In his introductory remarks, James A. Dorn, Cato’s vice president for monetary studies, noted that the topic is not entirely new to Cato. In 1996, the 14th annual conference focused on the theme “The Future of Money in the Information Age.” The proceedings were published a year later along with other articles, including Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan advocating for the private sector to have freedom to innovate digital payment systems. Cato scholars continued to examine the topic over the years, including at a 2016 conference, “Cryptocurrency: The Policy Challenges of a Decentralized Revolution.”
Twenty‐four years after the Monetary Conference first considered the topic, the prospect of digital currency and online payment systems is no longer hypothetical. Peer‐to‐peer systems such as bitcoin, launched in 2009, have since grown tremendously. In 2020, the market cap for bitcoin alone is nearly $200 billion. While this is a small portion of traditional currencies such as the dollar, it is still substantial and poses profound questions about the future of money.
The possibility of competing private currencies has long been a topic of interest to libertarians and free‐market economists, including F. A. Hayek. One important question is whether central banks should themselves launch their own digital currencies to compete in this market, alongside both traditional notes and private digital currencies.