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Fiat Money vs. Cryptocurrencies / Private vs. Public digital currencies…



The first part of this study analysed the competition between USD, RMB and EURO and presented the challenges for China and Europe to develop a genuine international currencies, having the capacity to compete with the USD (see Part 1: “FX wars vs. currency wars: SD vs. EUR vs. RMB vs …”; DP # 43, January 2020)). However, currency competition goes well beyond the “simple” competition between sovereign currencies (USD, EUR, RMB, JPY, CHF...). The advent of private digital currencies and very soon the first central bank digital currencies represent an important and new phenomenon: it shows that the world has entered a “total digital (disruptive) era”, and currencies are no exception. In less than 10 years, additional forms of monies have surfaced: central banks digital currencies (a few), digital currencies (plenty), local currencies (some) and investment money (major projects ongoing), while electronic monies are gaining ground (vs. cash). Digital currencies are more financial assets than currencies, but electronic and digital currencies are gaining ground for different reasons:

  • Ease of use,
  • Speed of use,
  • A major change in behaviour and habits (the “Everything and everybody connected”)
  • The inclusion of unbanked persons in electronic payment systems …
  • A certain mistrust of banks and fiat currencies: part of their development is linked to the will of some investors / savers / consumers to go out of (traditional) money. Where to go? In some emerging countries and in countries where credibility of fiat currency is low (means of payment), C-MONEY is attractive for payments. In advanced countries, where interest rates are low and Central bank’s balance sheet has ballooned, there might be a FX rate problem (store of value,) not a credibility problem: going out-of money may mean investment in real assets for inflation hedge, or in gold for store of value properties.

Central bank money and bank money have now serious competitors. The benign neglect attitude of central banks at the very beginning of digital currencies (as regard bitcoin for example) has disappeared, and central bankers are now looking at the potential impact of stablecoins (the 2nd generation of (private) digital currencies) on monetary policy and financial stability. Nearly all central banks work on the feasibility of their own digital currencies, and some of them plan to launch such a currency (called the “central bank digital currency (the CB-DC), i.e. the 3rd generation of digital currencies (or cryptocurrencies). Central Banks digital currencies have several advantages:

  • A better capacity (compared to cash) to fight more efficiently against money laundering and crime, tax evasion ... So many crucial topics in the post-crisis world that has given ethical and moral values a central role.
  • A better capacity to manage monetary policy in an ultra-low and negative interest rates environment. Ironically, among the solutions to the Effective Lower Bound problem, we find i) cryptocurrencies (admittedly public ones, but echoing private currencies, cornerstone of one of the great authors of the Austrian School of Economics , F. A. Hayek), but also ii) the taxation of cash (one of the pivots of S. Gesell’s analysis (1916), the author who inspired local currencies). This is also why the developments of the last ten years cannot be treated with scorn or indifference, nor with systematic denial.

In short, the planets are aligned to make the development of digital currencies something other than a simple fad, an anecdotic or short-lived phenomenon. This does not mean that everything is possible, though:

  • Cryptocurrencies are so far too much energy intensive: it is an unsustainable situation;
  • Hacking and risks on infrastructure of digital currencies have to be considered;
  • As long as these competing currencies do not have the attributes of real currencies, regulation will accompany their development as it does for any other financial asset (see PACTE law in France). If not, if they resemble too much to currencies (unit of account and store of value), they will probably not survive as they are … or as they plan to be. The Libra project is undoubtedly the best illustration.

This document is not intended to explain how cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin work in practice (supply and demand, mining, blockchain …), but to present the 11 currency competitions / money wars we have identified, that currently exist or are likely to exist soon:

  • 1st war - E-MONEY vs. B-MONEY, i.e. electronic money vs. bank money: coexistence, complementarity or takeover?
  • 2nd war - C-MONEY vs CB-MONEY and B-MONEY, i.e. cryptocurrencies vs. central bank money and bank money: are cryptocurrencies genuine currencies?
  • 3rd war - C-MONEY vs. CB-MONEY, i.e. cryptocurrencies vs. central bank money: will cryptocurrencies compete with the currencies issued by CBs? Will C-MONEY represent risks for monetary policy, banks and financial stability?
  • 4th war - new “currencies” C-MONEY vs “old” currency (GOLD), i.e. cryptocurrencies vs. gold. Are cryptocurrencies safe have? Are cryptocurrencies substitutes of gold in times of crisis?
  • 5th war - 1st generation of C-MONEY vs. 2nd generation of C-MONEY, i.e. cryptocurrencies vs. stable coins;
  • 6th war – US Stable coin (Libra) vs. Chinese stable coin (Venus) … a war to come soon?
  • 7th war - C-MONEY vs. CB-DC, i.e. cryptocurrencies vs. central bank digital currencies: Central banks and private cryptocurrencies - from caution to pragmatism;
  • 8th war - E-MONEY and C-MONEY vs. CB-MONEY, i.e. electronic money vs. cryptocurrencies vs. central bank money: the death knell for paper money?
  • 9th war: CB-DC vs. Cash: can CB-DC be considered as a good way to alleviate / eliminate the ELB (Effective Lower Bound) problem?
  • 10th war: Retail CB-DCs vs. Wholesale CB-DCs. Will central banks issue digital currencies?
  • 11th war: Bank money (B-MONEY) vs. cryptocurrencies (C-MONEY) vs. central bank digital currency (CB-DC) vs local currencies (L-MONEY) vs. investment money (I-MONEY): what is the value of money?


Part 2


Read the Part 1: FX wars vs. currency wars






ITHURBIDE Philippe , Senior Economic Advisor

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