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What Matt Levine’s crypto opus means for the industry

October 26, 2022, 1:28 PM UTC
Illustration of crypto coins
Matt Levine just wrote 40,000 words about crypto. What did he have to say?
Illustration by Fortune

The big story in crypto on Tuesday was the appearance of a 40,000-word piece by Bloomberg’s Matt Levine that filled an entire issue of Businessweek. Levine is the country’s best finance writer, his opinion matters to influential people, and as one Twitter user noted: “FYI—you know every regulator, legislator & your uncle is going to be quoting Matt Levine’s takes.”

I had the opportunity to read the entire piece on a flight from New York to Denver, and found that Levine has a mostly upbeat assessment of the industry he frequently skewers (along with everything else) in his popular newsletter. The bulk of the piece is a primer for those who know about business but less about crypto, covering fundamental concepts like hashing and proof of work, but also complicated DeFi subjects like flash loans and yield farming. In the course of all this, Levine displays his knack for explaining wonky topics in the everyday language of business, all while employing his trademark sardonic wit.

“Some of the money was spent on a Walmart gift card, and if you’re buying a Walmart gift card with your billions of dollars of stolen censorship-resistant currency, then your money laundering is not going well,” Levine says, describing blockchain forensics and a crypto couple’s ham-handed attempt to hide billions in stolen Bitcoin.

There are plenty of other such gems in the piece, but also useful insights. For instance, Levine explains how crypto is poised to shape the future of finance by letting small investors use blockchains instead of brokers to trade equities.

The piece is bookended by philosophical discussions on how crypto is assuming an important role in the broader world of finance and technology. Levine is quick to mock many of crypto’s grandiose claims, but remains fundamentally optimistic, concluding, “If so many smart finance people have moved into the crypto financial system, if they find it so much more enjoyable and functional and productive than the traditional financial system, surely they’ll eventually figure out how to make it, you know, useful.”

It’s hard to argue with that. Meanwhile, Levine can consider himself among those described as the “smart finance people” who see potential in crypto and can’t help but get drawn in because it’s so damn interesting.

Jeff John Roberts


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