Don't look for a better world with a cashless society

For the past few years, Anna has been living on the streets of Stockholm. As one of the roughly 33,000 people currently homeless in Sweden, she has found her day-to-day life lately becoming even more of a struggle. Today, if she wants to buy a sandwich at a café, or if she wants to use one of the public bathrooms that cost ten krona, she’s unable to pay in coins or notes. If she wants to hop on a bus or tram, or if she wants to donate to her church, she won’t be able to use cash in those places either. Since she doesn’t have enough money to open and maintain a bank account—which would allow her access to a cashless form of payment like a credit or debit card or to link her smartphone—essentially, she can’t use or pay for these things at all.

In 2012, Sweden began moving toward digital payment applications when it launched 
Swish , a government-backed app that ties your phone number and your bank account so, like the M-Pesa system in Kenya, you can instantly transfer money from person to person or from person to business. There have been similar attempts in the U.S., with apps like TransferWise, Venmo, PayPal, Cash by Square, and Zelle, the latter of which is used by Bank of America, Citibank, and Wells Fargo, among others, but none are singularly dominant and Americans still have an affinity for cash. In the U.S., cash still accounts for nearly 40 percent of transactions; likewise in the United Kingdom, where it makes up about 34 percent of payments.

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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.

The cashless society from an ethical point of view

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