Money or Assets? How World Governments Define Cryptocurrencies

Cryptocurrencies — what are they? Money? Commodities? Securities? Utility tokens? Or something else? Few national governments seem to be in any kind of agreement on this question, and for now, at least, their divisions have given such currencies as Bitcoin and Ethereum a floating, indeterminate status on the global stage.

As a result, cryptocurrencies lack a single, definite existence, with some nations treating them as money (e.g., Japan, Germany) and others treating them as an unregulated, speculative asset (e.g., Mexico, Denmark), making them the financial equivalent of Schrödinger's cat. However, as this review of classifications of crypto throughout the world will show, cryptocurrencies are all these things and more, which is why they deserve to be classified by future legislation according their own, unique qualities.

United States: securities, commodities, property, money

As an indication of how difficult it may be for world governments to ever reach a global consensus on the status of cryptocurrencies, it's worth pointing out that there's currently little consensus within nations — let alone among them. This is nowhere more evident than in the United States, where five separate agencies have all had their own competing classifications of cryptocurrencies.

First up is the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which — up until June — defined cryptocurrencies in general as securities, meaning assets in which someone invests in the expectation of receiving a return. In March, for example, it issued a public statement indicating that it would regulate anything being traded via an exchange platform as a security.

"A number of these platforms provide a mechanism for trading assets that meet the definition of a 'security' under the federal securities laws. If a platform offers trading of digital assets that are securities and operates as an 'exchange,' as defined by the federal securities laws, then the platform must register with the SEC as a national securities exchange or be exempt from registration."

Bitcoin declined by 10 percent following this announcement, yet the statements of other American authorities and agencies differ with the SEC's assertion that cryp