A CASHLESS SOCIETY
I said to the teller when I collected my new bank card: “If you see it used for tap ‘n’ go payments, consider that my card has been stolen and cancel it immediately. I will only use it with my pin.”
She clearly thought I was a geriatric technophobe. “Don’t worry,” she said, brightly. “You can use it easily. Just tap where you see the sign and it’ll register payment.”
“You misunderstand me,” I replied. “I don’t want to use it that way. I know I have to have one of these cards, but I will not use it without identification. You can easily register suspicious change of use – so if it’s used for tap and go, please assume it has been nicked.”
She nodded in a vague, humouring sort of way, and I now realise I should have written to the bank to reinforce my instructions because they took no bloody notice. When an over-enthusiastic waitress at Côte Brasserie took my card and tapped it for me (naughty) before I could shout, “STOP!”, the card was not only accepted but the bank failed to cancel it. Grr.
I find the prospect of a cashless society deeply sinister. Yes, I use my Visa card and my bank card, both regularly. But I am still wedded to cash. And I hate the idea of a future without it.
Without cash, you will never, ever make an un-tracked purchase again. Every store, every coffee bar, every train operator, every website you use will know who you are, what branch you shopped at last and what your preferences and regular habits are.
Without cash, you’ll never have a jar on the dressing table where you throw your loose change of an evening. Mine mounts up surprisingly quickly and softens the financial hammering that Christmas brings.
Without cash, some joys will be forever lost. You will never be able to slip a twenty pound note into your goddaughter’s birthday card, or see a child empty out his piggy bank and have all that fun piling coins and counting his loot – learning basic numeracy and the point of saving at the same time. Heck, even the tooth fairy will die for lack of employment.
Without cash, you will never again be able to make sure the wait staff get their tips because you’ll be forced to put the gratuity on the card. We all know that there are publicans and restaurant owners who don’t pass the tips on to the people who earned them, God rot their hornswoggling arses.
Without cash, you will always have to pay VAT where applicable, and the tax man will know every transaction you ever make. You’ll never be able to bung fifteen quid to Jobless Dave Down-The-Road for mowing your lawn, or buy a shirt off a friend in a quick easy exchange – here’s your shirt, here’s my tenner. Neighbour Molly won’t be able to supplement her paltry pension by giving friends occasional lifts to the airport.
Without cash, the Government will know ALL your spending habits. Do you trust the Government?
Without cash, we are sleepwalking into financial enslavement.
Sure, the tap ‘n’ go system is quick and convenient. Who hasn’t fumed and chafed behind one of those infuriating old biddies whose arthritic fingers struggle to retrieve 5p coins from her purse?
But how convenient is it really? If you know you have a certain amount of spending money per week, it’s much easier to go over the limit when you’re not handling the actual moolah because it doesn’t feel like spending!
Skinny vanilla spice latte grande plus a ham and cheddar croissant? That’s £6.54. Purchase that 5 days a week, 49 weeks a year, and you’ve lashed out £1,602.30. Did you really mean to spend all that? Did you know it’ll get you two weeks all inclusive in a pretty 4* hotel in Turkey with nearly £300 spending money left over?
Business loves contactless payment, because you are so much more likely to make those kind of small, unnecessary, spontaneous purchases you never did when you had to use your last tenner. Those spontaneous purchases nibble away at your income while businesses thrive on them.
“You could have your wallet stolen!” cry the devotees of a No Cash Life. Of course. And you can have your card or phone stolen too. Tap ‘n’ Go means you don’t have to sign or provide a thumbprint. No ID required.
Come on, how safe is that when you can spend up to £30 a go? Yes, you might have all your cash stolen, but the most that any of us can usually take out in one go is £250. A pickpocket could spend £250 on St Pancras Station concourse in twenty minutes. A nonchalant reliance on the card’s reliability is woefully misplaced – research has shown conclusively that not all cards refuse payments larger than £30 – a payment over £100 was accepted in one case. Now do you feel secure?
A criminal can take payment from your card when you’re distracted by something else – an accomplice who drops their bag, perhaps. All they need is their own mobile payments machine. Yes, they would have to use a different terminal to avoid the bank’s fraud detection, but clever fraudsters will know how to get round that. Now do you feel secure?
Or perhaps they might use a mobile phone to take a payment reading from a credit card. They can send the data to another phone and make a payment on that second device. All that’s needed is proximity – the fraudster needs to be near the victim. Now do you feel secure?
Or the criminal might nick your card, load it onto their iPhone and use Apple Pay to spend spend spend and in much larger amounts than the £30 per transaction limit. How much do you really trust your bank to check verification and monitor the possibilities of fraud at every level? It transpires that Apple Pay is by no means as safe as you thought, and an efficient crook can do terrible damage to your finances.
Now do you feel secure?
Business, government and hygiene fanatics.
The advantages for government are obvious.
- Minting coins and notes is expensive
- Money can be forged
- Money can’t be tracked
- Your every transaction – in or out – can’t be tracked
Similarly, the pluses for business are clear. Sales increase when consumers pay with a card. People are less likely to make small purchases if they don’t have much actual dosh in their pocket.
Businesses love going cash free because the accounting is infinitely simpler when the software does all the hard work. Yea, I say unto thee, go cashless, ye businesses, sack thy bookkeeper and minimise on staff costs! Tough if you’re the bookkeeper, of course…
You can’t blame them. Who wants to trek to the bank with bags of money and cheques every day? But that’s their problem. I’m concerned about the rights of the individual.
We are only at the beginning of the technological revolution. Yet already giant companies know far too much about us. Have you watched “The Great Hack” on Netflix? You should. It describes how a political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, harvested deeply personal data through Facebook and manipulated enough of the population to change their mind about their vote through targeted “advertising”. Targeted lies, more like.
If companies such as Facebook already know so much about us that they can focus advertising on an entirely personal level, just wait until governments have the same information.
Governments know too much about us already. We are a watched society. Already, there is approximately one surveillance camera for every eleven people in this country.
In the Uighur autonomous region of Xinjiang, China, a new form of Big Brother is being trialled with chilling success. The Uighurs are Muslim, you see, and apparently some governments think that all Muslims are potential terrorists who need constant monitoring. Facial recognition technique, biometric information, patterns of behaviour – all these are used to build up profiles to identify potentially restive citizens.
It’s estimated that there may be as many as a million Uighur people in detention camps. For what? Not turning up for flag-waving ceremonies, or being a little too fervent at Friday prayers, perhaps. Even having a relative abroad brings suspicion.
So think of the Uighur region as being the first really enormous laboratory for complete population control, This is achieved by means of behavioural prediction and algorithmically-assisted surveillance.
Remember this: we are only at the beginning of the technological revolution.
But I only bought a book…!
Ah, but what kind of book? Or books? History books covering the rise of the labour movement? The purchases are registered in your history. Dangerous.
Never mind that, we’re not quite there yet. Where we have already arrived at is what has been described as “surveillance capitalism” by Shoshana Zuboff, the Harvard scholar and writer.
Basically, every time we do anything online, whether we’re buying towels from John Lewis or playing “What Your Colour Choice Says About You” on Facebook, those companies log everything they can glean:
- looser connections
- political leanings or lack thereof
- purchase records
- magazine subscriptions
Everything that constitutes our lives, in other words. How? Because we handed over the information free of charge.
Think of those Amazon emails you get… “Based on your last purchase of orthotic insoles, you might be interested in these bunion correctors.” Amazon aren’t interested in your wellbeing, your flat feet or your painful hammer toe, they just want to sell you stuff. They remind you when you didn’t buy something, and they remind you of what you looked at last. It’s not to help you, it’s to train you into buying from them without you realising what they are doing.
Shoshana Zuboff sums it up. “It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us. These processes are meticulously designed to produce ignorance by circumventing individual awareness and thus eliminate any possibility of self-determination.”
In other words, commerce wishes to control and direct your desires and your spending. Commerce doesn’t care if you get horribly into debt. Commerce yearns for you to buy that extra pair of shoes, or that miraculous sticky tape that makes power tools adhere to walls, or that set of cheerily coloured storage boxes that mean you can stash yet more unnecessary purchases away in your overcrowded home.
And commerce uses third party trackers
It is scary stuff. And when Governments get their act together, as in the Uighur province of China, we will be little more than completely controlled cogs in a rapaciously capitalist society.
Cash is freedom
We have to go on using cash. All of us.
Mind you, there is no guarantee that the demand for cash will ensure its preservation. Governments around the world are beginning to move against cash in a big way.
The moment we become entirely cashless is the moment governments have as much, perhaps even more, access to our life profile than Facebook, Google and Amazon. Government will monitor everything its citizens do, and by abandoning cash we are sleepwalking towards totalitarianism. God help us.
80% of all Sweden’s financial transactions are now cashless.
Hong Kong’s Octopus card, once merely an RFID (Radio Frequency ID) transport payment card like the London Oyster card, can be used to pay for:
- The MTR (Hong Kong’s subway system)
- Vending machines
- 7-Eleven (and its competitor, Circle K)
- Fast food outlets
- Car parks
It is predicted that Australia will be entirely cash free by 2022. (Ironic, really, when you consider that Australia produced Pat Cash.)
The cashless society is coming and we must resist it.
Cash is our last freedom. Let’s not give it up without a fight.
And if you are stuck behind me in a queue in a few years time and you cluck in annoyance because my arthritic fingers can’t fish out that tiny coin, don’t curse. Thank me for sticking with the inconvenience.
Cash is freedom. I cannot emphasise it enough.
What you will save…
- The last scraps of your privacy from predatory commercialism.
- A noggin of freedom from government surveillance.
- Your ability to earn a buck on the side.
These pieces are of necessity a great deal shorter than they could be, because I’m trying to distil a ton of information into a fairly brief piece. So I sometimes skim over certain subjects and try to avoid tangents wherever possible. I can address these in the comments section afterwards if they’re raised by readers.
But I thought it worth mentioning that I’m obviously in favour of some degree of underground economy and when I was preparing this piece, I wrote a long defence of it. In the end, I cut it, for your sake as much as mine. So I will say just this; I know that the underground economy diminishes the Revenue’s tax intake. However, I believe it is a necessary freedom from control, and this has to be balanced against the social obligation of the tax system.
In addition, I don’t think cashlessness will stop racketeers, extortioners, pimps, drug peddlers or any other kind of felons from going about their vile business. They’ll extort your property instead of your money, and they’ll store their ill-gotten gains in gold and other valuables, like crypto currencies. Viz; Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s astonishing act of state overreach when he recalled India’s two top banknotes, giving that mammoth population just 50 days to cash in their notes. He was convinced that a vast proportion (33%) of the notes would never be returned because they were being hoarded by criminals and cartels. In fact, 99.3% of the notes were returned, proving that criminals are smarter than he thought.
The irony is that I am now going to ask you to follow me (!!!) if you’re enjoying these pieces. All you have to do is enter your email in the box at the top of the page and click the follow button. You will then receive an email every time I publish a new piece (every two weeks). Nothing more. No targeted advertising. I won’t try to sell you anything. And I don’t make any money from this at all.
But without Piper…
… life would be a good deal drearier. She sits in my office all day, my little pal. What would I do without her?