For years, banks and industries have kept a keen eye on the slow disappearance of cash from our economy. They put up very little resistance when they had to invest in new virtual payment systems, despite the high cost. After years of lobbying, European states are loosening their grip, and letting them privatize currency. But cash, with the liberty it gives, is a regalian good which States ought to guarantee for their citizens.
Whoever is looking for anti-cash arguments just needs to scroll for a few internet pages, and anti-cash lobbies will provide plenty, free of cost. The Economic Times, whose audience is mostly composed of bankers and financial agents (who see cashless societies as an opportunity to up their profits), lists various advantages the public would draw from removing cash from our economies – but leaves out, of course, how the financial world would profit the reform.
As the Indian government is struggling to push its rash reform through, and obtain from its people that they give up their cash, it mentions: “You will no longer need to carry wads of cash, plastic cards, or even queue up for ATM withdrawals […] The recent waiver of service tax on card transactions up to Rs. 2,000 is one of the incentives provided by the government to promote digital transactions. This has been followed by a series of cuts and freebies […] If all transactions are on record, it will be very easy for people to keep track of their spending […] The written record will help you keep tabs on your spending and this will result in better budgeting […] If stolen, it is easy to block a credit card or mobile wallet remotely, but it’s impossible to get your cash back […] It may not seem like much of an advantage, but being cashless makes it easy to ward off borrowers”. The list goes on for as long as your internet research.
Why do banks and corporations hate cash?
Mostly because it cuts into profits. Money, like everything else, has a cost. Moving money, for instance, from the sales point to the bank, will be done in different ways according to the medium. If clients all pay with smartphones and credit cards, moving the millions to the bank account will take a single person a few minutes and a few clicks on a screen. If that same amount is in cash, it will require calling the cash transportation company to book a pick-up, when a specialized and armored lorry will come with three armed men, costing many more man-hours. In addition, cash attracts thieves who are known to disrupt operations far more than electronic fraud which sometimes goes unnoticed for days or weeks.
But what do States have to say about it?
Many of them find the idea attractive. After all, wouldn’t the suppression of cash give them absolute and complete control of the economy? Help (to some debatable extent) fighting tax evasion and organized crime, which both often carry out transactions in cash? The Indian government is selling this re-claim of the nation’s wealth by the government as a dream come true: “Parrikar said at the Vijay Sankalp Rally at Sankhali on Friday that PM Narendra Modi had a dream about a cashless society and “they told me that Goa can become the first state to go cashless”, as reported by the India Times.
For some people, the role of the state is simply to administer public infrastructures, regardless of political leadership. In that view, servicing the economy (not running it) by ensuring that all business channels flow free of stress would be part of their essential and regalian mission. And removing a channel from the economy would simply limiting options for customers or businesses. It would prevent small businesses from starting off, for example, before they were fully equipped with expensive payment systems.
For others, the role of a government is to guarantee a level of protection for the smaller citizens and fundamental liberties. If so, then giving up on protecting the fundamental right to privacy which cash is the payment method to provide is a very bad idea, if not a slight of hand. In our day and age, when citizens in the entire developed world are ever more concerned about the fall of their right to privacy, which security laws and digital economies are likely to hasten, how can freedom-protecting States allow corporations to kill off cash on the basis that they find it cumbersome and impractical?
Regardless of whether the standpoint is left or right, liberal or conservative, anyone will agree that having more options is better than having fewer. One understands easily that it is inherent for businesses to want to constantly streamline their processes and increase their performance, in a capitalistic society. One would even understand if they influenced the market by, say, making non-cash payments as easy and user-friendly as possible. But libertarians are worried that, once cash is trashed, every single aspect of their economic lives, to the most minute details, will be on record somewhere in the world, for their governments to hold them accountable, for fraudsters to snatch their personal data, and for corporations to lay their ever-keener eye on.