If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Monday, 24 October 2011

Making cash illegal?

I like cash. Real money, bits of strangely durable paper and jingly coins. OK, it's not real as the whole concept of 'money' is a human construct, but it's as real as it gets. You want something, and you have the cash, you've got it. It's convenient, it's anonymous, and it's got a physical presence. So far, at least, no-one ever complains about being paid in cash because if you have the cash, you've got your money, no question.

I was brought up with cash (for small amounts) and cheques (for large). I quite liked cheques, as there was a certain element of authority in signing something that ordered your bank to pay someone some money from your account. Then came automation, standing orders and direct debits, and the huge convenience (and danger) of credit cards. It's all been heading in one direction - away from cash and towards automated and electronic transfer of funds. Cheques have pretty much bit the dust now, and it seems that cash may be heading the same way - those funky adverts where people wave their mobile phones at something to acquire it can only spell the end of things you can touch and count. I'm quite nostalgic about cash. I have fond memories of visits to elderly relatives that ended with a florin or half-crown in the palm of the hand or, if you were really lucky, a ten-bob note. If I think of my Dad running anywhere, the soundtrack is the chink-chink of loose change in his pockets as he ran.

I had the idea that cash would slowly die out over time. The 'Tomorrow's World' promise of little cards that we can load with small amounts to spend in the local shop will come true one day, and then there will be no need to carry anything but a piece of plastic. I would regret this, but ultimately it is a democratic thing - if people prefer doing things differently, if it's more convenient or secure, then that's what will happen. But I will still regret the passing of the times when you could legally pay off a debt using any form of legal tender, the only restriction being the reasonable one of limiting the amounts for coins below £1 in value. But if you owed someone £100, you could offer them five £20 notes and they would have to accept, or cancel the debt. I'm not sure how long that little quirk of history will last, what with EFT being so convenient to corporations and the like.

But I never thought that using cash would be made illegal. And yet it has happened - only in Louisiana so far, but a precedent has been set.
If you’re in Louisiana and you plan to buy secondhand goods, cash may be useless.

By order of new legislation in the State, House Bill 195, those who buy or sell secondhand goods are no longer allowed to use cash to complete the transactions more than once a month, according to The Consumerist.

The law puts requirements on any individual who has a yard sale more than one time in a month and will also affect trading posts and flea markets. They will now all be required to keep detailed records of transactions by logging customer IDs and accepting only checks, money orders or electronic transfers.
I'm sure, like all of these things, it will be accepted as 'for everyone's benefit' - after all, the intention is to make it difficult for metal thieves to turn their thefts into cash, and who could object to that? - and people will gradually accept that their right to trade in cash must be restricted if the State is to regulate things properly on their behalf. But Leg-Iron (to whom thanks for the link) sees a much more sinister outcome, and I can't disagree.
So there is absolute control over every transaction and tax on every transaction. How much tax? Nobody knows. An amount is deducted from the buyer's balance and a smaller amount is added to the seller's balance but at no point is the tax amount declared. Neither party knows the actual price, you just buy things, and you are required to explain yourself if you are not buying things because you are hampering the economy. Even if you sell stuff via the fictional equivalent of eBay, the transaction must be electronic and the bid you see on your screen isn't quite what the buyer sees on his. Emails passed between seller and buyer are auto-edited on the way.

How to make this happen? First you ban cash. Then cheques (I know, they started with the wrong one here) so everything is done via a credit card. These already have chips, and already can be integrated into phones. It's only a tiny step to integrate them into your implanted ID chip and just look how convenient it is. You can't lose it, you can't go right round the supermarket and then find you've left your card at home, and it can't be stolen. Perfect. People will fight each other to be the first to get this.

That's the fiction. I wondered how to go about banning cash from this imaginary world. What pretext could I use?

Ah, here it is. Once again, life is ahead of me.
Spot on, as usual.

Thing is, cash is anonymous and (unless you bring in the forensic boys) untraceable. So it's perfect for criminal activity. The problem is, it's also perfect for making perfectly legal transactions by people without a criminal thought in their heads, who simply want to keep their business to themselves. If I go to Tesco for the weekly shop and pay in cash, they can't keep a list of what I have bought, cross-reference it with my spending patterns in other areas, and use it to target me with 'lifestyle marketing' that 'will be of interest to me'. And that's the least sinister of the uses of all that personal data. I can think of plenty that aren't in the least benign.

Cash - use it for as long as you can. Soon it will be illegal or, at the very least, seen as anti-social. Nothing to hide, and all that.


  1. I believe that this concept is currently being piloted in Greece.

  2. I was counting my money as usual yesterday when I spotted a one pound coin that looked rather unusual. It turned out to be a Hong Kong 10 dollar bit, bastards!

  3. See, you can't even trust cash these days.


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