In my professional guise, I've been doing a lot of work lately on digital currency, so my radar is attuned to stories about the rise of non-physical payment systems. Imagine my excitement, then, when I came across an amazing confluence of technology, disco-pop, and Scandinavians.
In 1976, Bjorn Ulvaeus co-wrote 'Money Money Money' with ABBA bandmate Benny Andersson. Now, four decades later, Ulvaeus is one of the leaders of the movement in Sweden to eliminate the use of physical cash. Today, many Swedish banks don't deal in cash, and the nation is among the world's leaders in digital commercial and person to person financial transactions. At the official ABBA museum in Stockholm, which does not accept cash, a sign at the entrance reads,
"I challenge anyone to come up with reasons to keep cash that outweigh the enormous benefits of getting rid of it. Imagine the worldwide suffering because of crime, from drug dealing to bicycle theft. Crime that requires cash. The Swedish krona is a small currency, used only in Sweden. This is the ideal place to start the biggest crime-preventing scheme ever. We could and should be the first cashless society in the world."
As implied in the message above, Ulvaeus is pushing a cashless economy as a means to eliminate significant types of criminal activity. Ironically, a former head of the Swedish police force and Interpol director thinks Ulvaeus' ideas are dangerously elitist.
Bjorn Eriksson (Bjorn on Bjorn crime!) is one of the founders of Kontantupporet (which means 'Cash Uprising', and is not at all some sort of Jim Henson character), a reaction to the increasingly digital Swedish economy. Eriksson's movement sees the trend away from cash as being primarily beneficial to large banks at the ultimate expense of consumers. In his telling, digital transactions enable large institutions to reduce transparency and dictate consumer behavior in ways made difficult in cash-based societies.
There's an interesting libertarian/dystopian argument against the elimination of cash from our transactional lives, but it seems a foregone conclusion that physical cash is a dying medium. As the Wired article notes, even panhandlers in Sweden have figured out how to accept digital currency. And to this fiscally-inept interested viewer, the fewer moving parts to the system, the better.
But as ABBA says, it's a rich man's world, so perhaps we best be aware of the motivations underlying technologies that purport to make it easier for us to spend our cash, or its equivalents.