Geopolitics

How The Crackdown On Cash Quietly Undermines Our Freedom

More and more countries are limiting cash transactions and the amount people can carry. Beyond the economic rationale, what are the moral implications?

Burning freedom
Burning freedom
Emmanuel Garessus

-OpEd-

GENEVA — There is a war on cash. A growing number of countries are taking steps to restrict this concrete manifestation of our toils, with notable economists such as Larry Summers and Kenneth Rogoff even pleading for requiring all economic transactions to be electronic. What is their motivation, and is this an attack on freedom?

Greece, Sweden and Italy have already gone too far in limiting how cash is used. Former Prime Minister Mario Monti, who succeeded Silvio Berlusconi, reduced the authorized limit for cash transactions from 2,500 euros to 1,000 euros in 2011. The Danish government decided this year that boutiques, convenience stores and restaurants must stop accepting cash.

From a purely economic standpoint, cash doesn't have the same value as money in a bank account. The risk of the first corresponds only to that of the central bank, while money in an account is as risky as the commercial bank that is holding it — and the loans they can issue thanks to it.

For individuals, bills and coins offer assurance. "Everyone is obligated to accept money from the central bank," says German economic journalist Roland Tichy. "It guarantees both the forging and immediate realization of a contract at the point of sale: money for merchandise." In the age of cyber crime, he adds, "a keyboard is riskier than a banknote."

But those who want to limit cash transactions point to the risks of carrying it, not to mention the logistical cost of bills for banks and lost revenue for the state through black markets and tax evasion. Online businesses are naturally enthusiastic regarding a cashless society. But studies claiming to show the advantages of limiting cash transactions have been financed primarily by credit card companies, as Tichy observes on his blog.

The major reason for banning cash, favored by backers of Keynesian economics, is to support economic recovery. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers says excess liquidity could condemn the economy to lasting stagnation. Despite interest rates hovering near zero, investment opportunities still may not be attractive enough. If cash isn't banned, it may be necessary to introduce negative interest rates to get people to put their money to work.

Kenneth Rogoff, former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, suggests that banning cash could kill two birds with one stone by supporting central banks in fiscal expansion policies, while also fighting tax evasion.

It's the debt, stupid

That theory is debatable, both economically and politically. The idea that liquidity is the cause of stagnation is widely disputed among economists. The underlying problem is the mountain of debt. Consumer debt levels more than doubled between 1980 and 2010 in industrialized countries, and the trend isn't slowing.

Daniel Stelter, author of Debt in the 21st Century, explains that without reduction in debt levels, the hope for significant growth won't be realized. Unconventional strategies of central banks might permit a modest lift in GDP, but at the cost of devaluing money. Employment and investment won't actually take off. At the same time, slower productivity growth, the aging of populations, and rising taxes all conspire to put the brakes on growth. With no solution for lowering debt, there is no way out.

"When the situation demands it, the powers of the world are able to take drastic measures," Stelter explains in Manager magazine. The economist recalls when the government seized gold from American households in 1933. The goal was to combat the Great Depression and, more specifically, devalue the dollar. Now the question is whether authorities would go as far as to ban cash completely.

Individuals already hold relatively little of it. In Germany, the average person has just 103 euros in their wallet and 1,440 euros at home, according to the Deutsche Bundesbank. Approximately 80% of German transactions are still in cash, and the central bank reports that citizens want to keep it this way.

Government mistrust of citizens has become so great that any money not controlled or certified by the state is assumed to be the product of a reprehensible act. Cash has suddenly started to stink. It's no longer regarded as the fruit of honest labor or compensation that citizens would like to hold onto.

In Switzerland, anyone carrying an amount equal or greater to 10,000 Swiss francs (9,670 euros) must be able to furnish justification to the authorities. And this limit risks being reduced. Still, it's worth noting that there is a clear distinction between East and West: In Europe, suspicion can be prompted by the sale of a watch, while in Asian countries it's not unusual to purchase a building using cash.

"The sphere of private life does not exclude fiscal honesty," Andreas Lusser writes in his book Objections: Why Our Money Deserves Privacy.

When Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky was condemned to a penal colony in Siberia, he gave birth to the phrase, "Money is coined freedom."

A resistance movement is in the works to reject this Orwellian nightmare, this notion of total transparency for citizens. Private life is protected by dollars and coins, and it's worth defending.

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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