The future of cashless businesses at risk in a context of classism criticism

The future of cashless businesses at risk in a context of classism criticism
In 2017, Visa offered tens of thousands of dollars in assistance to any business willing to partake in its Cashless Challenge and begin refusing to accept cash. This initiative fit broadly into the company’s vision of a Cashless World. As credit card companies, tech moguls, small businesses and even the entire country of Sweden move toward this proclaimed hyperefficient future without cash, some have begun to question just how inclusive this cashless world really is and what its effects on disadvantaged communities in Washington, D.C., will be.
As more businesses begin refusing cash transactions, residents of D.C. find themselves unable to purchase goods from many local shops. Over the last two years, many businesses throughout Georgetown and the District have transitioned entirely to cashless practices, including Students of Georgetown, Inc., commonly referred to as The Corp. Other retailers like Sweetgreen, Barcelona Wine Bar, South Block’s Georgetown location, Surfside in Dupont Circle and Menchie’s on U Street have also cut out cash. 

Despite lowering costs for small- and medium-sized businesses, however, operating with exclusively cashless transactions disproportionately disadvantages low-income families, people of color and immigrants without documentation. These historically marginalized groups nationwide go without bank accounts at higher rates, leaving them unable to participate fully in an increasingly cashless economy. 

As a result, city and state legislatures, local activists and even the executive branch of the Georgetown University Student Association have begun to push back against the increasingly common cashless practice to ensure all customers are able to live sustainably, regardless of their access to bank accounts. 

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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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