March 15th, 2013
in Op Ed
by Joseph Salerno, Ludwig von Mises Institute
The relentless war against cash payments waged by governments worldwide has perhaps gone furthest in Scandinavia. The ostensible reason given by our rulers for suppressing cash is to keep society safe from terrorists, tax evaders, money launderers, drug cartels and sundry other villains, real or imagined. But the actual aim of the recent flood of laws rendering cash transactions less convenient or limiting or even prohibiting them is to force the public at large to make payments through the financial system in order to prop up the unstable fractional-reserve banks and, more importantly, to expand the ability of governments to spy on and keep track of their citizens’ most private financial dealings. One ingenious friend from Norway has fought to protect his right to use cash by invoking his government’s own legal tender laws against it. Here is his story in his own words:
About a month ago I had a doctor’s appointment at the city’s health services emergency ward (government institution).
When leaving, I asked to pay cash. I was told that the cashier’s desk was closed, that I would be invoiced, and that they generally did not accept cash. I reminded the nurse(?) on duty about legal tender.
When I got the invoice, I called accounting at the ward. I told the accountant that I wished to pay cash. I was told that was not possible. I asked if she knew about legal tender, referring to the specific legislation. She went completely defensive, as I clearly perceived it. She even claimed that legal issues with the no-cash arrangement had been dealt with. I said I would file a written complaint.
So I did. I called in a few days later to check if the complaint had been received, which she could confirm. Now the accountant was apparently more interested in discussing the issue.
Yesterday, I got the written response. I was given the opportunity to pay cash in this one case if I brought the exact amount. Moreover, no changes in the general arrangements would be made. Today, I made the payment in cash.
Why did they do this? I would suspect that they figured they had a weak legal case, that they were dealing with someone who apparently wasn’t going to give up, and that allowing it in this case would avoid having to deal with someone with a formal legal interest in challenging their anti-cash system, the alternatives being changing their system voluntarily and fighting an administrative complaint case – or even worse, a court case.
Of course, things would be much better if we weren’t forced to use this fiat money. However, it is reasonable to expect government institutions to comply with the government’s own legal tender regulations.
Sweden’s War on Cash Runs Into a Wall – and a Heroic Bank
The war on cash in Sweden may be stalling. The anti-cash movement has been vigorously promoted by major Swedish commercial banks as well as the Riksbank, the Swedish central bank. In fact, for three of the four major Swedish banks combined, 530 of their 780 office no longer accept or pay out cash. In the case of the Nordea Bank, 200 of its 300 branches are now cashless, and three-quarters of Swedbank’s branches no longer handle cash. As Peter Borsos, a spokesman for Swedbank, freely admits, his bank is working “actively to reduce the [amount] of cash in society.” The reasons for this push toward a cashless society, of course, have nothing to do with pumping up earnings from bank card fees or, more important, freeing fractional-reserve banks from the constraints of bank runs. No, according to Borsos, the reasons are the environment, cost, and security: ”We ourselves emit 700 tons of carbon dioxide by cash transport. It costs society 11 billion per year. And cash helps robberies everywhere.” Hans Jacobson, head of Nordea Bank, argues similarly: “Our mission is to make people understand the point of cards, cards are more secure than cash.”
Fortunately, it seems that the Swedish people are not falling for the anti-cash propaganda spewed by private bankers and Riksbank officials and are resisting the trend toward a cashless economy. It is reported that last year the value of cash transactions in Sweden were 99 billion krona which represented only a marginal decrease from ten years ago. And small shops continue to do one-third to one-half of their business in cash. Furthermore a study of bank customers satisfaction released by the Swedish Quality Index in October 2012, indicated that the satisfaction index was pulled down among customers of Swedbank, Nordea and SEB by their policy of eliminating cash transactions at their bank branches. Even more heartening is the fact that Handelsbanken, the largest bank in Sweden, is committed to serving consumers who demand cash. As Kai Jokitulppo, head of private services at Handelsbanken, puts it:
“As long as we know that our customers are asking for cash, it is important that we as a bank [are] providing it. . . . We see places where other banks are taking other decisions, we get customers from them and positive response.”
Fewer then 10 of Handelsbanken’s 461 branches currently do not handle cash and the bank’s goal is to have cash in every branch by the first quarter of 2013.
France Ratchets Up the War on Cash
France’s state auditing bureau, Cour des Comptes, informed the French government that it was “dreaming” in forecasting that the French economy would grow this year by 0.8 percent, which would enable it to meet its budget deficit target of 3 percent of GDP. The bureau told French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault that a growth rate of 0.3 percent was more like it, which would not be sufficient to meet the deficit reduction target. This was the case despite–or more likely because of–the fact that a broad based tax increase had just been imposed that would extract another €32 billion euros from overburdened French businesses and households this year. So would a desperate Ayrault finally open his eyes to economic reality and slash the budget of the bureaucratic and bloated French State, a budget that is liberally larded with fascistic corporate welfare subsidies and bailouts? No way, no how. Instead Ayrault convened a meeting of the National Anti-Fraud Committee to crack down on tax cheats and presided over it himself–”A first for a head of government,” he crowed.
Tax fraud in France has been estimated to be in the range of €60 to €80 billion annually. Buried in Ayrault’s proposal to crack down on tax cheats and further squeeze more revenue from its “fiscal residents”–those citizens and foreigners who have not been driven into part-time exile to escape French taxes–is a draconian provision that would lower the maximum cash payment per transaction from €3,000 to €1,000. Under the new limit a French citizen would not even be able to buy a used car for cash. The provision would not apply, however, to citizens and foreigners wealthy and savvy enough to have placed their income beyond the clutches of the rapacious French State by becoming fiscal residents of other countries. They would be subject to a limit of €10,000 per purchase in cash, down from the current limit of €15,000 per purchase. This may come to be called the Depardieu exception because French actor Gerard Depardieu recently caused a public stir by obtaining a Russian passport in order to take advantage of Russia’s flat-rate income tax of 13 percent.
One commentator perceptively summed up the inextricable link between the war on cash and the war on personal liberties:
With this law, the French government will be able to tighten the vise on its people one more turn, restricting their freedom of choice (how to pay), wiping out any privacy in those transactions, and imposing another layer of government control. Once people have gotten used to the €1,000 limit – based on the great principle of incrementalism with which restrictions of freedom come to pass in democracies – the vise will be tightened further, until the government can document every purchase made by “fiscal residents.”