The Dangers of Going Cashless

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A few weeks ago, I bought my wife a Valentine’s Day gift at a neighborhood store called Huckberry.  I’d been planning to pay in cash, since my poker bankroll was flush from a good week at the tables, but when I started peeling off a couple of hundred dollar bills, the Metrollenial at the register said, “I’m sorry, sir, we don’t take cash. Do you have a card?”

I shrugged, mildly annoyed, and dug out my card to pay. But later on, back home, I began to consider the implications of what had happened. This wasn’t my first encounter with retail stores that wouldn’t take cash. David Chang has gone the cashless route, as has Dos Toros, Blue Stone Lane, Shake Shack and Sweetgreen among others. A lot of people, myself included, probably haven’t given much thought to what this all portends. But pondering it harder, I’ve decided it ain’t good. In fact, it’s downright dangerous, one more nail in the authoritorian coffin the corporations are building around us.

Things are already Orwellian enough, what with the internet and iphones collecting our data and stealing our privacy, our TVs and smart refrigerators listening to our every conversation, not to mention video cameras watching us from street corners and in office buildings, stores and restaurants. Maybe the co-opting of financial privacy on top of this doesn’t seem like such a big deal—but I’m actually pretty sure it is. Once the privacy that cash affords is taken from us, we’ll have lost our last and most important safeguard against totalitarianism. Think about it: if every financial transaction we engage in is a matter of record, then any interested party can know our every secret, whether it be the periodicals we buy, or where we get our morning coffee and bagel, or who we’re borrowing money from or paying to clean our apartment. Would knowing that our every financial transaction was being recorded discourage us from doing things that were illegal or immoral? Maybe. Probably. And I can see where to a lot of people that might not seem like a bad thing. Which it isn’t—unless they value their freedom and privacy. I mean, Singapore has the lowest crime rate in the world, and is probably a great place to live in many ways if you don’t care about free speech.

If we go cashless, it means if I want to bet on a baseball game or go to a massage parlor or buy ecstasy or have an affair, the government’s gonna know. If we go cashless and I want to buy art from an artist, food from a grower, or babysitting services from a teenaged kid, I’ll be required to have them process a card or an app on my phone. As vendors, they’ll then be obligated to pay a service fee to a bank. That’s right, my 12-year-old daughter will be giving part of her babysitting earnings to Mastercard. Worse, if things in this country get to the point where violent revolution is the only remedy, how will we fund it if all financial transactions are recorded and known?

On a more human level, what about poor people in a cashless society? How will they pay for things if they don’t have a credit or bank card? What will happen to a beggar? Will he swipe your credit card on his iPhone attachment if you want to give him a quarter? I’m not kidding. This is a serious question.

In recent weeks,  New Jersey and Philadelphia have passed laws prohibiting cashless stores, and four more cities, New York,  Chicago, San Francisco and Washington D.C., are contemplating doing so. Will this become a national trend or movement? I certainly hope so. But in the meantime, I have made a personal decision that I will herewith boycott all stores and institutions that don’t accept cash, after offering them an explanation of why I’m doing so. I suggest you all join me in this.

Because unless you’re cool with the government and corporations (and, really, is there a difference any more?) knowing even more about you than they already do, I don’t see a good alternative.

By Peter Alson

Peter Alson is a writer and editor. Among his published books are the memoirs Confessions of an Ivy League Bookie and Take Me to the River. He's also co-authored (with Nolan Dalla) One of a Kind, a biography of poker champion Stuey Ungar, and Atlas, the autobiography of boxing trainer and commentator Teddy Atlas. His articles have appeared in many national magazines, including Esquire, Playboy and The New York Times. He has worked as a writer for People magazine, and as an editor for Playboy and for Hachette Publications. He has written screenplays for Paramount and various independent producers, and his TV pilot, Nicky’s Game, starring John Ventimiglia and Burt Young, appeared in the New York Television Festival and the Vail Film Festival. As a poker player he has finished in the money numerous times in the World Series of Poker and other events. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice, and their daughter, Eden.

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