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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

A decade after Bitcoin was born in a declaration of liberty from central banks and anyone else's control, Facebook is about to announce a new currency that sheds much of the crypto-world's counter-culture origins in hopes of actually being used.

Driving the news: For a year, Facebook has secretly developed a crypto-currency it calls Libra. As early as tomorrow, it will reportedly unveil its concept in a white paper. But if Libra is to gain the mainstream ubiquity for which Facebook is known, it will be because it jettisons some of the central principles that have united crypto purists.

The big picture: When Bitcoin was created in 2009 amid the financial crash, many of its first apostles defended it as a rejection of the central control of money. As if to punctuate that philosophy, its creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, generating the first Bitcoins, embedded a Times of London article about a Bank of England bailout of British financial institutions.

A roller-coaster has followed:

  • Over the subsequent years, very few people used Bitcoins for actual purchases. Instead, they traded them wildly, pushing up the price to a peak of more than $19,000 in December 2017.
  • By a year later, the price had plunged below $3,300.

But more recently, crypto's revolutionary air has in part given way to pragmatism. Among a new crop of crypto actors is Facebook, seeking to attract the masses into a proprietary payment system, a long-lived aim of the big social platforms.

Facebook 's idea is a payment system based on a type of crypto-currency called "stablecoins," which are linked to government-issued currencies, per the WSJ. That linkage is what accounts for their name — they are meant to be as stable as a basket of the world's main currencies.

  • Though created five years ago, stablecoin trading has surged in just the last 18 months or so, rising almost seven-fold last year, per the WSJ.
  • Embracing them, Facebook has gathered together a consortium of big, establishment players to govern Libra, paying $10 million each into a pot to be part of the new currency, report the WSJ’s AnnaMaria Andriotis, Peter Rudegeair and Liz Hoffman.
  • The consortium, the WSJ reports, will include Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and Uber, in addition to Stripe, a travel site, and MercadoLibre, an Argentine e-commerce firm.

Facebook did not respond to an email. But oddly, news of Facebook's plans has fed a Bitcoin recovery. Since April, Bitcoin's price has risen above $9,200.

  • Doubts have been raised: Itay Goldstein, a professor at the Wharton School at the UPenn, expressed caution about Libra. "It is not at all clear that this stability can actually be maintained under stress. I would be skeptical of that," he told Axios.
  • Other experts tell Axios that Facebook could encounter credibility problems linked to its string of privacy and political scandals since 2016.
  • "I think Facebook has lost a lot of trust in the court of public appearances," said Michael Imerman, co-director of the Financial Engineering program at Claremont Graduate University. "When it comes to financial transactions, trust is paramount; so therefore I think this loss of trust in Facebook has the potential to hinder the acceptance and growth of their new cryptocurrency."

The bottom line: Facebook has a shot but the jury is out on whether Libra really will become significant commercially. "Anything FB does is significant!" said David Hoffman, a law professor at UPenn. "But I honestly don't know about Libra until it's been released and you get a sense of its market uptake. I don't know why FB would be that good at payment system innovation."

Go deeper

13 mins ago - World

Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania. 

Updated 37 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Swastikas found outside Union Station in D.C.

People walk through Union Station on Jan. 16 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Drawings of swastikas appeared etched around the entrance to Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Friday morning.

Driving the news: "An investigation is underway with Amtrak Police and the Metropolitan Police Department after swastikas were reported on the exterior of Washington Union Station on Friday," Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods said in a statement to Axios.