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France refuses Cashless Economy and ensures Access to Cash





Many countries continue their crusade against cash: for instance, Australia plans a nearly complete transition to the digital currency by 2024. Meanwhile, others are following a hybrid path that combines both cash and non-cash payments - and France, with its recent decision, has also chosen this course. Why do they need this?
 
In 2019, most French people preferred to pay in cash, says the Banque de France. The pandemic, however, changed people's preferences and the use of banknotes and coins in the country began to decline - which, in turn, revealed significant problems with general access to money and ethics.
 
Despite loud marketing from private and public financial institutions, less than one-fifth of the country's residents would like to live in a cashless society. This is an opinion that cannot be ignored, and therefore various organizations are striving to provide free access to this still irreplaceable part of the daily life. So, in November, a partnership between the tobacco group la Confédération des buralistes and Loomis, a branch of the cash handler Securitas, comes into force in the country. Within its framework, 24,000 French tobacco shops will be offered to host ATMs, thus securing quick and convenient access to cash for everyone.
 
Does it really matter? And why would anyone need to pop into a small store like the tabacs just to get some money when there are readily accessible mobile payment apps and plastic cards? The answer is simple: the ATMs and small stores with render a big service to those who value their personal freedom.
 
Privacy against surveillance
 
77% of respondents to a poll by the French Public Opinion Institute believe that "measures to restrict the use of cash constitute an infringement of personal freedoms." Indeed, cash keeps virtually all of our purchases strictly personal - whether it's a pack of cigarettes or a medication for a disease you don't want to talk about. It is often believed that anonymity is the lot of criminals, but this is not the case. Anonymity is a symbol of personal freedom: our purchases reflect our choices, interests and preferences, and only we ourselves have the right to decide what part of our personal life we ​​are ready to reveal.
 
Arguments claiming that cash is convenient to buy illegal goods and launder money are no longer valid: modern criminals have many opportunities at their fingertips, from online games to cryptocurrencies. Nevertheless, the largest part of accusations is still dumped on cash, and, consequently, on those who still prefer bills and coins over digital money. This is a good excuse for a complete de-anonymization of private finances, and consequently, rising surveillance.
 
“There has never been a government that didn’t sooner or later try to reduce the freedom of its subjects and gain more control over them, and there probably never will be one,” said Wei Dai, a pioneer cryptographer. This statement might seem way too Orwellian if not for many cases already observed in the world, from China, where the government is openly imposing an economic surveillance, to the USA, where the local financial watchdog wants to know more about citizens’ banking habits. Bills and coins can shield users from infringements like this, and securing access to physical money means securing private life and personal freedom.
 
Not your choice
 
Another important factor reflected in the installation of ATMs in small and easily available shops is a matter of choice. We may not notice this, but the decision on how to pay our bills is largely not made by us. Non-cash payments are primarily convenient for banks: plastic bank cards generally require less secure handling, and histories of settlements offer the most comprehensive base for users’ credit scores. E-payment providers benefit, too, as they receive a commission for each payment you make.
 
It is unsurprisingly, therefore, that we are faced with global ATM closures and downsizing of bank branches and cash handling centers everywhere. Decisions on the reductions are made not by us, but by those who benefit from it - and we, in turn, are forced to accept this. Indeed, it is difficult not to switch to non-cash, when there is not a single ATM in your area, and the world around is replete with advertising for another “profitable” bank deposit or e-payment app.
 
A decision made for us always seems easier - but only at first. Imposed choices get harder to handle when an emergency arises. It doesn't matter what happens - whether you need to get out from a bad marriage, pay for groceries when the internet is turned off, or make a safety cushion in the event of a crisis in the country (like the Europeans did during the first COVID-19 lockdown), cash will still be king. In such a situation, those, who shoved another bank card with a beautiful design into your pocket, are unlikely to take care of you. From this point, the installation of ATMs in accessible places with long working hours offers an opportunity to make a choice on our own and ensures access to the universally accepted means of payment for everyone.
 
Inclusive society… or not?
 
Last but not least, there is inclusion. A modern inclusive society is not about ramps, special elevators and the Braille, but about equal rights and opportunities for everyone, be it an old person struggling with technology, a poor family that wants to balance their money or a mentally challenged person that cannot open a bank account and use e-money without their guardian.
 
In the world of cashless, addressing this issue would be a critical challenge. It is almost impossible to live without money, and the inability to access finance would actually cut these people off from daily life and deprive them of the right to stay free in their doings. However, a fully digital society is not here yet, and now those who cannot use technology have the opportunity to live comfortably thanks to cash. High officials also note this: the Advocate General at the Court of Justice Giovanni Pitruzzella notes that “there is a direct link between cash and the exercise of fundamental rights […] which does exist in cases where there is a social inclusion element of the use of cash”.  The expansion of the ATMs network, and, consequently, alleviated access to physical money, stay in line with the tendency.  
 
It would seem that there is little news about the installation of ATMs in small tobacco shops. However, the resulting easy access to personal finances symbolizes something more than convenience. Cash is still legal tender in the EU, and even more: it is a token of privacy and personal freedom. The French move to support all means of payment is a new step to the fair and inclusive society, where offline life matters as much as its online counterpart.



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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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