Bips and bytes 字节支付

2020.8


A shift from paper to virtual money will give central banks more power
从纸币到虚拟货币的转变将赋予央行更多控制权 

 

经济学人

 

 

Paper’s past it AMERICA’S FEDERAL RESERVE recognised the disruptive potential of electronic money long ago. “This is a service which it is expected will be more and more availed of as the ease and economy of using it are understood,” its New York arm declared in a report. The year was 1917, and the Fed had just started allowing banks to transfer funds by telegram free of any interest charge. More than a century on, central banks are grappling with another technological revolution: the rise of mobile payments and the turn away from cash.
美联储很早就认识到了电子货币潜在的颠覆性。“随着它的便利性和经济性逐渐为人所知,预计会有越来越多人使用这种服务。”纽约联储曾在一份报告中这样宣称。时值1917年,美联储刚刚开始允许银行通过电报汇款而不收取任何利息。一个多世纪后的今天,各国央行正在努力应对另一场技术革命——移动支付的兴起和对现金的摒弃。
Just as in the early 20th century, when central banks created telegraph transfer networks, they are now coming to the view that they must design their own digital-payment networks in order to retain control of their monetary systems. One idea gaining favour is to issue a so-called central-bank digital currency (CBDC), which would exist only as electrons on a computer chip, rather than a coin or bill. Roughly 80% of central banks are doing some kind of CBDC work, from research to trials, according to one survey. Although still early, it is a trend that could give rise to tantalising new possibilities for monetary policy.
和在上世纪初创建电汇网络时一样,央行现在开始认识到,必须设计出自己的数字支付网络以保持对货币体系的控制。一种日渐流行的构想是发行所谓的央行数字货币(以下简称CBDC),它不是硬币或纸币,而只是存在于电脑芯片上的电子。一项调查显示,大约80%的央行正在开展某种CBDC方面的研究和试点等工作。尽管还处于初始阶段,但这种趋势可能给货币政策带来诱人的新契机。
Most central bankers were sceptical about CBDCs at first, but in recent months their views have turned more positive, according to an analysis of their speeches by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), a club of central banks (see chart). Partly, that is because they are now more familiar with the concept. China has already put the digital yuan into use on a limited test basis, and Sweden is close to that with the e-krona. The coronavirus pandemic has added to the urgency as more people shop online or pay with contactless cards or phones rather than cash.
大多数央行官员起初都对CBDC持怀疑态度,不过央行俱乐部国际清算银行(BIS)分析了他们的讲话(见图表),显示他们的态度在近几个月变得更正面了。部分原因是他们现在对这一概念有了更多了解。中国已经在小范围试点使用数字人民币,瑞典的电子克朗也已接近试点阶段。新冠疫情让更多人选择网购或采用非接触式银行卡或手机来支付,而不再使用现金,令发行CBDC愈加迫切。 
The primary motivation for issuing a CBDC is likely to be defensive. The gradual demise of cash poses two basic risks. First, online-payment systems could fail, suffering outages or hacks. To safeguard the integrity of their currencies, central banks hope to offer fail-safe digital alternatives.
发行CBDC的初衷很可能是出于防御的需要。现金的逐渐消失构成了两大风险。首先,在线支付系统可能因故障或黑客入侵等问题而失灵。为保护本国货币完好无损,各国央行希望发行有故障保险功能的数字货币。
The second risk is that private-sector systems are too successful, with more people switching to payment platforms offered by big tech firms such as Facebook or Tencent. Many central banks began taking this risk more seriously when Facebook unveiled its plans for a digital currency in 2019. As Hyun Song Shin, head of research at the BIS, has put it, a shift towards such currencies would be like moving the economy from a town-square market—where all vendors happily accept cash—to competition between full-service department stores. Once popular enough, the department stores could stop you from shopping elsewhere and might also introduce new fees. Regulators could require private payment platforms to interconnect, but a well-designed CBDC would help ensure that this happens, by forming a digital bridge between different systems.
第二个风险是私营部门的系统太过成功,更多的人都转向了Facebook或腾讯等大型科技公司提供的支付平台。Facebook在2019年公布其数字货币计划后,许多央行开始认真看待这一风险。正如国际清算银行的研究部门负责人申炫松所说,向这类数字货币的转变就像是让经济从一个现金大行其道的城镇集市走向提供全方位服务且彼此竞争的百货公司体系。一旦这些百货公司占领了足够大的市场,它们就可以阻止人们在别处购物,还可能加收新费用。监管机构可以要求不同的私人支付平台之间实现互通,但设计良好的CBDC将有助于确保真的做到这一点,因为它可以在不同系统之间搭建数字桥梁。
European central bankers are most exercised by the effects of a privately run digital currency on competition and the consumer interest. The Fed seems farther away from considering the idea, in part because Americans are keener on cash. 欧洲的央行官员最担心的是私营数字货币对竞争和消费者利益的影响。而美联储似乎更不愿意考虑CBDC,部分原因是美国人更热衷使用现金。 CBDCs also give central banks more control. They could allow for transactions to be easily tracked, perhaps making them more alluring to China’s authorities. In the West, where surveys show that the public cares more about privacy, CBDCs may need to ensure anonymity, without circumventing anti-money-laundering checks.
CBDC还赋予央行更多控制权。它们让交易更容易被追踪,这或许会增加它们对中国政府的吸引力。在西方,调查显示民众更关心隐私,因此它们可能需要在不逃避反洗钱检查的前提下保证匿名性。
Where things get really interesting from a theoretical perspective are the implications for monetary policy. This is particularly the case if the new currencies are “retail” CBDCs, made available for use by the public. (A less exciting option would be to issue “wholesale” CBDCs exclusively to commercial banks, much as they already get funds from the central bank, albeit underpinned by whizzier technology.)
从理论上看,让这件事变得真正有意思的是它对货币政策的影响。如果新的数字货币是可供民众使用的“零售型”CBDC,就更是如此。而如果是仅向商业银行发行“批发型”CBDC,就像它们现在已经在从央行获得资金那样,相对而言就没那么激动人心,尽管它们有更先进的技术做支撑。
CBDCs may make it easier to implement negative interest rates. Unlike old-fashioned cash, digital fiat can be programmed. For now, rates cannot go too negative, because savers can always demand cash, which by definition offers an interest rate of zero. But if digital cash is programmed to have a negative interest rate, people would have fewer fallbacks and central banks more flexibility.
CBDC也许能让负利率更易实施。与传统的现金不同,法定数字货币可被编程。就目前而言,利率还不能降为太大的负值,因为储户总可以要求拿回现金,而现金本质上提供的是零利率。但如果数字货币被设定为负利率,人们的回退策略更少,央行却有了更大的操作空间。
Central bankers might also be tempted by the potential for targeted interventions—much to the horror of those already worried about the clout of unelected monetary officials. Rather than lending to commercial banks, central banks would be able to top up individual currency accounts. During a downturn, they could transfer funds to those with low balances. After a natural disaster, they could direct support to affected areas. And they could offer consumption rebates depending on how and where the money is spent.
吸引央行官员的另一点是他们有可能采取有针对性的干预措施——这让一些人感到非常恐惧,他们本就对非民选货币官员的影响力感到担忧。央行将能够向个人货币账户发钱,而不用向商业银行放贷。在经济低迷期,它们可以向低余额账户转账。自然灾害发生后,它们可以直接向灾区提供援助。此外它们还可以根据消费方式和地点提供消费补贴。
Yet these newfound powers would have drawbacks. For the CBDC to be a conduit for negative rates, countries would probably need to have eliminated cash, otherwise people could still opt for physical over virtual money. Moreover, if the CBDC does have a deeply negative interest rate, people might lose confidence in it. Savers could demand another currency or a different asset, such as gold. As for targeted interventions, there is a danger in programming too many special features into digital currencies. They would start to resemble securities with specific purposes, undermining the fungibility that has been a feature of money since the days of cowrie shells.
不过,这些新获得的权力也有其弊端。为了能通过CBDC实现负利率,各国很可能需要取消现金,否则人们仍然可以选择实体货币而避开虚拟货币。此外,如果CBDC真的实行过低的负利率,人们也可能对它失去信心。储户可能会选择另一种货币或者黄金等其他资产。至于针对性的干预措施,为数字货币设计过多的特殊功能也存在危险。它们会慢慢变得类似于特殊目的证券,削弱自贝币时代以来货币一直具有的可互换性。
Central banks would also have to pay heed to new vulnerabilities. In the event of a panic, savers could convert their bank deposits into their CBDC accounts, adding to stresses on the financial system. Even without a panic, strong demand for CBDCs could chip away at banks’ deposit bases, making them more reliant on wholesale funding, which is often more costly and less stable. Some economists argue that limits on withdrawals and on issuance might help avoid some of these effects.
央行还必须留意新的系统脆弱性。一旦出现恐慌,储户可能会将银行存款转换到CBDC账户中,从而增加金融体系的压力。即使没出现恐慌,对CBDC的强劲需求也可能侵蚀银行的存款基数,从而使它们更加依赖于成本往往更高且更不稳定的批发性融资。一些经济学家认为,限制提款和发行量可能有助于避免一部分影响。
In any case, the policy ramifications are the stuff of monetary fiction for now. A more practical concern is whether central banks can succeed in building sturdy, easy-to-use CBDCs. The past few months have brought several examples of failures in public technology, from overwhelmed unemployment websites in America to an abandoned coronavirus-tracing app in Britain. No government wants to see its currency crash, even if only virtually.
不管怎样,目前对货币的政策影响还只是一种假设。更实际的担忧是各国央行能否成功创建出牢靠易用的CBDC。过去几个月已经发生了好几起公共技术失败的例子,比如美国申领失业救济的网站被挤崩、英国新冠病毒追踪应用夭折等。没有哪个政府愿意看到本国货币崩溃,即使只是虚拟的钱。