The war on cash is escalating. Just a week ago, the infamous Willem Buiter, along with Ken Rogoff, voiced their support for a restriction (or ban altogether) on the use of cash (something that was already been implemented in Louisiana in 2011 for used goods). Today, as Mises' Jo Salerno reports, the war has acquired a powerful new ally in Chase, the largest bank in the U.S., which has enacted a policy restricting the use of cash in selected markets; bans cash payments for credit cards, mortgages, and auto loans; and disallows the storage of "any cash or coins" in safe deposit boxes.
Buiter defended his "controversial" call for a ban on cash, as Bloomberg reports:
“The world’s central banks have a problem. When economic conditions worsen, they react by reducing interest rates in order to stimulate the economy. But, as has happened across the world in recent years, there comes a point where those central banks run out of room to cut — they can bring interest rates to zero, but reducing them further below that is fraught with problems, the biggest of which is cash in the economy.
In a new piece, Citi’s Willem Buiter looks at this problem, which is known as the effective lower bound (ELB) on nominal interest rates. Fundamentally, the ELB problem comes down to cash. According to Buiter, the ELB only exists at all due to the existence of cash, which is a bearer instrument that pays zero nominal rates. Why have your money on deposit at a negative rate that reduces your wealth when you can have it in cash and suffer no reduction? Cash therefore gives people an easy and effective way of avoiding negative nominal rates. Buiter’s note suggests three ways to address this problem:
- Abolish currency.
- Tax currency.
- Remove the fixed exchange rate between currency and central bank reserves/deposits.
Yes, Buiter’s solution to cash’s ability to allow people to avoid negative deposit rates is to abolish cash altogether. (Note that he’s far from being the first to float this idea. Ken Rogoff has given his endorsement to the idea as well, as have others.)
Before looking at the practicalities of abolishing currency, we should first look at whether it could ever be necessary. Due to the costs of holding large amounts of cash, Buiter puts the actual nominal rate at which the move to cash makes sense as closer to -100bp. So, in order for a cash abolition to become necessary, central banks would need to be in a position where they wished to set nominal rates much lower than that.
Buiter does not have to go far to find an example of where a central bank may have wanted to set interest rates much lower to -100bp. He uses (a fairly aggressive) Taylor Rule to show that Federal Reserve rates should have been as low as -6 percent during the financial crisis.”
As mentioned above, no meddling by a central bank is ever too extreme or too crazy for Mr. Buiter.
But now the banks themselves are getting involved, (as Mises' Joseph Salerno notes),
The war against cash has, up to now, been waged almost exclusively by national governments and official international organizations, although there are exceptions. Now the war has acquired a powerful new ally in Chase, the largest bank in the U.S. and a subsidiary of JP Morgan Chase and Co., according to Forbes, the world's third largest public company.
Of course , it is hardly surprising that a crony capitalist fractional-reserve bank, which received $25 billion in bailout loans from the U.S. Treasury, should want to curry favor with its regulators and political masters and, in the process, ensure its own stability by helping to stamp out the use of cash. For the very existence of cash places the power over fractional-reserve banks squarely in the hands of their depositors who may withdraw their cash in any amount and at any time, bringing even the mightiest bank to its knees literally overnight (e.g., Washington Mutual).
What is a surprise is how little notice the rollout of Chase's new policy has received.
- As of March, Chase began restricting the use of cash in selected markets, including Greater Cleveland.
- The new policy restricts borrowers from using cash to make payments on credit cards, mortgages, equity lines, and auto loans.
- Chase even goes as far as to prohibit the storage of cash in its safe deposit boxes . In a letter to its customers dated April 1, 2015 pertaining to its "Updated Safe Deposit Box Lease Agreement," one of the highlighted items reads: "You agree not to store any cash or coins other than those found to have a collectible value." Whether or not this pertains to gold and silver coins with no numismatic value is not explained.
As one observer commented:
This policy is unusual but, since Chase is the nation's largest bank, I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing more of this in this era of sensitivity about funding terrorists and other illegal causes.
Bet on it.
We keep being bombarded by moves to restrict the use of cash and demands to ban it altogether. These demands seem to mainly revolve around two arguments:
one is that “only criminals need cash”, which is on a par with the absurd assertion that we should all be fine with Stasi-like ubiquitous government surveillance “if we have nothing to hide”.
The other one is that a cash ban would make life easier for the central planners who are actively undermining the economy with their policy of debasement.
We would argue that central banking and fiat money have done more than enough harm already and that the eradication of financial privacy has gone way too far. Money and banking should be freed from the clutches of government-directed monopolization and cartelization and should be returned to the free market.
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In short, things in the already insane monetary realm are about to get a whole lot insane-er. But don't worry, the central banks are in full control.