I’ll bet you twenty bucks that cash will still be around for a good while yet

First the naysayers were trying to get rid of books – now they’ve set their sights on cash. It’s a slippery slope, writes Phil Brown

May 20, 2024, updated May 20, 2024
It's a confusing old world when you can be chided for paying in cash - then banned from flashing the plastic.

It's a confusing old world when you can be chided for paying in cash - then banned from flashing the plastic.

If you grew up on comic books like me you may remember the Disney cartoon character Scrooge McDuck. He was Donald Duck’s uncle – a rich, miserly capitalist who liked nothing more than physically diving into big piles of his own money, something he did regularly.

It was funny, if a bit obscene. The thing is that if Scrooge McDuck was around now there might not be any cash for him to splash in.

Nefarious forces are trying to strip us of cash as Australia goes mainly digital with its getting and spending. I’m not sure if this is a conspiracy or just stupidity. Wise heads counsel that we need to keep cash in circulation.

An editorial in The Guardian Weekly recently pointed out that cutting out cash hits the vulnerable hardest according to a study in the UK.

“Businesses should think carefully before refusing cash payments. Governments must ensure that people reliant on cash can continue to use it … But even if the supply of notes and coins can be assured, authorities must also ensure that services accept them.”

The fact that some businesses already refuse to accept cash is ludicrous. That a shop or a café takes digital payments but not actual money does my head in.

Which is why it was so refreshing to find on our recent Hong Kong holiday that cash is still king in the former British Colony.

In fact, we ducked into a little café in Lock Road, Tsim Sha Tsui (Downtown Kowloon) to find a little sign on the cash register that said CASH ONLY. I love that.

As it happened, I had a thick wad of the folding stuff in my wallet which, on that trip, was beginning to look like George Costanza’s. If you remember the episode of Seinfeld in which George’s wallet was so fat he could barely fold it closed to put it in his pocket. When he did and sat on it there was a crunch because he had forgotten he had some hard candy in there.

Who knows, if the anti-cash brigade gets their way there may not be any wallets in the future.

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In Hong Kong they do take credit cards at stores but there is no discrimination against cash and it is used freely, particularly for small shops, market stalls, taxis and elsewhere. And cash is good for tipping.

When we left the hotel, I folded some bills together and shook hands with the concierge, greasing his palm for looking after us so well. It was subtle and seamless.

Beyond Honkers cash is also still used in China which is certainly advanced digitally. However, Beijing has announced measures to support the use of cash, aware that the reliance on payment apps “makes life harder for both foreign tourists and for poorer, rural and elderly Chinese people struggling to access or adapt to new technology” according to The Guardian Weekly.

Personally, I always have cash on me – a mixture of bills to cover any situation which may arise including when those digital services fail, as they sometimes do.

Don’t be dissuaded if you pull out some currency to pay in a shop and the person behind the counter pulls a face. Money is money and it should be accepted anywhere.

Apparently in the UK there’s a bit of a fightback occurring regarding cash which is heartening. I’m hoping it will be the same as it was with books. Remember when people said books were redundant? That didn’t last long and people are still buying physical books in droves.

Next time you buy one see if you can pay in cash. That’ll freak them out.

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