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Is a cashless society inevitable?

April 17, 2012


 An RCMP officer holds Canada’s new $100 banknote, which is made from plastic polymer and is designed to last longer and thwart counterfeiters. (Fabiola Carletti/CBC) Sweden and several other countries are experimenting with cash-free transactions, a trend that is fuelling debate about the need for tangible currency.

Readers were quick to offer their two cents onFriday’s editorial about the idea, “The International movement for the end of cash” by CBC’s Brent Bambury.

The majority of commenters were resistant to the idea of a cashless society, citing everything from decreased privacy and higher-tech crime to corporate control and technological vulnerabilities.

  • “Without strict laws, too, a cashless society will be one in which you have no fiscal privacy. Far from being more secure, intangible assets that only exist in someone’s software may be less so.” – Laputa
  • “E-cash is even less tangible than [legal tender] and requires complex and also expensive electronic infrastructure. All that does is shift the cost of physical cash to an even more costly and fragile electronic one. And one that is controlled not by the state, or society at large, but by for-profit, centralized corporations.” – AzlenS
  • “The thing that galls me is that as soon as we adopt something like that, we will see banks and other intermediaries will start charging us various fees for the convenience. And once we are past cash, we are hostages to those parasites.” – treadhead
  • “Can you Imagine what might happen if in this so-called “cashless” society during electrical storms or ice storms or solar-flares that could disrupt telecommunications or electrical grid? . . . [Also,] I for one am far less concerned about losing my wallet to a street thug than losing my entire portfolio to the hacker-friendly system of paperless currency!” – Starcycler

Still, there were many who said the end of cold, hard cash seems inevitable, and that the transition may come with many benefits.

  • “This will happen. It almost has already. It won’t be forced upon us it will be sold to us. The government won’t declare cash dead until after it has already happened. The penny has been dead for 10 years already. It was dead the first time you saw one of those ‘leave a penny, take a penny’ trays in a store.” – MortimerSnerd
  • “It can be through little plastic cards with no name attached and a magnetic strip, like the ones coffee shops and grocery stores use. No identity theft, no tracking of purchases with my name attached, no awkward fumbling in the change purse, just something more durable than paper, lighter than metal, as reusable as any other currency.” – VanBCCan
  • “I see it happening. Ten years ago I’d never leave the house without a couple of twenties and my cheque book in my pocket. Now I try to keep at least a few Loonies on me but I use cash so seldom that sometimes I can’t remember if I have any or not. Now as long as I have my debit card with me I’m good.” – Geoduck

Would you be content to rely on a completely digital wallet? Why or why not? How much cash do you ordinarily use now? Which side of the debate do you find more convincing?

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