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Commentary: How magical thinking enabled the rise of FTX – and led to its fall

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NEW YORK: A few months ago at a raucous tech conference in Toronto, I got chatting to some crypto evangelists who were keen to extol the joys of decentralised finance or, as they like to call it, “DeFi”.With reverential fervour, they declared that they loved digital assets because there were no hierarchies: Anyone could deal in bitcoin, for instance, without having to rely on centralised gatekeepers such as banks.What about the exchanges, I asked, pointing out that much crypto activity was taking place on these centralised hubs.

Economic sociologist Koray Caliskan notes that more than 90 per cent of bitcoin traded in 2021 was kept in crypto exchanges.To me, it seemed that this created more, not fewer, concentrations of power than in mainstream finance.

The collapsed cryptocurrency exchange FTX, for example, was not just a broker but also issued its own currency, offered custody for customers’ assets and was linked to a trading company called Alameda.Wasn’t this centralisation a contradiction in the DeFi creed?

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