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商业 - 科技

Libra面临哪些挑战?中本聪会怎么看?

Timothy Massad 2019年07月17日

Libra的治理体系引发了许多有趣的问题。有人指出,Libra协会的集中控制与区块链技术的去中心化承诺背道而驰。

首先要说的是,Facebook的Libra项目是经过深思熟虑的。在这个行业,首次公开发行货币(ICO)往往是在信息披露严重不足的情况下为不靠谱的概念筹集资金,这已经成了行业特点,Facebook的做法无疑相当受欢迎。不管你对这个项目满怀希望还是持有怀疑,至少Facebook已经花时间思考了很多复杂的问题。

然而,项目白皮书引发了人们对监管的担忧,也让人们质疑其功用和价值等根本问题,加上Facebook影响力很大,在隐私和安全问题上又有不良记录,这些担忧进一步被放大了。美国国会的反应速度之快,力度之强——将于本周举行听证会——也说明了这一点。

在监管方面,Facebook为Libra设计了一些方案来解决许多加密货币面临的一些基本问题。Facebook把Libra货币和用于为该项目筹集资金的投资令牌区分开,目的是为了避免美国(和其他国家)的法律把Libra列为一种证券。如果Libra被认定为证券,这个项目很可能无法启动。虽然Libra得到了由现金和现金等价物组成的资产储备的充分支持,但Libra的用户不会从这些储备中得到任何收益。所有的收益都将用于维护系统以及向投资令牌持有者发放股息。

但安全性分析可不会止步于此。尽管有储备意味着Libra可能不会像其他加密货币那样剧烈波动,但它的价值仍然将随着汇率的变化而波动。储备可以投资于“低波动性”资产,也可以用于“保值”,但货币市场基金也是如此。Libra 协会鼓励在电子交易所交易Libra,而且有权改变储备资产的构成,这个事实可能会让美国证券交易委员会(SEC)蹙眉。如果SEC认为Libra的设计具有投资类产品的特点,它可能还要克服证券法律设置的重大障碍。

潜在的汇率风险也对税收构成了挑战:Libra是否应该像比特币一样,被视为应纳税财产?与美元等单一货币挂钩的稳定币不被视为财产。但与一篮子法币挂钩的货币面临的税收政策尚不清楚。如果Libra在美国或其他国家的法律下被视为财产,那么用户在每笔交易中都可能面临确认损益的问题。这将严重削弱其作为支付机制的功用。

如何符合反洗钱(AML)和充分了解客户(KYC)的要求也将成为挑战。如果Libra可能被用于非法支付,一定会导致全世界金融监管机构联合起来反对。Libra白皮书中承认“反洗钱”的重要性,但没有提供任何具体的合规计划。用户是否有责任在进行任何交易前,确保该交易满足KYC和AML标准?Libra的治理主体——Libra协会是否会对收发Libra的人集中进行AML和KYC审查?

Libra的治理体系引发了许多有趣的问题。一些加密货币爱好者很快指出,Libra协会的集中控制与区块链技术的去中心化承诺背道而驰。另外一些人认为,除此之外,没有其他切实可行的方法可以让Libra落地。白皮书说,Facebook致力于长期的去中心化治理,宣扬Facebook只是该协会众多成员之一,这无疑是为了减轻人们对Facebook通过Libra增强其自身权力和影响力的担忧。虽然许多知名公司已经宣布同意加入该协会,但我对此不会有过多解读。在这个阶段,这些承诺既不能告诉我们Facebook将在何时或多大程度上放弃控制权,也不能说明第三方认证了该项目的可行性。对于Visa这样一家年收入200亿美元、每年营销费用高达10亿美元的公司来说,为了占个位置押上1000万美元想必是一个简单的决定。

此外,对于那些希望区块链能够减少我们对大型机构的依赖的人来说,他们未必会乐见该协会的组成——成员包括许多金融和科技行业巨头。

白皮书称,之所以把协会设成在瑞士的基金会,原因是瑞士“一直以来都在全球持中立立场,而且对区块链技术持开放态度”,但实际原因可能更复杂。在《财富》杂志最近举行的头脑风暴金融大会上,加密货币爱好者们称,这证明美国在区块链创新竞赛中输给了瑞士等其他地区。但使用瑞士基金会开展国际非营利性活动的做法并不罕见。这样的基金会在税收和普通公司法上享有优势,如果基金会不像Libra那样主要依赖美国人提供的可减税捐款,优势则更加明显。此外,即使选择瑞士作为组织的辖地,如果代币是在美国提供、出售和使用的,Facebook或该协会就仍然必须遵守美国法律。

因为人们对Facebook的技术主导地位和过去的不良记录表示担忧,Libra计划迅速引发了华盛顿方面的强烈反应,这并不奇怪。参众两院两党领袖都计划在7月中旬举行听证会,一些人呼吁Facebook停止Libra的相关工作。就连美联储主席杰伊·鲍威尔也很快表示,美联储将仔细研究这项提议,而在一年前,鲍威尔曾经对美国国会表示,美联储对加密货币没有管辖权。世界各地的监管机构也发表了类似声明。

美国国会的听证会肯定会审查Facebook的目标。真的是像白皮书宣称的那样,为世界上没有银行账户的人提供金融服务吗?还是为了创造一个新的收入来源以及数据来源?即使这不是Facebook的主要目标,Facebook要如何防止自己把Libra带来的数据用于其他目的?Libra协会的其他金融巨头成员也可以获得这些数据吗?Facebook自身在用户隐私方面拥有不良记录,整个加密行业网络安全记录又十分难看,Facebook将如何保护用户的数据和账户不受攻击?

美国的国会和金融监管机构还将考虑Libra对金融稳定和金融包容性的长期影响。如果Libra的目标真的是普惠金融——为没有银行账户的人提供服务,那么你必须问一问,一种新的移动支付服务是否能够满足目标客户的全部需要。难道他们不需要信贷产品和流动性产品帮助他们在两次发薪日中间度过难关,或者帮助他们应对意外的现金需求吗?目前已经有一些移动支付服务,如微信和M-Pesa,其中一些为存款付息并提供贷款。Facebook能够提供更广泛的金融服务吗?Calibra数字钱包或Libra协会应该在什么时候作为银行或其他金融中介机构接受监管?

虽然Facebook表示不打算为Libra的存款支付利息,但应该考虑在Libra中存入大量存款可能对金融稳定性产生的影响。金融体系与其他行业不同,因为它容易受到挤兑和恐慌的影响。自20世纪30年代以来,联邦政府一直为银行账户提供存款保险,以把银行挤兑的可能性降至最低。白皮书称,准备金的存在“阻止了‘银行挤兑’”。人们一直认为货币市场基金是稳定的,因为它们的投资也比较保守——直到2008年秋季。现在,我们已经采取了一些措施来减少脆弱,尽管可能还不够。

金融创新一次又一次地催生了在监管框架之外运作的金融中介机构,往往能够带来更低的成本、更好的服务或更多的选择。但迟早——由于危机的爆发或其他原因——我们必须重新设定监管参数,将这些新创新纳入监管范围。监管机构面临的挑战是,能否在创新和一开始就把金融稳定风险降至最低之间找到合适的平衡。

十年前,中本聪宣布,比特币可以提供一种点对点的价值转移方式,能够消除或至少减少我们对大型中央金融中介机构的依赖。2008年金融危机后,这个想法尤其有吸引力,但尚未实现。Libra是这一愿景的一个新迭代,还是一种歪曲?毕竟,如果区块链照着自己“敌人”的样子创造了一个科学怪人式的化身——一种由全球最强大、最霸道的科技公司集中控制和管理的数字货币——这恰恰是区块链一直宣扬自己要打败的,将十分讽刺。(财富中文网)

蒂莫西·马萨德是哈佛大学肯尼迪政府学院的高级研究员、乔治敦大学法律中心的兼职法学教授。他曾于2014年至2017年担任商品期货交易委员会主席。

译者:Agatha

 

The first thing that should be said about Facebook’s Libra proposal is it is thoughtful. In an industry characterized by initial coin offerings (ICO) seeking to raise funds for flimsy concepts on the basis of grossly inadequate disclosure, this is quite welcome. Whether you are enthusiastic or skeptical about the idea, at least Facebook has taken the time to think through a number of complex issues.

The white paper nevertheless raises many regulatory concerns, as well as fundamental questions about its utility and value, which are amplified by concerns about Facebook’s power and past record on privacy and security issues. The speed and intensity of the congressional reaction—with hearings scheduled for this week—illustrates that.

On the regulatory side, Facebook has designed Libra to address some of the basic problems with many previous crypto tokens. By separating the currency, Libra, from the investment token that will be used to raise capital for the project, Facebook is seeking to avoid having Libra classified as a security under U.S. (and other nations’) laws. If Libra were deemed a security, it is unlikely the project could get off the ground. While Libra is to be fully backed by a reserve of cash and cash equivalents, users of Libra will not receive any return from that reserve. Instead, any earnings will be used to pay for maintaining the system and issuing dividends to holders of the investment token.

But the security analysis may not end there. While the reserve means Libra is likely to be less volatile than other cryptocurrencies, it will still fluctuate in value as exchange rates fluctuate. The reserve may be invested in “low-volatility” assets and may be designed for “value preservation,” but so are money market funds. The fact that the association will encourage the listing of Libra on electronic exchanges and will have the power to change the composition of the reserve may raise eyebrows at the SEC. If it sees features of an investment product in the design, Libra may still have significant security law hurdles to overcome.

That potential exchange rate risk poses a tax challenge as well: Should Libra be considered property for tax purposes, like Bitcoin? Stablecoins tied to a single currency such as the U.S. dollar are not treated as property. But the tax treatment of a coin tied to a basket of fiat currencies is not clear. If Libra is deemed property under U.S. or other nations’ laws, then a user could face recognition of loss or gain on each transaction. That would severely diminish its utility as a payment mechanism.

Compliance with anti-money laundering (AML) and know your customer (KYC) requirements will also be a challenge. The possibility that Libra could be used for illegal payments is the surest path to uniting financial regulators around the world against it. The white paper acknowledges the importance of AML but does not provide any specific compliance plans. Will a user have the responsibility to satisfy KYC and AML standards before making any transfer? Will the Libra Association, Libra’s governing body, implement central KYC and AML clearance of any person sending or receiving Libra?

The governance of Libra raises a host of interesting questions. Some crypto enthusiasts have been quick to point out that the centralized control by the Libra Association is antithetical to the decentralized promise of blockchain technology. Others have taken the view that there is no other practical way to launch the currency. The white paper says Facebook is committed to decentralized governance in the long term, and touts the fact that Facebook will be just one of many members of the association, no doubt seeking to allay concerns about Facebook increasing its own power and influence through Libra. But I would not read too much into the announcement that many prominent companies have agreed to participate. At this stage, those commitments neither tell us when or to what degree Facebook will relinquish control, nor are they evidence of third-party verification of the project’s viability. For a company like Visa, which has $20 billion in annual revenue and spends $1 billion a year on marketing, it is presumably an easy decision to ante up $10 million to have a seat at the table as this unfolds.

Moreover, for those who hope that blockchain can reduce our reliance on large institutions, the composition of the association—which includes many financial and technological giants—is not necessarily comforting.

The reasons for organizing the association as a Swiss foundation may also be more mixed than the white paper suggests, which says it is because Switzerland has a “history of global neutrality and an openness to blockchain technology.” Crypto enthusiasts at Fortune’s recent Brainstorm Finance conference claimed this is evidence that the U.S. is losing the blockchain innovation race to jurisdictions like Switzerland. But the use of Swiss foundations for international nonprofit activities is not uncommon. There are tax and general corporate law advantages to using such foundations, particularly if the organization is not primarily dependent on receiving tax-deductible contributions from U.S. persons, as will be the case for Libra. In addition, the choice of Switzerland as the jurisdiction of organization does not exempt Facebook or the association from having to comply with U.S. law if the token is offered, sold, and used here.

Given the concerns about Facebook’s technological dominance and past record, it is not surprising that the Libra proposal provoked quick and strong reactions in Washington. Senate and House leaders on both sides of the aisle have scheduled hearings for mid-July, and some have called on Facebook to halt work on the proposal. Even Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell—who one year ago told Congress that the Fed did not have jurisdiction over cryptocurrencies—was quick to say the Fed will be examining the proposal closely. Regulators around the world have made similar statements.

The congressional hearings will surely examine Facebook’s objectives. Is it really to bring financial services to the unbanked people of the world, as the white paper claims? Or is it to create a new source of revenue as well as data collection? Even if that is not the primary objective, how will Facebook prevent itself from using the data generated by Libra for other purposes? Will the other financial giants who are members of the Libra Association have access to that data? And in light of its own poor privacy record, as well as the poor record of cybersecurity in the crypto industry generally, how will Facebook keep its users’ data protected and their accounts free from hacks?

Congress and financial regulators will also want to consider the long-term implications for financial stability and financial inclusion. If the goal of Libra really is financial inclusion—providing services to the unbanked, one must ask whether another mobile payments service is all that the targeted constituency needs. Don’t they also need credit and liquidity products, to tide them over between paychecks, or to help with unexpected cash needs? There are already several mobile payment services, such as WeChat and M-Pesa, some of which pay interest on deposits and provide loans. Will Facebook offer a broader range of financial services? At what point should Calibra or the Libra Association be subject to regulation as a bank or other financial intermediary?

While Facebook has said it does not intend to pay interest on Libra deposits, the financial stability consequences of significant deposits in Libra should be considered. The financial system is different than other industries because it is vulnerable to runs and panics. The federal government has provided deposit insurance on bank accounts since the 1930s to minimize the potential for bank runs. The white paper claims that the existence of the reserve “discourages ‘runs on the bank.’” But money market funds were thought to be stable because of their conservative investments also—until the fall of 2008. Now, we have taken some steps to reduce that vulnerability, though probably not enough.

Time and again, financial innovation has given rise to types of financial intermediation that operate outside the regulatory framework, often bringing lower costs, better services, or more choice. But sooner or later—as a result of a crisis or otherwise—we must reset the parameters of regulation to bring these new innovations into the fold. The challenge is whether regulators can strike a proper balance between allowing innovation and minimizing risks to financial stability at the outset.

Ten years ago, Satoshi Nakamoto proclaimed that Bitcoin could provide a peer-to-peer means to transfer value that could eliminate or at least reduce our reliance on large centralized financial intermediaries. It was an especially attractive idea in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, but one that has not been realized. Should we regard the Libra proposal as a new iteration of that vision or a perversion of it? It would be ironic, after all, if blockchain gives rise to a Frankenstein-like incarnation of the very thing it was advertised to cure—a digital currency centrally controlled and administered by one of the most powerful, domineering technology companies in the world.

Timothy Massad is a senior fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and an adjunct professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center. He was the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 2014 to 2017.

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