Are on-line currencies virtual banknotes?

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Stephen F. Quinn ; William Roberds (2003)
  • Subject: Money ; Internet ; Payment systems

The history of money is marked by innovations that have expanded the role of "inside money"-money created by the private sector. For instance, the past few years have seen the development of several types of on-line payment arrangements, some of which have been dubbed "on-line currencies." ; This article examines the likely success or failure of on-line currencies by means of a historical analogy. The discussion compares the introduction of on-line currencies to the debut of the bearer banknote, the direct predecessor to modern currency, in London in the late 1600s. ; The key innovation of the earliest banknotes, the authors argue, was to provide final payment under circumstances in which extant payment systems could not. The discussion considers how on-line currencies may be able to fill the same role in the context of e-commerce. ; The authors note some conspicuous similarities between on-line currencies and physical banknotes. Both payment methods emerged to meet the need to conduct remote transactions (via the Internet or across physical distance), both face the risk of buyer-side fraud, and both have responded to the need for a new payment technology to allocate this risk. The authors stop short of calling on-line currencies "virtual banknotes" because it remains to be seen whether on-line currencies will gain sufficiently widespread acceptance to become a circulating medium of exchange.
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