You couldn’t miss it if you tried. From YouTube adverts starring celebrity comedians to incessant news stories touting another broken price record, “it” was cryptocurrency, a movement taking the world by storm in 2021 and 2022. Largely born out of libertarian currents in the wake of the last financial crisis and limited in scope to Internet subcommunities for years, crypto had finally entered into the mainstream.
Harvard was not immune from this explosion of enthusiasm. On campus, the first-ever undergraduate organization focused on blockchain was founded, while internships and offers of employment at cryptocurrency firms became ubiquitous and irresistible.
Though the highs of 2021 have mostly subsided and the allure of a blockchain future has been greatly diminished by scandals such as the spectacular collapses of the LUNA “stablecoin” network and the FTX cryptocurrency exchange, it still remains unclear why crypto, a technology more than a decade old, was only able to have its moment in the sun over the past couple of years.
The classic answer given by pundits has been “easy money,” the notion that rock-bottom interest rates set by the Federal Reserve had made it far too tempting for deep-pocketed investors to go all in on moonshot ideas like upending the global monetary system. There may certainly be some truth to that, but it can’t explain how crypto captured the popular imagination, not to mention sovereign governments — how it was able to persuade a…