Numlock Sunday: Ed Zitron on the crypto reckoning and how therapy can't fix a bad job
By Walt Hickey
Welcome to the Numlock Sunday edition.
This week, I spoke to the brilliant Ed Zitron, of the excellent Where’s Your Ed At newsletter. Ed joined us a few months ago on the Sunday edition talking about bad management and return-to-office shenanigans, and the response to it was so good I’ve been itching for a chance to get him back on.
Lately, Ed’s been writing about two major topics, one being companies attempting to drag their workers back into an office, and the other being cryptocurrency exploiting retail investors. He’s one of the most forceful critics of the various hucksters shilling crypto, and the past several weeks have demonstrated that his skepticism is absolutely warranted.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Ed, thank you so much for coming back on.
Hey, thanks for having me.
You have a newsletter, Where's Your Ed At. It's all about workplace culture and society and business, and to a larger extent, capitalism; it's very, very fun to read. I wanted to talk about some of your recent stuff about return to office. You had a story back in April, all about how people have 250 percent more meetings every day than they did before the pandemic. And I was wondering, how the hell does that happen? And what's your recommendation there?
I have a few theories. First of all, I think that number is overinflated for a major reason. There are so many, back in an office, informal meetings where people just impose themselves on your time. So they just turn up and start talking, or they'll go, "Oh, we're doing a quick huddle in the conference room." And so I believe that's part of it. I believe that there are just a lot of meetings that are being formalized and counted that weren't before. But a big thing as well is that there are a lot of middle managers and executive types who don't do any real work who can only justify their existence by having meetings, because meetings are basically an agreed upon waste of time in many cases.
It's frustrating because people are using this to try and suggest that remote work is bad, as they have been for, God, nearly two years now. And it's not going to work because they're dumb and stupid and wrong, but also I'm proud of the workforce because for the most part, it's these people that are telling them to go fuck themselves, pardon my French. And that's wonderful. I love that. I love that there are people who may or may not have leverage who are still quitting, which is awesome. Because ultimately the best leverage they have is not working, well, for that person, at least.
There was a post that you did where I think it was, you looked at folks who were decrying the lack of workers and saying like, "nobody wants to work anymore." And then you looked at their Glassdoor reviews.
Every time! There was one where it was this horrible woman who was claiming, nobody wants to work anymore, nobody cares. And she owned a Jimmy Johns and a Nothing Bundt Cake. And you could very easily see that they were paying nothing. They were paying like $13, $14 an hour. And this is something I don't think many people realize: That is not enough money. You cannot live on that. If you go and Google livable wage, that might get you through Kentucky, maybe, if you're particularly lucky, if you have a good place, which is becoming harder because BlackRock keeps buying everything. And it's one of these things where I just find it deeply frustrating because there's an alarming amount of people who are just so disconnected from the workforce, so completely unaware of even what labor is like, that they look down on people who are asking for an honest wage and it's absolutely disgusting.
This has been a big point of yours with the return to the office, where the people who tend to mandate a return to the office are nostalgic for an era that never really existed, and they're trying to coerce people into coming back to the office, rather than persuade them.
And they're also not coercing particularly well. Because the best coercion that any boss has is money. Give people more money. If you want people to do something, in an employment sense, one of the easiest ways to make them do it is to compensate them for doing so. If you want people back in the office so bad, with your stupid reasoning and your big dumb idiot head, maybe you should consider paying people. Because going into the office is a pay cut. I saw someone tweet that yesterday, but I'm pretending I thought it first.
Expand on that.
Think about it like this. If I go and commute to the office and it takes me half an hour in some sort of crazy land where that would be the case, maybe here in Las Vegas, and I go there and it takes me half an hour, 45 minutes each way, five times a week, that's hours and hours of my life I'm just losing. I'm never seeing those hours again and I'm not compensated for them.
So why should someone go into an office, spend hours of their life and basically be at the mercy of their employer because they are in the office, be constantly exposed to other people — I don't mean in a COVID sense, I mean just the annoyance of being around other people — and you are expecting them to not only do it, but do it effectively for free. Because there's no real business metric that matches up with, I got to go in the office. Somewhat to follow up on your previous point, a lot of the people who are nostalgic for their time in the office don't participate in office culture anyway. They're not in the office. They turn up to lord over the people that they think they own, and then they piss off.
You wrote a little bit about how they're trying anything but just comp in order to get people to come back in. You had a story about how you can't be in a bad workplace with therapy and I thought that was really striking.
Sure. So having been in a few bad relationships, I will tell you something. If you're in a bad situation, same with bad employers actually, you cannot simply talk your way out of it. There is no mental health cure for a situation caused by a sad situation or a bad situation. A bad boss is not something that can be solved by mental health professionals. It can be solved in many different ways.
One of them, if you've seen the movie Falling Down, that's one solution. But if not, quitting is also one of them. So workplaces that are pushing these vacuous wellness note things saying, "Oh we give you mental health now." It's just so utterly empty. You want to know how to make people's mental health better at work? Find out what's deteriorating their mental health at work. Actually do an audit of the people that you have hired and find out if any of them are just deeply unpleasant to be around. If they are bullies. If they're cruel to people below them. That's how you solve your mental health issues. Not some bollocks about, "Oh, you try mindfulness." Screw your mindfulness.
If you are a person that has told a worker to explore mindfulness, because they're having a bad time with a boss or work, run them over with a car. Probably don't. I'm not actually recommending vehicular manslaughter of any kind, but people who say that have no understanding of human beings, let alone the office. And it's something that deeply bothers me. Because final thing I'll say is it's victim blaming.
It is saying you are at fault for a toxic workplace culture. Please go to the doctor. So you can be cured of your reasonable distaste for a bad environment. I've seen it again and again. Companies I've worked at, companies I've just seen online. Every one of their Glassdoors reads like Yahoo Answers, just complete insanity. Every time you get a company talking about mindfulness or, "You got to learn to work with your colleagues. You know, work is tough." Work is tough because some people make it tough.
I want to move on from this quick, because you've been writing a lot about crypto lately. In fact, you've been writing a lot about crypto for a very long time, but I think that you've really hit a stride lately, particularly as some of the, I guess strippings of crypto kind of fall apart in public markets. What has been your line on crypto and how has that been reflected in the current state of cryptocurrency?
I started writing about cryptocurrency specifically focused on NFTs because the big boom in NFTs happened, and the bust has now happened, too. I've always seen NFTs as flagrantly exploitative. They exist as this kind of nothing purchase. Digital art that really isn't art and isn't even unique. It's just a link to a link.
What really started to get me pissed off, which is the power of my newsletter, it's just whatever I'm angry at in a particular day, was this whole seeing people like Matt Damon going on these multimillion-dollar commercials going, "You want to be part of the future, you've got to get on this." Or Jimmy Fallon, that scumbag, what a worthless, worthless person Jimmy Fallon is, with that strange kind of hostage situation where he and Paris Hilton sat and talked about how good these things are. They both had the "they have my family" look, like very much, "Please don't hurt them. I swear. I'll do whatever you want." And them and Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna and all these other freaks who got given them by a company called Moonpay.
But anyway, what I finally saw was crypto was emerging from a place where it was scamming people who were dumb and that sucks, but it wasn't something that was currently breaking the backs of real people. And the moment I saw that, the moment I started getting angrier, cause I've worked with tons of crypto clients. But actually numerically quite few of them compared to some of my peers, and I can't do it anymore. Like I'll work with something that's purely infrastructure, but even then.
The big thing with crypto now is it's now progressed from quirky to dangerous. And I have now watched it endanger people. If you've read any of the pieces I've written around like, I mentioned Wormhole, one of the many, many big hacks. There were people messaging the hacker saying, "I've lost my grandparents' savings." If you want to know why I'm angry, it's stuff like that. It's because for some Silicon Valley dickheads, these libertarian freaks, have got this incredibly recklessly unregulated system, and have now started to directly try and monetize the middle and lower middle class purely for profit. Like there is no actual value proposition for any of this garbage. You have this relatively unregulated financial asset that is now being exposed to millions and millions of people who are told, "Oh, it's just that easy. It's safe and secure." And it isn't.
Like Steph Curry, I used to quite respect Steph cause he's done a lot of good community work, but honestly I think he's a fucking asshole now, because he is willing to rep and directly influence consumers into buying into a corrupt, manipulated and ever in danger of falling system. Because we're not at the crash yet. I also write about it because I find it intellectually interesting how shit it is and how so many people are lying to themselves and others. I think it is a mass illusion led by some of the most craven and evil people alive. And then a bunch of people who desperately want to defend them because they have bought into the system.
I want to go into one component of this, too. As a person who is vaguely tech capable, I have found it fascinating: Sometimes those hacks that you were talking about, they aren't even necessarily hacks. They're legitimate exploitations of problems in the existing code, right?
I'm so glad you brought this up because yeah, so, I wrote a piece called “Code is LOL” because there is a thing with these crypto people called "code is law." Which is that they write the code and the code autonomously runs itself. There are a few problems with this. Number one, if you believe that every piece of code you write is perfect, you're a liar or an idiot or both. Because even the greatest coder in the world, same in any proficiency, even the best someone in anything is never perfect. To believe you are is extremely foolhardy. Also, it is the height of arrogance because they're like, "Oh yeah, no one will break this cause I'm so smart." You know what's more powerful than arrogance? Greed. You tell someone there's money to be had.
To elaborate on the point, so effectively a lot of these "hacks" are actually people using these systems that exist and using them to give themselves money. A very common one is within a governance contract, the smart contract that runs whatever autonomous product the crypto people have made up this week.
The governance contract usually allows something where it's, "Oh, okay. You can have votes." And your votes would be a token, and the more tokens you have, the more control you have, to the point that if you have an overwhelming amount of tokens, the majority, you can create a proposal. In one of the more recent ones, the one I cited in that piece in particular, someone got something called a flash loan, which is a temporal loan, like it lasts minutes, to borrow a shit ton of the tokens, and created a proposal. It was called, Give All the Money to Me.
And having the complete control over the votes, they had the majority to vote on the powerful proposal of Give All the Money to Me. And then on approval, they gave all the money to themselves. I saw someone talking about calling the SEC or the FBI, which I find very funny, because all these people are libertarian. They don't believe in rules until it matters to them. But also the person in question didn't commit any crime! They didn't do anything wrong! They used the system as planned! And I don't see anyone who lost money on the token going down being particularly helped. But suddenly the token contract, which lost lots of people money, it's like very sad for the innocent people involved. But nothing wrong actually occurred. Like nothing incorrect happened. The system worked as intended.
There was no inappropriate access, which is a hack. A hack is an inappropriate access of resources.
And people are saying, "Oh, it's a social engineering attack." If that's what you want to call it, mate, if that lets you sleep better, but the truth is what happened was you created the single most obvious exploit in coding history. The word vote in this case is extremely vague, because any democratic system that involves you being able to transact in votes is not democracy, it's kleptocracy. And so these people, "Oh, it's votes." It's not votes. And all of them are so terribly arrogant. They all believe, "Oh, the wallet inspector will never come for me." And the wallet inspector almost always does. These aren't small amounts of money. I should be clear, we're talking tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars, depending on the attack. This isn't chump change. This is real money. And these people are suffering.
When I used to dabble in crypto — and good lord, if anyone ever knew how deep I've gone in this, because I'm waiting for the person to be dumb enough to suggest that I don't know what I'm talking about. I've been early days in Binance Smart Chain, which is a side chain, and it is the wild west. It is completely nut bonkers. I saw the same thing with Polygon, formerly known as MATIC. It's always the same story where these things pop up. People are like, "Okay, this is the one. This is going to be my Bored Ape Yacht Club. This is going to be my PancakeSwap. This is going to be my big one where I make all the money. My wife's going to start speaking to me again. It's going to be great."
Actually, here's a great story. Here's a great example about this industry. I'm kind of going off on a tangent, forgive me. My friend was working on a law school paper, as I was talking to him, and I was dicking around on Polygon. I watched, ironically, one called ApeSwap. And he said, "Do you know of any recent rug pulls?" Rug pull referring to the owner of a project, pulling the rug out and taking all the money. So he said, "Do you know any of them?" And I said, "Yeah, I'm currently watching one." Because at random, ApeSwap went, "Yeah, token contract's been exploited. All the money's gone. Sorry."
And he said, "No way." I said, "This literally just happened. Here's the link." I watched like three of those happen on Polygon quickly. What I'm getting at is if this industry is actually worth a trillion dollars, which is questionable because a lot of the volume and the valuations are completely manipulated, but assuming it is, how fucking insane is all of this? We have this massive, dangerous, unregulated market of foreign exchange basically, because none of this has any real validity or value. And now we have Matt fucking Damon, Jimmy Fallon and people like that pulling innocent people in.
You can laugh at these people, but at the same time, they are victims. Every single one of them. Yes, the ones who are dickheads, you can laugh at them, but a majority of the people in these markets are victims. They are people that have been conned in a time in society when it is harder and harder to generate any meaningful wealth or progress. You can't buy a house now, college is more expensive and less valuable than it's ever been, getting a job is tough and getting paid a reasonable wage is tougher. And right now, you have this big shiny object promising the chances of being one of the lucky ones. Of course people are going to try it. Of bloody course.
I am quite damning on cryptocurrency founders and pioneers and people who don't shut up about it. But I'm quite sympathetic to the people conned getting into these markets. Because if you think about it on a very empathetic level, what the fuck else are they going to do? The stock market? Most people don't make money on the stock market, but there are these weird doodads that take seconds to get into. And maybe, maybe I'll be one of the people who's able to 10X, 100X my wealth, like all of these people that seem to have done that, but really haven't done it by anything other than luck or privilege.
And that's the thing. If there was any fucking sense, this shit would be locked down, regulated into dust. People are going to lose everything. I know I sound quite alarmist, but I hope I am wrong. I hope that all of this doesn't hurt people. I swear to God, I don't wish that harm on anyone. But having known people who have lost a lot of money on this, innocent people, relatively normal people, I cannot be clearer how dangerous it is and how unfair it is that this insane fake money, this unregulated financial asset is being fed directly into the mouths of the average person who has absolutely no idea what they are dealing with and the ways in which they are being manipulated.
That's good stuff. It's always a pleasure to read your work because it is so worker focused, little guy focused, and I always enjoyed the candor and honesty that you approach these kind of topics with.
The thing I'll say is, I know I'm privileged, I run a PR firm, I'm very lucky for the life I have. And I see it as a duty to use a platform to say stuff like this, because I used to believe that what I was saying was pretty obvious, but no one else seemed to be writing it, so I guess it wasn't. But a big thing is I don't like bullies and I don't like exploiters and I don't like seeing people, the majority of people I'd argue, get exploited so that someone already rich can get just a smidge richer. And that's all crypto is.
Andreessen Horowitz has got to a point where they are basically feeding money to themselves through the crypto markets. There was actually a very good piece that Jack Dorsey tweeted out about how basically Andreessen Horowitz invests in stuff, and then dumps it into the market via Coinbase, an exchange, and it's stuff like that. It isn't just, "Oh, we tried something out and it failed." Or, "Hey, this is a risky asset." This is literally, they are using the linguistics and the marketing of scams. Everything new that comes out is a ... everything that comes out is now the next big thing. It's always about getting in early. It's always about being on the ground floor and it's so craven. And it's so disgraceful.
And eventually this stuff will be regulated out of existence. The Terra thing was deeply, deeply stupid. That should never have happened. That has probably washed out several people. And of course, by the way, those people get bailed out. The Terra people get bailed out. What about the poor saps who lost money on Luna? The retail investors you'll notice never ever get compensated, ever. Those people are the victims. But the corporations in this supposed decentralized world seem to always end up on top.
Yeah. So let's tell folks about this platform. It is a newsletter among other things; where can folks find you?
Ez.substack.com or @EdZitron on Twitter. I have written a little less the last few weeks, but I'm going to be ramping back up. Thank you for reading if you do. And if you don't, it's fine, it's free. I don't make any money, I just like watching the number go up personally.
Don't we all? All right. Thanks man.
If you have anything you’d like to see in this Sunday special, shoot me an email. Comment below! Thanks for reading, and thanks so much for supporting Numlock.