There’s a lot to like about the idea of a cashless society, starting with its effect on crime. (...) A cashless society would also see a decline in the next level of robberies: stickups of retail outlets. (...) One step beyond that, there’s the effect on criminal enterprises, for whom cash is key. (...) And one crime would be all but eliminated: tax evasion.
What’s not to like? Very little. Except, and I’m afraid it’s a rather large exception, the amount of power that this gives the government over its citizens. (...) Unmonitored resources like cash create opportunities for criminals. But they also create a sort of cushion between ordinary people and a government with extraordinary powers. Removing that cushion leaves people who aren’t criminals vulnerable to intrusion into every remote corner of their lives.
We probably won’t notice how much this power grows every time we swipe a card instead of paying cash. The danger is that by the time we do notice, it will be too late. If we want to move toward a cashless society -- and apparently we do -- then we also need to think seriously about limiting the ability of the government to use the payments system as an instrument to control the behavior of its citizens.