Governments worldwide are trying to replace cash with CBDCs, and people worldwide are starting to wake up, but we need a lot more.
A CBDC is a government-run crypto-token that replaces the national currency with a tracking ledger—a list of who owns what—that lets government surveil, control, and mandate every dollar you spend.
They could prevent you from buying the wrong thing, whether raw milk or gas stoves, or self-defense. They could stop you from donating to the wrong person, as we saw with the Canadian Truckers. They could even force you to buy whatever a government bureaucrat tells you to.
On top of the Soviet-style surveillance state, a CBDC is an existential threat to the banking system, to the US dollar and would give central planners push-button control over every element of your life.
Popular Pushback against CBDCs
Last week, the right-leaning Austrian Freedom Party lodged a protest against the current left-wing government ignoring a referendum on the right to use cash after an overwhelming 530,000 Austrians signed a referendum petition.
With CBDCs being pushed worldwide in the face of widespread public opposition, I think we’ll see more clashes over protecting the people’s right to save, and to spend, anonymously with cash—something we’ve had for a long time and taken for granted but now under threat of being seized into a CBDC, a giant balance sheet the government can surveil and manipulate at will, turning your money into an allowance.
In fact, a recent poll found that Americans overwhelmingly reject a CBDC, and opposition rises as they learn more about it. For example, opposition doubles when people learn a CBDC can be used to freeze the bank accounts of political protestors, it rises to even more when they learn a CBDC allows governments to monitor your spending, and it rises to 74% when they learn a CBDC lets government control your spending. Cholera polls better.
So why do governments keep pushing CBDCs when voters hate them? Simple: CBDCs are irresistible to governments who would dearly love to monitor and control every dollar you spend and every word you speak—think of the opportunities for social engineering, reparations, or a China-style social credit system.
Meanwhile, punishing political opponents with a CBDC means controlling speech. This means permanent job security for politicians who serve the deep state first with the people as an afterthought.
How Governments Use “Pilots” to Build CBDCs
The easiest to stop a CBDC is, of course, to make sure your government doesn’t start one.
Unfortunately, central banks worldwide—8, at last count, starting with China—are running CBDC “pilots,” allegedly for research, that build fully-functioning CBDCs without authorization. These should be stopped for the same reason governments shouldn’t be “piloting,” say, tools to mass-censor political speech. The people control the government, not the other way around, and we tell them what they’re allowed to “pilot.”
By the way, central banks can run these pilots without authorization because they’re self-funding—they print their own budgets with their basement money printers. Meaning in many countries, central banks do what they like, free of the power of the purse that controls most of government.
In fact, many central banks, including the Fed, are largely exempt from Freedom of Information requirements where the government has to tell the people what it’s up to. As Murray Rothbard put it, the Fed has less Congressional oversight—meaning less voter oversight—than the CIA.
This means central banks will do what they like until Congress very specifically tells them not to do it—I mean spelled out like central bankers are five-year-olds, including blanket CBDC bans even when they try to sneak one in by running it through banks or contractors.
CBDC pushers are building them using central bank machinery that’s immune to voters. It’s up to us to make our representatives stop them before we’re locked in a digital cage that none of us voted for.
Next Step after Pilots: Forcing People to Use the CBDC
Worldwide, so far there have been two major implementations of a CBDC.
The first was China, which has never met a totalitarian technology it doesn’t love.
The second was Nigeria.
In 2021 the Nigerian government pushed out its CBDC, the eNaira. Almost nobody used it—uptake was about 0.5%, pretty rough in a population that is among the most crypto-savvy in the world: over a third of Nigerians own Bitcoin, and over half use crypto. So it’s not the technology, Nigerians just really hate CBDCs.
Given this pathetic showing, the Nigerian government turned to hardball. First, they mandated discounts for paying in CBDC, then redesigned the physical currency to flush out informal cash. Finally, they went nuclear, limiting cash withdrawals from ATMs to $40 per day to force people into the CBDC and achieve a “100% cashless economy.”
Now, the informal cash-based economy in Nigeria is an enormous share of output. It’s life or death for Nigeria’s 200 million people because it’s the only part outside government control, so it’s also the only part of Nigeria’s economy that actually works.
Meaning, of course, that the cash limits led to complete chaos. People couldn’t buy groceries, stores couldn’t stock shelves, gas stations ran out of fuel in the largest oil-producing country in Africa. Nigeria was rocked by widespread riots, including burning down banks and even central bank branches.
By the way, the American-backed contractor who built Nigeria’s CBDC, asked about the cash limits and the riots they caused, praised the restrictions as a “creative option” that he expects to happen in other countries that impose CBDCs. Making Nigeria a cautionary tale.
As much as people worldwide hate CBDCs, governments worldwide love them: Between the totalitarian surveillance and control, and the godlike central planning of a CBDC, they will not stop until voters make them stop.
Some Republicans have been proactive on the CBDC threat: Senator Mike Lee has introduced a Senate bill to ban all forms of CBDCs, while governors like Ron DeSantis have moved to ban CBDCs in his state of Florida.
As for other countries, most voters still don’t grasp the threat CBDCs represent to their financial freedom and human rights even as rogue “pilots” spread like mushrooms. Time is running out to stop them.
Peter St. Onge is a Mises Institute Associated Scholar and an Economic Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. For more content from Dr. St. Onge, subscribe to his newsletter where he writes about Austrian economics and cryptocurrency.