An intriguing, balanced study of a future cashless society.
Warwick’s (Ending Cash: The Public Benefits of Federal Electronic Currency, 1998) book centers on the premise that a cashless society could significantly increase efficiency, cut costs, and reduce crime. Despite his belief that abolishing cash has “profound advantages,” Warwick is careful to balance his own bias against the reality that some consumers still love cash. His goal is not only to convince Americans of the benefits of cashlessness, but to prompt government officials to advocate replacement currencies in the form of digital funds. The author recognizes that such a sea change would require a considerable transformation; after all, he reports that cash “still accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s payment transactions.” But Warwick points to the wide acceptance of online payments, debit cards, prepaid cards, and EFT in general as harbingers of a cashless society. Perhaps most compelling are the astounding statistics Warwick cites in support of eliminating cash; for example, he writes, “some $40 billion in cash is stolen from businesses in the United States each year.” His calculations—which include such line items as “Cash Handling,” the “Underground Economy,” and cash-related crimes—suggest that the annual costs for using cash amount to $660 billion—$1.8 billion a day. To counterbalance his own argument, Warwick objectively addresses some of the real fears consumers have about online security and privacy as well as the stumbles of such digital currencies as Bitcoin. In fact, his discussion of Bitcoin’s deficiencies is among the more informed and revealing on the subject. Nevertheless, Warwick claims that “conditions in the United States, aside from public misperceptions about digital risks, are ripe for cashlessness.” While he admits “talk of abolition of cash is politically unwelcome,” Warwick passionately lobbies for its acceptance. With his book’s extensive documentation (over 550 footnotes), sharp presentation, and solid reasoning, readers might have a hard time disagreeing.
A spirited argument to move beyond a cherished American institution, the physical dollar, into a digital payment future.