A growing number of countries are justifying their move to impose cashMoney in physical form such as banknotes and coins. More restrictions and the demonetization of larger denominations by citing the fight against crime and fraud as the culprits. They state that it is mostly criminals and tax evaders that make use of cash, but where are the numbers? Right; there are none. Indeed, there has yet to be a serious study that proves or disproves the link between cash and crime. With the little data available, it has actually been shown that there is no direct correlation between cash usage and the shadow economy. In fact, Germany being one of the biggest cash users in the EU has a shadow economy equal to 12.2% of GDP compared to 13.2% of Sweden. In Austria the shadow economy amounts to only 8.2% of GDP.
The suitcase full of greenbacks is more of a Hollywood obsession than reality. Undeniably, criminals and tax evaders have long ago found other ways to circumvent the law. Just look at the example in Greece where businesses evaded taxes thanks to POS terminals that sent money to Bulgaria via Malta or the miserable $16 billion (1%) of $1.6 trillion of laundered money that is caught by the financial system. It’s hard to imagine how all that moneyFrom the Latin word moneta, nickname that was given by Romans to the goddess Juno because there was a minting workshop next to her temple. Money is any item that is generally accepted as payment for goods and services and repayment of debts, such as taxes, in a particular region, country or socio-economic context. Its onset dates back to the origins of humanity and its physical representation has taken on very varied forms until the appearance of metal coins. The banknote, a typical representati... More travels in briefcases each year.
And although the anonymity of cash is often the target for anti-cash, or less-cash supporters, this unique attribute should be seen as just that: as a positive and unique attribute. Sure, it has its downsides when it comes tracking shady transactions, but most bills are settled by honest, taxpaying citizens that simply don’t care to have all their purchases tracked – and that’s not trivial.
In fact, bitcoin’s initial attractiveness was indeed its anonymity and its independence from any government or financial system. That is no longer the sole reason for its popularity (i.e. its high speculative potential), but it is definitely an quality that central banks should take into consideration as the world becomes increasingly digitalized. Some central banks have already started exploring digital solutions for their currencies that could be used interchangeably and in parallel to tangible money. But if they are to go in that direction, anonymity and financial censorship should become central to this debate.
As JP Koning says in his blog “When central bankers monopolized the issuance of banknotes in the 1800s and early 1900s, little did they know that a hundred years later anonymity would become an important public good.” Banknotes are also uncensored, he continues, “this means that [they] are available for anyone to use—i.e. they are highly resistant to censorship. There are no gateways involved, no need to get permission ahead of time by opening an account or installing some sort of proprietary software or hardware, and no way for the issuer to halt a paymentA transfer of funds which discharges an obligation on the part of a payer vis-à-vis a payee. More while it is being made.”
So although there is much talk about bitcoinBitcoin is commonly said to be a cryptocurrency, a digital means of exchange developed by a set of anonymous authors under the pseudonym of Satoshi Nakamoto, which began operating in 2009 as a community project (Wikipedia type), without the relationship or dependency of any government, state, company or body, and whose value (formed by a complicated system of mathematical algorithms and cryptography) is not supported by any central bank or authority. Bitcoins are essentially accounting entries i... More and cryptocurrencies, none currently respond to all three pillars necessary to make money currencyThe money used in a particular country at a particular time, like dollar, yen, euro, etc., consisting of banknotes and coins, that does not require endorsement as a medium of exchange. More: medium of exchangeThe Eurosystem comprises the European Central Bank and the national central banks of those countries that have adopted the euro. More, store of valueOne of the functions of money or more generally of any asset that can be saved and exchanged at a later time without loss of its purchasing power. See also Precautionary Holdings. More, and standard of value (i.e. agreed upon medium of exchange allowing for transactions between economic entities). Meanwhile, an all-digital central bank-issued currency that mirrors all of cash’s attributes, including anonymity and censorship, would allow central bankers to continue providing the public service they have committed to offering since the 19th century. As Konig writes “in this context blockchainAn unchangeable digital record where transactions are processed and verified by a network of independent computers rather than by a single referee. This decentralised structure has been described as an open distributed ledger. It supposedly enhances security as there is no single entity to be hacked. It also protects personal identity and guarantees that governments can’t block transactions or otherwise manipulate the payments space. The blockchain is the underlying technology supporting most ... More technology isn’t anything special, it’s just another technology among many that central bankers might use to upgrade the quality of the public services that they are already providing.”