The very existence of cash seems jeopardized in the world. Each country, at its own pace, has its opponents to hard currency and would like to see it go away for good. While some countries are just toying with the idea, others have already gone to great length to root out what they see as the mother of all evil, despite civil rights activists blowing whistles constantly. While the public was (and felt) uninvolved until recently, they are starting to realize that the reform will come at a high price for them.
There are those who go public about their intentions, and then those who would rather keep their agendas secret. The European Union, for instance, has been pushing this reform at a voluntarily slow pace, so as not to alarm the markets. The first step was the banning of the 500-euro bill. The New York Times reported : “While the necessity of the €500 note has been debated for a while, the pressure to abolish it grew after the terrorist attacks in and around Paris in November and in Brussels in March. “An argument we can no longer ignore,” Benoît Coeuré, a member of the central bank’s executive board,”.
Presented as a vector used only by criminals and drug dealers, the public didn’t react because it is seldom used by regular people. The second step was to cap the transport of cash across borders, despite the free market, limited to 10 000 euros today – that limit may evolve in the future, probably downwards. India, on the other hand, has gone all in. With barely any notice, the government announced the invalidity of nearly all of the nation’s currency (almost 90%) in last November, sending a shockwave through its own market, in the hope of rooting out corruption and black market transactions.
However, the public opinion in the world has seemed rather uninvolved so far. Part of this is due to the fact that little debate has been held over the matter. Aware that individual liberties whistleblowers would scream at the civil rights breach this could represent, governments have chosen to keep the subject on the low. And the subject is mentioned by cashless-society promoters, it is presented as safer, more convenient and more modern – the fact that it places the citizen’s life entirely under government control (and therefore potentially subjected to its mistakes or wrongdoings) is left out. A recent Canadian survey showed rather weak involvement and a classic 50-50 divide on the matter of whether Canada should go fully cashless. The Huffington Post reported : “The survey found only 13 per cent have a digital wallet (i.e. a smartphone or other device equipped to handle financial transactions). And a plurality of Canadians — 50 per cent — expressed anxiety about digital wallets, with 42 per cent saying they are excited about the prospect.” Such a weak involvement is likely to encourage banks and government agencies to carry on with the agenda.
In two different ways will the public be impacted by these reforms, and both amount basically to the same thing. Because the governments of the various nations will then be in complete control of markets, through the central banks and also the commercial banks which they control, the markets and the public will be hit very fast, if the government makes any economic mistakes in its operations.
Indeed, once cash is gone, people will be contained in one single system, with no possible alternative if that system goes wrong. But this addresses the risk of damage without intent, on behalf of the government. So far, only India has reached this step. In the days following the announce, lines formed up at the banks with citizens leaving work to rush to the banks, in the hope of salvaging their life’s earnings. The lines were so long that many cases of death by exhaustion were reported. In Australia, an initiative to distribute welfare on debit cards, and not in cash, in order to control what the recipients would do with the money, has also been fraught with trial and error, resulting in tax money losses. Labor and Greens are trying to stop the initiatve, as Senator Siewert opposed in session : “There’s no evidence base for doing that and it’s a waste of Government resources. They’ve already wasted enough on this so-called trial process.”
However, there is also the possibility that a government will hurt its people with intent, when trying to grab more power – something unfortunately not unheard of, in history. Here, the damage would be even more catastrophic. With populations boxed in, and a government with total control of a person’s possessions, transactions, and economic life, there is virtually no limit to how much abuse a citizen could receive from its State.
It is said that a frog dropped into hot water will instantly bounce out. But if said frog is placed into cool water, which is then heated, it will remain there and eventually die. As often in historical mistakes, when the consequences of imprudent choices arrive, it is often way too late to fix it. Once governments take currency away from its citizens, and along with it their ability to conduct their lives and businesses as they see fit, it will not give it back. Which means citizens will reap the benefits of whatever good initiative was launched by the government, they will also suffer the consequences of governmental mistakes, and they will be subject to any pressure from the government, with no place to run or hide. Either way, the governments will be entirely in control, for better or worse, and citizens will be on the receiving end of the stick.