Last July the "Dogecoin Challenge" was trending on TikTok.
The intricate rules of the "challenge" involved TikTok users buying Dogecoin, then posting about it...that's it. And the stated goal of this challenge was to push the joke cryptocurrency — based on a meme from 2013 — to a value of one dollar.
Given the fact that there are currently around 113 billion DOGE in circulation — compared to less than 20 million Bitcoin — and that the value, even after doubling, remained a fraction of a penny, this goal was actually quite lofty. So lofty, in fact, that I didn't take it seriously.
In an article I wrote at the time, I argued that the whole weird story was best understood as a joke. That the $1 price target was "an unlikely — and probably not that serious — goal."
I even joked that it was part of an effort to make Baby Boomers so confused and alienated that their brains would melt. It was a silly meme built on a silly meme, and the idea that anyone was actually trying to get buy-a-boat rich off of Dogecoin seemed like a stretch.
Anonymous investor is Dogecoin's first billionaire www.youtube.com
That was before Gamestop and WallStreetBets proved the strength of the meme economy in January, helping to drive the value of Dogecoin past 1 cent, then five cents, then 10 cents... And now Dogecoin is proving that strength once again.
This morning the value of a single Doge in the coin marketplace exceeded 60 cents per DOGE — more than 200 times its value a year ago — putting the total value of circulating Doge at nearly $70 billion.
To put this in perspective, the global market for leisure boats was around $41 billion in 2020. So, not only can Dogecoin investors buy boats, they could theoretically buy all the boats, with enough left over to buy several thousand private islands to go visit on those boats.
I still cant believe I just watched this happen🤯🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀🚀 #dogecoin #doge #Robinhood #dogefather #DogecoinRise https://t.co/teWL3E29UV— Limitless (@Limitless) 1620137244.0
The price of a DOGE has fluctuated since then but remains above 50 cents at the time of writing, and it seems increasingly doubtful that it won't continue to rise. And with Tesla CEO/Dogefather Elon Musk set to host SNL for some reason, it seems doubtless that the aggressive upward trend of Dogecoin will continue, at least long enough to reach $1.
Hell, it could pass that by the time I finish writing this sentence. It could be at $10 by Saturday. If Elon Musk says, "Such Crypto. Much wow" on Saturday Night Live, Dogecoin could be the de facto global currency by June — with a loaf of bread selling for 0.001 DOGE.
To put it simply, I was wrong about Dogecoin. I was so patently wrong that I've lost all concept of reality, and I genuinely don't know what to think anymore.
Is money even real? And if it's all a weird shared delusion, why is it so important? Why are we forced to slave away for scraps of fantasy paper that will soon be replaced by a digitally-gilded image of an aging Shiba Inu?
Why is survival dependent on the arbitrary value ascribed to drawings of dead presidents and old masonic memes of pyramids with eyes? Why not update it with a meme that embraces chaos and absurdity?
I am ready for it now. Now that I have loosed my grip on the "sanity" that told me people would never invest tens of billions of real, need-'em-to-live bucks in a stale joke, I can embrace my inner boomer, allow my brain to melt in contact with a culture it no longer comprehends, and invest my life savings in Dogecoin.
Why not? There's nothing to lose but the last frayed tendrils of coherent thought tying me to a dying reality. #HODLer #ToTheMoon.
There is no truth anymore. There is only DOGE.
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SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has had an interesting year so far.
In January he overtook Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for the first time in the horse race for hoarding wealth. Then he got himself mixed up in the r/wallstreetbet Gamestop insanity, boosting the movement with his "Gamestonk!!" tweet, and has remained a part of the similarly strange speculation around the meme "currency" known as Dogecoin.
Bought some Dogecoin for lil X, so he can be a toddler hodler— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk) 1612969691.0
Then in early February Musk announced that he was taking a (short-lived) break from Twitter following a major recall of Tesla vehicles and the explosive landing of SpaceX's SN9 rocket — the second test to end in flames in a matter of weeks. But now there are once again some positive headlines for Musk to bask in, as Tesla has turned some impressive profits in February — not from its car sales, but from a major investment in bitcoin.
Just two weeks after Tesla filed paperwork on its January purchase of $1.5 billion in bitcoin — as well as their decision to accept the cryptocurrency as payment — the price of bitcoin has risen by more than 50%, reaching an all-time high of more than $58,000 on Sunday. It has since waned from that peak, but the highly volatile digital currency is still valued well above the price at which the car company bought in.
Depending on when in January the car maker made their purchase, they might have nearly doubled their money. One analyst noted that, if Tesla had sold their bitcoin at the peak price, they would have realized around a billion dollars in profit — more than they netted in the entirety of 2021 from the sale of elctric vehicles and solar energy equipment. With that said, why would a company that ostensibly exists to make cars be investing in cryptocurrency in the first place?
Responsible Investment or Shady Business?
According to their filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, they made the purchase in pursuit of "more flexibility to further diversify and maximize returns on our cash." But is that really what investors gave them that cash for?
If Tesla shareholders wanted to invest in bitcoin, they might have done so directly. And if they wanted someone to be using their money to make prudent investments, they could have given it to an investment firm. Surely they invested in Tesla because they believed in the company itself and in the future of the solar energy and electric vehicle industries.
So why mess with something like bitcoin, which is so far outside their supposed field? One answer is in the increasing financialization of the economy at large.
Noam Chomsky - Financialization of the Economy www.youtube.com
The value of publicly traded companies is increasingly divorced from any product they make or any service they provide to customers. Instead, their stock becomes their true product, and they boost the value of that product by buying it back from investors, leveraging their assets to receive loans, and pumping as much money as they can into profitable investments.
While those profitable investments can include expenditures for new equipment, factories, and employees, there is a limit. There are only so many people looking to buy electric vehicles and solar roofs. If the value of Tesla stock has risen so much that investing that money in manufacturing would outpace the market, then they owe it to their investors to find somewhere else to turn a profit.
This opens the question of whether they should still be considered a car company, or if they're now just an investment firm with heavy ties to the solar sector. But apart from that, there's still the question of why they chose bitcoin above other investments —especially when Musk has staked his claim on a more environmentally friendly future, and bitcoin mining wastes as much energy a large country.
Considering the currency's general upward trend — despite dramatic shifts — part of the reasoning might have to do with providing some cushion now that they're accepting bitcoin as payment. If a bitcoin millionaire buys a fleet of Teslas when the currency is at a peak, Tesla could end up losing a lot of that value by the time the cars are delivered. But if that's folded into a larger bitcoin investment that can (probably...maybe) be expected to continue increasing in value in the long term, it's not a big deal.
That would make a certain amount of sense. But if we were being less charitable, we could look at Elon Musk's personal history of using his social media to influence investment and the price of cryptocurrency, in particular.
In 2018 Musk was sued by the SEC, who alleged fraud over a series of false tweets in which Musk said he had secured funding to take Tesla private at a price of $420 per share. At the time, Tesla was valued at closer to $350 per share, and Musk later acknowledged that he chose the figure of $420 as a "funny" reference to cannabis.
Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk) 1533660493.0
That dumb joke led to a 14% jump in Tesla stock, amounting to hundreds of millions in value for Musk. But even that doesn't compare to what Elon Musk has been able to do with the value of cryptocurrency and meme stocks.
Over and over his tweets have sent their values soaring. And Tesla and SpaceX, there is no concrete output of cryptocurrency. There are no cars that can be recalled and no rockets that can blow up.
While Tesla and other companies can put some distance between their profits and their actual productive output — relying more on investments, stock value, and hype — there are still real-world products at the core of the operation. When sales are down or one part among thousands is revealed as faulty, the company can take a major hit. That's not an issue with bitcoin.
While some cryptocurrencies have a value tied to a recognized asset, bitcoins only value lies in its perceived worth. And, unlike the dollar and other fiat currencies, it's not even tied toward a government's ability to collect taxes.
@PeterSchiff An email saying you have gold is not the same as having gold. You might as well have crypto. Money is… https://t.co/Ci7r8Q38Qc— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk) 1613801271.0
When more people want to buy it, the price goes up, when fewer are willing, the price drops, and there are no quarterly earnings or product reviews attached to it. Short of an undiscovered fault in the blockchain technology at bitcoin's core, the price is purely subject to hype. And that is an area where Elon Musk thrives.
With more than 47 million followers on Twitter — in the top 25 of individual users on the platform — musks often inane, memeified thoughts are guaranteed a wide audience. And when he sends some of that attention toward a meme stock like Gamestock, or toward a cryptocurrency like dogecoin, he can be sure that the value will see a spike.
Lately, however, he has been casting doubt on dogecoin and shifting his attention toward bitcoin. Perhaps he wants to see how far he can push the power of his hype.
Rather than using that power to manipulate Tesla's stock — which got him in trouble before — he could be using his considerable corporate control (with minimal personal liability) to shift his company's value into an area where he has more freedom to comment, speculate, and drive interest under the cover of "humor." That would certainly explain some of his bizarre, s***posting of late.
Heard a rumor some crypto coin was pegging the dollar 🤣🤣— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk) 1613854376.0
If so, the experiment has already paid off. Along with recent developments like the addition of bitcoin to Apple Pay, Tesla's bitcoin announcements on February 8th — along with a lot of dumb tweets — have contributed to the currency's steep rise.
Of course the alternative is that the richest man in the world is genuinely about as smart as the average redditor...which is as upsetting as it is plausible. Tough call.
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After its precipitous fall in February of 2020, the government took major steps to stabilize it.
By Monday, November 16th, the Dow had surpassed all previous records, closing at 29,950. Meanwhile, the national death rate as a result of COVID-19 was rising toward its horrifying January peak. Meanwhile, working Americans continued to struggle and suffer, wasting their gas money waiting in endless lines for limited supplies of free food.
If you, like nearly half of U.S. adults, don't own any stock at all, the numbers above are essentially meaningless. Even for most of the people who are invested in the stock market, their investment isn't substantial enough to make up for issues like widespread underemployment.
And yet, the Federal Reserve has poured $4 trillion into maintaining the stability of investment markets and ensuring that the Dow, the S&P 500 and various other numbers on charts that seem increasingly disconnected from reality move in the right direction. Why is that?
30 million people in this country are at risk of eviction. Millions of people are unemployed or underemployed from… https://t.co/pWGQY94iJT— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) 1605753584.0
The answer to that question is complicated, but it is closely linked to the reason why President Joe Biden has been on the receiving end of a lot of scrutiny and pushback on the topic of student loan forgiveness — and why he hasn't already taken steps to cancel some or all of student debt already.
Recently the amount of student loan debt in the United States surpassed $1.7 trillion. That amount has more than tripled in the last 15 years, with around 45 million Americans currently holding some amount of student loan debt, and an average burden in excess of $30,000.
Most of that debt is nearly impossible to discharge through the standard bankruptcy process. And the fact that most of that burden falls on young people — whose careers are less established and who face generational declines in wages and wealth — exacerbates the impact of that debt. It's a major factor in the worrying declines in rates of home ownership, marriage, and birth rate among millennials.
It is widely acknowledged that the cost of higher education has ballooned out of control while it has increasingly been pushed as a necessary step on the path to prosperity. Underlying this problem is the fact that — unlike many developed nations — our federal government doesn't offer affordable public universities or fund education in fields like medicine and engineering where we always need more skilled professionals.
Why Is College So Expensive in America? | Making Cents | NowThis www.youtube.com
Instead we offer government-backed loans and guarantees that incentivize institutions to invest in administrative bloat and in expensive development projects to enhance their prestige and entice prospective students with unnecessary luxuries. Teenagers instilled with little sense of the financial commitments — but an unwavering belief in the necessity of college — have become cash cows.
The system as it stands is clearly broken, and whatever other reforms are called for, the resulting debt crisis is interfering with the spending power and attainment of an entire generation. In the context of a pandemic that has affected the livelihoods of so many, it would seem like an uncontroversial act for the government to alleviate some of that burden of student debt.
And for the most part, it is. Opinion polling shows that the notion of providing some amount of student loan forgiveness is broadly popular across partisan lines.
The exception is among the pundit class — and the wealthy donors they represent. Because, while various political figures — including Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren — have urged Joe Biden to make student loan forgiveness an early focus of his presidency, others in politics and the news media have done their best to push back.
When you say #cancelstudentdebt, you’re saying a minority of people who had the advantage of obtaining a degree sho… https://t.co/BMbhxUHAbK— Dan Crenshaw (@Dan Crenshaw) 1561467692.0
At the moment, a forbearance measure laid out in the CARES act has been extended through the remainder of 2020 — allowing those with federal student loans to defer payments for the time being. But further action being proposed would include forgiveness for debt owed to private companies.
Among the wide range of suggestions are legislation to provide $10,000 of debt forgiveness for individuals meeting certain restrictive criteria and $50,000 of automatic forgiveness for all student debt holders — which Joe Biden could theoretically have delivered through an executive order as soon as he took office.
In either case, some would still be left with large burdens of debt, and some would likely be hit with unmanageable tax bills — as debt forgiveness is considered a form of income. But the debate has not largely involved addressing those shortcomings. Rather, many have questioned whether we should be considering these proposals at all.
The objections tend to fall into three categories: It wouldn't help the right people, it wouldn't stimulate the economy as much as other measures, and "I paid off my student loans, so why shouldn't they?"
The last is patently asinine, and should be ignored or mocked as it applies equally to any form of progress — "My face healed after smashing against the dashboard, so why should we add airbags now?" If the people espousing this perspective want to be acknowledged for their fiscal responsibility, here's the entirety of the praise they deserve: Good for you.
The fact remains that many people are not able to pay off their student loan debts, which can have a ruinous effect on their credit rating, affecting everything from interest rates on other loans to — in a cruel twist — their employment prospects. There is a disturbing potential for an accelerating debt cycle that becomes impossible to escape.
“Things were bad for me, so they should stay bad for everyone else” is not a good argument against debt cancellatio… https://t.co/yyC60K5Uyz— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) 1605569343.0
Even for those who are able to pay off their debts may feel pressured by the monthly payments to accept employment that they otherwise wouldn't — contributing to an imbalance in the employee-employer relationship that could further suppress wages. In short, it's bad.
So while it's valid to point out that there are others in the economy more in need than college graduates, we can't ignore the reality of the student debt crisis. Along with other important measures — further extension and expansion of unemployment benefits, rent subsidies, and direct payments to make it easier for people to stay home — student loan forgiveness should be considered an essential part of COVID relief.
Which leaves only one complaint left: It wouldn't do enough to stimulate the economy.
The basic issue is that the benefit of debt forgiveness is spread out over years or decades of remaining loan payments. And because it would also contribute to recipient's tax burdens, there is a concern that much of the cost of debt relief would not result in short term increases in consumer spending — the kind that spurs quick economic growth.
You know what would be an effective stimulus program? Canceling student debt. President Biden can do it today and I… https://t.co/njh0M5pfOu— Ed Markey (@Ed Markey) 1612456122.0
While that's worth being aware of, doesn't this objection have its priorities reversed? Isn't the entire purpose of a strong economy to improve people's lives? So why are we unwilling to improve people's lives unless it primarily contributes to short term economic growth?
Clearly our entire system has embraced this inverted way of thinking. That's why it can pass almost without notice when the Federal Reserve spends $4 trillion to prop up investment markets.
We happily spend that amount on measures that only directly benefit the wealthy, and yet — when it's suggested that we should spend a fraction of that on a popular policy that could improve the lives of 45 million Americans — it becomes a point of great contention.
We all seem to have forgotten the essential truth that the economy is meant to serve us — not the other way around.
In the first week of Wall Street trading in January of 2021, stock in the video game retail chain GameStop (NYSE: GME) hovered at a price of around $18 per share.
Less than three weeks later, on Wednesday morning those same shares were fluctuating wildly between $250 and nearly $400. This kind of growth is unheard of for an established, brick and mortar retail chain — especially when a pandemic is keeping people indoors.
So what did GameStop do to deserve this incredible rally? Absolutely nothing.
If anything, you could argue that the company's lackluster performance was what triggered this incredible rise, as it was the proliferation of "short" positions — bets against the company's future value — that brought the stock to the attention of the WallStreetBets subreddit.
A subsection of reddit with millions of subscribed users, WallStreetBets describes itself as, "Like 4chan found a Bloomberg Terminal." In other words, it's a place for Extremely Online and unserious hobbyists to overanalyze the absurdly complex data that professional traders use to make investment decisions in the stock market.
Generally speaking, this leads to some pretty reckless speculation that often does not pan out well for the users. They're like small-time gamblers boosting each other up to play with the high rollers, and it's not uncommon to see a post from a redditor explaining how they lost their life savings.
But in this case they managed to turn that dynamic around. Like those little dinosaurs from Jurassic Park 2, individually they are small and vulnerable, but if they work together, they can take down the big assh**es...or, medium-sized ass**les anyway. They won't be tackling T-Rex or J.P. Morgan any time soon.
But what actually happened? The answer is complex, but the basic version requires a brief explanation of the slightly sketchy practice of short selling. Also known as "shorting," short selling inverts the standard "buy low, sell high" model of trading.
When a trader identifies a stock that they think is overvalued — because of hype, fraud, or expected trends — they borrow someone else's shares and immediately sell them at the current rate, planning to buy back once the value goes down and return them to the lender with some profit left over from the original sale.
There is also the short-call option, where — for a small fee — you offer a window of time in which to buy shares at a set price above its current value. If the stock rises above that price within the time limit, you have to sell it at a loss. But if it goes down — as you expect — you can just pocket the fee, and never have to truly own the stock in the first place.
In both scenarios you're relying on the idea that the company's perceived value will go down. But the truly sinister aspect is that — when a lot of these bets are being made against a company — it's often taken as a bad sign, leading traders to sell off their stock, driving the value down.
It's a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that destroys businesses and small-time traders to the benefit of multi-billion-dollar hedge funds. It's the kind of trading that accelerated the financial crisis of 2009 while raking in billions for the scavengers. But if the stock's value just keeps going up — for whatever reason — the hedge fund can end up on the hook for some truly staggering losses.
Investor Chamath Palihapitiya: The GameStop story is pushback against Wall Street establishment www.youtube.com
So when WallStreetBets users noticed the overwhelming amount of betting against GameStop, they decided to intervene on the company's behalf — and to make some money for themselves while screwing over some big investors. Never mind that one of the subreddit's official rules prohibits market manipulation. It's for a good cause — kind of.
From there a strange and powerful feedback loop took hold. As more and more redditors bought shares in GameStop, driving the price above $60 over the course of a week, the incentive to treat the stock as overvalued increased — after all, there was nothing in the company's performance to justify the higher price.
Investors poured an additional $2.75 billion into Melvin Capital — one of the biggest short sellers — to cover the losses until the trend turned around. But the short sellers' dismissive attitude toward the early growth actually helped to inflate the price and spurred on the weirdos at WallStreetBets.
With some encouragement from Tesla CEO Elon Musk — who hates short sellers and generally holds a weird amount of petty grudges for a man whose 2020 earnings were literally higher than the GDPs of most countries on Earth — they drove GameStops share prices even higher. And as media coverage (hi there) spread news of this absurd battle — and the dire situation a bunch of weird hobbyists had created for Melvin Capital — the hype only grew, driving the price even higher.
Gamestonk!! https://t.co/RZtkDzAewJ— Elon Musk (@Elon Musk) 1611695282.0
By Wednesday morning, Melvin Capital and Citron Capital — another major proponent of shorting GameStop — had both announced that they were abandoning their short selling positions and swallowing the losses...but WallStreetBets doesn't buy it. Suspecting the investment firms of attempting to let the air out of the story so they can finally profit as the inflated stock collapses back to a reasonable value, redditors have continued pumping up the stock.
But as crazy as all of this is, on some level it serves to expose the insanity that was already there. The stock market is all based on speculation and hype and speculation about the trends in hype — all operating at degrees of removal from the economic realities of the companies involved.
Is GameStop's share price artificially inflated? Absolutely.
But so are a thousand other companies that have spent tax cuts and government bailouts on stock buybacks, rather than paying their workers a fair wage or investing in new ventures. It may make for a more dramatic story — and will probably end up inspiring more regulatory pushback — but is the game they're playing worse than the short sellers themselves working to depress stock prices?
For so long we have been taught to treat the stock market as an index of our nation's whole economy. Perhaps that's why, in 2020, the one area where the government wasn't stingy with its support was in propping up the financial sector.
As a result, the Dow Jones Industrial Average quickly recovered from an early COVID crash and ended up increasing in value by 10% over the course of the year. At the same time we saw record-breaking unemployment, endless lines at food banks, and thousands upon thousands of businesses folding as a result of the protracted half-measures of our noncommittal COVID lockdown.
More than any flash crash or high-frequency middlemen, some weirdos working together on Reddit have helped to expose how unreal the whole system is. The stock market is not the economy. It's just a weird, artificial, predatory game our billionaire overlords play with the economy. And at the moment, some regular nerds are outplaying them — and potentially making millions in the process.
Please share this. There is currently $38 MILLION USD worth of shorts on $AMC When these short sellers don't hit… https://t.co/GLzA7Y2xVM— Reddit Trading 🚀 (@Reddit Trading 🚀) 1611767995.0
There's no way of knowing quite how high GameStop's stock will rise, or what will happen to the company when it eventually crashes back to Earth — there's not really a precedent for this. But hopefully the whole ordeal will serve as a lesson for the hedge funds, investment banks, and other bloated parasites thriving in a hellish economy — that every now and then, the little guys can bite back.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the hype is still going, with the phrase "to the moon" trending on Twitter, and WallStreetBets continuing to inflate the share price of GameStop along with AMC and Blackberry — whose stocks were similarly targeted by short sellers.