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The Fed should seize blockchain’s potential     
美联储应该抓住区块链的机遇

The plunging prices of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are validating sceptics who deride them as pure speculative bubbles, enabling a global cesspool of illegal commerce. The environmental cost of the massive energy consumption needed to create bitcoin is another strike against it. Whatever happens to bitcoin, its underlying technology, called blockchain, could transform the worlds of finance and central banking.

比特币和其他加密货币价格暴跌证实了怀疑论者的看法——他们嘲笑这些加密货币是纯粹的投机泡沫,造就了全球非法交易的化粪池。比特币挖矿需要消耗大量能源,这带来的环境成本成为了比特币遭受的另一重打击。但不管比特币境遇如何,它的基础技术——被称为区块链——可以改变金融界和央行圈。

Central banks, including the US Federal Reserve, need to figure out the implications of such distributed ledger technologies and how to adapt to them. At the very minimum, there are looming changes to how central banks run monetary policy and ensure financial stability. 

包括美联储(Fed)在内的各国央行,需要弄清这种分布式记账技术的意义,以及如何适应这些技术。最起码,这些技术即将改变央行运作货币政策和确保金融稳定的方式。

Unofficial cryptocurrencies are not about to displace central bank currencies. Moreover, the Fed arguably has little to worry about given the dominance of US financial markets and the dollar in global finance. Still, even the Fed risks being outrun by rapid technological change in financial markets that could strike at its core functions. It should instead seize the opportunity to lead the world’s central banks by harnessing the powers of the new technology. 

非官方的加密货币不会取代央行的货币。此外,鉴于美国金融市场和美元在全球金融中的主导地位,可以说美联储无需担心。尽管如此,甚至连美联储也面临着被金融市场快速的技术变革超越的风险,这些技术变革可能会冲击其核心职能。相反,它应该抓住这个机会,通过利用这种新技术的力量来领导世界各国央行。

Blockchain is an electronic distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way. Each transaction is recorded on multiple electronic ledgers, is visible to anyone with a computer, and cannot be manipulated by any one party. 

区块链是一种电子分布式记账技术,以可验证和永久性的方式高效记录双方之间的交易。每一笔交易都被记录在多个电子账本上,有电脑的人都可以看到,任何一方都无法操纵这些记录。

This process is the crux of the technology’s appeal. Rather than having transactions verified by a central bank or commercial bank, blockchain does so through people power. Trust comes from the public verification by multiple agents in a network, who must all agree. 

这一过程是该技术颇具吸引力的关键。区块链不需要央行或商业银行对交易进行验证,而是借助人群的力量验证交易。对交易信息的信任来自于网络中多个节点的公开验证,所有节点必须达成共识。

Adopting distributed ledger technology could transform modern financial systems, which are rife with inefficiencies. Making payments, verifying different stages of a transaction, and ensuring the finality of such transactions remains time-consuming and costly. Banks charge steep fees to process domestic payments. International transactions are even worse, with the process taking days and involving a stiff fee. 

采用分布式记账技术可以改变低效的现代金融体系。支付款项、验证交易的不同阶段、以及确保这些交易完成,仍然耗时且成本高昂。银行收取高额费用来处理国内支付业务。国际交易甚至更糟,需要耗时数天才能完成支付过程,而且费用高昂。

The new technology can make these processes more efficient, quicker and cheaper. It could allow a group of banks to settle transactions without having to go through a trusted middleman such as a central bank. Unlike bitcoin’s public ledger, they could restrict access to the ledger to a network of participating banks. This would also make it easier to transfer funds across countries, cheaply and with instant verification.

新技术可以使这些过程更高效、更快、更便宜。它可以让相关银行直接结算交易,而无需经过可信赖的中间人,比如中央银行。不同于比特币这种公开的分布式记账,它们可以把访问账本的权限限制在相关银行组成的网络。这也将使得跨国转移资金变得更容易、成本更低、而且可以即时验证。

This is all good for financial institutions and their customers, but could leave central banks with a diminished role, making it harder to monitor and control domestic and cross-border financial transactions.

这对金融机构及其客户都有好处,但可能会削弱央行的作用,使其更难监控和控制国内和跨境金融交易。

Some central banks, such as those of Singapore and Sweden, plan to issue digital versions of their currencies to retain their key role in domestic payment systems. Many emerging market economies, including China and Uruguay, have similar plans in the works. Their governments view official digital currencies as a way to also broaden financial inclusion. 

新加坡和瑞典等国的央行,计划发行数字版本的货币,以保持其在国内支付系统中的关键作用。包括中国和乌拉圭在内的很多新兴市场经济体,也在筹备类似计划。他们的政府将发行官方数字货币视为扩大金融包容性的方式。

The Fed is undertaking a major effort to improve retail and interbank payment systems in the US. But it remains sceptical about whether digital currencies can contribute to this effort. Attempts by Russia and Venezuela to issue their own cryptocurrencies to evade financial sanctions have heightened scepticism about the necessity and legitimacy of official digital currencies. This could be a lost opportunity. 

美联储正在努力改进美国零售和银行间支付系统。但它仍然对数字货币能否为这一努力做出贡献持怀疑态度。俄罗斯和委内瑞拉试图发行自己的加密货币以规避金融制裁,这加剧了人们对发行官方数字货币的必要性和合法性的怀疑。这一机会可能会被错过。

The Fed and other central banks can deploy the technology to benefit their countries. Unlike paper currency, digital cash is potentially cheaper and easier to use, and makes it harder to evade taxes or fuel illicit activities. Central banks could also use the technology to improve the speed and efficiency of payment systems, rendering it easier to make and verify payments across people, businesses and financial institutions. 

美联储和其他央行可以利用区块链技术造福国家。与纸币不同,数字现金可能成本更低、更便于使用,而且更难逃税或助长非法活动。央行也可以利用这项技术来提高支付系统的速度和效率,使得个人、企业和金融机构之间更容易进行支付和验证。

Should central banks merely accommodate newer cryptocurrencies and decentralised payment systems? This comes down to whether the trust that individual citizens and financial institutions place in central banks can ever be replaced by decentralised verification mechanisms. These alternatives might work fine in normal times. But during times of financial market stress, public trust in decentralised payment systems could vanish, bringing financial systems and economies to a grinding halt. 

央行应该只是适应更新的加密货币和去中心化的支付系统吗?这取决于去中心化的验证机制能否取代个人和金融机构对央行的信任。在正常情况下,这些替代方案可能会运转良好。但在金融市场承压时期,公众对去中心化的支付系统的信任可能会消失,使得金融系统和经济陷入痛苦的停顿。

Central banks will need to innovate and adapt to changing financial technologies. But their biggest asset is the trust that households and businesses have in them. In finance, people power may go a long way but will not be a substitute for that trust. The Fed and other central banks should embrace new financial technologies to build on that trust and use them to make financial markets more efficient and stable. 

央行需要创新并适应不断变化的金融技术。但央行最大的资产是家庭和企业对它们的信任。在金融领域,人群的力量可能会走得很远,但不会取代这种信任。美联储和其他央行应该接受新的金融技术来加强这种信任,并利用它们来提高金融市场的效率和稳定性。

The writer is a professor at Cornell University and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution

本文作者为康奈尔大学(Cornell University)教授、布鲁金斯学会(Brookings Institution)高级研究员

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