On Wednesday, El Salvador’s president signed into law a proposal to adopt bitcoin as legal tender, making the Central American nation the first in the world to officially use the cryptocurrency.
The new law says that companies must accept bitcoin as a form of payment, and the government will allow people to pay taxes with it as well. The exchange rate with the dollar will be set by the market, and exchanges from dollars to bitcoin won’t be subject to capital gains tax. The law was passed by a supermajority vote of the legislature, with 62 of 84 deputies assenting.
The country has used the US dollar as its primary currency since 2001, when the government was attempting to stabilize and shore up an economy left in shambles by a bloody 12-year civil war that ended in 1992. The government switched its accounting system to dollars and stopped printing and minting its old currency, colones, though it did not remove it as legal tender. People can still spend any colones in their possession at a rate fixed to the dollar.
El Salvador’s use of the dollar as its primary currency has meant that the country has minimal control over its monetary policy; for all intents and purposes, the US Federal Reserve exerts more power. As a result, efforts by the Salvadoran government to prop up the economy in a recession must be through fiscal interventions, which require a supermajority in the legislature. Adopting bitcoin won’t change this situation, of course, since the supply of the cryptocurrency is limited by mining rates and is ultimately capped at 21 million bitcoins.