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Sweden is close to becoming a cashless economy (bbc.com)
49 points by sohkamyung 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 82 comments

"The cashless society – which more accurately should be called the bank-payments society... is a utopia where money cannot leave – or even exist – outside the banking system, but can only be transferred from bank to bank."

-"In praise of cash"


I don't get 'cashless economy'. In addition to what you've quoted i.e.

> is a utopia where money cannot leave – or even exist – outside the banking system, but can only be transferred from bank to bank.

How do people in a cashless economy pay for stuff that demands discretion, and that which they don't want documented or traced back to them?

Example: Buying weed or drugs or underage alcohol, maintaining mistresses or paying for sexual services or anything else that is either a social taboo or is downright illegal? Are you telling me that everyone in Sweden is a 100% law abiding, obedient 'good' citizen and hence they don't have a need to be able to transact from time to time using a relatively discreet currency = cash ?

Your examples can be broken into two groups:

1. Those that are currently illegal: The intention if that you DON'T pay for those any more. 2. Those which are "taboo". You bank/card statement is something private; it's not gonna be public (they aren't not either). If you pay for sexual services, most likely (a) Whomever you pay would probably have a non-obvious name for bank statements, (b) Should keep records private. As it is today, if that person wants to blackmail you collecting evidence, they still can.

We don't have these things in our Brave New World.

I'd imagine it'll look similar to how cash is laundered today. It used to be you'd need some tangible real-estate to look at least vaguely legitimate on the surface. However with more big business moving away from the high street, it's easier than ever to spin up a company, slap together a website.

Would be trivial to accept and process these payments.

Another avenue might be some kind of mutual fund. A building society for the grey market. One where your paper trail would tie you to a fund used for illicit goods, but not directly to your particular flavour of illicit good. That'd require a great deal more work though... And comes with the obvious risks.

Final thought there's always replacing cash. After all cash is just paper we all agree has value. If the underground markets can find a similar good with similarly agreed value that might work. I've heard of phone scammers requesting their mark's buy gift cards/vouchers. Presumably they're monetizing the voucher on their end somehow.

The goal of a cashless society seems to be more in line with the even greater transparent creation of money. These "we can track criminal financiers!" soundbytes sound more like the cursory glance reason you'd give the public.

Largely cashless societies recently seem to have either been deeply entrenched in the financial industry, or rife with wider corruption. Both of those will want to continue in a clandestine manner. The law might not apply to the rich, but you can bet you'll be slapped down for not at least trying to hide it. I can't imagine a system cashless or otherwise that didn't have at least some mechanism to move wealth without fanfare.

As much as I like to harp on Bitcoin, this really is its primary market. Most of these things are grey or black market to begin with.

> Are you telling me that everyone in Sweden is a 100% law abiding, obedient 'good' citizen and hence they don't have a need to be able to transact from time to time using a relatively discreet currency = cash ?

Utopia - a fictional concept where, yes, you can have 100% law abiding citizens.

>which more accurately should be called the bank-payments society... is a utopia where money cannot leave – or even exist – outside the banking system, but can only be transferred from bank to bank

Wow. That is a great point that, honestly, never even crossed my mind. When you think about it from this perspective it becomes rather unsettling. I have, and still do I suppose, loved the idea of a cashless society because of its convenience, but this makes me feel very conflicted now. What an insane idea actually ...

The war on cash: Banks, governments, credit card companies and fintech evangelists all want us to believe a cashless future is inevitable and good. But this isn't a frictionless utopia says Brett Scott, and it's time to fight back


HN (About a year ago):


Top comment:

Banning cash is such a monumentally bad idea its a miracle of modern propaganda that a single person is willing to even consider it. From negative interest rates to ubiquitous tracking of your every move and purchase (by stores, banks, governments, and whoever else they choose to share the information with), to the total paralysis society would face from any sort of blackout or network disruption, to limitless technical vulnerability by hackers, eliminating cash is truly one of the worst ideas ever conceived. Its bad enough that the government enforces a legal monopoly on currency. Extending that monopoly to digital-only currency is a huge step in the wrong direction for business, commerce, and freedom.


If the authorities are out to get you, they can just block your bank accounts in such countries and you are only left with your eyes to cry. Cashless societies take power away from individuals.

But don't carry over $1,000 in cash either because it can be seized without cause.

In which country?

Does not see any reference to carrying more than 1000 dollars in the linked article. Note that you are allowed to travel to the USA with up to 10 000 USD in cash on you without declaring it, so if carrying more than 1000 USD was an issue they would put a hard limit on 1000 USD, not 10,000.

Civil forfeiture has nothing to do with carrying limits.

Rather, they permit officers to seize any amount they believe may have been involved in criminal activity.

Such as this[0] yesterday, which was less than $1000.

The complication is that the onus is on the owner: the money is guilty until proven innocent.

If an officer makes the assumption that you were on your way to buy drugs, they can seize the $100 in your wallet.

[0] https://streamable.com/3dvge

> Civil forfeiture has nothing to do with carrying limits.

I was commenting about this post:

> But don't carry over $1,000 in cash either because it can be seized without cause.

Which was clearly about a hypothetical 1000 USD limit.

The suggestion is that if you carry more than $1000, you are more likely to be targeted fir civil forfeiture.

Except if the cashless currency is on a decentralized blockchain ;-)

That only works if you have access to electronics, which homeless people might not.

Well, they can receive without electronics.

Why is this downvoted? That is true, people can receive credit cards that are backed by companies such as BitPay.

Don't you think controls can be forced upon ISPs?

ISPs are irrelevant for this. Unless they block all https connections etc.

And how are you going to block mesh networking, you can send bitcoins via QR code even.

For the privacy conscious people, cashless is something I hope is not the norm everywhere. There are still places I am hesitant to use cards.

Japan is pretty good in that regard. They love cash, and you can't even pay everywhere with cards even if you have one.

This is awful. The predecessor to some massive government control.

I simply do not trust every monetary transaction to be logged and tracked, as I know about structuring laws (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Structuring) and civil forfeiture.

Plus, if an economy goes cashless, they can easily have negative interest rates and such other financial games. No thanks, I'd rather pay for things with real money.

It is difficult to think of a more effective way to centralize and exert authority than complete control of the monetary system. Sure, there are tons of benefits from being entirely cashless. However, what are we willing to trade for this?

What are the tons of benefits? Besides not having to print cash or accept it? Or taking cash back and having to exchange worn out bills with new notes?

> This is awful. The predecessor to some massive government control.

Corporate control too. Every electronic transaction you make gets recorded and cross referenced so advertising companies know who you are and how to reach you.

> real money

Posit that most of society doesn't understand how money is created and destroyed. "Real money" is a falsehood as far as most human beings see it.

Cashless has many benefits, watching this phenomenon play out it my home country (quite sure we have more cashless then Sverige), why should typical cash businesses like hairdressers get huge tax benefits from being cash only over the business next door?

Its undeniable that some businesses gain huge advantage from avoiding cards.

If you have a problem with taxation then address that with the powers that be rather than supporting those who sidestep the law at the expense of everyone else.

>why should typical cash businesses like hairdressers get huge tax benefits from being cash only over the business next door?

'Why should that person over there benefit from free speech while I am censored? We should go censor that person too.'

Do you really think a society where the government and corporations have complete control over your wealth will turn out ok over the long haul? What if you are born into a political system that you want to take no part of and wish to exit from it? Too bad, your Commune-Dollars are just 'leased' to you and not really your property, please read the terms of service you signed up for by being born in this country. Oh, suddenly you don't want to leave the country because we own your entire life? That's great -- Add another citizen lock in.

> If you have a problem with taxation

This is ridiculous. I pay cash (mostly) because I don't want my purchases cross referenced against my identity.

If I buy a beer, I don't want that cross referenced against my car insurance. If I buy condoms, I don't want that referenced for my health insurance.

If you give people the power of all this information, they'll figure out a way to use it and make money off of it. I want to preserve my anonymity as long as I can.

Heck, we've had a long history of this. If all my music is listened through Google or Amazon, it's easy to trawl through and figure out who is "subversive" based on their musical tastes. See the McCarthy trials.

The problem isn't taxation. The problem is Orwellian control over yet another major part of everyday life.

Exactly. If a corporate-government complex wants to "starve" cryptocurrencies and untracked assets while maximizing financial intelligence gathering for a myriad of purposes, they can eliminate physical currency and make sure the banks are as walled-gardens as possible. Control to track more of what consumers do for the benefit of the elite under false promises like "convenience" and FUD like "black money."

I got robbed going to work this morning. I fortunately had some cash saved at home, but in a cashless economy, what would I do? I can't use credit cards, since the robber stole those, and I had to cancel them all to stop fraudulent purchases. I can't use payment apps or digital wallets, since the robber stole my phone. Would I just not be able to buy anything, until I got new cards and a new phone, however many weeks later?

The natural reaction to that is that at least you didn't actually lose any money. If you were carrying around cash then that cash would be gone forever.

It may be the case that people need to carry around cards like they are cash. That is, to keep a card at home or in a bank box that's tied to some other account with emergency funds.

It does say something terrible about our current bank system that nearly everything takes a least day if not a week to process, but keeping around cash won't change that.

Australia is close to being cashless.

Cancelling cards is effortless, and for the CBA, ANZ and Melbourne, your new card will arrive tomorrow, unless it's a weekend.

As to immediate concern for money, you can walk into a branch, and walk out with a card, after verifying identity.

You don't wait weeks. It can take hours.

Assuming you have access to a no-fee checking account, you could save that cash in a separate bank account and store the corresponding debit card at home.

If you have access to a no-fee credit card, you can also have a back-up at home.

It's probably a good idea to have some cash at home, but you can do the same with cards.

Japan is the opposite. Basically a cash only society. In my time there i really enjoyed it. It's nice to know that no one knows what you're buying. You are also much more aware of what you're spending

> You are also much more aware of what you're spending

I disagree that you are more aware of what you're spending with cash.

I am more aware of how much I'm spending on what when I use my card, since I now have a list of transactions and locations. With cash, unless I keep receipts, or write down what I bought, I don't know what I spend my money on or where I spent it. I only know how much I spent.

> I disagree that you are more aware of what you're spending with cash.

When you only have a fixed amount of money in your wallet, you physically see how much you have left after every payment. To me it's obvious you are more aware.

this isn't infallible but this psychology PHD researcher disagrees:


>this psychology PHD researcher

That's quite an understatement for (the quite famous?) Dan Ariely:

>Dan Ariely (Hebrew: דן אריאלי‎‎; born April 29, 1967) is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University (source: Wikipedia)

As an economist it feels like an insult to call him a "psychology PHD researcher"

Well I guess my comment is an anecdote, not everyone is the same.

I can track better what I'm spending with a card, which means that I can plan my spending better.

fair enough. as long as you dont generalize your experience as a diligent person to the average person. (and i don't generalize the average persons experience to everyone)

It's certainly not a cash only society - the description is improper. It's a society where you can use cash if you want to, but you certainly have tons of other payment options too (e-money, smartphones with NFC, credit cards, debit cards, etc...) which are not always available for everything but spreading bit by bit.

I've noticed a shift over the last few years here(in Japan), a lot more cards being used. Hell I haven't used cash in over 3 months.

Credit card or IC cards? (IC cards are refillable cards for the subway which many retailers accept but aren't linked to any identity)

Both, and smartphone based payment (edi mostly).

Also my subway card is linked to my ID (I case I lose or break it).

At this point I sort of wonder whether larger retailers are doing facial recognition (or other biometrics) on cash transactions.

i definitely believe that is possible in the united states. i mean that's also why most grocery stores have membership programs. in that scenario the payment method doesn't matter.

Back in the nineties I thought it would be utopia, but after all the government overreach I've changed my tune and try to use cash as much as possible.

Australia is going along this path also. It's not quite as far as here, but ability to pay with card including contactless even for small transactions at smaller merchants is pretty common. Day to day I probably use cash about once a month on average.

We're also forcing all our welfare recipients onto a cashless card (with, of course, the forced drug testing that invariably comes along with it.)

If you guessed that the party currently in control also has ties to the cashless card provider, you'd be right (but probably not surprised!)


Australia is a very corrupt country, run by criminal opportunists.

Depends a bit on where you are, in my experience. In Melbourne I had a few instances where they didn't take card (so I went somewhere else), whereas I've not yet had that in Brisbane (I paid $1.50 at a coffee shop on card this morning).

Probably the only place where I use cash now is Sunday markets, but even there, most places now take card.

Interestingly, there's also a few places here which are either cash or contactless card only, including the cinema.

Come to New Zealand, I haven't used cash this year. Everyone takes cards, though contactless isn't popular with merchants due to unregulated interchange fees.

Only reason I ever get cash out is to buy weed, honestly.

The only thing I use cash for here in New Zealand is the bus (I don't use it often enough to bother getting a card), and the farmers market, where half the stands actually take card anyway.

Yet another thing that doesn't work without electricity and a network connection of some kind.

I bet there are some hurricane survivors recently who are glad they had cash.

The article mentions that even "homeless people promoting charity magazines" use cards, but I really wonder how the homeless population, or others who typically make money through cash such as buskers and street performers, fare in a cashless world. Having a credit card requires a bank account at the minimum, and generally being "plugged in" to the system, where disadvantaged people rarely are. Of course, Sweden's welfare state is far more developed than the US, but the overall global trend in this direction is troubling.

In Sweden there is a widespread system called Swish that lets you connect your mobile number to your bank account and people can send money to you via an app. I've seen buskers and street performers (as well and charity and church collections) ask for money that way.

In the US, unbanked people use prepaid debit cards. There are some disadvantages compared to a bank account, but you can deposit cash or checks into them (at a store), buy things online or at card-only retailers, and even get paychecks direct deposited. There's no easy way for a stranger to deposit money into them though.

You don't need a bank account for a credit card. At least in Switzerland all you need for a prepaid credit card is a valid phone number.

An aside... I had a hard time using my (US issued) Mastercard in small town Sweden earlier this year. The cashiers would photocopy my passport before processing the payment.

Does the card have an EMV chip? An absence of that may have been the trigger.

yes, it was a card with a chip

Then it was probably a case of your bank being overly suspicious of foreign transactions. (I have seen this happen many times while waiting in line here in Sweden, while some foreign person is in front of me. I think it's safe to say that most banks' fraud protection systems need improvement.)

Recently I was wondering how you would teach kids how to deal with money if there is no money you can see. There is a lot of research about the effects of seeing the money you spend and how this helps to assess how much you are actually spending. (No, your Spreadsheets don't help really.)

So if you don't learn this (to me one of the strongest and still most important) lesson as a kid, which effect will it have on your spending behavior in the long term?

In Finland it's the same thing if not even further already. Using cash is considered to be really weird these days.

Right now I live in China and it's really interesting what happened here. Everything was done with cash 5 years ago and you couldn't use international cards anywhere, but now everything is paid with (apps) alipay/wechat. Even beggars use them.

This is guaranteed to cause a banking system and currency meltdown in the long run, not to mention the negative effect of rampant malinvestment in the economy. Since banks everywhere are free to issue unlimited "Bank money" through credit cards and other means and have nothing holding them back except the risk of the ATM's being unable to service the demand for real currency. The lower the demand for real currency the more "Bank money" can be created. Now lets see with 0% demand for real currency how much "Bank money" will be created.

> how did the Nordic nation get so far ahead of the rest of us?

Honest question - is a cashless society empirically better than one in which you have the option of using cash?

In Sweden we have a new verb - 'to swish'. I will 'swish' you 50 kronor later. Swish is an app for micropayments. Everybody (except a few old people) uses it. It is even on windows phone! I was at a 2 km long yard sale at the weekend. Everybody took swish and almost everybody paid by swish. Swish is coming - and it's not back by Nike, but by the banks (Swish is owned by all the banks here).

Not everyone uses Swish, there are some holdouts. I'm one of them actually, for a variety of reasons. First of all I do not trust mobile devices enough to allow them access to financial resources. It is not clear where the liability lies in case of erroneous or fraudulent transactions. I'm also a holdout against the cashless society as I do not see the need for my financial transactions to be visible/traceable/mineable/monetizable by 'interested parties'.

I stayed at swedish hotel the other month passing through Stockholm. In the hours I had to pass I had a few beers at the bar, nearly every Swedish person I noticed was paying with some yellow/orange card, didn't see anyone pay with cash. I don't think the minimum fee is such a problem given that's everything seems so expensive in Sweden - water / food / juice (and of course beer...)

If Sweden is like Belgium, minimum fees don't exist. Transaction costs go down a lot to practically nothing for small transactions.

The same in Poland actually. I don't think there is a minimum payment for contactless.

The article doesn't really argument whether it's just the high-tech cities, like Stockholm, or the whole of Sweden that is ready to become a "cashless economy". How could you write such an article and not examine the situation in the rural areas?

sweden will be the first european country facing gov. negative interest rate. Mr. Draghi already wanted to introduce it for regular people and cash was the only reason he wasn't able to do this.

Would the citizens of a country like Cyprus welcome this kind of control over their own money?

Edit: Corrected spelling of country adjacent to Greece, replacing name of city adjacent to Disneyland's hometown

Do you mean Cyprus? I agree that due to their 2012-2013 financial crisis [0], I also assume that Cypriots would be wary of this.

[0] http://www.lse.ac.uk/fmg/dp/specialPapers/PDF/SP232-Final.pd...

Ugh, yes, the country, not the city next to Anaheim. Thank you.

Is the Forsvarets Radioanstalt (FRA) or National Defence Radio Establishment involved in implementing Sweden's cashless society?

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