The problem with regulating cryptocurrency. Like any currency, it is speech. Why regulate its movement?

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Currency is more than just paper authorized by the government to be put in circulation around a country. Currency says something about the value of the issuer. A currency tells its holder that the issuer brings to the market a level of economic value. That value is captured in the goods the issuer produces. The value is reflected in the laws that protect the markets within which the products are bought and sold. Currency communicates a message as to how well its underlying economy is doing and the prices paid for currency reflect how well these messages are received by other countries and potential holders.

Currency is speech …

The United States, by law, puts restraints on its government by a constitutional requirement that its Congress make no law “abridging the freedom of speech.” Article 19 of the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

And I would argue that currency is such a medium for conveying information and ideas. As discussed prior, it conveys information, thoughts, ideas about its underlying economy. Its use tells us that someone has decided to use it as a store of wealth, as a unit of account, and is willing to use it as a medium of exchange for the aforementioned reasons.

Cryptocurrency does the same thing that the paper currency we are used to does. Rather than an analog-based paper currency, crypto is digital created and transmitted or exchanged digitally. The information it conveys is written in encrypted code. Unlike paper currency, cryptocurrency is not yet accepted as ready for prime time even though recent moves by individuals e.g., Elon Musk tweeting support for bitcoin and Dogecoin; corporations e.g., Subway accepting bitcoin as payment for sandwiches; and investment banks, e.g., Goldman Sachs starting a bitcoin trading desk, indicate investors are warming to the idea of cryptocurrency as a store of value or even a medium of account.

It is taking a little longer for the public to see bitcoin as a medium of exchange. The general public has to get its head around the idea that a sandwich can be bought with bitcoin or services rendered can be compensated with Ethereum. When it comes to mainstream use as a medium of exchange, the speech we are hearing is more like the babbling of an 18-month old, but we are reminded that the leap from toddler chat to adult yak and the move from cowry shells to paper currency was eventually made.

In the meantime, I believe that proponents should head off increased regulation of cryptocurrency by making the argument to regulators such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the U.S. Treasury with the speech argument for starters. Individuals should be able to convey how they value their wealth by being able to finance and trade cryptocurrency. Currency is merely a medium and just like the American broadcast and communications systems have abandoned analog and have embraced digital for its flexibility and data capacity, so too should the American public by embracing crypto as a way to express wealth, value, and economy.

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