Technology experts warn that for all the promise of new cryptographic systems (on which many new ideas are based), a new system can take 5-10 years to “harden.” What country would want to be a financial guinea pig?

China’s new digital currency offers a third, intermediate vision. As the G30 report describes in greater detail than previously available, China’s approach involves eventually replacing most paper currency, but not replacing banks. In other words, consumers would still hold accounts at banks, which in turn would hold accounts with the central bank.

When consumers want cash, however, instead of getting paper currency (which is rapidly becoming passé in Chinese cities anyway), they would receive tokens in their digital wallet at the central bank. Like cash, the central-bank digital currency would pay zero interest, giving interest-bearing bank accounts a competitive edge.

Of course, the government can change its mind later and start offering interest; banks may also lose their edge if the general level of interest rates collapses. This framework does take away the anonymity of paper currency, but many monetary authorities, including the European Central Bank, have discussed ideas for introducing anonymous low-value payments.

Last, but not least, a shift to digital currencies would make it easier to implement deeply negative interest rates, which, as I have argued for many years, would go a long way toward restoring the potency of monetary policy in crises. One way or another, the post-pandemic world will move very fast in payments technologies. Central banks cannot afford to play catch-up.

Kenneth Rogoff, professor of economics and public policy at Harvard University and recipient of the 2011 Deutsche Bank Prize in Financial Economics, was the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund from 2001 to 2003. The co-author of "This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly," his new book, "The Curse of Cash," was released in August 2016.

©Project Syndicate

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