In praise of regulatory arbitrage

That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

So if you issue a crypto token, but don’t have to register it as a security and go through the process of satisfying securities laws, you are engaging in regulatory arbitrage.

It is worth thinking through why some of the regulations ought to change in this new context. In the pre-crypto world, issuing a security involved a host of institutional preparations and investments and legal planning, even apart from whatever regulatory constraints needed to be met. Issuing crypto tokens is usually easier and quicker, and quite immature institutions have done so. Software and blockchains do much of the work that once required offices, personnel and a lot of hands-on management…

Standard US regulatory practice typically focuses on regulating host firms and intermediaries, rather than software. Yet once a blockchain is verifying, storing and communicating information, it is hard for regulators to step in and make a meaningful difference. Thus the old regulatory model no longer applies to a significant part of the crypto experience.

And the lower costs of token issuance mean that the issuing intermediaries can be quite thinly capitalized. Often they are either not able or not incentivized to meet a lot of regulations. In addition, an institution can participate fully in the crypto space without being based in the US or being tied to any specific nation-state.

You can inveigh against those features of the market. Regardless, they are going to mean a radically different set of regulatory constraints. They also mean that some kinds of securities (if it is appropriate to call them that) can be issued far more cheaply than before.

Given this reality, shouldn’t regulations be changed — and substantially? This may include some areas where regulation is even tighter, though overall regulations will likely become looser. The regulators will have to learn to live with a more decentralized market structure that has lower costs and is harder to control. It is common sense that when software can substitute for major capital investments, regulations ought to change, even if observers disagree over how.

Unfortunately, the regulatory process is static and typically slow to change. Regulatory agencies often stick with the status quo until it is no longer tenable. One of the benefits of regulatory arbitrage is that it forces their hand and brings about a new equilibrium.

Recommended, this topic remains underdiscussed.  “Regulatory arbitrage” is in fact one of the more significant potential benefits of crypto, noting that not everyone in the crypto space wants to come out and say that.

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