China's digital currency could threaten the US dollar. Should the Fed build its own?

Joseph N. DiStefano, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Business News

PHILADELPHIA — From his office overlooking the Schuylkill River, Paul Melchiorre is puzzling over which new billion-dollar tech giants could rise from this economic slowdown.

A onetime SAP manager, who made the bulk of his fortune building software developers iPipeline and Anaplan, Melchiorre has spread his earnings among a string of tech funds, including LLR, NewSpring, Osage, and Stripes, all firms with local ties, and others.

Can recession spawn big, new, profitable companies? Melchiorre cites past phoenixes: Salesforce rose from the 2001 dot-com collapse and Uber amid the Great Recession.

In the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, he said, "tech companies hired like crazy," backed by investors eager to capitalize on delivery systems and work-from-home start-ups. But the cycle turned faster than expected: "Now they are cutting back. It's all about profitability again," Melchiorre said. "Watch the news, and you'll just get depressed."

Yet he still sees new wells of prosperity amid the gloom: data analytics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence.

And, past the wreckage of the cryptocurrency bubble, he sees opportunities based on central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) — electronic money based not on some salesperson's futuristic pitch for private-money electronic "tokens," but on today's familiar national currencies, backed by central banks and powerful governments.


Central banks are studying CBDCs amid a high-stakes struggle between the U.S., China and their allies and trading partners as to whose money should serve as the world's favorite currency.

How does electronic money work?

Melchiorre, beside his investments in East Coast tech funds and Shore cannabis ventures, has a stake in that question: He's an investor in and chairman of R3, one of the technology start-ups that builds systems for use by digital currencies, with offices in New York and London.

Isn't our money already electronic, mostly? Since the 1960s, a complex network of online payment systems has grown to serve consumers and companies. Credit, debit and ATM cards; automatic bill-pay; computer-transmitted letters of credit; and other familiar services move our money, each grabbing a cut from your bank or merchant.


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