Google’s Call Screening Service announcement made waves in the crypto world this week. Not because of the service. But, rather, because of the advertisement itself. Let’s set the scene. Google Assistant is screening calls. It’s the electric company calling… the fellow’s bill is quite high. He responds that the high bill is due to the energy used mining cryptocurrency. The crypto-enthusiast’s friend says, “Cryptocurrency? That money’s not real.”
To which he retorts, “I have news for you. Money isn’t real.”
The ad itself is well done. It’s both funny and pithy, and it offers a clear value proposition. That it brings up debate about a hot topic in popular culture makes it all the more alluring as an ad piece, particularly since it opts against taking a clear stance on the issue itself.
Notably, the ad engages with the long-held belief that money itself has no intrinsic value. The argument has a long and storied history, even before the United States officially adopted the Gold Standard in 1900. For the better part of two decades before the turn of the century, Americans were bitterly divided on the concept of money. On the one hand, a Gold Standard allowed for easier trade with other countries using gold-backed currency. Others, like William Jennings Bryan, made the case that bimetallism, which backed US Dollars with both gold and silver, was necessary to increase the money supply within the country.
The Panic of 1893 brought the issue to a head, and it turned much of the Democrat Party against its own President, Grover Cleveland, who steadfastly stood by the Gold Standard. This opened the door to William Jennings Bryan’s famous speech. You may recall the ending: “you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” Considered among the greatest speeches in American history, it led him to win the Democratic nomination for president. Of course, as history tells us, Bryan lost, and the country officially adopted the Gold Standard shortly thereafter. Notably, Bryan found himself in the headlines again several decades later when he served as the prosecutor in The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, better know as “The Monkey Trial.”
The Gold Standard became a major issue again during the Great Depression, and, in 1944, 44 countries met in New Hampshire to approve the Bretton Woods international monetary system. Essentially, the parties agreed to fix their currency to the dollar, which was to be fixed to gold. But, in 1971, as part of what is now referred to as “Nixon Shock,” the United States ended its use of the Gold Standard. Proponents of fiat currency will tell you that, since its adoption, inflation and deflation have been significantly less problematic, and that the fiat currency has been much less volatile.
Critics, like the man in the Google advertisement, would note that the US Dollar is no longer redeemable for any asset with intrinsic value. Instead, it is only backed by the “full faith and credit” of the government. Now, fiat currency, they would say, is as valuable as the government’s word. In the more libertarian circles of cryptocurrency, this juxtaposition is one of the reasons many believe an extra-governmental currency was necessary in the first place. Indeed, that’s why this simple, seemingly innocuous ad packs such a punch.
Richard Gardner is the CEO of Modulus, a US-based developer of ultra-high-performance trading and surveillance technology that powers global equities, derivatives, and cryptocurrency exchanges.