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Killing cash will make us all poorer

A true cashless society would be a dystopian nightmare.

Darragh McManus

Topics Politics World

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Finally, a victory for the little guy. The National Car Testing service in Ireland (equivalent to the UK’s MOT) is set to row back on its decision to go cashless. This comes after a major public backlash that left me pleasantly amazed.

It’s good to know that there’s a scrap of fighting spirit left in my compatriots after all. And even better, finance minister Michael McGrath has now written to all other public bodies to ensure they continue accepting cash. Yet it still feels like this is, sadly, one step forward in the face of a thousand steps back. Ireland, as well as the rest of the world, is on a seemingly inexorable march towards a cashless society.

‘The future will be cashless’ presumably sounds comforting and positive to some people. I imagine it appeals to the type of person who lives much of his life online. He devours new technology with the mindless zeal of a crackhead. He possesses infinite faith that political and corporate institutions are acting for his benefit. And he probably values convenience above petty little trivialities like personal choice, freedom and responsibility.

To me, this vision sounds – and I know these terms are overused, but what can you do? – dystopian. Orwellian. Huxleyan. Hellish. Nightmarish. Insert your adjective of choice.

And while I appreciate opinions may differ, I really can’t understand why everyone doesn’t agree that this drive to go cashless is a very bad idea.

There are so many obvious reasons why it’s a problem. Some people (not just old people!) aren’t tech savvy and / or don’t have credit cards, laptops, smartphones, etc. How are they supposed to pay for things?

Meanwhile, people who do have smartphones sometimes, believe it or not, like to leave them turned off or at home if strolling around town. It’s good to unplug from the Matrix, so to speak. Outside of some unnerving, grinning automaton in a broadband advert, who the hell wants to feel ‘connected’ all the time? The thought of it makes my skin crawl.

This causes trouble in a cashless world. For instance, if I’m in town one weekend and decide, spur of the moment, to tip over to the local Gaelic Games grounds to watch an intercounty match – well, I can’t. Now you have to buy tickets online beforehand. There’s nothing more dismaying than watching lines of people dutifully whip out their phones for presentation at the turnstile. ‘Consumer 194BX: you are cleared for entry. Have a pleasant and rewarding experience, and don’t forget to share!’ Way to kill spontaneity.

Another good reason to keep cash is that tech fails at times. Broadband can be ropey, the card-reader can be glitching, your phone might run out of battery. If only there were some alternative to digital, a backup plan that always worked and never needed recharging. Maybe it could be made from paper or metal… No, I can’t think of anything, either.

I read a pained tweet a while back from some centrist-dad type at a Centre Parcs, bemoaning how the tech wasn’t working and thus nobody could pay for anything. While I obviously felt sorry for the kids, a mean little part of me did enjoy a Schadenfreude-induced chuckle at the adults who blindly go along with this nonsense. How convenient is cashless right now, lads?

Face it, we all need to admit that a cashless society is a massive inconvenience. You can’t easily tip without cash. You can’t buy from small or informal businesses, such as charity shops or market traders, many of which don’t have card services as it costs them too much.

You can’t give to beggars. Although what you can do is sign up for a direct debit to the billion charities claiming to help said beggars, cosy in the knowledge that most of that money will go on salaries and perks. I’d sooner give directly to the person on the street, if it’s all the same.

Cash also teaches kids about money in a physical, easily comprehensible way. It enables the very sweet rite of passage of sending smallies to the shop to pay for themselves, little fists clenched tight around a fiver or a few coins.

Physical cash helps restrict your own spending, too. It’s easy to dole out money when you’re merely flashing a card at a reader or, worse, buying online. It’s all so abstract. The brain doesn’t fully comprehend exactly how much you’ve shelled out until you get the massive credit-card bill, followed swiftly by a massive coronary.

The biggest reason why cash remains king, though, is that the authorities – governmental or banking – can freeze your money anytime they like with the push of a button.

That’s the type of sentence which invariably prompts unimaginative shrieks of ‘put on your tinfoil hat, conspiracy weirdo!’ from those aforementioned centrist-dad types. Their infantile naivety about our great and good makes this appalling vista literally unthinkable.

The only problem is, the authorities have already done precisely this. Lots of times, in fact. The most notorious example was when the protesting Canadian truckers had their assets frozen by Justin Trudeau for the heinous crime of disagreeing with him on Covid restrictions. And the problem of financial deplatforming has only gotten worse since then, with figures as varied as Nigel Farage and a local vicar losing access to their bank accounts on account of their political views. If it can happen to them, it can happen to anyone, anytime. Yes, even you, centrist dad. You’re not special.

At least no one can freeze notes and coins. You’ll still be able to buy food, even if declared an unperson by the emperor. It might be best to hold on to that cash under your mattress for now.

Darragh McManus is an author and journalist. Visit his website here.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World

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