As the U.S. heads into the next election year, crypto concerns have begun to seep into mainstream American politics—specifically, the terrifying prospect of a United States central bank digital currency (CBDC).
U.S. politicians such as Ted Cruz, Tom Emmer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and Ron DeSantis have all suggested, either explicitly or through proposed legislation, that the Federal Reserve System must be prevented from developing, issuing, or even researching CBDCs as a matter of policy. The implication, amplified by voices on social media, is that the Federal Reserve is actively working toward developing a CBDC as an instrument of state control.
The documented reality, however, shows that the Fed is anything but eager to introduce CBDCs to the U.S. monetary system. Speaking at a roundtable discussion in Washington, D.C. this morning, Fed governor Michell Bowman reiterated the Fed’s reluctance to embrace CBDC tech and criticized its capacity for solving real problems in global finance.
No compelling argument
Bowman’s speech centered around ongoing interest in digital assets, including crypto-assets, stablecoins, CBDCs, and programmable payment platforms. She specifically critiqued the idea of a U.S. CBDC, questioning whether it could solve financial problems more effectively or efficiently than existing solutions.
Highlighting the importance of responsible innovation in money and payments, Governor Bowman underlined the need to address frictions within the payment system, promote financial inclusion, and provide the public with access to safe central bank money. However, she is unpersuaded that a central bank digital currency is suited to the task, saying:
These are all important issues. I have yet to see a compelling argument that a U.S. CBDC could solve any of these problems more effectively or efficiently than alternatives, or with fewer downside risks for consumers and for the economy.
She further noted that the U.S. payment system continues to evolve with innovations like FedNow, the Federal Reserve’s new interbank system for instant payments. This system allows participating banks, businesses, and consumers to make and receive instant payments, with immediate fund availability at all times.
Governor Bowman also stressed that the introduction of a CBDC could pose significant risks and tradeoffs for the financial system, including considerable consumer privacy concerns. She argued that the U.S. intermediated banking model, in which commercial banks issue credit to consumers and institutions while managing reserves through the Federal Reserve System, would be the more suitable model for future financial innovation. A CBDC could disrupt this system, potentially hurting consumers and businesses while presenting broader financial stability risks.
The Fed and web3
The Federal Reserve’s active engagement with the nuances of the crypto-asset landscape, including innovations like stablecoins, CBDCs, DeFi, and tokenization, not only demonstrates that it takes the sector seriously but that it shares some of the same concerns.
It does not, however, mean that the Fed is bounding toward digital dollar dominance. While theoretically unnerving, the idea of an imminent U.S. CBDC has become the subject of largely unfounded anxieties, in no small part because it simply may not be in the Fed’s interest—or indeed, that of the United States—to do so.
As market participants, commentators, lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians continue to fumble their way toward a workable, comprehensive crypto policy framework, it’s important to remember that our collective focus should be on constructive dialogue and collaboration rather than sowing seeds of unwarranted fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
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