Sunday read: Bye-bye, cash

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Forget about cash in Sweden. They don’t want it.

That’s the message of “Imagining a Cashless World,” Nathan Heller’s New Yorker article about a growing trend in Europe: the use of credit cards (and other ways of accessing currency) and the dismissal of cash.

It’s my Sunday read for today.

Heller went to Stockholm and did what many tourists do: He stopped by a cash machine and picked up some local currency. But he quickly found out that he almost couldn’t give it away. Almost everywhere he went — farmers’ markets, bars, the metro — clerks were armed with card readers, not cash drawers.

Banks like it because they get a transaction fee for each payment, and many people like it because they can’t get robbed. The latter may seem unlikely, but it’s no small thing.

“What happens to street crime when an advanced economy goes completely cashless?” ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus asked Heller. “Why don’t politicians ask questions like that?”

Is this the future? Sci-fi movies often feature people paying in “credits,” not paper or metal currency, and the growing use of RFID — radio frequency ID tags — means we sometimes don’t even have to take our credit cards out of our pockets. (They can be scanned into our phones, for that matter.)

Of course, as Heller observes, Americans get nervous thinking about a cashless society. Besides the religious fundamentalists, who worry that a cashless society is a sign of the New World Order (and the End Times), there’s also folks who just don’t want their every transaction recorded — and taxed. That’s less of a problem in more socialist-friendly Sweden.

We’ll see where it leads. You can read Heller’s story here.



2 thoughts on “Sunday read: Bye-bye, cash

  1. What do you make of the ending of Heller’s piece? He points to a social difference in “what we want from money.” Privacy, autonomy, anonymity . . . vs social connection. What are these “bonds it traces” that he refers to? What does the last section of the article mean to you?


    1. I think it gets back to the difference between the social(ist)-minded Swedes and individualistic Americans. They’re apparently more egalitarian with their money — after all, much more so than it is here, it’s just numbers in a giant bank. We like it tangible, so we can show it off to our fellows … or stuff it in a mattress. After all, what is a McMansion or a nice car than showing off a wad of money?


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