If The Fed Starts A Digital Currency, It Had Better Guarantee Privacy
Tyler Durden’s Photo
by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Apr 05, 2022 – 08:00 PM
MD: As always, Money Delusions will use the true definition of “real” money to annotate this article. The article appear in ZeroHedge.com as “If the Fed Starts A Digital Currency, It Had Better Guarantee Privacy”. And the title itself reveals confusion about what money is…and what its characteristics are. This begins by knowing what money is (i.e “an in-process promise to complete a trade over time and space”); how money is created (i.e. transparently in plain view by traders like you and me); how money is destroyed (i.e. also transparently by the trader delivering as promised); what happens if the trader “defaults” (i.e. “interest” of like amount is immediately collected); and how money trades in the interim (i.e. anonymously as any other object of simple-barter-exchange). Let’s get started:
Authored by By Andrew M. Bailey & William J. Luther via RealClearPolicy.com,
President Biden’s latest executive order calls for extensive research on digital assets and may usher in a U.S. central bank digital currency (CBDC), eventually allowing individuals to maintain accounts with the Federal Reserve. Other central banks are already on the job. The People’s Bank of China began piloting a digital renminbi in April 2021. India’s Reserve Bank intends to launch a digital rupee as early as this year.
MD: They immediately exhibit that they don’t know what money is. “Banks” have nothing to do with “real” money at all. It is the most obvious corruption of real money. And “digital” is just one of many forms of money.
Most commonly, money is just an entry in a ledger. In some cases it is in the form of coins and currency…both carefully designed to resist counterfeiting. In some cases it is in the form of a check (i.e. against a demand deposit). And we already have a fairly digital form of money in “debit cards”…a link to your ledger records that you carry in your purse. “Credit cards” are not an example of money. Rather, they are an example of “money creation”.
When you charge something on a credit card, “you” are creating money…a promise to complete a trade over time and space. When you use a “debit card” you are merely submitting proof that you hold some previously created money.
A CBDC may upgrade the physical cash the Federal Reserve already issues – but only if its designers appreciate the value of financial privacy.
Cash is a 7th century technology, with obvious drawbacks today. It pays no interest, is less secure than a bank deposit, and is difficult to insure against loss or theft. It is unwieldy for large transactions, and also requires those transacting to be at the same place at the same time — a big problem in an increasingly digital world.
MD: And before cash we had the tally stick…which claims to be the best implementation of money. And tally sticks were “real” money. They represented a promise to complete a trade over time and space. They worked better than gold. In fact, they could claim any kind of “backing” the trader’s agreed to (e.g. pork bellies). But nobody “traded” tally sticks. Thus, in that respect they weren’t money at all. They really were close to “crypto” in that respect…but much cheaper to create. You could create a tally stick with a twig and a knife. Today’s crypto requires insane amounts of electricity waste to create. They call it “proof of work”…which of course is nonsense.
Nonetheless, cash remains popular. Circulating U.S. currency exceeded $2.2 trillion in January 2022, more than doubling over the last decade. The inflation-adjusted value of circulating notes grew more than 5.5 percent per year over the period. And U.S. consumers used cash in 19 percent of transactions in 2020.
MD: Actually, the money changers are revealing the imminent collapse of cash. They hold lots of cash (counterfeited by government) and are doing everything they can to exchange it for real “property”. I get a dozen calls a day from “so-called investors” who want to “buy” my property. It’s a game of musical chairs. They don’t want to holding it when the “reset” comes as they know it will be instantly worthless. And also note, with “real” money, inflation is perpetually zero. No adjusted valuation is ever necessary.
Why is cash so popular, despite its drawbacks? Cash is easy to use. There are no bank or merchant terminal fees associated with cash. And, most importantly, it offers more financial privacy than the available alternatives.
MD: In actuality, cash is “not” easy to use. You almost never see it being used…even in restaurants and bars. I use it in bars just to keep score. I take a certain amount of cash, which when I’ve used it up I know I’m about to have had too much to drink. I spend lots of time explaining to other patrons why I can’t let them buy me a beer.
When you use cash, no one other than the recipient needs to know. Unlike a check or debit card transaction, there’s no bank recording how you spend your money. You can donate to a political or religious cause, buy controversial books or magazines, or secure medicine or medical treatment without much concern that governments, corporations, or snoopy neighbors will ever find out.
MD: With a “real” money implementation, there is no need for banks to be involved. All that is necessary is a “block chain” like implementation that resists the “three general problem” and counterfeiting. And when properly implemented, the “block chain” implementation is cost free. It has no use for “proof of work”. It “knows” it’s keeping track of performance on promises.
Privacy means you get to decide whether to disclose the intimate details of your life. Some will happily share. That is their choice. But others will prefer to keep those details private.
MD: But keep in mind, while “real” money used in trade is “always anonymous”, it’s creation is always “open and transparent”. Awareness of this distinction is crucial.
In a digital world, personal information can spread far and wide. And it can be used to exclude or exploit people on the margins. The choice about what information to share is important. For some, flourishing depends on carefully choosing how much others know about their politics, religion, relationships, or medical conditions.
Financial privacy matters just as much as privacy in other areas. What we do reveals much more about who we are than what we say. And what we do often requires spending money. In many cases, meaningful privacy requires financial privacy.
MD: Again, keep in mind that money is only concerned with the problem of “counterfeiting”. It cares not at all who is using it and for what. But people using it must know and expect it is genuine…i.e. not counterfeited. And of course we all know the principal counterfeiters of money are governments. For a “real” money process to exist, it’s operation must be transparent and impervious to any attempts to control or to counterfeit it. It is simply about record keeping.
Privacy also operationalizes the presumption of innocence and promotes due process. You are not obliged to testify against yourself. If law enforcement believes you have done something unlawful, they must convince a judge to issue a warrant before rifling through your things. Likewise, financial privacy prevents authorities from monitoring your transactions without authorization.
MD: Law doesn’t apply to a “real” money process. But open communication and mitigation is crucial. Again, it’s about making counterfeiting impossible. And when detected it must reveal who did the counterfeiting; see that the counterfeiting doesn’t happen again; and treat the counterfeiting for what it is… a “default”. And thus it immediately mitigates it with “interest” collection of like amount. This must be totally transparent…so the marketplace can ostracize the perps. Who pays the interest? Other irresponsible traders.
The recent executive order, to the administration’s credit, notes that a CBDC should “maintain privacy; and shield against arbitrary or unlawful surveillance, which can contribute to human rights abuses.” But a reasonable person might worry that the government is paying lip service to privacy concerns.
MD: A principle “axiom” must be observed at all times. If you are considering a government solution to any problem, you are still looking for a solution. Government is “never” the solution to any problem. It is just a magnifier of the problem.
A recent paper from the Fed, offered as “the first step in a public discussion” about CBDCs, suggests the central bank has no interest in guaranteeing privacy at the design stage. Instead, it maintains that a “CBDC would need to strike an appropriate balance […] between safeguarding the privacy rights of consumers and affording the transparency necessary to deter criminal activity.” The Fed then solicits comments on how a CBDC might “provide privacy to consumers without providing complete anonymity,” which it seems to equate with “facilitating illicit financial activity.” A U.S. CBDC, in other words, will likely offer much less privacy than cash.
MD: No central entity (especially a central bank) is ever involved in a “real” money process. Rather, it is the “process” that is the entity. As such, the process is universally used and totally transparent to all traders at all times.
We do not deny that financial privacy benefits criminals and tax cheats. Such claims tend to be exaggerated, though. In reality, it is a small price to pay for civil liberty. That due process applies to everyone — criminals included — is no reason to scrap the Fourth or Fifth Amendments.
MD: Taxes implies government…so it is a non-starter. If government participation was ever a valid option, it would be the “only” viable option. You would pay taxes (and only taxes) for everything. Your gasoline, your groceries, your clothing…all would be free. You would just pay tax and it would be covered out of that. Some people call this communism. Some call it insurance. It’s all nonsense.
Policymakers may be tempted to compromise on financial privacy when implementing a CBDC. Instead, they should attempt to replicate the privacy afforded by cash. Like non-alcoholic beer, the Fed’s “digital form of paper money” would superficially resemble the real McCoy while lacking its defining feature.
MD: Policy is the the marker here. No process is every properly governed by policy. The closest we should ever come to adopting policy is the “golden rule”. Policy is different from process. Money is a “process”. It cares nothing about policies like full employment and setting inflation at 2% (while continuously failing by a factor of 2).