El Salvador makes Bitcoin legal tender, while Her Majesty’s Treasury says it’s never experimented with Dogecoin

Yes, I know the Queen doesn’t actually run the Treasury.
Image credit (and deep apologies to): Joel Rouse (Ministry of Defence)

Last week, El Salvador’s congress voted to make Bitcoin “legal tender”. As ever, the Financial Times’ Jamie Powell and Jemima Kelly have the best analysis of what’s actually happening.

Her Majesty’s Treasury, on the other hand, is having none of all this cryptocurrency malarky (for the moment). And why would it? The UK government is not seeking $1 billion in funding from the IMF, and our chancellor already has a good social media game without having to indulge in laser eye memes, thankyouverymuch – unlike El Salvador’s meme-thirsty president.

How do I know? Because HM Treasury told me. I sent them a freedom of information request and they wrote back to tell me that it has never bought or held any dogecoin in the UK Government official reserves. Here it is in black and white, thanks to What Do They Know.

HM Treasury can disclose that it has not bought or held any digital assets, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dogecoin or any other type of cryptocurrency, in the UK Government official reserves. Similarly, HM Treasury has made no attempt to mine cryptocurrency or purchased equipment to do so. The gross official reserves, held in the Exchange Equalisation Account, are comprised of foreign currency assets (cash, bonds and notes), gold assets and net positions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Special Drawing Rights (SDR).

HM Treasury

I made the “official reserves” bit italic because it’s technically not what I asked them. I asked whether the department as a whole has ever dabbled in Doge, not whether the UK Government’s official reserves held official cryptocurrency assets. The reserves are still limited to gold, foreign currency and IMF special drawing rights (a basket of foreign currencies which provides liquidity to IMF member countries).

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I find it a bit hard to believe that not one of the 1,200 civil servants who work at HM Treasury have given Coinbase a go. Or, more realistically, tried to figure out how a digital wallet works through its work with the Financial Action Task Force which it helped to introduce the first “internationally agreed standards for regulating assets and currencies including cryptocurrencies and digital currencies.” (Page 31 in HM Treasury’s most recent accounts.) But then again, our FOI laws leave a lot to be desired. If you’re a civil servant reading this and you know the exact phrasing I should use to get the information officers to tell me the government’s Coinbase address, hit me up.

Meanwhile, the idea of a stable, digital “Britcoin” backed by the Bank of England looks increasingly more likely.

If meditation and mindfulness can make you more depressed, what does that mean for Calm?

Don Draper, meditating to maximise his KPIs. Image credit: AMC

Meditation, mindfulness and the marketing industry which has driven their recent trendiness are hopefully about to get the backlash they deserve. My New Scientist colleague Clare Wilson reports on the first systematic review of the evidence about the practice, which finds that for a minority of people meditation and mindfulness can worsen depression and anxiety, or even provoke panic attacks, psychosis and thoughts of suicide.

The study does not deny that many people do benefit from these practices, some of whom are probably reading this, but it does allow a bit of space for more forceful criticism of the mostly invented world of “wellness”, and the marketing of mindfulness and meditation as the solution to all your problems. And the marketing messages are where the issues lie. If you want to overpay for an an app with prepackaged MP3s of celebrities whispering, that’s up to you. But don’t pretend it will reduce your stress, make your life better or solve any of your problems.

A few years ago I embarked on a body transformation, a rite of passage for most people who have worked at a men’s magazine. One of the things my fitness instructor recommended was trying mindfulness app Calm, which I found was close to a Black Mirror experience, a bit like voluntarily locking yourself in a room with a Tim Ferris wannabe in control of a surround sound PA system telling you to breathe in mysterious patterns, knowing that their net worth has probably increased by a London house-deposit sized proportion by the end of your 30 minute session. But maybe that’s just me.

Using Calm immediately increased my anxiety and I immediately stopped using it, which is fine because no-one is forcing me to use it, but it’s still very hard to escape the app and the pervasive marketing message of wellness. American Express even thought it wise to grant card members a premium subscription for a year, perhaps the best example of corporate wellness box ticking I’ve seen during this crazy year.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that one of the most famous recent examples of meditation in popular culture is in the final episode of Mad Men, where the sum result of Don Draper’s meditation retreat is an idea for a new Coca Cola advertisement.

Life changing doesn’t necessarily mean positively life changing. Image credit: Calm

Although I do get some satisfaction imagining aspiring Silicon Valley entrepreneurs using their Calm sessions to try and channel their mind into discovering new organisational efficiencies (think: Amelie counting orgasms in Paris, but maler, pastier and with KPIs instead of cumming), they and we deserve better diagnoses and treatment for our modern day ails and ennui. And we certainly need to detach mental health from work efficiencies, and put it lower down the priority list for solving people’s problems.

One of the most disturbing elements of Clare’s newsletter about her story is that schools and the NHS are now recommending mindfulness, in some cases to schoolchildren with the intention of boosting their resilience against bullying. Should the NHS and schools really be recommending meditation if in some cases it is making people feel worse?

My form of meditation is practicing my trombone, looking up if I hear a distinctive aeroplane’s engine (and then looking it up on Flightradar24) and writing lightly researched polemics on my blog about how much the meditation industry annoys me. I couldn’t do any of this if I didn’t have a comfortable home, a good job and a healthy “fuck off fund.” Those are prerequisites for good mental health, and anything that doesn’t consider that first and foremost is arguably damaging.

Hopefully this study will be the beginning of the end of the marketing trend which suggest that closing your eyes and breathing a little deeper can have impact whatsoever on systemic problems. Even though we now have the evidence that meditation can make your mental situation worse, I can’t imagine that ever making its way into Calm’s marketing rules.