In a recent interview on Peter McCormack’s “What Bitcoin Did” podcast, macro strategist Lyn Alden provided an in-depth analysis of central banking, fractional reserve banking, and the potential impact of Bitcoin on these systems.

The Role of Central Banks

Alden begins by discussing the historical context and primary functions of central banks. Alden explains that central banks, like the Bank of England, were initially established to help fund wars and later evolved to serve as lenders of last resort. Alden notes that this role is crucial because fractional reserve banking systems are inherently unstable and prone to bank runs.

Fractional Reserve Banking

Alden elaborates on the mechanics of fractional reserve banking, emphasizing how banks lend out more money than they actually hold in reserves. According to Alden, this system relies on the probability that not all depositors will demand their money at the same time. Alden points out that this mismatch between short-term liabilities and long-term assets makes the system vulnerable to liquidity crises.

Central Banks and Economic Cycles

Alden highlights how central banks influence economic cycles through monetary policy. Alden mentions that central banks aim to smooth out booms and busts but often end up exacerbating these cycles due to the procyclical nature of their policies. Alden argues that central banks’ control over interest rates and money supply can lead to significant distortions in the economy.

The Impact of Technology

Alden discusses how advancements in technology, such as the telegraph and telephone, have historically driven the centralization of banking systems. Alden argues that faster communication and settlement systems made centralization more practical and efficient. However, Alden suggests that modern technologies, like Bitcoin, offer decentralized alternatives that could challenge the need for central banks.

Bitcoin and Decentralization

Alden explores the potential of Bitcoin to operate as a decentralized financial system. Alden notes that Bitcoin allows for fast, irreversible settlements, reducing the need for a central authority to manage the monetary base. Alden believes that Bitcoin could fundamentally change the dynamics of banking by eliminating the need for fractional reserve banking and central banks.

Inflation and Deflation

Alden addresses the common concerns about inflation and deflation. According to Alden, inflation is often driven by excessive bank lending and government deficits, while deflation is feared because it can destabilize highly leveraged systems. Alden explains that while deflation can be beneficial in a more equity-based economy, it poses significant risks in a debt-heavy system like the current one.

Redistribution and Wealth Inequality

Alden delves into the issues of wealth inequality and redistribution. Alden argues that both inflation and deflation can exacerbate wealth disparities, depending on how they are managed. Alden points out that historical attempts at redistribution, such as those following World War II, aimed to address these disparities but often had mixed results.

Future of Central Banking

Alden speculates on the future of central banking in a world increasingly influenced by Bitcoin and other decentralized technologies. Alden suggests that while central banks are likely to persist in the near term, the growing adoption of decentralized financial systems could eventually render them obsolete. Alden advocates for building alternatives to the current system rather than attempting to reform it from within.