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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling the Centre on 0207 621 1056. As usual, sandwiches, wine and soft drinks will be provided.