In case you haven’t noticed, fewer people are using cash now than ever before. This trend is not new; it’s been in place for years. But what is new is that it is accelerating.
A study made in 2019 by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco found that consumers used cash in just 26% of their transactions, down from 30% in 2017. A more recent study found that just 10% of consumers use cash only to make their purchases. And the average cash transaction is just $22, significantly lower than the average $122 used for non-cash transactions.
If the US becomes cashless, will this affect our day to day lives? The answer is “Yes,” and in some ways that are surprising.
According to Zero Hedge, “Cash would no longer be legal tender” and would disappear. There would no longer be a line for cash on your bank’s deposit and withdrawals slips. Buying anything with dollars or coins - even small items such as coffee and a bagel - would be a thing of the past. In fact, if you found a $100 bill on the ground, rather than break out in a smile at your good luck, you would not even give it a second glance. And why would you? After all, paper money would be worthless.
If this sounds like something about a fictionalized futuristic society, it’s not. A growing number of countries are gravitating toward this, and in some of them it’s almost a fait accompli. In Sweden, for example, only 2% of transactions are made with cash, and nearly all Swiss retailers refuse to accept it. Consumers in China make most of their transactions with their cell phones. And in the UK, credit cards, online payments, and contactless payments have largely replaced cash. Cash is no longer accepted on public transportation and the number of ATMs is dwindling. The same is true of Venezuela.
This trend has been evolving in the US for years but has accelerated because of the pandemic. Many cashiers now refuse to touch dollar bills and coins because they worry it harbors the virus, and many consumers feel the same way, despite studies that have shown the virus actually has a greater chance of surviving on plastic. Many people believe the lingering shortage of coins is part of the plan to eliminate all cash.
Cash Is …
There’s an old saying that cash is king, but in our day-to-day lives it has also become part of tradition. Cash is often presented as gifts for new babies, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, and graduations. On Chanukah, Purim, and other occasions, parents and doting grandparents give children and grandchildren cash, to the delight of recipients. And collectors often go around shuls asking for help, and the mispalelim who respond usually give them some coins or a dollar or two.
Teens do various chores to earn a few extra dollars, waiters and waitresses depend on cash tips, and to a large extent so do taxi drivers and delivery men. Even kids try to earn cash by setting up lemonade “stands,” babysitting and the like.
In theory, of course, it is possible to pay for these services with plastic, but not everyone is equipped with the necessary devices or the tech know-how to process these transactions. Besides, using plastic has less human interaction and would introduce a marked change in our culture.
The challenges and difficulties of becoming cashless extend far beyond these. According to Zero Hedge, there are eight million households in the US that do not have bank accounts due to fees, bad credit, or other factors. “These people rely on check-cashing businesses that already take a hefty fee to give them the pay they’ve earned. What will they do when cash is no longer an option?”
Moreover, the article adds, many of these people are already living under the poverty line. If they can no longer do odd jobs to make a few extra dollars, life would become even more difficult for them.
The Nightmare Scenario
But these problems pale “in comparison to the potential for abuse against citizens in a cashless society,” the article adds. “If every single dime you bring in is tracked and recorded, you will have no financial privacy and you’ll also be at far more risk.”
Back in 2013, billions of dollars were seized from depositors in Cypress to protect that country’s banking system from an $11.6 billion debt owed to foreign creditors. “What would happen if there’s a Cyprus-style event in the US, the government decides a bail-in is in order, and no one has cash to fall back on?”
Although this may sound like something that could “never happen here” - it can. In 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Act. This law prohibits government bailouts of banks but allows bail-ins. This means the money in a bank’s customer’s account could be seized to save a sinking bank.
Financial writer Jim Rickards worries that “Elites are pushing for the cashless society so they can impose negative interest rates on us.”
Even worse, “What if the powers that be decide to ‘cancel’ people with unpopular political opinions? Many websites, YouTube channels, and social media accounts have been suspended and demonetized over the past few years.
Could unpopular opinions be fined and money immediately withdrawn from the accounts of those who dissent with the status quo? Could their plastic cards used to make payments and purchases suddenly become not usable?”
These worrisome scenarios have become all too real. Meanwhile, the number of countries in the process of making their societies cashless is increasing. And to date, no country has ever tried to reverse this trend.