What happened was, I was walking through a train station on the way to work with the buds playing randomly on shuffle and a knifeblade of Real Music came in from outside so I had to pull them out of my ears, there was this young dude getting great electric sound out of a teeny amp doing a slow take on Little Wing with a really good voice: When I’m sad, she comes to me… plenty room between the notes and lots of soul in them. He looked a little hard-pressed; I put my hand in my pocket for some coin but there was no coin there because I live on plastic these days and that busker went unpaid that morning. Another reason for a thing I’m thinking of: Going back to cash.

Used to be I had to hit the bank most weeks to arrange brass-in-pocket, but no longer. [Dear reader: The following is for Americans, who are a little behind on this stuff.] For a while now, almost anywhere I want to buy whatever for less than $100, I just tap the paymachine with my credit card. No PIN no waiting no fuss no muss. And more recently, because who wants to dig around in their pocket for their credit card like a filthy savage, I can just hold my phone up to the machine because of course I’m already holding it like you’re holding yours mostly, and Something Something Pay makes this ecstatic little Internet Chiming Sound to let me know that I can take my latte or jeans or flowers or beers and say “Thanks, have a good one” and walk away, that relationship is over.

So, why should I bother dealing with cash?

  1. Routing everything through my credit card is feeding the global payments cartel, who extract a tariff measured in freaking dollars for almost every routine transaction. I’ve seen so many great business plans go begging because they could have done something wonderful in the world if you could only do micropayments, which you can’t, did I mention that cartel that basically has it locked up and tied down?

  2. Obviously when you pay for everything with plastic (even if it’s your mobile pretending to be plastic) then The Man Knows Who You Are And What You’re Buying. Well, The Man also knows where anyone who carries a mobile phone around (which means everyone) is all the time, but let’s not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I mean, right now I do a single Amazon search for Resonant Cavity Extractors and the freaking cavity extractors follow me around the Internet for weeks; I’m pretty sure the Big Vision guys in the payments cartel have this notion where after I fill That Prescription at the local drugstore, I’m gonna get pervasive popups for [Stop right there, Tim -Ed.]

  3. There’s no good way to lay a couple bucks on the busker playing Little Wing.

I haven’t got this worked out along Microeconomics-theory lines, but I’m starting to hear an internal voice saying “Cash is good.” So I think I’m going to start dropping by the ATM more often, and making a clinking sound when I walk. And laying a few bucks on buskers, because if nobody does that there won’t be any.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Norman Walsh (Oct 12 2018, at 05:55)

Maybe we're finally catching on down here south of the border. I got a routine card replacement for a Visa card a couple of weeks ago and the new card includes the contactless feature. Not that I've tried it yet.

I've used my phone for payments a couple of times though.

And I try to always have cash in my pocket, "just in case."


From: Pat (Oct 12 2018, at 07:47)

I too prefer to keep cash on me for dealing with buskers, panhandlers, and small merchants.

I used to be all cash all the time until I read a nice economics papers on how that's a net loss transfer to card users because the credit card fee is priced in and card users pay the same price + get a reward.

But not everyone needs to be a perfect little economic rational thought robot and giving money to buskers is good.


From: Peter Phillips (Oct 12 2018, at 09:36)

An FYI, the hrefs for the previous two comments came out a bit strange with an extra http:// in from of the https://, e.g. :

Norman Walsh


From: Sophie (Oct 12 2018, at 10:18)

As for buskers, London has started helping them get contactless payments: https://www.criticalhit.net/technology/city-london-launches-electronic-payment-system-make-life-easier-buskers/

I agree with your views on cash, in my country contactless payments are taxed even more heavily than regular card payments by the cartels. So cash is a good idea. I also just don’t buy things.


From: Pete Forman (Oct 12 2018, at 12:35)

London has started rolling out cashless payments for buskers.


From: mark (Oct 12 2018, at 13:43)

Been CC# free since the 90's and have to say it's quite liberating to see the look on sales clerks faces when paying with cash. Two industries are forcing me to get a credit card though, (I want to travel outside this country), and both are somewhat related to Canada's Constitution in that we have a right to travel, at least domestically. It is very difficult to rent a car or buy an airplane ticket with cash, afaik trains and the bus (Greyhound is leaving tho') still accept physical money for a ticket to ride.


From: Michael (Oct 13 2018, at 18:06)

Another reason to favor cash is that it has the least overhead charges. This may not matter when one is making a good income.

But if you're retiring, transitioning to a fixed income, you might not be able to afford the continuing infrastructure participation costs of, for example, ApplePay. Cost of an iPhone + monthly carrier charge + iWatch (if you're really into the e-pay ecosystem).

My ATT plan costs me ~$100/month, or ~$1,200/year. iPhone cost in addition - figure $300/year (replacing a phone every 3.5 years). My SSI income will be about $28K/year. So $1500/28000 ~ 5% of my annual income just for the convenience of paying electronically. No thanks.


From: A (Oct 13 2018, at 21:20)

Please also read "In Praise of Cash" on Aeon.co. On payments, cash is how we (and future generations) can retain the freedom we still have.

Link to the article:



From: Guy (Oct 14 2018, at 00:12)

Not 100% about this but I thought a lot of businesses (in the UK at least) have to pay a charge to deposit coins/cash at a bank. Obviously not all cash is deposited, but if you are not depositing most of it then you must be going under pretty fast!


From: J. King (Oct 14 2018, at 05:53)

I always pay cash when purchasing something in person, unless that something costs more than a hundred dollars or so and I haven't planned ahead. This is probably due more to my many years of not having a credit card as a youth than to any conscious thought, though.


From: len (Oct 14 2018, at 16:35)

Cash. Pretty much most of my life with the exception of bits like hotels and some meals. Way south of the border.

It's the concept of busking that's wrong. Better to have a warm room and decent light when it gets cold and not to have to inhale carbon monoxide when warm. Reducing musicians to beggars has benefited room owners and the rise of the curators who have no skills, no taste and should not be the arbiters of what is best for the listeners.

I've watched the degrading of both music and the artists for too long now to go along with it.


From: Rob (Oct 14 2018, at 20:49)

Its interesting, hereabouts cash is rapidly becoming the preserve of the lumpenproletariat. Basically the people who carry it are the old, the poor, the addicted, and the criminal, or some combo of the four. Casinos and shady contractors and other tax-shy folks.

Law enforcement pretty much regards the possession of large (and not so large, "large" depends on point of view & context) amounts of cash as probable cause. On the street, having some nice new $50s (I'm not sure I've ever seen an old worn one) is an indicator you've been to a "payday" loan-shark or a pawnshop-- it can be difficult to break 50s in small stores, except in immigrant neighbourhoods; even drug dealers are often reluctant to take pinks. Let alone browns ($50s & $100s, for non-Canadians).

On the street, for anyone aspirational, pre-paid credit cards are popular. They look "normal," make YOU look normal. Paying for things with cash is basically inherently louche these days.


From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Oct 14 2018, at 21:34)

one other point. My dad had a saying (which may be less true now than it was then): "Cash will buy you ID, but ID will not get you cash". He always had cash in his pocket. Some days quite a lot as he tended to pay some suppliers of materials such as fiberglass (he did car work and built some custom things) in cash


From: Simon Wright (Nov 01 2018, at 01:46)

A couple of years ago a small cafe in Painswick, UK wouldn't accept cash; the insurance costs for a business with cash on premises made it impractical.


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