- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
Writing last year on the peer-to-peer digital currency Bitcoin, I noted that while "the disruptive power of Bitcoin on banks and central governments has surely been overstated, but these institutions might be better served to take its emergence as a warning rather than a reassurance: They may not be the only game in town forever."
It seems that at least one country is taking the Bitcoin phenomenon seriously: Canada. The Canadian mint is launching research and development on its own "virtual currency" with the tasty-sounding name MintChip. Jesse Brown of MacLeans explains:
Like BitCoin, it’s as anonymous as cash, leaving no electronic record of who paid what to who. Unlike BitCoin, it’s backed by a central authority, which is bad news for the anarcho-crypto Illuminati-fearing libertarian crowd, but good news for people who actually use it. Will it be hacked? Probably. But a currency guaranteed by a wealthy and stable mint can sustain a certain amount of fraud without collapsing. The Royal Canadian Mint has launched an app challenge to kickstart MintChip.
I suspect that a lot of potential users — not just "the anarcho-crypto Illuminati-fearing libertarian crowd" — are going to wonder just how anonymous a government-backed electronic payment method will be. I’d imagine there will be at least some safeguards to prevent the underground drug markets that have given Bitcoin a bad name.
Whatever happens, it should be an interesting experiment to watch. This is been a month of currency innovation for Canada, which announced it was eliminating the penny last week. It still has a ways to go to catch up with increasingly-cashless Sweden though.
Update: I neglected to mention the glow-in-the-dark dinosaur coin. The hits just keep coming from those wild and crazy guys at the Canadian Mint.