The War on Cash Finds Its General

Thursday, March 9, 2017
By Paul Martin

David Gordon
Mises.org
3/9/2017

The Curse of Cash
Kenneth S. Rogoff
Princeton University Press, 2016

Kenneth Rogoff would sharply disagree with Peale, a character in the 1915 novel It Pays to Advertise, who said that the most beautiful word in the English language is “cash.” For Rogoff, a distinguished monetary economist (and chess grandmaster) who teaches at Harvard, cash, especially in large denominations, ought to be eliminated.

Rogoff has two main arguments for his proposal; but, before examining them, let us look at exactly what he wishes to do. In his suggested plan, which “can be adapted and tweaked in many directions,” “All paper currency is gradually phased out, beginning with all notes of $50 and above (or foreign equivalent), then next the $20 bill, leaving only $1, $5, and (perhaps) $10 bills. … The government provides all individuals the option of access to free basic-function debit card/smartphone accounts, either through banks or through a government option. … Regulatory and legal framework aims to discourage other means of making large-scale payments that can be completely hidden from the government. … Government helps facilitate … real-time clearing for most transactions.”

One word reverberates throughout this proposal: “government.” For Rogoff, the government must combat nefarious characters in the “underground economy,” not to mention tax cheats, who transact business in paper money. Think of all the revenue the government has lost, owing to the selfishness of these miscreants!

The problems posed by the underground economy, Rogoff tells us, are far-reaching in scope: there is a great deal of “missing” cash, mostly in large denominations. “The bulk of US cash in circulation cannot be accounted for by consumer surveys. Obviously, if consumers are holding only a small fraction of all cash outstanding, they cannot possibly be holding more than a small fraction of the $100 bills in circulation, since $100 bills account for nearly 80 percent of the value of US currency.”

Where are the missing $100 bills? Much of it is used in illegal activities, like the drug trade. “The drug trade is a famously cash-intensive business at every level. … The RAND Corporation has estimated the combined size of the market for four major illegal drugs in the United States to be more than $100 billion in 2010. … Eliminating cash would hardly eliminate drug cartels. Nevertheless, it would be a significant blow to their business model at many levels.”

The Rest…HERE

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