One of the
best things about covering payments news is that you never run out of stories
where various myopic governments attempt to restrict the flow of cash in a
squeeze for revenue.
France becomes the latest as Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault
plans to erect new controls on cash transactions in order to tighten up tax
collection and meet the country's optimistic budget deficit target of 3% of
GDP. The government needs euros and they need some fast.
In the government plan labeled "Fight against
fraud," France's fiscal residents would see the cash transaction
limit decrease from €3,000 to €1,000 per purchase. However, in a nod to the
exiled wealthy and what Wolf Richter calls the "Depardieu exception," those
fiscal residents of a country other than France would have their cash
transaction limits reduced from €15,000 to €10,000 per purchase. Legislative
measures could be finalized by the end of 2013.
Richter illustrates the ban's impact with an example of purchasing a used
car: "two crisp 500-euro bills and a single coin -- voilà, an
illegal transaction." Used cars could easily cost more than €1,000 and
accepting cash protects the seller, but the larger problem may be finding
those 500-euro bills in the first place. While the southern coast
of Spain was once believed to have the highest concentration of 500-euro
notes in circulation, the distinctive purple bill has become more like the unicorn of Europe because
they are rarely seen. The UK banned the sale of 500-euro notes at exchange offices in
"It has long been the dream of collectivists and technocratic elites to
eliminate the semi-unregulated cash economy and black markets in order to maximise taxation and to fully control markets," writes Patrick Henningsen at the
Centre for Research on Globalization. "If the cashless society is
ushered in, they will have near complete control over the lives of individual
The anti-cashists have escalated this sad drama to
a point where it has become like boiling a frog. The limits are incrementally
lowered and lowered until one day, people wake up
and realize that only fully traceable transactions are permitted in the new
In many regions around the world, a strong and vibrant cash economy is
actually underpinning the faltering national economies that no longer offer
sufficient mainstream opportunities for their citizens. By some estimates, the global off-the-grid economy represents $10
trillion worth of economic activity per year. People will produce, consume,
and trade in order to survive and bearer cash plays a critical role in that
The futuristic cashless society is marketed as being ultra-modern and at the forefront of
technology. However, it is more like the last gasp of a dying behemoth and it is the poor that will suffer the most.
In responding to Simon's Black's description of Emperor Diocletian's
3rd-century tax reforms in All Transactions To Be Conducted In The
Presence Of A Tax Collector, a reader commented that "Tax evasion always increases along with
the tax burden." He continued, "In fact, it acts as a safety-valve
against rebellion. Since the rich will always have means to escape
heavy taxation, the burden of bloated government bureaucracy
will eventually fall the heaviest on those of lesser means."
Is there anywhere left to go if you don't welcome the fully-traceable
cashless society? Spain recently banned cash transactions above 2,500 euros
and Italy banned cash transactions above 1,000 euros.
France and other anti-cashist countries could
quickly become nations of smurfs, referring
to the practice of smurfing, which is a method of structuring cash transactions
into smaller deposits of money to avoid cash reporting requirements.
By Jon Matonis
Thursday, February 14, 2013