The beginning of the end of hard cash

DALLAS HANSEN / Winnipeg Free Press | October 24 2006

RESPONDING to a recent rash of robberies, Salisbury House, that most Winnipeg of culinary institutions, has declared it no longer wants your paper money after 10 p.m. Would-be robbers are thus advised to arrive before then.
Seriously, what happens when Sal’s gets robbed at 9:30? Will they scale back the cash ban another hour? What if there’s a hold-up during lunch hour? Will they move to refuse cash altogether?

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m a cash-only sort of fellow. I don’t have a credit card or an ATM card. I like to see my money disappear when I spend it.

Thus it’ll be interesting to see what happens the next time I roll in with a case of the midnight munchies and ravage a Three Cheese Double Nip plate. The process cheddar, mozza, and swiss will still be warm in my belly when the staff gets stuck with my handwritten IOU for $7.49 plus tax.

There are a number of reasons I don’t pay for things via debit card or credit card. My financial institution does not need to know I’m addicted to energy drinks or that I occasionally buy a copy of British Vogue. When, instead of handing over the cash, I swipe the stripe, the expenditure seems less tangible than when I have to part with my paper. Thus I end up spending more. Moreover, most banks apply service charges to debit card transactions. It’s bad enough the government taxes everything I buy — I would rather my bank didn’t as well. Thus I scissored my debit card years ago and have never regretted doing so.

Should a business be permitted to refuse legal tender? I think not. Cash rules, or at least it used to, and the currency of the Bank of Canada should be respected by all merchants open to the public. Actually, despite my general distaste for government regulation, I would prefer to see a federal law mandating that businesses must accept cash payments. To discriminate against cash-holders is a disgraceful practice.
While I sympathize with Salisbury House for being a frequent target of crime, have they ever heard of a drop safe? Seems to work for 7-Eleven. Regardless, during the recent robbery at Sal’s Fermor Avenue and St. Anne’s Road location, the robbers, according to a Winnipeg Police Service news release, “allegedly went from person to person, physically assaulting them and taking their money.” That is, they robbed not only the restaurant, but the restaurant patrons themselves, à la Pulp Fiction. How would a no-cash policy have prevented this? Will Salisbury House next insist that customers’ wallets be empty in order for them to receive service?

Salisbury House has set an alarming precedent. I can’t help wondering, What’s the next step? How many other businesses will hop on the no-cash bandwagon? How many will refuse cash payments completely? Most importantly, what will that mean for the thousands of Winnipeggers, and out-of-towners, who, like myself, value their privacy, or just prefer to pay with paper?

As far as those cash-resistant merchants are concerned, we can go to Hades, or take our business elsewhere — to soon-to-be increasingly scarce cash-friendly merchants. There will be diminishing room for stubborn holdouts in this brave new world of commerce. If you don’t like your every transaction tracked and recorded into a database, too bad. You’ll need an ATM card or a credit card to be a legitimate member of society.

Sal’s has taken a step down a slippery slope at the bottom of which customers will be paying via thumbscan or microchip implant. Think I’m exaggerating? Go to Japan, where ATM withdrawals require a biometric palm-print scan. Or check out a company called Applied Digital Solutions, which touts the “secure payment” applications for its skin-implantable VeriChip — a product the company is currently pitching to the U.S. military for its entire armed forces as a replacement for their dog tags.

Even contemplating such a future seems ickier than a plate of Sal’s Liver & Onions sided with overcooked frozen veggies and rehydrated mashed potatoes. Or even a present when, after ordering my meal, my server tells me, “Your money’s no good here.”

Adbusters emulating the enemy

Dallas Hansen

winnipeg-free-press

WHEN in 1999, leftist protesters disrupted the World Trade Organization meetings in Seattle, it seemed to foreshadow a forthcoming decade of ideological showdowns. Where the angry mobs saw labour exploitation, environmental degradation, and malignant monoculture, the free-marketers saw the principles of comparative advantage and sustainable growth spreading a greater standard of living throughout the world.

How different were the last days of Clinton! Sometime before November, 1999, “globalism” had become a derogatory word; on North American campuses, radicalism was de rigueur. The party in Seattle launched a trend: Washington, D.C.; Quebec City, and Genoa would soon follow.

But on The Day the World Changed, everything changed.

Adbusters — a hip, glossy, Vancouver-based magazine for the activist set — had in the days following Sept. 11, 2001 faced calls to remove its “Corporate American Flag” from New York City’s Times Square. Rather than 50 stars, Adbusters’ flag was spangled with logos of such corporations as GE and Microsoft. While many readers’ politics were unfazed by the day’s tragedy, other radicals found themselves sufficiently in touch with their inner patriot to denounce Adbusters’ insensitivity in not immediately removing the seditious banner.

If, after Sept. 11, many students and workers lost their taste for radicalism, they were certainly fed a steady diet of reasons not only to maintain but to redouble their efforts. If, in 1999, American protesters were justifiably riled about sweatshop wages and fossil fuel emissions, their anger and numbers didn’t proportionately swell in response to the exponentially greater outrage that was their military’s invasion — without provocation and under the most transparent of pretexts — of a sovereign country. From 2004’s presidential election results, it seems some old radicals are now Republicans.

And why not? Between a runaway domestic surveillance infrastructure and increasingly prepared police, the stick has become more severe, while the old carrot — belonging to a powerful mass movement for change — is looking leaner than the ones you can buy earning a regular paycheque. With mass demonstrations increasingly impotent and dangerous, leftism has been forced to redefinition.

For Adbusters, this means emulating the enemy. Their January-February 2005 Special Year End Issue, The Big Ideas 2005, features a cover that so resembles The Economist’s “Year In Review” that I nearly mistook it for the latter. Some of their young readers should notice the satire; fewer will catch how similar these ostensible opposites actually are inside.

“Is the U.S. headed for fiscal Armageddon?” asks Adbusters, in a piece critical of President Bush’s deficit spending. The Economist, in less hyperbolic terms, has frequently lamented Mr. Bush’s red-ink budgets.

“Nothing short of a total revamp of the global economic system can save us from this looming ecocide,” says Adbusters, concluding a critique of China’s environmental policies. The Economist, too, has warned on Chinese pollution policy, but with a subtler presentation that made the case more convincingly. Outside student and academic circles, blatant, angry leftist rhetoric tends to be quickly dismissed.

Faced with the futility of a losing battle, Adbusters has abandoned all save for the pretense of trying to smash the system and has instead become a niche market within it. Following successful distribution of its T-shirts, calendars, posters, and videos, Adbusters’ “antiprenurial” movement has expanded to union-made hemp sneakers. A record label, a vodka, bio-diesel stations, and a caf are on the way. “Sedition, hot and fresh,” proclaims their vision of what promises to be a successful theme room.

In the days just before and after Sept. 11, I was an occasional visitor to the Adbusters Media Foundation house in Vancouver. My friend Richard DeGrandpr, a psychologist and author, was then an associate editor and had arranged for me to earn a bit as a part-time copy editor. I didn’t stay long. Maybe it was the incongruities: Subway lunches, Guess? jeans, Nike sneakers, wealthy Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn commuting by car. Hemp sneakers and fair trade coffee are undoubtedly fine products; if I had use for either I might be inclined to support worker-friendly vegan footwear and “a revolution in every cup.” But, unlike, say, Warner Bros. or Apple Computer, Adbusters is a brand I’m boycotting.

Originally published February 24, 2005