Beware Of A Central Bank Digital Currency

In recent weeks Jerome Powell at the Federal Reserve and Christine Lagarde at the European Central Bank have commented on the likelihood of implementing digital currencies in the next years. The positives have been well explained. More transparency, ease of use, and lower cost.

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The European Central Bank has stated that “a digital euro would guarantee that citizens in the euro area can maintain costless access to a simple, universally accepted, safe and trusted means of payment. The digital euro would still be a euro: like banknotes but digital. It would be an electronic form of money issued by the Eurosystem (the ECB and national central banks) and accessible to all citizens and firms. A digital euro would not replace cash, but rather complement it. The Eurosystem will continue to ensure that you have access to euro cash across the euro area. A digital euro would give you an additional choice about how to pay and make it easier to do so, contributing to financial inclusion alongside cash”.

In the United States, many voices call for a digital dollar to compete with China’s yuan. However, the US dollar is already the world reserve currency, it is used in more than 80% of global transactions while the yuan is used in less than 4%, according to the Bank of International Settlements (the total is 200% as each transaction involves two currencies), and most payments and transfers are already electronic. The euro is the second most used currency and is also mostly through electronic transfers. One can say that the US Dollar and the euro are already “digital”.

All this sounds good. So, why should we worry about a central bank “digital currency”?

There are important risk factors to consider.

The first one is privacy. The central bank would control almost all transactions in a currency and have all the information of how deposits and savings are kept. The gradual implementation of the central bank digital currency would involve important risks of privacy but also concerns about the central bank controlling the amount of savings and their form. A central bank that controls all transactions and how savings are kept is also able to act against those savings by “dissolving” them with monetary policy.

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