Crypto-Twitter is aflutter at the prospect of an upcoming debate between Vitalik Buterin, founder and lead developer of Ethereum, and Nouriel Roubini, an economist at NYU and increasingly outspoken critic of cryptocurrency.
It started with Roubini going on a massive rant in front of the US Senate, where he called the cryptocurrency community a “cesspool of lunatics.” He also said that cryptocurrency is “the mother or father of all scams,” prompting an outraged response from cryptocurrency developers and fans alike.
Roubini is famous for predicting the 2008 credit crisis, but he has also made several incorrect predictions. Buterin struck back with this tweet:
I officially predict a financial crisis some time between now and 2021.
Not because I have any special knowledge or even actually think that, but so that I can have a ~25% (or whatever) chance of later being publicly acclaimed as "a guru who predicted the last financial crisis".
— Vitalik Non-giver of Ether (@VitalikButerin) October 10, 2018
Roubini replied with a similarly personal dig about Buterin’s professional career:
Vitalik, just shut up & speak about stuff that you can claim u know a lil about. You have promising Proof of Stake since 2013 & we are still waiting for a system that is scalable, decentralized & secure. But that is impossible as your inconsistent trinity principle proves. https://t.co/2VtkG764wL
— Nouriel Roubini (@Nouriel) October 10, 2018
A number of observers noticed that Buterin was refuting Roubini’s points, and that Roubini would reply with ad hominem attacks, without actually dealing with the issues. So Roubini replied:
Happy to have a live debate with @VitalikButerin . We can agree on a fair moderator that we both agree on, not on biased shills pretending to be pseudo-journalists but who are PR folks for the crypto industry. I have no interest to interact with @laurashin https://t.co/J5EJcphaNV
— Nouriel Roubini (@Nouriel) October 13, 2018
I hereby nominate @_Kevin_Pham as moderator.
— Vitalik Non-giver of Ether (@VitalikButerin) October 13, 2018
I hereby accept Vitalik's nomination.
— Kevin Pham (@_Kevin_Pham) October 13, 2018
Justin Sun of Tron has stepped in and offered a $1 million USD reward to the winner. This is shaping up to be to the finance and cryptocurrency community what the Mayweather-McGregor fight was to UFC and boxing fans.
One reason for all this tension is because in many ways, Buterin and Roubini represent two clashing paradigms. Roubini has a thorough academic pedigree, having studied at and taught at Ivy League universities. Buterin, on the other hand is a college dropout who happens to be way more successful than Roubini, in pure economic terms.
Some cryptocurrency advocates are against the debate, believing it to be harmful or at best unhelpful.
Bitcoin is not going to succeed due to its proponents engaging in successful debates with skeptics and antagonists. It will succeed by offering a superior product to the global market that outcompetes banks and nation states.
— Jameson Lopp (@lopp) October 13, 2018
No Such Thing as Bad Publicity
The truth is there are valid arguments to be made on both sides.
Roubini’s argument rests on the idea that central banks have served to lessen the volatility and damage associated with financial crises, which is true. There are two big problems with this, however:
- Bankers have been taking fees by leeching money off of everyone in the world via inflation, and
- Participation in this system is not voluntary.
Another of Roubini’s focus points is the high volume of fraudulent ICOs, speculation, and vaporware being peddled on the cryptocurrency market. This is also a valid concern, but outright dismissal of the explosion of innovation happening right now requires some serious selective focus, also known as “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
One of the most serious weaknesses of Roubini’s argument, which Buterin will surely point out if given the chance, is Roubini’s claim in his US Senate briefing that “Cryptocurrencies have not and will never have the tools to pursue economic and financial stability.”
This is completely untrue, and at this moment there are dozens if not hundreds of the best minds on the planet building and refining mechanisms to stabilize and manage cryptocurrencies and tokens using both centralized and decentralized means.
Roubini’s fear and anger seems to be driven by the idea of cryptocurrency replacing fiat currency. There is a demand for both, however, so both are going to coexist for the foreseeable future — just as email and the postal service coexist now.
Don’t Feed the Trolls! Or Maybe Do…
While the argument could be made that Buterin is “feeding the troll” by agreeing to the debate, there are valid views that need to be heard on both sides.
Cryptocurrency is upsetting central banks’ monopoly on money, and people need to understand this, so any media coverage is raising awareness.
At the same time, crypto-fanatics need to realize that central banks did not get to the position they are in simply by sacrificing babies to Satan — they have actually been providing something of value to society, even if they have been forcibly overcharging for it.
While it is possible to get rich chasing speculative gains, there are 100 people who go broke for every 1 who hits it big. There is plenty of money to be made, but it requires identifying real needs and years of patience and hard work to fill those needs.
Even if Buterin ends up getting destroyed on the topic of economics, where Roubini is undoubtedly much more knowledgeable, the attention surrounding the debate can only help to drive home the point that with great power comes great responsibility.
Cryptocurrency absolutely does give us the tools to do what central banks and governments do, and better. Now it’s up to us to learn how to use them.