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Cash: just like riding a bike

calendar iconApr 24, 2020

Last week, the USA declared bicycles an essential mode of transport, as millions turned to their trusty bikes in efforts to avoid public transport amidst coronavirus fears. Similarly, cash is helping communities cope with the pandemic, reminding us of a powerful analogy by Brett Scott.

To those who value independence, no mode of payment is more efficient or practical as cash. Itself working without permission of any third party, and by extension, with zero discrimination on either side of the transaction. Comparably, bicycle-riders do not need a license, registration, a paved road or petrol, thus allowing people to travel distances freely with minimum obstacles.

On September 13th, 2017, Brett Scott—activist and author of "The Heretic's Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money (2013)"—wrote a piece for The Guardian titled, "Hang on to your cash. This dash to digitise payments is dangerous":

"The digital payments industry tries to cast cash as the horse-drawn carriage of payments; but cash is the bicycle, more flexible, resilient and convenient in certain settings, especially informal ones."
"Brett ScottThe Guardian (Sep 13, 2017)

Automobile evangelists in the early 1900s might have made grand claims like ‘cars are the future!’ and predicted the demise of all other forms of transport, such as the horse-drawn carriage. Indeed, the world’s first automobile advertisement in 1898 came from the Winton Motor Carriage Company with the tagline ‘Dispense with a horse’. The digital payments lobby is doing that right now for cash, presenting it as the horse-drawn cart of the payments world, outmatched by digital in all possible respects.

"'Cashless society' is a euphemism for the "ask-your-banks-for-permission-to-pay society""
"Brett ScottThe Long Short

But if we reframe the analogy, we can turn the story on its head. Enter the bicycle. Bicycles existed prior to cars, and yet in modern society we still use them both. We recognize them as having pros and cons in different situations, and we value having both available. But it’s deeper than that. In the subsequent history of transport, cars have led to big problems of congestion, road accidents, pollution, and urban sprawl. Bicycles, in this context, actually have come to represent a solution to the problems caused by the car. To bring the analogy back to money, cash is not the horse-cart of payments but the bicycle. Digital payment is being framed in a futuristic light right now, but it opens up some extremely negative possibilities that we may have to use cash to solve.

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Last Updated: Jan 17, 2024

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