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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Central bank digital currencies, or CBDCs, represent the ultimate ratification of digital finance: Its adoption by the most venerated guardians of the international monetary architecture.

Why it matters: Crypto-evangelists often talk about CBDCs in awed terms. But it's far from clear that the bitcoin-and-ethereum crowd would ultimately benefit from money going digital.

How it works: The country with by far the most advanced digital currency is China — but eCNY, as the Chinese digital currency is known, is pretty much the exact opposite of bitcoin and everything it stands for.

  • It doesn't use blockchain technology. Instead, the ledger of who owns what is closely held at the Chinese central bank — and nowhere else.
  • While bitcoin is based on zero trust, eCNY requires full trust of the Chinese monetary authorities. If it goes global, then China will at all times know exactly how much of its currency you possess — and could zero you out for any or no reason.
  • While bitcoin is a deflationary currency designed to increase in value over time, eCNY is an inflationary currency designed to decrease in value over time. In fact, in its current incarnation, it expires worthless if it isn't spent within a few weeks.

The big picture: eCNY is an attempt by China to move toward a monetary and payments system wherein the Communist Party can have full visibility into, and control over, citizens' financial lives.

  • Other CBDCs won't necessarily go that far. But the ability to keep track of all transactions is part of why they're attractive to central banks that are losing the global war on money laundering.
  • CBDCs are also attractive to central banks precisely because if they're set up so that they can expire or lose their value over time, that would act as an incentive to spend, in countries that are struggling to reach their target inflation rates.

The bottom line: The power of central banks, both as issuers of currency and as financial regulators, is easily great enough to ensure that CBDC architecture replaces whatever nascent technologies are currently being built in the crypto space.

  • If that happens, then cryptocurrencies would become little more than digital collectibles — a store of value, perhaps, but one with no real transformative potential.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Technology

3D printing's next act: big metal objects

Chief Scientist Andy Bayramian makes modifications to the laser system on Seurat's 3D metal printer. Photo courtesy of Seurat Technologies.

A new metal 3D printing technology could revolutionize the way large industrial products like planes and cars are made, reducing the cost and carbon footprint of mass manufacturing.

Why it matters: 3D printing — also called additive manufacturing — has been used since the 1980s to make small plastic parts and prototypes. Metal printing is newer, and the challenge has been figuring out how to make things like large car parts faster and cheaper than traditional methods.

Updated 4 hours ago - Technology

Mayors see cryptocurrency as a way to address income inequality

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

At the U.S. Conference of Mayors' meeting in D.C. this week, there's buzz around the idea of giving cryptocurrency accounts to low-income people.

Why it matters: Cities have been experimenting with newfangled ways to address income inequality — like guaranteed income programs — and the latest wave of trials could involve paying benefits or dividends in bitcoin, stablecoin or other digital currencies.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated" — Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February
  2. Vaccines: Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America — Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics.
  5. Variant tracker

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