Leonid Bershidsky: Authoritarian cryptocurrencies are coming


By Leonid Bershidsky
Bloomberg News
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

With Russia and China both embracing the idea of sovereign cryptocurrencies, it's time to ask a simple question: Why is a technology threatening to decentralize money so attractive to highly centralized, authoritarian regimes?

Last weekend Argumenti i Fakti, a pro-government newspaper, quoted Russian Communication Minister Nikolai Nikiforov as saying President Vladimir Putin had ordered the swift launching of a "crypto-ruble." According to the report, Nikiforov said the currency would use "Russian cryptography" and would be impossible to "mine" like bitcoin because it would be "a closed model with a definite volume of regulated emission." This follows statements by Central Bank Governor Elvira Nabiullina and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov, who stressed the need for the Russian state to bring cryptocurrency emission and use under control.

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Nikidforov's vague description of the crypto-ruble sounds similar to recent unofficial Chinese proposals. Yao Qian, deputy director of the People's Bank of China's technology division, has discussed a central bank-issued electronic currency for which commercial banks would administer "wallets." Other Chinese officials and state-affiliated researchers have also echoed the idea.

To those who believe bitcoin's main innovation is the exclusion of a central authority -- a peer-to-peer system in which transactions are validated by "miners" -- the interest of China and Russia is baffling. But those governments aren't looking to give up control to the blockchain. On the contrary, they are trying to figure out how to lower the cost for a centralized issuer to control everything that's going on in the financial system. ...

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