The Wall Street Journal reports today that Philadelphia is the latest jurisdiction to pass a law against not accepting cash. Most retailers in the city must accept cash beginning in July. Democrats are leading the charge on these laws, viewing them as a way to protect people who don’t have credit or debit cards.
Philadelphia’s not alone in its war on cashless businesses.
New York City councilman Ritchie Torres admits that cashless payments are the future but is nevertheless backing a proposal requiring local businesses to accept cash. He told the Wall Street Journal:
“I think it’s more the future than a fad, and that’s why there is a need for a legislative response.”
Massachusetts and New Jersey have statewide laws relating to cashless stores. Massachusetts requires all stores to accept cash, while New Jersey simply bans cashless stores altogether.
The laws have a decidedly Luddite thrust to them – you must use this ancient form of money because we say so. It doesn’t matter if it’s less efficient or puts your business at risk. All the while, the rest of the world is increasingly moving in the opposite direction. Sweden is leading the way to a cashless future, with just 1% of its yearly transactions happening in cash.
That said, credit and debit cards have their own set of problems. Kroger plans to stop accepting Visa at many locations because the transactions were too costly on a macro level. Such situations create an opportunity for cryptocurrency, in an ethereal sense. Major businesses accepting cryptocurrency is still not a normality, and it may never be.
The recent situation with Starbucks shows plainly that major merchants are more likely to adopt some sort of crypto-middleman than they are to accept cryptocurrency directly. The actual benefits of some cryptos, like Bitcoin, with its massive volatility and unpredictable fees, are limited when it comes to a payments network. However, stablecoins can create a globally acceptable form of fiat that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.
Bitcoin is meant to be digital cash, in that you possess it by nature of owning the keys associated with it, in the same way that you possess cash by virtue of holding it. Cash is king in most of the underworld and accepting it has always been a risk for business owners. The value of robberies goes down significantly when there is no cash on site.
Legislators are trying to head off a potential trend spearheaded by Amazon, which has several cashless stores around the country. These stores don’t even have a checkout line – they just monitor what you take and bill you on your way out.
Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, struggling already to gain widespread merchant adoption, may be negatively affected by such laws. If you wanted to open a business in Philadelphia that only accepted cryptos, for instance, that would be illegal under the new laws.
Cash and cryptos don’t necessarily oppose each other in philosophical terms. It’s just that one can be counterfeited and the other can’t. One is much harder to steal than other. They both offer extremely fast settlements, but one does the math for you while you must count the other by hand.