The Thinker

Is cash obsolete?

In my wallet is a bunch of crumpled greenbacks. In my pants pocket is a change purse bursting with loose change. Having cash in my pockets is as natural to me as fetching my newspaper in the morning.

Only fewer people are fetching newspapers these days. Instead, they are reading them online. The same thing may be happening with the greenback. While cash continues to feed a huge underground economy, (drug dealers just don’t take credit cards) for many of us cash is becoming unnecessary.

My daughter Rosie is this way. Her wallet is usually has no cash in it. In fact, she does not usually carry a wallet. Instead, she carries a little metal box for her handful of cards and documents. Since she got her checkcard a year or so back, except for an occasional bus fare, she has simply not needed cash. Every place she buys from has the ubiquitous card reader by the register. There is no pocketful of coins in her purse. One slim checkcard seems to be all that she needs.

I would say that she is the future but I think she is the here and now for those 25 and younger. (She is 18.) Money is becoming wholly abstract. I open my wallet and know with a quick glance how much I can afford for lunch. You see, the cafeteria in my building only takes cash, and ordinarily that is the only place where I still need cash. I cannot imagine the hassle of paying for gas with cash anymore. In fact, in many stores, cashiers are becoming obsolete. That is because they can save money by making you bag your own stuff at their fully automated registers. Moreover, since you are in a hurry, you are unlikely to stuff twenties into their bill machine. Slide your debit card in the slot, touch a few keys, get your receipt and you are out of there. It may not have that personal touch, but it is expeditious.

These days, I even use my ATM card to buy movie tickets. This is more due to the higher price of movie tickets than anything else is. Point in fact: virtually everything costs more. Hauling around change is becoming a pointless hassle. I am always getting pennies I neither need nor want. I religiously contribute them to the give a penny, take a penny jar by most cash registers. I do not want the hassle of hauling them around. My strategy does not seem to work very well. If it is not pennies, it is nickels, dimes and quarters instead. Of course, if you pay electronically, you do not have this particular hassle.

Granted, there are some drawbacks with using electronic money. One is that it is hard to keep track of how much money is left on an account. Yet my daughter does not consider this a drawback. When curious she goes online and checks her bank balance. She has no charge card so all of her transactions are on her debit/checkcard. Most debits these days clear within hours. She thinks my obsession with using check registers is rather quaint. In fact, if you download your transactions from your bank into a financial package like Quicken, you can see where your money went easily enough. It is generally easier to do this than to type them into a computer.

My daughter has a point, but then her financial life is very simple. She has no debts at all. So she does not have to worry about whether she is overdrawn. Me, I want a more intelligent card. It needs to be a smart card. Every time I make a transaction, it should store it on the card and keep my current balance on it. Ideally, it would recognize my fingerprint. When I pressed my fingerprint on it, it would tell me my balance and give me a way to scroll through my recent transactions. I keep waiting for a device like this but even though I wrote about this several years back, it is still not here. At least it is not available here in the States.

I am starting to realize that after our cafeteria remodeling is finished this summer, I will only need cash on the rare occasion that I use the toll road. Moreover, I really do not need it to pay cash for tolls either, if I could get off my ass and get an E-ZPass.

One benefit of cash that I might miss if I were younger is its anonymity. The government should not be snooping into my financial transactions but I have a feeling they are doing it anyhow. Cash is a great way to hide certain transactions. Until we reach an age when we do not care, most of us men prefer to buy that latest copy of Hustler with cash. Should I be inclined to take some woman who is not my wife to a NoTel Motel, I probably would not charge it to my Visa either.

I have a feeling though that soon all our financial lives will be transparent. Cash is going the way of the horse and buggy. Soon we will be saving greenbacks so we can show our kids how money used to work. They will no doubt give us incredulous looks. Cyberspace is not real. Why should money be real? Besides, just how real is paper money? All it is is a government promissory note. The government is asserting that the face value of the money is worth what it says. It is not as if you cannot take it to your local Federal Reserve Bank and get gold bullion for it.

If we must go cashless, so be it. However, at least give us intelligent debit and credit cards. I realize that credit card companies in particular would fight this idea. They would prefer to keep us ignorant of how much we are spending. Someday though the Treasury Department will decide that printing all those greenbacks and minting all those coins is truly unnecessary in today’s modern world. Then maybe they will insist that banks and credit card companies give us all the sort of smart cards we need to make a cashless society useful.

Smugglers and dope pushers will not be happy of course. I have confidence though that they could find a way to circumvent any system that is created. People are ingenious when it comes to making a profit. In the unlikely event that we could not create an electronic system opaque to such transactions, I at least will not shed any tears. The benefits of going cashless are now obvious to me. It just needs a few tweaks so it will be obvious to all of us.


One Response to “Is cash obsolete?”

  1. 2:04 pm on February 7 2008, Starhawk Laughingsun said:

    Actually I too believe a cashless society is in our Future tho I myself don’t use banks credit cards or nothing like that. I find life simpler that way, usually. lol

    And btw you are actually quite wrong in asserting “drug dealers just don’t take credit cards.” Indeed some do, I know first hand some high level volume distributors do and prefer it for various financial reasons. it bothers me not to say this because I’ve already did my time over lsd and am not involved in that movement anymore other than lobbying for some kind of rational change in our legal system.

    Good blog btw I’ve been reading it for a while 🙂

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