Before I get into today’s essay, I want to acknowledge what’s happening in Israel and the Gaza Strip. It’s horrific.
Over the weekend, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel by air, sea, and land. They claimed the lives of over 700 people, many of them civilians, and took more than 100 hostages.
In response, Israel vowed a “mighty vengeance.” They retaliated with air strikes on Gaza, and the death count in Palestine has risen to 500 people.
As I write this, gun battles persist on the ground, escalating the tension and violence in the region. My heart goes out to all the innocent people killed and wounded in this evolving situation.
Of course, with all of that going on, it’s not always easy to find a way to transition to our core focus in these essays: the markets. But that’s what we are here to do.
What happened over the weekend raises concerns about the potential for a long, drawn-out regional conflict. That could disrupt oil supply from the Middle East and therefore the energy markets.
I see these factors continuing to put upward pressure on oil prices into 2024 and beyond. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has recently put out a forecast for rising oil consumption through 2024.
I’ll have more to say on this in future essays… Including its impact on the petrodollar system that keeps the U.S. dollar powerful on the global stage.
For today, I want to continue a conversation we started last week. I showed you how the global race to redefine our money is heating up.
At last month’s G20 summit in New Delhi, world leaders shone a spotlight on digitalization.
Powerhouse economies – including the U.S., Germany, Japan, the U.K., and France – embraced the roadmap for launching central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).
This roadmap is anchored around something they call DPI – short for Digital Public Infrastructure.
And it’s the G20’s playbook for launching a digital ID and a public instant payment system.
In the U.S., we already got a taste of the latter this summer when the Federal Reserve launched FedNow, its instant payment system. Regular readers know that I consider this a necessary precursor to a CBDC.
Today, I’ll show you what else is ahead in the G20’s digital roadmap.
Beware of G2P Bearing Gifts
You might recall the hefty 70-page document I mentioned last time.
It’s titled the “G20 Policy Recommendations for Advancing Financial Inclusion and Productivity Gains Through Digital Public Infrastructure.”
And there’s a phrase buried in that report that caught my attention: “government-to-person payments.” It popped up 24 times in the report.
Government-to-person, or G2P, payments are payments that flow straight from government coffers to individuals.
They come in many flavors – such as social security benefits, tax refunds, or a helping hand during disasters.
To be clear, G2P payments already exist. And they represent a lot of money worldwide.
Here’s how they stacked up on average throughout the last decade in developed countries with available data:
2.3% of GDP was funneled into social assistance payments
9.4% was allocated to pensions
13.5% was directed towards public wages
That’s an estimated $13-15 trillion a year for countries including the U.S., Canada, and Japan. And the tally climbs to $18-20 trillion if you add in developing countries.
Now, reading the G20 report, it’s tough to dismiss one idea: That the G20 leaders want to use G2P payments as a Trojan horse to weave CBDCs into the global financial fabric.
And the pandemic ignited a fire under this agenda.
In 2021, 28% of adults worldwide received payments from the government. It was an increase of 400 million people from just four years earlier.
It’s a massive shift. And it sets the stage for smoother adoption of CBDCs.
Even the G20 elites are candid about this. In their policy report, they said:
The increasing scale of G2P payment programs offers a huge opportunity to advance financial inclusion, contribute to women’s economic empowerment, and promote the development of the digital ecosystem.
You’ll notice the tone of nobility with broad catchphrases like “financial inclusion” and “women’s empowerment.”
And that, right there, is the Trojan horse.
By extending G2P payments as essential aid, authorities across the G20 and beyond can steer the world towards CBDC adoption.
As these payments become routine, transitioning to a CBDC-centric financial landscape will feel less daunting.
It will gradually ease us into a CBDC reality, all framed as financial aid and progress.
The Risks Outweigh the Benefits
Now, as I’ve said before, a CBDC isn’t necessarily all bad.
It’s a form of currency that only exists in cyberspace, allowing consumers to transact without a bank account.
This makes it a groundbreaking technology with the potential to catalyze innovations in the financial sector and foster new business models.
But the risks far outweigh the potential benefits.
And that’s because CBDCs will give central banks and governments almost unbreakable financial control over your life.
The possibilities and implications stemming from this are virtually limitless.
For instance, the government will be able to apply complex algorithms to taxation on any transaction in real time… and at little or no extra cost.
This could pave the way for even more taxes. From federal “sugar” taxes to control your consumption of sodas and candy… to alcohol taxes to curb your drinking… and tourist taxes to eke out even more money from you when you travel.
Your digital dollars would also be subject to paying interest, which would be automatically charged to your account.
Now, you might say, “But, Nomi, I already pay tax on interest earnings in my bank accounts.”
The difference is that this interest could be extracted at source rather than under our control when we file taxes. It’s a big deal when it comes to the government taking more control over our money.
And, if rates turn negative, as a CBDC holder you might have to pay a fraction to the Fed. Meaning each month, the Fed would take money out of your digital wallet. It’s like an extra tax on your savings.
Negative interest rates would also encourage consumers to spend their digital dollars – another useful tool for the Fed to influence the economy if it turned back to super-easy monetary policy.
In that event, this also presents an additional incentive for our central bank and government to maintain rates below 0% and (cause more distortions in the process).
A digital dollar would also enable the Fed to conjure even more money from thin air. That’s because it’s easier – and faster – to create an all-digital currency than a fiat currency.
This could lead to the U.S. dollar losing even more value. That would hurt your buying power when you shop for food, clothes, and other necessities.
And last, a CBDC could even be programmed so that you can only spend it if you meet certain requirements.
This means that, if you do something the government doesn’t like, they could fine you. Or even worse, at the push of a button, they could turn off your ability to transact.
And this isn’t just speculation. That’s exactly what happened in Canada last year, when the government froze hundreds of bank accounts connected to protesters.
Imagine how much easier it will be for the government to take away your financial power and freedom when all legal tender becomes digital.
Unfortunately, the global tide towards CBDCs suggests that the U.S. will likely transition to a digital form of the dollar too… Perhaps sooner than many anticipate.
That’s why I recently recorded an investigative report to help you end up on the right side of this shift.
In it, I go into more detail on what a digital dollar could mean for our financial system, for Americans, and for our money. You can watch it for free right here.
Editor, Inside Wall Street with Nomi Prins