|Cash cashing out?|
Implications of a cashless future—or lunch without money
The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers--and the Coming Cashless Society, by David Wolman, Da Capo Press, 240 pp.
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“We think about money always and never. Always: employment, retirement, state of the economy, college tuition, terrorism funding, trade balance with China, Goldman Sachs, and quick runs to the ATM. Never: how it actually works.”
Money heading for the showers?
Wolman, among other things a contributing editor at Wired, contends that money is on the way out. To support his theory, the first interview cited, which is then periodically mentioned throughout the book, is with a Baptist pastor and missionary who shares verses in the Bible as they relate to the end of money in the last days. From that future perspective of prophecy, one has to wonder how long it will be before “the mark of the beast” is evident and cash is worthless.
Wolman tells of his quest to go a year without carrying any cash. While meeting with the Baptist pastor, he is a faced with a “cash only” restaurant.
Fortunately for him, the interviewee is there to pick up the tab and save embarrassment. Various other problems of going cashless are relayed throughout the book, so the end of money turns out to not be imminent. This experiment is amusing at times, but does show some of the results of a high tech economy that usually operates quite well without cash. At times not having cash was simply inconvenient.
Money in the past tense
Wolman presents a fascinating history of cash along the way towards expounding his theory. He begins with notable objects such as “feathers, shells, coconuts, butter, salt, whale teeth, logs, cacao seeds, tobacco, dried fish, livestock, and slabs of rock as big as a car.”
Of course these early forms were not found to be of any lasting value and with some, extremely hard to carry around to conduct commerce. (Imagine log-sized wallets.) Gold and silver became a popular and realistic source of expressing and holding value. Coins became evidence of money, followed by paper currency.
Money has its “hidden” side, too. Later chapters show money for what it is actually made of, and--which is even more fearful--as to what it carries.
The reader is reminded of money’s ability to carry germs and traces of drugs.
“Aside from handshakes, commonly breathed air, and mutually held handrails on buses and subways, transacting in cash is one of the top ways in which we go around touching one another,” writes Wolman.
One may become a bit squeamish with all this. However, Wolman kindly includes input from microbe experts, whom he quotes regarding the very short life expectancy of a germ or virus on money. All the bases are covered.
Phony money’s genuine appeal
Counterfeiting is examined to some extent and I found this one of the most interesting parts of the book. As currency is designed with greater safeguards against counterfeiting, the bad guys grow just as clever in copying. My past stereotype of those trying to profit by counterfeiting was completely shattered as North Korea is proposed to be one of the main culprits. This eye-opener promoted in me a desire to quickly move to a cashless society.
Counterfeiting can also takes the less-familiar form of U.S. citizens who are striving to repeal the existence of the Federal Reserve and the Internal Revenue Service. This ambitious group has worked to create a separate currency of sorts backed entirely by the gold and silver. The group has made some progress, but also is very close to being sentenced to fines and prison for their actions in using their form of currency.
Plastic money and national monetary pride
Debit and credit cards are growing in use and preference. There are disadvantages of totally going to credit/debit cards and the book explores this. Our attitude when considering spending $100 cash is more conservative than pulling out the plastic. The book quotes a consumer rights advocate who criticizes the big bad bank for the transaction and interest costs. It would have been refreshing and helpful to show the cost of debit/credit cards to the financial institution but this book is not aimed in that direction. A look at the destructive nature of excessive credit card debt is also considered.
Another very interesting part of the book was the examination of Iceland’s currency in particular and the relationship of various world currencies in general. With Iceland’s financial collapse came many questions, including “Why does Iceland keep its own currency, other than national pride?”
All the currency, equity, bond, and commodity markets have been moving with any news from Greece and/or those countries orchestrating its future: It is evident that currency is very important in the world’s economy as there are many opportunities and problems as economies rise and fall.
Cell phone currency
In the final pages of the book, new technology in cell phones is examined for the benefit of the poor in India. These pages were like examining a brand new piece of technology that is astonishing. I realize I can be labeled “technologically challenged,” but the financial transactions that are occurring or have the potential to help people at all economic levels transact the most basic levels of commerce is very promising.
The author is able to insert humor into this far reaching examination of money. I found the book to be entertaining and educational. If change is coming soon with the elimination of cash, I hope it is for the benefit of us all … and not due to the coming of the beast in fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
Previous reviews by Will Taylor include:
• The New Advisor for Life: Become The Indispensable Financial Advisor to Affluent Families
• Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, And The Education Of A President
• Your Digital Afterlife: When Facebook, Flickr and Twitter Are Your Estate, What’s Your Legacy?
• Living Richly: Seizing the Potential of Inherited Wealth
• You can also read other ABA BJ book reviews here.
[This article was posted on March 16, 2012, on the website of ABA Banking Journal, www.ababj.com, and is copyright 2012 by the American Bankers Association.]
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