An advisor to China's central bank, Sheng Songcheng, said that virtual currencies like bitcoin are assets but do not have the fundamental attributes needed to be a currency that could meet modern economic development needs. Speaking in an interview with financial magazine Yicai, the PBOC advisors said that the adoption of Bitcoin as a national currency by a country "could lead to its economic collapse."
Sheng Songcheng, a counselor at the PBoC, dismissed digital currencies like bitcoin as assets that lack the value basis of a legitimate currency. "Bitcoin does not have the fundamental attributes needed to be a currency as it is a string of code generated by complex algorithms, and does not have inherent value... But I do not deny that virtual currencies have technical value and are a type of asset," he said cited by Reuters. Apparently he is unaware that paper currencies - the type preferred by central bankers - is made of either strings of linen and paper or strings of 1s and 0s, and - while also having no inherent value - can be infinitely created out of thin air.
Sheng, who was the director-general of the Department of Statistics and Research at the People’s Bank of China, holds a PhD in economics from the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in the 90s. He is currently the professor of economics and finance at a business school in Shanghai.
Sheng warned that the deflationary nature of digital currencies - unlike fiat money there is a hard limit on how much can be reated - would mean that they would not function well as a currency or medium of exchange in modern economies. Expanding on his criticism, Reuters quoted Sheng as stated that "Bitcoin would reach its ceiling of 21 million in 2140. If it is accepted as standard money, that will inevitably lead to deflation and constrain economic growth." Of course, that same feature would assure that consumers' purchasing power does not vaporize every time central bankers make a mistake and unleash hyperinflation.
Think of it as the old fiat vs gold-backed currency debate, only in this case it's bitcoin-based.
His objection is to be expected: after all no central bank wants to be constrained in how much "money" it can print to stimulate inflation in a world where debt/GDP is 327%; and where China's credit creation dwarfs every other central bank. Recall that in the aftermath of the financial crisis, it was China that served as the dynamo of global "growth" as it doubled its total debt over the past decade, something it would be unable to do if there was a hard ceiling on the amount of currency in circulation.
Sheng’s comments come at a time of increased PBOC scrutiny of the country’s bitcoin trading markets starting in January of this year. The regulatory oversight has resulted in a number of significant changes among Chinese bitcoin exchanges including the addition of trading fees, stricter know-your-customer/anti-money laundering norms and the curb of margin or loan-based trading.
However, Sheng’s most stinging criticism of digital currencies was centered on their volatility, alleging “fluctuations in their prices can easily reach 10 to 30 percent” he added according to cryptocoinsnews:
"If a country accepts one of them as its national currency, the entire national economy could collapse due to currency volatility."
Which, however, does not explain why various central banks like the ECB and BOE do hold a favorable outlook on digital currencies. One footnote here is that unlike Bitcoin, the digital currencies envision by central banks would be entirely under their control, in effect simply replacing one form of fiat for another, and better yet, making it digital so there is no place to hide the next time rates go negative.
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Many governments around the world are still exploring how to regulate and classify bitcoin, whose value surged last month to just shy of $3,000. China has classified it as a "virtual good". Meanwhile, China’s central bank – having opened its digital currency research institute earlier this month – is accelerating its efforts toward launching its own digital currency. As discussed earlier this week, the PBOC completed an early trial of its digital currency on a blockchain late last year.
The opinions offered by the former PBoC official are nothing new when pitted with criticisms of decentralized, state-agnostic digital currencies by other central bankers elsewhere.
Less than a month ago, German central bank president Jens Wiedmann claimed that instant bank payments would put an end to most citizens’ interest in digital currencies like bitcoin. For separate reasons, less than a month ago, Bundesbank president Jens Wiedmann also claimed that digital currencies will "make the next crisis worse."