Up until about a month ago, today’s word was most often associated with astrology; however, if the hype is to be believed, the word may soon be commonplace in the world of finance and currency. Naturally (unless there’s a Sagittarius coin that we don’t yet know about), this is referring to the Libra cryptocurrency whose name was just announced last month, but whose conceptualisation and development has been underway for a little over a year. Before visions of another Bitcoin or Ethereum start dancing in everyone’s heads, it’s important to realize that, in many ways, Libra will be different, but before properly examining the cryptocurrency, let’s take a closer look at the word itself.
Often represented by a weighing scale or balance on the zodiac, which is actually based on the Scales of Justice held by Themis, the Greek Titaness associated with divine law and custom, who was the inspiration for Lady Justice, the term has always maintained a role in measurement. Though we may not understand the “clue”, it is appropriate to use the scale or balance, as the original usage of the term – Latin (from Proto-Italiac) meaning ‘a balance or scale’ – dates back to ancient Rome, where the standardised measurement of the Libra was the modern equivalent of 11.6 ounces or 328.9 grams. As a matter of fact, the term is also the origin of the abbreviation for the imperial and American weight measurement (lb or LB) as well as for the abbreviation for the British currency unit (£), being originally minted from a pound of silver.
Interestingly, the original appearance of the term in English as a weight measurement as well as a zodiac sign come from the same work, Cornish writer and translator John Trevisa’s 1398 translation of Bartholomew de Glanville’s De Proprietatibus Rerum (On the Properties of Things), which was compiled around 1240. Noting its use as a Roman measurement, Trevisa transcribes: “Twelve ounces makes Libra and is therefore accounted a perfect weight.” Later in the work, specifically discussing the seventh sign of the zodiac which begins on September 23rd, Trevisa deciphers de Glanville stating: “The sign that heightens Libra in manners body rules the nether guts of the womb.” Simply put, while the use of the term as a measurement of weight was soon superseded by other systems (Imperial, Metric, etc.), the use of the term in consideration of the zodiac only expanded, to the point that people have grown to assess the common attributes of a traditional zodiac Libra to people born under the sign, such as in Vin Packer’s 1969 book, Don’t rely on Gemini, which makes special note of the fact that: “Mrs. Muckermann’s a Libra.”
OK, so Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (a Taurus) announced that Facebook’s vice president David A. Marcus (an Aries) would head a new blockchain division with the aim of creating a cryptocurrency in May of 2018, which was just given the name Libra last month. In this sense, the name comes from the idea of a standardised weight of measure; however, it also takes into account the French stem of Lib- (such as in liberté, meaning ’free’) in an attempt to appeal to a sense of financial freedom, which is what the currency will be based around.
Far from simply being a sort of social media token wholly within the Facebook environment, which boasts 2.375 billion users, the idea behind the project is to offer alternative financial services (aka not through a traditional bank) to the estimated 1.7 billion people globally who lack a banking account. Moreover, this is not a “Facebook first” venture: governance of the project is to be handled by the Libra Association, which can already tout names such as Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, Vodafone, Coinbase, Uber, and Kiva, thus giving oversight a broad spectrum.
Overall, the goal is to build a cryptocurrency that is stable, offers faster and less expensive transactions, and can be integrated with a social media presence. The stability, or rather lack of volatility, will facilitate day-to-day transactions through a value backed by a basket of global currencies and US Treasury securities. With a specialized blockchain (Libra Blockchain) that is designed to handle 1,000 transactions per second, it easily dwarfs Bitcoin’s 7 per second or Ethereum’s 15, highlighting speed and reducing cost. Also, considering we’re all on social media anyway, it only makes sense to utilize that presence for something we all eventually need to do- move money and buy things.
Ideally, it seems like a good idea, but, with overall privacy concerns (not just those surrounding Facebook and social media in general), the potential for governmental regulatory response, security concerns, and the fact that the cryptocurrency is only partially decentralised, there are a number of potential hurdles to overcome. Perhaps it is appropriate to name the project Libra, as a lot of it still hangs in the balance.