President Trump’s last two Federal Reserve Board nominees have officially withdrawn in the midst of controversy, but a silver lining is the renewed debate over how the government can best protect the quality of our money.
Many people want the central bank to target commodity prices — either gold, some other precious metal, or a broader basket of commodities. Some argue that inflation targeting is still the way to go, but the target needs to be higher, or that the existing framework simply needs to be refined.
Others, myself included, believe that Congress can greatly improve monetary policy by replacing the Fed’s so-called dual mandate to promote stable prices and maximum employment. Instead, the Fed’s goal should be monetary neutrality — namely, supplying the amount of money the economy needs to keep moving, no more and no less.
To help achieve this goal, Congress should give the Fed the single mandate of achieving monetary neutrality by stabilizing overall spending in the economy.
Maintaining a reasonable growth path for total spending — often referred to as nominal gross domestic product (NGDP) level targeting—is the best way to achieve monetary neutrality because it requires the Fed to consistently respond to changes in the amount of money people need.
The Fed’s track record isn’t exactly perfect, and this new framework offers many benefits over the current discretionary model. Moreover, we are stuck with the Fed and government-managed money for the near future, so it is critical to debate the best way to improve the system we have.
Still, the debate needs to be broadened because the truth is that providing money does not have to be a centralized function of government. And that arrangement is harmful for reasons that few scholars even ponder today.
For instance, the federal government’s monopoly limits the extent to which competitive forces can strengthen money, and it exposes our means of payment – for all goods and services – to the mistakes of a single government entity. So policymakers should explore ways to improve money with the same competitive market forces that improve other goods and services.
Competitive forces regularly push entrepreneurs to innovate and improve products to satisfy their customers. This process exposes weaknesses and inefficiencies in existing goods and services, helping people figure out how to improve their lives.
That’s why the best check against the government – or any single entity – wrecking the quality of our money is to allow competitive private markets to provide it. And that is why governments must avoid killing Bitcoin (and similar digital currencies) via a slow death by regulation.
These new digital currencies are private innovations in the way people pay for things. They are still new and have yet to reach widespread acceptance relative to national currencies, but two recent ventures are likely to speed things up.
The first venture is called Bakkt. It’s a partnership between Microsoft, Starbucks, and Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the company that owns the New York Stock Exchange. Bakkt is aimed at making it easier for institutional investors to get into the crypto market, which will ultimately make it easier for people to buy coffee using Bitcoin. (Not surprisingly, regulatory issues have slowed down the full launch.)
The second endeavor is Facebook’s decision to launch a cryptocurrency-based payments system on the back of its massive social network. According to The Wall Street Journal:
One idea under discussion is Facebook paying users fractions of a coin when they view ads, interact with other content or shop on its platform—not unlike loyalty points accrued at retailers, some of the people said.
The Journal also reports that Facebook is in talks with e-commerce companies and apps about accepting the coin. The big picture: More than 2 billion people use Facebook every month. Once most of these folks become comfortable trading digital tokens with each other and using them to make purchases, Facebook will have essentially created money.
Companies such as Apple, Amazon and Google are similarly set up to pull off the exact same move. Each of these companies has widespread recognition and familiarity — a major advantage over Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies when it comes to consumer acceptance.
Crypto-currencies provide a clear advantage over the current payment system via lower transaction fees. They also offer the potential advantage of a more sound currency whose value does not constantly depreciate.
One of the largest impediments to fully realizing this potential is a two-part problem: compared to national currencies, most merchants do not accept crypto-currencies, and most people are unfamiliar with them.
The recent ventures are poised to smash these barriers, paving the way for the benefits that privately produced money can provide. The biggest remaining hurdle will likely be the government.
This piece originally appeared in Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/norbertmichel/2019/05/13/move-past-steve-moore-and-herman-cain-with-starbucks-and-facebook/#7c903b03f622