Dialing for Dollars: Solving CBDC’s Equality Conundrum

By Karen Petrou

  • CBDC advocates tout its inclusiveness, but the digital divide is a profoundly exclusionary impediment to CBDC access for LMI, disabled, older, and rural households. 
  • Centralized deposit-taking and payments via the Post Office and/or Fed pose challenges to personal privacy and even freedom of expression that, if not averted in initial design, could come to pose significant political and governance risk.  Lack of private competition also presents discrimination risk based on pricing or other terms not subject to outside scrutiny.
  • If CBDC succeeds as some envision it, then lending will come either from the federal government – Big Brother problems of still more concern – or capital-markets sources outside the perimeter of safety-and-soundness and often also consumer-protection regulation and enforcement.
  • A CBDC in which the Fed acts as an open-source utility corrects for many current inclusion, governance, and intermediation obstacles to payment-system speed and efficiency. 
Continue reading “Dialing for Dollars: Solving CBDC’s Equality Conundrum”

America’s Stalwart Savers Get the Sucker Punch

By Karen Petrou

Recently, I had an op-ed in the Financial Times arguing that negative rates make it even harder for moderate-income households to accumulate wealth.  The reason, I said, is simple:  when savings-deposit or similar rates are ultra-low or even negative in real terms, households that save get poorer and poorer both on their own and in comparison to wealthier households with more sophisticated financial-asset investments.  This might seem irrefutable, but the article generated hundreds of comments.  Many were positive but more than a few countered that lower-income households don’t have savings so savings rates don’t exacerbate economic inequality.  To my mind, this is like saying that poor people are already thin so the fact that they don’t have enough food doesn’t matter. Continue reading “America’s Stalwart Savers Get the Sucker Punch”

Robinhood and the Sheriff of Nottingham: The Fintech Financial-Inclusion Illusion

By Karen Petrou

On December 14, a fintech venture dubbing itself Robinhood launched a consumer-banking product touting a no-fee, high-return, and yet somehow still profitable checking, savings, brokerage, and payment product.  It didn’t take long to see that Robinhood would steal from the poor to feed the rich.  Speculative investors have somehow bid the company up to a $5.6 billion valuation despite, as even a cursory analysis of public documentation shows, a flawed business model premised on a series of increasingly improbable assumptions about the transformative powers of financial technology and the malleability of U.S. financial regulation.  Continue reading “Robinhood and the Sheriff of Nottingham: The Fintech Financial-Inclusion Illusion”