A noted economist imagines a modern society that functions without paper money and coins.
As former International Monetary Fund chief economist Rogoff (Public Policy/Harvard Univ.; co-author: This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly, 2009, etc.) notes, though the drift of modern economies is to provide alternate means of account to the paper-and-metal exchange of old, we are still awash in cash. There was enough of it outside of banks, he writes, for each man, woman, and child in the U.S. to have $4,200, mostly in big bills, which, he adds, “is a nearly universal problem in advanced economies.” Though it will likely be a while before we can see our way clear to adopting a system such as that used by the entrepreneurial Ferengi of the Star Trek franchise, who used a substance called latinum so volatile that it had to be encased in worthless gold, there are good reasons, by Rogoff’s argument, to want to do so. The first prong of the argument is easy enough to follow: cash enables crimes such as money laundering and tax evasion, and doing away with it serves justice. The second broad component is more rarified, involving the goal of zero inflation via negative interest, a matter so unthinkable recently that, as the author notes, the theory is just beginning to catch up to an increasing fact. Naturally, the speculators will be a step ahead of the economists, and there are ways to game even the negative interest system for profit; tax laws can be modified accordingly, though “the objective of negative interest rate policy is primarily macroeconomic stabilization, not raising revenue.” Rogoff strives to write accessibly, but such matters are so heady and technical that the latter portions of the book will be daunting to those without training in economics.
Money geeks are the primary audience, to be sure, but futurists and trend-watchers will also take interest in the author’s proposals for phasing out cash.