Congress may be beginning to contemplate a country where cryptocurrency — not cash — is the coin of the realm.
The Congressional Research Service examined the decline in cash usage in the United States and the potential rise of alternative payment systems, including bitcoin or other digital assets, in the purchase of goods and services.
The CRS is tasked with producing nonpartisan advice on issues that may come before Congress, especially when lawmakers express interest in a certain subject. Alternative payment systems are gaining steam as lawmakers introduce legislation that would require stores to take cash and examine the impact of financial technology, or fintech.
Although the amount of currency in circulation has increased over the last 20 years, Federal Reserve studies suggest the use of cash in payments may be dropping, according to the CRS report, issued May 10. Just how much may be a matter of debate, but the migration away from cash transactions at retail stores is evident in daily life. So far, the move has been largely in favor of what the CRS refers to as “traditional noncash payment systems” such as credit cards and debit cards. And the report even includes rising payment mobile apps, of which there are many and no clearly established market leaders, in the category of “traditional.”
The question facing businesses, policymakers, consumers, and the economy at large is how significant a role alternative channels such as digital currencies will play in the future of the U.S. retail payments system.
The use of cryptocurrencies, blockchain technology and distributed ledgers to make payments in the U.S. is “quite rare relative to cash and traditional systems,” the report states. While there is a public interest in and demand for some digital currencies, analyses indicate they are not being widely used and accepted as payment for goods and services, “but rather as investment vehicles.”