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A viral tweet summing up America’s feelings about crypto started a huge debate over whether it’s money

February 14, 2022, 8:03 PM UTC

At least three cryptocurrency exchanges aired ads at the Super Bowl this weekend, as the crypto industry made one of its biggest leaps yet into the mainstream. 

But a tweet by comedy writer Noah Garfinkel summed up a question at the heart of people’s confusion over cryptocurrency: If crypto is really money why are advertisements trying to convince people of that? 

The writer and producer, whose credits include Kroll Show, tweeted on Sunday night, “One reason I still have trouble believing crypto currency is money is that there aren’t commercials for money.”

Plenty of people agreed with Garfinkel, but in a sign of how unsettled the debate is, the crypto faithful roared back. As of publication, it had over 237,000 likes in less than 24 hours, and around 21,000 retweets.

Two particular replies sum up the level of disagreement. 

One pointed out that many other financial products are advertised on TV, which met with the counterargument that products get advertised, currencies don’t. Something that needs to be pushed via advertising looks a lot more like a commercial fad than an economic revolution. 

Although neither of these arguments hold much water for whether crypto advertisements mean cryptocurrency isn’t money, they reveal the confusion that many people still have about the inherent value of digital currencies. How can a cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, with no central authority, have an equivalent value in U.S. currency?

The factors behind Bitcoin’s value, for example, are that it’s difficult to counterfeit owing to the blockchain, because only 21,000,000 tokens will ever exist, and, most important—because people think it is valuable.

Although Bitcoin has no issuing authority, it does have independent developers around the world that propose upgrades to its open source code and make sure it is maintained regularly. This is similar, although not exactly the same, to the role the Federal Reserve plays in managing the money supply in the U.S. 

Bitcoin has no intrinsic value, but according to a report published by economists Aleksander Berentsen and Fabian Schär in the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Review, it’s not the only currency that doesn’t. 

“State monopoly currencies, such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Swiss franc, have no intrinsic value either,” the report said.

But what the Super Bowl showed, maybe more than anything, is that crypto remains just a bit of a joke to many Americans.

Garfinkel’s tweet may have come in response to one of those Super Bowl ads. In it, the cryptocurrency derivatives exchange FTX hired comedian Larry David, cocreator of Seinfeld, to voice the opinions of many viewers. When asked about investing in crypto, David shakes his head and says, “I don’t get it.” 

In the New York Times the next day, the ad’s director, Jeff Schaffer, said he is waiting for crypto to be explained to him and that he was paid in dollars for his work. FTX’s CEO, who previously told Fortune that he’s an “effective altruist,” told the Times that the ad was “pretty good,” which may have been an homage to David’s other show, Curb Your Enthusiasm

When reached for comment, Garfinkel said it was just a joke. To all the thousands of comments that he inspired, his response is, “Okay.”

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