Happy birthday to a ‘giant Ponzi scheme’, from bitcoin’s accidental co-creator

It’s 14 years exactly since the launch of bitcoin and one big mystery remains unanswered: why is the front page headline of a UK newspaper from Saturday, January 3, 2009, baked into the code of the first bitcoin block?

January 3 has become Independence Day among those who fear centralisation, with the genesis block their digital Liberty Bell. Hiding a bank bailout reference in bitcoin’s foundation stone was more than a timestamp or lorem ipsum, they reason; it was Satoshi Nakamoto’s way of telling the world that crypto meant freedom. No more reckless government intervention in monetary policy, no more debasement of fiat to save private enterprises, etc.

This is not a view shared by Francis Elliott, former political editor of The Times, who wrote the story. Crypto is “nothing more than a giant Ponzi scheme” and “an absolute scam”, he told FT Alphaville.

“I first heard about my connection [to bitcoin] maybe six, seven maybe eight years ago* when people started tagging me on Twitter. They all thought it was really cute that I’d only just found out,” he said, emphasising the back half of the sentence by adopting a Californian accent.

Elliott said he has never bought crypto. Nor has he considered turning his accidental fame into a career as a crypto influencer. He also, when prompted, denied being Satoshi.

Nevertheless, coinbros would often find him online and offer him “bits of bitcoins” that he deposited in a wallet created specifically for the purpose. These unprompted donations amounted to £1500 at the market peak, which was around when he cashed out after gifting “about £10 each” in tokens to his sons.

Elliott offers no explanation as to why his slightly speculative story about UK bad bank proposals became embedded in crypto’s alpha block.

“It’s one of those stories I was relieved was right,” he said. “It was an OK source but . . . well, it was a Christmas New-Year story. I’ve no idea why [Nakamoto] used that piece or who he is. Perhaps he knew something we didn’t.”

Because of its place in crypto history, copies of The Times from January 3, 2009, have held their value better than most cryptocurrencies. Back-issue websites and online auction houses show zero availability. The “Genesis Block Newspaper” market quotes asking prices of up to $1.3mn and claims “only eight verified copies” exist, which might ring false for anyone who has ever visited a UK library.

Has Elliott kept a souvenir copy?

“I did get the front page framed, but I lost it,” he said. 

* A Twitter search pins the exact date of discovery to December 18, 2013.


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