Sunday, 5 September 2021
Peter Hitchens writes:
Are they trying to abolish cash? It seems that the national Covid panic, including wild suggestions that cash spreads disease, has been the pretext for a fierce attempt to march us towards a cashless society.
Getting actual banknotes grows harder every day, as cashpoint machines are closed and banks disappear. Even shops that still accept cash often complain that they have no change. A cafe near my office has claimed for weeks that it is mysteriously ‘unable’ to accept money, so I must produce a card to pay for a £1.25 cup of coffee. Increasingly bureaucratic pubs look shocked if offered coins or notes.
You may think they are obliged to accept legal tender. But it is not quite like that. This rule can be enforced only if you are settling a debt which already exists. If they have not given you the goods, then there is no debt and they can refuse your money and demand a card.
I personally loathe and distrust contactless payment, though in recent months I’ve felt more or less obliged to use it in some places. It makes money too easy to spend and too easy to steal. Where possible, I have chosen not to make my cards contactless, but sometimes there is no such choice.
I’ve also noticed that the old chip and pin system has become much slower than it used to be. I shudder to think what might happen in the interval between losing a contactless card and reporting it. The recent increase in the limit on these things to £45 was bad enough. A dishonest person could rack up huge amounts of spending in a few minutes. But on October 15, it will rise to £100.
Does this matter? I think so. I fear very much that the next stage will be that shops will only accept payment through smartphones, already preferred by many places. I absolutely do not want to pay for anything through a phone, so easily lost, stolen or hacked. I also resent the idea that all my purchases are being recorded and monitored and studied by someone. At the moment, it is just people who want to sell me more things, but, as we’ve seen with Facebook and Google, it quickly spreads into other areas.
If money becomes purely electronic, as I think is now likely within 20 years, then it won’t really be ours any more. Imagine the power over you which this gives banks and the state. Imagine the problems if it just goes wrong, as it has done more than once in the recent past, with reputable major banks refusing their customers access to their accounts.
I used to laugh at the French peasants who stuffed old banknotes under the floorboards because they trusted neither banks nor the state with their savings. Silly, superstitious, backward old fools, I thought. Now I am not so sure. My advice for now: use cash wherever you can, welcome it if you are in business. And the Government should reform the legal tender laws to oblige traders to accept reasonable quantities of coins or notes for any transaction.
A cashless society may sound desirable to those tidy, glinting people who think that all change is progress. But to me it sounds like a big step towards a Brave New World of surveillance, dependency and a total lack of privacy or real control over your own life.
Well now, if the ‘Ministry of Justice’ reckons it is safe to release the double child murderer and rapist Colin Pitchfork (gosh, I hope they are right), how can they continue to justify the imprisonment on remand of the brave journalist Julian Assange, who never hurt a hair of anyone’s head? I suppose there is a risk that Mr Assange might do another bunk, while he awaits the USA’s endless attempt to kidnap him and lock him up in some supermax dungeon for centuries to come.
He might even wander down to a South Coast beach and paddle his way across to France (it would be fun to see how the French responded to some traffic in the opposite direction). But it isn’t really a very big risk, and it would be a lot more justified than the gamble of releasing the monstrous Pitchfork.
I think it just shows that our Government is more afraid of the wrath of Washington than it is concerned that known criminals will strike again.