Volume 60, Number 7, July 2023
Hold on to it I APOLOGISE in advance for this month’s “Comment”, for this is a drum I have beaten before and many of you will, I suspect, wonder why I am doing so again. No, it’s not my endless campaign to get people to coin fairs (in part that seems to be working, the recent London Coin Fair was very busy, despite the train strikes) but rather my determination not to allow us to slide into a cashless society without a fight. Why, you may ask, am I on this topic again? Well, quite simply, because it isn’t going away—indeed, the war on cash seems to be heating up these days, with whole segments of popular radio and TV programmes now being devoted to the topic and the Bank of England currently running a consultation on the introduction of a new Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) which Prime Minister Sunak seems particularly in favour of. In fact, the two things—going cashless and the introduction of a CBDC—are actually separate. They are linked, certainly, but they are not dependent on each other, we can go cashless with no CBDC in sight and, conversely, have a CBDC whilst still maintaining cash. A CBDC is, in essence, a “crypto currency” a little like Bitcoin and the like but issued by, and thus backed by, a central bank. This is supposed to allow it some form of legitimacy and tradeability in a world where crypto currencies are notoriously unregulated. Of course, for many the very attraction of crypto is the unregulated side of it, and for them a CBDC is the very antithesis of what a crypto currency stands for. In effect, having a crypto pound would mean very little difference to most of us; our wages/pension, etc., get paid into banks, we use cards/direct debits to pay for things and the money comes straight from our accounts, we never actually see the cash which is, of course, not physically sitting in a bank account with our name on it at all. Having a CBDC wouldn’t change that—what it might do (and this is one of the reasons it is proving unpopular) is to only allow us to spend on certain things; our ability to buy those things deemed bad for us, or society, such as red meat, alcohol, tobacco, fossil fuels, etc., could be restricted if CBDCs are being used, as such currency can be “programmed”. However, that doesn’t really matter if we keep cash. So what if our bank card doesn’t allow us to fill our car up with diesel more than twice a month? No problem, we can just use £20 notes. Until we can’t. Cash isn’t programmable, cash isn’t limited, cash allows us freedom to buy what we want, when we want and yet I notice more and more places are refusing to accept it. Only the other day I booked a table at our local Côte restaurant and when I received a confirmation email I noticed a bit at the bottom that stated “We no longer accept cash payments. We apologise for the inconvenience”. Now, the chances of me paying for that meal in cash were slim, but I immediately cancelled the table—I’d like the option to pay cash if I wanted to, thank you; and please don’t tell me you apologise for the inconvenience Mr Côte, you don’t care about the inconvenience to me, you only care about how inconvenient it is for you to have to bank cash. Oh, I get it, having cash is inconvenient for many businesses, they’d rather take card transactions than have the hassle of banking but that’s not the point, the point is they are supposed to be businesses vying for customers, making our lives easier by offering as many options as possible to pay for their goods. If they don’t want to take my money, if my cash isn’t good enough for them then fine, that’s their call but they shan’t have my money in any format. I now actively boycott anywhere not taking cash, even if I’ve never paid cash there in my life! Why, though, is that important here, in COIN NEWS? After all, isn’t this a political rather than numismatic issue? Isn’t all this talk of freedom and programmable cash a little too libertarian and nothing to do with coin and banknote collecting? Well, yes—and no. I ask you to stop for a moment and consider the postcard hobby, the phone card hobby, the cigarette/tea card hobby, anything really that was once popular but now has shrunk to a shadow of its former self. Now ask yourself why those hobbies have gone that way? The answer is simple, because the item collected has disappeared from public view; postcards are rarely sent these days, cigarette and tea cards are things of the past, phone cards are defunct, thus fewer and fewer new people are coming into those hobbies because there’s no immediate introduction to them. If coins and notes go, who is to say that our hobby won’t suffer the same fate? And that’s not something I want to see happen, if only because I have a magazine to sell! So forget freedoms, libertarianism, politics et al (although they do seem pretty important)—fight to hold on to cash for the good of the hobby, if that has the added bonus of allowing you to buy more than a bottle or two of wine a week or fill up your car when you want to then so much the better!
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