Ben McKenzie Criticized Crypto and NFTs on “Real Time With Bill Maher”

The phrase “Ponzi scheme” was used more than once

Bill Maher
Bill Maher talked crypto and security on a new "Real Time."

It might just be a result of where we are relative to certain election cycles, but it sure seems like Bill Maher has interviewed a lot of guests on Real Time about their books lately. (As someone who’s fond of high-profile books coverage, I am not complaining.) Sometimes this comes in the form of a memoir from someone with an arts background; at other times, the author is there to discuss a book with political, societal or technological ramifications.

This week the interviewee was someone who checked both boxes. Ben McKenzie made his name as an actor, but in more recent years he’s established himself as an especially forceful voice making the case against cryptocurrency. Easy Money: Cryptocurrency, Casino Capitalism, and the Golden Age of Fraud, the book he and Jacob Silverman co-wrote, is due out later this year — but the duo has been writing about the problems with crypto for various publications as well.

“It’s a collection of different stories,” McKenzie said, “so it’ll last as long as people believe in it. But we know, as storytellers, just because it’s a story doesn’t mean it’s true.” He went on to point to the collapse of FTX, and cautioned viewers about putting money into crypto exchanges outside of the United States.

McKenzie is very good at making the language that surrounds crypto sound more accessible to people who might not be as familiar with it. It probably didn’t hurt that he had a fellow crypto skeptic as an interviewer, but regardless, he made his critique of the system effectively.

At the heart of his argument was the idea that cryptocurrencies are, essentially, securities — and thus, that they should be regulated in the same way that banking and stocks are. 

“Would you describe it as a Ponzi scheme?” Maher asked. McKenzie responded in the affirmative — and also had some strong words for NFTs. And, for that matter, for the energy used to mine cryptocurrency. McKenzie’s comments were a pretty textbook example of making a convincing argument — all the while hinting at larger societal problems that could arise from one phenomenon.

Journalist Andy Greenberg on His New Book “Tracers In the Dark,” Crypto Crime and the Fall of FTX
“​​Tracers in the Dark: The Global Hunt for the Crime Lords of Cryptocurrency” is out now

Some other notable moments from the episode:

  • Maher’s opening monologue addressed the recent arrest of Jack Teixeira on charges of sharing classified information. Maher dubbed Teixeira “the intel incel” and quipped that a photo of him “looks like someone used the deaging filter on Mayor Pete.”
  • He also noted that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene had made comments in support of Teixeira. “They love America so much they absolutely fucking hate it,” Maher said.
  • The rest of the monologue found Maher talking about the classified information that leaked, as well as directing some jabs in the direction of Kid Rock and Travis Tritt for their very public tantrums about Bud Light.
  • For the panel discussion, Rep. Katie Porter and television host Piers Morgan joined Maher. The first question he posed was about the recent security leaks: “I’m mad. Who do I blame?” Notably, neither panelist had a quick or easy answer, though Porter did make one emphatic point: “It would be nice if people in Congress understood technology.”
  • The discussion of classified material also included some discussion of perceptions of youth and age — which prompted Porter to say, at one point, “You guys sound kind of old and grumpy right now.”
  • In the second half of the panel discussion, the aforementioned Bud Light boycott by some conservatives came up, with Porter making a very impassioned point. “While the right is waging these culture wars, trans people are being murdered,” she said. (This UCLA study has some unsettling data to back that up.)
  • Piers Morgan has very strong opinions about women’s sports, apparently. 
  • New Rules took a turn into the musical, with Maher riffing on aging goths and wondering whether the newly-single Taylor Swift and Rupert Murdoch might become an item. One can only imagine what their celebrity couple name would be.
  • The bulk of the segment found Maher wondering whether the indictment of Donald Trump in New York would have a similar effect on Trump’s popularity as the Clinton impeachment did for Bill Clinton.
  • Maher on public trials: “Law is boring. It’s the Constitutional equivalent of golf.”

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