Text: Milla Waldron
Has anyone noticed the lightness of their wallets? The lack of clinking coins or rustle of paper notes? The only sound to transaction being a quiet ‘beep’ as an invisible signal passes between your plastic card and a machine…
Cashlessness is becoming a fast-approaching possibility. Societies across much of the world have witnessed the slow disappearance of coins and paper notes. In 2017, the UK reported that contactless payments made up 40% of transactions. The number of bank branches in the country was also decreasing. The pandemic accelerated the rush to e-payments, as some feared catching the virus by handling money. Since then, few have chosen to revert to this method of transaction. Subsequently, we may begin to question: are we on the verge of becoming cashless societies?
Becoming cashless would exclude huge numbers of people from participating in our consumer society. One group of people it would impact would, undoubtedly, be the elderly, but the move would also have major consequences on those participating in the informal economy in jobs such as construction workers, farm labourers, and similar. Whilst law makers may argue that going cashless will reduce tax avoidance from individuals working informally, it is important that we accept that society would have difficulty functioning, should this sector crumble.
This would be a consequence of going cashless since a lot of the people working in the informal sector could be refugees and immigrants and would not have the necessary paperwork to work in the legal economy. These cash-dependent people would be very hard-pressed. However, it would be unlikely for the informal economy to be eliminated. Participants would find alternative methods of payment, which could result in an increase in criminal activity.
Although we have come to see the electrical grid and the internet as reliable features of our daily lives, it is not far-fetched to think in this era coming of environmental upheaval causing the breakdown of these facilities that coins and bank notes are insurance against. Another factor to consider could be that some people may not be able to afford electricity and wi-fi in some countries. The move to cashlessness would be detrimental to them and would eliminate them from being able to participate in the economy.
We can determine, then, that this medium for the economy would be unfeasible. Our societies rely on physical cash to work. However, in the future, it could be worthwhile using cash for more transactions. In the UK there were discussions on the 20th of March relating to whether it should be made unlawful for businesses to refuse cash payments. Whilst the British government decided to make it a requirement for all businesses (except internet-based businesses) to accept cash; we must consider the possibility that businesses could limit the option to pay by cash.
It could, therefore, be worthwhile to consider future payment transactions to reduce the likelihood of this happening. Additionally, readers may be inclined to question whether they would want to impede the possibility to live more anonymously in today’s digital age. Coins and notes allow us to exist somewhat privately. Would you want to live under constant surveillance?