Friday, March 1, 2013

The Cashless Utopia Mirage

By Jon Matonis
Forbes
Sunday, February 24, 2013

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonmatonis/2013/02/24/the-cashless-utopia-mirage/

David Wolman's article The Anonymity Fantasy gets off on the wrong foot by claiming to know what we all "deserve" or "what we all want." As a reader, this is aggravating on multiple levels, but the pretentious fun doesn't stop there as we later learn that anonymous cash does not equal freedom and that "clinging to cash" is misguided.

I could be cynical here, but I really don't think it's about perfidiously advancing a thesis to promote his new book. I think David actually believes all of this despite what history teaches us.

Let's not kid ourselves, because the end of money, as we know it, really means the beginning of the transactional surveillance State, which makes this a serious debate about the boundaries of State power and the dignity of an individual.

Unfortunately, the real world extends beyond Wolman's polite corner of Oregon.

There are activists and dissidents in hostile regions paying for Internet blogs, food supplies, and safe harbor. There are payments being made to border guards on a daily basis to flee a murderous government somewhere. There are women selling baskets and blankets at street markets to feed their hungry families. There are cancer patients buying weed from a friend if their state doesn't accommodate medical marijuana. And even before and after the Third Reich, persecuted peoples have always needed a way to protect and transfer what little remained of their wealth.

The persistent war on cash has more to do with moralistic society than it does with civil society as Wolman claims. With ultimate tracking capabilities, how does Wolman decide when a government's "right" becomes a wrong? Does he defend the victimless crime laws against online gambling and consensual sex for money between adults? Does he defend confiscation of private sector wealth when a socialistic regime runs out of funds? Does he defend an orchestrated payments blockade against whistleblower site Wikileaks? Does he defend brutal government law enforcement measures in Syria and Gaddafi's Libya?

Anonymity and civil society do mix --- it is omnipotent violent government and civil society that do not mix.
Wolman is thinking like a technologist when he promotes the cashless utopia and, as a technologist, he's probably correct because paper cash is inefficient, problematic, and dirty. But it's mostly inefficient and problematic for the overzealous regulators and tax collecting apparatus.

Efficiency happens to be a very short-sighted and unintellectual argument. Selective breeding for certain 'preferred' traits is a vastly more efficient method and so is the training-from-birth selection criteria employed by totalitarian states that place athletes in the modern Olympics. I doubt Wolman would want to live in those efficient societies --- cashless or not.

Also, it's a good thing that Wolman partially credits consultant David Birch with his un-semantic argument about the differences between anonymity and privacy, because that way he doesn't have to shoulder the sole blame for such an untenable supposition.

Privacy, especially user-defined privacy, sits on a sliding scale that is defined by the individual. One person's idea of privacy may be anonymity from all and another person's idea of sufficient privacy may be privacy from aggressive marketing companies and governments but perhaps not from banks. The point being that it is the prerogative of the individual, not book authors or digital money consultants, to determine where one sits on that personal sliding scale.

Cash is not the enemy of the poor. Nor are the poor hurt by anonymity --- they are the ones who desire it the most. If that were not the case, we would see the informal, unlicensed economy shrinking rather than expanding. It's only the global repressionists who cannot accept human nature without moralizing that promote the end of anonymous cash.

As Web anthropologist Stowe Boyd proclaims, anonymous cash equals freedom and we should rejoice in that.

1 comment:

  1. the chink in the armor of central authority issued/controlled, total surveillance, virtual fiat money .. Bitcoin.

    Bitcoin is virtual cash that is *not* fiat and is not centrally controlled. (ie. it's mined from objective nature (mathematics, numbers). It's not created on a whim from the fevered minds within psychopathic authoritarian institutions)

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