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le 17 décembre 2012
Think again, and read this book.

I don't have any doubt that the cashless society, as Wolman predicts, is coming. We've been anticipating it for a long time. In a science fiction novel I wrote decades ago the society used digital "points" that were kept track of by the totalitarian government. You got points for being productive or doing what society wanted and you lost points for being unproductive or doing what society didn't like. You got an allotment at various times in your life and if you went broke you were forcibly made productive or else...

Perhaps the best feature of a cashless society: less crime. Another nice feature: no sharing of germs on bills. Digital cash harbors no bacteria (but watch out for viruses). But Wolman's main argument to hasten us toward the end of money is that cash is expensive. It costs money to make cash (and guess who pays?). And you can lose cash or get it taken from you. And then there is all that we pay to fight counterfeiting. Wolman has a nice chapter on who makes the funny money and how sometimes it is better than the "real" thing and increasingly impossible to detect unless you are an expert. One more aside: in the 70s I wrote a short story about a guy who passed one-dollar bills, called "Garbage Sam and the Bill Passer" (included in my short story collection available at Amazon). The bills were made by the "Red Chinese" but Wolman shows us that in the real world of today the main culprits are the North Koreans who are counterfeiting the Yankee dollar so perfectly that they have cost the US billions of dollars--well, that would be the Yankee hundred dollar bill.

Surprisingly the most important expense associated with using cash is the inconvenience. This is especially true for the lower rungs of society. And Wolman is not just talking about usurious payday advances. First there's the time and effort needed to pay out and count bills and coins. This may not seem like much unless you work in a convenience store or a bank, but actually compared to flashing your phone at merchant it is life in the very slow lane. And if you're the merchant cash can be troublesome because you have to take measures to make sure your employees are not dipping into the till, and of course you have to get that cash to the bank. And for society as a whole, cash businesses sorely tempt the honest to cheat on their income taxes. Add up all that slowness and...well, time is money. Worldwide the difference goes into the billions of dollars, euros, yuans, etc.

Okay, Wolman makes his argument and at least I'm convinced. So why aren't all the reviews of this book glowing? It's certainly well written and imminently readable with flashes of sparkling prose and a lot of interesting information.

Reason number one: some people fear the coming of the cashless society as just another step toward totalitarianism. (They are right, but nothing can stop that except a reversion to a more primitive way of life, probably via the breakdown of society...but that's another story.)

Another reason is that the gold bugs and Fed haters don't like to read about the virtues of fiat money, which Wolman celebrates. And finally some people might think that Wolman wanders a bit afield in some of the chapters, perhaps most especially in the last two chapters. The adventure in India in Chapter 7 with mobile digital money, while germane, could be seen as a bit drawn out. And the diversion at the Coin and Currency Show in Portland, Oregon in the Chapter 8 might appear tacked on.

However I think those last two chapters, while not as interesting as the earlier ones, each served a purpose. In India Wolman showed us why it is the poor and the average person who is estranged from the plastic and digital money that we take for granted who will be best served by the death of cash. And among the numismatics in the final chapter we can see why it is psychologically hard for many people to part with the beauty, romance and history of bills and coins. However, as Wolman quotes a coin collector as saying, "If change means no more coins, then no more coins. Besides, I collect backwards in history, not forwards." (p. 199)

--Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"
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