Plenty of investment banks have been expressing an interest in the blockchain. It’s the underlying technology that allows cryptocurrencies like bitcoin to exist.
The blockchain a sort of ledger that tracks transactions without an intermediary like a bank, and it’s the something that the financial industry is excited about.
But according to HSBC, interest may spread beyond investment banks and towards central banks, the state monetary authorities responsible for the country’s currency.
In countries like the US and UK, the central banks — the Federal Reserve and Bank of England, respectively — are there to focus on keeping the economy growing, and control inflation at a relatively low and stable level.
According to a note from HSBC, central banks could use the blockchain for a policy that’s even more unconventional than quantitative easing. It could apparently make helicopter drops of money, sent from the central bank to households, much easier.
That’s likely to sound like really bad news from the perspective of some big cryptocurrency fans, who think the blockchain is great precisely because it can facilitate currencies and transactions that don’t rely on central banks.
HSBC’s basic argument is that up until now, trying to ease the economy through interest rates has been a central bank’s main method. At least that way, banks and borrowers provide a sort of control over the policies. The central bank encourages private credit creation, or inside money, backed by debt.
There are a couple of problems with that. Firstly, you can’t guarantee how much money will actually be supplied to the real economy. That’s ultimately the choice of the banks. Secondly, the creation of debt is an issue — too much of that can slow down growth in itself, especially if it’s created for unproductive ventures.
But “helicopter money” would be outside money — injecting money directly from a central bank, and not representing a debt held somewhere else in the private sector. Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman referred to dropping money out of helicopters decades ago, meaning a direct stimulus from the central bank that didn’t have to go through the private credit system.
HSBC outlines the trust problem with helicopter money — in short, people are rightly sceptical of a central bank’s ability to work out how much help the economy actually needs. If it’s too much, helicopter money could be wildly inflationary.
Here’s how they think the blockchain could help with that:
If we move towards an economy where all transactions become recorded in real-time on a Blockchain type of technology, it will not be too dissimilar to the current eco-systems that many ecommerce giants have around the globe. Online e-commerce stores are able to give out loans to merchants without collateral, because they know all the flows already from the merchants’ point of view: from how much people are spending to the conversion rate of pages viewed to purchases. In the same way, a modernised monetary transmission system, based on real-time big data analysis through Blockchain, could allow the government to balance the economy more efficiently and systematically.
In short, the blockchain would allow the government to know a huge amount more about what’s actually happening in the economy.
They also include two graphics, one of which demonstrates the current way that central banks try to influence interest rates:
You can see above that the central bank isn’t actually pumping money directly into the economy, but rather using banks as intermediaries.
Below, the process between the blockchain and the process of bringing in helicopter money is pretty direct.