural effects are much less clear: established industry players like banks are in the process of capturing these efforts; and new entrants, in the meantime, are essentially recreating the structures and functions of the financial sector as it currently stands.

Social Media, News Media, and the Democratic Deficit. Can the Blockchain Make a Difference?

Despite the blockchain’s disintermediating potential, it operates within a system of global capitalism that motivates innovations toward short-term profits rather than public interest initiatives. The sustained platformization of the Internet means that, if we are to create information and communications systems conducive to healthy democracies, we must first reconsider technological and regulatory measures outside current economic systems.

Storying Indigenous Cryptocurrency: Reckoning with the Ghosts of US Settler Colonialism in the Cultural Economy

This article unveils the technological life and afterlife of an altcoin, MazaCoin, as a ghost of empire, insofar as it links the technological present of financial capital and the past (and ongoing present) of US settler colonialism. Throughout its various complicated reanimations, it expresses a relentless remembering of settler colonial injustices, performing productive haunting work within the 21st century cryptocurrency ecosystem.