A cryptocurrencies panel at the Milken Institute Global Conference was more like a cryptobrawl — no punches but a barrage of barbed comments.
“All this talk of decentralization is just bullsh*t,” said Nouriel Roubini, an economist known as Dr. Doom for predicting the chaos of the 2008 financial crisis.
“Everything you just said is irrelevant,” shot back Alex Mashinsky, a blockchain entrepreneur who was an early developer of the Voice over Internet Protocol standard.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” Bill Barhydt, who worked on cryptography for the CIA, responded to Roubini.
The moderator, Reuters journalist Anna Irrera, called for a time out to cool things off. Then the feds weighed in. “I may need to step in and regulate this panel,” said Brent McIntosh, general counsel for the U.S. Treasury and another panel participant.
Billed as a sober discussion to a ballroom where every seat was filled, the panel meandered into shouting and crosstalk. Passions are running high nearly everywhere in crypto. Many predict the likes of Bitcoin and Ethereum will change the world. Others see failure looming.
Among skeptics, few match New York University’s Roubini. Digital coins aren’t currencies because they aren’t a store of value, he argued. And they’re worthless for payments because Bitcoin and Ethereum’s blockchain technology can’t handle nearly the same volume of transactions as Visa Inc., he added.
Mashinsky said crypto assets will let people bypass banks.
“You’re just making stuff up,” Roubini replied.
Mashinsky’s company, Celsius Network, lets users lend and borrow cryptocurrencies. He questioned how Roubini knows anything. “Why don’t you buy one coin, then you can tell us how it works,” Mashinsky said.
McIntosh might’ve summed up the situation better than anyone: “Where this all goes, I don’t think anyone knows.” The people who’d just witnessed the fireworks can be forgiven for agreeing.