The future of central banks could be either on an open, permissionless blockchain or a closed, permissioned distributed ledger, according to a paper released today by bank consortium R3.
That is, assuming anything changes at all.
Already, the global institutions that actually issue national currencies have moved vast amounts of the paper money they print to digital, centralized ledgers.
But as more and more central banks around the world reveal details about their interest in blockchain and other distributed ledgers, the very real possibility of central banks decentralizing is being seriously studied by academics.
Most recently, a research paper published today by R3 and revealed exclusively to CoinDesk presents a detailed picture of the benefits and detractions of two of the most popular strategies being considered
In conversation with CoinDesk, report author and chair in economics at the University of California Santa Barbara, Rod Garratt, detailed the impact he believes blockchain and other distributed ledgers could have if implemented by central banks.
"Most central bank money is digital. Reserves are digital," Garratt said, adding:
Currently, most central banks inject new currency into the economy through a number of monetary policy actions, including buying government bonds that, in turn, supply securities dealers with cash. This then makes its way into the market through a number of mechanisms.
But the issuance of fiat money on a blockchain or other distributed ledger opens up a wide range of new possibilities, according to Garratt, who is also a member of R3’s academic advisory board.
Revealed for the first time in the new paper, titled "CAD-coin versus Fedcoin", are new details about Project Jasper – a secretive project being undertaken by the Bank of Canada, R3, and others.
First announced last year, Project Jasper was designed to be implemented in a series of phases, the first of which concluded at the Payment Panorama conference last year.
As detailed in the paper, Project Jasper’s CAD-coin was designed to have a neutral impact on the Bank of Canada’s monetary policy, by settling all CAD-coin exchanges at the end of each day.
In the phase one simulation, this was accomplished by six private Canadian banks pledging cash collateral – which was pooled into an account held by the Bank of Canada – in exchange for an equal amount of CAD-coin to be exchanged throughout the day.
For the test, CAD-coin was issued on a permissioned version of the ethereum blockchain set up to use the proof-of-work mining built into Geth, but with the platform's token, ether, removed. However, R3 is also developing its own distributed ledger, Corda – also without a cryptocurrency – intended to further streamline a number of financial transactions.
According to the report, banks were identified by a public address in this early CAD-coin implementation, but live transactions would have required much more information, including a complete list mapping the names of banks to public addresses in the distributed ledger.
The report states:
The case for Fedcoin
Permissioned distributed ledgers, though, are not the only potential solution being seriously discussed as a possible replacement for central bank-issued currencies.
Whereas CAD-coin is presented in the R3 report as a permissioned solution with cryptocurrency cashed out at the end of every day, Garrett positions Fedcoin as a permissionless solution that is actually swapped out with traditional currency, resulting in a new form of sovereign currency.
Though it is important to note that the US Federal Reserve has not formally expressed any interest in issuing the cryptocurrency first described by Koning, central banks around the world have begun to explore it and similar concepts.
Last June, the Federal Reserve co-hosted representatives from 90 central banks gathered in Washington DC to discuss the possible network effects of moving global currency to a blockchain or distributed ledger.
Garratt distinguishes CAD-coin from Fedcoin in that CAD-coin is being designed as a temporary tool to expedite the movement of traditional digital cash, whereas Fedcoin as described by Koning would be a substitute for currency already in circulation.
According to the paper:
Obstacles and risks
Preventing the adoption of central-bank issued cryptocurrency are a number of potential problems, not least of which are large-scale runs on banks, similar to those that triggered the Great Depression.
Joining a growing list of skeptics who warn of the difficulties facing adoption, Garrett enumerated a number of obstacles between central banks and their use of cryptocurrencies.
For example, he positioned the Fedcoin concept as particularly susceptible to runs on the bank, since the process of making a withdrawal would be simplified to a potentially dangerous degree in times of economic uncertainty.
"Unless the central bank put limits on peoples’ ability to convert money into Fedcoin," wrote Garratt, "there could be significant swings in the composition of the monetary base which could have serious implications for liquidity."
Meanwhile, the adoption of a CAD-coin style currency by the Bank of Canada or elsewhere could be inhibited by uncertainty among some banks that others will follow suit – a crucial component of the potential efficiencies that Garratt suggests could be freed up by moving fiat money to a distributed ledger.
Beyond central banks
Further, non-central-bank-related solutions are also being developed.
Garratt concluded by embracing a 'more the merrier' philosophy:
image via Shutterstock
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