Covid-19 will be mobilised by the financial industry to push their War on Cash even further, leaving us ever more ensnared within their private digital money empire.
By Brett Scott and cross-posted from Altered States of Monetary Consciousness.
For a number of years I have investigated– and warned about – the War on Cash. This is the slow process by which the banking sector, payments industry, financial technology companies and governments have – in subtle and not-so-subtle ways – tried to wean people off the physical cash system, and to onboard them into the bank-run digital payments system.
Calling it a ‘war’ is controversial, because in the mainstream this process is often described as a peaceful and organic bottom-up move towards a ‘cashless society’ driven by ordinary people. I, on the other hand, characterise it as an aggressive and artificial top-down move towards a ‘bankful society’, driven by the financial industry and many governments. The bankful society is one in which the banks (or platforms built on top of them, such as Paypal) intermediate between even the smallest of payments, seeping between buyers and sellers like a payments chaperone. This consolidates and expands the power of the banking system, gives them enormous amounts of data, and enables them to enter into mega-deals with mega-tech platforms, who also rely on a turn away from cash to facilitate the mega-automation they seek.
The War on Cash prior to Covid-19
The War on Cash has sometimes taken the form of outright attacks (such as when the Indian government aggressively degraded the Indian cash system during their so-called ‘demonetisation’). More often, however, it has taken the form of consistent propaganda (Visa openly talks about their campaign to make cash seem ‘peculiar’ to people), amidst a subtle drive to engineer the market environment in such as way as to make cash increasingly inconvenient to use (such as shutting down ATMs).
As these processes unfold, they catalyse network effects in which we find ourselves ‘spontaneously’ beginning to ‘choose’ digital payment (in much the same way that supermarkets inspire kids to ‘choose’ chocolates by placing them at eye level by the checkout counters). Once this catalysing happens, those who wish to resist this turn to the bank system find themselves increasingly forced into compliance by others who have succumbed to it
But many people still refuse to toe the official banking-meets-tech line, and wish to keep using cash, despite the fact that the economic system around them is increasingly being loaded against this choice. I and others such as Which?, Ralph Nader, Positive Money, and The RSA have come out in praise of cash. We see it as an inclusive, privacy-preserving, public means of payment. I see the aggressive spread of digital payments not only as an attempt to fully privatise the payments system, but also as an attempt to ‘gentrify payments’ – to tell people that they are criminal or dodgy if they do not wish to be absorbed into the giant generic chain institutions of global finance. The payments industry – underpinned by the global banking sector – has managed to convince states that it is noble, or even humanitarian, to make ever-greater numbers of people dependent on the banking system (a system that by no means has their interests at heart), under the cry of ‘financial inclusion’….