YOU don’t have to be Ebenezer Scrooge to want to handle your own money. The prudent management of income and expenditure is a necessary and commendable skill in our affluent 21st century, and a basic element of personal independence. Yet our governments are hell-bent on removing it from us for ever.
On this issue, the freedom-loving Swiss are at the forefront of supporting individual citizens’ rights. Fearing a complete digitisation of money, the Libertarian Party has launched a people’s initiative against the introduction of Central Bank Digital Currencies, with a guarantee to maintain a sufficient circulation of coins and banknotes in perpetuity. By the start of May enough signatures had been collected to ensure that the matter will go forward to a national vote.
According to Libertarian Party president Richard Koller, ‘getting rid of cash not only touches on issues of transparency, simplicity or security, but also carries a huge danger of totalitarian surveillance’. He believes Switzerland should be taking the lead within Europe, as securing agreement in the European Union would be almost impossible amongst all 27 member states.
But while around 90 per cent of governments worldwide, including in the UK, are pressing ahead with plans for the introduction of Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs), not everyone is entirely clear about the implications, or has even heard of them.
A CBDC is defined as a currency issued and backed by a country’s central bank, designed to function like traditional currencies but in digital form. Officially they are presented as a way to increase financial inclusion, reduce transaction costs and provide greater security and transparency in payments. But what about the potential risks, such as cyber insecurity, monetary policy implications, and the negative impact on the banking sector? The fact is that governments have far more to gain from introducing CBDCs than consumers have from using them. It is yet another attempt to exert even more control over their populations.
To date, the anecdotal evidence has been alarming. The Nigerian government went ahead with roll-out, and riots broke out. This is unsurprising since an estimated 55 per cent of Nigerians rely on physical cash. Yet withdrawal limits and debit card restrictions were imposed, while capital controls made taking money out of the country almost impossible. The result was a violent scramble to exchange old notes before they were declared worthless.
Any perceived benefits need to be weighed against the overwhelming risks:
· Cyber security: hacking, fraud and other cyber crimes would necessitate much stronger security systems.
· Privacy: transaction data and personal information would be kept in centralised databases, leading to a conflict between user privacy and system integrity.
· Disintermediation: the ‘middleman’ ie commercial banks would be bypassed, leading to disruption of the traditional banking system and financial stability.
· Monetary policy: central banks would need to balance the impact of CBDCs on the money supply and interest rates.
· The technical challenge: the requirement for technical expertise, infrastructure and implementation presents huge practical challenges.
According to Les Nemethy of Euro Phoenix FA, this is the most important monetary policy debate of the coming decade, and the outcome will fundamentally determine what kind of society we live in. His belief is that Central Bank Digital Currencies are one of the greatest threats, if not the greatest, to personal freedom.
We have already seen the signs. The truckers’ protest in Canada demonstrated just what governments could get away with. In February 2022, the Canadian authorities froze the finances of individuals and companies involved in the Ottawa protests against Covid vaccine mandates. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police froze 206 financial products, including bank and corporate accounts; disclosed the information of 56 entities associated with vehicles, individuals and companies; shared 253 bitcoin addresses with virtual currency exchangers; and froze a payment processing account valued at $3.8million. And there it is: the big danger is the invasion of banking privacy for political reasons.
The Swiss are busy bombarding their people from billboards, flyers, even the advert screens on public transport, with the call for action, encouraging everyone to make their voice heard and their vote count. In the UK, it is challenging to find a reference to it, even in the financial papers. The lowdown on the government’s proposals is tucked away in the labyrinthine pages of HM Treasury’s website. On February 7, the Treasury and the Bank of England (BoE) launched their consultation on CBDCs. These would be interchangeable with cash and banknotes, complementing cash, but there is no indication how long that will last. Both Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and BoE governor Andrew Bailey make reassuring statements about how this ‘is trusted, accessible and easy to use’. They stress that everything will be subject to ‘rigorous standards of privacy and data protection, with neither the BoE nor government having access to private data.
We can judge the reliability of these promises by our governments’ previous track records, always remembering the truckers, but we must all let the authorities know what we want.
Ignore this at your peril. If it goes ahead, your money will no longer be yours, and it will constitute the final nail in the coffin of your personal freedom under the law.