The full emergence of a cashless society has been a plan long in the making and taking place on many fronts. We are currently seeing an array of new tech that is intended to make cash seem like an antiquated, clumsy way to transact business. Why not pay via identity tech such as vein scanners, facial recognition, voiceprints, iris scans – even tears? Purchases will just be so much safer and more convenient with your new Zwipe biometric credit card, they tell us.
Simultaneously, we are witnessing legislation and internal banking policies that make it – or will make it – virtually impossible to use cash unless you want to be investigated for money laundering or ties to terrorism. We have begun to hear an increasing chorus from central banks, lackey politicians and of course the United States IRS who are openly declaring a war on cash. So what will the new economic world look like?
Several nations have been leading the way toward a fully cashless society including Israel and India – both have a framework already set up to integrate their populations. But apparently it is Sweden that will get there first.
Despite the irony that Sweden is actually the birthplace of the very first banknote circa 1661, the modern government has rapidly been moving to abandon cash altogether. Citing the tried-and-true justification of a crackdown on organized crime and terrorism, Sweden is taking advantage of its highly tech-literate population to become the very first nation to render their bank note obsolete.
Researchers at Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology are confident that the Swedish population has almost completely embraced Swish – a digital person-to-person, real-time payment system loosely similar to PayPal – to such a degree that a cashless society in now inevitable as banknotes in circulation continue a steep decline. My emphasis added:
The result of collaboration between major Swedish and Danish banks, Swish is a direct payment app that is used for transactions between individuals, in real time. The service’s direct collaboration with Bankgiro and Sweden’s national bank, Riksbanken, is a critical factor in its success.
But if Swish starts to be used on a larger scale and grow to include retail transactions and e-commerce, Arvidsson says it is likely the country’s entire payment system infrastructure will have to be revamped.
That may not be as prohibitive an idea as it sounds. Arvidsson says Swish is already revolutionizing the banking system, which itself is no stranger to bold digital projects.
With digital giro systems, early electronic payment services and other advances in online financial services, Swedish banks have been early adopters of advanced IT systems, he says.
“Combined with a strong IT sector, this has led to more competitive financial services in Sweden. The success also depends on the Swedish consumer tradition of welcoming electronic payment services.”
Besides simplicity and lower costs, digital payments also add transparency to the nation’s payment system. Several banks in Sweden already have 100 percent digitalized branches that will simply not accept cash.
“At the offices which do handle banknotes and coins, the customer must explain where the cash comes from, according to the regulations aimed at money laundering and terrorist financing,” he says. Bank staff are required to file police reports in response to suspicious cash transactions.
In spite its popularity, Sweden will still have to ensure that all people are able to participate in the new payment system, Arvidsson says. The transformation would present serious challenges for those who are unfamiliar with computers and mobile phones—mainly older people living in rural areas.
Other segments of the population likely to feel the impact are the homeless and undocumented immigrants. In a society without notes and coins, they will be even more at the mercy of government systems to survive.
Whether cashless societies spread beyond Sweden is another question. “Swish is a brilliant idea, but to introduce it internationally is a challenge, not least because it takes a long time to change other countries’ banking systems from scratch. But it is not impossible that a Swish-based banking revolution can also occur abroad,” Arvidsson says.
Full press release here.
While digital systems such as Bitcoin have largely been embraced by the liberty minded as a means of voluntary, decentralized, anonymous banking, the system being discussed here is exactly the opposite: it is fully centralized, mandatory, customer data will be exposed, it’s non-inclusive and decreases independent lifestyle options. It further attacks civil liberties by eroding privacy, creating a system of guilty until proven innocent, and cannot be opted out of once fully implemented. It is nothing short of the fully realized dream of every technocrat that has put pen to paper describing a top-down control system which will micromanage every facet of life for citizens subjected to their rule.
Sweden is of course recognized the world over for its benign government, relatively speaking (and for now), which makes this development especially dangerous because its fundamental banking tyranny is likely to go unnoticed … until it spreads to much darker corners.
Nicholas West writes for ActivistPost.com and TechSwarm.com