El Salvador exemplifies the surrealism of cryptocurrencies

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September 26, 2021 — El Salvador this month became the first country to adopt a cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, as legal tender.  One says “the first” as if there will be others.  But the idea is highly dubious.

I will admit, like many economists, that I fail to see what problem cryptocurrencies solve. They aren’t well designed to fulfill any of the classic functions of money — unit of account, store of value, or means of payment – in part because they are so extraordinarily volatile in price.  This volatility is not surprising, since they are backed neither by reserves nor by the reputation of a well-established institution, such as a government or even a private bank or other trusted corporation. read more

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The G20 agenda, as the pandemic continues

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August 28, 2021 — Italy hosts the G20 this year.  The 2021 Summit of the Heads of Government will take place in Rome in October. Officials of member countries, including the finance ministers and central bank governors, are preparing.

The G20 meeting will come at a time of great uncertainty as concerns the health and economic effects of the pandemic, midway through its 2nd year.  Although the mechanisms of international cooperation have been badly bruised by events of recent years, they are more important than ever, in light of the interconnectedness across nations that the pandemic so vividly demonstrates. read more

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The Virus, Vaccination, and Voting

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July 25, 2021 — Ever since the 1960s, we have heard the cliché, “If they can put a man on the Moon, why can’t they do X?” where X is usually some goal like eliminating hunger — technologically simpler than the scientific miracle of space flight, but harder to accomplish in practice because it involves human behavior.  In 2021, the salient question is, “If we can accomplish the scientific miracle of developing vaccines capable of ending the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed millions, why can’t we convince enough people to get vaccinated?” read more

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