Author: Saule T. Omarova
The COVID-19 crisis forcefully underscored the urgency of digitizing sovereign money and ensuring broad access to affordable banking services. It pushed two related ideas—the issuance of “central bank digital currency” and the provision of retail deposit services by central banks—to the forefront of the public policy debate. To date, however, this debate remains fundamentally incomplete. Framed by reference to fast payments and financial inclusion, most reform proposals in this vein do not offer a coherent vision of how the act of “democratizing” access to sovereign money would—and should—change the key systemic dynamics of finance. This lack of a systemic perspective both obscures and dilutes the full transformative potential of these increasingly popular ideas.
Taking the debate to a qualitatively new level, this Article offers a blueprint for a comprehensive restructuring of the central bank balance sheet, as the basis for redesigning the core architecture of modern finance. Focusing on the U.S. Federal Reserve (the Fed), the Article outlines a series of structural reforms that would redefine the role of a central bank as the ultimate public platform for generating, modulating, and allocating financial resources in a democratic economy—the People’s Ledger.
On the liability side of the ledger, the Article envisions the full migration of demand deposit accounts to the Fed’s balance sheet and explores the full range of new, more direct and flexible, monetary policy tools enabled by this shift. On the asset side, it advocates a comprehensive restructuring of the Fed’s investment portfolio, which would maximize its capacity to channel credit to productive uses in the nation’s economy. This compositional overhaul of the Fed’s balance sheet would profoundly transform the operations and systemic functions of private banks, securities dealers, and other financial institutions and markets. Tracing these structural implications, the Article shows how the proposed reforms would make the financial system less complex, more stable, and more efficient in serving the long-term needs of the American people.