The Federal Reserve, normally a staid institution, became a viral meme this March after it printed $2.3 trillion to help the COVID-battered economy. The meme, known as “Money Printer go Brrr” or simply “Fed go Brrr,” shows central bankers cranking out an infinite supply of dollars and even has a dedicated website.
The meme has resonated with the many people who wonder just much money it is viable for the Fed to print. But it has gained special resonance with one sub-culture in particular: longtime Bitcoin believers who see the Fed’s latest intervention as further proof that monetary policy has spun out of control.
Among them is Erik Voorhees, a Denver-based cryptocurrency entrepreneur who has advocated for Bitcoin for nearly a decade.
“I approach it from the basic economic concept that printing money doesn’t create wealth. Printing money is an illusion of wealth,” says Voorhees. “In 10 or 20 years, this won’t be viewed favorably. It will be viewed as mass hysteria.”
Voorhees, a staunch libertarian who keeps his wealth in “crypto, gold and real estate,” is especially wary of sovereign debt, which he claims has piled up in quantities far beyond governments’ ability to honor it. And while he concedes the Fed’s intervention in financial markets in 2008 helped stave off a crisis, Voorhess believes the central bank made a critical error in failing to unwind its balance sheet once the crisis had past. The government, in his view, has simply printed too much money—and that “Fed go brrr,” is not just funny, but dangerous.
Governments printing too much money raises the specter of the 1930s and hyperinflation in Weimar Germany, which produced iconic photos of workers carrying their wages home in wheelbarrows. Those images have mostly faded from popular imagination, but not for Voorhees and other Bitcoin advocates who have long feared today’s finance ministers and central banks could trigger a repeat of that era.
This suspicious of profligate governments is even baked into the code of Bitcoin itself. When the digital currency went live in early 2009, the first block of its transaction record, known as the blockchain, quoted a newspaper headline about the UK government bailing out banks. And this week, another milestone block on the Bitcoin blockchain cited a New York Times‘ story about the Fed’s unprecedented $2.3 trillion cash infusion.
Jesse Powell, the CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Kraken, is another skeptic of U.S. monetary and fiscal policy. He believes that government’s recent cash infusions only strengthens the case for Bitcoin, which—unlike the Fed’s money printer—has a finite supply.
“I think it is validating for Bitcoin,” said Powell. “Seeing the government print trillions of dollars and maybe needing to print trillions more ought to be disconcerting people.”
Powell adds, however, that the U.S. doesn’t face imminent risk of hyperinflation, in part because the greenback is used in so many parts of the world. But he believes the value of U.S. dollars is eroding and that this trend will accelerate due to the inability of most Americans to save.
Both Powell and Voorhees, along with the vocal chorus of acolytes known as “crypto Twitter,” see Bitcoin as a store of value that can’t be debased. Their evangelism has only increased in the last month as the cryptocurrency has posted better year-to-date results than gold.
There is a sense of smug prescience among many in the cryptocurrency community, and not only because of the Fed’s response to the COVID crisis. Several leading crypto figures sounded early alarms on social media about the pandemic itself—leading the New York Times to describe them, and other Silicon Valley prepper types, as “vindicated.”
Meanwhile, crypto exchanges like Kraken and Coinbase, buoyed by a surge in trading revenue, are in the enviable position of going on a hiring spree even as much of the economy reels.
“We hired another 100 people in the last three weeks, many of them household members of existing staff. Priority went to those affected by COVID,” said Powell.
But while Bitcoin believers may be thriving, it’s unclear if their libertarian-centered worldview can rescue the U.S. economy, or offer solutions for the millions of Americans struggling to obtain food and medicine during the crisis. The federal government may fall short in many respects but the reality, for most people and businesses, is that it’s the only institution big enough to address the problems of the pandemic.
Voorhees, however, is adamant that he and other private citizens can provide more help than the government. He says he is using his wealth to help food and medical charities in Denver—an approach he believes is more efficient than giving tax dollars to people in Washington, DC to distribute. Meanwhile, he feels Bitcoin will only grow stronger.
“The Federal Reserve is our best marketing brochure. The printing of dollars is good for Bitcoin over the long term, but not something I want to cheer for as it’ll cause so much misery .”
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