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The Problems with Fiat Currency & How It’s About to Go Digital

A Look at the problems with fiat currency compared to Crypto & how the world is about to go digital.
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Even many of cryptocurrency’s harshest critics acknowledge that there are serious problems with fiat currencies.

Strangely, enough the most outspoken critic of government-issued currencies; former International Monetary Fund (IMF) Chief Economist Kenneth S. Rogoff, is also a foe of cryptocurrency. Rogoff even wrote a book; The Curse of Cash, in which he recommended governments abolish paper cash completely.

Rogoff’s argument is that cash is draining money away from legitimate free enterprise and into the black market. He also accuses the world’s central banks of promoting the black market by profiting from the sale of paper bills.

“And all this cash is facilitating growth mainly in the underground economy, not the legal one,” Rogoff charged in a Project Syndicate editorial. He noted that the $100 bill; which average Americans almost never see makes up 80% of the U.S. money supply. The $100 bill is the favorite medium of exchange of the world’s criminals.

Paper currency encourages violent crime by making robbery pay off and drug dealing and illegal immigration profitable; by giving criminals an easy to use means of payment, Rogoff pointed out. In The Curse of Cash; he noted that the Swedish government greatly reduced the number of bank robberies by simply lowering the amount of cash in circulation, which made such crimes less profitable.

Ironically, this is a claim that is leveled at Bitcoin and other Cryptocurrencies, that they facilitate crime when it reality cash is by far the largest method or exchange for criminals.

Is Paper Currency Obsolete?

Rogoff is the same man who denounced Bitcoin (BTC) as “Crypto Fool’s Gold” in a 9 October Project Syndicate column. Rogoff; a Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, is no fan of cryptocurrency but he thinks present-day fiat currencies are worse.

Interestingly enough, Rogoff believes governments will scrap present-day fiat currencies; and replace them with national cryptocurrencies (he uses the term digital currencies), in the near future. His belief seems to be that paper cash is an obsolete technology that should be abolished.

“But the long history of currency tells us that what the private sector innovates, the state eventually regulates and appropriates – and there is no reason to expect virtual currency to avoid a similar fate,” Rogoff wrote at Project Syndicate.

His prediction is that governments will simply takeover cryptocurrency. Historically, paper currencies were first printed by banks – but eventually adopted by governments because they were a superior payment technology.

The Danger when Cash Goes Away

One person who agrees with Rogoff is India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On November 8, 2016, Modi demonstrated all the problems with fiat currencies by declaring 86% of the cash in his country worthless.

Modi simply went on television and told the Indian people that their two largest bills; the 500 rupee ($7.50 or £5.40) and 1,000 ($15 or £10.81) notes were instantly worthless, CNN Money reported. Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister’s action created instant panic and an immediate cash shortage.

India Cash
Indians waiting in line for Cash withdrawals, Image from CNN.

Over the next 50 days, tens of millions of Indians learned what it was like to live without cash. Some businesses resorted to barter, while some people were sleeping in lines outside banks and ATMs rumoured to have cash. Such chaos occurred because 98% of all consumer transactions in India are conducted in cash.

Modi showed the world why cash is such a lousy payment mechanism; it can be instantly destroyed or taken away. Just as a person who keeps all of her money in bills under the mattress can lose everything to theft or fire. An entire nation can lose its buying power to one government action.

The Hyperinflation Menace

A major problem with Fiat currency is the inflation problem, governments can print as much new money as they like which devalues the money already in supply. For example, after the financial crisis in 2008, the bank of England created £375billion of new money. This is an ongoing concern and one of the problems that cryptocurrencies solve completely – for example, we know that there will only ever be 21 million Bitcoin in existence.

The residents of Venezuela are experiencing the other grave danger from government currencies: hyperinflation.

Prices in Venezuela may have risen by 12,875% during 2017 and by 85% during December 2017, Johns Hopkins University economist Steve Hanke told The Economist. Hanke thinks that prices in Venezuela are doubling every 52 days.

If Hanke is right that would place Venezuela among the worst cases of hyperinflation in history. The International Monetary Fund forecast that inflation might increase by 13,000% in Venezuela during 2018.

The Venezuelan government is now printing a 100,000 bill in its fiat currency the Bolivar, The Economist reported. That bill might be worth less than 50¢ (£0.36) in US Dollars. The black market exchange rate for one US dollar (£0.72) in Venezuela is 228,000 Bolivars, Reuters reported.

Hyperinflation
Hyperinflation Graphic, Image from The Economist.

Average Venezuelans are feeling the pain, an egg now costs 10,000 Bolivars; or a day’s pay in the nation’s minimum wage, on the country’s streets, The Havana Times reported. Eggs have apparently replaced Bolivars as one of the favoured mediums of exchange in Venezuela. A single carton of eggs now costs 60,000 Bolivars – or six days the minimum wage.

The Bolivar is worthless because Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro destroyed the economy, and wasted the entire nation’s oil money. Not surprisingly, many Venezuelans; including Maduro himself, have become cryptocurrency geeks out of necessity.

Cryptocurrency vs. Hyperinflation

Thousands of Venezuelans are using the country’s super-cheap electricity to mine Bitcoin (BTC) and Ethereum (ETH), The Atlantic reported in September 2017. A Venezuelan can make around $500 (£359.56) or 125.4 million Bolivars a month mining Bitcoin.

Venezuelans like Bitcoin because police, criminals, or soldiers cannot seize it at gunpoint. They can also use Bitcoin to pay for items from e-commerce companies in Miami and have them shipped to the South American nation. It is even possible to buy Visa and MasterCard gift cards; that can be used at Amazon, with Bitcoin or Ethereum.

This enables some Venezuelans to purchase essential items like food, medicine, and diapers online, Atlantic reporter Rene Chun discovered. These people can live a better life than their neighbors who are bartering eggs for consumer goods in the street.

Bitcoin is now so valuable in Venezuela; that corrupt police are seizing mining rigs and rebooting them at their stations, Chun wrote. The only way cops can get paid; and feed their families, is to mine Bitcoin.

Letting Politicians Loot the Nation’s Wealth

The country’s newest cryptocurrency geek is Maduro himself; who announced the creation of an oil-backed altcoin he calls the Petro in December 2017, Al Jazeera reported. Maduro even has plans to try and get the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to issue an altcoin.

Venezuela’s President Maduro, Image from AlaJazeera.

“I am going to officially propose to all OPEC and non-OPEC producing countries that we adopt a joint cryptocurrency mechanism backed by oil,” Maduro said.

The Petro probably will not help average Venezuelans; but it will make it easy for Maduro and his henchmen to move all the oil money out of the country, before the revolution. Whether the international community will let Maduro get away with looting Venezuela’s wealth is not clear.

The fate of Venezuela reveals what might be the greatest flaw in government fiat currencies; they make it real easy for corrupt or incompetent leaders to loot the nation’s wealth. All the dictator has to do to get more cash is to run the printing press.

The victims are average citizens who have no choice but to accept the worthless paper. The dictator and his cronies have the option of selling assets for other currencies with value and moving it to overseas bank accounts. Disturbingly, it is in the interest of the dictator to print more money; because he can exchange it for currencies with value, making the cash even more worthless.

Venezuela Demonstrates why Cryptocurrency will Supplant Fiat Currencies

Average people are at the mercy of this horrendous system because they cannot spend the tyrant’s worthless paper outside the nation. Nor do they have a good means of moving cash outside the nation, because nobody else accepts their national paper.

Cryptocurrencies enable average people to bypass government-issued Fiat which is subject to their whims – which is what makes them so valuable. The true advantage of cryptocurrency is that it allows average people the ability to make cross-border transactions with no exchange rate. That gives them spending power and money transfer capabilities once only reserved for the rich.

Rogoff and Modi are absolutely right, the problems with fiat currency will kill it off in the near future no matter what governments do. Like it or not, cryptocurrency is the future of money, and governments will ether be forced to adopt it or try to ban it which will prove futile due to it’s decentralized nature.

China’s Digital Currency Plans

Reports coming out of China say the country’s central bank is making progress with its plans to create a sovereign digital currency. However, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) is yet to release any official timetable for the roll-out of the proposed digital yuan.

Meanwhile, commentators continue to assert that China’s digital currency plans are part of efforts to prevent the widespread adoption of public cryptos like bitcoin (BTC) as well as private virtual currencies like Facebook’s Libra. Several central banks are also making efforts to launch their own state-issued digital currencies.

China

No Launch Date Set for China’s Digital Currency

According to the South China Morning Post, the PBOC issued a statement on January 5, 2019 declaring that progress was being made on the development of digital yuan currency. The statement was part of the central bank’s annual work conference detailing the PBOC’s activities for the last year.

Despite providing proof of ongoing work on the proposed central bank digital currency (CBDC), the PBOC did not elaborate on a likely timeframe for the release of the digital yuan. Back in 2019, reports stated that China’s digital currency would likely launch in November 2019 but those rumors turned out to be false.

Also, details about China’s digital currency remain scarce with inside sources so far declining from providing concise commentaries about the project.

Back in 2018, Blockonomi reported that the PBOC was recruiting digital currency specialists.

Beijing Wants to Combat Bitcoin and Libra Adoption in China

Despite the dearth of details about China’s proposed digital currency, one thing is clear — Beijing wants to counter cryptos like bitcoin and Libra. One key evidence for this assertion is that chatter about the project increased in intensity following the release of the Libra white paper back in mid-2019.

China was among the first nations to criticize the project citing monetary control concerns. At the time, Beijing railed against Libra’s plan to create a stablecoin backed by a basket of fiat currencies, saying such a digital currency could contribute to capital flight from mainland China.

The heightened chatter around China’s digital currency plans also came at a time when the government was actively promoting blockchain technology adoption. President Xi Jinping declared in October 2019 that blockchain will become a “core” technology in the country. Critics of China’s pro-blockchain stance said the country will not seek to promote the more decentralized aspects of the technology.

Various state and pollical media organizations were also waxing lyrical about blockchain utilization in China. However, this wave of positive blockchain sentiment did not extend towards crypto with the country’s government firmly maintaining its “blockchain, not crypto stance.”

As previously reported by Blockonomi, the renewed crypto crackdown saw five cryptocurrency exchanges being forced out of business. This fresh virtual currency prohibition seemed to focus on over-the-counter (OTC) digital asset trading desks.

China did remove Bitcoin mining from a list of prohibited industrial activities. However, several provinces in the country are demanding that crypto miners reduce their energy consumption during the dry season months to allow for ample power supply for retail consumers.

Central Banks Looking at Sovereign Digital Currencies

Several central banks have also come out to confirm or deny reports of developing their own CBDCs.

Stakeholders at the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Union (EU) as a whole have also called for the creation of a digital Euro. Some policymakers argue that such a move is necessary to not only combat private cryptos like Libra but to also stay apace with China in the emerging digital economy landscape.

Escaping the Dollar: China, Russia & Others Mull Shared Digital Currency

Leaders from the countries constituting the BRICS bloc — China, Russia, India, Brazil, and South Africa — have discussed the creation of a shared digital currency that would be aimed at trade settlements and further moving the participating nations away from the long shadow of the U.S. dollar.

Reported by Russian media outlet RBC, the discussions arose out of one of the economic and political bloc’s business council meetings this week, wherein BRICS officials formally considered such an effort for the first time.

No concrete plans resulted from the dialogue, so would-be specifics are lacking for now and it’s possible the project will never take off or will do so much later after considerable changes. So don’t call it digital money just yet.

Dollar

“It will not be money, we can say that it will be a paperless document flow to facilitate transactions,” argued Nikita Kulikov, who was present at the council meeting.

Whatever happens, it is significant that the BRICS nations have even considered the possibility of creating their own blockchain settlement system, as they comprise some of the world’s most influential emerging economies and are collectively home to more than 3 billion people. If BRICS has considered a shared digital currency, then others will too, and the consequences of that could be deep and long-lasting.

Dawn of De-Dollarization: Russia as Case Study

Efforts to “de-dollarize” have been growing on the world stage recently, and nowhere has that dynamic been clearer than in Russia, with the country’s participation in the aforementioned BRICS discussions being just the latest happening in its campaign to transcend the dollar’s significance.

For example, various proposals for state-backed digital currency efforts have been put forth in Russia over the past two years, all of them made against the backdrop of Russia’s top leaders wanting ways to give the country more freedom from USD and Western trade sanctions.

Last summer, Andrey Kostin, the head of major Russian bank VTB, charted out a path for how the nation could use fewer dollars in international transactions. Since then, related ideas have rolled in from Russian officials about how cryptocurrency tech could play a role in the country’s de-dollarization drive. Proposals have ranged from gold or oil-backed crypto to a stablecoin pegged to the Russian ruble.

“[A]n oil-backed cryptocurrency would allow oil producing countries to avoid any financial and trade restrictions that have become excessive in recent years,” former Russian energy minister Igor Yusufov said in October 2018. One month later, State Duma finance committee chairman Anatoly Aksakov proposed the creation of the “crypto-ruble” that would be backed by Russia’s central bank.

Relatedly, Russian officials have also participated in discussions with colleagues from the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), which Russia heads up along with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, to create a shared digital currency for the bloc that could be launched as early as 2020.

As Alexey Moiseyev, Russia’s deputy finance minister at the time, explained of the EEU initiative:

“The number of [domestic firms] currently under sanctions keeps increasing, and we hear threats that more sanctions will be introduced. So we have to react by creating reliable systems of international payments that are not pegged to the U.S. dollar.”

In a similar vein, Chinese officials have said a large motivation behind their ongoing digital yuan effort is to further entrench China’s monetary sovereignty — an implicit swipe at the specter of the U.S. dollar.

Between even just Russia and China then, there is certainly the political will within BRICS to push ahead on work that could help them move away from USD. It remains to be seen if the bloc will take the matter forward, but the entire affair could be a key geopolitical thread to watch going forward.

Central Bank Digital Currency Efforts Explode Ahead of China Crypto Launch

If you told someone on Wall Street or a central bank official ten years ago that there would be sovereign digital currencies, they likely would’ve laughed. But, these digital currencies are becoming reality. And quick.

Crypto

Central Banks Going All-In On Crypto?

CoinDesk reported that the Banque de France has just doubled down on its digital asset ambitions. A job opening published in the middle of last month mentioned the central bank’s need for an analyst with experience in crypto-economics, game theory and public or private blockchain.

The report also noted that France’s monetary authority is looking for an individual to research the use of blockchain in traditional banking.

The same CoinDesk released the abovementioned report, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) revealed that it would be onboarding a key individual: Benoit Coeure, outgoing member of the executive board of the European Central Bank.

Coeure, who previously called Bitcoin an “evil spawn of the financial crisis,’ will be leading the BIS’ Innovation Hub, which is a new branch of the banking entity that has made cryptocurrencies one of its primary focuses.

While the BIS announcement regarding this news made no mention of cryptocurrency, the BIS has supported central bank digital currencies in the past. Agustín Carstens, the head of BIS, said earlier this year:

“Many central banks are working on it; we are working on it, supporting them.”

These latest tidbits of news come just a few weeks after a report revealed that Canada is considering its own cryptocurrency. Per previous reports from this outlet, an internal slide deck presented to Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz revealed a proposed central bank digital currency project.

The proposed coin would be widely available,” an eventually mandatory alternative to paper fiat, would be able to collect information about consumers, and would combat the “direct threat” of Bitcoin and other decentralized and “unbacked” money systems.

Response to China

While it may be a coincidence that all this work towards central bank/fiat-backed digital currencies is happening at once, it seems that it’s in response to those that are currently ahead of the game: the Chinese government and the People’s Bank of China.

Just last month, China’s President Xi Jinping told the Chinese people that they should start adopting blockchain as a “core technology” to bolster an array of industries, including healthcare and finance.

Also, the past months have seen reports reveal that China is on the verge of launching a dual-layered digital money system that may have the potential to become the nation’s primary medium of exchange.

The Race for Digitization

It is likely that we’re going to see a sort of “blockchain arms race” take place over the next couple of years, which will see countries and companies all over the globe duke it out for how best to use this technology.

There will likely be a focus on centralized cryptocurrencies due to the value they provide; the aforementioned Bank of Canada slide deck mentioned that banknotes are quickly becoming obsolete and expensive, while decentralized cryptocurrencies have begun to pose a threat to monetary policy.

This impending arms race will be of utmost importance, analysts have asserted, with Anthony Pompliano, formerly of Facebook and currently of cryptocurrency investment firm Morgan Creek Digital asserting that the United States would “gain a [monetary/economic] advantage” and “capture the imagination of hundreds of millions of people” if it launched a digital money system before China did.



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Editor-in-Chief of Blockonomi and founder of Kooc Media, A UK-Based Online Media Company. Believer in Open-Source Software, Blockchain Technology & a Free and Fair Internet for all. His writing has been quoted by Nasdaq, Dow Jones, Investopedia, The New Yorker, Forbes, Techcrunch & More. Contact Oliver@blockonomi.com

3 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Edward Doyle Reply

    Thanks Oliver Dale, for sharing this great information about cryptocurrency. I think one day it will take the place of fiat money and solve this issues

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      There are many countries around the world who dont recognize cryptocurrency as a legal tender.

  2. Avatar

    Interestingly, there are many parallels between South Africa and Venezuela. Pity we don’t have such cheap energy to mine Bitcoin!

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