Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
New York City considering legislation to ban cashless retailers (citylab.com)
65 points by Geekette 12 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 102 comments

I was ready to be annoyed at government blocking popular progressive changes, but this changed my mind:

>In New York City, the majority of the nearly 12 percent of unbanked and 25 percent underbanked residents are people of color. Close to 17 percent of black New Yorkers and 14 percent of Latinx New Yorkers are unbanked, compared to just 3 percent of white New Yorkers.

I had no idea that many people didn't use banking services, which probably says more about me than anything.

Not to get too political, but this reminds me a lot of the coal vs renewables debate. I'm 100% on the side of transitioning away from coal, towards renewables, the same as I am in favor of ditching cash. But people who still depend on the coal industry, and using cash, can't just be forgotten about because "cashless is better".

Places should be forced to accept cash until everyone can go cashless (within reason obviously, there needs to be some sort of line drawn here, but those percentages show we're not there yet), and the government should support/retrain coal miners who lose their jobs due to energy transitions.

> Places should be forced to accept cash until everyone can go cashless

But if places are forced to accept cash, people who haven't adhered to cashless forms of payments have no incentive to swap. If it is a significant part of the market, then cash-accepting places should still out-compete cashless. If being cashless is such an advantage that the reverse is true, then people should be given incentives to change. This feels to me like a government action that goes against economic interests (whether or not it should still be done is another question, but I'd personally vote against this regulation if given the option).

I find a more interesting argument against this to be the fact that cashless payments actually depend on a corporation or third party entity doing the payment for you. Which, lacking appropriate regulation, would give them the power to ban certain people or business from doing transactions altogether (think China social credit systems).

edit: Regarding the first point, I just mean the government seems to be taking action in the wrong area just for appearances, when the issue would be investigating why people don't have cashless payment options and promoting change there

For me, how much action government should take in these transitions comes down to how much societal benefit comes from having the transition take place.

With energy transition it's obvious: cleaner environment/planet, new industries with safe jobs, elimination of a dangerous job, a healthier population. So it's beneficial for the government to help make the transition happen quicker, and support the people negatively affected by it.

If there are societal benefits towards getting everyone to be cashless (I'm not an expert in this, I simply choose cashless because it's more convenient for me, although I suspect there are larger benefits), then the government should take the same role. Help the transition happen, and support those that will struggle with it. If they're not going to help the transition, or if there are no larger societal benefits with the transition, then the people that still depend on the older option should still be able to depend on it.

Cash levels the playing field. You don't have to ask a 3rd party "pretty please, let me make this purchase, Visa" (credit) in order to use it. You don't have to pay monthly fees to a bank for a checking account (debit) to use it. You don't need an app and smartphone to use cash. Cash is better for your privacy, it minimizes the paper trail about what you buy where, which is really nobody's business but your own.

I've done a 180 on this one. Used to use a credit card for everything, now using cash more and more whenever possible. Credit is convenient, often provides valuable benefits (miles, cash back) and gives you a nice convenient summary of your monthly spending, but in exchange you're inserting an un-wanted 3rd party into every transaction who skims off value for themselves and then turns around and sells your private data all over the place. This trade-off is making less and less sense to me.

I also take issue with the third party in the middle. But in the end, if everyone wants to go that way, and you're adding extra costs by not doing so, why should everyone else have to pay for it? Ultimately there could be less cash-accepting places and driving higher costs than their cashless counterparts. You would still be able to use cash, but you'd be the one paying for it to exist, and not everyone else who has opted for cashless. Which seems fairer to me.

Unless we collectively decide to take action against giving payment providers that much power and private data, but I don't think that was the driving force behind this policy.

Adding extra costs by using cash? Credit card companies take %3 of every transaction.

Adding costs doesn't mean it is more expensive to you specifically. Just for the economy in general. There are advantages to having cashless payments only. One that comes to mind would be for places in dangerous neighborhoods (which affect low income households more)

> With energy transition it's obvious

Is it obvious though? I find it's more ideological than an actual well thought out plan: https://quillette.com/2019/02/27/why-renewables-cant-save-th...

Which to me seems to be the case for most scenarios where government adds regulations on the market for the "greater good". In general I favor letting the market decide where things should head.

I'm not against government intervention to help those affected by changes catch up and adapt (even though I often disagree with the policies put in place to achieve this). But I do tend to oppose when the government tries to force the market's direction instead. If people drive the market to want to go cashless, the effort should be in helping everyone do so.

>But if places are forced to accept cash, people who haven't adhered to cashless forms of payments have no incentive to swap.

And why should they swap? What advantage cashless brings instead of being a solution in search of a problem (and facilitating total surveillance)?

They shouldn't unless it becomes an economic advantage to do so. That's the point of the free market. I don't think it's the government's place to force it in either direction.

What prevents a large player forcing their hand on the "free market"?

Cashless would be nice if it weren't for the fact that it comes with a 2+% tax to the CC makers. And they decide if you are permitted to do business. Make porn? CC companies often decide you don't get to do business. Can the CC companies decide a person may no longer do any trade by denying them all access to the cashless society's goods?

The cashless society represents a fundamental danger to liberty.

Cashless transactions (including credit card, debit card, NFC, etc) may include fees of around 2%, but those can be easily exceeded by all the fees and costs of using cash. This is the extra time and training required of employees, hardware and space for big registers, risk of robbery, employee error, cash handling fees by financial institutions - no mode of payment is free. Why not let businesses decide which payment methods are more economical and competitive for their own needs?

Businesses that offer customers a discount for paying in cash are more likely to be saving that money because they're dodging taxes, not because they're dodging CC fees.

As a private business owner I should be able to choose what products are sold and how I wish to receive payment of those products. This is purely heavily government overstep without giving the people who run and own the businesses and services the right to choose. This isn’t going to help the “under banked” but rather just give them a crutch and a bandaid. Giving people the right to choose and helping those that don’t have bank account be able to get one is a far better option in terms of time, resources, and efficiency of combating this issue. When a government begins to use force for non health related issues you know longer began to have a free society.

> Places should be forced to accept cash until everyone can go cashless

Places should be forced to accept cash AND I'd suggest people never go cashless.

Once people surrender the right to anonymity, we might never get it back.

The question is, why are they un or under banked? What or who creates those conditions? One doesn't see much diversity in or competition in banking products or terms, so it's not likely that anything is going to change.

I think it's a combination of factors. Distrust of the system, lack of steady cash flow, lack of local offerings.

High cost (fees are proportionally much more expensive), shady practices[1], accounts frozen by creditors.

Poor people are making completely rational decisions when choosing not to trust banks, and it's patronizing to assume they simply don't know better.

[1] banks re-ordering transactions to maximise overdraft fees.

So there's an opportunity it sounds like. Why are no services stepping in to capture all those potential customers?

Oh there are, all those cheque cashing places for example, and they're under-regulated, so not too great either.

Still paying a larger fee to cash a cheque sure beats having all your assets frozen entirely.

Check cashing isn't banking though. I mean why aren't there banks that can be sustainable without overdraft fees? I get the idea of a fee if they cover a charge in which funds aren't available. But can't a debit card simply decline if no funds are available - hence the bank never covers an unfunded charge and thus never charges overdraft fees? Are there not other ways to monetize banking for low cash flow individuals?

Banks don’t really exist to help people save money anymore. For the most part, they exist to extract fees from people who keep money there and from borrowers.

In addition to overdraft fees, banks charge monthly fees if you don’t maintain a high balance or regularly make direct deposits. This is how they “monetize” poor people. In reality the result is that these people go unbanked and simply keep cash.

- Living off the grid

- Illegal presence in the country

- Concealing income from taxation/child support order

There is decent data that people spend more than they intend with cashless over just spending physical cash. So poor people are making a rational decision.

banks have minimum balances for them to not charge a fee.. not having good credit and not having money for the minimum balance on a checking account tend to go hand in hand.

Why is that persuasive?

If I showed you that a greater percentage of $BELEAGUERED_GROUP liked to go around without a shirt/shoes, would that be a convincing argument for prohibiting stores from having a "no shirt, no shoes, no service" policy?

Yeah but be careful with that comparison. Using coal harms the well-being of the billions of the humans that aren't coal miners. If anyone, credit cards only harm the people who use them.

I have a cash back credit card. Companies pay a fee to do credit card transactions. Everything in the store costs the same if I use a credit card or cash. The company raises the price to cover transactions, I get that transaction fee paid back to me by my rewards card. Essentially, people who pay cash or use non rewards cards are paying for my credit card transactions.

Wouldn’t the answer be some kind of government-backed digital currency?

Even if you take out the racial view (which is totally valid), it just doesn't seem right that you can walk in somewhere in the US with US Dollars in your pocket but be turned down, and I say that as someone who very rarely makes purchases with paper money. As much as I hate "slippery slope" arguments, I do also worry that this is the first step in the direction of businesses dictating how you buy things. Starting with no cash may not seem that bad, but I don't wont to end up in a world where different stores require me to check out using their own e-wallet or a specific brand of credit card they've partnered with.

The whole thing reminds me a little bit of that 30 Rock episode where Liz Lemon gets stuck with a 50 dollar bill and gets into a shouting match with a convenience store clerk when he wont accept it, saying something along the lines of "this is legal tender, you have to accept it!" Not the same situation as what is being discussed here, Liz's sentiment still applies.

Yep. The only equitable way forward is if we make a national debit card, that runs on a national payment network where everyone is allowed to have an account.

Say- take Discover (which is a bank and payment provider network) and recharter them as a government owned corporation or make them wholely owned by the Federal Reserve. Then, give the USPS the ability to act as a simple bank frontend for these accounts- giving you overnight a national footprint that everyone can access. Make the transaction fee on this network near Zero, and allow anyone to have an account with you. Get rid of the credit ability, and you get a true alternative to cash.

Anything less is Visa/Mastercard forming a chokehold on out financial lives. I would love to ditch my credit cards for cash, but right now I'm being bribed with the great benefits that Visa/Amex are forcing merchants to pay for.

It makes some businesses much more worth pursuing. For example, there's a self-serve key duplication vending machine that only takes credit card. Does that business care about what color of their customers' skin is? Definitely not. They care about the extra complexity and problems that come along with a cash/change system.

I thought it was also impressive to see them get rid of receipt paper. If you need it, they can send you an email or text. Very streamlined and cost effective.

An example aside from self serve is that I know someone who just opened a tap room and is doing very well. He only accepts credit cards, and I didn't need to ask why. Not only do you no longer need to worry about cashiers skimming a little off the top, but back office / deposits become a trivial task.

I look at it as another way that cost is getting squeezed out through automation. As long as the industry stays competitive, consumers will benefit from that.

That situation will need to be handled by the law. Let's say stores are required to accept cash. Are they allowed to charge more for someone who pays in cash? Will they be required to provide change? If they run out of change, would they be subject to a fine?

If stores wanted to weasel around this law, they could keep their supply of coins and dollar bills low so customers are forced to either leave or pay without getting change back.

I hear/see why business do it, but I think this quote from the councilman sponsoring the bill is the right take: “In the end, I think the need for equity outweighs the efficiency gains of a cashless business model. Human rights takes precedence over efficiency gains.”

But not having a bank account is a choice. It's not about "rights."

Our young technocratic elite can be so clueless sometimes.

Aside from helping to build our future surveillance dystopia, they promote cashless retail as more 'futuristic', and make fun of cheques and cash.

I don't understand a culture that promotes volunteering your own surveillance data (social media, smartphones)[1] and surrendering your anonymity as trendy core values.

[1] https://privacysos.org/blog/nsa-calls-the-iphone-using-publi...

Philadelphia just did this as well. With a higher percentage in poverty there. I see this as beneficial. There are a number of areas where people for various reasons can't get a checking/bank account.

I find it partially annoying that some of the cash only stores I go into. Gouge with a 5$ ATM fee, then I have to hold change. But again not everyone has access to a bank.

What I found interesting is the gloss over of the Septa Key (new transit card) system, during this discussion. While it was botched. It was initially positioned as a debit card for those who couldn't get a bank account. Available to load with cash at any kiosk and making it a master card debit card. It actually saved me when I had fraud on one of my cards. I switched to it as my primary payment method while awaiting a new card.

Amazon was trying something similar. Provide cash at I think CVS or somewhere else. Then it goes into your Amazon gift balance.

In the end. I think these cashless laws are good. Even if the above work perfectly. Some people don't want a strong history attached with their purchases.

Ah yes, the CTA transit cards can also act as (predatory) debit cards.

I don't get how this is racial discrimination or even how they get to this conclusion.

Example: We have 3 groups: Group 1 Group 2 Group 3

There are 2 types of services: Service A Service B

3% of group 1 can't use Service A 14% of group 2 can't use Service A 13% of group 3 can't use Service A

Does Service A racially discriminate against any of these group? No, it does not. It just can't accepts business from people who use Service A. So people who can't or won't use Service A have to go to another business that does accept Service B.

But okay let's play pretend. Let's say it is discrimination then it's only potentally more effective against certain groups by 10%. I say potentially because how many in this group would go to a this specific chain? probably less then that 10%. I'd wager the actual percentage affected falls in the area of margin of error. AKA sucks to be you but it's a free country so cross the street to somewhere they do accept your cash.

I agree that -- all things being equal -- the market could probably sort these things out. But, the point is that things aren't equal.

I could definitely see a situation where a company uses a cash ban as a facade to reject a certain clientele (namely, poor people that can't afford the technology or don't have the means to get a credit card).

As long as cash is legal tender, you shouldn't be able to ban its use, especially if it's being exchanged for legal goods.

Legally speaking, cash is, and will remain, valid tender for settling debts, and creditors in general may not refuse it for an outstanding debt.

However a seller is generally allowed to refrain from selling (bar certain specific protections), and thus the seller is allowed to not create the debt in the first place. This is why, while cash remains legal tender, one could legally end up in situation where it's virtually impossible to buy certain goods or services for cash.

Nb., I support the general idea of this legislation, specifically for reasons of privacy and practicality.

Does that mean that restaurants where you pay after you eat must accept cash?


Legal tender is a tricky thing. I've spent some time a while ago trying to understand how it works, here's my conclusion:

"Legal tender" must be accepted for settling the debt. That's it.

It means a bartender may refuse to pour you beer if you intend to pay in the form he doesn't like. But once he poured you the beer you have entered the debt for settling of which a bartender must accept your cash.

Disclaimer: don't try it in the only bar in your village.

Cash is already disallowed for pretty much every payment you can’t make in person. And good luck sending Amazon a check either.

Amazon allows you to use a checking account for payment.


The article is talking about making purchases you make in person, not online purchases.

Yes. I can read. My point is that, for better, or worse you already can’t use cash for a great many payments.

> shouldn't be able to ban its use

This topic is not about banning cash... it's about banning refusal to accept cash.

Stated in another way: Do you have the right to pay in cash? Are business obligated to accept cash?

you are only required to accept legal tender for the purpose of settling a debt - if you’re buying something, you’re actually making an offer for trade. indeed, many places in the UK are cashless only establishments.

I think this is good because it doesn't force customers to use cashless payment. Research has shown that when people don't see physical money being spent that people tend to spend more.

However, I live in a country and with lots of non-bank related cashless payment options. Commuter pass, branch chain store money card, point card, gift check or payment by smartphone service? Ok. Best part of all those options is that I have every single one but the last and never had to show personal identification to use them.

The real downside to cashless is that you can't just transfer some to a friend without it going through a company and paying some kind of "fee" or being "spied on". The only real upside to cashless for companies is that employees can't really steal hard cash anymore and they can take out cashiers from the payroll. Most of the cashless business in the country I live in have done away with cashiers and added personel to other parts of the company. I think it improves some companies while others need a human to handle transactions.

NYC is playing follow-the-leader here: we just banned this here in Philadelphia.


I get salads at Sweetgreen (one of the referenced cashless retailers) periodically. On two separate occasions I've been behind some stranger in line who didn't realize the place was card only, so I paid for their salad with my card and they gave me the cash. It is a weird policy, but I understand why they don't want to deal in cash.

Interestingly the flip side of this is cash only places. New York is also a huge user of Venmo for those times when you only have a card, but the place is cash only. Often if you don't want to have to leave to find an ATM and pay an ATM fee someone else will pay your bill in cash if you Venmo them the money. The problem of a cash free, or cash only place is easily solved in both cases with a little cooperation with your fellow New Yorkers.

I love that New York still runs so heavily on cash. Cash is an absolute necessity for a free society. It represents every person's freedom to voluntarily exchange goods and services without (easily) being tracked, monitored or mediated. It's a bit shocking to me how so many tech types underestimate or fail to see this.

I don't know about the US but around where I live, there's at least two establishments which don't take cash. I can see all the advantages from their POV.

Personally I'd think it laughable if the government attempted to force them to accept cash.

What next, make them accept cheques?!

There's no "what next". The government only has one official currency.

Not where I live :D

> In most countries of the world the issue of banknotes is handled exclusively by a single central bank or government, but in the United Kingdom seven retail banks have the right to print their own banknotes in addition to the Bank of England; sterling banknote issue is thus not automatically tied in with one national identity or the activity of the state.


For instance if I were to go further south, any Scottish notes I have would not be accepted in a load of places. More generally using banknotes from Northern Ireland in Britain will get you funny looks and a near 100% refusal.

> I can see all the advantages from their POV

Advantages of cashless? Is the cost of handling cash really greater than the percentage paid to the payment processors? It's an honest question and I'd be interested in some real studies on this because it would seem to be a hard metric to measure.

From my limited view of it all. Having no cash means a reduced risk of robbery, burglary, stealing cash by staff, not having to do bank runs, getting change in etc.

I don't know the costs or anything, but it must make sense for these businesses at least?

Does it make sense? Do the things you list add up to 2.5% - 3% of their revenue? I don't know.

I don't think they're that high. I did a brief search and both locations mentioned are using the iZettle in the following link (1.75%) - https://merchantmachine.co.uk/contactless/

“Going cashless” is a form of class warfare.

You're getting downvoted but this seems completely true to me.

It bars the homeless and poor from the establishment!

Can anyone that disagrees explain the opposing take?

Here are some reasons a business might not take cash,

* Eliminates robbery: no cash to take

* Reduces expenses: no cash register or bill machine

* Saves time: no change or trips to the bank


Yeah in a bubble. But most establishments that suffer form this aren't going to be able to afford to "go cashless". Doing as such as a concept thrown around by establishments that can afford to do it like Blue Bottle.

I don't disagree with you, but...

> It bars the homeless and poor from the establishment!

That's probably a big benefit to people who own certain establishments.

Cash is a huge freedom we take for granted. I would back this totally.

I find that interesting simply because NYC is home to the financial industry which is the largest beneficiary of cashless transactions.

On a personal note, I prefer cash and appreciate the places that give me a discount for using it.

Philadelphia was discussed yesterday: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19328547

I can see NYC's point on this one.

The problem with credit cards isn't the concept (which I like) it is that they're rent-seekers that seem to want an ever increasing slice of the pie. We currently pay 2.5% of most purchases to these companies, with plans to increase that further.

The problem is that their costs should be falling, since their volumes have increased massively but instead of passing on those cost reductions they're trying to leverage their duopoly harder.

Cash is the only leverage society has to keep credit card processing fees low. If it disappears and there remains an uncompetitive market, we'll all suffer as a result.

I absolutely, passionately hate when the traders do not accept cash, but I firmly believe they must be in their full right to do so.


This means that the US Government, which issues the currency, basically has less power than Visa and Mastercard. It's the currency of the nation... They should be required to take it unless they have a legitimate reason not to.

> This means that the US Government, which issues the currency, basically has less power than Visa and Mastercard.

How's that? Nobody is required to accept Visa or Mastercard either.

I think the US Government shares the sentiment: in most cases you cannot pay Uncle Sam in cash. Checks, money orders, credit cards - anything, but cash.

You still can pay your taxes in cash, but they do everything they can to discourage you from it.

Meanwhile, in the 21st century[1]...

[1] "Why Sweden is close to becoming a cashless economy", https://www.bbc.com/news/business-41095004

Except, they're changing their minds:

Swedes turn against cashlessness https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/03/being-cash-fre...

It's ok. They can be the guinea pig.

The next step will be only being able to pay via mobile app.

There are a number of restaurants I've been to where you can only make a reservation via their stupid mobile app. Like, even if I'm at the front desk of the restaurant asking me to pencil them in.

This is excellent news. I hope other municipalities and states follow. Only accepting corporate or institutional payments is racism against non-corporate persons (humans). Racism in this retail context is already illegal.

Cash must be accepted. It is the only form of payment (besides cryptocurrencies) where the individual does the payment. Other forms are merely large corporations/institutions using their financial clout to signal that they will pay for something in the future. Those corporations always have perverse incentives to both sell your purchasing history to anyone that wants it as well and to enact financial embargoes against arbitrary people/companies whenever even slight political or social pressure is applied.

Additionally, work-arounds for the law of having to accept cash for all debts should be addressed. Many retail or food service companies will only take your business initially if you present a credit card.


"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." — Inigo Montoya,

Since dang/etc have manually slid this off the frontpage and it's just us who've already posted now I'll respond to individual comments.

Yes, it is racism. There's far more difference between a corporate person and a human person than between any of the human persons. Corporate persons are of a very different race and receive a lot of preferential treatment from retail businesses.

Only natural humans have "race", and thus only discrimination or bias between natural humans can be considered racism. "Persons" (in the legal sense) do not have "race".


Cash is the bane of society. We would live better without it on every single aspect imaginable. (including but not limited to health, environment, crime)

When you mention you can't imagine a single negative aspect, I presume that you are not a low income minority without a credit/debit card? Cash is more convenient for many (especially nearly the entire demographic of Hacker News), but the point of the article as you may have noticed is about how a large percentage of low income people and minorities do not have bank accounts and thus are not able to shop at these establishments. Hopefully someday states can help solve these underlying issues and then we can live in a world where payments are more convenient for all.

> We would live better without [cash]

While I love the ease of use of electronic payments of all stripes, your assertion runs counter to my general knowledge and judgement. Can you support the assertion somehow?

In my understanding the ease and safety of use of either cash or electronic payments is pretty much ensured by the easy and safety of the other alternative. Competition FTW.

I try to use cash as much as I possibly can. It is no ones business to track what I buy, when I buy it, how often I buy it, etc. In the event of an emergency (environmental, energy, etc), how do you propose using a credit card to purchase anything?

The biggest problem I face is tellers that can no longer do simple math and have problems counting.

OK. Let's say this is true. How would financial nonpersons be serviced in a cashless society? (i.e. homeless or home insecure persons, bad credit, and other judges of financial risk on humans established by non-governmental authority)

"Cashless" does not mean "moneyless".

Cashless means that it doesn't accept physical money, paper bills and metal coins. It only accepts credit or debit cards. Or any other kind of electronic medium.

If I give 5$ to a homeless person and he then tries to go buy a coffee at a cashless coffee shop, what do you think will happen?

After all he has money, right?

extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

> racism


Please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and post civilly and substantively, or not at all.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19337833 and marked it off-topic.

Poor people, and especially poor non-whites, are much less likely to have a credit or debit card.

I think it's important to understand "racist" as an effect, not as an opinion. The decision to not accept cash probably wasn't made with racist intentions, but it can very well have racist outcomes.

>> I think it's important to understand "racist" as an effect, not as an opinion.

I'm pretty sure it's the other way around. If as a white person you punch a black person because you don't like the car the person is driving, that's not racism, that's just some weird aggression. It's not based on the concept of race. But if you punch them because they're black, that's obviously racism.

Same thing here. If you're taking an action that indirectly causes harm to mostly non-whites (more specifically to poor people, some of whom are white) without the intent of causing harm, that's not racist. It's only racist if you feel that the group that's being harmed is racially/ethnically inferior to your group and that that justifies your actions.

That isn't to say that knowingly causing harm to people, even without any racism involved, is OK. It's not. But it's the intent that defines racism.

That's not the issue s/he brought up though.

I meant it literally. There are corporate persons and there are human persons. When you pay with a credit card a corporate person is paying. When you pay with cash a human person is paying.

You are being downvoted because this is not Reddit.

Ahhhh, intersectionalists and libertarians make strange bed fellows. What's even stranger is most of these politicians fighting for the rights of the "unbanked" embrace the surveillance state win that comes from cashless.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact