Facebook Inc. is once again defending Libra — this time against fears that the envisioned cryptocurrency could replace sovereign currencies from the U.S. dollar to the Euro and threaten central banks’ control over money creation.
David Marcus, the executive leading the project, posted a series of tweets the same day members of the Libra Association met with regulators convened by a G-7 working group in Switzerland. He argued that creating Libra isn’t the digital equivalent of printing U.S. dollars or minting new euros. The simple existence of Libra, he says, doesn’t create new value.
Facebook’s crypto plans, unveiled in June, have faced intense push-back from regulators all over the world. One of the biggest concerns is that the new digital currency will be used by smugglers, drug dealers and terrorists. Another is that the social media giant, which has run afoul of regulators over user data in the past, should not be trusted to handle sensitive financial information. Facebook has said repeatedly it would be just one of many companies managing the new currency.
“Recently there’s been a lot of talk about how Libra could threaten the sovereignty of nations when it comes to money,” Marcus tweeted. “Libra will be backed 1:1 by a basket of strong currencies. This means that for any unit of Libra to exist, there must be the equivalent value in its reserve,” he tweeted. “As such there’s no new money creation, which will strictly remain the province of sovereign nations.”
In a follow-up call after Marcus’s tweets, Christian Catalini, the lead economist inside Facebook working on Libra, declined to say whether or not the issue came up during Monday’s meeting. But he did say that this element of Libra is one of many that are “misunderstood or not correctly interpreted.”
“All of the design of Libra is really around being a complement of fiat [currencies], not a substitute,” he said.
Libra does not yet exist, and Facebook has pledged that it will not launch until regulators are appeased. It hopes to start the currency sometime in 2020.
The concern from regulators is that giving over the control of currency creation to Facebook — or any private company — would strip governments of one of their greatest assets: monetary policy. The response from central banks has varied from active engagement as in the case of Singapore, to China considering its own equivalent.
In a blog post from July on Harvard Law School’s forum for “corporate governance and financial regulation,” three professors who wrote a paper about regulating Libra argued that it posed a threat to sovereign governments.
“Once Libra becomes well established in some countries, national governments will lose control of their money supply and lose monetary policy as a tool of economic expansion or contraction,” the post reads. “They will also lose the capacity, in times of severe uncertainty, to impose capital controls to prevent capital flight. All of these changes may well prove highly destabilising to the entire global financial system.”
Catalini disagrees. He says that even for countries whose currency is not part of Libra’s reserve, there is little fear of Libra replacing local tender because of how the digital coin will be used. Its main purpose, Catalini says, is to help with payments that include lots of fees or burdens, like cross-border money transfers. It will be less useful for day-to-day commerce, he added.
“It’s unlikely that Libra will be used locally because the local currencies have better properties” for local commerce, he said.