Opinion » Ted Rall

Digital Totalitarianism

The conspiracy to abolish cash


NEW YORK--For years, figures on the political fringe have claimed the government and its corporate owners want a cashless society. Their warnings about the conspiracy against paper money fell on deaf ears.

Now, those who want to do away with liquid currency are stepping out of the shadows, talking about increased efficiency and profit potential, but their real agenda is nothing less than enslavement of the human race.

"Physical currency is a bulky, germ-smeared, carbon-intensive, expensive medium of exchange. Let's dump it," argued David Wolman in Wired.

Citing a 2002 study for the Organization for Economic Development that states "money's destiny is to become digital," Jonathan Lipow, a Defense Department-affiliated economics professor, has authored an op/ed in The New York Times that asks: "Why not eliminate the use of physical cash worldwide?"

Lipow urges President Barack Obama to "push for an international agreement to eliminate the largest-denomination bills" and urges the replacement of cash by "smart cards with biometric security features."

Lipow's justification is fighting terrorism, but terrorism is a mere fig leaf. According to the annual Patterns of Global Terrorism report by the U.S. State Department, the highest total death toll attributed to terrorism in the last 20 years occurred in 2001. Including 9/11, 3,547 people were killed in 346 acts of violence worldwide. But according to the United Nations, 36 million people die annually from hunger and malnutrition. A more legitimate concern is the loss of taxes on the underground economy, estimated by the IMF at 15 percent of transactions in developed nations.

What the anti-cash movement really wants is digital totalitarianism in which the entire human race is enslaved by international corporations and their pet governments.

Decashification would establish a form of corporo-government control so rigid and all-encompassing that it would make Hitler and Stalin look like easygoing surfer dudes. The abolition of unregulated financial transactions would freeze the political configuration of the world, making it impossible for opposition movements--much less revolutionary ones--to challenge the status quo.

We're already more than halfway to a cashless society. In the United States few young adults still use checks, and in many countries debit and credit card transactions exceed those made via cash and checks combined.

As things stand, we know the big banks can't be trusted. Remember when they introduced ATM cards? They instituted "convenience fees," which they have raised to the point that taking $20 out of an out-of-town ATM could cost you $5 in fees.

Americans are skipping into the digital inferno wearing a smile and relishing the smell of their own burning flesh. Countless friends and acquaintances pay all their bills online.

"I'm all about using my checking account in place of cash and would love to be able to eliminate cash entirely from my life," gushed PCWorld's Tony Bradley recently.

Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death was the title of an album by the punk band Dead Kennedys.

We'll get both.