In brief

  • Newly-appointed SEC Chair Gary Gensler taught an MIT course on blockchain in 2018.
  • The course is available to view online for free.

Yesterday, Gary Gensler was approved by the United States Senate to lead the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This happened to be the same day that Coinbase went public on the Nasdaq, ending the day with an $87 billion valuation.

As Chair of the SEC, Gensler will be tasked with leading the agency on enforcing securities law in the US, while making headway on hot topics—such as cryptocurrency.

But this particular technology won’t come as anything new to him. In December 2020, he wrote an op-ed for crypto news site CoinDesk in which he described Bitcoin as a “catalyst for change.” He also zeroed in on some of the many issues in the crypto industry, such as scams and market manipulation.


Gensler’s MIT blockchain course

Why was Gensler, specifically, invited to share his thoughts on cryptocurrency? Turns out he wrote the book on it—or taught the course, at least. Back in late 2018, Gensler taught a course on Bitcoin and blockchain technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The purpose of the course was to explore the potential of blockchain technology while looking at both commercial and public policy considerations.

The course is available to view online; it can be accessed here, or you can start by watching the video below.

The 24-part course starts by getting to grips with the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies. Gensler looks at how Bitcoin works and even goes through complex issues (that are also essential to understand it) such as unspent transaction outputs, also known as UTXOs.

Gensler then goes beyond Bitcoin, looking at smart contracts and decentralized apps (dapps). These are features of blockchain platforms like Ethereum that enable a lot more to be done on the actual blockchain layer itself.


Beyond that, Gensler ventures out into the wider world and assesses how cryptocurrency might interact with payment systems, banking, and markets. He also discusses the tricky issues of raising money using blockchain tokens, such as initial coin offerings (ICOs)—a topic he will likely be revisiting in his new job.

The SEC and cryptocurrency

All that knowledge will stand Gensler in good stead as the SEC gets to grips with the increasing importance of cryptocurrency. The regulator is currently embroiled in a number of lawsuits against crypto firms that it claims carried out unregistered securities offerings, most notably Ripple. The crypto company has scored a number of wins in court against the SEC, and this week filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.

Meanwhile, SEC commissioner Hester Peirce—known as “Crypto Mom” has put forward a revised version of her Safe Harbor proposal, which posits that tokens that initially look like securities could later evolve into something else, as networks become progressively more decentralized. "Now, as a new Chairman is coming into the SEC with a new agenda, is the perfect time for the Commission to consider afresh how our rules can be modified to accommodate this new technology in a responsible manner," Peirce wrote.

Gensler’s first week in the job is shaping up to be a busy one.

Image credit

Main image by Third Way Think Tank licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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