In a move that has received more than its fair amount of press coverage, the London School of Economics (LSE) has announced that starting August 28 of this year they will offer a new course in understanding and investing in cryptocurrencies. Some see the move as an indication that crypto has become mainstream and by others as an indication of just how out of the loop the mainstream is.
Understanding the Causes of Things
The new LSE course is to be called "Cryptocurrency Investment and Disruption," and it will consist of six modules spread out over 60 hours of class time. The description of the course indicates the aim is to provide students with the skills required to "interact with crypto trading platforms." Besides, the course will cover the basics of the virtual wallet and some guidance on how to evaluate ICOs - "initial coin offerings" - that often amount to little more than crowdfunding for new cryptocurrencies and their architects.
With 18 Nobel Prize winners to call their own, the LSE has a veneer of respectability few other institutions can match and so when they get on board something it's rather like touching that issue on the shoulder with their collective sword and telling it to "Rise and be legitimate." According to the school, their new interest in cryptocurrencies is based on a desire to explore "the exponential growth and volatility of cryptocurrencies and the distributed ledger technology underpinning them" which LSE contends "has led to the global interest in crypto assets, ICOs and the distribution of digital wealth." That's all very well and good and fits in with the schools’ raison d'etre to "understand the causes of things." But it also seems rather late in the game to be taking notice of an economic movement whose days of exponential growth are likely already behind it and whose impact on individuals, governments and financial institutions worldwide is already waning.
Turning the Titanic
While many have applauded the London School for acknowledging cryptocurrencies, others wonder what took so long. But the fact is like many old guard institutions the LSE is slow to change and slow to recognize the change. Getting them to respond to anything occurring in the contemporary world can be a bit like turning the Titanic. It takes time. But to their credit, they have made that time and indeed, a further look at the course description seems to indicate the school is well-aware that they missed the boat at launch but are now determined to provide a comprehensive overview of the many ways crypto has ingratiated itself into the modern world.
Not the First
While the LSE's crypto class looks interesting, (if perhaps already obsolete), others universities including Imperial College in the UK and New York University in the US have been offering courses on crypto since 2013 or 2014. Many universities in fact, including MIT, began accepting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as legitimate forms of payment at around the same time. A quick check of the current academic landscape reveals that some universities are already offering full degrees in blockchain technology and that graduate level courses on the subject of cryptocurrencies can be found at Cornell, Duke, MIT, Carnegie Mellon and more. But while the LSE may have finally tapped the blockchain on the shoulder and some classes may be filled to overflowing it may all turn out to be too late as we stated above. It is because cryptocurrencies are quickly becoming the regulator's favorite target.
Dropping the Digital Hammer
The fact is that the London School of Economics may not just be late in offering crypto courses, they might be too late. Their first ever cryptocurrency class is scheduled to take place some eight months after what may have been the beginning of the end for the crypto phenomenon as we know it. That event was the news that broke in mid-December of 2017 that the US government was going to take a close look at virtual currencies. That tidbit, coupled with the Chinese government's announcement that they were going to shut down crypto in China effectively sent shockwaves through the blockchain. First, because the main attraction of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin was their anonymity and second because Bitcoin enthusiasts always assumed that even if the SEC dropped the digital hammer on crypto in the US that China would still be there as a kind of refuge to pick up the slack.
Analyzing the Wake
Once it became apparent that regulations were coming and that there might not be any place to hide from them, digital coin valuations plunged. Bitcoin went from more than $19,900 for a single coin to around $6,000 in just a few months. And no reasonable person expects it to do anything but drop further as more and stricter anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism statues appear on the books. What this means is that the new course at the LSE will likely wind up doing little more than analyzing the wake of the crypto movement rather than helping to shine a light on its future just because there isn't likely to be much of a future for the virtual currencies themselves.
The Future of the Blockchain
While cryptocurrencies seem headed for death by regulation the blockchain technology that made them possible looks like it may have a long and prosperous future. There are already conferences being held where companies are showcasing new and innovative ways to leverage the blockchain for non-crypto purposes that include healthcare services, gaming, job search websites and more.
And in the End
With cryptocurrencies under assault from regulators, the world over their time as a potentially revolutionary instrument for fundamental economic change may have already passed. All that's left now is to find some new and exciting uses for the blockchain technology that made the movement possible in the first place.
So while the class being offered by the renowned London School of Economics may be noteworthy in some academic sense, it nevertheless seems like it will wind up being more of a post-mortem than anything else.