What if Libra wasn’t backed by a basket of international currencies, but only the dollar?
Regulatory pushback to the Facebook-led cryptocurrency Libra has caused major partners including Visa, MasterCard, PayPal, and eBay to pull out of the Libra Association. But one of the remaining members has floated a major change to the stablecoin that could calm concerns that Libra could hurt the world economy by challenging national currencies for supremacy.
Last week, venture partner Chris Dixon of Andreessen Horowitz’s a16z Crypto, one of the remaining members of the governing Libra Association, spoke on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt. He said he still believed Libra will launch, but it might require some changes to get the green light from governments. When I asked what changes might assuage regulators, he told me “For example, denominating the currency in US dollars. I’m giving a hypothetical example. My understanding is the intention was never to create a new currency. It’s much focused on the payment rails.”
Dixon meant that Libra could be pegged directly to the US dollar instead of to a basket of international currencies as is currently the plan, a16z Crypto clarified when asked.
Originally, Libra was slated to be denominated in…Libra using the unicode symbol ≋. It would be a stablecoin backed 1:1 with a basket of the world’s top currencies that Reuters says Der Spiegel reports Facebook told a German legislator would be made up of 50% US dollar, 18% Euro, 14% Japanese Yen, 11% British pound, and 7% Singaporean dollar.
The purpose of the basket was to make Libra’s value more consistent. A spike or decline in value of any currency in the basket would have limited impact on Libra’s value, and the basket could be altered in makeup to further protect it from fluctuations.
But if it was denominated in $, the US regulators in particular might be less worried that citizens might choose to use the Libra instead of the dollar. This might demonstrate that Libra sees itself as deferential to the American economic system and government Facebook must answer to.
Conversely, the Libra would become vulnerable to shifts in value of the US dollar. But since many international currencies and financial systems are also linked to the dollar, there at least would be more precedent for how Libra would operate. The move could make foreign governments less skiddish about the cryptocurrency since their national currencies wouldn’t be directly influenced.
On Monday, the Libra Association will meet to finalize its membership, elect a board, and create a charter governing its efforts. How Libra is denominated could be reviewed at this meeting.
Denominating in dollars that could quell another worry about the cryptocurrency — that if it became popular and the Libra Association decided to change the basket’s components or remove one currency, it could significantly impact that currency’s value.
The French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire previously said “the monetary sovereignty of countries is at stake from a possible privatisation of money . . . we cannot authorise the development of Libra on European soil.”
Facebook’s head of Libra David Marcus has tried to dispel this idea, saying Libra is designed to run “on top of existing currencies . . . there’s no new money creation, which will strictly remain the province of sovereign Nations.” Yet regulators are still largely opposed to its planned launch in 2020.
Pegging Libra to the dollar would give the Libra Association less flexibility to maintain a steady value, but also less power. Governments wouldn’t fear that they’d need to maintain a positive relationship with the Libra Association for fear of their currency being ejected from the basket.
Dixon also announced that Andreessen Horowitz is launching the a16z Crypto Startup School, which will offer a free, zero-equity educational program for blockchain entrepreneurs. The goal is to pass knowledge from seasoned cryptocurrency startup founders to newer entrants to the space.
Dixon says the hope is that the best students would seek investment from the fund but that won’t be required. Those interested can sign up for more info on how to apply when it’s available, though videos of the school’s sessions will be available.
Andreessen Horowitz’s commitment to cryptocurrency could make it less likely to abandon the Libra Association than some other payments companies more firmly rooted in the status quo financial system. That loyalty will only pay off if Libra ever passes muster with regulators and actually reaches the market.