War On Cash Escalates: China Readies Digital Currency, IMF Says "Extremely Beneficial"

Tyler Durden's picture

Remember when Bitcoin and its digital currency cohorts were slammed by authorities and written off by the elite as worthless? Well now, as the war on cash escalates, officials from The IMF to China are seeing the opportunity to control the world's money through virtual (cash-less) currencies. Just as we warned most recently here, state wealth control is the goal and, as Bloomberg reports, The PBOC is targeting an early rollout of China's own digital currency to "boost control of money" and none other than The IMF's Christine Lagarde added that "virtual currencies are extremely beneficial."

By way of background, as we explained previously, What exactly does a “war on cash” mean?

It means governments are limiting the use of cash and a variety of official-mouthpiece economists are calling for the outright abolition of cash. Authorities are both restricting the amount of cash that can be withdrawn from banks, and limiting what can be purchased with cash.

These limits are broadly called “capital controls.”

Why Now?

Why are governments suddenly so keen to ban physical cash?

The answer appears to be that the banks and government authorities are anticipating bail-ins, steeply negative interest rates and hefty fees on cash, and they want to close any opening regular depositors might have to escape these forms of officially sanctioned theft. The escape mechanism from bail-ins and fees on cash deposits is physical cash, and hence the sudden flurry of calls to eliminate cash as a relic of a bygone age — that is, an age when commoners had some way to safeguard their money from bail-ins and bankers’ control.

Forcing Those With Cash To Spend or Gamble Their Cash

Negative interest rates (and fees on cash, which are equivalently punitive to savers) raise another question: why are governments suddenly obsessed with forcing owners of cash to either spend it or gamble it in the financial-market casinos?

The conventional answer voiced by Mr. Buiter is that recession and credit contraction result from households and enterprises hoarding cash instead of spending it. The solution to recession is thus to force all those stingy cash hoarders to spend their money.

*  *  *

And so now we see China pushing for the early unleashing its own virtual currency, as Bloomberg reports

Issuance of digital currency can help reduce costs, curb crimes and money laundry, facilitate transactions and boost central bank’s control on money supply and circulation, PBOC says in statement on website after concluding a seminar today.

 

PBOC has asked its research team, which was set up in 2014, to study application scenarios for digital currency and strive for an early rollout.

PBOC Statement:

People's Bank of China digital currency seminar held in Beijing. From the People's Bank, Citibank and Deloitte digital currency expert, respectively, on the overall framework of digital currency currency evolving national digital currency, encryption currency issued by the State and other topics of discussion and exchange. People's Bank of China Governor Zhou Xiaochuan attended the meeting, the People's Bank of China Deputy Governor Chair Fan Yifei. Relevant research institutions, major financial institutions and advisory bodies of experts attended the meeting.

 

The meeting pointed out that with the development of information technology and mobile Internet, cloud computing Trusted controlled, secure storage terminal evolution, block chain technology worldwide payment undergone tremendous changes, the development of digital currency is central Bank of currency and monetary policy has brought new opportunities and challenges. The People's Bank attaches great importance from 2014 to set up a special research team, and in early 2015 to further enrich the power of digital distribution and business operations monetary framework, the key technology of digital currency, digital currency issued and outstanding environment, digital currency legal issues facing the impact of digital currency on economic and financial system, the relationship between money and private legal digital distribution of digital currency, digital currency issuance of international experience conducted in-depth research, has achieved initial results.

 

The meeting held that China's current economy under the new norm, explore the central bank issued digital currency has a positive practical significance and far-reaching historical significance. It can reduce the traditional distribution of digital currency note issue, the high cost of circulation, improve convenience and transparency of economic transactions and reduce money laundering, tax evasion and other criminal acts to enhance the central bank's money supply and currency in circulation control, better support economic and social development, the full realization of inclusive finance help. Future, digital currency issuance, circulation system also helps build our new financial infrastructure construction, further improve China's payment system, improve payment and settlement efficiency, promote economic quality and efficiency upgrades.

 

The meeting urged the People's Bank of digital currency research team to actively absorb the important results and practical experience of digital currency research at home and abroad, continue to advance on the basis of preliminary work to establish a more effective organizational guarantee mechanism, to further clarify the strategic objectives of the central bank issued digital currency and do key technologies, multi-scene digital currency research applications for the early introduction of digital currency issued by the central bank. Design of digital currency should be based on economic, convenience and safety principles, and ensure the application of low-cost digital currency, wide coverage, digital currency payment instruments with other seamlessly, enhance the applicability and vitality of digital currency.

 

The People's Bank in advancing digital currency research work with relevant international agencies, Internet companies to establish a communication link with the domestic and foreign financial institutions, traditional card-based payment institutions were widely discussed. At home and abroad to participate in discussions of attention to this work, and related research on expert theory, practice and exploration and development path with the people in the banking system conducted in-depth exchanges.

Which was raidly followed by yet another belessing from The IMF:

  • *IMF’S LAGARDE SAYS VIRTUAL CURRENCIES ARE EXTREMELY BENEFICIAL
  • *VIRTUAL CURRENCIES ALSO COULD BE DESTABILIZING: LAGARDE

The International Monetary Fund extolled the potential benefits of virtual currencies and said they warrant a more nuanced regulatory approach, at a time when the future of bitcoin, the most well-known example, is in doubt.

“Virtual currencies and their underlying technologies can provide faster and cheaper financial services, and can become a powerful tool for deepening financial inclusion in the developing world,” IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a statement Wednesday to accompany the report.

 

"The challenge will be how to reap all these benefits and at the same time prevent illegal uses, such as money laundering, terror financing, fraud and even circumvention of capital controls.”

*  *  *

However, as we detailed previously. there are three enormous flaws in this thinking.

One is that households and businesses have cash to hoard. The reality is the bottom 90 percent of households have less income now than they did fifteen years ago, which means their spending has declined not from hoarding but from declining income.

 

Median Household Income in the 21st Century 

While corporate America has basked in the glory of sharply rising profits, small business has not prospered in the same fashion. Indeed, by some measures, small business has been in a six-year recession.

 

 

The bottom 90 percent has less income and faces higher living expenses, so only the top slice of households has any substantial cash. This top slice may see few safe opportunities to invest their savings, so they choose to keep their savings in cash rather than gamble it in a rigged casino (i.e., the stock market).

 

The second flaw is that hoarding cash is the only rational, prudent response in an era of financial repression and economic insecurity. What central banks are demanding — that we spend every penny of our earnings rather than save some for investments we control or emergencies — is counter to our best interests.

 

This leads to the third flaw: capital — which begins its life as savings — is the foundation of capitalism. If you attack savings as a scourge, you are attacking capitalism and upward mobility, for only those who save capital can invest it to build wealth. By attacking cash, the central banks and governments are attacking capital and upward mobility.

 

Those who already own the majority of productive assets are able to borrow essentially unlimited sums at near-zero interest rates, which they can use to buy more productive assets. Everyone else — the bottom 99.5 percent — is reduced to consumer-serfdom: you are not supposed to accumulate productive capital, you are supposed to spend every penny you earn on interest payments, goods, and services.

This inversion of capitalism dooms an economy to all the ills we are experiencing in abundance: rising income inequality, reduced opportunities for entrepreneurship, rising debt burdens, and a short-term perspective that voids the longer-term planning required to build sustainable productivity and wealth.

Benefits To Banks and the Government of Eliminating Physical Cash

The benefits to banks and governments by eliminating cash are self-evident:

  1.  Every financial transaction can be taxed.
  2.  Every financial transaction can be charged a fee.
  3.  Bank runs are eliminated.

In fractional reserve systems such as ours, banks are only required to hold a fraction of their assets in cash. Thus a bank might only have 1 percent of its assets in cash. If customers fear the bank might be insolvent, they crowd the bank and demand their deposits in physical cash. The bank quickly runs out of physical cash and closes its doors, further fueling a panic.

 

The federal government began insuring deposits after the Great Depression triggered the collapse of hundreds of banks, and that guarantee limited bank runs, as depositors no longer needed to fear a bank closing would mean their money on deposit was lost.

 

But since people could conceivably sense a disturbance in the Financial Force and decide to turn digital cash into physical cash as a precaution, eliminating physical cash also eliminates the possibility of bank runs, as there will be no form of cash that isn’t controlled by banks.

So, when the dust has settled who ultimately benefits by this war on cash - government and the central banks, pure and simple.