PayPal, Kanye And CBDCs

Readers of a certain age will remember Carnac the Magnificent, Johnny Carson’s recurring alter ego. As Carnac, the late-night host would list off three seemingly unrelated words, all of which answered a question that was sealed in an envelope that he held to his forehead.

Today we’re going to play the same game, with the answers being PayPal, Kanye (or Ye, as he’s now known) and central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). And the question: What are the consequences of financial hyper-centralization?

Some of you will make the connections immediately. For everyone else, let me explain.

PayPal, the financial technology (fintech) firm cofounded over 20 years ago by Peter Thiel, Elon Musk and others, was roundly criticized this week after an update to its terms of service showed that the company would fine users $2,500 for, among other things, spreading “misinformation.” A PayPal spokesperson was quick to walk back the update, even claiming that the language “was never intended to be inserted in our policy,” but the damage was done. #DeletePayPal started trending on Twitter, and the company’s stock tanked nearly 12% this week.

PayPal Stock Plunged on "Misinformation" Policy News

As for Ye, he and his apparel brand Yeezy were reportedly dropped this week by JPMorgan Chase. In a letter widely shared on social media, JPMorgan says Ye has until November 21 to move his business finances elsewhere.

No reason was given for the bank to cut ties with the billionaire rapper, but it’s easy to surmise that Ye was targeted for his political beliefs and outspokenness. I don’t agree with everything he says, nor should you. He’s a controversial figure, and his comments are often erratic and designed to get a rise out of his critics. I’m not sure, though, that this alone should imperil his access to banking services.

The two cases of PayPal and Ye represent what I believe are legitimate and mounting concerns surrounding centralized finance. Admittedly, Ye is an extreme example. He’s a multiplatinum recording artist with tens of millions of social media followers. But there’s a real fear among everyday people that they too can be fined or have their accounts frozen or canceled at any time for expressing nonconformist views.