Los Angeles has just moved one step closer to banning cashless retail businesses, with the LA City Council on Tuesday ordering staff to prepare a policy proposal that would ensure cash can always be used to buy in-person goods and services in what would be a blow to the push for a cashless society.
At a regular meeting of the LA City Council on Oct. 3, members considered a motion (pdf) put forward in August by Councilwoman Heather Hutt, who wants to prevent people in Los Angeles from being forced to go cashless.
“Millions of Americans do not hold bank accounts, or otherwise fall outside the non-cash financial system,” Ms. Hutt wrote in the Aug. 15 motion, which was backed by three other undersigned Councilmembers.
“Some do this by choice, because they are concerned about privacy and do not want their every financial transactions recorded by banks and credit card companies,” she continued. “Physical cash remains the most accessible anonymous medium of exchange in this country.”
Besides privacy and surveillance concerns, Ms. Hutt cited detrimental impacts of going cashless, such as excluding young people who may not meet age requirements for credit cards or elderly people who may not have made the jump to credit and digital payment modes.
“Others may not be able to participate in the formal banking system, or may be excluded from that system against their will,” the motion continues. “By barring the use of cash as a payment method means excluding too many people.”
Ms. Hutt asked her fellow Councilmembers to back a proposal for the Los Angeles City Attorney to prepare and present an order that would “ban cashless retail businesses in Los Angeles.”
In a 13-0 vote on Tuesday, her fellow Councilmembers obliged.
The move puts Los Angeles on track for adopting a similar measure that San Francisco adopted in 2019, which banned nearly all cashless retail shops.
Coordinated Attack On Your Money?
There has long been tension between advocates of keeping cash and those who want to go cashless.
Cashless advocates often argue that going cash-free reduces crime because if would-be robbers know there’s no cash on hand, they’ll pick someplace else to rob.
“When we went cashless, crime dropped overnight,” San Francisco restaurant owner Lawrence Lee told California Globe. Mr. Lee’s restaurant went cashless in 2017 before being forced to go back in 2019.
“We were robbed before. Having a register out front will do that. When we went cashless … that ended,” he said.
The pandemic also gave the cashless movement a boost as some advocates argued that reducing physical contact between people such as when cash exchanges hands is more sanitary and reduces the risk of transmitting communicable diseases.
But opponents of the cashless push say it opens the door for more Big Tech and government surveillance. Many also see it as paving the way for a China-style social credit score system in the United States, where people would be denied the opportunity to buy certain goods and services if they fall afoul of government rules.
“Who benefits from the shift to a cashless society? Not the individuals who would like to use it,” strategic advisor and author Michael Wilkerson wrote in a recent op-ed in The Epoch Times, in which he argued that a coordinated attack on cash money is well underway.
“Financial institutions greatly benefit from the billions of dollars made every year on credit card and payment transaction fees. Government agencies certainly also benefit, as the tax authorities, intelligence agencies, and other three letter entities are able to fully surveil digital transactions, not just for tax compliance but, more ominously, for political compliance,” he wrote.
The biggest threat, according to Mr. Wilkerson and others, is that it gives government a powerful tool with which to coerce citizens to do its bidding.
“The greatest danger here is that total surveillance of all financial transactions provides governments with enormous persuasive power over its citizens. Social credit scores are the next step. Thinking of spending on opposition political parties or perhaps buying a firearm? Only if you’re allowed to, and then at great risk to yourself,” Mr. Wilkerson argued.
A possible taste of things to come was when Canada adopted an emergency decree forcing banks to cut ties with truckers who were protesting the country’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
‘Right to Pay In Cash’
There are a number of laws on the books that allow the government to seize the assets of citizens under civil forfeiture procedures even if the individuals haven’t been charged with a crime, much less convicted.
In such discussions, government is often painted as a looming would-be tyrant chomping at the bit to introduce new ways to control citizens.
However, some congressional lawmakers seem keen to protect cash.
In June 2023, members of Congress introduced bipartisan legislation to ban businesses from refusing to accept cash for in-person retail purchases.
“Every American should have the right to pay in cash,” Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.), co-sponsor of the Payment Choice Act, said in June.
Mr. Payne said there are around 55 million Americans who are unable to pay for essential goods and services with a credit card, debit card, or digital payment.
And in case of natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods that could knock out parts of the electrical grid, that number could soar as people would be forced to resort to what they have on hand—cash or barter items—to buy necessities.