Would It Be Good to Get Rid of Cash?

The Guardian has an article about the number of businesses in the U.K. that are refusing to accept cash in payment, notably for food and drink, and services.

The article and the comments to it point out the difficulties such policies may cause for people who do not have or cannot get bank accounts – but also the benefit for the businesses, who do not have to keep or tally cash.

The comments in particular point out the privacy and control implications of having all one’s transactions recorded – and the data often sold – electronically.

Some other countries, notably Sweden, are doing away with cash – or at least it is common to see businesses that do not accept it.

Is this happening in Canada? Should it? Do we have an issue with what Americans call “the unbanked”? And if we do, should businesses have to solve that issue, if they think they can make more money by refusing cash?

The Currency Act (section 8) makes Canadian bank notes legal tender, as well as coins up to set amounts. I presume that the reason that this does not prevent businesses from declining cash is that a purchase transaction is not, at the time it is made, the payment of a debt. The doctrine of legal tender allows people to pay debts with currency, but does not oblige anyone to incur the debt in the first place.

Comments

  1. As long as people – consumers or otherwise – don’t give a second thought to privacy until a data crisis occurs then many will resort to going cashless if they haven’t already done so. Obviously consumers are comfortable with the sublime control that corporations and banks may extend over them of what, where, and how they buy and spend – what shows or movies they should watch or purchase because they watched or bought something similar or because other people who watched or bought the same movie or product watched the suggested movies and products (those handy algorithms). No one wants to be left out of what other people are doing. I suppose it’s convenient not to have to give much thought; it can be time consuming when a mere suggestion can whittle down the time spent browsing or leaving selection to serendipity, so cashless for many it will be. Everything really is connected – every action will bring an algorithmic reaction.

  2. Further, there have been charities soliciting donations door-to-door that aren’t accepting cash it would be interesting to know how successful those campaigns have been.

  3. Lyonette Louis-Jacques

    I’ve been concerned about this for a quite a while. The trend towards cashless means that using currency becomes suspect, criminalized. Plus, reduces privacy in ways that might have unintended consequences. While convenient, I’m really concerned about data being conveyed re what I’m purchasing. So, my answer is no, it would not be good to get rid of cash. But it’s inevitable that currency will be like vinyl as someone kinda joked in the linked article.

  4. David Collier-Brown

    That sounds like an extremely fine distinction, if a purchase isn’t covered by the guarantees of usability of cash. What if a minor offers cash for a necessity, like bread in the corner store? Can the store say “go starve, kid”?

    –dave
    [And yes, one can make a case for doing so, but that’s not what I’m asking]

  5. The Washington Post has an article on whether cashless businesses – notably restaurants – discriminate against the poor, and whether making them take cash is the right response.

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