How the regulator’s mindset may impact cryptocurrency …

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An article today in Bloomberg discussing how a Biden administration would address the regulation of cryptocurrency has me putting myself in the place of the regulator. What is the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s world view of digital assets? How will the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s view toward regulation of exchanges evolve? Will the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System view the payment system aspect of cryptocurrency as a threat to the current national and global payment system regime or as a welcome supplement that brings more efficiency and transparency?

Clarity on what may happen on the regulatory side of cryptocurrency requires that the trader first take a top-down view of how governments view the world and especially how they view markets. You will never hear a regulator utter the term “free markets.” That phrase is best suited for the rhetoric of politicians who inherit worn out campaign slogans and reboot them for the latest run for office. I doubt they themselves, a significant number of whom are not trained in economics, truly understand what a market is or can likely identify threats to it. Compound markets for digital assets with the mechanics of payment systems and the politician’s eyes glaze over and she falls back to what she knows best: sloganeering tainted with tropes that appeal to individualism, consumerism, collectivism, or whatever narrative they believe their constituency will buy into.

The professional regulator, on the other hand, uses law and regulatory code as a front or an excuse. Statutes and codes give the professional regulator cover for their underlying philosophy and narrative. Unlike the elected official who only spends minutes on issues of markets and their regulation, the professional regulator is the expert spending years developing her own philosophy and transitive narrative and reconciling that philosophy and narrative with at times archaic statutes that the elected official has dumped on her to interpret. With archaic statutes and codes as cover for the regulator, it is the trader’s task not only to generate returns from holding a digital asset but to best understand what that regulator’s philosophy is.

There are two types of regulator. One I term as the myopic regulator. This regulator focuses on the black letter of the law and the code. Their focus is primarily on whether the market participants are following the rules on the books. He does not take into consideration any wider view of the philosophy behind markets and regulation. If the rules are skewed more to trader protection, his interest will be in outcomes that favor trader protection. If the rules skew more toward brokerage or platform protection, the regulator’s interest will be in outcomes favoring platform protection.

On the other side is what I term the universal regulator. They have managed to synthesize the role of government, traders, and platforms. They have an interest in maintaining the viability of the market system. Government’s role, in their view, is to provide for an efficient and productive trading post where there is sufficient transparency between traders and where the exchange platform ensures speed, efficiency, and clarity of trade because without these characteristics, the American markets as a whole become less viable, less reliable. Government will expand or contract in order to meet its universal role.

The trader should be mindful of this regulatory environment, particularly the tug-of-war between more or less regulation of exchanges. Eventually the trader pays the price in terms of transparency, price fairness, and the level of fees, especially where trade is her primary means of livelihood and income. After all, trade boils down to an information game and staying informed on government actions as well as on how government itself can disrupt information flow is important to the trader’s success.

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