Many people feel that their right to use cash is in jeopardy. Why this is so important might be lost on some, but money is often an unrecognized asset. Sentiment on the subject is so strong in the UK that a group of stakeholders recently launched a non-profit with the aim of saving this ancient and essential resource.
the Cash Supply Alliance (CSA) will promote the widespread acceptance and availability of cash, so that it remains a valid payment option for UK consumers of all demographics living anywhere in the country.
“We know that low income, rather than age, is the most accurate indicator of money addiction,” says Nigel Constable, president of CSA. For many, it’s also about the freedom to use cash, budget, or avoid card data being captured and monetized by private companies, he adds.
Although not taught in schools or discussed much on a day-to-day basis, cash performs a wide range of functions that are not easily replicated by other technologies. An extremely important quality is the ability to protect an individual’s privacy.
Protection of private life
The very idea of privacy seems to be getting more and more diluted every year. The penetration of digital in our lives, and in the infrastructures that make up our societies, makes it a pernicious problem. Moreover, the way data is used, for and against us, encourages the erosion of fundamental rights, such as the right to life without supervision.
In modern times, our phones and computers are monitored. Unfortunately, this is neither fiction nor a conspiracy: Facebook and other companies are even exploring the use of special data analysis techniques to mine even our encrypted data, to extract a little more value from the users of their services.
Your card transactions already contain oodles of data that can be used to track your life, and your mobile phone keeps talking with the network providers that operate its mystical powers. For many digital payment technologies, privacy is demonstrably impossible; and where this is not the case, companies are actively looking for ways to circumvent obstacles to their profits.
This is an area where cash offers one of the only antidotes: cash is inherently private, requiring no third-party services or electronic systems to function. In many ways, it’s one of the last bastions of privacy in our increasingly monetized society. For many citizens, this refuge is far too important to be lost without a fight.
Another strength that cash offers is its power of social inclusion. Cash is a public good that belongs to the public domain. Unlike mobile payments or credit cards, citizens of a country benefit from having tickets available to them without having to offer anything in return to a private company. Indeed, cash is the only entirely public means of payment.
This essential quality partly explains why Advocate General Giovanni Pitruzzella of the Court of Justice of the European Union declared that cash must be legally protected: “For these vulnerable people, cash is the only form of money accessible and therefore the only way to exercise their fundamental rights related to the use of money.
No other mechanism protects the rights of vulnerable people to make payments. Therefore, in the opinion of Pitruzzella, it should be generally prohibited to prevent the use of cash for payments.
Cash and emergencies
The power of cash to help people in need goes beyond the usual hardship of vulnerable people. It can also serve society in the worst possible times.
During national emergencies, it is well documented that people turn to cash for insurance. During financial crises, times of political insecurity and even more recently with the coronavirus pandemic – it is common for households to store cash as a lifeline. People sometimes fear that the systems will break down, or even that the banks will go bankrupt. In such cases, it provides great peace of mind to know that no matter what, money is available to support life and food in the home.
This also extends to extreme scenarios, such as humanitarian crises. There are few things more essential for the migrant refugee than the ability to pay for essentials as they complete their uncertain journey. Phones can die, networks go down, but money is something they can be sure of. This is why NGOs often distribute small packets of money when they intervene in countries or regions in turmoil.
Cash flow during disruptions
Cash has another vital function: it is the palliative in the event of failure of a typical infrastructure. When power outages occur or a technical fault in the ever-expanding digital supply causes disruption, the money is there to catch up with the economy as it stumbles. When The visa has gone down worldwide, followed weeks later by the breakdowns of its rival Mastercard in Europe, it is each time the humble banknote which gives life to the transactions of the day.
As the climate becomes more hostile, we can expect the robustness of our technological systems to be tested more frequently by extreme weather events. In many of these future scenarios, the use of cash will likely be the deciding factor, determining whether people face a bad day for business or just an inconvenient near miss for the books. Simply put: it is important to value cash, because it cannot crash.
Cash in the cyber world
Cash cannot be hacked either. Given the terrifying increase in cyberattacks and ransomware-related incidents, many people are understandably skeptical of digital stores of value.
“In the digitized system, it’s easy for someone in Russia, China, whatever, to just turn it off,” according to to Björn Eriksson, the former boss of Interpol. “[Cash] you can hide in your car, or your stove, or whatever,” he points out.
Many bankers and business people are also concerned about cybercrime trends; they are aware, through research, that the only truly robust means of payment is the banknote. Everything else can be “turned off”, so to speak.
With all these different dimensions in mind, the status of money as an essential resource becomes clear. Still, whether the money will remain available to the public for years to come could be largely determined by how hard people try to make their voices heard.