I was in Vancouver last week for a couple of days and I went out of my way to not spend any cash. I paid for my hotel with a credit card, used a cell phone for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and walked to a meeting so I wouldn’t need to pay for a taxi. I didn’t want the hassle of trying to spend my Canadian dollars at the last minute; I usually end up with Canadian coins with no recourse other than to “collect” them.
But staying cashless in Canada meant I missed out on the last penny. As of today, the Canadian mint will no longer make the penny. People won’t be able to use that coin at the store for purchases. Instead the clerks will round up or down the sale price to the nearest nickel. (Credit card or check purchases will still be the exact amount.)
I have been writing a lot about saving programs from the budget axe. This is a good example of something that would be easy to do, save a significant sum of money, and send a signal that it’s OK to end traditions of the past.
The United States now spends twice as much on production of the penny, and the nickel, than the coins are worth. It also makes no sense to print dollars. We should have done what Canada did twenty-five years ago with the Loonie and Twonie, the one and two dollar coins.
Slate magazine says the U.S. loss on the penny and nickel is about $116 million. However the magazine says the U.S. could really save money – big money — by eliminating cash all together. That would force people to use electronic transactions for everything. One study says it would save 1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, roughly, $150 billion.
Sweden is already giving up on cash. Bjoern Ulvaeus, former member of 1970’s pop group ABBA, and a vocal proponent for a world without cash, told The Associated Press last year, “I can’t see why we should be printing bank notes at all anymore.” (Funny, one of ABBA’s hits was, “Money, Money, Money.”)
It’s no longer possible to use cash for public buses, most business, and even some banks. There are entire towns where it’s impossible to transact business with cash, The AP reports.
A cashless society would be a hurdle for many people on the reservation. I still know people who dislike banks, let alone, turning everything into a digit. But I also think there is an opportunity. Tribes could create “cash” cards, electronic devices for tribal members that would make transactions easier. And that has been the experience in Sweden. Elderly and rural are the most resistant to a cashless society, even some stores continue to accept paper and coins as a service. It could be the same in Indian Country.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at: