The corona crisis has already taken a very high toll and caused deep damage in our societies and our economies, the extent of which is yet to become apparent. We have seen its impact on productivity, on unemployment, on social cohesion and on political division. However, there is another very worrying trend that has been accelerated under the veil of fear and confusion that the pandemic has spread. The war on cash, that was already underway for almost a decade, has been drastically intensified over the last few months.
Over the last years, and as the war on cash escalated, we’ve gotten used to hear certain arguments or “reasons” on why we should all abandon paper money and move en masse to an exclusively digital economy. These talking points have been repeated over and over, in most western economies and by countless institutional figures. “Cash is used by terrorists, money launderers and criminals” is arguably the most oft-repeated one, as it’s been widely employed in most debates about the digital transition. Just a couple of years ago, it was also used by Mario Draghi, to support the decision to scrap the 500 euro note. We didn’t get any specific information or data about how many terrorists were actually using this high-denomination note, but we do know a lot of law-abiding citizens were using it to save, as did small business owners for their operational liquidity needs.
Now, however, the corona crisis has introduced a whole new direction of anti-cash rhetoric and fresh arguments in favor of a digital economy. Even in the early stages of the pandemic, when essentially nothing was concretely known about the virus itself or its transmission, the seeds of new fears were already planted by sensational media reports and fear-mongering political and institutional figures. The insidious idea that “you can catch Covid through cash” might have been prematurely spread, but it did stick in most people’s minds. This is, of course, understandable, given the extremely high levels of uncertainty and anxiety in the general public. Wanting to eliminate potential threats was a natural instinct and so was the urge to take back at least some control over our lives, after they’d been suddenly thrown into utter chaos in the wake of the global economic freeze.
Another factor that concretely helped the shift away from physical cash was an entirely practical one. Given the lockdown measures and the new “social distancing” directives that were enforced all over the world, it became difficult to use cash, even if you really wanted to, or had no other means of transaction, as is the case for billions of people. With physical stores being forced to shut down and with more and more online shops offering contactless delivery (either as a choice or as a service requirement), the need for cash very quickly gave way to digital payments.
Read more: ‘COVID-19’ Accelerates The Great War On Cash