The "Mint Chip"? Really, guys?

I'm not sure how I let this one slip past me; as both a political scientist and a wannabe-futurist, it's in the perfect little sweet spot between the pair of them. Recently, the Royal Canadian Mint announced its intention to purse the "Mint Chip," which in addition to being a name that ensures This Hour has 22 Minutes and Rick Mercer never run out of jokes, is a plan to put forwards a digital currency and matching delivery system.

This isn't groundbreaking work, of course. The M-Pesa in Kenya largely pioneered widescale digital currency distribution, and Google has recently thrown its hat in the ring with Google Wallet. To the best of my knowledge, however, the Mint Chip is the first domestic government-backed program of this sort, and that makes it noteworthy. Google Wallet may be a perfectly serviceable product, but it's unlikely to spark the kind of mass transition that a concept like this will really need to get off the ground, for the very good reason that Google is a private corporation. There are only two ways to make money off of a service like Google Wallet; charging a fee for use, or selling personal transaction information to advertisers. They're both largely reasonable, but they're also both kind of annoying, and I wouldn't be surprised if most people opted to give Google Wallet a pass. Google can pass around private information online because it was basically the only player in the market for a long enough period that people genericized it in their heads; when it comes to money, however, there are all sorts of credit and debit cards on offer, basically for free from the consumer's perspective, that don't sell off the fact that you bought something from the adult novelty store.

But the Mint Chip is a different breed of animal. Being a product of the same state that distributes and guarantees money in the first place, it has a cachet of security that a private organization would be hard-pressed to duplicate. And of course, being in the business of literally making money for the government, the Royal Canadian Mint doesn't need to either charge or sell information in order to finance the system. The Mint is essentially selling the Mint Chip to its single customer, the government of Canada, which then distributes that product to the citizens of Canada. And given that Canadians generally have faith in the institutions of the state, even if they don't like the particular government of the day, there is reason to believe the Mint Chip will have a much easier time getting off then ground than Google Wallet, or any other private offering in this market. 

The Mint has released a video on the project.

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