Businesses Should be Required to Accept Cash

Businesses in the U.S. don’t have to accept cash as payment for purchases, but I think they should have to. There’s even a push in some countries to go completely cashless. This, in my view, would be a huge mistake. Cash helps the elderly, the poor, the unbanked, immigrants, journalists, and dissidents. Cash is the only way to purchase goods and services anonymously in regular stores.

Taking away the option to pay cash makes life harder on those trying to avoid mass surveillance and turns stores into Big Brother’s little helpers. In order to protect the right to privacy, we need the right to private everyday transactions, and for that we need the right to pay cash.

The ability to buy things online anonymously is also important, but cannot be done conveniently using cash. For that, I think we ought to adopt a privacy-preserving digital payment system like GNU Taler[1].

We should not use cryptocurrency which has a track record of extreme energy inefficiency, being impossible to regulate or tax, mostly not private, wild fluctuations in value, glacial transaction confirmation times and single-digit transaction throughput. Maybe all those problems can be solved, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Until then, I consider cryptocurrency not viable.

Why Not Replace Cash With GNU Taler?

Now you might say “But Nick, why not just replace cash with GNU Taler? That would eliminate the extra work of handling paper bills”. I actually think that’s a bad idea for several reasons.

Cash is More Private

The first reason is that there’s a sense in which cash is more anonymous than any digital payment system can be, for in-person transactions. Private digital payment systems use encryption schemes, but encryption is a timer, not a lock.[1]

GNU Taler transactions are private until the underlying cryptographic primitives are broken, and nobody knows if or when that will happen. Cash doesn’t rely on underlying cryptographic primitives. It stays private forever, giving it a decisive advantage.

Taler Might Require a Smartphone

Another big reason I don’t want to see cash replaced with GNU Taler is that you might need a smartphone to use Taler in physical stores. I say “might” because I’m not 100% sure about this, so take it with a grain of salt. I just think we shouldn’t increase society’s dependence on smartphones more than it already is. There are more than enough reasons to avoid using them.[3] Paper bills don’t have such a troublesome dependency.

Cash is Familiar

Now if you’re a young person, this next point might not seem like a big deal. But, if you’ve ever tried to help an old person with their phone or computer, then you know how long it can take for the elderly to learn new technology. Cash is familiar. It has been around for a long time. A lot of elderly people are still uncomfortable with credit cards, which aren’t that new.

And remember, the elderly vote. So if they get the idea that Taler is going to be replacing cash, they might resist Taler as a form of payment whereas if Taler is presented as just another payment option, they’ll be indifferent.

Getting rid of cash would hinder the financial independence of a segment of the population. Imagine your local grocery store at peak volume with 10 people waiting in line, an 80 year old man holding up the line trying to remember where his granddaughter showed him the GNU Taler app was, barely able to read the small text on his phone. The clerk has to come around the counter to help him figure it out. Now she’s tech support too. Multiply that across every supermarket.


So, in conclusion, businesses should be mandated to accept cash as a form of payment. As for online stores, we should adopt GNU Taler for private digital cash. There may need to be extra considerations or even exceptions to accepting cash for stores in areas with rampant crime, but most stores won’t have any major problems taking cash.

I don’t think a cashless society is an inherently bad idea. It would just be premature. At the very least, there should be an established anonymous digital payment option that is just as easy and convenient as cash before going cashless is even considered.

Thanks so much for reading my thoughts. Email me know if you have any comments, questions, or concerns.[4]

1: GNU Taler
2: Encryption is a Timer, Not a Lock
3: Why I Don’t Have a Smartphone
4: Email