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Global Issue 15

Global Insight Making Money Move Why software isn’t about to replace hard cash…yet Physical money is one of humanity’s most brilliant inventions ever. But has its time fi nally come? Is the Cashless Society just around the corner? Not for a while, says the US author who tried to live without cash for a year David Wolman A few years ago, I read about a young man in the UK who bet a friend he could live without cash for a year. It sounded like an interesting experiment, although rather easy to execute in a technologically enlightened country like Britain. Here in the tipping-obsessed United States, however, where many parking meters and even more buses can still be satiated only with little metal plugs; where countless restaurateurs frown at credit cards the way you might expect them to frown at cockroaches; and where someone once told me that doing away with physical money is tantamount to burning the Stars and Stripes on the steps of the US Capitol, foregoing cash for an entire year struck me as far more challenging. Yet what better way to peer, or at least try to peer, into the cashless future? At a minimum, keeping my hands clear of coins and germ-saturated banknotes for a while would catalyse some contemplation about what a cashless future might look like, the role of different forms of money in our lives, and what some of the best arguments are for keeping cash around or accelerating its demise. Let’s back up a moment. Money isn’t going anywhere, obviously. It’s undergoing a dramatic metamorphosis, though. A fusion of social and technological developments is bringing money’s various functions into the spotlight and, in the process, enhancing our understanding of what forms of money work best in different situations. Cash is still a pretty terrifi c medium of exchange in many settings, particularly small-value transactions in the offl ine world. When it comes to money’s function as a store of value, however, cash is precarious. Most people with access to fi nancial 20 l www.global -br ief ing.org thi rd quar ter 2013 global


Global Issue 15
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