Satoshi Nakamoto announced the white paper of bitcoin, “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System,” which embodies ideas of the distributed ledger in October 2008 and based on the ideas, the first bitcoin was mined in March 2009. Since then, there have been vast on-going discussions whether bitcoin can be used as a means of exchange like fiat money. Meanwhile, the price of bitcoin skyrocketed in 2017, so bitcoin and other crypto-assets made a splash on public interest with a lack of legal regulations. Governments worried the overheated market that could become a bubble and tried to impose regulations for market soundness. With the recent development of fintech and the emergence of the fourth industrial revolution, it is difficult to separate the impact of the blockchain technology as financial innovation in the current discussions. This research report summarizes the economic effects of financial innovations in retrospect and examines the blockchain technology considered as a part of financial innovation.
In Chapter 2, we summarize the history of financial innovations and its implications on the economy. Financial innovations can affect the economy through the reduction of intermediation costs, the opening of a risk trading market, the diversification of risks, and the complement of market imperfection. The reduction of intermediation costs is achieved through the emergence of new payment instruments and the innovation on interest payment systems for savings funds. The risk trading market has broadened with new financial products such as insurance and derivatives, which help to diversify risks.
Financial innovation can affect the economy regarding both the economic growth and the business cycle. In literature, it is still debatable on the relationship between economic growth and financial innovation. On the one hand, financial innovation can mitigate the asymmetry of information, which can lead to economic growth by increasing the efficiency of resource allocation. Some studies, on the other hand, show that economic growth leads to financial innovation. The financial market develops with increased financial demand as a consequence of economic development. Also, there is a view that financial innovation and economic growth interact with each other. There are also opposite views on the relationship between financial innovation and the business cycle. Some studies argue that in the rapid development of the financial market, financial innovation can amplify the volatility of the economy, the so-called boom-bust cycle. In the meanwhile, some studies interpret the Great Moderation, which is a period when macroeconomic volatility has been steadily declining since the mid-1980s, as a result of financial innovation. Thus, financial innovation moderates business cycles.
In Chapter 3, we extend a small open economy model that financial innovation can have an economic impact through the trade finance and analyze this mechanism through the empirical analysis. We primarily focus on the reduction of intermediary costs as financial innovation. In the model, credit accessibility of firms plays a crucial role in their trade decisions. Aggregate trade increases if credit access cost or transition cost drops. The empirical results of the model are as follows; If the cost of credit access cost, households participate more in the credit market, and has less demand for holding real money. Firms decide to export more so that aggregate exports increase and external debt decrease. As a result, the output of the economy increases while the domestic interest rate falls. That partially happens because of a reduction in the domestic interest rate premium due to a decrease in domestic debt.
In Chapter 4, we discuss the technical aspect of the blockchain in detail. Participants in the public blockchain, such as Bitcoin and Etherium, ultimately pursue that maintain databases among unspecified network participants without a guarantee by a specific group. While the Internet is copying or modifying databases that are stored in a specific place, it revises databases simultaneously with the agreement of the participants in the distributed ledger which is widely distributed on the Internet via the blockchain. It requires the development of new protocols different from existing Internet protocols such as TCP / IP, SMTP, and HTTP. Vitalik Buterin, a founder of Etherium, suggest Trilemma that it is impossible for a particular blockchain to achieve both security, scalability, and decentralization. Bitcoin takes security and decentralization and abandons scalability. Many private blockchains abandon decentralization.
Recently, the development of blockchain technology to resolve the stagnant situation is proceeding in the following two directions. First, they use the consortium blockchain to integrate the concepts of blockchain with the existing systems. Second, they try to develop a stable public blockchain by solving the scalability problem, but the progress is expected to be slow.
In Chapter 5, we investigate the crypto-assets as an application of the blockchain technology. We also analyze the similarity and difference between the crypto-assets and the conventional financial markets. Most crypto-assets are traded in centralized exchange markets, which is deviated from the aim of the blockchain technology, the decentralization. It causes many problems and requires legal and institutional regulations. Moreover, it is relatively easy that capital can cross the border anonymously via the crypto-assets without going through the existing foreign exchange system. Thus, it should be guided by the AML/CTF act and regulation.
Based on these findings, Chapter 6 presents the following implications. First of all, it is necessary to carefully aware unknown risks through financial innovation and strengthens monitoring system. Secondly, it is necessary to understand the direction of development of the blockchain technology and to support for future development. The crypto-assets have been used as a tool to fund the blockchain technology, but it can also generate a form of speculative bubbles. The government requires both to support for the infrastructure technology development and to impose adequate regulations. Lastly, as the crypto-assets can easily cross the border, international cooperation would be essential to regulate.