Going fully Cashless leads to Social Disasters

When I worked at the Strand, New York’s biggest bookstore, our internet would often go down, making things very inconvenient. After all, a lost connection meant that the credit card machines ceased to work. “We can take cash!” I and other cashiers would holler at our long lines of customers, but only a trickle out of the book-loving hordes would actually take us up on the offer. The rest would either leave, or wait – sometimes for a very long time – for the machines to come back online.

It’s common to believe we’re becoming a “cashless society.” Such observations tend to regard this as a fait accompli – as if currency were simply one of so many Old World analog relics circling the drain before they gurgle into oblivion – and an inevitability accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In those early days in which we simply didn’t know about whether we could catch COVID-19 through objects touched by infected people, many institutions phased cash out entirely to reduce physical contact between customers and staff. Those concerns are no longer founded in scientific evidence; there is plenty of research to show that the virus is airborne and spreads through sharing air, not countertops, and we’ve known this for a while now. And yet businesses have largely not pivoted back – and if anything, more businesses are focusing on non-cash transactions.

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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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