This story is important and illustrates the advantage a slightly more totalitarian society has over a democracy in that it can quickly push innovations rather than waiting for market forces. However this comes at the cost of a more brittle and less resilient civil society. Which depends entirely upon the relative wisdom and judgment of a small number of leaders. Think of it as a experiment on Plato’s idea of the greatest leader being a philosopher with power. Secondarily, after the risk of poor leaders exercising bad judgment, you have the chronic problem of misallocation of capital. This is something that Plato did not think of or understand. But the western philosopher – economist Adam Smith perceived. The market is a much better allocator of capital than any manifestation of central planning. Nevertheless, watching the speed of China pursue any technical innovation is impressive.
China’s central bank is testing a prototype digital currency with mock transactions between it and some of the country’s commercial banks.
Speeches and research papers from officials at the People’s Bank of China show that the bank’s strategy is to introduce the digital currency alongside China’s renminbi. But there is currently no timetable for this, and the bank seems to be proceeding cautiously.
Nonetheless the test is a significant step. It shows that China is seriously exploring the technical, logistical, and economic challenges involved in deploying digital money, something that could ultimately have broad implications for its economy and for the global financial system.
A digital fiat currency—one backed by the central bank and with the same legal status as a banknote—would lower the cost of financial transactions, thereby helping to make financial services more widely available. This could be especially significant in China, where millions of people still lack access to conventional banks. A digital currency should also be cheaper to operate, and ought to reduce fraud and counterfeiting.
Even more significantly, a digital currency would give the Chinese government greater oversight of digital transactions, which are already booming. And by making transactions more traceable, this could also help reduce corruption, which is a key government priority. Such a currency could even offer real-time economic insights, which would be enormously valuable to policymakers. And finally, it might facilitate cross-border transactions, as well as the use of the renminbi outside of China because the currency would be so easy to obtain.