OPINION – There was a time when cash was king. It was a time when our expectations of character outweighed our attachment to things.
Perhaps that’s why Lindy Cooper Wisdom, in her poem “Grandpa’s Lesson,” wrote, “There ain’t too many troubles a man cain’t fix with seven hundred dollars and a thirty ought six.”
Paying cash, even for big ticket items, was synonymous with thrift and a desire to remain out of debt. A person with cash in hand could almost always swing a sweeter deal than someone who did not.
We felt a connection with our money as we counted it out to make our purchases. A stash of accessible cash was the “rainy day” fund for most families.
Today is a much different story. Buying with cash is viewed as a suspicious activity. Police regularly seize large amounts of cash from individuals who have not been accused, much less convicted, of any crime whatsoever. Possession of cash alone has become justification for its seizure.
Cash is portrayed as the favored commodity of drug dealers, tax cheats and terrorists. That perfectly normal citizens might also choose to conduct their business in cash is not even considered.
Try renting a hotel room or rental car or buying an airline ticket with cash and you’re likely to be met with an expression reminiscent of a brook trout. Withdraw more than $5,000 in cash from your bank and the U.S. Justice Department encourages your financial institution to file a suspicious activity report or notify local law enforcement.
Remember, we’re not talking about any remotely illegal activity here. We’re talking about withdrawing your own money from your own bank account. Mac Slavo explains what’s wrong with this picture:
These activities are now considered suspicious and if your cash withdrawal amounts to even a few thousand dollars your bank teller is under a legal requirement to alert officials about your suspected criminal activity. And before you argue that you can’t possibly be a suspect because you have done nothing wrong, consider that even being suspected of being a suspect is now enough to land you on a terrorist watchlist in America.
Chase Bank has tightened its rules on cash deposits and paying credit card bills, mortgages, and auto and home equity loans with cash. It also is restricting the users of safe deposit boxes from storing either cash or certain coins that have some collectible value.
Why has cash become so taboo? What is the source of all the official suspicion and mutterings about moving us toward a cashless society? The major players seeking to do away with cash are government, banks, and major financial companies.
The first and biggest reason the political class hates cash is that it affords privacy in the form of untraceable, nontaxable transactions. This is one reason why large denomination bills like the $500, $1,000, or $10,000 bills are no longer issued.
Cash in our hands is a form of wealth that is out of reach of greedy legislators, bureaucrats, and other government actors.
They cannot withhold it from our paychecks. It cannot be looted from our bank accounts as the citizens of Cyprus learned a couple of years ago. Cash allows people to buy what they wish and sell what they wish without leaving a digital trail for government to follow and tax.
Cash is the coin of the realm for protecting privacy.
Banks love it when people use their credit and debit cards rather than pay cash for needed items. Those cards have fees attached and interest rates that greatly enhance the bank’s bottom line.
Cash gives bank customers control over their money. Some European Central banks are currently charging negative interest rates to their customers. To prevent their savings from being slowly whittled away by the banks, customers might be better off to store their money in cash rather than a bank account.
After all, 100 Swiss francs in a floor safe will still be worth CHF100 in 12 months, not CHF99.25.
Meanwhile, credit card companies make their money through interest and fees that are tacked onto their customers’ purchases. In recent years, they have also made very good money by selling their clients’ personal information gleaned through the purchases they’ve made.
The convenience of going cashless is enough to sway most consumers into justifying the corresponding loss of personal privacy.
What it really comes down to was best expressed by Wendy McElroy when she wrote, “In political terms, the battle is between social control and personal freedom, between whether the government commands your wealth or you do.”
Freedom has always been somewhat inconvenient. It’s also been entirely worth it.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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