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To better understand the system, the Dutch central bank has created its own cryptocurrency, albeit for internal use only. According to the BIS, one option for central banks might be a currency available to the public, with only the central bank able to issue units that would be directly convertible with cash and reserves.
There might be a greater risk of bank runs, however, and commercial lenders might face a shortage of deposits. Another question to be resolved would be the question of privacy. Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism.
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Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number. First name Please enter your first name. Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters. The values of these transactions also tend to be overestimated by the strong increase in the bitcoin value in Sources: Bruegel based on tradeblock.
Historically two key features have characterised successful currencies: price stability and a sufficiently large network of users. Among the three functions of money, being a good store of value appears to be a necessary condition for the other two unit of account and medium of exchange. In other words, unless the value of money is relatively stable over time, it will not be widely used, either as an accounting device or a medium of exchange.
Stability in the value of the currency, in turn, requires that supply follows demand in a way that avoids both high inflation rapid loss of value and deflation rapid gain in value. In practice, the former requires that the supply of the currency is somehow constrained, whereas the latter requires a supply that can be sufficiently elastic in order to keep up with demand.
But beyond value stability, for a currency to be successful requires a critical mass of users. The two features are complementary and mutually reinforcing. Currencies are widely used if they have a stable value. However, this is not sufficient: the extent of the network of users is also crucial to the success of a stable currency.
As a social convention, a currency relies on the expectation that there will be enough users to transact with it. Historically, in order to build up that network of users, currencies have traditionally relied on some form of backing, coercion, or a combination of the two. Ultimately, the success of money can be attributed to the institutional arrangements or rules that underpin it and the degree to which they provide stable and predictable purchasing power, a wide network and common knowledge about both.
The rules that underpin the management of official currencies are part of the greater system of rules governing any nation. The quality of the currency is inexorably linked to them. In jurisdictions where independent central banks have a price stability mandate and fulfil it, currency is a reliable store of value, the predominant medium of exchange and the unit of account.
The state had been instrumental in ensuring the ascendance of fiat money. This took the form of legal tender ie the mandatory acceptance of banknotes and coins for their full face-value to make payments and to discharge debt or the obligation to pay taxes in the official currencies.
But once the network is established and consolidated, as long as its participants maintain trust in the stability of the currency, backing and coercion become less important. Today, central banks provide an elastic supply of their currencies to fulfil their price stability mandates in an accountable but discretionary institutional setup: inflation targeting. This framework allows central bankers to use many instruments short-term interest rate changes, asset purchases, expectation management and does not bind them with any intermediate target such as money or credit growth , as long as they ensure price stability.
In other words, central banks have the capacity to make changes to all instruments at hand when they deem it necessary. In turn, accountability, if done in the right way, should give the right incentive to the central bankers to fulfil their mandates and achieve price stability, which should increase trust in the currency. However, the current pre-eminence of currencies under the control of central banks, like the euro and the US dollar, does not rule out the emergence and adoption of other currencies, in particular cryptocurrencies.
But how these currencies will perform as money will depend heavily on their characteristics and on their ability to perform the same economic functions as official currencies. Arguably, the cryptocurrencies available today are not performing the functions of money very well. As a result, they can only be considered as speculative assets, which are expected to yield returns only as a result of capital gains. In the case of bitcoin, the quantity supplied is fixed at an upper limit 21 million , which is approached following a predictable, near-predetermined path.
Importantly, the supply does not match the quantity demanded. The inelastic nature of the supply embedded in the protocol rules which for bitcoin looks like a rule derived from the gold standard results in volatility, which prevents these currencies from functioning as good stores of value. This, in turn, also limits their adoption and keeps the network of users relatively small, thus reducing their role as mediums of exchange and as units of account.
Figure 3 shows that given its volatility, bitcoin cannot perform well the basic function expected from a currency. With inflation and deflation rates closer to those observed in Venezuela than those observed in the euro area, bitcoin is clearly not a good store of value. Note: Venezuelan CPI is not available in monthly frequency after the end of However, the IMF reports a yearly inflation rate for of The second reason why cryptocurrencies are not a good medium of exchange is the cost of the transactions and the time they take to be recorded in the decentralised ledger.
Despite the absence of the fixed cost associated with building a centralised network, the amount of computing power needed to validate cryptocurrency transactions in order to avoid any falsification of the ledger is energy inefficient and represents a significant waste of resources. But current cryptocurrencies are global and not attached to a particular country or region. The result would thus be a crypto-monetary policy ie its supply protocol that would be consistently too tight and too accommodative for different countries at different times.
Despite the clear limitations of current cryptocurrencies, it is possible that developers will be able to improve their supply protocols to limit the volatility of their currency values resulting from their supply rule, at least in normal times. This runs against the international nature of cryptocurrencies that are not tied to any jurisdiction. The creators of Basis acknowledge that it might be better to have a currency related to a particular homogenous jurisdiction that reflects better an optimal currency area.
The details of the Basis supply protocol are still problematic see Cochrane, , for a very critical explanation of how the Basis protocol works , but it shows that designing a stable cryptocurrency might be the next step. However, whatever the quality of their protocol, just like any other fiat currency, cryptocurrencies would be inherently vulnerable to changes in beliefs and expectations that can lead to undesirable self-fulfilling inflationary episodes.
In other words, even with a sophisticated supply protocol, there is no reason to believe that the equilibrium with stable prices will always prevail over unstable equilibria. This implies that elastic supply is a necessary but insufficient condition to obtain price stability. Central bank-managed currencies have a number of additional properties that help establish their acceptability and guide economic agents towards the desirable equilibrium.
First, they are deemed legal tender , in other words recognised by the underlying legal systems as an acceptable means of settling financial obligations. Second, the sovereign accepts them as means of settling taxes and, third, they operate within a set of institutional rules that gives them incentives and means to achieve price stability.
In addition, currencies issued by central banks now benefit from several decades of price stability experience, good practices and established networks of users, giving them natural monopolies as units of account, mediums of exchange and as the ultimate stores of value. For all these reasons, even if developers manage to design a supply protocol able to offer cryptocurrencies with an elastic supply, it is doubtful that this will be enough to encourage the wider use of cryptocurrencies and replace currencies issued by governments.
At the moment, cryptocurrencies operate alongside official currencies. The current volumes are small and do not challenge the position of official money as the main currency. But as algorithms improve to limit the volatility of cryptocurrencies, their popularity and use could increase. This would lead to a coexistence with other official currencies. We examine whether such coexistence would entail risks for central bank monetary policy.
Could the central bank lose its grip on the economy as a result? The interaction between cryptocurrencies and central bank monetary policy is treated in detail by Fernandes-Villaverde and Sanches Their theoretical model predicts that the coexistence of central bank and private money depends on the type of monetary policy the former follows.
In particular, privately-issued currencies would be used if the official currencies do not ensure price stability, but would lose their value as a medium of exchange when the central bank credibly guarantees the real value of money balances. The ramifications are two-fold. First, the coexistence of government money and cryptocurrencies that are valued as mediums of exchange is not a theoretical impossibility.
Second, the central banks have the advantage: by choosing a specific type of monetary policy they can prevent cryptocurrencies from being valued as a medium of exchange but they could still be valued for other reasons, for instance as a pure speculative asset. From this perspective, rather than posing a threat, the coexistence of government money and cryptocurrencies can have a positive effect by acting as a disciplining device on central banks.
This is a partial vindication of Hayek , who argued in favour of breaking the state monopoly on money as a way to ensure the stability of the official currency. Nevertheless, from a more practical standpoint, central banks could face some risks from the emergence of cryptocurrencies as relevant mediums of exchange with stable purchasing power.
First, the extent of the substitution by economic agents of cash and bank deposits for cryptocurrencies will determine the effectiveness of monetary policy. Extensive substitution of bank deposits in particular would translate to reduced control over monetary conditions, because of the shrinking of the amount of broad money in the economy. At the extreme, the provision of base money and the resulting influence over interest rates would be rendered ineffective.
However, as Stevens points out, as long as money issued by central banks retains the role of unit of account, the switch to cryptocurrencies as a medium of exchange would be limited and thus the associated threat to monetary control would also be limited.
Second, the shrinking role of central bank money creates a possible fiscal risk in the form of reduced seigniorage revenue. The response could be higher distortionary taxes that would hurt growth. That said, such risks appear to be exaggerated given that seigniorage revenues make up an insignificant fraction of total government revenue.
The last, but probably most pertinent, threat does not emanate from the potential use of cryptocurrencies as money, but from their attractiveness as investment assets. As a speculative investment — an investment made in expectation of a return from capital gains only — cryptocurrencies will be prone to bubbles. The collapse of a cryptocurrency bubble could reverberate into wider financial instability if households, corporates and financial institutions hold unhedged debt positions.
Central banks would then face a double risk: first to the stability of financial institutions they supervise, from the potentially unregulated cryptocurrency debt markets, and, second, to price stability, from the effects on the real economy of deleveraging and defaulting by economic agents.
Given the natural monopoly enjoyed by central bank-controlled currencies, it would take a deep crisis of trust for a cryptocurrency to replace an established currency in full. An episode of very high inflation could be such a shock, but even then, agents might wish to switch to other established safe-haven currencies such as the US dollar or the Swiss franc before resorting to cryptocurrencies.
However, as argued earlier, the broad accessibility of cryptocurrencies, compared to other currencies, might offer an easy path to switch. How would the financial system and the broader economy be affected? In particular, we can ask ourselves if a fractional reserve banking system, as we have today, would be possible in a cryptocurrency world and how the cryptocurrency protocol could influence it. In a fractional reserve banking system, bank deposits are matched by currency bills, coins and central bank reserves only up to a fraction.
In such a system, bank deposits are the result of the provision of loans by commercial banks to companies and households, and, therefore, money and credit creation are closely intertwined. In theory, there is nothing that prevents fractional reserve banking from emerging in a full cryptocurrency regime. However, money creation by private banks would reduce the level of control the cryptocurrency protocol exerts over the money supply, placing additional complexity on the supply algorithm.
In fact, central banks that have tried to target the total stock of money in the past renounced it because they found it difficult to achieve price stability with that strategy. Today, the money stock that is created by private banks is ultimately influenced, but not fully controlled, by the central bank.
Monetary policy operates mainly through the interest rate at which the central bank provides currency to private banks. Successful influence over monetary conditions in the presence of a fractional reserve banking system would, thus, require an algorithm that is able to affect the lending behaviour of banks. Even if this were to be achieved, these banks would still be vulnerable to bank runs. Under a fractional reserve system, banks generate profits by engaging in maturity transformation: using short-term, money-like deposits as funding for illiquid, long-term loans.
This leaves them vulnerable to the possibility of bank runs. When there is such a general flight to liquidity, the central bank acts as a lender of last resort to restore confidence in the banks and in financial stability. Arguably cryptocurrencies would not be able readily to provide liquidity in times of crisis.
This is not unlike the gold standard, where new currency could not be mined in real time and made available to absorb excessive demand. Similarly, deposit guarantees would not be available as a solution in a crypto-financial system.
A third ex-post solution would be for the banks themselves to suspend the convertibility of their deposits into the cryptocurrency. Therefore, the ex-ante absence of credible solutions to bank runs would increase their likelihood and lead to instability in the system. Does that mean, at the opposite end of the spectrum, that we could see the emergence of a financial system similar to full reserve banking? Here, the cryptocurrency could play the role played traditionally by official fiat currencies.
This would have two main advantages: first, money supply would be decoupled from credit and would thus only depend on the cryptocurrency algorithm; and, second, there would be no bank runs. However, one has to ask what forces would give rise to banking in such a cryptocurrency world.
In a cryptocurrency world by contrast, full-reserve banks would be irrelevant: as payments would be done directly in the decentralised ledger, there would be no need to resort to an intermediary to complete a payment. To sum up, it seems that in a full crypto-financial system, savers would have to choose between holding IOUs labelled in a cryptocurrency unit of account issued by unstable banks not benefiting from a lender of last resort or sticking to cryptocurrencies that stay idle in the ledger.
In that case, who would provide lending to the rest of the economy? One possibility is direct peer-to-peer lending but this would force individuals to screen, monitor and diversify their investments themselves, unless individuals pool their wealth in cryptocurrencies to share risks and lend to other agents.
However, these entities that would provide loans to the economy would look more like investment funds than banks, as their funding sources in cryptocurrencies would not be deposits but equity.
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A retail CBDC that makes central bank digital money directly and broadly Cryptocurrencies”, BIS Quarterly Review, pp. 55–70,. September. Central Bank Cryptocurrencies. BIS. Quarterly Review, pp. 55 - BIS. (). BIS Annual Economic Report Central banks and payment in the digital. This report will use the term 'crypto asset' to describe this technology. Stablecoins are a form of cryptocurrency that are designed to maintain.