Cashfree society

If you’ve been keeping up with the news of the world lately you’ve likely heard about America’s looming coin shortage. Well, rest assured this is not the case. America is experiencing a circulation disruption, meaning that fewer people are using coins which means they are accumulating in homes rather than changing hands. While this can have its own negative effects, it isn’t the same as a shortage.

Nevertheless, this rumor of America’s great coin shortage has manifested online as a conspiracy, as these things so often do. The social media “copy & paste” crowd would have you believe that this is a dry run for a cashless society. A world where all monetary interactions are processed in the intangible world of the internet.

I’m sure you’ve seen it by now, the long bullet pointed list that is sometimes misattributed to the financial guru Dave Ramsey. It usually starts “PAY ATTENTION PEOPLE.” All caps is a sure sign that whatever you’re about to read needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It continues by laying out a series of Norman Rockwell-eque scenarios that will be “gone” if we make the transition to a cashless society.

Your child can’t go and help the local farmer to earn a bit of summer cash. No more money in birthday cards. No more piggy banks. No more garage sales. Won’t someone think of the garage sales?

None of these world-ending scenarios comes with citations of course. These things never do. I’ve written about how to spot fake news or misattributed rants before. And this is no different. In this case, the information isn’t attached to a fake website, but is dubious enough to warrant further investigation.

One of my first steps for debunking these types of internet claims is always Snopes.com. The well sourced, long running website has been a bastion of fact checking on the internet for decades.

A quick Snopes check reveals the post to be misattributed to Dave Ramsey, and even goes so far as to include a link to Ramsey’s website where he gave his actual thoughts about a cashless society, in short, he’s not worried about it.

Unfortunately, that is where the trail runs cold. The origin of this repost is nearly impossible to trace since the entire concept behind a “copy & paste” meme is to, well, copy and paste it. However, a little bit of research into the claims made in the post turn up a pretty clear agenda.

The post overlooks the actual issues that could be caused by a truly cashless society, namely an increase in income inequality. It also fails to address the systemic issues that cause this disparity. Instead, it chooses to focus on a fairly picturesque idea of “old school America,” where kids could run lemonade stands to learn the value of a dollar.

All of the claims overlook the fact that odd jobs, kids getting birthday money and even piggy banks are still possible through the “miracle of modern technology.” PayPal, Venmo, Chime, all of these apps allow for the exchange of money by digital means, often instantaneously. But of course, acknowledging this would destroy the illusion that a cashless society is some kind of death knell for entrepreneurship.

In short, don’t believe everything you read on the internet. In fact, I’d go as far as to say double check everything you read on the internet even when it comes from a source you trust.

And just to cap things off, here are three pros and three cons to a cashless society, with citations.

Pros:

A cashless society would reduce crime according to the Institute of Labor Economics. Carrying cash makes you an easy target for criminals. Cash is difficult to track and therefore plays a big role in facilitating criminal enterprises.

Cash management costs. According to a report from Tufts University, “based on highly conservative assumptions, on aggregate, the cost of cash in the United States is $200 billion annually.” A cost that, while not eliminated, is greatly reduced through a cashless society.

Cashless payments are more convenient. This one is a little more subjective, but according to reports from Forbes, many customers that choose to go cash free do so because of its speed and convenience.

Cons:

The largest and most pressing concern is an increase in income inequality. Many of America’s working poor do not have a bank account. Many elderly Americans do not have the knowledge to operate the new cash free technology. Unless special work is done to reduce existing disparities, a cashless society would likely increase this inequality according to a report from The Guardian.

According to reports from the BBC, bad spending habits are exacerbated when using non-cash transactions. In particular, gambling could see large increases.

A report by Good Housekeeping explored the threat of financial abuse increasing in a cashless society. For some, particularly the elderly or disabled, moving to a cashless society could mean turning over control of their assets to a friend or relative exposing them to potential abuses.

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