MIT Technology Review finds cash irreplaceable

calendar iconJan 20, 2020

An article from MIT Technology Review discusses the potential of digital money, but be warned, "none of which offers the same mix of freedom and ease of use that characterizes cash."

So what is it about cash that makes it so irreplaceable? Cryptocurrency reporter Mike Orcutt describes cash as a paradox, "a technology thousands of years old that may just prove impossible to re-create in a more advanced form". One of its best features: Freedom.

"We shouldn’t take this freedom for granted."
"Mike Orcutt"An Elegy for Cash..."MIT Technology Review (Jan 3, 2020)

Freedom can be observed through two lenses. Through one, it means the freedom to act, speak, or think as one wants. Through the other, it means freedom from imprisonment or confiscation of freewill.

With cash firmly in the payments landscape, these aspects combine and both parties in a transaction are free to negotiate the price and tip for good service as they choose. With cash as an option in the payments landscape, the consumer is free to choose whether to pay for the goods privately or with permission of an invisible third party.

"Cash is an ancient technology that allows us to avoid intermediation and thus to preserve the values necessary for the individual liberty and human dignity."
"Jerry BritoCoin Center Report (Feb 2019)

Civil liberties and consumer rights groups are protesting cashless campaigns in acknowledgement of the value of cash as a public good. In the UK, Which? has gathered over 150k signatures to pressure the government to safeguard cash access. In the USA, ACLU has encouraged the public to boycott cashless policies while lawmakers are fighting for legislations that protect cash access. In Sweden, where digital payments are part of its culture, privacy and inclusion concerns have inspired a new law that will ensure all bank branches handle cash.

Ultimately, keeping cash an option secures an important power dynamic between the public and their government, this relationship is based on trust and faith in one another. As Orcutt warns, a cashless society, well intentioned or not, is a surveillance society. In a surveillance society, where every single transaction is censored, there would be no pressure on the government to return the public's trust.

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Last Updated: May 18, 2020

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