Sunday, April 12, 2009

The End of Cash

By James Gleick
The New York Times Magazine
Sunday, June 16, 1996

Cash is dirty -- the New Jersey Turnpike tried to punish toll collectors recently for wearing latex gloves (thus giving the driving clientele a "bad impression"), but who can blame them? Cash is heavy -- $1 million in $20 bills weighs more than you can lift, and drug dealers have been disconcerted to note that their powdered merchandise is handier for smuggling than the equivalent money. Cash is inequitable -- if you are one of the 50 million Americans poor enough to be "unbanked," you pay extortionate fees to seedy, bulletproofed check-cashing operations (even more extortionate than the fees charged for automatic teller machines, often up to 1 or 2 percent and rising). Cash is quaint, technologically speaking -- unless you're impressed by intaglio-steel-plate-printed paper with embedded polyester strips (meant to inconvenience counterfeiters). Cash is expensive -- tens of billions of dollars drain from the economy each year merely to pay for the printing, trucking, safekeeping, vending, collecting, counting, armored-guarding and general care and feeding of our currency.

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