This chapter studies the challenges a cryptocurrency faces to become a common means of exchange. In particular, the paper discusses the scalability constraint that limits the number of transactions a cryptocurrency may be able to verity per unit of time, the network effect in goods that function as money that increases the cost of new currencies to gain market share, and the implications of the fixed monetary rule present in most cryptocurrencies that departs from an elastic optimal monetary policy. Potential solutions for each case are also discussed.
To illustrate the problem, Eichengreen offers three scenarios. In the first scenario, a cryptocurrency issuer maintains 100 percent dollar backing for coins in circulation. This is similar to how a currency board works. Since such an arrangement requires the issuer attract and hold dollars in order to expand the supply of coins, the cryptocurrency will not be subject to a speculative attack. However, this also means the issuer cannot invest those dollars since it must hold all of them to back the cryptocurrency.
Price volatility is a big problem in the crypto world. Widespread adoption is unlikely without a good monetary rule that reduces volatility. But, as Barry Eichengreen notes in a recent Project Syndicate article, stable coins like Tether, Sagacoin, and Basis have their own issues.
Unable to earn interest on the float, a cryptocurrency issuer would find it challenging to profit while holding 100 percent dollar reserves. It would also struggle to offer a competitive return and, hence, attract customers. Why would one exchange a widely used dollar for an illiquid cryptocurrency, which is harder to use and does not offer a competitive interest rate?
Excitement about the potential of blockchain applications has led people to forecast all kinds of developments. I recently met with someone developing a new blockchain application, Leaf, with the potential to serve those most in need: African refugees.
African refugees usually carry the little wealth they own. Since banks in many African countries are not trustworthy, refugees cannot make deposits at their current location and then withdraw their deposits somewhere else, such as another country. This problem makes their journeys to refugee camps more risky than otherwise since they can be assaulted while traveling with their belongings.