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Cryptocurrencies, Rolex, luxury tennis: the fear of missing out on fashion has boosted the economy

The unexpected twist to my analogy, of course, is that probably the kind of character who can pay $40,000 for a Rollie It won’t feel much of a shock if Daytona watches suddenly go out of style. (In fact, resale prices for Rolexes and other luxury watches have fallen in recent months. The resale market for sneakers is also softening.)

On the other hand, cryptocurrencies were promoted to everyone, rich and poor. On social media, on financial TV networks and in celebrity-studded Super Bowl ads, these complex, volatile, collapse-prone and unregulated products were sold to the masses as opportunities they couldn’t miss. “Fortune favors the brave,” promised Matt Damon, as Larry David starred in an ad whose slogan explicitly invoked the fear of missing out: “Don’t miss out on cryptocurrencies.”

Cryptocurrencies were also just the latest in a series of unsustainable bubbles that have rocked American life over the past two decades. At the turn of the century, people were trying to make huge investments in dot-com companies that threw their money away. In the mid to late 2000s, the real estate boom dominated, leading to the Great Recession. And, since 2010, we have had a series of up and down cycles in cryptocurrencies; Before this latest run, Bitcoin rose and fell in 2011, then from 2013 to 2015, and again from 2017 to 2018.

I’ve seen a lot of glee online recently over mischief: a lot of people who didn’t participate in the crypto boom scoff at those who came in with it all, which is perhaps only fair to the skeptics who had to put up with it for years to obnoxious crypto characters telling them, “Have fun being poor.”

However, can you blame them? Studies suggest that people under the age of 40 have been much more willing than older people to invest their money in cryptocurrencies. This makes sense when you consider that much of their adult lives have been dominated by these cycles of ups and downs and consistently low growth in real wages.

For millions of people, cryptocurrencies, like real estate and dotcoms before them, offered a way out of what has otherwise been an economic dead end. They just wanted to get ahead in almost the only way one can these days: put your money into something trendy and hope it’s a hit. It’s the American way.

Farhad Manjoo has been a Times Opinion columnist since 2018. Before that, he wrote the State of the Art column. He is the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society. @fmanjoo | Facebook

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