Trying to hang on to my cash

Found a link to this article from a friend on Facebook: “Why Sweden’s cashless society is no longer a utopia”.

As I wrote in a 1996 article in Analog, and as I still believe, the transition to an all-electronic, no-cash society brings far too many pitfalls to make me happy with the thought. In a cashless society, ALL transactions can be tracked, recorded, and reported. In a cashless society, the money you have may not necessarily be yours (consider the current problems with ebooks and emusic files, which may disappear at Amazon’s whim, because you’re only renting them).

Earlier today, I was reviewing American Mensa’s monthly financial statements (in my role as a member of the finance committee). I was looking at a $4.5 million annual budget, with line-item expenses ranging up to tens of thousands of dollars. But in those documents, I also saw a credit card transaction for a $3 soda, and another for a $5.10 purchase at an airport newsstand. While the ability to see those transactions—when serving in an oversight role—is good, a cashless society would rapidly be overwhelmed with such minutiae, to the point that reviewing one’s monthly finances would become incredibly tedious. And once we decide to ignore that tedium, it becomes even easier for your bank or government money program to modify your balance at will. Heck, that’s an outgrowth of what we see today: people pay far more attention to the price of an item when they pay with cash than when they pay with a credit card. When there are no cash transactions, it will be very easy for all prices to become “approximate.”

I keep a little bit of cash on hand, in case of emergency, in case of… well, anything. A few years ago, I was in Massachusetts when a massive ice storm hit, knocking out electricity across several states. I needed to get home before the power had been turned back on, and one of the very real struggles was driving far enough to get out of the blacked-out region, in order to find a gas station that did have power so that its pumps could sell me gasoline. On that drive, I also needed to purchase food, and I was lucky to find a clerk in a darkened store who was willing to make the sale, but of course, I had to pay cash. In a cashless society, a blackout means not only a lack of electricity, but an inability to travel, an inability to purchase anything.

Have you ever wanted to purchase a surprise for your spouse? Better make sure you don’t have a joint account, or it won’t be much of a surprise in a cashless society. Ever wanted to buy something just a little naughty? How much more inhibited are you going to feel, knowing you have to use an electronic payment that is automatically tracked. Gifts for the grandkids? Oh, sure, honey, there’s a little more value on your money card now. Enjoy.

I know I sound like the fuddy-duddy, the Luddite, railing against this march to the future. And indeed, I’m fairly sure a cashless society will be here soon. At this point, I can only hope it will wait until those of us who like using cash have died out.

#cashless #cash #creditcard #debitcard #electronicpayment

3 thoughts on “Trying to hang on to my cash

  1. I forgot to mention quasi-legal transactions. For instance, right now in the US, marijuana in some forms is legal in some states, but it’s still illegal federally. Thus, most legitimate marijuana businesses find themselves being entirely cash operations (I remember hearing about the first few to open in Colorado, who hadn’t thought of the problem of being a solely cash business, having to deal with so much cash) because banks and credit card processors, being interstate businesses, do not want to run afoul of federal laws.

    Thus, the cashless society emphatically favors federal laws over state laws, urging the country towards more centralization.

    Also, what happens when the government moves more toward the nanny-state mentality? When the cashless society’s government decides to discourage gambling, or eating sugary desserts, or drinking sodas, transactions for those things can simply be denied, or limited, regardless of the individual citizen’s desires.


  2. Extending the conversation, I present this article: More Restaurants and Cafes Refuse to Accept Cash — That’s Not a Good Thing (

    And just for the record, when Gray Rabbit Publications / Fantastic Books is selling in person (as we are this weekend at Philcon, we ALWAYS accept cash. In fact, we prefer it. Although we do also take credit/debit cards, precious metals, rare coins, bearer bonds, and nearly anything else of value you’re willing to exchange for books.


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