Bitcoin and all that – and other evolving ‘cryptocurrencies’

After weeks and months of disclosure of the flaws (or worse) of numerous senators, it’s only fair to take some notice of their virtues, too.

In addition to their proverbial sober second thoughts, they can sometimes be prompter thinkers than most members of the Commons. For example, the late Jim Flaherty, the former minister of finance, asked the Senate banking, trade and commerce committee to study “cryptocurrency,” bitcoin being the best-known phenomenon of this kind.

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The resulting report, published this month, begins candidly by saying that the committee at first “had only a vague idea of what” Mr. Flaherty was talking about. As it turned out, they came to prefer the term “digital currency,” shedding “crypto.”

The committee members think that, on balance, digital currencies offer more opportunities than dangers, though the risks are real. They concluded, for the time being, that these technologies should be regulated with a “light touch,” almost hands-off.

They listened to 55 witnesses, and the report’s digest of all this is rich in its variety of observations and interpretations of this moving, developing target. The senators were right to take a trip to one of the world’s main financial centres, New York City, to learn more. This was no mere “junket.” On the contrary, it all raised the philosophical question, “What is money?”

In other words, it’s a work in progress on a whole set of fluid phenomena. The report leaves the impression that the main interest in bitcoins and so on is not so much the creation of new currencies, but, rather, the more effective, efficient and economical means of making payments.

Remarkably, none of the witnesses appeared essentially hostile to digital currencies. Whatever we call them,

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