Why a Cashless Society can't be really fair

Cashless payments may be fashionable, but we must be careful not to leave some people behind

Has it happened to you yet? You’re in a shop, but realise you’ve forgotten your card, or your phone, or however you tend to pay these days. There’s a sign above you saying “digital payments preferred” and a line of impatient customers behind you. You scramble around your bag or wallet looking for some grubby notes or coins, and then, almost shamefully, hand them over, hoping no one questions your method of payment.

If we had been heading leisurely towards a cashless society for some years now, the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated us rapidly towards this brave new world where cash is no longer thrown into a collection basket at Mass, charities operate digital donation boxes and even the flower sellers on Grafton Street take contactless payments.

In this world, “cash” is no longer king.

While the focus on digital payments first arose due to fears that the virus was being transmitted via notes and coins, the preference for cards over cash has remained, even as these fears have been disproven.

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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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