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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The cryptocurrency market is becoming one of the few places where internet meme culture can translate into serious money.

The big picture: "Joke" cryptocurrencies can thrive when bored people who have cash to spare look for new ways to entertain themselves with seemingly benign bets — hoping that one of those bets could turn into a lucrative investment

Catch up quick: A meme coin or token is a cryptocurrency inspired by internet memes, jokes, notable personalities and existing cryptocurrencies. They are typically worth fractions of a penny, and have no utility. 

The market cap of meme coins and tokens is now about $33 billion, according to CoinMarketCap.

  • Dogecoin, the most valuable of the meme coins with a $27 billion market cap, is just one of possibly thousands of meme cryptos that have been created since around 2011.

Yes, but: 90%-95% of jokes coins end up dead, according to dead-coin tracker Coinopsy.

State of play: Launching new cryptocurrencies has become easier over the past few years, making it possible for someone to do so without expensive equipment or technical knowledge — sometimes in less than an hour

How it works: Many joke cryptos are available to trade on exchanges like Gate.io and PancakeSwap.

  • Dogecoin was created in 2013 and features the Shiba Inu dog from the "Doge" meme as its logo. But it didn't soar in value until earlier this year, when it became a target for the Reddit crowd.
  • Other joke and meme cryptos have monikers like Loser Coin and Sad Cat Token. Both of those are worth fractions of a penny, and combined, are held by more than 100,000 addresses.

What they’re saying: Outside of crypto, there aren't that many real-world examples of literal jokes that turn into something of monetary value, says Guan Yang, a data scientist who launched Stalwartbucks as an inside joke with journalist Joe Weisenthal in 2014. 

  • Like baseball cards or NFTs, joke currencies can be viewed as collectibles, Yang says. When enough people are interested in them, and assign them monetary value, they morph into an asset class.
  • “We have a craving to do that with almost anything," he says.

What to watch: Regulators are taking notice as pump and dump schemes and losses tied to crypto scams spike.

Go deeper: The world's largest regulatory arbitrage

Go deeper

1 hour ago - World

Rich world’s pandemic selfishness won't be forgotten

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

The failure of rich countries to share vaccines and financial assistance with poorer ones during the pandemic will exacerbate the rise in global poverty and could come back to bite them, Nobel Prize-winning economists Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee tell Axios.

Why it matters: Duflo initially believed the pandemic would produce a “more cooperative world order” as rich countries felt compelled to show solidarity with the developing world, potentially boding well for future collaboration on issues like climate change. Now she fears the opposite.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress passes $2.1B Capitol security funding bill

U.S. Capitol police officers testify during a House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on July 27. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via Xinhua

A $2.1 billion Capitol security funding bill is heading to President Biden for his signature after the House and Senate passed the legislation on Thursday.

Why it matters: The legislation provides funding for the Capitol Police, the National Guard and other agencies to cover the costs incurred during the Jan. 6 riot.

Biden details new vaccination initiatives as COVID cases surge

Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden detailed several new initiatives on Thursday to get more Americans vaccinated and slow the spread of the Delta variant.

Why it matters: The plan outlines aggressive next steps from the federal government as COVID-19 cases surge across the country due to the contagious Delta variant and as demand for vaccines has tapered off.