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Is the Cashless Society Beneficial or Sinister?

Is the Cashless Society Beneficial or Sinister?

Transport users in Norfolk are set to benefit from a three year pilot scheme to allow people to try new smart cards instead of buying old fashioned tickets.

Some £2.5 million of taxpayers’ money will be given to over 40 bus operators to enable 700 vehicles to take payment by a top-up card, similar to the Oyster scheme which has worked successfully in London since 2003 with 43 million users so far.

Transport for London proclaims London’s Oyster as the cheapest way to pay for bus, tube, Docklands Light Railway, London Overground and most national rail services in London. It’s pay as you-go, offers student and child discounts and can be protected from loss or theft.

Known equally as a smart scheme and an integrated system, it will allow flexibility for users and providers of transport services. It speeds up access to buses and trains. Norwich Park & Ride is expected to be the first service operational with the new system in a few weeks.

Rural-Urban Mix

It seems that Norfolk has been chosen, as Transport Minister Norman Baker told the Eastern Daily Press (27 February 2013), ‘because the county is forward looking and presents a mix of different bus routes, the urban ones, the rural ones and then the very rural ones’.

Passengers will be able to buy and top up their cards at shops and supermarkets and online. The London experience has led to people easily opting to try public transport and be more adventurous. They hope the same will apply in this neck of the woods.

Of course, there are the naysayers. John Clemo, chief exec of Norfolk Rural Community Council also spoke to the EDP and said, ‘if there is no bus to get on, there’s no bus to get on’. True enough and that is the big difference between round our MBF Blogs area and the big cities.

However, it’s already under way in so many spheres. Cinema/theatre tickets are increasingly issued electronically and scanned in at the entry point. Smartphones can easily handle payments now whenever and wherever the retailers can provide the necessary receiving technology.

The Big Issue

The real issue here is that it is another move in the relentless drive towards a cashless society. HMRC will be delighted when nobody has any unaccountable money of any sort in their hands. Many businesses will welcome the ease of electronic payments for everything, however small the cost.

Others will mourn the passing of paper money and coins which have been integral in the evolution of our entire economic system.

And what happens when there is a breakdown/failure of the system?

The Doom-mongers

Going even beyond those concerns, a number of technology watchers are alarmed about the advent of the cashless society. Patrick Henningsen wrote on Global Research (November 2012) a cogent argument about why it rings alarm bells.

A world without cash is ruled by technocrats overseeing plastic and RFID chips working smoothly. It is a sterile world for Henningsen. It’s a dystopic impersonal future like that depicted in the 1970s sci-fi classic, Logan’s Run.

He said that people expected it to be slow creep as the sheer violume of cashless transactions grew and they make cash redemption more expensive. Why do you think supermarkets offer customers ‘cash-back’? So they have less actual cash to count and bank.

He is among conspiracy theorists who reckon the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent events are part of an engineered plan to introduce a range of parallel currencies as forerunners of what he called ‘a new global electronic currency.’

If there is a collapse of the Euro or a return to some of their old currencies within Europeans states, then they will all be in electronic versions, not paper and metals. If the US dollar ceased to be the reserve currency of the world, it would be reintroduced electronically.

Henningsen picks up the view that such crashes will be deliberately brought about as ‘the perfect storm for the introduction of a major global digital currencies, and this will do nothing but fast-track our entry into the new cashless society.’

The whole argument is that it is more sinister than it sounds, this cashless society thing. The electronic future will be controlled by a faceless handful of clever people with their fingers on the buttons.


Well he mentions the London Olympics 2012, as ‘a beta testing exercise for a number of new programs. We witnessed troops deployed en mass for the first time to marshal the international sporting event and new facial recognition technology tested to monitor its attendees.’

He went on: ‘One of the chief sponsors of London 2012 Olympic, VISA, used the event as a springboard to launch its new ‘contactless payment’ technology, acclimatising the international public to making routine payments via smartphones. VISA now predicts that this new method will carry 50 per cent of its transaction volume by the year 2020.

Mastercard, Barclaycard and who knows what else in the field of money transactions are avidly seeking ways to streamline ‘endless profits that can be accrued from monopolising cashless payment services.

Oyster has long since moved away from merely paying for transport. It is now pivotal ‘in terms of social engineering and transforming communities and societies’ through benefits and other payments.

Finally, he said that Facebook launched its own virtual currency in 2011 creating an instant internal digital market. Eventually, he thought, social networks could supplant nation states. And all through an innocent sounding ticketless bus system!

So, something to think about as you travel around on the buses. Have a nice journey!

Wider reading:

Transport for London, The Oyster Card

Global Research, Patrick Heningsen, The Cashless Society Is Almost Here, 29 November 2012

The Father of the Internet Explains the Past, Examines the Future, 22 May 2012

What If Facebook Was a Country and Other Ideas, 3 April 2012

Technology Simplifies Money Exchange, 15 November 2011

Image: Marcus Quigmire