[extropy-chat] TECH: The future of cash?

Christian Weisgerber naddy at mips.inka.de
Sun Feb 22 02:20:47 UTC 2004

(This is only mildly futuristic, but hey, I don't see people talking
about it.)

Many of us love our credit cards, debit cards, checks, bank transfers,
etc, that allow us to perform monetary transactions without having
to move bundles of cash around.  However, these methods all leave
a data trail behind and--at least in their current implementations--
suffer from transaction fees that make them uneconomical for small
payments.  For these reasons, cash is still popular and desirable.

Now, I recently caught something on TV which reminded me of a looming
crisis that doesn't appear to receive much public attention yet:

Counterfeiting is going to kill traditional cash real soon now.

While much of the current counterfeit money that enters circulation
may still not stand up to closer inspection by a layman, the best
of the crop here in Europe is now in practice indistinguishable
from genuine money.  Of course experts can still recognize the
forgeries, but consumers, merchants, and banktellers cannot.  The
problem isn't so much creating enhanced security features that are
hard to duplicate, as it is creating features that can still be
readily verified with the plain old human sensorium.  We're at the
end of the road here.

You never hear much about who the counterfeiters are.  "From Eastern
Europe".  This reminds me of a guy I knew, who was involved with a
print shop, and who related the story that they once sat down and
had a try at duplicating paper money (scaled in size, to be on the
safe side) just to see whether they could.  Supposedly it didn't
prove very difficult.  Any competent print shop should be able to
produce plausible counterfeit money.  Okay, so that was a couple
of years ago, but progress doesn't seem to favor the central banks
there.  There are many trained printers in the world.

Cash will have to grow an electronic component or become wholly
electronic.  However, there are also strong interests on the part
of law enforcement and the spooks to get rid of anonymous cash
altogether (think tax evasion, money laundering, and the wonderful
possibilities of plain transaction profiling).  I don't know where
the banks are on this and what the overall balance of interests
ends up like.  Will cash go away completely?

So, what _is_ the future of cash?

Christian "naddy" Weisgerber                          naddy at mips.inka.de

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