Cash Since Antiquity
People have used cash since time began. Read here to see how cash has evolved through the ages.
It goes without saying that cash has been the universal medium that has allowed people to freely trade among themselves. It allows for convenient easy payment without the need for a regulatory mechanism.
Yet interested parties in Sweden wish to end all this.
Sweden’s On The Map
Sweden ranks as one of Europe’s more advanced achievers. As a nation steeped in a proud Scandinavian heritage, it is an innovative intellectual collective sharpened by the bite of colder climes.
Sweden has much to be proud of. As home to more than just IKEA, ABBA, and tasty meatballs, it quietly boasts the seemingly unthinkable, especially by American standards: a publically managed healthcare system that actually seems to work for its 9.4 million citizens. While some may dismiss this as a socialist regime cover up, consider also that the The Economist Intelligence Unit, lists Sweden in fourth place in 2011’s index of democracy among 167 countries – surprisingly much higher than the USA’s mere 19th-place ranking.
Sweden Becoming A Cashless Society
In recent months, Sweden hits the news as a possible bringer of ultimate human convenience – or so it seems. As the first European country to introduce the use of printed bank notes in 1661, according to CBS news Sweden now wants to undo history by becoming a cashless society.
In recent years fewer shops and service providers in Sweden accept cash. Some consumer account banks deal only in electronic funds and do not accept the handling of cash at all. While this seems unthinkable to some, it has become a growing reality in Sweden.
Reasons to Go Cashless
Former member of 1970′s pop group ABBA, and a vocal proponent for a world without cash, Bjoern Ulvaeus says, “I can’t see why we should be printing bank notes at all anymore.” For Ulvaeus it’s obviously a personal matter of bodily security. After his son was robbed for the third time he began supporting the transition to a fully digital economy, if only to make life harder for thieves.
The Swedish Bankers’ Association says the decline of the cash economy is already making an impact in crime statistics. The volume of bank robberies in Sweden plunged from 110 in 2008 to a mere 16 in 2011 — the lowest level ever since it started keeping records 30 years ago. Robberies of security transports are down also.
But there is more to the cashless issue than the benefits it offers pop stars and police departments. How does implementing a cash-free society affect the common folk walking the street? How would this benefit – or hinder – them?
Pros and Cons to Going Cash-Free
While some would agree to the convenience and expediency to a cashless mode, the disadvantages it forces upon others are indeed heavy.
CBS reports that the cashless proposition is already a problem for elderly people in rural areas who don’t have credit cards or don’t know how to use them to withdraw cash.
Conversely, not all recipients of payments in remote areas (for example, a family-owned country inn) might not be able to accept a credit card payment from a customer who carries plastic only. Given that a credit card transaction requires a phone line or internet connection, what’s to guarantee such a connection is readily available in a far-off countryside inn?
What about payments of money to satisfy personal debts? One could imagine two neighborhood children unable to sell toys or candy to one another for lack of a credit card machine or access to a personal PayPal account (PayPal skims a percentage of the transaction as payment for its service).
Ultimately, being able to pay cash doesn’t guarantee its acceptance everywhere in Sweden. Likewise, not everyone is set up for accepting credit payments either.
A catch-22 scenario of the damndest kind…
What Challenges Does Cash-Free Bring to the World?
The debate on whether to go exclusively cash-free can be likened to the closures of US Post Offices. Both the cash and postal scenarios pose the same kind of problem: a sudden lack of access to traditional resources may leave many citizens stranded and unable to make or receive payments.
Even if access to resources needed to transact electronically was not an issue, there are the issues of security and scalability. Sensitive information handlers such as Amazon, Yahoo, and government entities have all been hacked. All this and bandwidth issues, data storage capacity, among others. In going cashless and by uploading all transactions as electronic events, can the net handle the extra load?
Following (or Leaving?) the Herd…
Assuming Sweden successfully eradicates cash altogether, how will this affect the rest of the world?
Given the sweeping IT trend toward capturing data from everything everywhere, policy makers across the globe may soon feel left behind by not jumping on the band wagon. Assuming Sweden goes cashless, what’s to stop everyone else from trying to follow the herd?
Stalwart luddites and old-fashioned types may be prompted to break away from the grid even more than they have already. Perhaps they will form communities that establish old-world trade of goods in-kind. Say, “I’ll give you a chicken for five gallons of your goat milk.” Or perhaps, “Would you care for some tea?”
In certain distant regions of East Asia and old-world Russia, in the absence of cash money food goods and government-issued bricks of tea were traded as currency.
By going cashless, will some of us be relegated to trade-in-kind?