In April 2020, at the height of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Silicon Valley heavyweight Marc Andreessen published a call to action for the innovators and dreamers of the world: “It’s time to build.” The U.S. seemed to be in dire straits, according to Andreessen’s diagnosis, after decades of political stagnation and misspent investment. Where were the flying cars, robot assistants and grand public infrastructure we were promised?
Andreessen, who co-created the first web browser, Mosaic, and went on to reinvent the venture capital industry, drew some amount of criticism for his exhortations. But if you look closely it seems like even skeptics of Andreessen’s brand of techno optimism would agree that little is getting built in America. For instance, Ezra Klein, while still at Vox, wrote, “America’s inability to act is killing people” – finding an explanation in the type of political gridlock that political scientist Francis Fukuyama neatly describes as a “vetocracy.”
This article is part of CoinDesk’s “BUIDL Week" and excerpted from The Node, CoinDesk's daily roundup of the most pivotal stories in blockchain and crypto news. You can subscribe to get the full newsletter here.
The world has changed significantly since Andreesen’s original essay, but few could honestly disagree that the message still applies. After witnessing COVID-era medical shortfalls, global supply chain disruptions and rising consumer prices – hardships that affect all, but perhaps unequally – it’s clear there’s room yet for innovation. But the old political disagreements still seem to apply. U.S. President Joe Biden made “Build Back Better” a core promise of his election campaign, and was arguably hamstrung when he actually got into office.
That’s partially why the crypto industry remains relevant, and should likely be elevated higher in the public conversation. At their best, crypto protocols are open-source systems available for all. That sounds like a general statement but it’s only because the core mentality of building “credibly neutral” and “general purpose” technologies can be applied anywhere. Web3, rightfully called a buzzword, has hopes for reinventing everything from money to social media and even the internet itself.
This is a challenging time to be writing an essay like this. Last year, after the collapse of a systemically important stablecoin, several bankruptcies and also the collapse of one of the most high-profile crypto on-ramps, the world saw “crypto” at its worst. In the wake of FTX, a massive fraud almost without precedent, the industry must rebuild itself and regain public trust. I’m optimistic that’s not only possible, but probable. As many have noted, the many failures of centralized companies has only proven the viability of and need for true decentralized alternatives.
CoinDesk’s “BUIDL Week,” the second edition of Consensus Magazine’s flagship theme week series in 2023, is focused on just that issue. The package will feature profiles of developers including Casey Rodamor, the creator of Bitcoin Ordinals, who remains as committed as ever to making Bitcoin resilient; essays by experts such as SingularityDAO’s Marcello Mari, who is probing the far reaches of where Web3 and artificial intelligence collide; and features covering a range of topics including a community-led hackathon for Solana, a data-driven exploration of Bitcoin’s patronage system and Ethereum’s much-anticipated Shanghai upgrade.
Crypto has taken a hit, but as a friend and former colleague of mine once said, “DeFi has already won.” With exception, disintermediated crypto protocols designed to function during crises have not only done just that but are continuing to grow. That may be why venture capitalists CoinDesk’s Brandy Betz interviewed have said they’re plowing money into crypto “infrastructure,” having learned a hard lesson about the dangers of centralized finance.
See also: Why I Won't Incorporate My Crypto Startup in the US | Opinion
Yet, this optimism comes at a challenging time for crypto. The industry can likely weather another market downturn, but it looks as though the real threat to crypto’s growth will come from the political sector. Ironically, it looks as though many disparate parts of the U.S. legislative and executive branches are finally able to collaborate on regulating crypto – in what some industry experts have called “Operation Choke Point 2.0,” drawing a comparison to the Obama-era policy of directing banks to disfavor legal but unseemly industries.
No doubt rebuilding crypto will involve a collaboration between industry participants and lawmakers to pass laws protecting consumers from fraudulent companies and predatory actors. The hope is that lawmakers will also learn to see crypto as crypto is meant to be, using code to advance everyone’s interests. It’s time to build.