The soviet dream was to build a fairer and more efficient society, and succeeded only in creating the most totalitarian regime ever in history. Its own citizens were stripped of their most fundamental liberties and subjected to absolute state control. The road to hell is still paved with good intentions, and whistleblowers around the world are getting worried that Denmark’s dream of ending the use of cash will turn its state into a super-power, in the attempt of making the economy smoother. Is this the way to go?
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Denmark has, for many years, been quoted as the perfect democracy, the standard of Europe in terms of stability, freedom, and modernized societies. It is considered stable, with relatively low support for far-left or far-right parties (though mounting significantly with the arrival of migrant waves). It has a thriving economy. Despite somewhat feeble growth, it is a high-performance economy, namely due to low debt – that is, compared to the rest of Europe. And it is often regarded as a model democracy.
But their next move is a dangerous one, which might tip the national scale over to soft tyranny. The Danish banks, Danish government and finally Danish public is inching close to killing off cash completely from its daily operations. Most parties involved seem unaware of the great democratic danger which lies within such a decision, and are comforted by the fact that their northern neighbors seem within the same trend. Sweden, Norway and Finland are all slowly abandoning cash for electronic payments, including for very small amounts.
As reported on the Public Banking Institute website (1), in 2015 : “One region that has hogged the headlines with its war against physical currency is Scandinavia. Sweden became the first country to enlist its own citizens as largely willing guinea pigs in a dystopian economic experiment: negative interest rates in a cashless society. As Credit Suisse reports, no matter where you go or what you want to purchase, you will find a small ubiquitous sign saying “Vi hanterar ej kontanter” (“We don’t accept cash”). So far, the Danes believe that giving up on hard currency will give their country better economic performance and lower crime rates.
All these modern countries seem blissfully unaware of the fact that every single operation they conduct is now monitored by a bank and therefore by their governments. Now, many would say this poses little current risk, given that all these countries have democratic governments. But with the current rise of extreme-right parties (2), especially in Denmark, what will happen if and when those states turn sour? They will be able to monitor all financial operations, with nowhere to hide. This means control over citizen’s expenses, their financial environment, their associates and personal network. It would lead to a level of state control almost unprecedented in history.
Even The Guardian warns the public, in a recent article (3): “A future without money would mean a surveillance state where every transaction is tracked by banks and the state, apart from those using cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.” Furthermore, “coins and notes are a flexible and anonymous medium for quick small transactions that don’t involve an intermediary. In a world where all transactions are electronic, though, the only means of paying is via a bank account, meaning anyone without a bank account cannot buy anything. If you are a refugee with no permanent address and bank account, good luck.” And behind bank control, lies government control. Monitoring isn’t the only thing at stake: it’s actual control. With the current negative interest rates applied in Europe, in a cashless society, citizens would be forced to spend: saving money would be instantly hit with taxes.
The banks’ reasons for favoring the war on cash are no more acceptable than the government’s: they both have roughly the same arguments. Killing off cash will not prevent theft, it will simply make it happen somewhere else. Banking and cybersecurity expert Ben Lawsky told Yahoo! Finance (4) that “Cyberattacks on banks need to be looked at with the same kind of urgency as physical threats, because there is the potential for things to get really bad.” "You have groups of hackers around the world who are innovating all day long. All they do is try and figure out ways to disrupt our system. It could be really bad", he insists.
A cashless economy will not prevent terrorism, which long ago started using complex financial electronic circuits, as was shown by the Second Circuit suit, in which victims of rocket attacks in Israel in 2006 sued (5) the Lebanese Canadian bank for having inadvertently supported Hezbollah in conducting these attacks. Now, the banking industry has also become a prime target of terrorist organizations such as ISIS. “Islamic terrorists are arming themselves with the technical tools and expertise to attack the online systems underpinning Western companies and critical infrastructure”, reports a study (6) from the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology.
A cashless economy will not prevent tax evasion either, which has been happening electronically for decades: when tax evasion is protected by banks, it is not because the operations occurred through untraceable cash. It is either because the bank will not disclose its information or because foreign countries will not cooperate with national tax services.
A cashless economy will not reduce the cost of managing currency: the cost of producing and securing cash will simply be transferred – with a likely markup- to ever-higher-tech transaction security systems, which are seldom cheap. Businesses around the world, not just Europe and America, have been charging big bucks to implement, secure, maintain and develop financial systems. In Africa, for instance, where a large share of the population owns no credit card, no checkbook or even no bank account, the immense network of cell phones is used as the transaction network, enabling anyone with a phone (which means just about everybody) to make a payment to anyone else with a phone.
Lenin and Lucifer had this in common: they both brought hell, attempting to steal paradise. For the moment, everyone in Denmark seems to think suppressing metal and paper currency is a good idea, just as everyone in power in Russia in the 1920s and 1930s considered nationalizing companies and the entire economy was the way to balance and justice. If Denmark achieves this most uncanny transformation, they may reduce crime a little bit, for a while. They may slightly reduce their currency-management costs, for a while also, until server maintenance replaces or exceeds those costs. All in all, it will be at the expense of the Danes’ individual freedom to do with their hard-earned money as they please.