In this insightful piece, Roubini explains why it is easy and almost inevitable that Central Banks use their unique place in the financial system to displace cryptocurrencies with their own Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs). If we extrapolate Roubini’s thinking, a broader point emerges: wherever blockchain challenges the authority or the role of the sovereign, it will be easy for the sovereign to step into the blockchain and take control of it.
“…only commercial banks have access to central banks’ balance sheets; and central banks’ reserves are already held as digital currencies…Because individuals, corporations, and non-bank financial institutions do not enjoy the same access, they must rely on licensed commercial banks to process their transactions. Bank deposits, then, are a form of private money that is used for transactions among non-bank private agents. As a result, not even fully digital systems such as Alipay or Venmo can operate apart from the banking system.
By allowing any individual to make transactions through the central bank, CBDCs would upend this arrangement, alleviating the need for cash, traditional bank accounts, and even digital payment services. Better yet, CBDCs would not have to rely on public “permission-less,”“trustless” distributed ledgers like those underpinning cryptocurrencies. After all, central banks already have a centralized permissioned private non-distributed ledger that allows for payments and transactions to be facilitated safely and seamlessly…If a CBDC were to be issued, it would immediately displace cryptocurrencies, which are not scalable, cheap, secure, or actually decentralized….
The main problem with CBDCs is that they would disrupt the current fractional-reserve system through which commercial banks create money by lending out more than they hold in liquid deposits. Banks need deposits in order to make loans and investment decisions. If all private bank deposits were to be moved into CBDCs, then traditional banks would need to become “loanable funds intermediaries,” borrowing long-term funds to finance long-term loans such as mortgages.
In other words, the fractional-reserve banking system would be replaced by a narrow-banking system administered mostly by the central bank. That would amount to a financial revolution – and one that would yield many benefits. Central banks would be in a much better position to control credit bubbles, stop bank runs, prevent maturity mismatches, and regulate risky credit/lending decisions by private banks.”
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