A collection of Bitcoin (virtual currency) tokens are displayed in this picture illustration taken December 8, 2017. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Illustration
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As the cryptocurrency frenzy builds, where does it leave other payment methods? Non-cash transactions are growing by 11 per cent a year as banks concentrate on electronic payments, encouraged by regulators.

In his column this week, John Gapper explores how Bitcoin is building up a challenge to traditional banking by exploiting the same desire for privacy that fuels persistent attachment to cash. “Many people appreciate having a shadow system,” he points out. “Whether they know how it works, and the risks they are taking, is another question.”

Cash loyalists include the very rich, the very poor, the criminal and the merely old-fashioned — nearly everyone, in fact, and sometimes there are good reasons for seeking the shadows. In some economies, private citizens do not trust the government or the authorities to the extent that they even pay their mortgage or rent in cash. Bitcoin benefits from similar motives.

Lessons from Alabama: Roy Moore’s defeat has boosted Democrat hopes of overturning the Trumpites across the US. The culture wars will get nastier yet, writes Edward Luce.

Hopes of a post-Zuma ANC: With Cyril Ramaphosa standing for election as leader of South Africa’s ruling party, David Pilling argues, there is a new opportunity to leave corruption behind.

Macron is a hero to the Germans: Roula Khalaf finds Berlin awash with members of the political class who like the idea of a French president with an appetite to lead the EU.

Best of the rest

Europe’s post-Brexit financial capital will be London. Matthew Elliott, former CEO of Vote Leave, writes in Politico about the City’s natural strengths.

Honest politicians won’t fix corruption. Moses Naim in The Atlantic on an AI solution to corrupt public officials that may be better than a human hero.

There’s a big unanswered question about Britain’s extra voters, writes Stephen Bush in the New Statesman, and that is why did they turn up for the first time this year (or for the Brexit vote) and will they again. A known unknown.

May is stronger than hardline Brexiteers think. In The Times, Daniel Finkelstein says don’t bet against Theresa remaining as PM for some time yet.

What you’ve been saying

Europe’s next crisis may be one of solvency — from Desmond Lachman, Washington, DC, US

“Sir, A critical mistake that the International Monetary Fund made in its initial handling of the 2010 Greek sovereign debt crisis was its failure to recognise that Greece had a solvency rather than a liquidity problem. In championing the creation of a European Monetary Fund (“Europe must create its own ‘big bazooka’ monetary fund”, December 8), Jean-Pierre Landau does not seem to entertain the idea that the next European sovereign debt crisis might again be one of solvency rather than liquidity. If that turns out to be the case, it will not be resolved by the provision of unlimited temporary liquidity alone.”

Comment by Superfluous on John Gapper’s latest column, Bitcoin and cash cast a shadow over banks

“One of my banks recently decided to block all transactions to crypto currency exchanges, despite no regulatory demands to do so (other local banks still allow it) — when challenged by the media they refused to even comment on their reasoning. Ironically in this action they are showing exactly why they (as middlemen) must be removed — does some manager somewhere really have a right to arbitrarily decide if you can move your own money while you’re fully complying with the law, and not even have to give you a reason for his decision?”

India’s terrible air quality is not a political issue — yet — from Jyoti Pande Lavakare in New Delhi, India

“The government’s lack of will and attention has forced ordinary citizens like myself to become citizen scientists and citizen advocates. If we, with our limited resources, can research solutions, surely the government with all resources at its disposal — including our taxes — can contract the brightest minds in our country to find and implement a complete solution to this problem? Until the terrible air quality becomes a political issue, India’s poor will remain largely unaware of the poison they are breathing.”

Today’s opinion

How Cyril Ramaphosa can still save the ANC
The party that once inspired the world with its vision of the future has fallen far

Alabama’s #MeToo warning to Trump
When an evangelical state votes for a liberal, Democrats believe they have struck gold

Free Lunch: A US tax plan for economic nationalism
One of its many flaws is how it treats cross-border production

David Allen Green’s blog: Two positive things about Brexit

Seek new experiences, not facts, if you want to learn
We would be better off encouraging children to explore their environments

FT View

FT View: Climate disclosure takes a giant step forward
Pressuring companies to be more transparent on risks is a good idea

FT View: Roy Moore defeat offers an opportunity for Republican renewal
The result in Alabama should shift the GOP away from Bannonism

The Big Read

The Big Read: European politics: leaders struggle to contain rising populism
In the last of a series, the FT shows how far-right parties are influencing immigration policy even after losing elections

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