SYNDICATED COLUMN: Next: Digital Totalitarianism

The Conspiracy to Abolish Cash

For many years figures on the political fringe, especially on the right, have claimed that the government and its corporate owners want to transform us into a cashless society. Their warnings about the conspiracy against paper money fell on deaf ears, primarily because the digitalization of financial transactions seemed more like the result of organic business trends than the manifestation of some sinister conspiracy.

Now, however, those who want to do away with liquid currency are stepping out of the shadows. They talk about increased efficiency and profit potential, but their real agenda is nothing less than enslavement of the human race.

“Physical currency is a bulky, germ-smeared, carbon-intensive, expensive medium of exchange. Let’s dump it,” argued David Wolman in Wired.

Citing a 2002 study for the Organization for Economic Development that states “money’s destiny is to become digital, ” a Defense Department-affiliated economics professor has authored an Op/Ed for The New York Times that asks: “Why not eliminate the use of physical cash worldwide?” Jonathan Lipow urges President Obama to “push for an international agreement to eliminate the largest-denomination bills” and urges the replacement of bills and coins by “smart cards with biometric security features.”

Lipow’s justification for calling for the most radical change to the fundamental nature of commerce since industrialization is, of all things, fighting terrorism. “In a cashless economy, insurgents’ and terrorists’ electronic payments would generate audit trails that could be screened by data mining software; every payment and transfer would yield a treasure trove of information about their agents, their locations and their intentions,” Lipow writes. “This would pose similar challenges for criminals.”

Terrorism is a mere fig leaf. According to the annual “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report compiled by the U.S. State Department, the highest total death toll attributed to terrorism in the last 20 years occurred in—surprise—2001. Including 9/11, only 3,547 people were killed in 346 acts of violence worldwide. Tragic. Obviously. But, in the overall scheme of things, terrorism is not a big deal.

Measured in terms of loss of life and economic disruption, terrorism is a trivial problem, hardly worth mentioning. According to the UN, 36 million people die annually from hunger and malnutrition. Over half a million die in car wrecks—but you don’t hear people like Lipow demanding that we get rid of cars. A more legitimate concern is the “loss” of taxes upon the underground economy, estimated by the IMF at 15 percent of transactions in developed nations.

What the anti-cash movement really wants is digital totalitarianism: a dystopian nightmare in which the entire human race is enslaved by international corporations and their pet governments. An anti-establishment gadfly like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could be instantly deprived of money—and thus freedom of movement—with a couple of keystrokes. (We saw a preview of this when PayPal and Amazon shut down WikiLeaks donation mechanism and web server, respectively.) The high-tech hell depicted by the film “Enemy of the State” would become reality.

It is true that, in a society where every good and service has to be paid for with a debit or credit card, terrorist groups would find it much harder to operate. Don’t forget, however, that today’s terrorists often become tomorrow’s liberators. Anti-British terrorists George Washington and Thomas Jefferson wouldn’t have stood a chance if the Brits had been able to intercept wire transfers from France.

Decashification would establish digital totalitarianism, a form of corporo-government control so rigid, thorough and all-encompassing that by comparison it would make Hitler and Stalin look like easygoing surfer dudes. The abolition of unregulated financial transactions would freeze the political configuration of the world, making it impossible for opposition movements—much less revolutionary ones—to challenge the status quo.

A society without dissent has no hope. Even if we lived in a perfect world where everyone was ruled by wildly popular, benevolent, scrupulously honest regimes—ha!—eliminating the slightest possibility of opposition would lead to barbarism.

We’re already more than halfway to a cashless society. In the U.S. few young adults still use checks. In many countries debit and credit card transactions now exceed those made via cash and checks combined. In 2007 the chairman of Visa Europe predicted the abolition of cash by 2012. Obviously he was wrong. But that’s where we’re headed. The U.K. plans to abolish checking accounts by 2018.

Even if you love your government, don’t want it to change, and think political opponents belong in prison, you ought to worry. As things currently stand, we know the big banks can’t be trusted. Remember when they introduced ATM cards? Banks wanted us to use them so they could lay off tellers. Then they instituted “convenience fees.” Which they have raised, and raised, to the point that taking $20 out of an out-of-town ATM could cost you $5 in fees ($2 for their bank, $3 for yours).

Imagine what your life will look like under digital totalitarianism. Your pay is direct-deposited into your bank account. You’ll pay for small purchases with your cellphone; if you owe a few bucks to a friend you’ll be able to bump your phone against your friend’s to settle up. Nowadays, some corporations allow you to control when your bills get deducted; in the future they’ll demand that you authorize them to do it automatically. What if you have a disputed charge? They’ll already have your dollars, or work credits, or whatever they’ll call them. Good luck trying to get it back from the Indian call-center guy.

As corporate ownership becomes increasingly monopolized and intertwined, your overdue phone bill might be owned by the same outfit as your bank, which would simply take what it says you owe.

The law of unintended consequences is getting a serious workout thanks to digitalization. Motorists in New York were thrilled when the EZPass system allowed them to breeze past lines at toll bridges—at a discount, no less. Then divorce lawyers began subpoenaing EZPass records to prove that a spouse was cheating. Next police set up EZPass scanners on the bridges; if you pass two of them too fast, a speeding ticket is automatically generated. The next step is to eliminate cash lanes entirely; non-EZPass tag holders will soon have their license plates scanned and receive a bill by mail—plus a $2 to $3 “handling” fee.

Think there are too many fees now? If you think you can’t trust banks now, imagine how badly they’ll gouge you when they control every single commercial transaction down to the purchase of a pack of gum. Angry about taxes? When tax agencies can take the money out of your account without asking, they will. Unlike cash, that phone bump to pay your friend will be a trackable, data mineable, fully taxable commercial transaction.

As if the post-2008 economic collapse hadn’t proven that no one is looking out for We the People but ourselves—and then barely so—the digivangelists tell us not to worry, that Big Brother, Inc. will smooth out the rough patches on the road to techno-fascist domination. From Wolman in Wired: “Opponents used to argue that killing cash would hurt low-income workers—for instance, by eliminating cash tips. But a modest increase in the minimum wage would offset that loss; government savings from not printing money could go toward lower taxes for employers.” Sure. The same way banks passed on the savings they earned by replacing tellers with ATMs to their customers.

Americans are skipping into the digital inferno wearing a smile and relishing the smell of their own burning flesh. Countless friends and acquaintances pay all their bills online. “I’m all about using my checking account in place of cash and would love to be able to eliminate cash entirely from my life,” gushed PCWorld’s Tony Bradley recently.

“Give me convenience or give me death” was the title of an album by the punk band Dead Kennedys.

We’ll get both.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL

19 thoughts on “SYNDICATED COLUMN: Next: Digital Totalitarianism

  1. and what about buying drugs on the street?

    you could kiss that goodbye as well.

    i like to think we’re in for a rude awakening borne of our sleepwalking.

    but the truth is, most of us will never notice how truly fucked we are.

    such is the nature of our delusion and denial (left-in-name-only, real-right and non-existent-middle)

    ted rall, i respect and honor you from the depths of my soul.

    your blunt, unapologetic, uncompromising call for revolution is a lone voice in the left-in-name-only wilderness.

    i am alone in my family and this culture of make believe.

    i realize the obvious: we’re not going to grow, consume, indebt and complicate our way out of the problems of growth, consumption, debt and complexity.

    i also realize there are parts of my family which literally and figuratively economically brutalize other parts of my family using the fraud of “intellectual property” and the crime of “high finance”.

    but we’re not supposed to notice let alone talk about it.

    i’ve worked with The Machines for over 15 years, supporting and fixing them, and the older i get, the more of a Luddite i become.

    for the last 2 years i’ve spent most of my time helping my mother navigate early stage Alzheimer’s. i’ve never known work and love so real, honest, worthwhile or rewarding.

    each day i walk the mile to-and-from my parent’s home to work with mom and help them in general.

    i’ve recently noticed some new, mega-huge amerikan flags adorning a few of their neighbors’ garages in their condominium complex.

    one of these flags was hung by a Jewish family.

    although I’m a devout atheist, i was raised in a Jewish family and I know something of our history.

    and seeing that flag on that house really hit home.

    it struck me as painfully ironic and telling.

    as i thought, this is what it must of been like in Nazi germany, as it began to blossom and flourish.

    what must the Jews in germany have thought to themselves?

    as the Nazi flags were raised, and the Nazi armbands were worn? in ever increasing numbers…

    how is it that this Jewish family, living across the street from another Jewish family, doesn’t realize what they’re doing when they raise the amerikan flag and wear the amerikan flag pins?

    do they not realize it’s exactly the same virulent petri dish of violent my-country-right-or-wrong patriotism and nationalism?

    yet i remain silent

    i do not say or do anything

    shame on me

    shame on us

    shame on them

    we deserve what we get

    we deserve what’s coming

  2. Lipow’s justification for calling for the most radical change to the fundamental nature of commerce since industrialization is, of all things, fighting terrorism.

    Are we to be spared no amount (pardon the pun) of silliness in the name of “fighting terrorism”? Funny how it never occurs to these “experts” to stop provoking the “terrorists”.

  3. Nice article. The line about hitler and stalin looking like surfer dudes compared to techno-fascism was pure gold, and so true. It truly is the linchpin to any modern totalitarianism, the literal control of every transaction. hell even under the most brutal regimes a black market exists. Honestly, one could write a book on the long reaching effects of paperless currency not just on personal liberty but on the ability of fledgling entrepreneurs and small businesses to survive, not to mention the egregious abuses that would be perpetrated by banking conglomerates which would look more and more like utilities than services.

  4. It’s going to happen Ted, no doubt about it. Probably not for many, many years since the cost of implementing such a change is extremely high. I actually hope for this change, not becaue I want it. I don’t. No, I want the change because people DESERVE to be enslaved. They’re nothing but mindless consumers. Nothing else. No values. No culture. No courage. Nothing. They’re slaves already, why not seal the deal?

    The reason why this will happen is contained in your penultimate paragraph. Douchy youth will willingly bring this reality to fruition. They WANT to be slaves. After all, when you’re already a slave why would you look at the dissolution of physical money as enslavement.

    This is what power structures always do when change is resisted. Look at “the war on terror”. If you were born in 1998, you’re now ~13 years old. War is normal. When you talk to a youth about it they’d likely say “Well of course we’re at war, that’s what we do. It’s normal. Do you hate America?”. Same with the dissolution of physical money. Douchy morons like PCWorld’s Tony Bradley will cheer it on, and their kids will be accepting of it as normal.

    It’s inevitable Ted. Like all the other corporate-dominated disasters that have recently felled the nation, it will happen. It will happen and they will press on. The people? They’ll do nothing. As long as they have their NFL and beer, NASCAR, porn, etc …. they’re happy little slaves.

  5. Ted, it’s been a nice eight years getting familiar with you and your site, and re-introducing you back to mah people: http://theselongwars.blogspot.com/2010/11/pakistan-meet-ted-rall.html

    The reason people vite for Benazir Bhutto’s government was “Roti, Kapra, Makan”! That translates to “Food, Clothing, Shelter”, which like you mentioned in your lines against starvation is what is needed to be fought against.

    As for the capitalists, it is apparent that with their destruction of the banks, they are looking for a new boondoggle to wring millions of dollars out of, and the multiple attempts at cutting net neutrality like a cow might be the beginning of “it”. That’s why I plan to eventuially abandon this cyber activism thing full time and return to back to the frontiers of capitalism from whence I came. And your writing against the possible destruction of cash is something that should be joined with wholesale. I cannot believe that the hucksters at Wired still get money for sucking up to the government after the dot com crash and now the bank crash. The banker types are on the prowl for a new way to wring millions out of labor and the attempts at completely monetising the digital space is what they have set their eyes on. They must be stopped, and the only way to do it would be like Julian Assange; live light, hit, run and fight!

  6. Ted, what if the outlaws of the world revert to gold when your dreaded cyber currency comes around? Is the corpo-government going to ban, nationalise and seize all gold stocks?

    It’s a nice fantasy, but that is the problem with picking up things from the Tea Party or Alex Jones types – these ideas aren’t well or totally thought through.

  7. Ted, what if the outlaws of the world revert to gold when your dreaded cyber currency comes around?

    Shh, perish the thought TLW! That sort of gold-worshiping line of thinking is for eeevil, “right-wing” libertarians (knock on wood). Paper money that the government can inflate any time it wants is good, it’s only when you virtualize that it becomes bad.

  8. I’m going to put out a dissenting opinion on this “cashless society” idea. Don’t think it will happen any time soon. Why? Let me isolate this paragraph:

    {{In a cashless economy, insurgents’ and terrorists’ electronic payments would generate audit trails that could be screened by data mining software; every payment and transfer would yield a treasure trove of information about their agents, their locations and their intentions,” Lipow writes. “This would pose similar challenges for criminals.”}}

    You would also have to include governments and corporations along with “insurgents” and “terrorists” and “criminals” whose every transaction would be monitored in a cashless society. Governments and corporations carry on illicit transactions all the time, and they can only do that with cash. If this wasn’t the case, we would’ve developed a cashless society back in the sixties when credit cards started being used.

  9. This article was very well constructed. If you had started with the real world example, it would have been overly regional and boring. Instead, you take the risk of people being incredulous at the beginning of the article.

    Very nice read.

  10. That sort of gold-worshiping line of thinking is for eeevil, “right-wing” libertarians (knock on wood). Paper money that the government can inflate any time it wants is good, it’s only when you virtualize that it becomes bad.

    Haha ! Man you’re damn funny, I wish Ted’s site came with a like button. I love the sense of humour you got.

    I’ve been wondering bro, why did you name yourself after Alexander’s favourite horse? Incidentially, he’s buried in a town in Pakistan that has a reputation for producing a ton of our medal-of-honour-equivalent winners.

  11. The fact that you brought up the use of cellphones being used for small transactions brings up the specter of the government knowing you location at all times

    The conspiracy theory that went around when they redesigned hundred, fifty, twenty dollar bills was that the strip they put in there could tell people with the proper scanners could tell how much cash you had on you and where you got it from. There were even some who suggested that the scanners at airports did this to find drug money.

    With cashless electronic transactions, the government will know exactly where, when, and what you purchased.

    An aside to that is that the 911 technology built into cellphones so that in an “emergency” you can be located. The term emergency to be defined at a later date.

    The other thing that is in the air is all the electronic book readers out there, now the government will know exactly what you are reading and what “wrong” books are being read and if you are amongst those reading those books. And forget about just browsing through some titles, your IP will give you up. It is not like going to the library, slipping the sex book off the shelves and going into the science section to read it (we were all 12 once and discovered that librarians liked buying smutty books under the guise of education.)

    So, say hello to Big Brother, he is watching all posts to and from all IP addresses and will jump ugly on ones that don’t meet with His standards.

  12. The “Cashless Society” is where I truly consider it the “Revolt at all costs” level.

    The end of cash money, (and barter, trade, other forms) replacing it with digital currency (that of course a big government can monitor, control, etc.) is literally the “Mark of the beast”

    Don’t get me wrong, I was raised to be a “Conservative Orthodox Atheist” and even though later I got spiritual, I still don’t agree with churches or priests, seeing them as slave masters and perverts…

    But this is where I literally agree with the “Nucking Futz Fundiez” like our good friend, “Jack Chick”…
    http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/0007/0007_01.asp

  13. What do heroes in modern science fiction books do to evade the evils associated with a cashless society, constant monitoring, etc.?

  14. What do heroes in modern science fiction books do to evade the evils associated with a cashless society, constant monitoring, etc.?

    Turn to the underground barter economy.

  15. I’ve been wondering bro, why did you name yourself after Alexander’s favourite horse?

    My original nom-de-plûme (nom-de-cléf?) on the original was Incitatus, my favorite and ideal politician. When Rall switched to WordPress, I had to take on a different nick, so I paid homage to another classical equine. Not as good as the great senator, after all he was an accomplice, albeit unwilling, to his war-mongering, blood-lusting owner.