Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Why Cant We Ban Cashless Shops

 The government and Bank of England seem to have finally woken up to one of the many glaring problems with trying to achieve a cashless society: that there are 1.3 million people in Britain who do not have a bank account. Whether that is because of long-established habit, because they don’t trust banks or because banks don’t trust them, it is an awful lot of people to contemplate shutting out of the economy. Presumably, they would have to resort to some form of barter, or to establish unofficial currencies such as cigarettes, used in jails.

But the solution suggested by Jeremy Hunt and Andrew Bailey seems itself wrapped in problems. They have suggested creating a Bank of England digital pound by 2030 which could be used without a bank account. Trouble is that four per cent of the population – almost the same proportion who do not have a bank account, and quite possibly the same people in many cases – don’t have internet access either. To use a digital currency in a shop would presumably require either a prepayment card or a smartphone. Still, 16 per cent of the population do not own a smartphone.

Presumably, that might rise if a digital currency became the only means of going shopping. But then there is a far simpler option to a digital currency: to enshrine in law the right to use cash. The government is in the process of passing a law which gives a right to access cash – which would oblige banks to ensure that sufficient cashpoint machines are available. But having access to cash is no good if you cannot use it. Why can’t we have a law like those already passed in New York and San Francisco, which bans cashless stores?

It is very significant that San Francisco, the world’s tech capital, has chosen to take this route. But it should not be surprising. When you are close to tech it is perhaps easier to see the potential consequences of allowing it to steam-roller every area of daily life.

It is not that anyone wants to stop people paying by card, mobile phone, fingerprint scanner, earlobe detector or whatever. It is the exclusion of cash which is the problem. The drive to abolish cash is coming from vested interests in the fintech sector which stands to profit from people being forced to use their services. Government should have the strength to tell them to get lost, to say: ‘If you want to sell us fintech, then you will have to convince us of the benefits of using your services; we are not going to help you by making them the only means of paying for goods’. Why does the government not do as it should have done years ago? Enshrine in law not just a right to access cash but to use it, too.  

Switzerland to Vote on Guaranteeing Citizens Access to Cash

“Switzerland Rejects the Cashless Society: Citizens to Vote on Keeping Banknotes and Coins Alive”

Swiss citizens will be given the opportunity to ensure their economy never goes cashless, an advocacy group said after collecting enough signatures on Monday to trigger a referendum on the issue.

The Free Switzerland Movement (FBS) says cash is playing a shrinking role in many economies as electronic payments become the standard for transactions in increasingly digitized societies, making it easier for the state to monitor the actions of its citizens.

She wants to add a clause to the Swiss currency law, which regulates the management of the money supply by the central bank and the state, that stipulates that a “sufficient amount” of banknotes or coins must always remain in circulation.

There is no evidence of moves towards a cashless society by the Swiss authorities.

FBS said it had collected over 111,000 signatures in support of the measure, more than the 100,000 needed to trigger a popular vote.

In defense of cash

Under the system of direct democracy in Switzerland, the proposal would become law if approved by the electorate, although government and parliament would decide how this law was implemented.

“It is clear that … the abolition of cash not only touches on issues of transparency, simplicity or security … but also poses the grave threat of totalitarian surveillance,” FBS President Richard Koller said on the group’s website.

He also sees Switzerland as the European flag-bearer for the defense of cash, as enforcing such guarantees in the European Union would entail the “almost impossible” process of getting approval from all 27 member states.

Accelerated by the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns, the trend towards more cashless payments was already apparent in 2017, when an Ipsos study found that more than a third of Europeans and Americans would like to give up cash and pretty much 20 percent already did .