Goodbye Paper Money: Does It Mean More Ways for the Banks to Screw Us?
Despite the deep thoughts and deeper concerns, it's not hard to see that our digital age perhaps deserves a fully digital currency, compliant across real and virtual geographies. In fact, we're pretty much already there, without admitting it.
"Nowadays, when the Federal Reserve prints money, it doesn't mint a new penny or dollar," Mikka Pineda, research analyst at famed economist Nouriel Roubini's think-tank Roubini Global Economics, explained to AlterNet. "It just changes numbers in bank accounts. Individuals can do this too, provided they have electronic access to their accounts. They can transfer money from one account to another, accept deposits and pay bills online."
With one major difference: Unlike the Fed, individuals actually have to back up their virtual ones and zeroes with so-called real money, in the form of deposits. So-called, because what they're really putting into their accounts, at least in America, are dollars, which are merely material symbols of real value made of paper. Or checks, which are even more hyperreal, given that they are just more paper signifying other paper that symbolizes real value. The spiral of economic signification is dizzying, especially when you start factoring in inscrutable fees, levies and other mostly invisible transactions that banks and other parasites attach to the light-speed movement of our money.
The dizziness increases when you factor in recent news from the Fed, whose controversial chairman Ben Bernanke argued in a February speech that America's central bank should no longer have to adhere to a fractional standard. In other words, its currently feverish ex nihilo money creation, more commonly known by the hilarious nomenclature "quantitative easing," finally wouldn't have to be supported by any minimum reserve requirements. That would, wrote Raw Story's Stephen Webster, make "free-floating, infinitely self-replicating capital a pervasive reality." A bottomless ATM machine, altogether unmoored from material value, or reality itself.
Keeping It Hyperreal
It's a logical endgame for such an illogical system of finance still dependent on currency paradigms created during the rise and fall of Jesus Christ, who stars in both America's money and motto, "In God We Trust." Indeed, our fiat currency, and those like the suspicious Fed entrusted with greasing its wheels, is nothing other than that trust made manifest. Paper money, silver and copper coins, bars of gold, whatever. The only thing that has any real value are the goods being exchanged, and the promises we make to each other to live by a set of rules governing our interactions. Pure digital currency is just that ages-old relationship rendered in bits and gigs, rather than dollars and cents.
"There's nothing shocking or strange about a purely digital currency," explained Jonathon Keats, the conceptual artist and Wired contributor who created the First Bank of Antimatter last year in San Francisco. "It's just a logical technological upgrade on old-fashioned paper money."