Photo/IllutrationDavid Marcus, head of a Facebook subsidiary in charge of Libra, speaks before a U.S. Senate committee in Washington on July 16. (Yuko Lanham)

There are times when money is replaced by something else as a means of payment for goods and services.

American tobacco became that “something else” in the final years of the former Soviet Union, when dire shortages of goods triggered runaway inflation and the ruble’s credibility plummeted.

A newspaper article published in 1990 describes a local taxi driver bargaining with a foreigner, quoting a fare of “two packs of Marlboros.”

Fast-forward to the present when cryptocurrencies are traded over the Internet. Analysts point out the possibility of digital money taking on the role of American cigarettes in the Soviet era--or an even greater presence.

Bitcoin was at the forefront among cryptocurrencies, but its prices have proven to be too unstable.

The latest buzz is over the recent announcement by Facebook of its plans to develop its own currency. Called Libra, this has a tremendous potential, given the huge following this social media giant commands worldwide.

An International Monetary Fund report published on July 15 warns of the possibility of people in nations with weak economic infrastructures giving up on their own currencies, thinking cryptocurrencies such as Libra are more reliable.

The problem with such an outcome, the report points out, is that the central banks of such nations will no longer be able to regulate their economies.

I am trying to envision a world where a Libra economic bloc emerges, instead of a bloc led by the dollar, bringing together developing nations.

Will this mean that no matter how badly such Libra bloc members mismanage their national economies, the cryptocurrency will serve as a buffer to keep the lives of the people stable?

Or will Libra turn into a “monster currency” that defies control?

Amid such concerns for central banks, Facebook says it will proceed with caution.

When the currency does come into circulation, I wonder how it will look.

--The Asahi Shimbun, July 18

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.