How Cashless can leave us Penniless

Ever since I started using contactless last summer, it has become a rare thing that I carry cash, opting instead to carry out the majority of payments by contactless. When I do take money out, it is usually when I am on a night out, my theory being that the cash I will carry should act as my budget. That is the theory of sober me, at any rate; drunken me is happy to take a card out of his wallet and pay for a round of shots.  

The prospect of a cashless society is gradually nearing. In 2015, the Republic of Ireland removed the one and two cent coins from circulation, instead encouraging retailers to round their prices to the nearest five when working out how much change to give. Although the Central Bank of Ireland argued that the cost of producing these coins is more than their worth, that they never felt the need to do this before suggests an awareness on their part of the way society is moving. As contactless transactions and online spending become more popular, the need for cash is reducing. After all, card transactions are faster, remove the possibilities for error, and the increased sophistication of banking security means that is generally safe to do so. But our reliance on such transactions means we gradually lose our understanding of money, since it becomes less of a tangible, physical thing and more of an arbitrary number assigned to us which we should keep an eye on once in a while, a number which, before we know it, has a minus sign in front of it.

What is becoming just as prominent, however, is the increase of online transfers. How often, whenever a pal tells us of a gig or a ticketed night out that looks appealing, do you ask them to buy you a ticket and offer to transfer them the money? This may seem harmless on the face of it, but when these online transfers, that you often forget to do straight away, start building up, eventually you end up back into your overdraft for which you had worked all summer trying to pay off.

This will also have worse effects for future generations. After all, I’m sure most of our parents taught us the value of money by giving us fifty pence and saying, ‘buy yourself something nice’, aware that we would have to work out that fifty pence won’t exactly be enough for a Galaxy bar (or certainly not now with the sugar tax). Moreover, if society takes advantage of our willingness to spend and not think of the consequences, then in the future it will not be the consumer who will profit, but the large companies for whom it is now much easier to reach into our pockets and take all of what that piece of plastic in our wallets represents. In addition, those in the service industry, for instance waiters and taxi drivers, will also see a drop in the amount of money they take home, since we are more likely to tip them with the change in our wallets than we are to do so with a debit card. This would be an especially sore point for taxi drivers, as apps like Uber mean that we agree to the card payment of a fare in the booking process, meaning we are less likely to give a second thought to how much of a tip we should offer them.

I am not saying that a cashless society won’t make our lives that little bit easier, but that when the government does decide that coins and notes are superfluous, we will have to be much more careful with how we conduct our transactions and keep a closer eye on just how much money we have left. Not only that, but we have to ensure that future generations are aware that, in a capitalist society, money does not grow from a credit card chip or an online password, but is something that is earned for the exchange of labour. Clearly this is not an ideal utopia, but nor is a Brexit-shaped future in which a cashless society will swindle people further. And while I hate to see the face of Winston Churchill when I hand over a five pound note, the four-second drone of ‘contactless transaction approved’ is much more terrifying.   

[Liam Caldwell]

[Image credit: Elena Roselli]

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