At the Cato Institute, Norbert Michel continues to make the case against central bank digital currencies, telling readers, “A CBDC has no place in the American economy.” He concludes:
In the extreme case, when the government is the only provider of a service, dissatisfied customers have no alternative. But even in the less extreme case, when the government makes it very difficult for companies to compete, people lose options. That is, they lose their basic freedom to make choices, a consequence that harms everyone, even people who want to provide more options.
When it comes to the payments system itself, taking options away from citizens is much worse than, for instance, making it exorbitantly expensive to open a new restaurant or supermarket. The payment system is ultimately the gateway to all the transactions citizens might undertake, so the rules should maximize competition, not limit it.
No single authority should be able to exert control over the payment system by deciding who can spend, when they can do it, and what they can purchase. But that’s exactly what a government‐controlled digital currency does.
That said, I do have to credit the Democratic witness, Columbia Law School Lecturer Raúl Carrillo, for not hiding what he wants. He openly calls for the federal government, not the private sector, to provide money and payment services. He wants a CBDC, but he also wants the Treasury, the Fed, the U.S. Postal Service, and any number of federal agencies to issue money directly to the public.
Like many other CBDC advocates, Carrillo does say that he merely wants a “public option” for banking. At best, though, this approach will remain just an option for a very short time.
Regardless, viewing the payments sector this way is misguided.
The overwhelming majority of Americans who want to use financial services do so already, and the fact that some people have a very difficult time earning sufficient income to open a bank account is a broader economic problem. I doubt the answer to this problem really is “give those folks more money from the United States Treasury,” but even if it is the correct answer, it still does not equate to ripping apart the existing public‐private arrangements in the financial sector.
As I expressed in my testimony, the payments sector — which is heavily regulated by the government — does work well for most Americans. Naturally, it could work even better, and for even more people. But that’s a job for the private sector to do, and one that the government should allow people to figure out. (FDIC surveys show that the share of unbanked American households has been steadily declining, with a drop from 8.2 percent in 2011 to 4.5 percent in 2021.)
The proper way to view a CBDC is that it is a government reaction to a private sector innovation — cryptocurrency — that threatens the level of control governments can exert over money and payments.
A CBDC is not some newly discovered technology that offers a unique benefit to Americans. A CBDC does, however, pose serious risks to Americans’ financial privacy and freedom, and it ultimately endangers the free‐enterprise system itself.
A CBDC has no place in the American economy. Congress should explicitly prohibit the Fed and the Treasury from issuing a CBDC.
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