How Crypto’s Collapse May Have Done the Economy a Favour | Kanebridge News
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How Crypto’s Collapse May Have Done the Economy a Favour

Crypto’s lack of connections with traditional finance means its problems haven’t spilled over to the economy

By GREG IP
Fri, Nov 25, 2022 8:42amGrey Clock 4 min

This year’s crypto collapse has all the hallmarks of a classic banking crisis: runs, fire sales, contagion.

What it doesn’t have are banks.

Check out the bankruptcy filings of crypto platforms Voyager Digital Holdings Inc., Celsius Network LLC and FTX Trading Ltd. and hedge fund Three Arrows Capital, and you won’t find any banks listed among their largest creditors.

While bankruptcy filings aren’t entirely clear, they describe many of the largest creditors as customers or other crypto-related companies. Crypto companies, in other words, operate in a closed loop, deeply interconnected within that loop but with few apparent connections of significance to traditional finance. This explains how an asset class once worth roughly $3 trillion could lose 72% of its value, and prominent intermediaries could go bust, with no discernible spillovers to the financial system.

“Crypto space…is largely circular,” Yale University economist Gary Gorton and University of Michigan law professor Jeffery Zhang write in a forthcoming paper. “Once crypto banks obtain deposits from investors, these firms borrow, lend, and trade with themselves. They do not interact with firms connected to the real economy.”

A few years from now, things might have been different, given the intensifying pressure on regulators and bankers to embrace crypto. The crypto meltdown may have prevented that—and a much wider crisis.

Crypto has long been marketed as an unregulated, anonymous, frictionless, more accessible alternative to traditional banks and currencies. Yet its mushrooming ecosystem looks a lot like the banking system, accepting deposits and making loans. Messrs. Gorton and Zhang write, “Crypto lending platforms recreated banking all over again… if an entity engages in borrowing and lending, it is economically equivalent to a bank even if it’s not labeled as one.”

And just like the banking system, crypto is leveraged and interconnected, and thus vulnerable to debilitating runs and contagion. This year’s crisis began in May when TerraUSD, a purported stablecoin—i.e., a cryptocurrency that aimed to sustain a constant value against the dollar—collapsed as investors lost faith in its backing asset, a token called Luna. Rumours that Celsius had lost money on Terra and Luna led to a run on its deposits and in July Celsius filed for bankruptcy protection.

Three Arrows, a crypto hedge fund that had invested in Luna, had to liquidate. Losses on a loan to Three Arrows and contagion from Celsius forced Voyager into bankruptcy protection.

Meanwhile FTX’s trading affiliate Alameda Research and Voyager had lent to each other, and Alameda and Celsius also had exposure to each other. But it was the linkages between FTX and Alameda that were the two companies’ undoing. Like many platforms, FTX issued its own cryptocurrency, FTT. After this was revealed to be Alameda’s main asset, Binance, another major platform, said it would dump its own FTT holdings, setting off the run that triggered FTX’s collapse.

Genesis Global Capital, another crypto lender, had exposure to both Three Arrows and Alameda. It has suspended withdrawals and sought outside cash in the wake of FTX’s demise. BlockFi, another crypto lender with exposure to FTX and Alameda, is preparing a bankruptcy filing, the Journal has reported.

The density of connections between these players is nicely illustrated with a sprawling diagram in an October report by the Financial Stability Oversight Council, which brings together federal financial regulators.

To historians, this litany of contagion and collapse is reminiscent of the free banking era from 1837 to 1863 when banks issued their own bank notes, fraud proliferated, and runs, suspensions of withdrawals, and panics occurred regularly. Yet while those crises routinely walloped business activity, crypto’s has largely passed the economy by.

Some investors, from unsophisticated individuals to big venture-capital and pension funds, have sustained losses, some life-changing. But these are qualitatively different from the sorts of losses that threaten the solvency of major lending institutions and the broader financial system’s stability.

To be sure, some loan or investment losses by banks can’t be ruled out. Banks also supply crypto companies with custodial and payment services and hold their cash, such as to back stablecoins. Some small banks that cater to crypto companies have been buffeted by large outflows of deposits.

Traditional finance had little incentive to build connections to crypto because, unlike government bonds or mortgages or commercial loans or even derivatives, crypto played no role in the real economy. It’s largely been shunned as a means of payment except where untraceability is paramount, such as money laundering and ransomware. Much-hyped crypto innovations such as stablecoins and DeFi, a sort of automated exchange, mostly facilitate speculation in crypto rather than useful economic activity.

Crypto’s grubby reputation repelled mainstream financiers like Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, and made regulators deeply skittish about bank involvement. In time this was bound to change, not because crypto was becoming useful but because it was generating so much profit for speculators and their supporting ecosystem.

Several banks have made private-equity investments in crypto companies and many including J.P. Morgan are investing in blockchain, the distributed ledger technology underlying cryptocurrencies. A flood of crypto lobbying money was prodding Congress to create a regulatory framework under which crypto, having failed as an alternative to the dollar, could become a riskier, less regulated alternative to equities.

Now, stained by bankruptcy and scandal, cryptocurrency will have to wait longer—perhaps forever—to be fully embraced by traditional banking. An end to banking crises required the replacement of private currencies with a single national dollar, the creation of the Federal Reserve as lender of last resort, deposit insurance and comprehensive regulation.

It isn’t clear, though, that the same recipe should be applied to crypto: Effective regulation would eliminate much of the efficiency and anonymity that explain its appeal. And while the U.S. economy clearly needed a stable banking system and currency, it will do just fine without crypto.

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High-Earning Men Are Cutting Back on Their Working Hours

While most U.S. workers are putting in fewer hours, men in the top 10% of earners cut back their time on the job the most, according to a new study

By Courtney Vinopal
Fri, Jan 27, 2023 4 min

American workers have cut the number of hours they spend in their jobs since 2019, but no group has dialled back its time on the clock more than young, high-earning men whose jobs typically demand long hours.

The top-earning 10% of men in the U.S. labor market logged 77 fewer work hours in 2022, on average, than those in the same earnings group in 2019, according to a new study of federal data by the economics department at Washington University in St. Louis. That translates to 1.5 hours less time on the job each workweek, or a 3% reduction in hours. Over the same three-year period, the top-earning 10% of women cut back time at work by 29 hours, which translates to about half an hour less work each week, or a 1% reduction.

High-earning men in the 25-to-39 age range who could be described as “workaholics” were pulling back, often by choice, says Yongseok Shin, a professor of economics, who co-wrote the paper. Since this group already put in longer hours than the typical U.S. worker—and women at the highest income levels—these high earners had longer work days to trim, Dr. Shin says, and still worked more hours than the average.

The drop in working hours among high-earning men and women helps explain why the U.S. job market is even tighter than what would be expected given the current levels of unemployment and labour force participation, Dr. Shin says.

“These are the people who have that bargaining power,” Dr. Shin says of the leverage many workers have had over their employers in a tight job market. “They have the privilege to decide how many hours they want to work without worrying too much about their economic livelihood.”

The paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which isn’t yet peer reviewed, suggests high earners were more likely to benefit from flexible working arrangements, which could be a factor in reduced work hours.

Before the pandemic, Eli Albrecht, a lawyer in the Washington, D.C., area, says he worked between 80 to 90 hours a week. Now, he says he puts in 60 to 70 hours each week. That’s still more than most men in America, who averaged 40.5 hours a week in 2021, according to federal data.

Mr. Albrecht’s schedule changed when he shared Zoom school duties for two of his young children with his wife. He’s maintained the reduced hours because it’s making his relationship more equitable, he says, and gives him family time.

“I used to feel—and a lot of dads used to feel—that just by providing for the family financially, that was sufficient. And it’s just not,” Mr. Albrecht says.

The downshift documented by Dr. Shin and his colleagues occurred as many professionals have been reassessing their ambitions and the value of working long hours. Emboldened by a strong job market, millions of Americans quit their jobs in search of better hours and more flexibility.

Overall, U.S. employees worked 18 fewer hours a year, on average, in 2022 compared with 2019, with employed men putting in 28 fewer hours last year and employed women cutting their time by nine hours, data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey show. The average male worker put in 2,006 hours last year, while the average female worker logged 1,758 hours.

Separate data from the Census Bureau suggests that men with families, in particular, are working less. Between 2019 and 2021, married men devoted roughly 13 fewer minutes, on average, to work each day, according to the American Time Use Survey, which hasn’t yet published 2022 figures. They spent more time on socialising and relaxing, as well as household activities, according to men surveyed by the Census Bureau. The amount of time unmarried men spent on work changed little during that same period.

As high-earning workers in the U.S. cut back, low-wage workers increased their hours, according to Dr. Shin’s research. The bottom-earning 10% of working men logged 41 hours more in 2022, on average, than in 2019. Women in the lowest earning group boosted their hours worked by 52 last year compared with 2019.

While women work fewer hours than men, the unpaid labor they perform outside of their jobs has been well documented. Many working mothers take what’s termed a “second shift,” devoting more time outside work hours to child care and housework.

Maryann B. Zaki, a mother of three who has worked at several firms, including in big law, recently launched her own practice in Houston, giving her more control over her hours. She says she’s noticed more men in her field opting for reduced schedules, sometimes working 80% of the hours normally expected—which can range from 40 to more than 80 a week—in exchange for a 20% pay cut. For the average lawyer, that would amount to a salary reduction of tens of thousands of dollars each year; such arrangements were initially offered to aid working mothers.

Responding to new expectations of work-life balance may be particularly vexing for industries already facing staffing shortages, such as those in medicine. Dr. Lotte Dyrbye, the chief well-being officer for the University of Colorado School of Medicine, said she often hears from early-career physicians and other medical professionals who want to work fewer hours to avoid burnout.

These medical workers are deciding that to be in it for the long haul requires a day every week or two to decompress, Dr. Dyrbye says. But as staff cut back their hours, it costs medical organisations money and may compromise access to care.

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