Sweden quickly moving to Cashless Society
Written by Alex Newman
Monday, 20 September 2010 00:00
The move toward a cashless society is accelerating in Sweden as plastic
payments become the norm and various government officials, unions, and
high-profile Swedes push for a ban on cash, supposedly to reduce
robberies. But opposition to the proposal is mounting as well.
Swedish buses have already stopped accepting cash after a series of
robberies. Commuters must now pay at a separate store before getting on
the bus, or use a cell phone. The next targets for the anti-cash
movement are banks and retailers.
When asked about a retail cash ban, Swedish Work Environment Authority
(Arbetsmiljverket) boss Mikael Sjberg refused to rule out the
possibility. "It just depends on how risky the situation is. We have
very extensive possibilities to explore," he told a Swedish labor union
publication cited by TheLocal.se, an English news service in Sweden.
"It is not acceptable that people go to work in fear and concerned that
they could be subject to a robbery,” said Sjberg. A spokesman for the
Work Environment Authority, Bernt Nilsson, acknowledged that it would
take at least several more years to prepare the transition. But
progress is being made.
Numerous Swedish officials have also been busy demonizing cash,
attempting to link it with criminality, the black market, the “shadow”
economy, and thieves. And so, pressure is building to do something
Unions are also helping to lead the charge toward a cashless Sweden.
"If we can reduce the amount of cash in the banks and in society in
general, robberies will also be reduced," Marie Look with the Swedish
bank workers' union told the BBC for a recent article.
"If in the long term we abandon cash completely, there will be no
robberies, because there's no point in robbing a bank if there's no
cash there to steal,” she added, perhaps not realizing that the workers
she purports to represent would mostly lose their jobs under a cashless
regime. Other unions are pushing the issue, too.
And even some Swedish celebrities are joining in. "There are no direct
practical reasons, as far as I can see, to have coins and banknotes,"
wrote Abba star Bjorn Ulvaeus in a recent blog post. "There are obvious
advantages in getting rid of them. Sweden should be able to be the
first country in the world to do this."
The Swedish central bank has remained neutral so far, though its
second-in-command said earlier this year that cash was more expensive
But not everybody in the Nordic country of nine million — one of the
few eligible nations that voted not to join the single European
currency union — is excited or neutral about the prospect of a cashless
society. Opposition to abolishing cash has already started to spring
up. And as the calls grow louder, criticism is building.
"If it's impossible to pay cash when you buy stuff, it's also
impossible not to leave electronic footprints behind you, and the
electronic footprints from what you buy put together can tell the
entire story about your life. This can be very sensitive information,"
Par Strom of the New Welfare Foundation in Stockholm told the BBC.
"Most people don't want this total surveillance society."
Countless critics have argued that the government’s failure to properly
prevent and punish crimes is the real problem, not the existence and
use of cash. Of course, Swedes are also disarmed for the most part, and
even those with weapons are forbidden to use them in self-defense, let
alone to protect property.
Other opponents point out that homeless beggars, churches with their
collection plates, street entertainers, and countless others would
likely be devastated by such a scheme. But government power-mongers
don’t seem concerned.
“Cash is one of the alleged banes of society that has long been in the
sights of statist control-freaks everywhere,” notes analyst Pater
“Fear not though — no government can really eliminate cash anyway, even
though many would probably like to do so,” he says. “The reason is that
the shadow economy would then simply move toward using the cash issued
by a foreign nation, or would move to a gold payment system.” While the
government could and probably would outlaw such schemes, Tenebrarum
still doesn’t believe it would stop underground trade.
He argues that a ban on cash would lead to Swedes suffering from
decreased living standards. And it almost certainly would. By shutting
down the “shadow” economy — a phenomenon frequently observed in
countries with massive governments — goods and services would become
far more expensive. The list of problems is virtually endless.
Cash, Tenebrarum points out, also allows people to partially extricate
themselves from the inherently unstable fractional-reserve banking
system. And so, for those reasons and others, “such attempts by the
bureaucratic nanny state to encroach upon the rights of allegedly free
people should always be resisted,” he writes.
Other critics have simply ridiculed the proposals. Swedish Work
Environment Authority boss "Mikael Sjberg is hilarious, he should get a
medal. Better yet, he should run for Prime Minister,” wrote a
commentator after reading an article about the measure. “Do these
politicos ever think before they speak. There should be a ‘Tax’ on dumb
ideas. We should not have to be subjected to their idiocy, day after
But despite the criticism and fervent opposition, judging by current
trends, a cashless society could be close at hand. Credit and debit
cards now dominate payments in Sweden and in most of the developed
world. And the propensity to use plastic instead of cash is only
Cell phones are also increasingly being used for payments, especially
in Sweden. Eye scans and fingerprints linked to accounts are making
headway in trade too. In other parts of Europe, certain nightclubs are
even using gimmicks to entice their customers into being micro chipped
to pay for drinks. The amount is simply deducted from the electronic
chips implanted under their skin. That trend, too, is accelerating,
with some people taking chips to provide "security" or easy access to
their medical records as well.
The dangers of a cashless society are huge and cannot be ignored:
Everything would be tracked and controlled; privacy would be
non-existent; the government would be close to omniscient; people could
be literally shut off; electrical problems, electronic warfare, and
hackers could bring trade and civilization to a standstill; and much
more. Therefore, such a regime must be prevented.