Cash Could Be Victim of Economic Collapse
Is it possible to be in a war, to be moving towards economic collapse, and not know it? Yes, it is. In the last few years, a clandestine war has been waged behind the scenes between the governments of the Western world and a tiny handful of consumer and libertarian groups. The governments want to ban cash. Not to simply reduce its importance. Not to just minimize its use. To outlaw it completely.
Proponents of banning cash tell us that this will be the ultimate convenience. No more of those pesky pieces of paper to carry around. No more worrying about losing cash or having it taken from you. Forget about counterfeit bills. They’re no longer an issue. No more having to rescue cash from your pants before doing a wash. The list, arguably, is endless. Trivial, perhaps, but endless.
And there are other, more subtle benefits as well. No more worrying about whether the guy standing next to you on the elevator is a tax cheat, because in a cashless society, it becomes a certainty that, over time, virtually all tax revenue will be found and accounted for. (In the U.S. alone, it is estimated that some $500 billion a year slips through the cracks and is never seen again.)
Crime, you will be assured, will also disappear because criminals, unable to deal in cash, will be bereft and immediately seek gainful, legal, employment. Peace and harmony will be yours in a cashless world. Everyone open your books now and we will sing a Psalm.
The Dark Side of the Force
Opponents of the proposal see a darker purpose, however. A cashless society is one of the ultimate iterations of “capital controls,” and capital controls are themselves part of the financial repression scheme that Western governments have been silently implementing—along with ZIRP and QE—to pass along the cost of their own mismanagement and incompetence to the unwitting citizenry. (See for example, “QE Must End in Economic Collapse.”)
Opponents argue that going cashless is the final step the government needs to take to finally control every aspect of your life. Pretty soon, you won’t even need to fill out an income tax return. The government will already know what you made, how you made it, and even what you spent it on. And most likely, they will have already taken their cut before you even had a chance to stop at Starbucks for a coffee on the way home from wherever it was you made your money in the first place.
Think about it. In late 2014, the U.S. Congress passed a strange piece of “backdoor legislation” that most of us missed. (“Backdoor legislation” is used to describe a law that seems to do one thing, but in fact, does another. For example, a “Farm Act” may contain a provision penalizing drivers of V-8 engines, or a “Labor Bill” may demand people pay sales tax on gold coins. These types of laws used to be rare but have become uncomfortably commonplace lately.) This one gave the IRS the right to seize your passport if they believe, or even suspect, you owe them money. (Source: “Congress will Seize Your Passport,” Zerohedge, November 20, 2015; http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-11-20/congress-wants-seize-your-passport-unpaid-taxes.)
In a cashless society—let the good times roll!—Congress would not need to resort to these sorts of magician’s tricks to achieve their goals. In a cashless society, the IRS or CRA would simply press a button and all your assets would be frozen. Or, even more likely, they could press a larger button and software would instantly “skim” what you owe from every available account and fund that you own. Either way, they would not need to seize your passport because there would be much easier—and faster—ways to get your money.
Bankers Usually Don’t Scare Easily…
And the worst part of all this? This war was most likely over before it even started. The almost-maybe-sometimes success of bitcoin—a system that achieves the opposite of what the bankers want, it puts your money in a digital format where no one but you can find it—literally terrified the bankers and the politicians. If you know anything about bankers and politicians, you know they do not terrify easily. Calls were made. Favors were collected. Plans were set in motion. And almost overnight the move to a cashless society, which for many years was a “back burner” sort of project, has now become a priority.
An insider from the pro-cashless side offered the following insight but asked to remain anonymous:
“A cashless society has been on the government’s wish list since the first credit card was invented. Look at it from their point of view. Hundreds of millions of dollars of lost taxes reclaimed in an instant because they know what you made to the penny, they know what you owe to the penny, and they know precisely how many pennies you actually have. The only unknown is whether they will allow you the dignity of submitting the money voluntarily, or whether they will just take it from you as the mood strikes. Hundreds of millions of dollars of invisible criminal transactions transacted in cash suddenly become visible. And don’t be surprised if, rather than lose that revenue entirely, formerly illegal activities suddenly become legal and taxable. Look what is happening with marijuana. You don’t want to know what they intend to legalize next. That will be a shocker for the Moral Majority.”
Plus, a cashless society is the penultimate form of capital control, because at the end of the day, there is no more effective way to force money (and, correspondingly, the people who own it) to stay in the country than to morph their lifetime assets into a digital currency that only you, the government, can control!
According to economic theorists, this is the icing on the cake for bankrupt governments that have already started a regime of financial repression to force the cost of their incompetence onto the citizenry. Cashless goes with QE and ZIRP—low-interest schemes that lighten governments’ debt burdens while denying insurers, pensioners, and savers a fair yield on their cash—like a cherry goes with an ice-cream sundae.
(In fact, once cashless becomes a government policy, then, according to pure economic theory, the only “missing ingredient” in a total financial repression regime would be the total suppression or confiscation of precious metals. Of course, there are many writers, including this one, who believe that Western governments have been interfering with gold and silver prices for literally decades, but stubbornly refuse to admit it. [Source: “Financial Repression,” Mises.org, last accessed January 15, 2016; https://mises.org/library/meaning-financial-repression.])
Coming Soon to a Country Near You…
This is, according to the experts, what we (you, me, our kids, and our grandkids) have to look forward to:
“[…] The war on cash is happening openly now in societies that have pushed economic stimulus as far as they can… Charging people to keep their money in the bank is hard to do so long as cash is available, as people may just withdraw all of their money from those banks in the form of the national cash and squirrel the cash away. In order to penetrate the twilight zone of economics, central banks need to abolish cash to terminate this escape route. Then they can force savers to spend, thereby increasing the flow of money through the economy, by raising the cost of holding money in a bank account as high as it takes to get people to spend their money. No sense letting perfectly good money waste away in an expensive bank account!”
“[…] Transitioning into a cashless society is the ultimate central planner’s dream as it gives central banks total control over money, and money is their proprietary product… Issuance of digital currency can help reduce costs, curb crimes and money laundering, facilitate transactions and boost the central bank’s control on money supply and circulation… It can reduce the traditional distribution of digital currency note issue, the high cost of circulation, improve convenience and transparency of economic transactions and reduce money laundering, tax evasion and other criminal acts to enhance the central bank’s money supply and currency in circulation control, better support economic and social development…”
“[…] They want to control your spending habits and the things you do to mitigate your risks. It’s all about controlling and monitoring your behavior as a consumer. You see, those businesses that operate primarily in cash might be criminals. Naturally, criminals do love cash because they must have anonymity. The philosophy is rapidly gaining ground, as a result of that truth, that anyone preferring cash may be someone who needs anonymity for nefarious reasons.”
“[…] So whenever you use the money in your account to buy something, you pay a small penalty. That makes people less inclined to spend and more inclined to save, so reducing economic activity. Beautiful! You see how tidy that is? If you, the consumer, get a little too reckless in your disregard for risk, your favorite central banker can help rein you in by tagging a fee to each transaction to your purchases as a friendly disincentive to overspending. And, perhaps if the government doesn’t like certain vices, it can add a little extra tax of its own to those expenses.”
“[…] Bitcoin is to bankers what Uber is to taxi companies.” (Source: “Cashless War Intensifies,” Safehaven, January 22, 2016.)
Another unsettling aspect of this is the latest PR spin that we are starting to see from governments around the globe, intent on proving to us that a cashless society is something we have secretly been craving; and our kind governments are merely responding to these inner longings. The logic goes something like this: since the invention of credit cards, debit cards, and the Internet, people have statistically been using cash less and these systems more. Ergo—and I am not sure Mr. Spock would agree with this, nor, for that matter, would any fifth grader—people must want to get rid of cash completely…? You’re welcome.
Are you convinced? To me, this sounds like that famous quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass:
“‘Contrariwise,’ continued Tweedledee, ‘if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”
The Corporate Connection
Governments, by the way, are not the only entities that benefit from a cashless culture. There is also the “corporate connection.” One large and well-known international corporation is so in love with the idea of going cashless—picking up a few pennies here and there on billions of daily transactions worldwide—that they have, on their own dime, formed a number of committees and associations to further the notion. They are, even as you read these words, continually publishing “white papers” to show the world how happy everyone will be under the coming regime.
Perhaps you have heard of them? MASTERCARD.
According to a recent PR release, the following countries are already “nearly cashless” and—this is the implication—the rest of the world (listed in three other specific categories) needs to work extra hard to catch up. Note how melodic and suggestive the language is. Countries not yet cashless but aspiring mightily to that goal are described as “tipping point” and “transitioning.” Also (my favorite), notice how Russia ended up lumped together with Indonesia and Egypt, giving the impression to the uninformed that Russia is barely a third-world nation and has failed to grasp the wonder and joy of a cashless society. (Closer to the truth, I suspect, is that Russia, under Putin, has already weighed in on the topic and the brain trust at Mastercard were reluctant to share with everyone exactly what he might have said):
Source: “Mastercard Cashless Society Report,” Mastercard; http://newsroom.mastercard.com/digital-press-kits/cashless-journey-tracking-the-global-shift-to-cashless-societies, last accessed January 25, 2016.
You could look at the involvement of Mastercard as a noble effort to help governments streamline themselves so they might provide better service to their citizens. Or you might look at this effort as a chance for the firm to not only front-run all the other firms seeking to provide the tech solutions for the transition, but also as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them to, as one writer put it ever so gently, “obliterate the competition.” (Source: “Cashless War Intensifies,” Safehaven, January 22, 2016.)
As this article was prepared, it was still far from clear which technologies would ultimately triumph. All we know for certain is that, whatever tech is finally chosen, it will have to be compatible with everything that currently exists in the marketplace. For example, upstart firms like On Track Innovations Ltd. (NASDAQGM:OTIV) are lobbying worldwide to have its system, “TRIO,” solidly in the running. The company’s press release below provides us with a glimpse of just how “compatible” a cashless system has to be to even have a chance to take the grand prize and become the new cashless standard:
“[…] Launched in mid-2014, TRIO is a modular payment device [that] supports three cashless payment interfaces in a small stylish enclosure that is available in multiple colors. The reader is designed specifically for installation in vending machines and other self-serve environments but can also be used as a counter top add-on to existing POS terminals, to allow cashless payment with magnetic payment cards, as well as proximity, vicinity, and contact EMV payment cards. Since the TRIO has completed the full certification process by the major card associations, it is now fully compliant for use with the following payment methods: Contact EMV L1 and L2, Contactless EMV L1, VISA: VISA payWave MSD, VISA payWave qVSDC, NDOT over VISA for transportation, VISA Global Transit Payment Pilot Specification, VISA Pilot Visa payWave Ticketing Extension Specification and VISA Asia Pacific WAVE 2, MasterCard: MasterCard PayPass M/Chip (including Data Exchange), MasterCard PayPass Mag Stripe, NDOT over MasterCard for transportation, American Express: ExpressPay, Discover: Discover Zip, Interac: Interac Flash, SoftCard: SoftCard (ISIS) SmartTap, Mifare: Mifare Ultralight, Mifare Classic, Mifare DESFire, Transparent (Pass-Through) Communication: ISO/IEC 14443 Type A – Transparent Proximity, ISO/IEC 14443 Type B – Transparent Proximity, ISO/IEC 15693 Vicinity (optional) – Transparent Vicinity, Other: Magnetic Stripe Card – ISO/IEC 7813 (Track 1 + Track 2), additional proprietary applications, Apple Pay, TRIO is also compatible with the following standards and specifications: FCC, CE, UL, RoHS compliance, ISO 9001: 2008, ISO/IEC 14443 Proximity Type A&B, ISO/IEC 15693 Vicinity, ISO/IEC 7813, ISO/IEC 7816, Mifare, MasterCard TQM and IP65.” (Source: “On Track Innovations Ltd. Press Release,” Marketwired, November 4, 2014.)
Cashless Society—A Lobster Trap for Consumers?
Are you starting to wonder what a cashless society would actually look like and would feel like? Soon you may not have to wonder any longer—soon you will find out in real time. Experts who have studied the matter suggest the process will not be unlike getting caught by a boa constrictor—pleasant at first, only somewhat constrictive, and tightening gradually until you wake up one morning to find that your “financial individuality” has been fully digested by the system.
One report suggested that the following changes are virtually guaranteed to appear:
“[…] Making cash transactions illegal…merging all your information into one account and flagging for any discrepancies between income and expenditures. Making it impossible to receive any form of government-provided or government-regulated assistance (Social Security, Medicare, health insurance, bank loans, credit, etc.) unless all taxes are current and accounted for.”
“[…] You would also expect to see a large number of costly and intrusive audits for those operating businesses on a cash-basis.
“[…] Slowly making it impossible to receive aid, loans, insurance…would effectively strangle the shadow economy into submission and mitigate the chances of a (counter) revolution by declaring war on decentralized methods of payment.” (Source: “Cashless: The Coming War on Tax-Evasion,” Financial Sense, May 30, 2012; http://www.financialsense.com/contributors/cris-sheridan/cashless-coming-war-on-tax-evasion-decentralized-money.)
Another “peculiarity” of going cashless—often overlooked in the mainstream press—is the issue of risk. When you have cash, it is guaranteed (more or less) by the government. When you have been forced under a cashless financial repression regime to park your digital currency with a specific financial institution, you have unwittingly assumed responsibility for any future problems experienced by that specific institution…if they go down for any reason, so does your money!
Wait—there is yet one more twist that your friends in political office will never mention to you: “the invisible haircut.” Ever since the EU officially changed the focus of profligate governments from bail-out (at public expense) to bail-in (at the expense of private consumers and account holders), the world has been waiting breathlessly to see how this was going to happen…? Here is the joke: if the world goes cashless, it will indeed happen, but you will never get to actually see it. Once every dime and nickel owned by every citizen and convict is tallied in the electronic hopper, the mechanism for “bail-in” is simplified by a factor of about a thousand. Your government simply decides how wide they wish to make the circle of pain for the specific institution that has gotten into trouble, they push a button, and presto, problem solved!
Cashless Will Be the Harbinger of NIRP and Its Protector
Shakespeare said that sorrows come not in single spies, but rather in battalions. In a Zerohedge story that almost nobody noticed, a hi-level source at Davos 2016 was quoted as saying that as soon as cashless arrives, NIRPs—negative interest rate policies where you effectively pay the bank to hold your money—will follow. Seems that NIRP without cashless runs the risk of people stashing cash in their mattresses (like in the 1920s) and that would pretty much embarrass everybody. (Source: “Something Very Disturbing Spotted In A Morgan Stanley Presentation,” Zerohedge, February 10, 2016; http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-02-10/something-very-disturbing-spotted-morgan-stanley-presentation-slide.)
If this scenario does play out, it is virtually a certainty that your friendly government will “spin” the move to be “for your own good.” This may not be the case, however. One writer recently cautioned the following:
“Negative interest rates combined with the eradication of cash appear as a desperate attempt to control global private wealth. Jamie Dimon is one of the world’s most astute and powerful individual bankers. On February 11th, he invested some $26.6 million in the depressed stock of his bank, JPMorgan Chase. Reported as demonstrating confidence, it may be that Dimon sees the stock price recovering strongly when it is realized more widely just how much the banks might benefit from negative rates and the erosion of cash held privately outside the banks. President Nixon’s decision to unilaterally abolish the last remnants of a gold standard in 1971 heralded a nuclear age for international trade in which nations looked to gain advantage through serial debasement of their currencies and make up the difference with massive debt creation, unfettered by any link to gold. Similar to the nuclear strategy of mutually assured destruction, it set international trade on a course of mutually assured economic destruction. The size and scope of the political, economic and financial problems that now challenge the relative stability and tranquility of developed societies are unprecedented. Should the war on cash prove unsuccessful in its early stages, banks could be closed for long periods.” (Source: “Escalating War on Cash – John Browne,” Europac, February 24, 2016; http://www.europac.com/commentaries/escalating_war_cash.)
The Bottom Line?
This is not a theoretical essay, this is real-time drama.
Sweden has indicated it should be 100% cashless within about five years. As you read this, there are “targets” on the back of the 500-euro note and the U.S. $100 bill. Remember, if you boil a frog in increments, for most of the experience, it will think it is vacationing at a fancy spa.
I started off this essay by speculating how, while this debate is taking place behind the scenes, the real battle is over before it has even begun. As with most disagreements between public advocates and government think-tanks, the former tend to be understaffed, underfunded, and unable to coordinate their strategy with similar groups. Government, on the other hand, tends to be all-powerful, controls all the money in your life anyway, and has the full force and power of the criminal justice system to nudge you into paying close attention to their dictates.
It may happen tomorrow. It may happen 10 years from now. It will probably be sooner than later, though. It will be presented as the ultimate convenience. However, just like those infamous “black boxes” in your car that record your driving habits before a crash so your insurer can review them before paying your claim—and those scary new electric meters that record your living habits hour-by-hour and send out microwave blasts by the minute—the ultimate reward for going cashless really belongs to the owners of the system, not the ones who actually live in the system.