FedCoin Revisited

FedCoin Revisited by Nicolás Cachanosky for American Institute for Economic Research

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The Federal Reserve is thinking about issuing a central bank digital currency (CBDC). The International Business Times reports that the Fed “would be open to collaborating with private business on the creation of a digital currency but emphasized that they were not yet making any commitments.” Talk of a so-called FedCoin appeared to have quelled. But it is now back in full force.

To some, the idea of a FedCoin seems obvious. They see no reason for the Fed to forego adopting 21st century monetary technology. And, certainly, there are a number of benefits, such as lower transaction costs of electronic transfers and helping to execute instant payments (such as in the FedNow project). However, a CBDC also carries risks that must be weighed against the benefits.

One’s view on FedCoin is often related to his or her view on cash. If she thinks cash is good, she is likely to oppose FedCoin. If he thinks cash is bad, he is likely to see FedCoin as an improvement on the status quo. Indeed, some see the introduction of FedCoin as an important step in the direction of a completely cashless economy.

Advocates of moving towards a cashless economy argue that making all payments electronic would help to fight tax evasion and crime. If the move were required, however, it would harm those preferring to use cash for legal transactions as well.

Many people place a high value on anonymity. For some, it’s personal. They don’t want others to know what they are doing. For some, it’s political. They worry about the degradation of institutions, as private information might be used for political ends. The threat of obtaining and revealing private information might silence opposition and undermine the democratic process.

A cashless economy might also lead to policy changes. In order to foster spending during a recession or an economic downturn, the Fed might tax money demand with negative interest rates. If holding cash is an option, then depositors can withdraw their deposits and avoid the negative interest rate. But, if cash is not an option, then consumers are stuck paying interest on their FedCoin holdings. Since they cannot avoid the negative interest rate, consumers would rather spend their money than see their bank balances go down.

In addition to the issues related to one’s view on cash, FedCoin might also undermine financial intermediation. By offering FedCoin, the central bank might crowd out commercial banks.

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