Björn Eriksson, 72, hasn’t been getting a lot of respect.
The former national police commissioner of Sweden heads up a group called Cash Rebellion that opposes the nation’s transition to a cashless society, and, given his age, he and his organization have been type-cast as little more than technologically inept seniors.
The head of Sweden’s central bank issued a warning in February that soon all digital commerce in the country would be passing through four private-sector banks, reported the London Guardian.
“Most citizens would feel uncomfortable to surrender these social functions to private companies,” said Riksbank governor Stefan Ingves, who characterized common economic activities like making or receiving payments as a collective good, like defense or courts.
He is calling for legislation to take control of digital commerce from private banks and place it under the government.
“It should be obvious that Sweden’s preparedness would be weakened if, in a serious crisis or war, we had not decided in advance how households and companies would pay for fuel, supplies and other necessities.”
Sweden and other Scandanavian countries have been moving for years toward a cash-free society, with consumers relying on mobile phones and plastic to make payments. Cash transactions account for only 1.4 percent of the value of all payments and the country is forecast to become cashless by 2030. Many stores already refuse to accept cash. In 2015, Denmark moved to exempt selected retailers from the obligation to accept payment in cash.
Cashlessness is catching on in the U.S. as well. SweetGreen, a salad chain, only accepts mobile and credit card payments. Starbucks’ mobile-phone app was already being used for one out of every five purchases two years ago.
“What we’ve seen is a push toward electric payments because of convenience, especially for Generations X and Y and onward,” said Greg Burch, vice president of strategic initiatives as Ingenico Group, which makes payment systems for merchants. “The phone has become more personal than the wallet has.”
Convenience doesn’t carry as much weight with Cash Rebellion’s Erickson as do the risks.
“When you have a fully digital system you have no weapon to defend yourself if someone turns it off,” he says.
“If Putin invades Gotland [Sweden’s largest island] it will be enough for him to turn off the payments system. No other country would even think about taking these sorts of risks, they would demand some sort of analogue system.”
Investing so much faith in the banks is “100% extreme”, Eriksson says. “This is a political question. We are leaving these decisions to four major banks who form a monopoly in Sweden.”
Christian Engström, a former MEP for the Pirate Party and an early opponent of the cashless economy, is expressing concerns about letting the government control digital commerce.
“The Swedish government is a rather nice one, we have been lucky enough to have mostly nice ones for the past 100 years,” he says
“In other countries there is much more awareness that you cannot trust the government all the time. In Sweden it is hard to get people mobilized.”
Given that the technology is popular among Swedish consumers, Engström is fighting the dominant trend. He highlights the loss of privacy when government possesses information on every transaction of its citizens. Using Ireland as an example, where abortion is illegal, he notes the government would be able to track women who procured abortions based on their economic activity.
“If you have control of the servers belonging to Visa or MasterCard, you have control of Sweden,” Engström says.
The move toward cashlessness is not just happening in Scandanavia.
In November 2017, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an unscheduled television address declaring all 500- and 1,000-rupee notes to be mere “mere paper.” The move, justified as part of a transition toward a digital economy and a crackdown on financial crime, instantaneously removed 86 percent of cash from circulation, resulting in chaos.
WND reported efforts by former U.S. Treasury Secretart Larry Summers to have the 500 euro and the U.S. $100 bills removed from circulation – all in the name of fighting crime and terrorism.
But Patrick Wood, an Arizona-based economist, says eliminating the $100 bill has little to do with fighting terrorism or crime and everything to do with continuing to chip away at the availability of cash.
“There’s a big portion of society that’s not included in the banking system. They just don’t have bank accounts. They operate on cash, and that’s a large percentage of the developing world, and even in America. A lot of people on welfare, they go around the first of every month cashing checks. They don’t have accounts, and apparently that’s something that bugs the global elite,” said Wood, author of “Technocracy Rising: The Trojan Horse of Global Transformation.”
“He’s a Trilateral guy, and it really bugs them that anybody is still living outside the system,” he said.
The potential for a cashless economy to be used to exert political control has already been seen with banks like Citibank and Bank of America dropping gun companies as clients. Operation Choke Point, run by the Obama administration’s Justice Department, distributed a list of business that were to be denied credit and other financial services.
While the program created hardships that drove gun dealers out of business, it paled against what a government-controlled – or corporate-controlled – cashless system could do instantaneously by simply flipping a switch.