EDITORIAL: Looking out for those left behind in a cashless society

SHARE EDITORIAL: Looking out for those left behind in a cashless society

The Goddess and the Baker, a coffeeshop in the Loop, went cashless this past summer. | Neil Steinberg/Sun-Times

How does Chicago charge into the future without leaving some of us behind?

The future, in this case, is a cashless society, where nobody will use paper dollars or metal coins. Every transaction — online, of course, but also in store and restaurants — will be conducted with a debit or credit card, or with a tap on a smart phone.


We see the appeal. No cash means no armed hold-ups. No cash means less employee theft. No cash means faster lines at the check-out counter. Anybody who has ever used Uber or Lyft, which do not accept cash, knows how convenient a completely cashless society could prove to be.

But what about the 7.1 percent? That’s the percentage of households in Illinois, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., that don’t have bank accounts. That includes some 300,000 households in Chicago.

These are Chicagoans who are more likely to be poor, young, a racial minority or mentally disabled. They use only cash.

What will they do in a cashless society?

Ald. Ed Burke is asking that excellent question. He has introduced an ordinance to limit the ability of Chicago businesses to go completely cashless, though he postponed a committee vote on the proposal Wednesday after hearing from retailers who are opposed. He thought they made good points.

Nonetheless, Burke says, nobody is looking out for the poor and the disabled in this rush to the future, and he’s right.

“Do we foreclose youngsters who want to stop at a 7-Eleven and get a bottle of orange juice on the way home from school from buying that… because they don’t have a credit card?” Burke asked, as quoted in a Sun-Times story by Fran Spielman.

“What about the hardships that are then created for this unbanked, underbanked segment of our society, especially among the poor or the elderly or the disabled.”

We generally oppose Luddite laws that deny the inevitability of change. We have opposed many restrictions on Uber, for that reason, though the ride share business threatens the traditional cab industry. We recently opposed a complete ban on the experimental use of self-driving cars in Chicago, as well, feeling pretty sure driverless cars are the future.

But in the embrace of new technology, there is almost always a need to strike a compassionate balance.

To force shops to accept cash feels extreme to us, a classic example of government overreaction. Our hope is that retailers and the city will negotiate a practical middle ground, one that moves Chicago forward without leaving 7.1 percent of us behind.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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