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Disingenuity: Facebook's claims with regard to Libre are unsupportable.

Nigel Morris-Cotterill

An article published by CNBC ("Here’s why regulators are so worried about Facebook’s digital currency") says in its teaser "Facebook’s argument is that it won’t be minting new money with its digital currency."

That is absolutely untrue. This is why.

Facebook's claim doesn't stand up to even the most basic of scrutiny. All vcoins mint new money in that they are created out of (in common terms) thin air. Moreover, they increase the money supply ( M1, M2 and M3 measures).

I'll explain: countries manage their economy with reference to "the money supply." There are several measures but the two that central banks rely on most are M1 and M3.

M1 is the total amount of currency in circulation and money stored in e.g. on demand bank accounts; M2 is M1 plus a number of items classed as so-called "near-money" and these are non-liquid but easily convertible assets. M3 is, essentially, everything which can be regarded as a store of value, including M2 which includes M1. Here's where economists lose the plot because they don't like people genetically modifying their sacred cows. Economists like to think they are being progressive by saying that M3 includes assets which can be converted but such conversion is not always instant or easy, or where there is a disincentive to convert them - for example, bonds or certificates of deposit. But they have never included goods that are readily convertible into cash. So gold doesn't count.

So, let's ignore the narrow minds of economists and many central bankers and look at the reality: vcoins, virtual assets or whatever term is in vogue this week, are a store of value. It is simply fallacy to pretend that they do not fall within M3. In fact, the only thing that prevents them falling into M2 is the obstinacy of governments in denying them the status of "currency."

But, and this is a big but, the vcoins perform all the functions of currency- they are a medium of exchange and they are a store of value.

There is something else: the velocity of circulation. This is a measure of how quickly money in circulation, er, circulates i.e. how often a given unit of currency changes hands within a set period. This measure is a fundamental tool in identifying the risk and extent of inflation although whether it is an accurate predictor is a separate issue. The reason it is seen as such is that in periods of, in particular, hyper-inflation, money moves very, very fast because if it stands still the cost of purchases increases. So people buy things as and when they can afford them and don't hold onto money.

Given the recalcitrance of economists and central bankers and, probably, a fear of having no idea what might happen are the root causes for states being reluctant to recognise vcoins as a lawful medium of exchange - even though they confiscate it in criminal cases and tax income and profits calculated in it. The fact is that the coins increase the money supply. How? Because they increase spending power and savings - Travellers' Cheques and other forms of pre-paid tokens are counted in M2; it is simply illogical that vcoins are not.

Can we say that they increase M1? Yes, we can. Central banks decide how much currency is in circulation. Remember all the "quantitative easing" that central banks did to try to contain the global financial crisis? That was a posh term for dramatically increasing the M1 money supply. Metaphorically, central bankers stood in the streets and threw out handfuls of high-denomination bank notes to anyone who cared to hold out their mitts. Quantitative easing was in response to two things. First was the panic-stricken realisation that Joe Public might finally realise that there is no money and that what he thinks is money is simply data that moves between companies that have been given the privilege of being called "banks."

The second thing was the straw that broke the economy's back and caused the eventual collapse of the financial system was not the amount of debt (that could have been explained away to a gullible world that had already swallowed years of lies about the state of economies that constantly function in deficit) but the fact that banks stopped lending to each other. QE was supposed to fix that in the blink of an eye. It didn't.

Banks operate a circular lending mechanism under which they make deposits with each other overnight and yes, that's why we have (and will have until next year when it will be abolished) the London Inter-bank Offered Rate or LIBOR and other similar schemes. Once that circular supply stopped, banks became illiquid. The velocity of circulation died and with it entire economies. But in the outside world, as people chose to keep their money outside banks, thinking it safer under the mattress than in a bank account, the velocity of circulation increased in cash transactions. Non-cash transactions, such as barter, time banking, etc. all grew in popularity as that part of M1 that deals in inter-bank transactions hit the buffers - ironically paving the way for parallel currencies to become both socially and intellectually acceptable.

OK, so what we have, then, is first that money is anything that two people can agree has a value and can be exchanged for goods and services. Most importantly, as the world has adopted the concept of de-materialisation of money (in effect, for most transactions, money is data, not money per se), what actually moves in order to perform transactions is not money at all, but information. It is therefore entirely artificial to pretend that any data is more "money" than any other. What economists and central bankers are determined not to grasp is this: in the hands of the public, the name ascribed to the form of data in which a transaction is conducted is completely irrelevant. They don't care if they are spending dollars, euros or bitcoin.

And so to Facebook's disingenuous argument. FB is playing to the gallery of narrow minded economists and repressed central bankers. It is saying "yes, you are right, we aren't money as you know it so you don't have to worry about us." Thankfully, in most governments there are cynics who don't buy into that and are pushing for answers not only from Facebook, which has a history of being economical with the truth, but also from their own people - and now, after the global financial crisis happened while parliaments were asleep at the wheel and accepting the lies of central bankers and, even, finance ministers, they are not going to go away quite so easily.

And they should not. FB creates the vcoin and then exchanges it for fiat currency; that distorts fiat currencies: by turning Libre into what will, inevitably, become a walled garden (in the way that Second Life's Linden Dollars facilitated trade that has real world financial consequences while primary financial dealing>/em> happens in a manner which is out of sight for central banks) Libre will put FB in a position of a quasi central bank, but without supervision or responsibility. While many are focussed on the narrow "regulatory" aspects, they are looking only at secondary symptoms. The primary symptom is that, with a membership that exceeds, in terms of number, the population of all but a handful of countries, FB will have the power to run a global parallel market in almost anything. It has the capacity to become a marketplace in anything with a financial system that operates without regard for geographical or political borders.

The power of all virtual currencies is that they become a club in which the members can trade between themselves out of sight of pretty much everyone. This is not the much vaunted anonymity issue (which is actually a myth) but simply because the transactions do not pass through any central authority which has responsibility for monitoring them for purposes of understanding the money supply. Further, if FB says that it will be able to control the use of Libra, it is delusional: it can't even manage to ensure that it doesn't have millions of fraudulent accounts and nor can it prevent the streaming of horrific murders live over its platform.

FB will be able to manage the amount of Libre in circulation, it will define its own M1, 2 and 3 figures. It will be able to create inflation or deflation because it can decide how much the money supply will increase by. It will be in control of its own version of quantitative easing.

So, to bring the point home - can you remember the colloquial term that is used to describe quantitative easing? Yes, it's "printing money."

If that isn't " minting new money" it would be difficult to think of something that is.


Footnote: in 2006, just as the US Federal Reserve was denying the crisis in the housing market which was already in evidence as mortgage repossessions were piling up, the US Fed ceased publication of the M3 measure.


Further Reading: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/09/1...

Galbraith: Money - whence it came, where it went, Andre Deutsch, 1975 “Television interviewers...begin interviews with economists with the question: ‘now tell me, just what is money anyway?’ The answers are invariably incoherent. The reader should proceed in these pages with the knowledge that money is nothing more and nothing less than what he or she always thought it was - what is commonly offered or received for the purchase or sale of goods, services or other things.”

Morris-Cotterill, How not to be a money launderer (see www.countermoneylaundering.com) "This is the essence of money - those pieces of metal and slips of paper you carry in your pocket look worthless because they are of no intrinsic worth. It is only the value you and someone else agree on which gives them any worth at all."