Anonymity and Darkness on Wall Street versus Transparency for Bitcoin

Published on April 7th, 2014 by Visiting Author

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By Joseph Lee

In reading Michael Lewis's latest book, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, which chronicles the phenomenon of high-frequency trading and its negative impact (in Lewis's opinion) on the stock market and individual investors, four words encapsulate this story about the darkest corners of finance: I told you so. That comment, no matter how self-serving it may appear, is (or should be) the refrain of millions of investors who expect clarity and open communications from the stewards of an exchange.

And yet, as I immerse myself in Lewis's world, itself an eight-block-long facade of limestone, marble and glass, of flags aplenty and a 7,000-pound bronze charging bull, its hooves imposed upon cobblestone from the 18th century, a sound echoes in my mind; the pages have the hymnal quality of sheet music, in which the loudness of a data center pierces your eardrums, the whoosh of enormous air conditioners, fans and 80 decibels of unbearable noise bombard the senses.

This world is precisely the opposite of the global use of Bitcoin, in one fundamental way: I am speaking to you directly, as the Co-Founder of BTC.sx, which is a platform for Bitcoin-only derivatives trading; I am an executive – one of many – who seeks to raise his voice, to amplify my rallying cry in an otherwise cold and anonymous warehouse, and say: "Demand transparency! Expect less from Wall Street, and enjoy more information from real agents of change; the champions of digital currency."

This column affords me an opportunity to do just that, and, by surveying the events and conferences our community hosts (including the April 7-8 "Inside Bitcoins" gathering in New York City, which I will be attending), I know there is a substantial degree of openness that does not exist in other industries.

Our collective responsibility is to make that truth an acknowledged fact among the public at large, to offer a contrast to the status quo and garner increased acceptance from mainstream investors.

We must personalize this discussion – the spontaneity and improvisational ability of people the world over, to bring us together in Singapore, Sydney, Shanghai and San Francisco – we must show our faces and state our cause, so the same word (in any language) means the same thing (in every language): Legitimacy.

Remember, too, that legitimacy is an earned commodity; no amount of advertising can replace it, no quantity of promotion can supplant it and no supply of paid messaging can duplicate it. We possess this strength, and here I write on behalf of BTC.sx and in tribute to the multitude of innovators who continue to develop breakthrough products and services for Bitcoin, because I understand the will to build something of lasting value.

Communicate to Educate: Emphasize the Global Rise of Bitcoin

On a practical level, this metaphor – the concept of construction, of creating something people need and want – is also a summons to communicate. Rather, it is a reminder of the importance of communicating effectively. Compare that scenario with the theme of Lewis's book, where conspiratorial figures manage to avoid reportage by the press, enforcement by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), detection by nearly every regulator (except one determined banker), and exposure from any top institution or fund manager on Wall Street.

Meanwhile, the Bitcoin community hashes out issues in public, with the hashtag power of Twitter and the extended commentary of Facebook. Indeed, we have our own independent media – starting with this very site, where journalists cover Bitcoin as a full-time endeavor, writing history in real-time amidst a sometimes raucous but never boring backdrop of startups, successes and setbacks.

Welcome to business-made-transparent, where justice is swift and severe. For, it is the message of an individual trader and the tweet of a single merchant, their reactions traversing the globe as packets of information, so many ones and zeroes in the binary code of computing, which reconstitute themselves in 140 characters or less of judgment.

What Michael Lewis accomplishes in 289 pages of brilliant storytelling, interspersed with condemnatory prose and expressions of dismay and outrage, the Bitcoin community can render in a much shorter verdict of absolute finality: “This company, or that person, is legitimate. Or: That brand is no good; its CEO is not responsive.”

Transparency and legitimacy are the twin pillars of ethics. They are also more resilient than the columns that support the entablature of a high temple of commerce, or the film set image of Lewis’s depiction of Wall Street. They, the immemorial authorities of character and wisdom, are alive and well among the advocates of Bitcoin. Joseph Lee is the co-founder and CEO of BTC.sx. He can be reached via email: joe@btc.sx.
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