“Cash Must Not Be Made the Scapegoat”

In the War on Cash, a rare defense of physical money by an ECB Board Member.

The proposed EU-wide cash restrictions could come into effect as early as this year. But defenders of physical cash have an unexpected ally in their struggle: Yves Mersch, a member of the European Central Bank’s executive board. In a speech hosted by the Bundesbank last week, the Luxembourgian central banker exalted cash’s value as legal tender and heaped scorn on the oft-heard argument that its anonymity only helps criminals.

“Protection of privacy matters to all of us. Privacy protects people from the risk of a surveillance state and thought police,” he told his audience. “No particular link can be established statistically between cash and criminal activities. The focus must be on the fight against crime. Cash must not be made the scapegoat.”

One of the world’s biggest issuers of notes and coins, the Bundesbank was a fitting location for a speech on the virtues of physical money. In total, €592 billion of the €1.1 trillion of banknotes in circulation at the end of 2016 were issued by the Bundesbank.

Judging by recent statements, the Bundesbank wants to preserve this arrangement. Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann, who is hotly tipped to replace Mario Draghi as ECB president in 2019, has warned that it would be “disastrous” if people started to believe cash would be abolished — an oblique reference to the risk of negative interest rates and the escalating war on cash triggering a run on cash.

That didn’t stop five national governments — Cyprus, Bulgaria, Belgium, Portugal and Denmark — from approaching the ECB last year to consult on measures to limit the use of cash, according to Mersch. Meanwhile, Sweden is widely regarded as the most cashless society on the planet

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