The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Solutions: Cash, The Unbanked, and Cashless Stores

Recently I saw the observation that you can track gentrification by the spread of shops that won’t take cash.

This is a problem because a lot of people don’t have credit or debit cards, even still. It’s easy to wind up “unbanked”. It’s also the case that cashless societies have walked a fair way down the authoritarian path.

The solution is simple enough:

  1. make it illegal for retail stores to refuse cash.
  2. Create a national “cash card”, similar to gift cards, and mandate that it must be accepted by any retailer, offline or online. The cards can be unregistered, in which case they act much like cash in that if you lose it or it’s stolen, there’s little protection, but you have at least a bit of anonymity, or they can registered. If a registered card is given to everyone when they file taxes, and any refunds are put on it, use will spread like wildfire.
  3. In every post office and various other locations allow people to buy these cash cards for, well, cash.

This will make anti-money-laundering a bit harder, but we managed back when everything was true cash, and there are more important things.

You could even have registered cards receive interest payments if you wanted. Say prime minus 1/2 a point, and that would have lots of good knock-on effects, forcing banks to actually start paying reasonable interest on accounts again.

(In Canada, if you have unclaimed money with the tax service, you get a pretty decent interest rate based on prime, and with recent increases in prime, for a lot of people, it’s the best interest rate reasonably available. Pre-pay those taxes if you can!)



China “To Those Who Have Everything”


Lazy V.S. Uninterested & Quiet Quitting


  1. Feral Finster

    This assumes that anyone of influence and authority actually wants to solve the problem.

  2. Ian Welsh

    Yes, everything does. I simply think it’s worth pointing out how easy solving many things is if anyone w/power gave a damn.

  3. multitude of poors

    Thank you so much for posting this Ian, over quite a while I’ve been absolutely dumbfounded by the lack serious attention paid to this (outside of providing a link to an article on it), particularly amongst those on the internet (I expect it from the Fourth Estate, et al), of whom so many who are still fairly well afloat and keep pointing to the time sink must reads and podcasts (Stoller, Ritholz, Cory Doctorow, Wolfe Richter, Greenwald, Taibbi, etc. (admittedly, many of whom I could never stomach, since the mid to late first decade of the 2000’s ) of the same old handful of pundits who could clearly less about anyone poverty ridden.

    It increasingly terrifies me to see so many that appear to be quite glibly okay with this insane, and ever increasing push to cashlessness. Just for one, when the power goes out—which in places like Texas, California, Louisiana, etcetera has been increasingly happening for ever wider expanses of time—cash is a must. Further, with Renters versus Home Owners ever increasing, why should they be forced to give their landlords such financial access?

    P.S. Providing Links on large blogs attesting to hard times for many, while sickeningly and repeatedly vaporizing the comments of those blog readers who attest to such in a comment is beyond the pale. I’ve witnessed it repeatedly, and could find no rhyme or reason why the comment never passed moderation; while other extremely offensive comments pass through with flying colors.

    Gotta run, will check back.

  4. Trinity

    In the US, there’s been a lot of talk about letting the US Postal Service serve as banks. Of course, the talk never gets very far. Probably because the push to privatize the postal service brought a lot of complaints from the people, and for the other reasons given here, that it’s not a problem for “them” so it doesn’t need a solution.

    I had a tax overpay that apparently followed me when I changed states. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear about it for years, and when I did hear about it, the notices came from a law firm. I tried to go through the new state’s “unclaimed money” website, but of course I was denied through that venue, forcing me back to the law firm. Everything is a con, in this case enriching the already rich lawyers by allowing them to be the toll booth between me and my money. Definitely no interest accrued, but fees were certainly imposed. They nickel and dime us to death.

  5. bruce wilder

    It is not the worst aspect of capitalism, but it is conspicuous: yes, government may want to “track” all financial transactions to theoretically foreclose tax evasion, but two things are as certain as “death and taxes”:

    1.) tax evasion by the rich and powerful through complex corporate structures and off-shore banking and money-laundering will be unimpeded even if a house painter or handyman cannot get even $700 untaxed;
    2.) any surveillance of transactions by the state will be shadowed and amplified by the far more authoritarian structures of private enterprise: Amazon, Google, Apple, Walmart . . . will know all and more than the NSA.

  6. Scott McCaskill

    One of the problems I have with a “cashless” society is, what about small day-to-day personal transactions? Like selling my neighbour a dozen eggs for three or four dollars? And when we buy and sell farm equipment, it’s often on a cash basis between neighbours.

  7. Astrid

    Sorry to tell you oldies but the kids are already used to cash-less. My friends and coworkers (late Gen-Xers and millennials) all transfer money via Venmo or Google pay, even for small dollar amounts collected for baby showers and coffee. Yesterday I ran into a Trader Joe’s with cash, and was frankly surprised that they still have a discreetly tucked in cash drawer.

    China went from being 95% cash to 95% e-payment between my 2016 and 2019 visits. 95% in-person to what feels like 95% online shopping, including for deliveries of live shrimp and crabs, stuff that used to get picked out ones by one and then haggled over. Changes can happen really fast, when PTB wants it.

    Will be fun when the system gets hacked or power off for 48 hours.

  8. mago

    You’ll like it. You really will.
    Step right up, bend right over, gonna give you the business.
    Thanks Tom Waits for pointing it out back in 1977.
    We’re living the ream more and more day by day week by week month by month year by year
    slowly he turned

  9. Ian Welsh

    We had a internet failure for a day when much electronic pay stopped working including debit cards. I was very glad I had some cash.

  10. jrkrideau

    Canada post has made a start on
    Prepaid reloadable cards

  11. Harry Haller

    Have you checked the site @jrkrideau? These are just ordinary reloadable Mastercard and Visa cards that you can get at 7/11. The only difference is they are issued through Canada Post.

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