The 2-Minute Thought: “My Hopes Are in Cryptocurrency”

Personally, my hopes are not in cryptocurrency.  I have no hopes tied up in Bitcoin, Ripple, or Ethereum, though I am interested in seeing how they evolve.

But I just read a post by Korean journalist Juwon Park titled, “I Am a 24-Year Old South Korean, and My Hopes Are in Cryptocurrency,” and now I understand why young people have so much faith in cryptocurrencies.

Juwon Park is not a speculator.  She’s doesn’t follow markets.  She doesn’t seem particularly greedy or obsessed with getting rich quickly.  She seems to be an ordinary well-educated, hard-working young person, and a far cry from the caricature of the impatient, self-absorbed millennial.

But, Park says, making it as a young person in Korea is hard.  Seoul is expensive – more expensive than Geneva, Paris, and Copenhagen, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.  Since Park doesn’t have family wealth or connections, she calculates it will take her 10 – 18 years of hard saving before she can buy a house.  She has hefty college loans to pay back.  She’s already worried about not being able to retire.  And all around her are signs of severe income inequality.  On the one hand are the children of chaebol (the conglomerate-owning families) who easily ascend to leadership positions in family companies.  On the other are the unemployed, the underemployed – and all of her friends working until 2 or 3 am for modest wages.

So not too long ago, Park made her first investment ever, splitting $2500 evenly between Ripple and Ethereum.  Not stocks, not bonds, not real estate -- but cryptocurrencies.  “Because,” she says, “what other options are there for wealth accumulation in this new gilded age?” 

She explains: “For young South Koreans who find themselves with no ways of getting ahead in life, the cryptocurrency market is the fairest financial playground to date, in that it doesn’t require insider knowledge controlled by a limited number of institutions and individuals – the very thing that moves the traditional stock market.”

And as strange as that may sound to some, it’s understandable that young people would be looking for something that hasn’t betrayed their trust or abandoned them yet.

Park is far from alone in her thinking.  Bloomberg recently reported that a U.S. survey found that 30% of millennials would rather own $1000 worth of Bitcoin than $1000 of government bonds or stocks.  London Block Exchange, a cryptocurrency exchange, found similar results in the UK among those under 35, explaining that “Millennials clearly feel left behind by the old system and are looking at cryptocurrencies as a new dawn.”

For opponents of cryptocurrencies, it’s easy to stand above it all and mock the herding, the FOMO, the insanity of it all as cryptocurrencies soar and then plummet.  But when people say that the deck is so stacked against them that cryptocurrency is their best shot at making it in an unfair world, we need to think about that.  Something is just not right.