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The “crypto winter” didn’t keep bitcoiners away from its annual conference

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Bitcoin believers gathered in Miami for what organizers say is the world’s biggest annual bitcoin convention, though it was quite a bit smaller than last year. It drew less than half of the 35,000 attendees who went in 2022.

Of course, a lot has happened in the crypto world since then. A little disaster called FTX, a crypto-friendly bank failure or two. Not to mention the price of bitcoin has taken a dive, from around $40,000 during last year’s event to about $26,000 this time around.

Marketplace’s Meghan McCarty Carino spoke with senior reporter Matt Levin, who was there to take the pulse. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Matt Levin: It is mostly like any other convention, which was somewhat surprising to me. It’s a lot of crypto companies debuting products, demoing products, there’s an exhibit hall. There’s a lot of noncrypto companies here: real estate companies, HR software companies, recruiting companies that are just trying to get bitcoin clientele. But there are some kind of bitcoin-specific eccentricities, I would say, that you probably wouldn’t see at other conferences.

Meghan McCarty Carino: Like what?

Levin: Some of the odder things I’ve seen: there’s a mechanical bull in the middle of the exhibit hall that you can ride, literally riding the bitcoin bull. You can buy a children’s board game that’s supposed to introduce your kids to the concept of bitcoin. You can buy s— coin wipes — I’m using “s” to replace an expletive there. Bitcoiners aren’t big fans of other cryptocurrencies like dogecoin, etherium. So you can buy s— coin butt wipes — someone was trying to sell that to me.

McCarty Carino: Does it seem like people’s faith has been shaken at all in crypto, given the turmoil over the last year or so — the so-called crypto winter?

Levin: So there’s a bit of sample bias here, obviously. If you’re still coming to Bitcoin 2023, you’re probably still a believer in bitcoin. So the short answer is no, their faith is not shaken. They’re in it for the long haul. And you hear a lot of them talk about, “well, hey, look, inflation is a significant problem in the U.S. now.” You know, the U.S. is in danger of defaulting on its debt. These are all kind of credos of bitcoin maximalism. So they kind of feel like they have a little bit of a tailwind right now.

McCarty Carino: So you’ve been at the convention a couple days now. What’s kind of caught your eye?

Levin: So one thing I didn’t expect that probably should have: The global presence here is actually pretty impressive. I met a lot of people from Latin America, people from Hong Kong, people from Eastern Europe. And then, the other thing, honestly, is being a reporter with public radio. I didn’t know how popular I would be at this particular convention. But people, for the most part, have generally been just as willing to talk as any other convention.

More insight from Meghan McCarty Carino

Matt Levin mentioned he was surprised by the big international presence at the conference. Given the decentralized and anonymized nature of cryptocurrency, it’s a little hard to get exact breakdowns for where people are using it most. One index by Chainalysis found grassroots crypto adoption by individuals (not big institutions) was highest in Vietnam, the Philippines, Ukraine and India, followed by the United States.

In the U.S., Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams has done some reporting on the disproportionate share of Black Americans investing in crypto, which was framed, at least during better times in the crypto market, as a way to build generational wealth in a country where racial disparities in wealth have barely budged since the 1960s — and which has a history of discriminatory practices in traditional banking.

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