Paper Chase: Cashless

Cash is still our major currency but that doesn’t make it au courant. Plastic is where it’s at. Bitcoin is champing at the, er, bit. Digital payments are the twinkle in Apple’s eye.

A growing number of establishments are bidding adieu to cash. Vancouver-based retailer, Kit & Ace, no longer accepts cash at its shops around the world. Even Passport Canada refuses cash payments.
Moneris Solutions Corporation, a company that processes credit card transactions, estimates that by 2030, cash will represent a mere 10% of money spent in Canada.

This will certainly make transactions more convenient but at what cost?

The ability to swiftly accumulate debt has never been simpler. Frictionless financial transactions: The tap of plastic; the wave of a phone; the swipe on an app, are so easy, and the rewards for using cards so great, that our anxiety about handing over hard-earned cash has been greatly reduced or even eliminated.

Yet, according to journalist Lee Seigel, without cash, we lose the physical connection to our money and the reminder of its scarcity. Compared to Canada, for example, Germany is a cash-intensive country, where hard currency is still used for 82% of transactions. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the German word for financial debt, “schulden”, is derived from “schuld”, meaning “fault” or “guilt”.

Despite being déclassé, cash has unique advantages. We can count it, sort it and jump into piles of it. Cash provides a rare anonymity in a world where every electronic purchase is tracked. We can use it at garage sales and lemonade stands or for splurges no one else in the family need know about. For those tempted to overspend, it provides tangible evidence of the amount we’re handing over. And, if we only pay with cash, if it isn’t there, we can’t spend it and fall into debt.

Cash may no longer be king, but it still has plenty of loyal admirers.

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