The President of the United States is the most powerful person on the planet, so when he issues an order, people jump to attention. That was certainly the case this week when President Biden signed his “Executive Order on Ensuring Responsible Development of DigitalAssets,” a long-awaited command setting out the White House’s view of the crypto industry.
An “executive order” sure sounds imposing, but on close examination, this particular one doesn’t amount to much at all. Asked to summarize the order for a room of attendees at Camp Ethereal on Thursday, ConsenSys founder Joe Lubin said, waving his hands, “Agencies, do something!”
That’s about right. Biden’s order says it’s important that crypto not harm consumers or facilitate crime and, in a more encouraging tone, describes crypto’s potential for financial innovation and inclusion. This has been the position of the crypto industry for years, but I suppose it’s nice that President Biden is now saying it too. The most his predecessor did was to tweet one time, “I’m not a fan of Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies” a tweet Anthony Scaramucci doesn’t think Trump wrote himself.
As for the “Agencies, do something” part of the order, Biden delivered a much-needed kick in the pants to different fiefdoms of the federal government that have failed to deliver clear rules on crypto and have mostly squabbled with each other over turf. The President directs the Treasury Department, alongside the SEC, CFTC and others, to submit a report in 180 days about what exactly they plan to do. For years, multiple agencies have jockeyed over who gets to regulate crypto; perhaps they will now get on the same page.
Ordering yet another report will not provide immediate relief to the many crypto companies being harassed or stymied by the SEC, but it could force SEC Chair Gary Gensler—who is deeply loathed by the industry—to get off his high horse and provide some useful guidance.
Still, the mild content of the order came mostly as a pleasant surprise to crypto executives, who had feared Biden’s decree might contain something off-the-wall like “shut down Bitcoin” or something. (Good luck with that.) That helps explain the industry’s reaction of mostly measured optimism upon reading the order. Matthew Diemer, host of our Decrypt Daily podcast and a current congressional candidate in Ohio, called the reaction a “sigh of relief.”
Overall, the executive order is a nothingburger that will preserve the status quo until next year at least. In the meantime, it’s very possible that Congress—which is suddenly bubbling with crypto bills—will act first, and pass laws that clear up the mess of tax and regulatory muddles weighing down the crypto industry.
But while Biden’s order will have little practical effect for now, it has a huge symbolic one. Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire called it a “watershed moment.” Who would have thought a decade ago—when Bitcoin was still an underground phenomenon—that in 2022 the President of the United States would be directing his staff to work on crypto policy? That’s the takeaway here: crypto lovers should celebrate that the order exists in the first place. Everyone in crypto has come a long way.
This is Roberts on Crypto, a weekend column from Decrypt Editor-in-Chief Daniel Roberts and Decrypt Executive Editor Jeff John Roberts. Sign up for the Decrypt Debrief email newsletter to receive it in your inbox every Saturday. And read last weekend’s column: What DAOs Can Do for Ukraine.