Crypto Mania Exchanges

Do Bitcoiners Even Want an ETF?

A Bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) is on its way to Wall Street, if market prognosticators are to be believed, and this will be great for the crypto industry. 

That’s not as universally believed as recent price rallies might suggest.

Analysts from CryptoQuant said that the approval of such a product—which investors have been waiting on for over 10 years—will mean institutions flood the space with cash, in turn leading the price of Bitcoin to rocket. 

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This may—or may not—be true. Others, like Hayden Hughes, co-founder of social-trading platform Alpha Impact, who spoke to Bloomberg, have posited that the approval of a Bitcoin ETF has already been priced in, meaning there’s a low chance the price will sustain any massive gains.

But even if the market cap and price of Bitcoin does go through the roof and the entire crypto industry thrives, will it be a good thing? Privacy-focused Bitcoiners have even said that such a product goes against everything that Bitcoin stands for. 

Experts like those at Nym Technologies and Wasabi Wallet previously told Decrypt that Wall Street interest in the cryptocurrency could lead governments to strongarm crypto users into restriction, penalties, or taxes. 

The reasoning is that lawmakers are already cracking down on the crypto industry and are increasingly focused on anti-money laundering (AML) procedures—as seen with major crypto brands like Coinbase and Binance. 

Others have argued that with Wall Street titans barging in on the market, the cryptocurrency will become more centralized and correlated with traditional stocks. Bitcoiners have been waiting and hoping for years that the coin would decouple from securities

Bob Bodily, CEO of Ordinals marketplace Bioniq, told Decrypt that a Bitcoin ETF could ruin Bitcoin’s original censorship resistant promise. 

“The worry with a Bitcoin ETF is that we’ll have so much Bitcoin locked up in ETFs that now we have compromised the original vision for Bitcoin where we have tons of Bitcoin in ETFs that are highly correlated to stocks, behave like stocks, people buy and sell them like stocks and in the large majority of cases we’re going to have central custodian ownership,” he said.

Bodily was referring to Bitcoin’s quality of allowing anyone to use the network and make transactions—without getting shut down by a government or authority. The idea is that anyone who can download Bitcoin wallet software, run a node, and complete transactions can do so without being stopped. And typically it’s hard to stop that

But if Bitcoin ETFs on Wall Street and centralized custodians become the norm—and perhaps the only known way—for people to get exposure to Bitcoin, users could eventually get banned from the network. 

“As long as you can self-custody, then you can be a unique, individual participant in the Bitcoin network,” added Bodily. “If Bitcoin ETFs become the only legal way to access Bitcoin, and self-custody is illegal (like Gold was back in the 70s), then this would compromise Bitcoin’s core value proposition because people couldn’t legally self-custody their assets.”

Craig Raw, developer of the Bitcoin Sparrow Wallet, added that privacy and profits don’t always go hand-in-hand. While the cypherpunks, advocates who want social change via cryptographic tools, want people to have private interactions. Institutions care about their bottom line, “Sometimes these goals will align, sometimes they will not,” Raw said.

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“What is key to the cypherpunks is that individuals can continue to find privacy in the tools regardless of institutional adoption,” he explained. Such tools already exist in the Bitcoin and wider crypto world. There are apps, like CoinJoin, which people use to obfuscate Bitcoin transactions. 

There are already tensions between privacy advocates in the crypto world and authorities: feds last year banned U.S. citizens from using the Tornado Cash app, a ‘coin mixer’ which allows users make private transactions on the Ethereum network; America’s biggest crypto exchange Coinbase then slammed the government’s reasoning for doing so and has since funded a lawsuit against the Treasury department. 

The idea that traditional finance entering the crypto world isn’t necessarily good is not a new one. 

Custodia Bank CEO Caitlin Long said back in 2018 that while such a product could be good for the industry, the financialization of the crypto world could be bad if it leads to too much liquidity from leveraged traders wanting quick, short-term gains entering the market. 

This in turn could push long-term HOLDers to “resist it simply by keeping their coins away from the financial system.”

Analysts right now say that—for better or worse—it’s now just a matter of time before a Bitcoin ETF hits Wall Street. JP Morgan has even said it could happen before Christmas. The product is likely to lead to a ton of money flooding into the space—but will Bitcoin keep its original qualities?

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