Sweden is rapidly turning into a cashless society, which seems like the utopian dream of many a government figure.
What could possibly go wrong from the government’s point of view? Isn’t it ideal that they could soon digitally control every single person in the country?
Actually, quite a few things are going wrong. So much so that even members of the government are expressing concern.
Sweden is the most cashless society in the world
The change is happening fast in the European country.
“No cash accepted” signs are becoming an increasingly common sight in shops and eateries across Sweden as payments go digital and mobile…
…Sweden is widely regarded as the most cashless society on the planet. Most of the country’s bank branches have stopped handling cash; many shops, museums and restaurants now only accept plastic or mobile payments…
…Last year, the amount of cash in circulation in Sweden dropped to the lowest level since 1990 and is more than 40 per cent below its 2007 peak. The declines in 2016 and 2017 were the biggest on record…
…An annual survey by Insight Intelligence released last month found that only 25 per cent of Swedes paid in cash at least once a week in 2017, down from 63 per cent just four years ago. A full 36 per cent never use cash, or just pay with it once or twice a year. (source)
Cash is used so infrequently that the government of the country has demonstrated concern. And this isn’t just in the big cities. A source in rural Sweden tells me that even in his remote area, the push to go cashless is omnipresent.
What could possibly go wrong?
The folks of Sweden have so little use for cash that it’s predicted many stores will no longer even accept it by 2025. And according to an article in the Financial Post, the government is beginning to have second thoughts.
…The government is recalculating the societal costs of a cash-free future.
The financial authorities, who once embraced the trend, are asking banks to keep peddling notes and coins until the government can figure out what going cash-free means for young and old consumers. The central bank, which predicts cash may fade from Sweden, is testing a digital currency — an e-krona — to keep firm control of the money supply. Lawmakers are exploring the fate of online payments and bank accounts if an electrical grid fails or servers are thwarted by power failures, hackers or even war. (source)
And the potential of a down-grid situation isn’t the only problem. Older Swedes and immigrants who aren’t really involved in the digital society could have great difficulty making transactions.
Consumer groups say the shift leaves many retirees — a third of all Swedes are 55 or older — as well as some immigrants and people with disabilities at a disadvantage. They cannot easily gain access to electronic means for some goods and transactions, and rely on banks and their customer service. (source)
We all know some folks who eschew online banking and never use a debit card. Many of these people are senior citizens who aren’t ready to learn a new technology. As well, there’s a cost involved in taking part in a technological economy: smartphones, internet service, and computers are simply not a part of the lifestyle of many folks.
One group, the Swedish National Pensioners Organization, is attacking this issue by teaching classes to get them more comfortable with digital transactions.
“We have around 1 million people who aren’t comfortable using the computer, iPads or iPhones for banking,” said Christina Tallberg, 75, the group’s national president. “We aren’t against the digital movement, but we think it’s going a bit too fast.”
The organization has been raising money to teach retirees how to pay electronically, but, paradoxically, that good effort has been tripped up by an abundance of cash. When collections for training are taken in rural areas — and the seniors donate in cash — the pensioner in charge must drive miles to find a bank that will actually take the money, Tallberg said. About half of Sweden’s 1,400 bank branches no longer accept cash deposits.
“It’s more or less impossible, because the banks refuse to take cash,” she said. (source)
Just to emphasize…”the banks refuse to take cash.” THE BANKS.
The reason given for the refusal to accept cash is that they wish to prevent recurrences of the violent robberies that took place in the early 2000s.
And of course, there’s concern of government control.
It seems rather ironic that it’s the government pointing out the possibility of trouble with government control in a cashless society, especially since they’re considering rolling out a new digital currency called the e-krona.
The central bank has plans to roll out a pilot version next year of a new type of Riksbank money — the digital krona, or e-krona — that could replace physical cash or at least help calm the current cash conundrum. An e-krona would mean that the functions of a currency backed by the state would remain, even in an all-digital world that is fast approaching.
Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, noted last week that several central banks were “seriously considering” digital currencies. (source)
If the government were in charge of the digital currency, the amount of control they’d have would be breathtaking. Could they simply make your digital currency invalid if you owed taxes or were suspected of a crime? Could they wipe out everyone’s online accounts in the event of some kind of bank holiday or economic collapse?
If the grid went down in a long-term way, all you’d saved would be lost forever. A short power outage would cripple communities. Every single purchase you make would leave a digital footprint, and huge amounts of personal data could be mined from it. And what about the possibility of online bank robberies carried out by hackers?
The list of things that could go wrong is infinite.
And of course, it all goes back to microchips.
Out of all the nations in the Western world, it seems that Sweden is the most enthusiastic about the embedding of microchips into humans “for convenience” purposes.
The microchip “bypasses the need for cash, tickets, access cards, and even social media,” according to the Daily Mail…
…In June, 2017, SJ Rail, the Swedish train operator, announced that 100 people were using microchips for train rides, obviously indicating that the rail system was already set up to handle the payment system before anyone was ever microchipped.
For this system, passengers with a microchip in their hand have their ticket loaded directly onto the device and the train conductor can read the chip with a smartphone to confirm payment.
The Daily Mail paints the chip in a positive light, recounting the opinion of Szilvia Varszegi, 28, who said the chip “basically solves my problems.” The “problems” Ms. Varszegi is referring to is apparently the “problem” of manually purchasing a ticket or engaging in a phone-based transaction. (source)
Well, thank goodness poor Ms. Varszegi’s horrible burden has been lightened.
Many readers expressed dismay, shock, and revulsion at the very idea of having a chip implanted in their bodies, and I’m with you. But we’re witnessing something important here. We’re watching an alarming glimpse at the future.
The endgame of complete control truly seems to be in sight as more and more Swedes go cashless.
In a cashless society, ‘the chip will replace YOU!’ – Lionel RT America
Published on Nov 27, 2018
Thousands of Swedes have been microchipped to allow them to conveniently pay for goods and services without cash, credit card or smartphone. Now, Swedish companies are asking their employees to accept such implants to aid in identification and security clearance. Lionel of Lionel Media sees the ominous trend as “the mark of the beast” and yet more evidence that “we’ve lost all sense of freedom.”
The measure, which can now go before the full state Senate, would require all brick-and-mortar retailers to accept cash, excluding transactions made online, by telephone, or by mail. That would make New Jersey the second state to prohibit retailers from refusing to accept cash and the first since 1978, when Massachusetts passed a law banning cashless stores.
The state Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved the bill 5 to 0, with amendments that would exclude retailers inside airports and certain parking facilities from the cash requirement. Specifically, the amended bill carves out municipally-owned parking facilities, parking facilities that only accept mobile payments, and airports as long as a terminal has at least two food retailers that take cash.
The state Assembly passed a version of the bill in June by a 71 to 4 vote.
Torres regards cash bans as both classist and racist:
Why do you think cashless business models “gentrify the marketplace”?
On the surface, cashlessness seems benign, but when you reflect on it, the insidious racism that underlies a cashless business model becomes clear. In some ways, making a card a requirement for consumption is analogous to making identification a requirement for voting. The effect is the same: It disempowers communities of color.
These are public accommodations. The Civil Rights Act established a framework for prohibiting discrimination in matters of housing, employment, and public accommodations. If you’re intent on a cashless business model, it will have the effect of excluding lower-income communities of color from what should be an open and free market.
And we’ll start to attach a certain stigma to people who pay for things with cash?
Exactly, in the same way that one might stigmatize [Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT)] cards. When I was growing up, I remember the embarrassment that surrounded the use of food stamps. We live in a society where it’s not enough to stigmatize poverty; we are also going to stigmatize the means with which poor people pay for goods and services.
More Consumers Abandon Cash
Despite these pushback measures, last week the Pew Research Center reported in More Americans are making no weekly purchases with cash that roughly 29% of US adults say they make no purchases using cash during a typical week – up from 25% in 2015. At the same time, the share of those who claim to make all or almost all of their weekly purchases with cash has dropped from 25% in 2015 to 18% today.
As Figure 2 makes clear, declining use of cash correlates heavily with income. So, adults with an annual household income of $75,000 or more are more than twice as likely as those earning less than $30,000 a year to eschew cash purchases in a typical week (41% compared to 18%). Whereas more than four times as many lower-income Americans report they make all or almost all of their purchases using cash, compared to higher income Americans (29% vs. 7%).
Pew reports that both race and cash use also correlate, with 34% of blacks using cash for all or almost all of their purchases, about twice that of the 15% of whites and 17% of Hispanics who rely on cash. Similarly, age is also important, with 34% of adults under the age of 50 making no cash purchases in a typical week, compared with 23% of those ages 50 or older.
According to FDIC estimates, 6.5 percent of American households were unbanked in 2017, meaning they did not have an account with an insured financial institution. Another 18.7 percent of households in the United States have a checking or savings account but still relied on financial services outside of a traditional bank — such as payday loans or check-cashing businesses — the estimate showed.
Over to Grub Street and Torres again for a trenchant summary of the main issue:
What do you make of the claim, “But these days everyone has a card!”
People who say that are living in a bubble of privilege — they look around and all their friends have cards. In response I say, “Does it occur to you that your world is pretty unrepresentative?” There are hundreds and thousands of New Yorkers who may have no permanent address or home, and many New Yorkers who are underbanked, either because of poverty or because they lack documentation. Requiring a card is erecting a barrier for low-income New Yorkers — period — and it’s coming from the very communities that claim to be progressive, as if, “Well, I am all for racial justice just so long as it doesn’t come at the expense of my own privilege.”
I think that many of these places actively want to keep a certain type of person out.
Of course! Earlier I said that no matter what the intention was, its effect is discriminatory, but I do think that it can also be intentional where the idea is to filter out the deplorables.
Even advocates of cashless transactions concede critics have a point – but reject the stark conclusion that the purpose of cashless policies is to exclude certain types of customers. According to the WaPo:
As CNBC has noted, business leaders such as Shake Shack founder Daniel Meyer have defended cashless policies by pointing to higher security and improved customer service and efficiency, even as they acknowledge their critics. “We know that some have raised concerns about the socioeconomic implications of operating a cashless business” Meyer wrote in a blog post earlier this year. “That’s certainly not our aim.”
The Bottom Line
Some cities and states are actively pushing back against the trend toward cashless businesses. Pending or mulled measures that maintain a place for cash would ensure that public accommodations remain accessible to all – and not restricted only to those privileged to have access to a credit or debit card, or a mobile app.
One option to break through the zero lower bound would be to phase out cash. But that is not straightforward. Cash continues to play a significant role in payments in many countries. To get around this problem, in a recent IMF staff study and previous research, we examine a proposal for central banks to make cash as costly as bank deposits with negative interest rates, thereby making deeply negative interest rates feasible while preserving the role of cash.
The proposal is for a central bank to divide the monetary base into two separate local currencies—cash and electronic money (e-money). E-money would be issued only electronically and would pay the policy rate of interest, and cash would have an exchange rate—the conversion rate—against e-money. This conversion rate is key to the proposal. When setting a negative interest rate on e-money, the central bank would let the conversion rate of cash in terms of e-money depreciate at the same rate as the negative interest rate on e-money. The value of cash would thereby fall in terms of e-money.
To illustrate, suppose your bank announced a negative 3 percent interest rate on your bank deposit of 100 dollars today. Suppose also that the central bank announced that cash-dollars would now become a separate currency that would depreciate against e-dollars by 3 percent per year. The conversion rate of cash-dollars into e-dollars would hence change from 1 to 0.97 over the year. After a year, there would be 97 e-dollars left in your bank account. If you instead took out 100 cash-dollars today and kept it safe at home for a year, exchanging it into e-money after that year would also yield 97 e-dollars.
At the same time, shops would start advertising prices in e-money and cash separately, just as shops in some small open economies already advertise prices both in domestic and in bordering foreign currencies. Cash would thereby be losing value both in terms of goods and in terms of e-money, and there would be no benefit to holding cash relative to bank deposits.
This dual local currency system would allow the central bank to implement as negative an interest rate as necessary for countering a recession, without triggering any large-scale substitutions into cash.
Pros and cons
While a dual currency system challenges our preconceptions about money, countries could implement the idea with relatively small changes to central bank operating frameworks. In comparison to alternative proposals, it would have the advantage of completely freeing monetary policy from the zero lower bound. Its introduction would reconfirm the central bank’s commitment to the inflation target, rather than raise doubts about it.
Still, implementing such a system is not without challenges. It would require important modifications of the financial and legal system. In particular, fundamental questions pertaining to monetary law would have to be addressed and consistency with the IMF’s legal framework would need to be ensured. Also, it would require an enormous communication effort.
The pros and cons of the system are country specific and should be carefully compared to other proposals, such as higher inflation targets, for increasing monetary policy space in a low-interest environment. We consider these issues, and more, in our research.