Out of Currency

Friday, February 24, 2012

David Wolman, contributing editor at Wired and the author of The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers--and the Coming Cashless Society, relates his story of doing without cash for one year and why that may be the future for us all. 


David Wolman

Comments [32]

Aaron from Brooklyn

The cash economy isn't going anywhere. There are too many small businesses that undereport their revenue because of cash paying customers (think every bodega, nail salon, and hot dog stand) and they will not give up this privilege without a fight. If you see a "$10 minimum to use card" sign it's not because of processing fees. It's because the proprietor has a million dollars in cash under his bed.

Feb. 25 2012 12:11 PM
Iguanaluv from Brooklyn, NY

Parting with tactile money is difficult. However, in regards to spending more freely with "plastic" - I have to disagree. For me, it is just as difficult to see my online account balance decrease just after I've purchased/debited something with a card. Reviewing accounts online often and following spending activity has helped me keep track of my spending & saving habits, which I don't think I could do as well with cash. Using a card also encourages me to stop spending on certain frivolous items. I'd much rather see my "extra" money go into my savings account then to pay off a credit card bill.

I recommend everyone use "plastic". It's so much easier than cash to keep track of. The record keeping involved w cash, including saving receipts and writing every expense down is just too tedious for me.

Feb. 24 2012 12:13 PM
Valerie from Manhattan

your guest is incredibly naive. He discounted any privacy concerns. Why would I trust Google to track all of my purchases and not sell that information, when they have been repeatedly caught doing just that? Moreover, perhaps I want to live in a world where every book I read and every purchase I make is not recorded. As for tipping, I travel extensively and there are hotels/resorts where the staff will not receive tips put on the credit card. You have to think about the impact globally, not just the USA. Your guest is apparently shilling for a company seeking to take the place of MC and Visa as the payor of our needs.

Feb. 24 2012 11:55 AM
david santoro from Brooklyn, NY

bitcoin - electronic currency with total anonymity and country independent.

Feb. 24 2012 11:51 AM
John A.

The "Systems Crash" vulnerability aspect of electronic systems, as reflected many times in the comments below, and, remember credit in 2008? ..seems have been ignored in this interview. The USGvt is investing probably $100M to defend against hacking by foreign interests, when those interests ultimately succeed there will be an aspect of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" to it.

Feb. 24 2012 11:51 AM
David from Fredericksburg, VA

Who does this clown think he is that he gets to decide what is and is not a legitimate reason for not wanting our spending tracked?

Feb. 24 2012 11:48 AM
Henry from Manhattan

I used to be a fan of using cards in lieu of cash. But I’ve gone back to cash after having all of my debit and credit cards from different banks compromised one after another in a period of a few month.

• Easier to keep tack of credit/debit card billing, because I use them sparingly.
• Less opportunity to get hit with some credit card fee.
• Opportunities to get deals paying cash on certain purchases.
• Shopping at the farmer’s market and other local businesses.
• Tipping.
• Stop paying middlemen (card companies) for transactions.
• Stop bleeding cash through automatic payments.
• Avoid awkward moments when you card doesn’t work for whatever reason.
• Cash always works.

I basically use credit cards for online purchases because I have to, that’s about it.

Feb. 24 2012 11:47 AM
The Truth from Becky

I too am a "germ-a-phobe" so I am relating to this issue but if you think of where people keep cash bills..ughh you would be one too! Drug dealers, prostitues, crack heads??? oh my Lord I don't want to handle cash ever again!!

Feb. 24 2012 11:46 AM
James from Brooklyn

Cash is king. I'm surprised how many people never have cash on hand. When we have a snowstorm, a power outage, hurricane, tornado etc. etc. we seem to be the only people we know that have cash. We always have a cash reserve on hand. Our problem is that our cash is no longer worth anything - might be the ONLY thing I agree with Ron Paul on...

Feb. 24 2012 11:45 AM
tony from new york

This person is insanely out of touch with working peoples' concerns. Let's give corporations free rein to keep us in perpetual debt! Great idea!

Feb. 24 2012 11:45 AM
The Truth from Becky

Yeah only in New York would a business go OUT of business if they couldn't accept cash...most non trusting city on the of the world to the south and SW of NY is on plastic or at least writing checks!

Feb. 24 2012 11:44 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Cash is king - cash is tangible. CC companies know it. Fat, sugar, salt, sex & cash.

Pay $1500 in cash for an HDTV - you feel it. Pay for it with a store card, no money down 24% apr but "no interest" if it's paid off in 6 months - feels so much better.

Feb. 24 2012 11:44 AM
Yoine Cohen

EZ PASS works bc ppl font feel the cost they even hide the price as u pass

Feb. 24 2012 11:43 AM
John A. from Ander-ton

"The Bill of Rights doesn't guarantee us anonymity."
Marketing Wins!

Feb. 24 2012 11:39 AM
Cesar from Manhattan

Please mention the importance of currency as a tool for social cohesion. The face-to-face interaction of using currency helps all of us relate to each other, at the very least by putting us in the position of needing something that someone else provides.

Feb. 24 2012 11:39 AM
Sara from bushwick

Getting rid of cash would put probably 90% of the restaurants in NYC out of business....putting all those workers - both on and off the books - out of work.

Feb. 24 2012 11:38 AM
Mike from Inwood

Cash may be punitive for the poor, as Mr. Wolman claims, but credit is even more punitive. Before the recent financial upheaval and its reforms, the poor paid bank fees, debit cards fees and credit card fees far out of proportion to their wealth. The poor choose cash for a reason. It is cheaper than credit.

Feb. 24 2012 11:37 AM
Mia from NJ

When my mother used to say to me "Why do you always need to stop by an ATM - don't you ever have any cash?" and I would reply that I didn't want to keep a lot on hand in case I was ever robbed or lost my wallet.

Well, I learned the hard way that she wasn't so crazy to keep cash on her (and some socked away at home) when my wallet was pickpocketed out of my bag while I shopped at a Target on Long Island on Easter Saturday 2010. Never mind that thieves ran up $2500 on the various cards in the hour it took me to realize I'd been robbed.

What was even worse was the only cash I had to live on for the rest of the weekend was about $25 that I happened to have in my jeans pocket and in a change purse

Feb. 24 2012 11:37 AM
The Truth from Becky

What privacy? What anonymity? If you have a social security number and file taxes every year, you are already in the game!

Feb. 24 2012 11:36 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

... and what happens when the credit card processor's systems are hacked or crash? The more faith we put in electronic systems, the more vulnerable we are to failure.

These failures could be catastrophic and there would be no backup system involved.

Feb. 24 2012 11:35 AM
Glen from Manhattan

I stood in line behind a 20 something use her card and it took 3x longer than if she would have paid the 4.99 in cash. Probably also because she was distracted looking at or texting on her smart phone

Feb. 24 2012 11:35 AM
The Truth from Becky

Cash is a promissory note.

Feb. 24 2012 11:35 AM
Asa Johnson from Manhattan

If cash replaces barter as a way to get rid of having to bring your cow to trade for grain. Cash keeps us from having to bring all the baggage of banks to daily transactions. I can give money for goods or services without either of us needing someone else or some large corporation involved with the transaction.

Not to say that Credit Cards or banks are not needed but to do away with it entirely would remove the control of individuals.

Also, cash is working at a disadvantage since credit card companies insist that merchants cannot give discounts for cash.

Feb. 24 2012 11:34 AM
The Truth from Becky

Can't remember where I heard it back in the 80's the whole intent was to eventually do away with cash and become a plastic society.

Feb. 24 2012 11:34 AM

Using electronic money for everything allows corporations full access to tracking our actions, diets, family structure, lifestyle, future's just creepy.

Using cash helps me stay on my budget. I get a certain amount out of the bank at a time, and that way I can keep track of how much I've spent.

Feb. 24 2012 11:34 AM
Jennifer from New York

Several years ago, I locked my keys in my car one night after one shift. I called the locksmith guy, and ended up paying the fee (around 50, I think) in all singles. He asked me, "Stripper or waitress?" It was waitress at the time, but this show brings me back to cashing out at the end of the day, sorting and straightening out the wad of green bills in my apron. There's a lot of that job I don't miss, but the big pile of money part was always viscerally satisfying.

Feb. 24 2012 11:33 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

... on the other hand, cash allows millions to escape paying their fair share of taxes, shifting the burden onto the rest of us.

Feb. 24 2012 11:32 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

I use a credit card extensively -- have for decades. But should cash become obsolete -- extinct -- then we will be totally at the mercy of the credit card processors and the banks. They have repeatedly shown that they have no shame in unilaterally raising fees left & right on unsuspecting customers (find THAT buried in 10 pages of fine print!!)

What's to stop them from imposing an ever-larger cost on each transaction?

Feb. 24 2012 11:30 AM
Joe Mirsky from Pompton Lakes NJ

You'll know cash is dead when people who sell their gold demand checks. Ha!

Feb. 24 2012 11:29 AM
Betty Anne from Astoria

I use Venmo a cashless service to pay for a lot with my roommates and friends. I actually pay my rent with it and I earn credit card points because it is linked to my credit card. It's fantastic.

Feb. 24 2012 11:28 AM

Typical positive industry spin from Wired. If we go over to credit card we are putting immeasurable power in the hands of these companies, most of whom are your banks, who we know have been so responsible in their financial decision making lately, and can be trusted implicity *sigh*. Basically it replaces one system of monetary notes with another, but with an additional stupidity tax we pay directly to the credit card companies. Currently Citibank is mendaciously investing in a start-up called called Bundle, a review site to compete with Yelp, but which "objectively" and "anonymously" tracks your credit card use. Apart from extortionately forcing small business into using credit cards (many refuse to pay the percentage fee) because only companies that use credit card will be included, the manipulation of "anonymous" personal credit card data is an outrageous abuse. Students have shown that such "anonymous" data can easily be used to identify people. If you think Yelp was abusive, you aint seen nothing yet.

Apart from that, the issue of what information the RFID collects and stores is something the credit card companies are at pains to avoid asking questions about, as the producers of Mythbuster graphically found out:

Feb. 24 2012 11:28 AM

Just curious if Wolfman is familiar with Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale? The full reliance on electronic banking allowed a takeover and complete restructuring of society into a caste system. It's science fiction, but...still a little scary.

Feb. 24 2012 11:27 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.