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My Answer to J.K. Rowling on What Cryptocurrency Is

To paraphrase a famous financial services commercial from the 1970s and 1980s, when J.K. Rowling asks, people answer. When the famed author of the Harry Potter series of books requested an explanation of bitcoin on Twitter in May, hundreds of people raced to reply. Among the repliers was Elon Musk, who took time off time off from preparing for the launch of the rocket of his company SpaceX to make the first private manned launch into space. (The SpaceX rocket successfully launched on May 30.)

Rowling’s query began when she injected herself into a Twitter conversation between Leigh Cuen, a journalist for the cryptocurrency news site Coin Desk, and technology lawyer Marvin Ammori. Rowling tweeted to Cuen and Ammori, “I don’t understand bitcoin. Please explain it to me.”

As of this writing, Rowling’s query had 3,700 retweets and 9,900 likes. And, as reported by crypto news site Bitcoin.com, “Comments immediately flooded the Twitter thread after Rowling tweeted as crypto enthusiasts seized this unique opportunity to explain bitcoin and cryptocurrency to the famous author and her 14.6 million followers.” The responses were very creative—from custom-made videos to Harry Potter analogies.

But Rowling didn’t seem to find any of the answers satisfactory in making bitcoin and cryptocurrency understandable to her. She noted in a tweet that she is “just about able to grasp a barter system. Talk of collectibles, tokenomics and blockchains and my brain just takes a walk.” She joked in another tweet that “it should be perfectly obvious by now that I’ve been trolling Bitcoin in the hope of boosting my significant Ethereum holdings.”

On May 17, I joined the fray in a tweet thread addressed to Rowling. I made a literary reference, but not to Harry Potter, but to the much-older literary work of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Below is my tweet thread, edited into a couple paragraphs.

To “get” cryptocurrency, start with physical examples of alternative money like Jane Austen’s “fish” tokens in card games in Pride & Prejudice. Similarly, casinos have used physical and now digital tokens. In the ‘60s US & UK, “green” stamps from stores began to be traded & accepted as money. …

Alternative money then and now is any physical or digital item that’s trusted more or can move payment faster than state-backed money. Understanding this thread is a precursor to getting into the technical intricacies of Bitcoin, XRP, etc, which took me time to “get.”

I included a link to my CEI paper “Cryptocurrency and the SEC's Limitless Power Grab.” She also might be interested in my recent blog post about cryptocurrency’s new role of moving money during the pandemic. Still waiting for J.K Rowling to reply!