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Don't take my Benjamins just yet

Charles Moore, Community Voices • Dec 9, 2018 at 12:00 AM

All the rage, for the moment, is about the future of becoming a “cashless society.” I’m convinced the people who write this stuff don’t get out much. Being a less-than-fully-connected-grumpy old guy, I submit we might miss cash more than we think.

I am not against the idea of “cashless.” It would make accounting easier and quicker, probably trade one form of theft with another, save having to print and destroy billions of bills and fighting counterfeiting. Cashless would make inoperative the word “heist.” Gone for good would be “stick-up man” or “getaway car.” No more hold-up movies or cheesy car chases involving candy-colored Fiats. These are all good reasons and I probably have only scratched the surface of some of the savings.

But, what about the guy who wants to impress his date with a $100-bill wrapped around a wad of singles? This is serious business. We’re talking a sea-change in the nomenclature of courtship. Imagine the young man and his date at the movies. He could be so sophisticated that he pays for everything by whipping out his ever-ready, ever-faithful cell, and with a beep the transaction is done. It will probably become the more satisfying way to pay for things in the future but how romantic is that? Otherwise he hands over a twenty and gets back two tickets, a tub of hot-buttered popcorn, and four bits. This being a representative nominal price of romance is not what he’s thinking.

How are you supposed to tip the parking valet if all you have is your ApplePay? Not only would cashless drive up his taxes, more importantly, how would we pass on to future generations the “secret handshake” necessary to pass the cash?

The library will still collect fines in ten-cent increments but do it electronically? No more Shriners getting run over selling newspapers for a buck or two. But what about those donation buckets cut from one-gallon milk cartons for a needy family? How will that work?

More on the serious side, I’d like to see the crazy internet accounting in a cashless society when you pass the hat for a going-away present. Not only does someone get stuck buying the stupid present they now have to wander into the maze of bookkeeping on their cell phone to avoid having these piddling amounts counted as income as well as argue with who paid and who didn’t. Or, even more seriously, what will this trend do to passing the collection plate at church? Imagine next Christmas, the Salvation Army Bell Ringers will be wired to collect all those quarters and nickels and dimes electronically.

Eventually, will we even have a notion of “nickels and dimes”? Will we care or notice that coin currency disappears from the scene replaced with “ones and fives” for pennies and nickels? An inflationary bump will drive everything less than a dollar up to a dollar like fines, donations, and parking meters. All those tons of pennies stashed under beds will become either very valuable or more than worthless.

After all, how would you bribe or blackmail someone in a cashless state? All you really collect is credit, not folding money in a suitcase. How would you know which ransom software really works? Check the “likes” and “dislikes”? Where would that particular algorithm lead you? I can see the gun-for-hire cottage industry going bankrupt. If that goes cashless then the entire murder-genre publishing industry is poised on the eve of destruction.

Bus fares? Club dues? Charity lunches? Charity car wash? The mower guys? The beer guy at the ballgame? Listen up America, is this what you really want?

Cashless is not the same as trackless. Cashless is just what the tax collector needs to keep everyone honest because cash breeds dishonesty which requires, on second thought, auditors, which is employment for the thousands of MBAs graduating from our universities every year.

The medium of exchange has value in itself. We learn this at an early age. Hoarding the allowance can be profitable? There seems to be some kind of internal accounting of value when you fork over a ten for less than four gallons of gasoline. We are hard wired to make connections between things (three-leaf red plant causes incredible itching!) and that notion of currency earned given in exchange for goods is a strong connection.

In response to Capital One’s advertisement: What’s in my wallet? What’s a wallet?

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