View: The crypto revolution will not be public
A revolution is coming in finance, and the world is only beginning to realize the transformations it is likely to bring. Financial institutions will need to take a radically different approach to information technology to stay in business.
Bullish Global, a crypto firm, plans to go public this year, with an expected valuation of $ 9 billion. Circle Internet Financial Inc., the company behind stablecoin, also plans to go public, as does cryptocurrency platform Bakkt Holdings. Financial markets are hard to predict, but at this point, 12 years after Bitcoin’s debut, it’s hard to argue that it’s all just a bubble.
To understand why, ask yourself a simple question. Why shouldn’t finances and payments be as easy as sending an email? Anyone who grew up with computer games and texting probably thinks running a financial system should be just as smooth and cheap, especially if there was a mature central bank digital currency. There is no reason that money cannot be transferred by a simple act of communication.
Due to the large amount of money involved, it would require higher levels of security than with email. But a mix of bioscans, multi-factor authorization, and hardware security (you need more than a password) should suffice. These guarantees shouldn’t be very expensive once they are in place.
One vision is that governments and central banks will manage these systems, making governments and central banks much more important in finance. For many institutions, private banks would not be necessary to access the payment system, and the role of private banks would therefore be reduced. The central bank would in turn have more funds to deploy, and inevitably it would apply some discretion to those funds.
If the role of government were to expand and private banks were to suffer, it would create significant problems of the kind that the American political system is often not very good at solving. The U.S. Federal Reserve has made it clear that it will not create a digital currency without congressional approval, but Congress is known to be slow or even unable to act, particularly on issues involving the role of government in the ‘economy.
And these quarrels are not purely partisan. Given the government’s record on technology, remember the botched deployment of the Obamacare website? – can we be so sure that a central bank digital currency would be pirate-proof and perform well from the start?
In a remarkably honest but sweeping speech last month on stablecoins, Fed Governor Randal Quarles argued that current payments systems already incorporate much of information technology – and that they are improving. quickly. The implication is that a central bank digital currency, or CBDC, is a solution looking for a problem.
Quarles also suggested that the Fed tolerated stablecoins, just as the central bank coexisted and flourished with many other private sector innovations. Stablecoins can be used as an experiment in the private sector to see if individuals and institutions really want a radically different payment system, in this case based on crypto and blockchains. If they do, the system can scale by switching some, but not all, transactions to stablecoin.
There does not need to be a do-or-die transition date requiring a fully functioning CBDC. But to the extent that these stablecoins can use the very simple methods of fund transfer described above, market participants will continue to use them more.
Quarles argued that with proper but not extraordinary regulation of stablecoin issuers, such a system could prove to be stable. He even seems to prefer the private sector alternative: “It seems to me that there has been considerable private sector innovation in the payments industry without a CBDC, and it is conceivable that a Fed CBDC, or even plans for one, can deter private sector innovation by “occupying the field”.
In essence, Quarles is prepared to tolerate a system in which dollar equivalents issued by the private sector become a major means of consuming payments outside of traditional Fed institutions. Presumably, capital requirements would be used to ensure solvency.
For many viewers, even hearing about innovation in finance raises concerns about systemic risk. But maybe the United States is better off letting information technology advance than trying to shut it down. And if you are afraid of instability, do you really want to see the digital currencies of foreign central banks fill this space?
If you’re still skeptical, ask yourself two final questions. First, who has been more innovative on these issues: the private sector or the public sector? Second, how realistic are the chances of Congress taking effective action?
It is now a world in which radical monetary ideas are produced and consumed like crisps. I say, pass the bag.