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The economics of digital currencies

- Although digital currencies could, in theory, serve as money for anybody with an internet-enabled device, at present they act as money only to a limited extent and only for relatively few people.
- The economics of the schemes as currently designed, both in terms of individuals’ incentives and at a macroeconomic level, pose significant challenges to their widespread adoption.
- Digital currencies do not currently pose a material risk to monetary or financial stability in the United Kingdom. The Bank continues to monitor developments in this area.

Digital currencies represent both innovations in payment systems and a new form of currency. This article examines the economics of digital currencies and presents an initial assessment of the risks that they may, in time, pose to the Bank of England’s objectives for monetary and financial stability. A companion piece provides an introduction to digital currency schemes, including some historical context for their development and an outline of how they work.

From the perspective of economic theory, whether a digital currency may be considered to be money depends on the extent to which it acts as a store of value, a medium of exchange and a unit of account. How far an asset serves these roles can differ, both from person to person and over time. And meeting these economic definitions does not necessarily imply that an asset will be regarded as money for legal or regulatory purposes. At present, digital currencies are used by relatively few people. For these people, data suggest that digital currencies are primarily viewed as stores of value — albeit with significant volatility in their valuations (see summary chart) — and are not typically used as media of exchange. At present, there is little evidence of digital currencies being used as units of account.

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Vendredi 24 Avril 2015

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