It started with:
TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE is upending finance. Bitcoin has gone from being an obsession of anarchists to a $1trn asset class that many fund managers insist belongs in any balanced portfolio. Swarms of digital day-traders have become a force on Wall Street. PayPal has 392m users, a sign that America is catching up with China’s digital-payments giants. Yet, as our special report explains, the least noticed disruption on the frontier between technology and finance may end up as the most revolutionary: the creation of government digital currencies, which typically aim to let people deposit funds directly with a central bank, bypassing conventional lenders.
And then they went on:
Government or central-bank digital currencies are the next step but they come with a twist, because they would centralise power in the state rather than spread it through networks or give it to private monopolies. The idea behind them is simple. Instead of holding an account with a retail bank, you would do so direct with a central bank through an interface resembling apps such as Alipay or Venmo. Rather than writing cheques or paying online with a card, you could use the central bank’s cheap plumbing. And your money would be guaranteed by the full faith of the state, not a fallible bank. Want to buy a pizza or help a broke sibling? No need to deal with Citigroup’s call centre or pay Mastercard’s fees: the Bank of England and the Fed are at your service.
This metamorphosis of central banks from the aristocrats of finance to its labourers sounds far-fetched, but it is under way. Over 50 monetary authorities, representing the bulk of global GDP, are exploring digital currencies. The Bahamas has issued digital money. China has rolled out its e-yuan pilot to over 500,000 people. The EU wants a virtual euro by 2025, Britain has launched a task-force, and America, the world’s financial hegemon, is building a hypothetical e-dollar.
One motivation for governments and central banks is a fear of losing control. Today central banks harness the banking system to amplify monetary policy. If payments, deposits and loans migrate from banks into privately run digital realms, central banks will struggle to manage the economic cycle and inject funds into the system during a crisis. Unsupervised private networks could become a Wild West of fraud and privacy abuses.
The other motivation is the promise of a better financial system. Ideally money provides a reliable store of value, a stable unit of account and an efficient means of payment. Today’s money gets mixed marks. Uninsured depositors can suffer if banks fail, bitcoin is not widely accepted and credit cards are expensive. Government e-currencies would score highly, since they are state-guaranteed and use a cheap, central payments hub.
Here’s the article, (I have a sub so I’m not sure whether or not it is freely available): https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/05/08/the-digital-currencies-that-matter.
Around the same time as I read this article, I came across a BBC article labelled Where is Jack Ma? When we consider this article and the one in the Economist it’s obvious that what is being considered in the UK is already in place in China. What essentially the Chinese Government is doing is pinning back the freedom of one entrepreneur, for the greater good of the economy; and to reinforce the power of the Communist Party. I suspect the latter is a large driving factor.
We have to think about the future of banking carefully. The bulk of our banks are overseas owned and to have anything which challenges this would be a debate well worth having.
Here’s the article on Jack Ma: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p09gb5pc.
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