The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has provided some high-profile validation for a core premise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency. A blog post this week based on an earlier Fed research paper said that “Bitcoin units have no intrinsic value”—but added that currencies “such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Swiss franc…have no intrinsic value either.”
The post, titled “Three Ways Bitcoin is Like Regular Currency,” doesn’t precisely endorse Bitcoin or cryptocurrency. In another recent report, the St. Louis Fed was critical of Bitcoin’s inefficiency. Cryptocurrency has also become rife with scams since its surge in value last year, and may constitute a global risk because it enables clandestine money laundering, capital flight, and tax evasion.
But the St. Louis Fed has provided a credible rebuttal to one of the most widespread and misguided criticisms of cryptocurrency: That, because it isn’t tied to a particular real-world commodity, it should have a monetary value of zero. As Fed researchers point out, since decoupling from the gold standard in the early 1970s, almost all global reserve currencies rely on nothing but trust to function as a media of value exchange.
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In the case of the dollar, that’s mostly trust in the U.S. government and economy. For Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it’s trust in computer code and, at least to some extent, developers.
Surprisingly, the Fed’s new statement also echoes one of the predominant arguments that cryptocurrency fans use to disparage government-backed currency—though in a rather roundabout way. The post argues in part that “there’s a limited supply” of both cash and Bitcoin. The libertarian boosters at the heart of the crytpocurrency movement have often argued that Bitcoin is better than government currency because central banks can devalue national currencies through inflation, while Bitcoin has a strictly fixed supply. Though the Fed’s post points out that it doesn’t actually print cash—in the sense of physical notes—it acknowledges its ability to expand the money supply.