Note: This post was first published on Decrypt.
I was one of 18,000 people to enter the Grand Palais Éphémère, a huge domed exhibition hall facing the Eiffel Tower, for NFT Paris at the end of February. The event has stuck with me more than most crypto conferences do—and I attend a lot of crypto conferences.
I was blown away by the energy, positivity, and seriousness of the attendees, panel chats, and art displays. I was struck by how many global consumer and luxury brands were on hand—Adidas, Salesforce, Volkswagen, Panerai, Warner Bros, LVMH, L'Oréal, and Chanel, to name just a few—and by the fact that these brands were now pointing to actual NFT activations they've launched, rather than speaking in vague platitudes, pretending to be interested in Web3.
It was impossible to walk away from the conference thinking NFTs are dead.
But that was in France. Back in the United States, I returned home to more headlines about regulatory crackdowns, lawsuits, and fines against crypto companies.
One spontaneous moment really showcased this contrast: On the first day of NFT Paris, Brigitte Macron, the "première dame" of France, showed up for a surprise visit and spent time walking the floor. There was a palpable current of excitement when people started hearing she was there. And she wasn't the only French official to drop by: Minister of Culture Rima Abdul Malak and Minister of Digital Transition Jean-Noël Barrot also made appearances.
Brigitte Macron even took a seat at the Rocket Factory, where attendees could answer a couple fun questions and get a laminated "planet holder" ID card that could be minted as an NFT later on. She went through the steps with the artist Tom Sachs, and later followed through and minted her NFT. (Or someone from her team did.)
Can you imagine Dr. Jill Biden showing up at a crypto conference in the U.S. and saying positive things? It wouldn't happen—not in the current environment.
In the U.S., lawmakers have decided to regulate crypto out of existence. Every week, the SEC fines another crypto project that launched a token (many of them years ago in the ICO era), even as SEC Chair Gary Gensler continues to avoid articulating what he believes makes a token a security and why. Instead, he has added staking and lending products to the list of securities.
Meanwhile, the SEC's refusal to approve a U.S. ETF tied to the price of Bitcoin (even after approving ETFs tied to Bitcoin futures back in October 2021) is so weak that a D.C. appeals judge questioned the SEC's logic, saying it hasn't given enough evidence for its rejection of a Grayscale application and hasn't explained what it sees as the difference between Bitcoin futures and the spot price of Bitcoin.
The meltdown of three U.S. banks in two weeks—two of which (Silvergate and Signature) were explicitly crypto banks, the other (Silicon Valley Bank) a "tech bank" whose clients included notable crypto companies—is yet another body blow to the crypto industry.
Former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank said Signature Bank was shut down to send an "anti-crypto message," and Reuters reported that prospective buyers of Signature are being told they must give up the bank's crypto business, all of which sounds plausible given recent history. Regulators have denied the claims.
The U.S. is utterly blowing it on crypto. Now the nightmare scenario is playing out: projects are leaving America to focus on Europe and other countries where they are being (comparatively) more warmly welcomed. (President Emmanuel Macron said last April that Web3 is an "opportunity not to be missed" for France.)
Coinbase, the largest publicly traded U.S. exchange, sees the writing on the wall: it is speeding up its plans for international expansion.
Web3 culture is migrating to Europe.