Is a cashless society desirable?

Contactless payments are convenient, as are online bank accounts, etc as long as there are electricity and broadband supplies.

I understand that more and more people are no longer carrying or using cash at all. A cashless supermarket has just opened in London.

But I wonder whether a cashless society is desirable? Not only due to the dangers of electricity or broadband blackouts, but also because of the danger of the power it may give to those who might use it to control us.

The verse in Revelation 13:17 which says that nobody will be able to buy or sell without having a mark on the hand or the forehead makes me wonder whether we are sleepwalking into such a world.

Is it something we need to try to resist, do you think?
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Comments

  • Well, certainly not everyone will always have a credit/debit card, bank account, online access etc. etc., but I take your point about possible dangers.

    A big solar flare, or a nuclear explosion somewhere, could have deleterious effects, quite apart from the not exactly uncommon power cuts and broadband problems we already have on a daily basis...
  • I think there is already a huge pressure on everybody to have a bank account with a debit card now, as very few people are paid in cash, and numbers of cash machines are reducing.
  • You need to have a bank account and card to use a cash machine, anyway.
  • You need to have a bank account and card to use a cash machine, anyway.

    You can use cash machines with prepaid debit cards.
  • In the event of a major event knocking out power and/or internet on a wide scale a lack of physical cash is going to be the least of our worries. The vast majority of money has been electronic for decades, physical cash in circulation amounting to a few percent at most. I struggle to envisage a situation where having cash would make a noticeable difference as loss of electronic systems of payment on a wide scale would include your employer's ability to pay your wages, governments' ability to pay benefits, vendors' ability to pay suppliers. Heck, in those sort of circumstances are bank notes going to be worth anything anyway?
  • In the event of a major event knocking out power and/or internet on a wide scale a lack of physical cash is going to be the least of our worries. The vast majority of money has been electronic for decades, physical cash in circulation amounting to a few percent at most. I struggle to envisage a situation where having cash would make a noticeable difference as loss of electronic systems of payment on a wide scale would include your employer's ability to pay your wages, governments' ability to pay benefits, vendors' ability to pay suppliers. Heck, in those sort of circumstances are bank notes going to be worth anything anyway?

    Indeed. Our almost total reliance on electronics may prove to be our undoing (if Ye Plague or Ye Climate Change don't get us first).
  • HeavenlyannieHeavenlyannie Shipmate
    edited November 23
    I haven't paid for anything in cash for 18 months but even before covid the only reason I had cash in my purse was for bus fares. A cashless society was inevitable with the move to online shopping. I've been shopping online for 20 years, I even had an online shop of my own with online payments in 2005. I started shopping online as it was convenient for someone working from home and child raising. It's really too late to worry about a cashless society.
    My husband now pays using a ceramic contactless payment ring on his finger.
  • RuthRuth Shipmate
    Plenty of people in the US still get paid by check, which they take to a bank and cash. Cash machines (ATMs, automatic teller machines) are still everywhere, and some restaurants don't take anything but cash; they frequently have ATMs. There are ATMs in 7-11s, a huge national chain of convenience stores. My credit union only has a few local branches, but they have a deal with the company that owns the ATMs at 7-11, so I can use those machines for free.

    And I use them, because I always carry cash. Partly this so I can tip people, and partly it's just in case the power goes out. Partly it's because the washer and dryer in the apartment building laundry room take quarters; I pay for things in cash to get change.

    For me the major problem with a cashless society is that cash payments are the only way to keep monetary transactions private, and I think people have a right to privacy. I make enough credit transactions that I'm sure the data companies have an ample profile of my spending, but we should all have the right to *not* build up that profile.
  • Raptor Eye wrote: »
    But I wonder whether a cashless society is desirable? Not only due to the dangers of electricity or broadband blackouts, but also because of the danger of the power it may give to those who might use it to control us.

    If there's no electricity, most shops won't sell you anything because their tills won't work either.

    Cash has a couple of features that it's hard to replicate with current electronic payments:

    1. Anonymity. I can hand you some cash, and you don't know who I am. There are both privacy and security considerations attached to this.
    2. Person-to-person transfers. I can hand you a $20 and ask you to go and buy something for me. I can give you cash to pay for some activity our kids are doing. And it's easy. These days, the parents of my kids' friends are all sending small amounts of money back and forth with zelle and venmo to pay for group outings and the like. But there's no good cashless equivalent of handing someone a couple of banknotes and sending them to the bar for you.
  • HeavenlyannieHeavenlyannie Shipmate
    edited November 23
    Cash payments might also be used as a way of avoiding paying tax.
  • Cash payments might also be used as a way of avoiding paying tax.

    True. I wasn't citing that as an advantage, though.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Ruth wrote: »
    For me the major problem with a cashless society is that cash payments are the only way to keep monetary transactions private, and I think people have a right to privacy. I make enough credit transactions that I'm sure the data companies have an ample profile of my spending, but we should all have the right to *not* build up that profile.

    The desirability of privacy (where privacy is used in the vernacular sense to mean "secrecy", not the legal term-of-art meaning "non-governmental") often depends on how you phrase the question. For example, if you ask "should the government track all monetary transactions?" most people would say no. On the other hand, if you ask something more specific like "should the government be able to use a warrant track the last eighteen months of financial activity of a convicted pedophile?" most people would be willing to say yes.

    In other words there's a big difference between making sure the state isn't constantly monitoring all transactions and making sure transactions are undiscoverable via legally issued warrant.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    In other words there's a big difference between making sure the state isn't constantly monitoring all transactions and making sure transactions are undiscoverable via legally issued warrant.

    There's another set of privacy issues that has nothing to do with the government. Supermarkets track your credit card. They use it to correlate your purchase history. And supermarkets have a massive interest in modifying your spending patterns, because that's their profit. Perhaps you don't want the store you're shopping in to know that you're the same person who came in six months ago.

    It's theoretically possible to create an electronic anonymous payment infrastructure, so that stores can't obtain your identity, or track you across visits, with a payment token.

    Stores want to track you, because that's marketing information, and because they use that information for fraud prevention.

  • It's theoretically possible to create an electronic anonymous payment infrastructure, so that stores can't obtain your identity, or track you across visits, with a payment token.

    Not even theoretical - it's called crypto currency. Like any other payment method it depends on shops being willing to accept it (and that includes cash, for most purposes).
  • CaissaCaissa Shipmate
    I make well over 90% of my purchases with cash and always carry a reasonable amount of cash on my person. I make a point of paying cash at small businesses so that they receive the full value of my purchase.
  • There's another set of privacy issues that has nothing to do with the government. Supermarkets track your credit card. They use it to correlate your purchase history. And supermarkets have a massive interest in modifying your spending patterns, because that's their profit.

    Sure, but how are they going to do that exactly? All my purchase history tells them is the sort of things I like, it doesn't give them some means of directly controlling what I buy in future. At most it enables them to target me* with advertising for new things I might like**, but since I'm bombarded with advertising on a daily basis anyway I don't see what's so bad about it being for things I might actually be interested in rather than random shit that's just wasting my time.

    .

    *= assuming they have my contact details, of course, which they won't have just from my debit card number. And assuming I don't instantly click on "unsubscribe" or just delete the messages as spam.

    **= I mean, if all they're doing is the equivalent of sitting around saying "looks like this guy eats pasta a lot, let's make sure we let him know when we release a new sauce" then I'm struggling to see that as a bad thing.
  • The opening post mentioning a mark on the hand has just reminded me that about 10 years ago my eldest son’s high school introduced school dinner payments using the pupils’ thumbprints.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Not even theoretical - it's called crypto currency. Like any other payment method it depends on shops being willing to accept it (and that includes cash, for most purposes).

    Kind of. Cryptocurrency has a lot of issues that the modern banking system was more or less developed to solve.
    The government-backed banking system provides FDIC guarantees, reversibility of ACH, identity verification, audit standards, and an investigation system when things go wrong. Bitcoin, by design, has none of these things. I saw a remarkable message thread by someone whose bitcoin account got drained because their email had been hacked and their password was stolen. They were stunned to have no recourse! And this is widespread  —  in 2014, the then-#1 bitcoin trader, Mt. Gox, also lost $400m of investor money due to security failures. The subsequent #1 bitcoin trader, Bitfinex, also shut down after a loss of customer funds. Imagine the world if more banks had been drained of customer funds than not. Bitcoin is what banking looked like in the middle ages  —  “here’s your libertarian paradise, have a nice day.”

    In other words, cryptocurrency has most of the drawbacks of other forms of electronic transactions, none of the advantages, is more expensive to transact business with, and has extreme negative environmental externalities.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    The opening post mentioning a mark on the hand has just reminded me that about 10 years ago my eldest son’s high school introduced school dinner payments using the pupils’ thumbprints.

    There's always something. In the 1980s people were freaking out when UPC codes started appearing on everything. The U.S. is one of the last developed countries to use magnetic stripes on payment cards instead of RFID chips because its numerous evangelicals thought it was the mark of the beast. (RFIDs are now being slowly phased in for Americans.)

  • It's theoretically possible to create an electronic anonymous payment infrastructure, so that stores can't obtain your identity, or track you across visits, with a payment token.

    Not even theoretical - it's called crypto currency. Like any other payment method it depends on shops being willing to accept it (and that includes cash, for most purposes).

    Crypto currency is an alternate currency with many of the same features. In general, you wouldn't want the price fluctuations between pounds/dollars/euros and crypto-whatevers. I'm also not certain that the current mechanisms for backing up bitcoin wallets so that all your money doesn't vanish if you lose your computer / forget your password are suitable for the mainstream.

    Lots of cryptocurrencies have libertarian political goals about freeing the money supply from governmental interference and so on. That's not a feature you necessarily need in an anonymous transaction system. What features you do need depends on who you want to be anonymous from. Are you hiding from the government on political principle? Are you hiding from the government because you're a criminal? Or do you not care if the government can track you with a court order, but don't want the supermarket to track you? Or do you just want to be able to give a few currency units to some random street vendor without worrying about anything?

    Most people don't care if the supermarket tracks them, because they sign up for supermarket loyalty cards in exchange for small amounts of money off their purchases. Most people, as @Crœsos says, would like the state to be able to track down paedophiles and the like with purchase records, but don't want the state to use those same purchase records to catch them evading tax. But then, cash-in-hand tax evasion is up there with speeding on the list of crimes that many people think aren't real crimes.
  • There's another set of privacy issues that has nothing to do with the government. Supermarkets track your credit card. They use it to correlate your purchase history. And supermarkets have a massive interest in modifying your spending patterns, because that's their profit.

    Sure, but how are they going to do that exactly?

    Most large supermarket chains around here have a coupon printer next to each till that prints out coupons based on what I purchase. I have no idea whether it prints coupons based on my whole purchase history, but it could do.

    Various electronic retailers have experimented with per-customer dynamic pricing, in order to try and milk the maximum purchase price out of each transaction. You could imagine reproducing the same kind of thing in a physical store with per-customer dynamic discount vouchers.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Most large supermarket chains around here have a coupon printer next to each till that prints out coupons based on what I purchase. I have no idea whether it prints coupons based on my whole purchase history, but it could do.

    Various electronic retailers have experimented with per-customer dynamic pricing, in order to try and milk the maximum purchase price out of each transaction. You could imagine reproducing the same kind of thing in a physical store with per-customer dynamic discount vouchers.

    I'm not sure I find "here's a discount on [ item you've bought in the past ] to encourage you to buy more [ item you've bought in the past ] by [ expiration date of coupon ]" to be quite the Orwellian hellscape you seem to. Next you'll be worried that merchants will issue coupons to sell perishable items they're overstocked on. :anguished:

    Or to put it another way, is a store using a computer to remember your past purchases really more intrusive than the barista at your regular coffee place remembering how you take your coffee?
  • I agree about the many downsides of crypto currencies in general and bitcoin in particular, I was just noting that they do provide anonymous electronic payment.
  • In the event of a major event knocking out power and/or internet on a wide scale a lack of physical cash is going to be the least of our worries. The vast majority of money has been electronic for decades, physical cash in circulation amounting to a few percent at most. I struggle to envisage a situation where having cash would make a noticeable difference as loss of electronic systems of payment on a wide scale would include your employer's ability to pay your wages, governments' ability to pay benefits, vendors' ability to pay suppliers. Heck, in those sort of circumstances are bank notes going to be worth anything anyway?

    However, loss of electronic systems on a small scale would be very sucky for the vendors involved without cash as at least a backup option. At least at the moment someone can sellotape a handwritten sign to the counter saying 'Cash only - card reader not working'.
  • RuthRuth Shipmate
    Kroger knows most of what I've consumed at home going back a few decades now, and I really don't care. It's nice that I get coupons for a dollar off coffee or free eggs or whatever, but I'd shop there anyway -- it's the nicest place that's close that I can afford.

    What bothers me are the data broker companies that put together the supermarket data with the phone company data, voter registration data, credit history data, social media data, and anything else they can get their hands on.

    I am absolutely against a cashless society, even if the government wants to be able to legally discover certain felons' transaction histories. Make them use a state-issued card for all their purchases rather than make everyone use private companies' systems.
  • Our local Tesco now has a number of *Card Only* tills, the others taking cash as well as card payments.

    I think cash payments have decreased during Ye Plague Years, and contactless payments have increased, for obvious hygienic reasons.

    Incidentally, the limit for contactless payment in Tesco has gone up from £45 to £100, which may have something to do with the approach of Christmas, but which is, nevertheless, convenient.
  • DardaDarda Shipmate
    In the UK, the Christians Against Poverty Money Course is a money management course that teaches people budgeting skills and a simple, cash-based system. I've never participated in a course, but understand that using only cash is an essential part of the system. Perhaps other Shipmates may have tried the CAP system and can comment on its effectiveness?
    I think that CAP courses are also run in Australia, New Zealand, Canada & USA.
  • Darda wrote: »
    In the UK, the Christians Against Poverty Money Course is a money management course that teaches people budgeting skills and a simple, cash-based system. I've never participated in a course, but understand that using only cash is an essential part of the system. Perhaps other Shipmates may have tried the CAP system and can comment on its effectiveness?
    I think that CAP courses are also run in Australia, New Zealand, Canada & USA.

    Our Place's Baptist Church neighbour has run CAP courses in the past, but I didn't know that the courses were cash-based. On reflection, it makes sense, as credit cards can be very difficult to manage if one is not careful (I know whereof I speak).
  • Ruth wrote: »
    I am absolutely against a cashless society, even if the government wants to be able to legally discover certain felons' transaction histories. Make them use a state-issued card for all their purchases rather than make everyone use private companies' systems.

    Is this what the Bank of England's musings about digital currency are heading for (though presumably without compulsion)?
  • jedijudyjedijudy Heaven Host, 8th Day Host
    I always keep cash on hand, even though most of my purchases are by credit or debit card. Cash is how I pay my lawn guys, and how I tip people. At the beginning of the pandemic, my groceries and other things were delivered to my house, so that's when I started my tip fund. We also have some restaurants here that are cash only.

    I remember going to my bank for some cash in March of 2020, and washing it just in case it had evil viruses on it! :joy:
  • Darda wrote: »
    I've never participated in a course, but understand that using only cash is an essential part of the system.

    I haven't seen that course, but I've certainly known people who budget using physical cash in physical jars. It makes sense to them in a way that the equivalent, but abstract list of numbers does not.

    And it also puts an impediment in the way of unplanned overspending. If you carry a token linked to your bank account, there's nothing to stop you splurging all you've got on some frivolous thing that you "really want". If you just take this week's grocery money in cash, you don't give yourself the ability to overspend.
  • Darda wrote: »
    I've never participated in a course, but understand that using only cash is an essential part of the system.

    I haven't seen that course, but I've certainly known people who budget using physical cash in physical jars. It makes sense to them in a way that the equivalent, but abstract list of numbers does not.

    And it also puts an impediment in the way of unplanned overspending. If you carry a token linked to your bank account, there's nothing to stop you splurging all you've got on some frivolous thing that you "really want". If you just take this week's grocery money in cash, you don't give yourself the ability to overspend.

    I've come across current accounts that can be set up with virtual jars - you go online or on the app and allocate a certain portion of your balance to rent, electricity, gas etc, and then the balance available to the debit card is limited to whatever is left.
  • DafydDafyd Shipmate
    I thought the main disadvantage of a cashless society was that some people, already disadvantaged, have trouble getting bank accounts.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Dafyd wrote: »
    I thought the main disadvantage of a cashless society was that some people, already disadvantaged, have trouble getting bank accounts.

    It is. One possible solution is postal banking.
  • All those roadside stalls though… honey, jam, eggs, cakes, bread, plants, flowers…. All cash in an honesty box
  • HugalHugal Shipmate
    The course is adapting. It is best to use cash because once it is gone that’s it. That is the basic of the course but it does allow for online purchases.
  • Ethne Alba wrote: »
    All those roadside stalls though… honey, jam, eggs, cakes, bread, plants, flowers…. All cash in an honesty box

    A printed QR code to a paypal invoice would work.
  • HugalHugal Shipmate
    Darda wrote: »
    I've never participated in a course, but understand that using only cash is an essential part of the system.

    I haven't seen that course, but I've certainly known people who budget using physical cash in physical jars. It makes sense to them in a way that the equivalent, but abstract list of numbers does not.

    And it also puts an impediment in the way of unplanned overspending. If you carry a token linked to your bank account, there's nothing to stop you splurging all you've got on some frivolous thing that you "really want". If you just take this week's grocery money in cash, you don't give yourself the ability to overspend.
    Our local Tesco now has a number of *Card Only* tills, the others taking cash as well as card payments.

    I think cash payments have decreased during Ye Plague Years, and contactless payments have increased, for obvious hygienic reasons.

    Incidentally, the limit for contactless payment in Tesco has gone up from £45 to £100, which may have something to do with the approach of Christmas, but which is, nevertheless, convenient.

    Yes this was debated hard. The problem is if someone gets your card they are able to spend contactless on your card. It will only allow so many contactless payments then will insist you put your card in. But with a hundred pound limit that is a lot of your money they can spend.
  • I love those stalls with honesty boxes -though I've only seen plants and eggs for sale in my southern part of the UK. Thanks for the reminder to keep carrying some cash including coins!
    I have an old school friend who has been enthusiastically encouraging me to invest in crypto currency but it just feels all wrong to me.
  • Merry Vole wrote: »
    I love those stalls with honesty boxes -though I've only seen plants and eggs for sale in my southern part of the UK. Thanks for the reminder to keep carrying some cash including coins!
    I have an old school friend who has been enthusiastically encouraging me to invest in crypto currency but it just feels all wrong to me.

    It's not investing, it's gambling with unknown odds.
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    Dafyd wrote: »
    I thought the main disadvantage of a cashless society was that some people, already disadvantaged, have trouble getting bank accounts.

    It is. One possible solution is postal banking.

    Isn't this two problems? You have people who have difficulty getting a bank account because they can't prove their address, identity, or whatever, because they don't have a bundle of useful paperwork. The same people we worry about not being able to prove their id whenever voter id laws get suggested.

    You also have people who have documents, but have difficulty accessing a physical bank.
    Postal banking might help them, but I don't see how it helps the first group.
  • Ruth wrote: »

    For me the major problem with a cashless society is that cash payments are the only way to keep monetary transactions private, and I think people have a right to privacy. I make enough credit transactions that I'm sure the data companies have an ample profile of my spending, but we should all have the right to *not* build up that profile.

    This.

    Fuck anyone who wants to spy on all my boring transactions and know whether I get raspberry in my mocha. Or who I donate to, or where I was last Thursday when I used my card, or who I was with (because they used their cell phone and the data can theoretically be cross-referenced given the cell tower they pinged off of).

    I am extraordinarily boring, but it's MY boring, and I'm keeping it to myself.

  • That QR code n PayPal thing, has anyone ever seen this?
  • @Merry Vole , we returned from a longish trip with assorted chutney and jams!
  • Crœsos wrote: »
    Not even theoretical - it's called crypto currency. Like any other payment method it depends on shops being willing to accept it (and that includes cash, for most purposes).

    Kind of. Cryptocurrency has a lot of issues that the modern banking system was more or less developed to solve.
    The government-backed banking system provides FDIC guarantees, reversibility of ACH, identity verification, audit standards, and an investigation system when things go wrong. Bitcoin, by design, has none of these things. I saw a remarkable message thread by someone whose bitcoin account got drained because their email had been hacked and their password was stolen. They were stunned to have no recourse! And this is widespread  —  in 2014, the then-#1 bitcoin trader, Mt. Gox, also lost $400m of investor money due to security failures. The subsequent #1 bitcoin trader, Bitfinex, also shut down after a loss of customer funds. Imagine the world if more banks had been drained of customer funds than not. Bitcoin is what banking looked like in the middle ages  —  “here’s your libertarian paradise, have a nice day.”

    In other words, cryptocurrency has most of the drawbacks of other forms of electronic transactions, none of the advantages, is more expensive to transact business with, and has extreme negative environmental externalities.

    I have a vague memory of some poor fellow attempting to convince his city to dig up an entire city dump so he could retrieve a hard drive with the password etc. information to something like 17 million dollars of cryptocurrency on it. They were refusing, last time I heard.
  • Oh and fwiw no, personally I don’t think that a cashless society is desirable.

    I would hate it.
    To clarify, now that I live in a rural setting I would hate it.

    In a town or city?
    I can see the attraction…
  • Merry Vole wrote: »
    I love those stalls with honesty boxes -though I've only seen plants and eggs for sale in my southern part of the UK. Thanks for the reminder to keep carrying some cash including coins!
    I have an old school friend who has been enthusiastically encouraging me to invest in crypto currency but it just feels all wrong to me.

    It's also ecologically bad for everybody. A ton of power and computer hardware wasted to solve problems nobody needs solved, just to create artificial scarcity in the currency scheme, so it will be "valuable." No, no, no. (side question--why the hell can't they do their puzzle solving/"mining" on something that actually matters, like computed cancer research?)
  • chrisstileschrisstiles Shipmate
    edited November 23
    I agree about the many downsides of crypto currencies in general and bitcoin in particular, I was just noting that they do provide anonymous electronic payment.

    Well, it's true that it's hard to associate a particular payment (or a particular 'wallet') with a particular individual. OTOH all payments appear as permanent records on the blockchain and anyone with access to it can view all records for all time. You can even track the movement of particular units of currency over time - something that people who have run scams that involved governments have found to their cost.
  • And I'll shut up with this last one--

    One reason I want cash is because if I want to give a bit to a roadside beggar/stranded person/whatever, I don't want to think about it myself. I don't want it tracked, I don't want it to come up on my statement a month later (complete with date, amount, maybe even name). "The left hand not knowing what the right is doing" is exactly what I'm aiming for, because the more I think about it, the more I spoil it, spiritually speaking. I'm either going to have some obnoxious ego trip ("Yay me, how holy am I?") or I'm going to second-guess myself ("Probably a scammer, and will we be able to pay for the X this month, how dumb am I?") Just no. I can turn myself into moral pretzels without the help of electronic records.
  • CrœsosCrœsos Shipmate
    Fuck anyone who wants to spy on all my boring transactions and know whether I get raspberry in my mocha. Or who I donate to, or where I was last Thursday when I used my card, or who I was with (because they used their cell phone and the data can theoretically be cross-referenced given the cell tower they pinged off of).

    I am extraordinarily boring, but it's MY boring, and I'm keeping it to myself.

    Even transacting business on an all-cash basis isn't a guarantee of secrecy. For example, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert 47991-424 was busted because the regular pattern of large cash withdrawals he was using as hush money to pay off the young men he abused when he was a high school wrestling coach were reported by his bank. Apparently the minimum threshold for reporting cash withdrawals was lowered and Hastert 47991-424 was not aware of this fact.
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