In our world of touch-free payments and digital wallets, many take cash for granted. It’s slow, it can be lost, and it doesn’t even have a rewards program. Some businesses have stopped accepting cash altogether, perhaps because it is seen as cumbersome and unnecessary.
We should push against the move to a cashless society. Dollar bills may not be “high tech,” but there are good reasons to keep them around. Physical cash can support financial inclusion and privacy and serve as a backup when systems fall.
Although cards and digital wallets may seem ubiquitous, many people lack access to these payment methods.
In Florida, almost four percent of the population is “unbanked,” which means they lack access to a bank or savings account, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. This includes around a quarter million people in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach area. If more businesses abandon cash, hundreds of thousands of Floridians would be financially locked out of much of the economy.
It’s not just a problem of access. A cashless society is a surveillance society.
Card transactions are managed by a financial institution. Your card service can see every transaction you make. Governments can access these records. Banks use this data to build behavioral profiles to sell to advertisers. In extreme cases, people can be financially “deplatformed” because of their transactions.
Cash gives the gift of privacy. No bank or government can track your cash transactions for profit or political oppression. In this world of big data and deplatforming, the option to transact without tracing is a valuable one.
And we shouldn’t discount the value of the non-virtual given the new reality of cyberattacks and system malfunction.
Energy operators, food producers, and government systems have consistently succumbed to computer troubles in the past year alone. Shadowy super hackers are not the only threat. Sometimes, a business just has WiFi problems. Having the ability to make cash transactions when systems are down is good common sense.
A proposal floating in the Florida legislature would protect Floridians’ rights to use cash. Senator Shevrin Jones of Miami and Representative Matt Willhite of Palm Beach would require most physical businesses to accept cash for in-store transactions without penalties.
While Rep. Willhite and Sen. Jones are both Democrats, their Republican colleagues have much to like in the idea to protect cash transactions.
Fighting deplatforming has emerged as a major priority for the GOP. Protecting cash transactions is an effective way to ensure that no Floridian can be fully financially deplatformed.
Adding systemic redundancies to alleviate the fallout from cyberattacks and malfunction makes sense no matter what your party. Making sure that businesses can accept cash is a good way for Florida to protect itself from vulnerabilities ahead of time.
Although the proposal would create a new requirement for businesses, compliance should be easy. Most businesses accept cash. Those that don’t can do so easily. It’s not like they already forgot how to make change—at least hopefully!
But if businesses do balk, there is an easy fix. Policymakers could allow cashless businesses to opt to accept Bitcoin instead. Bitcoin is a kind of digital cash that also overcomes the problems of access and surveillance. The point-of-sale systems cashless businesses use can easily accept Bitcoin.
Bitcoin’s properties of inclusion and privacy spurred El Salvador to adopt the cryptocurrency as legal tender this year. Florida businesses could use the same technologies that Salvadoran businesses use to comply with the proposed right to pay with cash.
Sen. Jones and Rep. Willhite’s idea to protect cash transactions in Florida has many positives and few costs. It can be made even more effective if Bitcoin payments are included as an option. Either way, Republicans and Democrats have a lot to like in a cash positive society. We should make it a reality in Florida.
Andrea O’Sulivan is the Director of the Center for Technology and Innovation at The James Madison Institute.
Read the original an article from the Sun Sentinel here: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/opinion/commentary/fl-op-com-jones-willhite-businesses-must-accept-cash-protection-plan-20211022-atx4f6ip3ngwtjrrkyxkybxflu-story.html