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Bankruptcy Laws Plus Inflation Equals Scam

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At the end of 2022, investors all around the world who had bet big on cryptocurrency and had their cryptocurrency stored by the crypto exchange, FTX, received bad news. Sam Bankman-Fried and other leaders of the exchange had been using cryptocurrency that was supposedly stored by the exchange to make bets on financial markets. And the FTX leadership was bad at trading and racked up huge losses. FTX declared bankruptcy and many of FTX leaders were convicted of financial crimes. For the investors of FTX, it was a painful experience that came from betting on cryptocurrency and the viability of crypto institutions that managed such assets. Expected losses were claimed to be in the billions.

But as of 2024, FTX’s bankruptcy lawyers began claiming that FTX creditors would be repaid in full. This claim is based on a technicality of bankruptcy law and is a feature that screws over investors and hides the reality of inflation.

When FTX went bankrupt, the debts it owed the people who deposited their cryptocurrency with FTX were recorded based on the US dollar value at the time. Of course, cryptocurrency is a wildly volatile asset, primarily used for speculation rather than as a store of value or for actual transactions. This volatility contributed to the FTX bankruptcy as the value of assets it held at any time, changed over time.

Currently, crypto prices are generally higher than at the time FTX went bankrupt, but it’s unclear how long this will last given crypto’s volatility. The US dollar is worth less than ever given two more years of the high inflation experienced during the Biden administration. This means that the cryptocurrency held by FTX can be exchanged for a relatively large amount of 2024 US dollars to repay debts that were measured in 2022 dollars. This is what FTX means by claiming it can now repay its creditors.

Imagine if a similar thing happened with a gold storage company. A company promises to store gold bars for its customers, secretly loses many of them in bad bets, and declares bankruptcy. The company records how much it owes its customers- not in the amount of gold lost- but in what bankruptcy lawyers claim it was worth in US dollars. Then years later, as the dollar continues to inflate away its value relative to gold, the gold investors are repaid in devalued dollars. This is how bankruptcy and inflation combine to hurt investors.

This is not the only area where ordinary people face a dynamic like this.

When an employer withholds taxes from your paycheck, and you have to wait for your tax return to get it back, you are giving an interest-free loan to the government. This would be true no matter the currency that the United States used. But the United States uses a fiat currency that’s losing value over time.

Not only does tax withholding mean that taxpayers are losing out on the interest they could have earned, they’re paid back in their refund in a currency that loses value month by month. Taxpayers pay into Social Security, pay for unemployment insurance, and all kinds of government programs. But even if we get our money back, each dollar in benefits is less than each dollar of tax that was paid.

Bankruptcy law makes this scheme obvious, but it affects every American taxpayer.

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