Libra Association Exec: World Needs Us Because Bitcoin Is ‘Not a Means of Payment’

LAS VEGAS — “Bitcoin as an asset class has proven that mathematical scarcity can support an incredibly exciting asset,” Dante Disparte, vice chairman of the Libra Association, said Tuesday. “It’s not a means of payment. It just isn’t.”

Disparte spoke at the Digital Money Forum at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, making his argument to gadget fans and technology’s early adopters.

“The bottom rung of the ladder of economic mobility is payment access,” Disparte said. And so far, he said, crypto just isn’t cutting it on payments. Disparte said that’s why he became interested in what Facebook was building with Libra.

The Libra Association is a consortium of large companies that aims to eventually launch the Libra stablecoin, a federated cryptocurrency designed by Facebook for the millions of people who don’t have access to banking services. Each company involved would run a node, but only those approved by existing members can join. Though it is more decentralized than existing finance, it is not permissionless, like bitcoin or ethereum.

Libra is trying to solve a complex problem. “How do you drive mass adoption?” Disparte said. “How do you remove insidious levels of friction that basically make it cost-prohibitive to give people access to payments?”

“I’m not convinced that a council of self-interested companies can do money better than a decentralized system,” Akin Sawyerr, a strategy lead on the Decred project, said on the Tuesday panel. “The only way to really get there is to empower the individuals to have some base-level sovereignty.”

By sovereignty, Sawyerr meant a level on which a person has uncensorable control of their money. In bitcoin terms, as long as a person controls their keys, no one can take away their bitcoin. He expressed doubt that a permissioned system run by dozens of large organizations would be very censorship-resistant. Notably, the payments companies initially involved in the Libra Association – including PayPal, Visa, Mastercard and others – departed en masse in October.

But Disparte countered that until permissionless crypto projects deliver a payments system that people in the developing world actually use and that shows it can scale, it’s not fair to subject Libra to what he called, “a crypto purity test.”

“It’s not one or the other. The world is not zero sum,” Disparte said.

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a media partner of the Digital Money Forum.

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