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NFTs -Viewing Crypto in $USD Invites Confusion

September 01, 2021
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Non-fungible tokens (NFTs for short) are fascinating - not only from an investment standpoint but from a behavioral one as well.  Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ether can be difficult enough to understand; now owning trying to wrap your head around 'digital art'.  

While I confess I'm no expert in the space, nor do I personally materially participate, the way crypto is covered hampers the way outsiders digest the action.  By framing transactions for NFTs, Bitcoin, etc. in $USD we are trying to put a innovative round peg into a traditionally square hole.  

NFTs trade via cryptocurrencies, specifically ETH, meaning A party gives the B party ETH while A receives ownership of the NFT from B.  When the media covers what just happened, they show amount of ETH paid while immediately translating that into $USD (using the current $USD/ETH price).  This justifiably leads to commentary resembling 'I can't believe someone paid $50,000 for that NFT, they could have bought a new car!'  

That 'either, or' framing between NFT and new car, however, is flawed.  A high end NFT investor is likely a die-hard crypto fan.  They're in it for the long haul, a true believer.  If A decided not to buy the NFT, they weren't going to sell their ETH for $USD and put those dollars into Chase Bank.  They would simply continue to own their ETH.

This alternative framing, NFT/ETH vs. NFT/Car makes for an interesting question - what's the difference between owning 100 ETH vs. 90 ETH and a CyberPunk worth 10 ETH?  It's still 100 ETH of digital 'stuff' either way.  

My wife recently asked after a vigorous college football debate I had with a couple friends why we spent so much time on the topic - we don't play on the team, won't attend a game this year, and whoever wins or loses, our life will go on.  I answered that she wouldn't understand, she doesn't enjoy sports like we do (she'll willingly watch a game with a semi-forced smile, one of the less important reasons I married her!).  

I think crypto is similar, an ecosystem that can seem silly to an outsider.  The fact that people have found big money in crypto (some on paper, some in $USD) makes it an interesting and relevant financial topic.  Framing the broader and ever-developing story that is crypto in $USD, however, is a misleading endeavor.  Traditional thinking on a nontraditional asset class is bound to be confounding.