Policy brief

Cryptocurrencies and monetary policy

Can cryptocurrencies acquire the role of money? And what are the implications for central banks and monetary policy? Read the policy contribution to u

Publishing date
28 June 2018

This policy contribution was prepared for the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs of the European Parliament (ECON) as an input for the Monetary Dialogue of 9 July 2018 between ECON and the President of the ECB. The original paper is available on the European Parliament’s webpage (here). Copyright remains with the European Parliament at all times.

This Policy Contribution tries to answer two main questions: can cryptocurrencies acquire the role of money? And what are the implications for central banks and monetary policy?

Money is a social institution that serves as a unit of account, a medium of exchange and a store of value. With the emergence of decentralised ledger technology (DLT), cryptocurrencies represent a new form of money: privately issued, digital and enabling peer-to-peer transactions.

Historically, currencies fulfil their main functions successfully when their value is stable and their user network sufficiently large. So far, cryptocurrencies are arguably falling short against these criteria. They resemble speculative assets rather than money. Primarily this is because of their inherent volatility, which is the by-product of their inelastic supply, and which limits their widespread use as a medium of exchange.
Cryptocurrency protocols could theoretically evolve to limit their volatility and correct their current deficiencies. If successful, this could lead to an increase in their popularity as an alternative to official currencies. A successful alternative to official currencies could put pressure on those who manage official currencies to provide better policies.

But the widespread substitution of central bank currency for cryptocurrencies would effectively create parallel currencies. This by itself could create risks to the effectiveness of monetary policy, to financial stability and ultimately to growth.

Nevertheless, the risks of cryptocurrencies becoming serious contenders remain small as long as fiat currencies issued by the world’s major central banks continue to deliver effectively the three traditional functions of money. It would take a deep crisis of trust in official currencies for their widespread substitution by cryptocurrencies to materialise.

For cryptocurrencies to replace official currencies they would have to overcome a triple challenge. First, the supply of cryptocurrency would need to act as an instrument (or identify a different instrument) that affects the economy. Second, in the presence of fractional reserve banking, the supply would need to respond to liquidity crises and act as a lender of last resort in order to safeguard financial stability. Third, there would need to be a system of checks and balances to keep the agent, ie the cryptocurrency issuer, accountable to the principal, ie society, which is not possible because cryptocurrencies are automatically and privately-issued. For these reasons, official currencies controlled by inflation-targeting independent central banks still appear to be a far superior technology than cryptocurrencies to provide the money functions.

About the authors

  • Grégory Claeys

    Grégory Claeys, a French and Spanish citizen, joined Bruegel as a research fellow in February 2014, before being appointed senior fellow in April 2020.

    Grégory’s research interests include international macroeconomics and finance, central banking and European governance. From 2006 to 2009 Grégory worked as a macroeconomist in the Economic Research Department of the French bank Crédit Agricole. Prior to joining Bruegel he also conducted research in several capacities, including as a visiting researcher in the Financial Research Department of the Central Bank of Chile in Santiago, and in the Economic Department of the French Embassy in Chicago. Grégory is also an Associate Professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris where he is teaching macroeconomics in the Master of Finance. He previously taught undergraduate macroeconomics at Sciences Po in Paris.

    He holds a PhD in Economics from the European University Institute (Florence), an MSc in economics from Paris X University and an MSc in management from HEC (Paris).

    Grégory is fluent in English, French and Spanish.

     

  • Maria Demertzis

    Maria Demertzis is the Deputy Director at Bruegel and part-time Professor of Economic Policy at the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute in Florence. She has previously worked at the European Commission and the research department of the Dutch Central Bank. She has also held academic positions at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in the USA and the University of Strathclyde in the UK, from where she holds a PhD in economics. She has published extensively in international academic journals and contributed regular policy inputs to both the European Commission's and the Dutch Central Bank's policy outlets. She contributes regularly to national and international press.

  • Konstantinos Efstathiou

    Konstantinos, a Greek citizen, works in Bruegel as an Affiliate Fellow in the Macroeconomics and Governance area. Before joining Bruegel, Konstantinos was at the European Commission, as a Blue Book Trainee in the Cabinet of President Juncker. He also interned at the Central Bank of Luxembourg (BCL) as a research assistant, involved in projects related to the Wage Dynamics Network (WDN) research group.

    He holds a Master in International Economics and International Relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where he specialized in Quantitative Methods and European Studies.

    Konstantinos’ research interests include macroeconomics, European economic governance and international economics.

    Konstantinos is a native speaker of Greek, speaks fluent English and has good knowledge of French.

    Declaration of interests 2017

    Declaration of interests 2018

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