We all know the story: The Pied Piper has a magic flute that, when played by the piper, saves the people of Hamelin from a rat epidemic. When the townspeople fail to pay him for his services, he uses the flute to attract their children away.
In modern nomenclature, a pied piper is described as “a metaphor for a person who attracts a following through charisma or false promises.”
And that leads us to a discussion of Central Bank Digital Currencies, or CBDCs.
As recently as ten years ago, when writing on the possibility of digital currencies being introduced, the idea was so novel (or perhaps so abhorrent) that my predictions on the subject were considered to be fanciful. Yet, by 2016, announcements were being made by governments that digital currencies were “under consideration.”
And in the brief time since, the concept has caught on worldwide. Eleven countries have now launched them, and another eighty-seven are either researching them or developing them.
But why is it that bank depositors would accept the introduction of CBDCs?
Well, on paper, they sound great. No more trips to the ATM. No more need for credit cards. No more worrying about carrying around cash. No more purse snatchers – you can carry all your savings on a cell phone and do so safely. All crime could end, as any criminal would leave a trail of transactions for banks to monitor.
And these, of course, are the promises that are being touted by the latter-day Pied Piper – the “false promises” mentioned in the definition above.
So what’s the attraction for governments and bankers so eager to go digital?
Well, for bankers, the answer is that they’ll have the opportunity to phase out bank notes. Most activities on the retail floor will be outmoded. Since all transactions would be digital, they’ll all be performed by bank clerks on computers, without ever having to face customers. Additionally, depositors will no longer be able to store currency elsewhere. Depositors will be at the mercy of the banks, as they’ll no longer be able to make even the smallest transaction without passing it through the bank. This not only makes it possible for banks to raise their transaction fees at will, but it also gives banks the ability to decide what transactions the depositor is allowed to make, as the depositor may no longer have any alternative transaction capability.
Of course, many depositors will attempt to turn to cryptos, and there can be little doubt that those who don’t presently see cryptos as monetary freedom soon will. But it’s likely that, as cryptos become the solution to bypassing banks’ increased dominance of currency, banks would freeze or close the accounts of depositors who are discovered to be dealing in cryptos.
The depositor will then have to assess whether he can carry on his daily financial life without his bank account. After all, will his grocer or the station where he buys fuel for his vehicle also risk the freezing or closing of their accounts? Might those who seek freedom of commerce be frozen out of day-to-day purchases? It remains to be seen how this will play out.
And, while we’re at it, what will the benefits to governments be?
Well, governments will not only have greater power over the movement of currency, without the cost of producing bank notes, but they’ll also have the ability to require banks to reveal all transactional information on depositors. At the very least, this will mean the ability to eliminate voluntary income tax, as taxation will now be possible by direct debit. It also will not need to be annual but could be carried out monthly, with each bank statement. And rates subject to frequent, unannounced change.
Further, governments will have the ability to establish a social credit system, as has China, with its CBDC – a nanny with the power to allow people to make purchases based upon their performance as citizens. Have you attended a protest or been reported as having criticized the government? Well, you may not be allowed commercial travel for a period of time. Or you may not be allowed to purchase, say, petrol for your car.
The ability to live as a “free” person will most certainly be curtailed – in small ways, initially, but becoming more draconian with time. Those who displease their governments will be punished. Those who obey will have the privilege of freedom of transaction.
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Considering all the above, the attraction for both governments and banks is considerable. They will own their serfs to the degree that has never existed before.
It can be predicted that CBDCs will succeed best in the most developed countries, where people accept the concept that if they don’t comply with their government, their economic lives will fall apart.
In less-developed countries where there’s a greater preponderance of agrarian or hand-to-mouth existence, the populace will be harder to control.
Nigeria introduced its CBDC about a year ago, and, to date, it has been a flop, to say the least. Only 0.5% of Nigerian residents have followed the tune of the Pied Piper and deigned to use the eNaira.
And in fact, most residents have looked to Cryptos as a hedge against inflation as the Nigerian economy deteriorates.
I’ve always looked upon Mexico as the poster boy for the success vs. failure of CBDCs. In the cities, where people are heavily dependent upon the government for nearly everything, people will not only comply, but welcome CBDCs, as commerce will become more streamlined – just an APP on your phone.
However, Mexico has a long history of the campesinos – the peasant class – having an extreme distrust of their government and often having little or no faith in fiat currencies. They have, for millennia, turned to silver as being real money.
La Casa de Moneda de México, the oldest mint in the Americas, produces the libertad – a one-ounce fine silver coin. Although the Libertad has no denomination, they’re accepted as a currency everywhere in Mexico.
It’s likely that the campesinos will do whatever they have to, to stick to silver and avoid dealing with CBDCs.
And so, it’s likely to go in other countries: Wherever there is great suspicion of government, and wherever a large segment of the population functions largely independently of government, CBDCs are more likely to fail. However, in more prosperous countries and, in particular, in larger cities, where people are highly dependent upon their government, people will be likely to not only accept CBDCs but even welcome them.
Throughout history, whenever a major economic scam has been perpetrated upon a people, the lower classes have always risen to the challenge and created black-market and/or alternate currencies. And interestingly, the alternates have always risen to whatever degree is necessary to bypass the official currency.
It’s, therefore, entirely possible that CBDCs will have their day – a period in which they will be utilized to oppress people, but, ultimately, will go the way of the dodo.
A possible insight into the outcome might be found in Zimbabwe in 2009. The Zim dollar was in a state of hyperinflation, and Zimbabweans, particularly the poor, turned to the US dollar as an alternate currency. The President fought back hard, attempting to disallow the use of the US dollar, but when, at dinner one evening, his wife advised him that it had only been possible for her to purchase the food for the meal he was eating with forbidden US dollars, he formally ended the ban on US dollars.
No economic oppression ever continues to be in force once it bites the hand of the oppressor who enforces it.
The remaining questions will be how long CBDCs will be in use, where they will be most successful, and how much damage they will do until they’re abandoned.
Reprinted with permission from International Man.