Behind Cashless Economy, Mass Surveillance?

The relentless digitalisation of every day life since the advent of the Internet has led to many accepting as inevitable the eventual emergence of a cashless society. For the last few years, a fierce debate has taken place in the public sphere involving politicians, economists and sociologists alike, on the ethical boundaries of such a society and the threat it poses to individual freedom, privacy and civil liberties. There are logical fears that the eradication of cash would accelerate the already alarming disparities between rich and poor and leave citizens at the mercy of the international banking system, with little to zero control over their personal data.

illustrative picture : EFF - Wikimedia Commons
illustrative picture : EFF - Wikimedia Commons

Sky News Australia host Cory Bernardi argues  that a cashless society would mark ‘the end of privacy’. Indeed, a move towards a wholly digital society would represent a global victory for big tech, big data and big government. It is argued  that “the abolition of paper and metal currency is often presented as an improvement on the current way of doing business. It is indeed, but only for banks and governments, not so much for the citizens and customers which they are supposed to serve.” The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the process of a move towards a cashless global economy.

So what are we risking by removing cash completely from our economies? Would it represent the final nail in the coffin for personal privacy? Is it really worth giving up our civil liberties to pander to the minacious ambition of big tech and authoritarian governments?

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The cashless society from an ethical point of view

The debate about the move towards a cashless society has been at the center of the scene for several years, now. Various angles have been taken by economists, politicians, banking institutions and sociologists. Beyond the technicalities of the debate, lies the question of freedom, of inter-citizen solidarity and of governmental responsibility. The debate cannot remain in the hands of financial specialists, it is first and foremost an ethical, political and societal issue.

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The debate

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No cash, no freedom, for better or for worse, an Australian example