Yesterday, Visa’s payment system crashed in Europe. Millions of people were unable to complete purchases. Some found themselves trapped overseas. It was a small glitch, apparently, but could have caused a major panic.
This situation should be a special warning to the people of the UK, who on average carry only £17 in cash at any moment, and where 1/4 of us will leave a store if paying by card is not an option. I count myself among those people.
As someone who has simply gotten completely out of the habit of carrying cash at all, this news is an eye-opener. Obviously, through OffGuardian, I consider myself aware of the deeper problems of society and of malicious political agendas, and yet I never thought of my financial vulnerability in a world where I literally have no control over my money.
Well, in a cashless world, where your money is entirely digital, you’re never more than a computer glitch or a power outage from going bankrupt. A hack away from identity theft. A forgotten pin from being locked out of your own money. A clerical error from the complete collapse of your finances.
That’s just minor accidents. There’s the more insidious side of course, the side of the state. The Visa crash demonstrates corporate incompetence (allegedly), but incompetence is just one of the dangers. There’s also malfeasance.
This vulnerability is undeniable, and yet it is being actively encouraged all over the world. The “war on cash” is a fact of life. Hard currency is undermined at every opportunity. As James Corbett has written:
Because it hands vast power over to financial institutions.
In a cashless world, no one has anything, except what the bank says they have. And banks can lie, or make mistakes, or cheat, or steal. It’s practically all they do.
In a cashless world, every single payment you make can be traced, reported to the tax office, used to surveil your behaviour, pin-point your location or even create what the Russians call “Kompromat”. Blackmail material, real or invented, it makes little difference these days.
Deeper than that, in a cashless world, where your money is entirely digital, the state can take your money via the bank without your permission or even knowledge. Claim “back taxes” or levy fines or punish you for whatever petty reason they can think of.
And that’s just what they take out, but what about what they put in?
In an entirely cashless world, where the digital bank balance is the only truth, the state could cooperate with big banks in digital entrapment, or full on digital “framing”.
Simply deposit £100,000 into your account from “a known drug dealer”, or “a terrorist front” or – of course – “the Kremlin”. You have an instant way to undermine critics. A handy machine – credit in, discredit out.
This tool could be used to demonize, undermine or even arrest anti-government voices in the media, or anti-establishment politicians.
Granted, every single one of these things is possible today, and might well be happening. But the danger of a cashless world would be that everyone was trapped. There would be no work-around, no safe-guard, no way to get “off the grid”.
An entirely digital financial landscape could only ever be considered “safe” in a world where big business and big government had proven themselves to be both competent and benign.
Sadly, we know for a fact they are neither.