Crypto Was Always Smoke and Mirrors: The fall of FTX shocked everyone. Except this guy.

The world of cryptocurrency is rich with eccentric characters and anonymous Twitter personalities. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that one of the early figures who called attention to the problems with Sam Bankman-Fried’s cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, is a 30-year-old Michigan psychiatrist who investigates financial crimes as a hobby.

He’s James Block, and he runs a crypto newsletter called Dirty Bubble Media.

Block, a vehement crypto skeptic, has spent the past 18 months doing forensic blockchain research. He uses open-source tools to follow flows of money between crypto companies, repeatedly demonstrating how shadow banks and nefarious scammers inflate the value of worthless assets in order to generate enormous wealth that exists only on paper.

Charlie Warzel interviewed Block for The Atlantic.

Block: The AMC-meme-stock thing is a good example of how this can happen. People buy the stock of a semi-worthless company because they have this idea about short squeezing, or whatever. They are not financial experts and have a loose or maybe even wrong understanding of how finance works, and want to try to move the market. Crypto takes this abstraction a step further, because there’s nothing linked to it at all. There’s no economic activity in this space. There’s nothing produced by these companies. In fact, it’s a negative-sum game because of the cost of running the blockchains alone—the computational cost is tremendous. The amount of time and money people put into just running these things is tremendous. And they produce nothing of value. There’s a reason these massive companies aren’t all using blockchain for their processes: It is incredibly inefficient. And realistically, who actually wants their financial information public and visible to everybody?

Warzel: Do you think most entities in the crypto space are insolvent and know it, and are just pretending right now, post-FTX?

Block: Absolutely. That’s because of what I said earlier about crypto. There’s no value created by any of these companies. It’s all just moving money from Person A to Person B.

Mitch W @MitchW