Plenty of theologians and Christian leaders have become animated by the temptations of money. According to St Paul, the love of money is the root of all evil. Pope Francis has insisted that “money has to serve, not to rule”.

But what is money? In fact, it has a relatively mundane function. In simple terms, money is a good, such as gold, which we can use to buy all other goods.

Something used as money has to have certain characteristics. For example, it needs to be widely accepted. There is no point my having money that nobody else wants. What would I buy with it? Money also has to be a store of value. If what I use as money is fluctuating in value all the time, it will be risky to hold it in any quantity.

Modern monetary systems are based around central banks and a closely connected banking system. In its official statements, the Catholic Church seems to have come to support such systems, but it would like them to be globally coordinated. Indeed, it blamed the lack of global coordination of the banking system for the financial crisis. Yet the eurozone system (which is international, though not global) is hardly an exemplar of stability.

While we have become used to money being provided by banks supervised by a government central bank, if we reflect on the functions of money, it is clear that the government does not need to be involved in this way. Things such as sharks’ teeth and gold, which are limited in supply and portable, can be used as money and have been for much of history. Indeed, in prisoner-of-war camps substitute monies evolved quickly.

So, what about cryptocurrencies? The most famous cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, tries to mimic a gold mine. People beaver away using computing algorithms to solve puzzles that earn them a Bitcoin. The supply of Bitcoin is limited and, just like gold, it becomes harder to mine as time goes on. It is because it is limited in supply that its proponents hope it will keep its value and not be subject to inflation.

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