The wrong and unknown sides of cashless charity

The wrong and unknown sides of cashless charity
Saying there might be a problem with humanitarian cash transfers is like saying that you don’t think Baby Yoda is that cute; but somebody has to risk becoming a pariah in the aid community, and it might as well be me, since I’m already a pariah in the Star Wars community.

The problem is not with cash transfers per se, but with the financial technology we rely on to implement those transfers, and which makes possible and monetises surveillance on a scale never seen before.

One argument for cash transfers is that they cut out intermediaries – the UN agencies and NGOs who are currently pretending not to scuffle over market share in the cash space – but as the financial activist Brett Scott points out, the cashless society places a new set of intermediaries between individuals seeking to transact: payment service providers.

This is because “cash” isn’t what most people think it is. Most humanitarian cash distributions don’t involve notes and coins; they’re digital, which is to say, cashless. Most people – not just in the humanitarian sector, but in general – simply don’t understand the implications of this financial digitisation.

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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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