Robert Hockett joins Steve to talk about his latest book, The Citizens’ Ledger: Digitizing Our Money, Democratizing Our Future. The episode is right at home in our archive of interviews around the topics of fintech, digital wallets, cryptocurrency, CBDCs, and privacy. We urge our listeners to look up past episodes featuring Brett Scott and Rohan Grey.
Just about everyone acknowledges that digital payment systems offer enormous convenience, but we’re equally aware they come with a cost – we lose all claim to privacy. Bob presents sound arguments for halting the private takeover of the public commons.
“If we think in terms of the commons ... you might say that what the private sector fintech industry is trying to do, and what the private sector crypto industry seems to be trying to do, is to displace actual physical cash; in effect to take away that commons and replace it with a bunch of proprietary fiefdoms.”
Cryptopians, as Bob calls them, are touting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as creating some kind of democratic new world of sovereign selfhood. This is patently absurd. Bob makes the case that we could develop a digital system – a digital wallet – with all the attractive attributes of cash, including privacy and universal accessibility.
Bob describes a way for individuals to pay, receive, and save, while completely bypassing private banks and financial institutions. He says it could be run by the Fed, the Treasury, or both. The Fed would have new monetary tools that directly benefit people instead of banks.
Steve and Bob discuss concerns about government overreach and consider the kinds of regulatory laws that would need to be in place.
As for privacy, well, do you have a smartphone with GPS? Are you making purchases online? Or with a credit card? It’s already too easy to peer into our lives. Unlike private entities, neither the Fed nor the Treasury are profiting from our transactions.
“Obviously it's like a never-ending quest to get our data protected and to prevent overreach by federal agencies ... But all I mean to say is that I don't think that introducing the system introduces new vulnerabilities that aren't already there.”
Bob usually has a rosier view than we do at Macro N Cheese, but he always gives us something to chew on. This episode will have you thinking about history, policy, and possibilities.
Robert C. Hockett is an American lawyer, law professor, and policy advocate. He holds two positions at Cornell University and is senior counsel at investment firm Westwood Capital, LLC. His latest book is The Citizens’ Ledger: Digitizing Our Money, Democratizing Our Future.