How much cash do you have, right now, in your pocket?
Pulling out the money clip I plucked off my nightstand this morning, rushing to catch the 7:12, I find . . . $140, six twenties and two tens.
Plenty to walk around downtown Chicago, ready to pay for cabs and lunches and trains.
Only I don’t take cabs. I usually Divvy or, for longer hauls, Uber, which you pay for on your phone.
And lunch is usually charged, unless I don’t want my wife to know that I popped for something indulgent — a sushi feast — so the cash is a broom to cover my tracks.
And for the ‘L,’ a Ventra card.
In reality, cash is an artifact, a quirk, an old-fashioned habit, like carrying a handkerchief, which I also do.
I would feel naked without money, wouldn’t leave home without some. The fear being that I would encounter places that don’t take credit cards. When exactly the opposite is increasingly true: businesses are beginning to no longer accept hard money.
“THE GODDESS IS GOING CASHLESS ON AUGUST 1st” read signs on the revolving door of the Goddess and the Baker at LaSalle and Wacker, an upscale coffee bar and sandwich shop that on Tuesday stopped accepting dough for its products (completely legal — no laws require a business accept cash).
Co-owner Tamar Mizrahi said they were motivated by several factors.
“We’ve had theft, and we’ve had robbery,” she said. “There’s an increase in counterfeit dollars. The time supervisors take to count money, between shifts, after shifts, getting money to the bank, paying for an armored car service. Then there are hygiene reasons. Our cashiers touching money and then touching baked goods.”
They aren’t the first Chicago merchant to go cashless. Sweetgreen, a Manhattan-based salad chain, did so in January, saying the move cuts down on long lines. Eight Epic Burger stands went cashless in mid-June. Argo Tea shops did the same last spring.
Tuesday’s lunchtime crowd at Goddess was mostly young office workers. While “quite a bit” of customers were “confused” by not being able to pay with cash, according to a cashier (I guess we’ll have to find a new word: “creditier?”) they are precisely the demographic to skip the mazuma.
“Young people use cash relatively little,” said Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard University. “They use it to buy marijuana.”
The author of “The Curse of Cash,” Rogoff argues not for a cashless society but for the elimination of big bills, because it reduces tax evasions, money laundering and other felonies.
“Cash is very big in criminal activity,” he said. “Eighty or 90 percent of the drug trade, in human trafficking.”
Rogoff’s book says big bills should be phased out in five to seven years; not the four hours India gave when yanking its largest two denominations of currency last November. The economy was plunged into chaos.
Other countries have done a more effective job eliminating folding money. Sweden is so much a cashless society that most branch banks do not handle currency. In China, even debit cards are going out of fashion: people increasingly pay using their phones.
In India, soon fingerprints will be used to pay bills; the country was voiding its big bills to encourage citizens to open bank accounts accessed by biometric sensors.
As with any change, some are left behind. Seven percent of Americans don’t have bank accounts, though I suppose those people aren’t the target demographic for $5 vegan brownies or $10 (quite tasty) turkey sandwiches.
Then add the surveillance society fear. Maybe I want to buy an almond croissant without the Great Computer in the Sky knowing forever.
Still, technology wins, and expect cash to vanish along with the internal combustion engine. In a sense, this is a dream come true for me. I always resented that we as a society couldn’t get rid of the penny. Now we can, though we have to also scrap all coinage and currency while we’re at it.
Sometimes the big changes are easier to make than small ones, and transition has a way of sneaking up on us.
Or, as Mike Campbell explains when asked how he went bankrupt in “The Sun Also Rises”: “Two ways; gradually and then suddenly.”