Interview with Ed Moy, Former Director of US Mint, on Trust and Tech Currencies

Ed Moy served as the 38th Director of the U.S. Mint under Presidents Bush and Obama, as part of a long career as a dedicated public servant, shrewd business executive, private equity consultant, television commentator, public speaker, author, corporate director, pastor, and lifelong coin enthusiast.  Much of Ed’s work since directing the Mint has involved working with governments, nonprofits, and for profit companies on the future of money and payment systems.  Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge with us, Ed!

Q:  For a half dozen years you were a special assistant to the President for presidential personnel at The White House to George W. Bush, helping to identify and nominate senior level federal executive and judicial appointments.  Can you share some of the basic criteria you applied in assessing character and fitness for such high-level positions of public trust?

A:  Besides having to meet any statutory requirements for each position, every president has additional criteria unique to the administration they want to have.  President Bush wanted his appointees to exceed the specifications for each position, have policies consistent with what he wanted to accomplish in the area that the appointee would serve in, and have personal characteristics the President wanted his administration to embody, i.e.,  integrity/character/trustworthiness, results oriented, team player, selflessness, and not taking one’s self too seriously.

 

Q: Why was this White House position attractive to you?

A:  First, I had a strong sense of God’s calling to serve in that way.  Second, the position plays a key role in fulfilling the purpose of work that God gave to humanity, namely to exercise stewardship over His creation, and to help people flourish and become more productive and fruitful.  Virtually every part of government functions as a mechanism to serve God in this way by serving others and by administering His provision to bring His Creation to fulfillment.  This is the reason why many government departments in Old World countries are known as ministries and their leaders are known as ministers. Last, it was a rare opportunity to work at a senior level at The White House and have direct and regular access to advise the President of the United States.

 

Q:  In 2006, you yourself were nominated, unanimously confirmed, and sworn in as Director of the U.S. Mint.  What was it about that position that attracted your interest, and what are some of the surprises you encountered over the course of your five-year term?

A:  There were several reasons why I found the Mint interesting.  Money generally, and cash specifically, is a medium of exchange which becomes an essential component that enables an economy to be more efficient and increases the flourishing of many of its participants. It was a privilege to be responsible for producing it in amounts needed to smoothly facilitate transactions.  Regardless of how rich or poor, I can say with confidence that every single American is directly impacted by the Mint’s work every day.  And ever since governments centralized the production of money 600 years before the birth of Christ, the production of money has been a central feature of government.  In America, the Constitution itself authorized the creation of the United States Mint, which was established in 1792 and is one of the oldest parts of the federal government.

There were also interesting policy issues like the role of cash in an economy with growing number of electronic transactions.  And personally, God wired me to make things better and there were some challenges at the U.S. Mint that deserved attention.  For example, when I began my tenure at the Mint, the Mint was ranked the 211th out of 217 best places to work in the federal government.  When my tenure ended, the Mint was ranked 57th…it was the biggest improvement in the history of the survey.

The biggest surprise of my term was the Financial Crisis and the following Great Recession.  I had no idea that I would have a front row seat and a role in dealing with the greatest global economic downturn since the Great Depression.

 

Q:  You’ve worked with entrepreneurs, central banks and finance ministries all over the world around the study and adoption of new forms of currency and payment systems and their interface with existing money and payment methods.  What are the key elements that carry across from old to new systems, and conversely, what are the unique opportunities presented by new forms of currency that capture your attention?

A:  There are many key elements that need to exist regardless of the ideas behind money and payment systems: divisibility, acceptability, durability, portability, efficiency, security, and many others.  Take trust, for example. For money to work, two parties have to have trust that the money exchanged has value. Gold was used in the first coins because it had value as a commodity that people generally trusted.  Governments started getting into the minting business because it could standardize the purity and content, and mint with economies of scale.  But when governments started cheating (or when people helped themselves by shaving off a bit of the coin) on weight, content, and purity, that money failed.

Today, governments have all gone off the gold standard and simply declare (by fiat) that money has value because the government says so.  As long as you trust the government, you can trust its money.  But many governments are using their monopoly on money to social engineer (China), economically manipulate (negative interest rate policies), or just plain steal from their people (Cyprus).  Such practices have eroded trust and given birth to new forms of currency.  I believe that these new forms of currency will provide much needed competition to governments’ monopoly over money, and that both will benefit.

 

Q:  I’ve heard it said that Bitcoin as a form of money is interesting but blockchain accounting is revolutionary.  Do you agree?

A:   I disgree…I believe they are both revolutionary.

Bitcoin, and the decentralization that is at its core, at minimum provides much needed competition to governments’ monopoly over money.  It becomes an economic pressure valve (Bitcoin has reached a new historic high of more than $27,000 USD) when governments take drastic monetary action that could jeopardize the value of their money, much like the current stimulus efforts to combat the economic crisis caused by the COVID pandemic.  At maximum, decentralization of Bitcoin returns power from the government back to the people, coming full circle back to the origins of money before governments got involved.

In economically advanced countries like the United States, fiat currency generally works and the benefits of digitalization/cryptography are marginal, so much of the interest in cryptocurrency is as a speculative asset.  But in countries where fiat currency has failed (Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Argentina…), Bitcoin has thrived as a currency and store of value.

And with all the potential of blockchain technology, the few companies that have been successful in finding uses for it have been large corporations while many start ups have failed.  Public blockchains generally have very slow processing times and take an enormous amount of energy compared to private blockchains.  After a fast start, it has become a slog but I believe that over time, blockchain technology will fulfill much of its potential.

 

Q:  The acceptance of both money and artificial intelligence appear to be extremely dependent on building and maintaining the trust of end users.  Do you believe the current creators of AI applications that power digital currencies, blockchain accounting, high speed electronic funds trading and tracking, and other forms of technological interaction with money, are sufficiently engaged in building trust?  If not, what do such creators need to do to build more trust?

A:   I agree that both money and AI’s success is extremely dependent on trust.  I think one reason why Bitcoin has been relatively successful is that it was created to be trusted through math, cryptography, decentralization, and transparency instead of the centralization (and the concentration of policy power) that comes from governments and banks and the financial industry.  I believe this is the reason why Facebook’s Libra is having such a tough time – why would you trust the cryptocurrency of a company (and its private blockchain) that has abused your personal information for profit and now give them your financial information?

I am not as expert in AI as I am in money, but I think the trust issue manifests itself differently in the AI industry. Instead of technology enabling a peer-to-peer transaction, AI is a technology  designed to perform certain tasks.  The way to build trust is to demonstrate that performance with a tolerable failure rate compared to human error and to design the AI with accountability, ultimately to the creators.

 

Q:  The Bible says that “the love of money is the root of all evil.”  You’ve overseen the creation of literally billions of dollars in coinage and now as a coinage consultant work with some of the most valuable rare coins on the planet.  Have you escaped the lure of money as a thing?  How do you manage its attraction as a practicing disciple of Jesus?

A:  Good questions and I have two answers: a general one and a personal one.

I have had the unique privilege to work with money on a macro economic policy level.  From that perspective, I believe that money is a tool that if stewarded properly, can enable human flourishing to the maximum number of people possible.  That changes one’s focus to God’s purposes and less on individual desires.

Personally, I have had the blessings of both positive and negative personal balance sheets in my life, regardless of my efforts or desires.  Being in the red makes me depend on God and challenges me to be faithful with little.  Being in the black challenges me to be dependent on God as well as being faithful with much.  Either way, it is not about who dies with the most toys wins, but how God is using money to shape my soul in preparation for spending eternity with Him.

Thanks very much, Ed!

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