La fine del contante

Tra le misure del Governo Monti c’è il divieto di usare denaro contante per le transazioni economiche al di sopra di una certa soglia, più bassa che in passato. La cosa ha fatto e fa discutere: da una parte, la destra più radicale sostiene che in questo modo si riduce la libertà economica, anzi la libertà tout court e ci si consegna a uno Stato di polizia (mi sembra che l’abbia detto lo stesso Berlusconi, tra i cui primi atti da presidente del consiglio dei ministri, nel 2006, ci fu quello di alzare la soglia al di sopra della quale non si potevano utilizzare i contanti); dall’altra, ci sono i timori che per questa via si aumentino i poteri e i profitti delle banche.

Negli Stati Uniti David Wolman, un giornalista di Wired, ha vissuto per un anno intero senza utilizzare contanti e ne ha tratto un libro uscito da poco: The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers – and the Coming Cashless Society. Non l’ho ancora letto (benché l’abbia comprato proprio ora), ma la sinossi di Amazon è sufficiente a incuriosire:

For ages, money has meant little metal disks and rectangular slips of paper. Yet the usefulness of physical money—to say nothing of its value—is coming under fire as never before. Intrigued by the distinct possibility that cash will soon disappear, author and Wired contributing editor David Wolman sets out to investigate the future of money … and how it will affect your wallet.
Wolman begins his journey by deciding to shun cash for an entire year—a surprisingly successful experiment (with a couple of notable exceptions). He then ventures forth to find people and technologies that illuminate the road ahead. In Honolulu, he drinks Mai Tais with Bernard von NotHaus, a convicted counterfeiter and alternative-currency evangelist whom government prosecutors have labeled a domestic terrorist. In Tokyo, he sneaks a peek at the latest anti-counterfeiting wizardry, while puzzling over the fact that banknote forgers depend on society’s addiction to cash. In a downtrodden Oregon town, he mingles with obsessive coin collectors—the people who are supposed to love cash the most, yet don’t. And in rural Georgia, he examines why some people feel the end of cash is Armageddon’s warm-up act. After stops at the Digital Money Forum in London and Iceland’s central bank, Wolman flies to Delhi, where he sees first-hand how cash penalizes the poor more than anyone—and how mobile technologies promise to change that.
Told with verve and wit, The End of Money explores an aspect of our daily lives so fundamental that we rarely stop to think about it. You’ll never look at a dollar bill the same again.

The End of Money

Ieri (12 marzo 2012) Davit Sirota, un giornalista di Salon, gli ha fatto una lunga intervista, che trovate per intero al link sottostante. Più sotto, un’anticipazione della parte in  cui affronta le preoccupazioni che hanno accompagnato anche il dibattito italiano sulle scelte del Governo Monti.

Should we fear a cashless society? – U.S. Economy –

Should we fear a cashless society? / Credit: Repina Valeriya via Shutterstock

One of the arguments against getting rid of cash is that once we become a fully cashless society then basically we have put big corporations even more in the center of our lives. Cash is the one way within our financial architecture to avoid both having our financial transactions skimmed off the top of by credit card companies, and it’s also a way to avoid basic scrutinies of our transactions. How powerful is that argument and will corporate power in a cashless society inevitably be abused?

That’s the central question, and it’s something I address a lot in the book. Some of this has to do with the distinction between what is anonymity and what is privacy. Even though everyone loves cash for the anonymity of it, it’s not really something that goes along with our lives in a modern democracy. There’s nothing that guarantees your anonymity in the Bill of Rights.

So this is the tension between civil liberties and privacy. It’s why we have cameras on subway platforms in case there’s ever a violent crime committed, and I really don’t think there’s a way to dismiss privacy concerns, but most of us think it’s probably okay for law enforcement to have some kind of break-the-glass access to information about who was on that train platform when a crime was committed. It’s the same way we deal with airport securities and on and on it goes.

I’m sensitive to those concerns, but we’ve kind of relinquished so much of our financial lives to the banks and credit card companies already. I don’t say that to say we might as well go the final 2 percent here, I think it’s the other way, that when you talk about cashlesness and finally going 100 percent cashless, you see it kind of brings these fears to the surface in a way that people don’t really think about even though they’re never really using cash.

Though the difference between the train platform metaphor and cashless economy is that you’re making transaction, the train platform is a public piece of property, it is in a place that we acknowledge as public. But lots of people say they don’t want their transactions to be public. Do we have a right to that expectation of privacy?

They say they don’t want transactions to be public, but then when your credit card company calls you to say, “Hey were you in Hong Kong yesterday and did you buy this $12,000 diamond necklace,” and you say, “No, I didn’t.” That intervention is because they were monitoring transactions.

Of course, when we talk about monitoring transactions that’s scary and sort of Big Brothery talk. I’m not excited about that either. But do we want the authorities for example to know that somebody in the mountainous region of Pakistan is suddenly wiring a lot of money to Sacramento? I think that really does matter.

But the bigger question to cashlessness really is the idea that it’s either cash or the credit card companies. I actually think that when we go cashless, people would wake up to this great flowering of payment options that are out there and we’ll be more demanding of the banks and mobile services to lower their fees and provide us with the service we can be confident with. That’s why PayPal was so successful, because they finally convinced people: you can do this securely. It’s not perfect but it’s safe enough that people are game to go along with it or it wouldn’t be the gazillion dollar company that it is today.

So people are seeing options coming. Some are still worried that doing away with cash means enriching the fat cats at Mastercard and Visa, but that’s really a false dichotomy.

Can we ever really get rid of cash in this sense? We call the bills in our wallet cash, but if we immediately eliminated all of that there would still be an economy that existed on other currency — or maybe even bartering.

Cash in this book is rectangular slips of paper and coinage. What you’re talking about is money, and money is an idea.


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