Coin flip

The social network’s grand designs for virtual cash could be surprisingly consequential—including for itself

A GLOBAL DIGITAL currency would make sending money across the world as easy as texting. It would do away with fees, delays and other barriers to the flow of cash. It might give those in less developed countries access to the financial system and a means to protect hard-earned wages against runaway inflation. It could trigger a wave of innovation in finance, much as the internet did in online services.

That, in a nutshell, is what Facebook promised on June 18th. Within a year, the social network will launch a new currency to be known as Libra, in honour of an ancient Roman unit of mass—it is also the word for “pound” in many romance languages. Inevitably, Facebook dished out a generous helping of trendy words like crypto and blockchain. Unable to contain its appetite for Silicon Valley platitudes, Facebook claimed that its mission was to “empower billions of people”. Making money or strengthening its market power are, apparently, a sideshow.

Notwithstanding the guff, the commercial potential is indeed significant—as are the potential problems. If each of Facebook’s 2.4bn users converted a slice of their savings…