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Bitcoin as a National Currency

Luis Durani

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In recent months, Bitcoins have been all the rage especially as the crypto-currency has begun to climb in value. The spike has once again shone a light on the digital currency as a potential alternative to fiat currencies, which currently is witnessing all kinds of volatility thanks to Brexit, central banks’ thirst for printing, and massive deficit spending. While many investors see a positive future for the alternative currency, the true test of Bitcoin will be if a nation adopts the currency. The adoption of Bitcoin as a national currency will bring with it a plethora of financial securities but at the cost of eliminating the ability of central banks to print currency endlessly.

What is it?

Bitcoin was born out of a desire for online payments to be conducted among peer to peer systems with the elimination of a third party or middleman such as Paypal. Since its inception, Bitcoin has evolved into a myriad of entities ranging from being an investment vehicle, digital currency, community, and more importantly, the potential to be an alternative monetary system. It’s in this last point where Bitcoin’s greatest potential lies, if the trend continues; it could forever change how people and government conduct business.

Is it Money?

Despite making headlines, Bitcoin is still unknown to many. A study conducted by the Coin Center has found that 2/3 of Americans have no knowledge about the digital currency and of those that did know, 80% never have used it. This is one of the major impediments for Bitcoin in its quest to become an established currency. When Bitcoins are mentioned, the primary concern for people is whether or not it is money? Many people think of it more as a credit than actual currency such as Dollars, the Euro, Rubles, etc. In order to better understand if Bitcoins are money, one must understand how money is defined. Money is primarily defined by the following characteristics:

Durability – Be able to withstand wear and tear. Thanks to technology, Bitcoin as a digital unit of currency can, in theory, last into perpetuity.

Divisible – Ability to divide into small units allowing consumers to purchase products at any price. Bitcoin is more divisible than any existing currency, allowing users to go into thousandths place for a transaction, if need be.

Scarce – Must be limited and not so easily obtained. Unlike fiat currency, which is not capped and can be printed endlessly (as it is now around the world), Bitcoin production is capped at 21 million, at which point no more will be produced. This fact alone makes Bitcoin more stable than gold which is not firmly capped and supplies remain somewhat unbounded depending on mining activity.

Portable – Is it easy to carry? Due to its digital nature, Bitcoins can be carried on phones, tablets or computers anywhere and anytime.

Acceptability – Must be widely accepted as a medium of exchange. This is currently one of the uphill battles for Bitcoin. It is gaining momentum globally but as a relatively new currency, it needs to continue to increase its recognition. Nevertheless, relative to many minor currencies of weaker economic nations, Bitcoins appear to be accepted more so.

Stability– The value of the currency must remain relatively constant over long periods of time. As a new currency with few investors, Bitcoins liquidity is more volatile due to the effect of every transaction on the digital currency’s price, but with time this issue will subside as more investors and users partake into the currency decreasing its precariousness. In addition, the upper cap of Bitcoin production will serve as an anchor for price stability due to the fact that no more can be created. In theory, this parameter would invalid many national currency, if not all. The US Dollar, perhaps one of the most trusted and strongest currencies, has lost almost 100% of its value in the last several decades.

Thus, by the six generally accepted measures defining a currency as money, Bitcoins appears to fit the mold.

Lessons Learned

The 2008 financial crash as well as the economic uncertainty that has followed in the past decade has caused many to begin questioning the financial systems and philosophies that govern them around the world. As a result, shifts to populist leadership have begun to take root in many countries as well as the call for overhauling their respective economic systems. The confidence crisis will not be solved by any one leader or system but rather how money is handled in these respective countries. Under the current global monetary system, established in Bretton Woods and its subsequent modifications, all the nations in the world have fiat currencies. Fiat currencies are monies that are backed by the promise of the government that issues it and nothing else. This greatly diverges from what use to be practiced where currency was anchored to some tangible commodity that had an intrinsic value such as gold and/or silver. The root cause, albeit perhaps a simplified explanation herein, of many economic crises is due to use of fiat currency. Fiat currencies are not secured to anything, thus allowing central banks to scheme for ways to “alter” its value. Their tools of choice are printing more and using the additional money created out of thin air to “eliminate” any debt and deficit spending but such free reign to produce money comes at a dire consequence; devaluation or inflation. Inflation is an indirect tax on a nation’s population. Unrestricted spending leads to massive currency printing, which eventually is paid for by the citizens through inflation that can go unchecked sometimes as history has demonstrated in Weimar Germany, Zimbabwe, and now Venezuela, to cite a few extreme cases.

Enter Bitcoin. The implementation of Bitcoin as a national currency will yield immense benefits for a nation over time. While many countries dread ceding financial authority of their currency, the benefits of Bitcoin implementation as national currency will outweigh the costs for all countries but especially third world nations with smaller economies. Most economies around the world ultimately operate based on the consumer’s confidence, which has been eroding ever since the 2008 financial downturn. Bitcoin remedies the issue of public trust in the economic system. With smaller nations, the adoption of Bitcoin will allow them to restore not only their public’s confidence but attract foreign investments because there is a source of stability in the country; business loves stability. No longer can a nation’s currency be devalued by social welfare, war, debt, or redistribution of wealth especially to help ensure political ambitions. But pursuing such a policy does not come without costs. A national adoption of Bitcoin renders a nation impotent when it comes to the ability to control reserves, printing additional currency, or any other type of monetary policy.

Such surrender of financial ability forces a paradigm shift for governments in how they operate. The ultimate benefit is for a nation’s citizen, government can no longer squander hard earned tax money on fruitless projects, redistribution to other segments of society in order to secure votes and influence, and send money to finance projects for corporate or foreign allies at the cost of running up the national debt with no remorse. Legislators complacent in the status quo system view the separation of currency and state as anathema to the concept of government due to the fact that it reduces their ability to carry out spending, sometimes massively, without checks. In addition, the thought of such a radical departure is only viewed as such due to the fact that nations were technologically unable to do so until now thanks to the advancement in computing as well as blockchain technology.

The adoption of Bitcoin as an official currency by any nation actually demonstrates that government’s adherence of fiduciary responsibility to its citizens. In doing so, a government handicaps itself in being able to run to the printing press and debase their currency all the while reducing citizen’s wealth through inflation. Instead, the government returns to what it should be doing, which is justify every item in a budget as well as balance it. This in itself will cause a government to become more transparent and reduce corruption greatly as well as strengthen democracy.

Challenges

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be the ability of government to borrow. This will hamper economic growth due to the fact that government and business have become acclimated to artificial growth by the government increasing its debt holdings especially in recent decades, therefore creating economic expansion that was never wholly justified or possible without careless financial management. This shift will have a detrimental effect on citizens and nations alike.

Another downside to an adoption of Bitcoin by one or a few nations is the surrender of a powerful weapon, devaluation of currency. The continual back and forth bickering between the US, China, EU, etc. about currency devaluation is only possible when central banks control a fiat currency, once a nation surrenders that ability, they are no longer able to fight on equal footing against a fiat currency-based nation. This could have negative effects in the interim for such a nation’s industries when it comes to exporting goods. Finally, the establishment of Bitcoin will have a large effect on the concept of credit as is known in its current form. Markets will need to devise a new way for credit creation in a world absent of fiat currency and what it means to have credit.

Conclusion

As Bitcoin continues to grow in popularity and garner more attention by investors, everyday users and even politicians, the inevitable reality of Bitcoin becoming a national currency is on the horizon. Such a currency contains the potential to prevent the financial roller coaster that is being observed in nations such as Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Yet, in the interim, early adopters will face many challenges and impediments as they transition into a Bitcoin-based monetary system but such bumps will pay off in the long term.

Luis Durani is currently employed in the oil and gas industry. He previously worked in the nuclear energy industry. He has a M.A. in international affairs with a focus on Chinese foreign policy and the South China Sea, MBA, M.S. in nuclear engineering, B.S. in mechanical engineering and B.A. in political science. He is also author of "Afghanistan: It’s No Nebraska – How to do Deal with a Tribal State" and "China and the South China Sea: The Emergence of the Huaqing Doctrine." Follow him for other articles on Instagram: @Luis_Durani

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Economy

A bio-based, reuse economy can feed the world and save the planet

MD Staff

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Transforming pineapple skins into product packaging or using potato peels for fuel may sound far-fetched, but such innovations are gaining traction as it becomes clear that an economy based on cultivation and use of biomass can help tackle pollution and climate change, the United Nations agriculture agency said on Friday.

A sustainable bioeconomy, which uses biomass – organic materials, such as plants and animals and fish – as opposed to fossil resources to produce food and non-food goods “is foremost about nature and the people who take care of and produce biomass,” a senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)  official said at the 2018 Global Bioeconomy Summit in Berlin, Germany.

This means family farmers, forest people and fishers, who are also “holders of important knowledge on how to manage natural resources in a sustainable way,” she explained.

Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General for Climate and Natural Resources, stressed how the agency not only works with member States and other partners across the conventional bioeconomy sectors – agriculture, forestry and fisheries – but also relevant technologies, such as biotechnology and information technology to serve agricultural sectors.

“We must foster internationally-coordinated efforts and ensure multi-stakeholder engagement at local, national and global levels,” she said, noting that this requires measurable targets, means to fulfil them and cost-effective ways to measure progress.

With innovation playing a key role in the bio sector, she said,  all the knowledge – traditional and new – should be equally shared and supported.

Feeding the world, saving the planet

Although there is enough food being produced to feed the planet, often due to a lack of access, estimates show that some 815 million people are chronically undernourished.

“Bioeconomy can improve access to food, such as through additional income from the sale of bio-products,” said Ms. Semedo.

She also noted its potential contribution to addressing climate change, albeit with a warning against oversimplification.

“Just because a product is bio does not mean it is good for climate change, it depends on how it is produced, and in particular on much and what type of energy is used in the process,” she explained.

FAO has a longstanding and wide experience in supporting family farmers and other small-scale biomass producers and businesses.

Ms. Semedo, told the summit that with the support of Germany, FAO, together with an international working group, is currently developing sustainable bioeconomy guidelines.

Some 25 cases from around the world have already been identified to serve as successful bioeconomy examples to develop good practices.

A group of women fishers in Zanzibar are producing cosmetics from algae – opening up a whole new market with sought-after niche products; in Malaysia, a Government programme supports community-based bioeconomy; and in Colombia, a community is transforming pineapple skins into biodegradable packaging and honey into royal jelly – and these are just a few examples of a bioeconomy in action.

“Together, let’s harness the development for sustainable bioeconomy for all and leave no one behind,” concluded Ms. Semedo.

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Belarus: Strengthening Foundations for Sustainable Recovery

MD Staff

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The speed of economic recovery has accelerated in early 2018, but the foundations for solid growth need to be strengthened, says the latest World Bank Economic Update on Belarus.

The economic outlook remains challenging due to external financing needs and unaddressed domestic structural bottlenecks. Improved household consumption and investment activity, along with a gradual increase in exports, will help the economy to grow, but unlikely above three percent per annum over the medium term.

“The only way for ordinary Belarusians to have better incomes in the long run is to increase productivity, which requires structural change. While macroeconomic adjustment has brought stability, only structural change will bring solid growth to the country,” said Alex Kremer, World Bank Country Manager for Belarus. “Inflation has hit a record low in Belarus, driving the costs of domestic borrowing down. However, real wages are now again outpacing productivity, with the risks of worsening cost competitiveness and generating cost-push inflation.”

A Special Topic Note of the World Bank Economic Update follows the findings of the latest World Bank report, The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018, which measures national wealth, composed of produced, natural, and human capital, and net foreign assets. Economic development comes from a country’s wealth, especially from human capital – skills and knowledge.

“Belarus has a good composition of wealth for an upper middle-income country. The per capita level of human capital exceeds both Moldova and Ukraine. However, the accumulation of physical capital has coincided with a deterioration in the country’s net foreign asset position,” noted Kiryl Haiduk, World Bank Economist. “Belarus needs to rely less on foreign borrowing and strengthen the domestic financial system, export more, and strengthen economic institutions that improve the efficiency of available physical and human capital.”

Since the Republic of Belarus joined the World Bank in 1992, lending commitments to the country have totaled US$1.7 billion. In addition, grant financing totaling US$31 million has been provided, including to programs involving civil society partners. The active investment lending portfolio financed by the World Bank in Belarus includes eight operations totaling US$790 million.

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Economy

Economic Growth in Africa Rebounds, But Not Fast Enough

MD Staff

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Sub-Saharan Africa’s growth is projected to reach 3.1 percent in 2018, and to average 3.6 percent in 2019–20, says Africa’s Pulse, a bi-annual analysis of the state of African economies conducted by the World Bank, released today.

The growth forecasts are premised on expectations that oil and metals prices will remain stable, and that governments in the region will implement reforms to address macroeconomic imbalances and boost investment.

“Growth has rebounded in Sub-Saharan Africa, but not fast enough. We are still far from pre-crisis growth levels,” said Albert G. Zeufack, World Bank Chief Economist for the Africa Region. “African Governments must speed up and deepen macroeconomic and structural reforms to achieve high and sustained levels of growth.”

The moderate pace of economic expansion reflects the gradual pick-up in growth in the region’s three largest economies, Nigeria, Angola and South Africa. Elsewhere, economic activity will pick up in some metals exporters, as mining production and investment rise. Among non-resource intensive countries, solid growth, supported by infrastructure investment, will continue in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), led by Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. Growth prospects have strengthened in most of East Africa, owing to improving agriculture sector growth following droughts and a rebound in private sector credit growth; in Ethiopia, growth will remain high, as government-led infrastructure investment continues.

For many African countries, the economic recovery is vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices and production,” said Punam Chuhan-Pole, World Bank Lead Economist and the author of the report.  “This underscores the need for countries to build resilience by pushing diversification strategies to the top of the policy agenda.”

Public debt relative to GDP is rising in the region, and the composition of debt has changed, as countries have shifted away from traditional concessional sources of financing toward more market-based ones. Higher debt burdens and the increasing exposure to market risks raise concerns about debt sustainability: 18 countries were classified at high-risk of debt distress in March 2018, compared with eight in 2013.

“By fully embracing technology and leveraging innovation, Africa can boost productivity across and within sectors, and accelerate growth,” said Zeufack.

This issue of Africa’s Pulse has a special focus on the role of innovation in accelerating electrification in Sub-Saharan Africa, and its implications of achieving inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction. The report finds that achieving universal electrification in Sub-Saharan Africa will require a combination of solutions involving the national grid, as well as “mini-grids” and “micro-grids” serving small concentrations of electricity users, and off-grid home-scale systems. Improving regulation of the electricity sector and better management of utilities remain key to success.

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