The Federal Reserve is pushing ahead with its study into whether to implement its own digital currency and will be releasing a paper on the issue shortly, Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday.
No decision has been made on the matter yet, he added, and said the Fed does not feel pressured to do something quickly as other nations move forward with their own projects. “I think it’s important that we get to a place where we can make an informed decision about this and do so expeditiously,” Powell said at his post-meeting news conference. “I don’t think we’re behind. I think it’s more important to do this right than to do it fast.” Powell added the Fed is “working proactively to evaluate whether to issue a CBDC, and if so in what form.”
Establishing a digital dollar has been on the Fed’s radar for more than a year, and it announced in May it would launch a deeper examination into the issue with a paper to follow.
The Boston Fed has taken point on the project, joining with MIT in an initiative on whether the central bank should establish its own digital coin targeted at making the payments system more effective. Fed Governor Lael Brainard has been a strong advocate of the effort, though several other officials, including Vice Chair for Supervision Randal Quarles, have cast doubts.
Advocates such as Brainard say a central bank digital currency’s benefits include getting payments quickly to people in times of crisis and also providing services to the unbanked.
“We think it’s really important that the central bank maintain a stable currency and payments system for the public’s benefit. That’s one of our jobs,” Powell said. He noted the “transformational innovation” in the area of digital payments and said the Fed is continuing to do work on the matter, including its own FedNow system expected to go online in 2023. The test for a CBDC, he said, is “are there clear and tangible benefits that outweigh any costs and risks.”
However, a larger drumbeat has been building as central banks, most notably China, have moved forth with their own plans and begun the first stages of implementation.
Some concerns even have been raised that if the Fed does not act more aggressively, the dollar’s position as the global reserve currency could be challenged.
Powell noted the dollar’s position in the world and said the Fed is “in a good place” to make a decision on whether to implement its own digital currency. He expressed some concern about the regulatory landscape and said the Fed likely will need congressional permission should it decide to proceed.
“Where the public’s money is concerned, we need to make sure that appropriate regulatory protections are in place, and today there really are not in some cases,” Powell said.
US Congress Quietly Sneaks In Crypto-Bill Amendment Authorizing Central Bank Digital Currency
The future of money is here; will the Federal Reserve Board be authorized to use distributed ledger technology for the creation, distribution and “recordation” of all the transactions of a Digital Dollar?
On July 28, 2021, a new bill was introduced in the US House of Representatives. This bill, sponsored by Congressman Don Beyer,1) aims to regulate crypto-currencies. But it does more…
The bill is called the “Digital Asset Market Structure and Investor Protection Act”2) (“Digital Asset Bill”). And for the majority, it sets out future rules for crypto. However, hidden in this bill, changes to the foundation of the Dollar are proposed.
And because nobody outside crypto (and frankly, few inside crypto) actually read the bill, these amendments have so far largely gone unnoticed.
Changing the Nature of Money
Crypto-currencies have been making waves. Fans of crypto think they have the new medium of exchange. However, in the current proposed regulations, Congress clearly takes a strict approach towards crypto and its various use cases. The following article provides an overview of these new US crypto regulations.
Included in the Digital Asset Bill, amendments to the Federal Reserve Act and the definition of legal tender are proposed. These amendments drastically expand the powers of the Federal Reserve, and change how money is created and distributed in the US.
The Dollar and the Federal Reserve
Instrumental in the creation of the US Dollar is the Federal Reserve. It was set up in 1913 as a reaction to the 1907 financial crisis. During this crisis, Finance mogul J.P. Morgan, who had bailed the government out of a financial crisis in 1895, had to organize private sector investments and lines of credit to stabilize the banking system.
The original idea behind the Federal Reserve was for private bank deposits to be combined in a reserve. This could provide an emergency line of credit in times of economic stress.
What The FED Does: Creation of Digital and Physical Dollars
Contrary to what is widely understood, the Fed does not “print money.” It can only manage the money supply indirectly.
It is the private sector that “creates” most of what we use as money in the modern banking system. They do this by issuing credit to the market.
It is with the supply of credit by private banks that the monetary supply is inflated. Conversely, with the reduced demand for credit, the money supply deflates. The FED does not have as much direct influence on this process as it wants the market to believe.
In addition, the FED is responsible for the distribution of Federal Reserve Notes (those little papers we know and use as Dollars). Currency departments at each of the 12 Federal Reserve banks make recommendations about future currency needs. The banks then place orders with the Comptroller of the Currency. After reviewing the requests, the Comptroller forwards them to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which then produces the appropriate denominations of currency notes. The Federal Reserve distributes these through its member banks.
To summarize: the Federal Reserve does not directly create digital money. And, it also doesn’t create physical money (notes and coins).
Introducing the Central Bank Digital Dollar
After looking at what the FED is and isn’t allowed to do, we can look at how their authority is to be expanded. According to the Digital Asset Bill, section 11 of the Federal Reserve Act is to be amended to provide the Federal Reserve Board with new powers:
“(d) To supervise and regulate through the Secretary of the Treasury the issue and retirement of Federal Reserve notes (both physical and digital), except for the cancellation and destruction, and accounting with respect to such cancellation and destruction, of notes unfit for circulation, and to prescribe rules and regulations (including appropriate technology) under which such notes may be delivered by the Secretary of the Treasury to the Federal Reserve agents applying therefor.” So far so good. But the next section, contains the real story. According to the Digital Asset bill, Federal Reserve notes will in the future also be issued digitally: “Federal reserve notes, to be issued at the discretion of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System for the purpose of making advances to Federal reserve banks through the Federal reserve agents as hereinafter set forth and for no other purpose, are authorized. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System is authorized to issue digital versions of Federal reserve notes in addition to current physical Federal reserve notes. Further, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, after consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, is authorized to use distributed ledger technology for the creation, distribution and recordation of all transactions involving digital Federal reserve notes. The said notes shall be obligations of the United States and shall be considered legal tender and shall be receivable by all national and member banks and Federal reserve banks and for all taxes, customs, and other public dues. They shall be redeemed in lawful money on demand at the Treasury Department of the United States, in the city of Washington, District of Columbia, or at any Federal Reserve bank.” 7)
Creation, Distribution and Recordation
As we saw, the Federal Reserve does not have the power to create Dollars directly. It seem like this power is now to be granted to them. Given that these new Reserve Notes are digital, this strangely merges two distinct forms of money as well.
Next, we saw that the distribution of Dollars was done through member banks. It isn’t clear if this remains the case. It clearly says that these digital Dollars can be issued “in addition” to the current Federal Reserve notes. There is nothing, at least not in this law, preventing the Federal Reserve from taking a more centralized and direct role in distributing the digital Dollar. Perhaps during the next “emergency.”
And finally, the Federal Reserve Board is to be authorized to create and distribute a “ledger-based” digital Dollar that could be used for everyday transactions. There are a few technologies one could imagine, but let us for now assume this will be a blockchain. Blockchains are great for recording transactions; it is what they do.
Perhaps that is why the Federal Reserve will be authorized to do so? However, it is a bit hard to imagine that such a centralized structure would not lead to monitoring of all transactions. And what about privacy? What about security?
The Fed is currently not as powerful as it wants the market to believe; the Federal Reserve Act restricts a lot of its actions. This amendment, however, could drastically expand the powers of the FED, by allowing them to create and distribute a “digital USD” directly. It could change the entire structure of the financial system, with far reaching consequences.
And how are digital Federal Reserve Notes to be justified in terms of the origins and authority of the Federal Reserve? If the Digital Dollar is based on a blockchain, how can they also be based on reserves?
And what mechanism will determine how funds (and how much) are added to the economy? And where and how will they be distributed? Will this all be under the control of a board of seven unelected bureaucrats? And how will they control a distributed ledger of such magnitude?
This amendment has the potential to change the way the Federal Reserve operates. It is not law yet, and can still be changed. This deserves a wider discussion by economists and financial experts outside the crypto-space as well.