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The U.S. is at risk of being left behind by the world of cryptocurrencies as other countries more quickly embrace digital assets, Coinbase co-founder and CEO Brian Armstrong said Monday.
Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, Armstrong noted that China began working on a digital currency back in 2014. But as seen with its tight grip on the nation’s internet, the Chinese government has looked to deploy crypto as a means of control, he added—making it all the more important that democracies allow crypto to flourish freely.
“In the free world, this technology needs to be embraced,” Armstrong said. “It can be regulated to make it safe and trusted. But the democracies in the free world need to embrace this to have some kind of an answer to other countries trying to lock it down.”
The U.S. government’s slow pace in deciding how to regulate crypto was a major theme during Armstrong’s panel with Cathie Wood, the founder and CEO of asset management firm ARK Invest, and Michael Piwowar, executive director of Milken’s Center for Financial Markets. Wood said she “expected more clarity” from regulators by now; the only thing made clear from the federal government so far, she noted, is that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not securities.
“We want our country to do the right thing from a regulatory point of view,” she said. “We enjoyed incredible benefits from the birthing of the internet here. This is just the next generation of the internet, so let's get with the program.”
Investment in the crypto and blockchain space skyrocketed last year to more than $30 billion, up from $5.4 billion in 2020, according to the consultancy KPMG. Myriad sectors have recently delved into crypto, from automakers to entertainment companies. But there’s still plenty of skepticism about the industry—from issues around the environmental cost of mining tokens to concerns about the criminal use of cryptocurrencies.
Although the U.S. has moved slowly, Armstrong said there are signs for optimism. He noted President Joe Biden recently signed an executive order directing federal agencies to come up with a plan to regulate cryptocurrencies. And when Armstrong—who heads one of the largest crypto exchange platforms in the world—heads to Capitol Hill, he’s seeing more “pro-crypto” lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, he said.
“It's actually getting harder and harder to meet a true crypto skeptic in D.C.,” Armstrong said.
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