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Summary: Easy Money: Cryptocurrency, Casino Capitalism, and the Golden Age of Fraud by Ben McKenzie with Jacob Silverman

Easy Money (2023) offers a riveting exploration into the chaotic realm of cryptocurrency, tracing its exhilarating ascent and dramatic descent. Through captivating accounts of traders, visionaries, and whistleblowers, the narrative unravels the intricate web of ambition, naiveté, and deceit that pervades the crypto sphere, providing a comprehensive insight into a world where promise meets uncertainty.

Introduction: Delve into the intrigue and mechanisms that shape the world of digital wealth.

As digital wallets eclipse traditional leather ones and decentralized ledgers become the new financial norm, cryptocurrency emerges as the cutting-edge paradigm. This intangible currency has captivated everyone from tech enthusiasts to financial experts, all eager to unravel its mysteries.

Enter Ben McKenzie – TV star turned skeptic – unconvinced by the allure of blockchain gold. While the world reveled in Bitcoin’s promise of a decentralized financial utopia, McKenzie dove deeper, probing beneath the glitz of digital tokens to investigate the veracity of its underlying structure. Was cryptocurrency truly the harbinger of a financial revolution, or was it just another bubble waiting to burst?

In this summary, you’ll learn about McKenzie’s journey through the convoluted maze of cryptocurrency. From its pioneering aspirations to its turbulent reality, and the contrasting narratives that paint a picture far different from the optimistic crypto evangelism. Discover how skepticism can sometimes be the sharpest tool in a world blinded by the glitter of easy money.

Summary: Easy Money: Cryptocurrency, Casino Capitalism, and the Golden Age of Fraud by Ben McKenzie with Jacob Silverman

The illusory allure of cryptocurrencies

In a world where trust in traditional financial institutions has eroded, the allure of a decentralized currency, free from government intervention, is palpable. Enter Bitcoin. Conceived as a beacon of transparency in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Bitcoin promised peer-to-peer transactions, eliminating the need for mediating banks or corporations. Yet, like so many novel ideas, its reality differed from its idealized vision.

When Bitcoin debuted, its promise lay in bypassing the usual financial gatekeepers. At the heart of its innovation was the blockchain – a timestamped ledger that ensured each Bitcoin transaction was unique, solving the conundrum of how to prevent double spending without centralized oversight. While the concept was groundbreaking, its initial steps were shaky. Platforms such as the Silk Road – an infamous online black market – were among the currency’s early adopters. However, due to its inherent technical limitations and volatile pricing, Bitcoin struggled to become the go-to currency for everyday transactions. Rather than being a consistent store of value, it often resembled a roller coaster in a theme park of financial instruments.

By the mid-2010s, a fresh perspective on Bitcoin emerged. Instead of being just a digital currency, it was now seen as a rebellious alternative to the conventional financial world – a world resistant to any governmental control. This transformation was epitomized by the ICO – short for Initial Coin Offering – craze between 2017 and 2018, where cryptocurrencies transitioned from being mere tokens of exchange to speculative assets, drawing comparisons to the gold rushes of yesteryears.

Yet, with great promise comes great scrutiny. As 2020 dawned, skeptics – like Ben McKenzie – started observing the cryptocurrency landscape with a discerning eye. Questioning its meteoric rise, McKenzie suspected that beneath cryptocurrency’s gilded surface lay potential fraud, especially within unregulated markets. His concerns were not mere conjectures. In fact, he was willing to stake money on his beliefs, betting that Bitcoin’s value would plummet below $10,000 by the end of 2021.

The world of cryptocurrencies isn’t just about algorithms, blockchain, and market speculation. It’s about narratives – ones of hope, independence, and resistance. But for every narrative there’s a counter-narrative. McKenzie, with his unconventional background and a keen eye for storylines, wanted to bring balance to the discourse and unveil the potential pitfalls lurking beneath the crypto craze.

The tethered suspicion in the crypto world

Within the expansive and intricate landscape of cryptocurrencies, Tether occupies a distinct position. As a stablecoin, it purports to be pegged 1:1 to the US dollar, offering stability in a notoriously unpredictable digital currency realm. Yet, even with an impressive market cap surpassing $60 billion, the inner workings of Tether remain enigmatic. Its lean staffing of only about a dozen and its notable lack of comprehensive audits have raised eyebrows and fueled doubts about the legitimacy of its claims.

Scrutinizing Tether more closely reveals a series of red flags. From the questionable backgrounds of its leadership to its veiled operations, there are numerous indications of potential wrongdoing. The challenges of converting Tether to actual dollars, combined with a glaring transparency deficit, intensify these doubts about the currency’s legitimacy. Bitfinex’ed, a pseudonymous Twitter critic, even branded Tether as a time bomb waiting to detonate and potentially disrupt the entire crypto market. Bolstering this view, Bitfinex’ed released compromising information about the firm, lending further weight to these concerns.

The “fraud triangle” concept is a potentially useful lens through which to consider Tether. This theory suggests that three elements must come together for financial fraud to manifest: motivation, opportunity, and rationalization. Tether seems to tick all these boxes, further increasing suspicion around its activities.

However, in the turbulent domain of crypto investment, skepticism has its price. Despite his strong conviction about the fraudulent nature of certain crypto undertakings, McKenzie found that betting on these beliefs was perilous. As 2021 progressed, McKenzie’s predictions missed the mark, resulting in significant financial repercussions. Still, he persisted, taking even bolder positions against crypto and related stocks. But with the total crypto market cap soaring to an astonishing $3 trillion, self-doubt began to surface. Had McKenzie misjudged? Or was he a lone voice of reason amid overwhelming, unchecked optimism?

In the unpredictable world of cryptocurrencies, timing is paramount. The stakes go beyond financial considerations, touching on personal pride and convictions. And even as Bitcoin’s resilience kept its value comfortably above his $10k prediction, McKenzie sought comfort not in monetary gains, but in the timeless allure of baseball and the solace of genuine friendships. Navigating the crypto world, it appeared, was as much an exploration of human character as it was about understanding algorithms.

The Miami mirage: Bitcoin’s grand spectacle

The sun-soaked streets of Miami were abuzz in 2022, as the city hosted a spectacle of an entirely different nature – the Bitcoin 2022 conference. Stepping into the throng, McKenzie found himself among an eclectic crowd. From influencers clicking selfies to celebrities endorsing the digital gold and fervent believers preaching the crypto gospel, the air was thick with anticipation and a dash of the surreal.

However, as McKenzie meandered through the expansive exhibits, he couldn’t shake off the feeling that he was attending a grand sales convention, rather than the epicenter of a financial revolution. Stalls lining the corridors peddled everything from the mysterious NFTs to the very machinery powering crypto mining. Amid this carnival-like atmosphere, McKenzie met Brock Pierce, the enigmatic cofounder of Tether. Pierce’s revelations – his nonchalance regarding the glaring absence of Tether’s audits, combined with hints at influential government connections – did little to quell McKenzie’s reservations about the industry giant.

Meanwhile, a significant portion of the conference’s narrative revolved around El Salvador’s audacious adoption of Bitcoin. Though conspicuously absent, the country’s president was slated to grace the event. In his stead, McKenzie met exiled Salvadorans, who painted a harrowing picture – a nation grappling with repression and the unintended fallout of a rushed crypto policy.

On stage, luminaries like PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel launched fervent diatribes against the perceived tyranny of centralized banking and governmental oversight. Yet, to McKenzie, this vast congregation seemed less about championing freedom and more a testament to unchecked speculation and – even worse – deliberate deception. The financial world was no stranger to bubbles. But the crypto bubble, with its unbridled exchanges that resembled gambling dens and perilous leverages, evoked memories of 2008’s infamous catastrophe. A question loomed overhead: was the world on the brink of another crisis?

Throughout the Miami conference, a veneer of levity masked darker undertones. Yes, there was laughter, outlandish outfits, and absurd proclamations. But as McKenzie delved deeper, it became evident that severe implications lay beneath this façade. The crypto world’s flirtation with playful deception had evolved, bringing with it consequences that reverberated far beyond the digital realm, and into the tangible fabric of societies and economies. The line between farce and reality had never seemed so blurred.

The unraveling: When digital dreams meet reality

The fervor of the Miami Bitcoin conference was ephemeral. By spring 2022, ominous signs emerged, casting shadows over the cryptocurrency realm. The implosion of the TerraUSD stablecoin and its Luna token ecosystem erased a monumental $40 billion overnight, sounding global alarm bells. This precipitated a vast downturn in the larger crypto market, reminiscent of a house of cards collapsing.

This seismic shakeout claimed several behemoths. Notably, the ground gave way beneath revered crypto hedge fund Three Arrows Capital – or 3AC as it’s known. With considerable stakes in TerraLuna, the firm’s structural integrity was fatally compromised, leading to its eventual bankruptcy. Like in a work of fiction, 3AC’s founders mysteriously disappeared, abandoning a sea of irate creditors.

But the woes didn’t end there. Celsius, once lauded as a crypto industry torchbearer, soon descended into chaos. With liabilities exceeding its assets by an astonishing $4.7 billion, the platform halted withdrawals. By mid-year, bankruptcy had sealed its fate.

Scratching beneath the surface, the cataclysm revealed an endemic culture of extreme risk-taking within crypto establishments. Companies recklessly over-lent coins, weaving a complex web of intertwined debts. As bankruptcy cases mounted, so did legal showdowns, exposing a litany of deceit and glaring conflicts. Yet, many crypto figureheads remained defiant in this maelstrom. Rather than self-reflection, they blamed a few “villains” and evangelized crypto’s eventual rebirth from the ruins.

Amid this turbulence, opportunists emerged, like Sam Bankman-Fried – or SBF for short – of FTX crypto exchange. Capitalizing on the downturn, SBF acquired distressed assets on the cheap, bolstering his financial kingdom and evoking parallels with tycoon J.P. Morgan. However, some eyed his rapid rise warily. This skepticism soon permeated Crypto Twitter, culminating in spirited debates between McKenzie and SBF, and an infamous televised interview that you’ll learn about in the next section.

This whirlwind revealed the stark lack of regulatory oversight in crypto. A cluster of brash, young trailblazers had shaken a global industry to its core, leaving countless investors grappling with losses. The eerie similarities to the 2018 crisis – marked by high leverage, intricate structures, and fragile edifices – were undeniable. The digital age’s financial fiasco was playing out for all to witness, with enduring ramifications.

The enigma of Sam Bankman-Fried: Behind the charisma and complexity

As the dust of the crypto crash settled and speculation intensified, one familiar figure continued to surface: Sam Bankman-Fried, the charismatic CEO of FTX crypto exchange. Capitalizing on his knack for snapping up distressed assets, SBF rapidly fortified his stature in the crypto world.

Intrigued, Ben McKenzie and his team requested an interview. In SBF, they encountered a mix of frankness and deflection. He described Tether – the infamous stablecoin company – as a “messy” organization run by “weird dudes.” Yet, he avoided tagging them as outright frauds, portraying them more as complicated associates.

However, SBF’s clarity waned when he discussed Justin Sun and the emergent stablecoin, USDD. Despite conspicuous business connections, SBF purported a lack of insight about Sun and his projects. This was perplexing. His evaluation of the TRON blockchain and token also mystified McKenzie. Although downplaying TRON, especially considering its Tether links, SBF claimed that the blockchain wasn’t a scam but the token was, raising more unanswered questions.

A recurrent theme in the interview was SBF’s evident yearning for affirmation. This hunger, as analyzed by a former FBI agent, reflected patterns common in white-collar crime suspects – a compulsion to justify their actions. For someone touted as a prodigy, his narrative’s inconsistencies were glaring. His evasiveness on fundamental questions, paired with an overt quest for limelight, seemed at odds for an individual leading a significant enterprise.

SBF painted a landscape teeming with “games” – sophisticated crypto machinations. While his affluence was undeniable, hidden agendas were evident, especially with his intricate web of unregulated ventures. This stark contrast between his public persona and the SBF that McKenzie encountered raised a question: was SBF actually the prodigious tactician everyone perceived?

As a result of the interview, McKenzie was increasingly convinced that SBF was concealing something behind his elusive façade. McKenzie wondered if SBF’s desire for acknowledgment hinted at internal struggles and uncertainties about his professional choices. Beneath his charming veneer, it seemed that SBF was withholding key information that might otherwise reveal the truth about the crypto world.

The great crypto collapse: A tale of hubris and redemption

December 2022 marked a seismic shift in the crypto world. Ben McKenzie had stood firm in the Senate and branded crypto as the grandest Ponzi scheme history had ever witnessed. The shaky foundations of this house of cards soon reverberated across the industry. FTX’s dramatic collapse, emblematic of the unchecked malpractices within the crypto realm, painted a grim landscape of unregulated, wild-west financial adventures.

But as the year’s final pages turned, poetic justice was served. Sam Bankman-Fried, the enigmatic and seemingly untouchable CEO of FTX, was apprehended and slapped with a myriad of charges ranging from conspiracy to fraud. His arrest was just the tip of the iceberg. A cascade of legal actions ensued, as the titans of the crypto sphere fell one after the other. Disclosures revealed how Celsius artificially ramped up its token value for the benefit of the inner circle, landing its mastermind – Alex Mashinsky – with lawsuits worth billions. And Genesis, Gemini, and Kraken didn’t escape the tightening legal noose either, with accusations and penalties casting shadows on their once-glorious narratives.

Like many crypto magnates, Terraform’s cofounder Do Kwon was arrested overseas while attempting to elude justice. As TerraLuna’s foundations crumbled, so did the pedestals on which these industry giants stood. With its stablecoin teetering on the brink, Binance drew scrutiny as massive transfers from its US branch surfaced. Allegations of market manipulation soon followed, and the industry’s very scaffolding seemed under siege.

The ripples of the crypto meltdown were felt across financial sectors, leading to the downfall of banks like Silvergate. As McKenzie mused, the catastrophe could’ve been even more dire, had crypto’s tentacles been more deeply entrenched in traditional banking.

But amid the maelstrom of deceit, collapse, and eventual reckoning, McKenzie discovered an oasis of hope and wisdom. While the unchecked greed of the crypto casino had wreaked havoc on many unsuspecting investors, McKenzie found refuge in the arms of family and a rekindled skepticism toward gilded promises. From his young daughter, he learned lessons of humility and prudence.

In the end, the crypto saga illuminated the perils of unchecked ambition, validating the foresight of its naysayers. Yet, it also underscored the timeless adage that in the face of tempestuous allure, it is often the simplest truths – like a child’s innocent wisdom – that steer us to safe harbor.


The realm of cryptocurrency is riddled with unseen narratives, underlying mechanisms, and pivotal moments that define the digital wealth landscape. Ben McKenzie set out to unravel the intricacies of this domain. Through his investigative journey, he unveiled the clandestine operations, power dynamics, and transformative potential of this digital frontier, revealing a world much more complex than the market charts suggest. Cryptocurrency, as you have seen, is not just about trading or investment, but a profound shift in the financial paradigm, warranting discernment and thoughtful navigation.

About the Author

Ben McKenzie with Jacob Silverman


Technology and the Future, Money, Investments

Table of Contents

Money and lying
What could possibly go wrong?
Money printer go brrr
SXSW, the CIA, and the $1.5 trillion that wasn’t there
The business of show
The world’s coolest dictator
Rats in a sack
The emperor is butt-ass naked
Who’s in charge here?
Unbankrupt yourself
Chapter 11
Preacher’s father


The book is a personal and journalistic account of the rise and fall of cryptocurrency, one of the biggest scams in history. The authors explore how cryptocurrency lured millions of people with grandiose promises of wealth, freedom, and innovation, but also exposed them to fraud, manipulation, and crime. The book follows the journey of Ben McKenzie, a famous actor who became interested in cryptocurrency during the pandemic, and Jacob Silverman, an experienced journalist who has been covering the crypto industry for years. Together, they investigate the origins, workings, and impacts of cryptocurrency, as well as the personalities and stories behind it.

The book covers topics such as:

  • The history and ideology of cryptocurrency, from its roots in libertarianism and cypherpunk culture to its current status as a global phenomenon.
  • The technical aspects and challenges of cryptocurrency, such as how it works, what are the different types of coins and tokens, how they are created and traded, and what are the security and environmental risks involved.
  • The social and psychological aspects of cryptocurrency, such as how it appeals to people’s emotions, desires, and fears, how it creates a sense of community and identity, and how it fosters a cult-like devotion among its followers.
    The economic and political aspects of cryptocurrency, such as how it affects the global financial system, how it challenges the authority and regulation of governments and institutions, and how it enables illicit activities such as money laundering, tax evasion, and terrorism.
  • The ethical and moral aspects of cryptocurrency, such as how it exploits people’s ignorance, greed, and desperation, how it facilitates fraud, theft, and manipulation, and how it harms society and the planet.

The book is a well-written, well-researched, and well-balanced critique of cryptocurrency. The authors combine personal anecdotes, interviews, data analysis, and historical context to provide a comprehensive and compelling narrative. The book is not only informative but also entertaining, as it exposes the absurdity, hypocrisy, and corruption of the crypto world. The book is also fair and nuanced, as it acknowledges the potential benefits and innovations of cryptocurrency, as well as the diversity and complexity of its supporters. The book is not a polemic or a rant against cryptocurrency, but rather a warning and a wake-up call for anyone who is interested in or involved with it.

The book is suitable for readers who are curious about cryptocurrency but also skeptical about its claims and promises. It is also suitable for readers who are already familiar with cryptocurrency but want to learn more about its history, workings, impacts, and controversies. The book is not suitable for readers who are looking for a technical guide or a manual on how to invest in or use cryptocurrency. It is also not suitable for readers who are staunch believers or fanatics of cryptocurrency who are unwilling to question or challenge their views.

The book is a valuable contribution to the public debate on cryptocurrency. It provides a clear-eyed and critical perspective on one of the most important and controversial phenomena of our time. It exposes the dark side of cryptocurrency that is often hidden or ignored by its proponents. It also educates and empowers readers to make informed decisions about their involvement with cryptocurrency. The book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand what cryptocurrency is really about.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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