Facebook banks on a globe-uniting currency

The launch of the ‘Libra’ cryptocurrency next year will help reimagine the purpose of money in a distrustful world.

Reuters
A 3-D printed Facebook logo is seen on representations of virtual currencies in this illustration.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced a project to launch a digital currency next year that founder Mark Zuckerberg hopes will help build a “common global community.” More than 2 billion users on Facebook’s many platforms will be able to make payments, send money, and conduct other financial transactions through a new cryptocurrency called Libra.

Unlike Bitcoin and other virtual currencies which rely a closed digital system called blockchain, the new “stablecoin” will be a “public good” and reliable, according to Facebook. Its value will be pegged to a basket of national currencies or other investments. It will be managed by a Switzerland-based nonprofit funded by a wide consortium of groups from Mastercard to Uber to the charity Mercy Corps.

The project could be the boldest attempt yet in the digital age to reimagine the purpose of money. Is money simply a way to create and track wealth? Or, as Mr. Zuckerberg has reimagined Facebook itself, can money in the digital universe give people the power “to build community and bring the world closer together.”

Even as Zuckerberg has been forced to reform his social media giant – especially by improving privacy and preventing abuse by hate groups – he has also decided Facebook must create “meaningful communities.” People should not merely connect online but participate in groups that uplift people along shared values.

“This is the struggle of our time,” he stated two years ago. “The forces of freedom, openness, and global community against the forces of authoritarianism, isolationism, and nationalism.”

National currencies have long provided the glue of both commerce and giving. They help bind a community. Trust in money is trust in people who accept it.

In western Massachusetts, people went even further in 2006 and created their own currency called Berkshares, named after the Berkshire hills. About $130,000 worth of the specially minted bills are in circulation. The project has helped producers and consumers find a strong sense of community. Organizers say keeping the money within the Berkshires is a “celebration of place.”

Money is only one way to help people define the idea of home or ensure a spirit of cooperation and obligation in a society. “No society can survive,” writes British philosopher Roger Scruton, “if it cannot generate the ‘we’ of affirmation: the assertion of itself as entitled to its land and institutions.”

The Libra will have a long way to go to replace other currencies. Yet its debut in 2020 could bring new ways of building trust, either globally or locally. Private interactions in the exchange of a public currency help widen the many circles of friendship and community.  Like previous experiments in money, the Libra might be a social lubricant, only one for the whole world.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.