On March 9, the Biden administration issued a sweeping executive order directing a laundry list of government agencies to develop plans to regulate cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, as well as to produce a detailed plan to study the potential creation of a central bank digital currency (CBDC) for the United States.
If the federal government and Federal Reserve were to ultimately issue a CBDC, it would be the first time in a century that America has released an entirely new currency.
Although the executive order’s language leaves the door open for federal agencies to recommend against the creation of a digital dollar, the evidence strongly suggests this will not occur, and that the White House will formally propose a plan for a digital currency by the end of the year.
The Federal Reserve has already studied the possibility of rolling out a digital currency. It released a detailed report about digital currencies earlier in 2022 that served as “the first step in a public discussion between the Federal Reserve and stakeholders about central bank digital currencies.” There’s no reason for the White House to ask for yet another report on digital currencies unless it’s to gear up for a big legislative change.
Biden’s executive order even lays out a timeline for when the attorney general, secretary of the Treasury, and chairman of the Federal Reserve should provide the White House with a legislative proposal for a digital currency: within 210 days of the order, about seven months.
In some respects, a digital dollar would be similar to our existing print currency. The Federal Reserve would continue to set policies and interest rates tied to the currency, and people would be able to pay vendors with their existing bank accounts and credit and debit cards.
There are, however, substantial differences. For starters, a digital dollar would, by definition, not exist in print form. Once the transition to a digital dollar is complete, you wouldn’t be able to go to the bank or an ATM and get physical cash out of an account that contains your digital currency.
More importantly, a digital currency would likely be designed in a way that would give government and/or the Federal Reserve substantial control over its use and supply. The Federal Reserve could, for example, simply create more digital dollars with a push of a button and distribute them at the drop of a hat. Similarly, it could just as easily take digital dollars away from banks through a variety of monetary tools.
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