Today, nation states have a monopoly on the issuance of notes and coins, one enforced with acts and regulations.
One just needs to revisit history to see how Liberty Dollar creator Bernard von NotHaus was charged with federal crimes for trying to mint his own private currency. Agents of the U.S. Secret Service and FBI raided the Liberty Dollar offices in 2007 and confiscated all its gold, silver and platinum. Bank accounts were frozen and computers seized.
Fast forward to 2017 and central bank-issued currencies and privately issued cryptocurrencies have been co-existing for almost a decade. Libertarians are acutely aware that it is only the decentralized and cryptographic nature of cryptocurrencies that keep the government agents from the door.
And there is reason for suspicions. A larger drive by central banks to dematerialize money has been ongoing since long before the advent of cryptocurrencies, and it can be said that the technology is emboldening central bank attempts to issue digital money.
Key to this trend is that bitcoin and other decentralized cryptocurrencies have shown a potential answer to how the dematerialization of money may be rolled out by central banks.
Recently, Kaspar Korjus, managing director of Estonia's e-Residency scheme, posed the forward-thinking question: "Should Estonia begin issuing its own crypto tokens to e-residents (as well as citizens and residents)?" On the flip side, a South African Reserve Bank official made a statement that cryptocurrencies are "too risky."
Central bankers are interested in the choices and advantages of the dematerialisation of currency.
And there is upside here.
Currently, chief cashiers and currency mangers at central banks around the globe are faced with enormous challenges when it comes to issuing physical notes and coins.
Still, one must remember the removal of costs doesn't always lead to savings.
Specifically, these include:
That's not to say there aren't other factors that should be considered.
By issuing digital currency, central banks could fulfill their mandate by potentially identifying all transactions. Remember, anonymous transactions are the bugbear of international organizations like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Further, the loss of anonymity and the advent of instant taxation could be significant – and troubling – outcomes of the dematerialization of money.
Still, by releasing a digital currency, central banks would also invite comparison.
Commonly, most private currencies also have baked-in scarcity of money supply. By contrast, central banks have an open cheque book and money supply by committee.
Private currencies are produced, protected and upgraded by the best minds in cryptography. Central banks rely on partnering with large consulting and technology providers.
Private currencies morph freely and move into networks to produce tokenized market places. Central bank digital currencies consider allowing licensed participants to build on closed loop (national) financial services.
The differences are overwhelming. The destiny of many nation states will rest on how central banks decide to act. A likely problem for central banks is that once central banks issue their own digital currency, then they will more prominently announce the competition with existing cryptocurrencies.
The light will shine brightly on areas of difference.
Have a look at what is happening in the industry at our insights section and read all about our events, blogs, case studies, and trending news.