The Legal Concept of Money

Held on Thursday, April 25, 2019


  • Simon Gleeson (Clifford Chance)

  • Charles Goodhart (LSE)

  • Roger Bootle (Capital Economics)

  • Dave Birch (15Mb)



Earlier this year, Simon Gleeson – one of the UK’s leading experts on banking and financial markets law – published an important new book on the fundamental nature of money. In a review for Financial World, Charles Goodhart - emeritus professor of banking and finance at LSE, and a former senior advisor to the Bank of England – focused on the relationship between “money” as we have traditionally known it (in whatever form) and “virtual” currencies, like Bitcoin. The former (for both Simon and Charles) is a claim on an agent with greater power than the norm (usually the state); the latter is a claim on an electronic ledger entry - nothing more.

Obviously, Simon’s book extends well beyond Bitcoin. It asks key questions about the need for sovereign-backed money at a time when digital currencies are proliferating, and it addresses the legal and regulatory challenges posed by e-payment systems and by fintech more generally.

Simon writes with authority. In addition to his lead role at Clifford Chance (where he has been a partner since 2007), he is a visiting professor at Edinburgh, a visiting fellow at All Souls, and a member of the bank resolution project at Stanford. In other words, all-world. I am delighted that he has agreed to walk us through the main points of his argument.

I am also delighted that Charles has agreed to kick off the response. His review of the book made no secret of his scepticism about Bitcoin – and about its many knock-offs. But, at the same time, as one of this country’s leading monetary economists, he is very well aware that the nature of money itself may well be changing.

I am not quite sure where Roger Bootle – Chairman of Capital Economics and a former Chief Economist at HSBC – stands on this issue; after all, he has recently been preoccupied with Europe. But his last-but-one book was Money for Nothing, and one of his best-known predictions was the collapse of the dotcom boom. He is also a former winner of the Wolfson Prize and Lecturer in Economics at St. Anne’s, Oxford – so his view counts.

As does that of our fourth panellist. Dave Birch (or, as I suppose I must call him, however reluctantly, David GW Birch) is a technologist. In his own “Before Babylon, Beyond Bitcoin” (2017), about to be published in a revised paperback edition, he argues that technology is fundamentally changing money – and changing its role in society.

This is the kind of discussion that makes a welcome change from the grim grind of Brexit. But it is also important: money makes the world go round, and if it changes, the world will change too. If you (or a colleague) would like to join us for what is bound to be a stimulating couple of hours, please let us know by emailing or by calling the Centre on 0207 621 1056. As usual, sandwiches, wine and soft drinks will be provided.

Many thanks,

Andrew Hilton