HL 77 – Cashless is Heartless and Brainless

May 24, 2019

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In HL’s Grand Central Station neighborhood hipster-doofi line up for five buck Matcha Wellness Lattes at cashless Bluestone Lane kiosks and Birkenstock-shod elder hippies tender $20 – plastic only – for a snack size soup and avocado toast at the Great Northern Deli.  While on line with them HL suppresses an impulse to lecture and instead waits his turn, places an order and refuses it when the proffer of cash is rejected.  Our own private uncivil disobedience.  A variation has HL offer the “cards” in his phone and watch digital wallets – also not accepted – but that only demonstrates that these particular cashless merchants are also clueless. 

We don’t care about them but do about the consumer deprived of using legal tender and of her privacy.  And we care a whole lot about tens of millions of unbanked and underbanked Americans who can’t shop at these cashless stores and the many more cash customers who pay higher prices for everything they purchase because of monopolistically high interchange fees paid by merchants and passed along to consumers for Visa/Mastercard/American Express transactions.  And because of the perks lavished on rewards cardholders by banks affiliated with those payment networks.

When merchants such as gasoline retailers offer a “discount” for cash they simply recognize the huge costs imposed by payment network transactions and especially rewards purchases.  The cash discount attempts to exempt cash customers from paying for other customers’ choices and perks.

It is not yet the case in America that Orwell’s Big Brother camera has been installed at your place.  But already we are living in The Minority Report and on the path to 1984.  Cashless merchants move us much closer to that dystopia, already substantially established in China.

With EZ-Pass, MetroCard and even Citi Bike in NYC, and their analogs wherever you live, there already is a record of our paths.  That record is becoming much more specific and detailed with facial recognition technology, urban congestion pricing schemes sensors, monitors and cameras.  With cashless stores even the pedestrian creates a record of where, when and what she has purchased.

On the financial fairness and economic equity side of the equation (the argument on the other side being convenience) do you really want to patronize stores who in effect say to the poor, “your money is no good here.”  Real liberals don’t and this hopeless one doesn’t.

The backlash against cashless stores and voluntary renunciation of actual and planned cashless outlets by smart and responsive vendors are evidence that America still has a heart and a brain.  San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Massachusetts have banned cashless stores.  Similar legislation is pending in Chicago, D.C., Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oregon and here in New York City.  Last week bills to ban cashless stores nationwide were introduced in Congress.

This emerging coalition and consensus among enlightened governments, good merchants and smart and socially aware consumers is a rare and wonderful development in these times that try our souls.


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