Image of a blockchain coin with blurry background.

Making Blockchain Infrastructure

“You know, it occurs to me that the best way to hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people.” – Billy Ray Valentine

Blockchain technology has upended traditional finance. To outsiders, take your pick of cryptocurrency and it appears you are doing nothing more than pulling the handle on a slot machine. The payouts are just as large too if you pick the right token and pay as little as possible. This is the reason why a couple of provisions in the Infrastructure Spending Bill were so fraught with danger to this new industry. The first was a provision requiring crypto-miners, developers, wallet companies and others who deal with tokens to register and send 1099’s to those who bought, used or sold them.  This directly impacts the anonymity of using currency rather than say, a check, to purchase goods or services.  The second is more egregious and when combined with the first provision spells out why and how Uncle Sam will end the panoply of tokens and possibly institute a virtual dollar as the preferred cryptocurrency in the US.

The recent infrastructure bill that passed the House this week contained a provision requiring “Brokers” in cryptocurrency to be knowledgeable about their customers. They would be required to obtain their customer’s name, address, phone numbers and Social Security numbers.  Resulting transactions that the broker performs would result in a 1099 being sent to the account owner at the end of the year, much like a stock.  Owners of cypto had to know this was coming after much debate during the Trump administration.  Recently, SEC chair Gary Gensler stipulated that nearly all cryptocurrencies are a security and should subject to reporting of initial purchase date and price, quantities and sale date and price. The market has had time to digest this and, well frankly, expected it given the large bull market that has hit tokens.  If there is income, you can be sure that Uncle Sam wants his cut.  There was a second provision waiting in the wings that makes things far worse.

A recently added piece of text now makes electronic assets including NFTs and cryptocurrency subject to 26 USC Section 6050i. This section of the Internal Revenue Code governs cash transactions of over $10,000.  This means that that should an asset or collection of assets used in a transaction be valued at over $10,000, it must be treated as cash.  If a person in the transaction were to conceal or be unable to provide the buyer/seller information associated with this transaction, they are guilty of a felony punishable up to 5 years per offense.  Not only that, no person may assist in an effort to make a transaction fall under the $10,000 limit, have omission or misstatement about the assets or block a person in the transaction from filing with the IRS. If they do, that’s the same 5-year felony.  If this sounds like a provision to prevent money laundering, it is!

Once President Biden signs the bill, the Treasury will have until 2024 to implement these rules.  Typically, this is a very public process where a Notice of Potential Rulemaking (NOPR) is posted.  Industry stakeholders and the general public are allowed to provide comment on the rules, regulators are supposed to take them under advisement and then provide the actual rule.  Two years is a very accelerated timeline for many administrative regulations.  Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has already stated that she wants to tax unrealized gains. Now that NFTs and cryptocurrency are now deemed “cash”, it would be a very small stretch to implement a provision that any increase in a virtual asset’s value is not an unrealized gain but rather akin to a dividend or interest payment. Dividends and interest are subject to taxation even when the initial asset is never sold.  It is my belief that Secretary Yellen will deem any increase in value in any token or cryptocoin as such and taxable at year end.

Should the US Treasury or Federal Reserve create the virtual dollar, how do they get everyone to convert to it?  There are several stable coins already in existence and how does one go about seizing them without the lengthy battle over private property.  Also, the developers of the winning stable coin get a nice payout from Uncle Sam.  Enter President Biden’s nominee for Comptroller of the Currency Saule Omerova.  Ms. Omerova has proposed a shadow unelected Congress called the National Investment Authority as well as a virtual currency system.  In a recent white paper titled “The People’s Ledger: How to Democratize Money and Finance the Economy”, she details that the Fed should hold the actual bank accounts of people while community banks are merely pass-through organizations accepting physical deposits.  She also advocated for the virtual dollar as a means of commerce and controlling the population’s spending habits. 

“The core idea here is simply to allow all U.S. citizens and lawful residents, local governments, nonbanking firms and nonbusiness entities to open transactional accounts directly with the Federal Reserve, thus bypassing private depository institutions.  In this sense, it is a variation on the familiar FedAccounts – or FedCoin or “digital dollar wallets” etc. – theme.”  The People’s Ledger

Should a virtual dollar be created with bank accounts at the Federal Reserve, Treasury Secretary Yellen may simply write a letter stating that virtual dollars are exempt from 6050i as the Fed already has the person’s information on file.  This is explicitly allowed in the statute.  This gives the virtual dollar an enormous market advantage while reducing other electronic assets to transactions conducted entirely outside the United States.  These transactions are exempted from 6050i per statute.  No vote from Congress or action by the President required.  The American Public will have been bypassed and robbed at the same time.

If Ms. Omerova is confirmed, and it thankfully doesn’t look good, she could certainly create the provisions and developer documents necessary to create the virtual dollar.  The Comptroller of the Currency was actually created to supervise banks and implement a uniform bank note. It is up in the air if the Comptroller could unilaterally require the Fed to create bank accounts for individuals or implement other ideas from “People’s Ledger”.  Most of this would have to be passed in Congress which is looking wearily at the 2022 midterms.  Even if Ms. Omerova’s nomination is withdrawn or voted down, Secretary Yellen certainly now has what she needs to tax all cryptocurrency accounts on an annual basis as they are now fungible “cash”.  Much like the Sales and Local Taxes (SALT) cap, once these revenue generators are created, they are very difficult to get rid of.

So how can the crypto community fix this or prevent it from coming to fruition? There are two alternatives left. One is to flood the NOPR process with comments and possibly cause enough rancor to slow the rule implementation. Second, and more importantly, help elect Libertarian Party members to Congress. Please hear me out on this.

The Republican Party is rather clueless when it comes to crypto and has a similar outlook on the industry. They may tax it less but they still want to tax it. Only the Libertarian Party understands that your cryptocurrency, and certainly your NFTs, have value and you are entitled to keep it! It’s the value the community or market places on it and it shouldn’t be devalued or cancelled by our Federal Government. They had no part in creating it.

Think of it this way, if I trade a rare football card for some rare baseball cards, there’s no taxable event and no records. Trading these assets should be no different. The Democratic Party has now instituted a system where I must pay taxes both on the gain in value of the card from when I bought it AND when I exchange it for something else. I must now also tell the government what other cards I own tell the government who I traded with. If I don’t, I face 5 years in prison. Libertarian Party candidates run on issues like these and they need this community’s help to get elected. Republicans will assuredly do nothing or make it even worse.

Enjoy the crypto-boom while it lasts. Help where and when you can. If things don’t change, please don’t be stuck in 2024 holding crypto-coins that will be subject to heavy reporting requirements the next time you make a trade or purchase.

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