Guest Post: "Central Bank Digital Currencies - A Cautionary Tale", by metallionaire

For those of us that study sound money, much of the following may be familiar territory but for most people, it is a strange new world to which they have never given much thought. Please feel free to distribute this short essay, if you feel it is worthy, to any friends or family members in the hopes it opens their eyes and minds to see what might be coming. -metallionaire

CBDCs - A Cautionary Tale

Banks and militaries have always utilized the leading-edge technologies available at any given time. This may not be so surprising when one considers that these two institutions are charged with protecting the nation’s realm and riches – arguably the two most important assets that protect a nation’s sovereignty.

In the following discussion, we will examine how evolving technology has changed the way in which we interact with banks and the profound impact this is having on the way we live. My initial working title for this essay was “From Sovereignty to Servitude” - I think it succinctly describes the path that we are on.

The day-to-day operations of banking remained more or less stable for the first sixty years of the twentieth century. Depositors were issued a pass book for each bank account they held with the bank and these provided physical proof of their current account status. A one-line ledger-entry was recorded in handwriting by a bank teller for each deposit, withdrawal or interest payment in chronological order in the book. The bank kept a corresponding paper ledger for each account holder and every deposit and withdrawal was recorded by the bank teller on the customer’s account ledger page at the time that a transaction occurred. Whenever a passbook or a bank’s ledger page was filled a new one was issued and this record-keeping was strictly maintained and verified on a daily basis. Tellers were not permitted to leave the bank at night until their ledgers balanced and stories abounded of midnight sessions trying to find an errant entry until the omission was discovered and the books balanced. The only tools available to resolve any imbalance was a hand-cranked adding machine and the teller’s own mathematical and deductive skills and, when absolutely necessary, the involvement of an account supervisor or bank manager. It was a tedious, labor intensive system and required banks to seek employees who were attentive, dedicated, mathematically skilled and clear headed.

The technological limitations at the time placed significant constraints on the banks’ ability to manage anything more complex than a single ledger-entry for each deposit and withdrawal, plus a single-line entry for an annual or semi-annual calculation of interest accrued. Even this was a challenging exercise from the bank’s perspective. To calculate interest, an account manager would studiously survey each client’s ledger pages, seek the line where the amount held on balance was the minimum for the period in consideration and then perform a simple arithmetic calculation, based on the bank’s current interest rate policy and, then, enter a one-line ledger-entry indicating the interest that had accrued. Whenever a customer came to make a subsequent transaction, the interest would be penned in, as a one-line ledger-entry in their pass book.

This handwritten, single ledger-entry system applied to citizens and businesses, alike, and represented the entire relationship most people had with their bank. Certainly, the banks were also involved in arranging mortgages and loans but we will overlook that aspect for this discussion. For most clients, the only two forms of transactions were in the form of cash or checks. When a customer withdrew cash, the bank recorded the date and the amount and that was it. The client could take that cash and use it to make multiple purchases in the community over an extended number of days. None of these transactions were recorded or known to the banks or to any other institutions, either private or public. Over the course of a week, for example, the customer might make ten, fifteen, twenty or more purchases of gasoline, groceries, rent, sundries, entertainment, medicines, etc., and all of that would be anonymous and undocumented aside from the participants to the transaction. In this system, a single ledger-entry at the bank encompassed multiple transactions in the community. In the same manner, businesses acquired cash or checks for their multiple transactions over the course of each business day and their deposit book would record the specific checks received and the aggregate totals for their cash sales. Again, one bank ledger-entry represented multiple transactions by the business owner. The banks had little or no idea who their account holders were transacting with or for what or for how much money.

It wasn’t a case that banks were not interested in acquiring more information but, rather, that the system in use was the optimum system they could maintain, given the technology of the time and the financial costs of maintaining the ledgers required.

Fast forward to the late 1960s and the first commercially-capable computers began to augment the ability for banks to maintain more comprehensive records. For the first time, the processing power became available to maintain a separate ledger entry for every transaction and banks quickly moved to capitalize on this ability – enter the personal credit card! Credit cards were issued to creditworthy customers with strict monthly limits but these extended the right to customers to self –authorize small debt obligations, on demand, to make purchases. This was a great advancement for the banking industry. It was sold as a convenience to clients but also enabled the banks, for the first time ever, to track every transaction.

Other banking features were introduced that included daily interest on premium savings accounts, rewards programs, and a slew of other incentive programs, all made possible by the efficiency of the new technologies available. Banking was invading the private transactional space of its clients in ways never before dreamed possible.

As computing power evolved, debit cards and other “conveniences” were offered to clients to make purchases seamless and spontaneous. All the while, the banks were developing more detailed information on client’s transactions and financial status. Special “rewards-based” credit cards were issued that incentivized the use of credit and debit card transactions over cash payments as these had the dual advantage to the bank of providing more information about buying behavior and they also maximized the fees and interest the banks collected. Every transaction became a source of revenue for the banks in ways that never existed when cash was king.

By the 1980s, the use of cash for transactions began to decline rapidly in favor of the convenience of debit and credit cards. Technology now made it quite easy for banks to maintain ledger entries for each and every transaction for each customer and every business client. Monthly statements even provided clients with breakdowns by transaction type to provide an overview of where expenditures (or receipts in the case of vendors) were being allocated. This appeared to be for the benefit of clients but you can be assured the banks were using this information to develop marketing models and projections of various kinds. The banks could now maintain a database on every client indicating where they were spending their money, what they were buying, what times of day and days of the week they were active, and much more. This information enabled banks and business to build models on purchasing behavior and use that information to target advertising that was specific to particular clients. Cash became optional and many people ventured out on a daily basis with only their bank cards as a means of payment. The days of anonymous transactions were a thing of the past for most people.

The continual march toward greater computing power in the banking industry led to the development of sophisticated transactional databases that went far beyond a listing of purchases and sales. Banks were no longer content to just keep tabs on transactions. They began to develop pattern-recognition software that had predictive capabilities. Governments and banks, alike, had a special interest in developing client-based matrices that could provide information on what clients were doing, where they were traveling, who they were interacting with, what diseases they might be treating, what they are likely to do next Tuesday at 7pm. A symbiosis of banking and government interests began to emerge and this accelerated dramatically in the aftermath of 911.

Suddenly, making an anonymous purchase or storing cash became a suspicious activity. Anyone who sought privacy in their financial matters was suspect. Information technology in the twenty-first century was now pervasive and powerful enough to monitor all communications, all transactions, all movements, all internet searches and more. The idea that people could make anonymous purchases without any tracking information was now seen as contrary to the interests of the nation and deemed to be a potential threat. While cash has always been available, access to cash in larger quantities are recorded and often restricted or even prohibited. ALL cash transactions are viewed suspiciously. None of this surveillance state would have been possible without the technology platforms that support it.

As we creep toward the first-quarter mark of this new century, a new reality is confronting us. Once again, the technology has advanced and the computing power to maintain very complex database ledgers is at hand. Coupled with the institutionalized paranoia that now pervades every crevice of government, there is a move afoot to enlarge the behavioral matrix attached to our transaction records. To do this, cash and all cash-equivalents must be banned. Only digital forms of money can be tolerated if “threats” are to be eliminated - for it is in those dark alleys of cash transactions where the terrorists and truth-deniers are presumed to reign!

The new system being proposed is innocuously labelled as a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC’s). This new form of digital money would be sanctioned by governments but issued by central banks and be proposed as a solution to the economic imbalances that have emerged in our society. It would be sold as a benefit but it is the singularly most dangerous control mechanism ever devised, enabled only by the vast technological structures that have evolved over the past half-century.

Put as simply as possible a Central Bank digital currency system would merge three separate database capabilities into one massive integrated transactional/behavioral matrix that would double as the most advanced social control mechanism ever imagined. The existing systems used for tracking transactions would form the basis of the records-keeping of transactions. An additional matrix, specific to each person, would track their compliance with regulations, their political leanings, religious beliefs, travel itineraries, social acquaintances, purchasing tendencies and other personal attributes that would calculate an ongoing “social score” that could be used to limit or redirect the ability to transact, A third matrix would reward or impose compliance to a host of specific governmental programs and initiatives.

As we know, governments are actively promoting the purchase of electric vehicles. With a CBDC system they could input variables into the database that would automatically generate a 20% reward applied to any “monies” directed toward such a purchase. Conversely, the purchase of meat over a specified “recommended limit” might shrink your purchasing power by 50%. Hoarding might be denied at the checkout wicket with hard limits imposed on any items the government may want to control. Fossil fuels purchases, for example, might be severely curtailed. Money would become elastic, time-sensitive, and extinguishable, based on your past behavior or institutionally-imposed incentives. Your “money” would become a variable quantity based on a litany of issues and variables, over which you would have no control.

CBDCs enable banks and governments to incentivize, limit or redirect behavior at their whim. They would gain total control over your spending habits and lifestyle. Anonymity would evaporate entirely and any deviation from the directives of the overlords who control the system might deny you access to the basics of life despite an apparent cash balance that appears in your account. Digital fines or penalties for non-compliance could make it impossible to access your account or to reduce your account to zero, with no recourse, at the whim of an agent who decides that your actions are no longer acceptable. Once this Pandora’s Box is opened, all sorts of preferential or punitive treatment is possible and fair play or logic are not to be assumed. Some people might be given extra buying power for favorable actions on their part. Welfare, reparations or other special treatment might be granted surreptitiously, without public consensus. Conversely, money could be denied or extracted from your account for reasons that might defy logic or any semblance of fair play – remember the Canadian Truckers? Expiry dates could be imposed on some (or all) of your money making it necessary for you to spend it or lose it. All sorts of limitations could be placed on ones’ accounts and these could be uniquely imposed on one person or group of people at the will of the banks or governments that coordinate the system.

The bankers are certain to make every effort to allay our fears and make it appear that CBDCs are a very beneficial system at the outset but, once installed, there will be no escape from the system. Converting digital money to hard assets might prove to be impossible after the barn door is closed. Governments might say that they will guarantee our rights will be protected but look around and ask yourself if there is any evidence that any governments honor their word on anything!

All of this is scary stuff and it is not the product of a wild imagination or some conspiracy theory. Various institutions have already made public announcements of their plans to introduce CBDCs at some point. Some countries have already announced CBDC trial runs in the near future. The concept is being soft-pedaled as a means of convenience and a way for governments to issue welfare payments, incentive checks and rebates in an orderly and efficient manner but it is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Once the system is widely adopted, we will all be corralled into a digital prison that exceeds any horror stories we can conjure.

Individual resistance might be futile but there is still the opportunity to GOTS - at least in part. This acronym was postulated by the late Jim Sinclair and was his call to ‘Get Out Of The System’ as much as possible, while you still can. Storing wealth in tangible assets that can be kept outside the banking system may be a lifeline to future survival. GOTS is a major challenge for all of us urban dwellers but it is sage advice to follow, in any small way that you can!

Sound money and hard assets will give you sovereignty over your life. CBDCs will inevitably lead to servitude.

Once CBDCs become pervasive, I see barter as the only path back to monetary sovereignty. I will post some thoughts on strategies to Build Back Barter, in the near future.

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Key Economic Events Week of 4/8

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