How crypto disappeared into thin air

Mostly, what changed is that in March 2021, Terra launched an app called Anchor, which began offering 20 percent interest on deposits, which got people to buy Terra in order to then deposit it and get the 20 percent. That hooked lots of new investors, and in the months that followed people started to buy into the company’s narrative that it had solved one of the most complicated questions in crypto: how to create coins that would be stable enough to use as currency without having a mountain of financial reserves to back their value up. (Terra, more than a few pundits opined, had found the “holy grail” of cryptocurrency.) So even though some warned that the way Terra was set up meant that it was eventually going to face the equivalent of a run on the bank (which is, in fact, how it collapsed), crypto holders collectively decided that Terra and Luna were really valuable, and so they were. Until a few weeks ago, when all of a sudden they weren’t.

It’s that “all of a sudden” that makes investing in crypto such a vertiginous experience. In a world where belief determines value, you can never be sure you’re on firm ground. There are cryptocurrencies—ether, most obviously—that have real use value in the blockchain world. And arguably, bitcoin, apart from its usefulness in buying drugs and other illicit items, has retained value long enough that its status as “digital gold” is not under serious threat. But even these two currencies can see their values oscillate wildly based on little more than investor fickleness.