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Economy

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

‘America First’ vs. Global Financial Stability

M Waqas Jan

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The recently concluded annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank group, held in Indonesia last weekend, has highlighted a series of concerning trends with regard to the global economy. It has subsequently left many considering the impacts of a possible global recession that may be looming ahead in the next of couple of years to come.  These fears were evident in the worldwide sell-off in global equities last Thursday that has been widely attributed to the IMF revising down its global growth forecast in its World Economic Outlook (WEO) report. The report highlighted growth in a number of developed economies as having plateaued, with rising trade tensions and policy uncertainty greatly contributing to the slow-down. This includes the ongoing trade war between the US and China, as well as the numerous uncertainties pervading within the Euro-Zone.

All of this has had a significant knock-on effect on emerging markets, including Pakistan which has already been struggling with massive fiscal and current account deficits amid rampant inflationary pressures.  With tensions between the United States and China still on the rise, Pakistan presents a notable example of how deteriorating global macro-economic conditions have been exacerbated by rising geo-political tensions between these two global powers.

For instance, it took Imran Khan’s fledgling government months to accept the reality of another IMF bailout (Pakistan’s 13th in the last 30 years) despite its $68 billion investment commitment with China. This is because the US, being the largest contributor of funds to the IMF has increasingly politicized this bailout in light of its own deteriorating relations with China.  In fact, the US has directly blamed China for Pakistan’s recent debt woes referring to what has been come to known as China’s ‘Debt Trap Diplomacy’. The argument being that the massive loans being doled out by China to developing countries under its Belt & Road Initiative are leading to unsustainable debt levels, eroding their sovereignty while expanding China’s hold over them. Pakistan’s loan obligations to China as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor are presented as a case in point.

Despite both Pakistan’s and China’s protests to the contrary, it is widely expected that some of the IMF’s conditions attached to Pakistan’s requested bailout are thus likely to include greater scrutiny and revisions regarding the CPEC initiative. This is likely to form part of the US’s overall objective of limiting and constraining China’s influence over Pakistan and the wider region.  The impact this would have on Pakistan however is likely to prove critical considering its precarious economic as well as geo-political position. Not only would the IMF’s conditions limit the new government’s ability to maneuver its economy around an increasingly unstable world financial system; it would also delay the much needed infrastructure projects being planned and implemented under CPEC with Chinese assistance.  Therefore, the very purpose of the IMF bailout which is to provide some semblance of stability to Pakistan’s ailing economy, would embroil it deeper in uncertainty as a direct result of the US’s unilateral push against China.

It is worth noting here that during its annual meeting, the IMF clearly voiced its concerns regarding escalating trade tensions between the US and China. While calling for increased dialogue and a careful examination of debt induced risks across the world, the IMF seems to be warning both sides over the fragility of prevailing global economic conditions. At the same meeting, China too echoed these concerns and called for increased dialogue with the US to promote open trade and growth. As a country that has for the last few decades championed globalization, China’s vision of shared global growth and win-win partnerships in emerging markets such as Pakistan, have however been directly challenged by the US. A US, that is in contrast aggressively willing to defend the prevailing status quo, as part of President Trump’s mantra of ‘America First’. Hence it was no surprise that US representatives, in response to these concerns brought up by the IMF and China, have continued to downplay the risks of their policies on global economic stability.

With respect to China and numerous emerging markets such as Pakistan, the fact still remains that the world financial system is currently replete with risks and uncertainty as a direct result of US policy. All of this is occurring while the US President continues to boast about surging US equities and record employment figures as a direct outcome of these policies. While the US economy has experienced sustained growth since the 2008 financial crisis, markets and business cycles have a way of correcting themselves, especially when world leaders themselves point to overbought and overextended conditions.

If the US economy truly is on the cusp of a potential downturn, then present geo-political tensions are more than likely to exacerbate the impacts of an impending global recession. For Pakistan, with its precariously low foreign currency reserves and an unsustainable debt to GDP ratio, such a recession is likely to bring on even bigger problems than any of the potential cuts the IMF may propose on CPEC. Thus, while the US may limit China’s rise as an economic power in the short-term, it does so at the expense of emerging markets and global economic stability in the long-run. This lack of foresight is likely to hurt the US more as it realizes how economies cannot exist within a vacuum in an increasingly interdependent world.

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How to finance Asia’s infrastructure gap

Susantono Bambang

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Asia’s countries famously need to invest trillions of dollars a year to provide infrastructure required to keep traffic flowing, ports trading, and factories humming. Yet most countries in the region consistently fall short.

The 2017 Asian Development Bank (ADB) report “Meeting Asia’s Infrastructure Needs” puts the infrastructure tab for 45 developing Asian countries at more than US$1.7 trillion per year. Developing Asia now invests only about $881 billion a year, or slightly more than 50 percent of that. This is the infrastructure gap.

Less well known, however, is that the investment shortfall is frequently not for a lack of funds or technology. The money may be available, particularly in the private sector, but not enough of it is going where Asia needs it. And this is because many developing countries lack the knowledge and capacity to design and implement bankable infrastructure projects that integrate new technologies.

To encourage private sector investment in infrastructure, high-quality bankable projects must adopt current levels of proven technology as well as be “future-proofed” to further advances in technology.

Delegates from across the development spectrum — from government through the private sector — will gather on Oct.13 in Bali for the Global Infrastructure Forum 2018 to discuss several trillion-dollar questions. How can governments and the private sector help fill the infrastructure gap? How can authorities’ better pair the world’s big investors with the many inclusive, resilient, sustainable, and technology-driven infrastructure projects this region needs to advance economic progress? And how can multilateral development banks best help?

To be sure, strong infrastructure projects are going up all over Asia. Take Indonesia, the Forum host; the country has made enormous strides under its ongoing and ambitious infrastructure program.

The country has seen progress: from the trans-Papua road project in one of the country’s most remote and underdeveloped regions to better information and communications technology under the Palapa Ring (satellite) Project. Indonesia has also launched innovative and clean energy projects such as the 72-megawatt Tolo wind-farm in South Sulawesi and massive urban infrastructure to boost Jakarta’s livability and competitiveness. This latter project includes a new modern airport terminal, rail link, and the first phase of the mass rapid transit expected to open in 2019.

Knowledge is crucial to get such projects off the ground, and this is where the multilateral development banks, including ADB, can assist.

The development banks are providing governments financial and technical support to enhance knowledge in numerous areas.

ADB is also helping strengthen government and private sector project development and governance capacity, for instance, for preparing high-quality projects able to support private finance. It also established the Asia Pacific Project Preparation Facility, a $73 million multi-donor trust fund to support project preparation, monitoring, and project restructuring, as well as capacity building and policy-reform initiatives linked to specific projects.

In addition, the organization is promoting public-private partnerships, catalyzing regulatory reforms to make infrastructure more attractive to private investors, and encourage more bankable projects. Potential is vast, in that pension funds alone, which hold $7.8 trillion in assets, are estimated to invest only about 1 percent of funds under management in infrastructure.

A recent ADB report, “Closing the Financing Gap in Asian Infrastructure,” notes that the richer Asian economies, such as Japan — where savings rates top 30 percent — can clearly play a stronger role if it only could. Yet, the country still invests almost $4 trillion in portfolio assets outside Asia.

Likewise, ADB is developing alternative financing structures and is backing green finance to encourage a bankable green finance project pipeline that can access funds from commercial and institutional investors. Many major investors are now strictly subject to environmental, social, and governance requirements in their investment decisions.

Finally, as technology rapidly evolves, particularly digital, it is creating substantial opportunity. Land acquisition, for example, significantly delays infrastructure projects across the region. Digital technologies are therefore being tested in several countries and watched closely for an ability to improve land titling. Likewise, ADB is involved in Spatial Data Analysis Explorer to help in decision-making relevant to climate hazards and resilience across urban systems.

Multilateral development banks can play multiple roles, from assisting and advising on the creation of appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks, developing bankable projects, direct financing or providing credit enhancement tools to finance projects, to structuring innovative “blended finance” solutions in circumstances where the underlying project is incapable of supporting a financing structure priced at commercial funding rates. In all of this, multilateral development banks and other development partners can assist developing countries gain the knowledge to better develop sustainable, accessible, resilient, and quality infrastructure.

ADB

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Economy

Prema Gopalan Honoured as India Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2018

MD Staff

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The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, in partnership with the Jubilant Bhartia Foundation, announced Prema Gopalan of Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) as India Social Entrepreneur of the Year (SEOY) 2018. The award honours her exceptional contribution in revitalizing rural economies by empowering women to succeed in remote and ailing markets. The SSP model comprises four ventures: a federated network of 5,000 self-help groups; a resilience fund for women-led businesses; a rural school of entrepreneurship and leadership for women; and a market aggregator that provides warehousing, branding, marketing and distribution services to last-mile business women. In addition, it has catalysed the government, investors, financial institutions and Indian and global corporations to partner directly with grassroots women business leaders.

Over two decades, this has had a domino effect in 2,000 climate-threatened villages across six states of India. Over 97,000 women in drought and flood-affected villages have set up enterprises in clean energy, sanitation, basic health services, nutrition and safe agriculture. They have transitioned from self-employment to diversify their ventures, aggregate into value chains and mentor thousands of others to get on the path of entrepreneurship – 900 women are recognized locally as climate resilience leaders and 500 are playing a role in local governance. SSP’s grassroots women entrepreneurs are taking their communities forward as part of their business success. As SSP partners with the government to scale its model, it is demonstrating that investing in rural women entrepreneurs can be a solid strategy for transforming India.

Smita Ram and Ramakrishna NK of Rang De were also selected as finalists for their work on unlocking unusual channels of capital for India’s poorest, building bridges between India’s credit-starved communities and ordinary citizens who contribute to meet the education, health and enterprise needs of resource-poor populations. Working on the premise of “micro-investment for micro-loans”, this peer-to-peer lending platform has to date disbursed INR 70 crore from 14,000 social investors and philanthropists to benefit 60,000 families.

“The World Economic Forum has long championed gender equality on the global agenda,” said Hilde Schwab, Chairperson and Co-Founder of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. “The 2018 winner, Prema Gopalan of Swayam Shikshan Prayog, has demonstrated that investing in rural women is a good investment. Female entrepreneurs are critical actors to help bring about the transformation that India seeks!”

Congratulating the winner, Shyam S. Bhartia, Founder and Chairman, Jubilant Bhartia Group, and Founder Director of Jubilant Bhartia Foundation, said: “We are entering the tenth year of partnership with the Schwab Foundation. In the last nine years, we received more than 1,400 applications for this award. The response is indeed overwhelming and the quality of the applications very competitive. We are glad to see how the SEOY India Award is able to identify and bring to the forefront the enterprises who are achieving social impact at a larger scale. We hope that this year’s SEOY India Award winner will serve as an inspiration to future generations of social innovators.”

The SEOY India Award brings some of the country’s most remarkable change-makers on to a common platform. These social entrepreneurs are promising self-starters, with a strong inclination towards addressing the most pertinent needs of marginalized communities in scalable and sustainable ways. Their endeavours encapsulate alleviating poverty, hunger, gender inequality, promoting women empowerment and education. These social entrepreneurs are torch-bearers who have taken the onus of working towards managing micro-finance needs and finding solutions to daunting challenges like climate change. The tenets of this year’s finalists are aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The winner will be invited to join the Schwab Foundation’s global community of over 350 social innovators. Social Entrepreneurs are driven by their mission to create substantial social change and promote inclusive growth, developing new products and service models that benefit underserved communities.

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