Six months since Larry Summers first suggested "it's time to kill the $100 bill," and three months after The ECB actually killed the €500 Note, another Harvard scholar is reinvigorating the war on cash. Amid claims that paper money fuels corruption, terrorism, tax evasion, and illegal immigration, Ken Rogoff (ironically of "It's Different This Time" infamy) says the US should get rid of the $100 bill (and $50s and $20s) proposing, in his words, "a 'less-cash' society, not a cashless one, at least for the foreseeable future."
According to the esteemed ivory tower academic, paper currency lies at the heart of some of today’s most intractable public-finance and monetary problems. As Rogoff explains in The Wall Street Journal, getting rid of most of it - that is, moving to a society where cash is used less frequently and mainly for small transactions - could be a big help.
Rogoff's begins by stating factoids as facts...
There is little debate among law-enforcement agencies that paper currency, especially large notes such as the U.S. $100 bill, facilitates crime: racketeering, extortion, money laundering, drug and human trafficking, the corruption of public officials, not to mention terrorism. There are substitutes for cash—cryptocurrencies, uncut diamonds, gold coins, prepaid cards—but for many kinds of criminal transactions, cash is still king. It delivers absolute anonymity, portability, liquidity and near-universal acceptance. It is no accident that whenever there is a big-time drug bust, the authorities typically find wads of cash.
Cash is also deeply implicated in tax evasion, which costs the federal government some $500 billion a year in revenue. According to the Internal Revenue Service, a lot of the action is concentrated in small cash-intensive businesses, where it is difficult to verify sales and the self-reporting of income. By contrast, businesses that take payments mostly by check, bank card or electronic transfer know that it is much easier for tax authorities to catch them dissembling. Though the data are much thinner for state and local governments, they too surely lose big-time from tax evasion, perhaps as much as $200 billion a year.
Cash also lies at the core of the illegal immigration problem in the U.S. If American employers couldn’t so easily pay illegal workers off the books in cash, the lure of jobs would abate, and the flow of illegal immigrants would shrink drastically. Needless to say, phasing out most cash would be a far more humane and sensible way of discouraging illegal immigration than constructing a giant wall.
So to clarify - Cash (and Donald Trump) are at the center of all of America's and the world's ills and therefore - as a PhD who knows best - we must destroy it (for your own good)...
Obviously, scaling back cash is not going to change human nature, and there are other ways to dodge taxes and run illegal businesses. But there can be no doubt that flooding the underground economy with paper currency encourages illicit behavior.
To be clear, I am proposing a “less-cash” society, not a cashless one, at least for the foreseeable future. The first stage of the transition would involve very gradually phasing out large denomination bills that constitute the bulk of the currency supply. Of the more than $4,200 in cash that is circulating outside financial institutions for every man, woman and child in the U.S., almost 80% of it is in $100 bills. In turn, $50 and $20 bills would also be phased out, though $10s, $5s and $1s would be kept indefinitely. Today these smaller bills constitute just 3% of the value of the currency supply.
The point of getting rid of big bills is to make it harder to carry and store large amounts. A million dollars in $100 bills weighs approximately 22 pounds and can fit comfortably into a large shopping bag. With $10 bills, it isn’t so easy. Think of lugging around 220 pounds in a giant chest. Hoarders and tax evaders would find small notes proportionately costlier to count, verify, handle and store. The use of cash could be further discouraged by putting restrictions on the maximum size of cash payments allowed in retail sales.
But we need to think of the poorest people (oh wait so what you mean is, we really only care about ensuring those with any 'real' money are unable to easily transport it away from the soon-to-be-pernicious banking system?):
If cash is so bad, why retain small bills of $10 and under? For one thing, cash still accounts for more than half of retail purchases under $10, though the share fades off sharply as payment size rises, with debit cards, credit cards, electronic transfers and checks all far more important than cash for (legal, tax-compliant) payments over $100.
Retaining small notes alleviates a host of problems that might arise if cash were eliminated entirely. For example, cash is still handy if a hurricane or natural disaster knocks out the power grid. Most disaster-preparation manuals call for people to keep some cash on hand, warning that ATMs might be paralyzed.
But times are changing. Nowadays, cell towers and large retail stores typically have backup generators, allowing them to process bank cards during a power outage. And there are always checks. In due time, smartphone technology is likely to overtake all other media, and one can always keep a spare charging cell for emergencies.
And finally - Rogoff explains why sacrificing your personal privacy for the greater good is what really matters, because otherwise are you really a patriot??
Perhaps the most challenging and fundamental objection to getting rid of cash has to do with privacy—with our ability to spend anonymously.
But where does one draw the line between this individual right and the government’s need to tax and regulate and to enforce the law? Most of us wouldn’t want to clamp down on someone’s right to make the occasional $200 purchase in complete privacy. But what about a $50,000 car or a $1 million apartment? We should be able to reduce the problems I’ve described here while also ensuring that ordinary people can still use small bills for convenience in everyday transactions.
So, summing up - it appears Rogoff has identified the true evil behind today's dismal economy - cash - and suggests a "just the tip" approach to solving this with a "less-cash" society... which we are sure will never go any further than that... If you like your $10 bill, you can keep it...
Go ahead and cut, then: after all who really needs the Benjamins, right? Think of the criminal cost savings... Well, as we noted previously, here's the thing:
As the Treasury chart above shows, $100 bills account for for $1.08 trillion of the $1.38 trillion total in circulation. So should the Fed react to the ECB's "scrapping" of the €500 bill, which accounts for 30% of the value of currency in circulation, then the Fed would respond in kind, by eliminating 78% of all paper currency in circulation by value.
Not a bad way to launch a global ban on paper currency ahead of a global NIRP regime, and all, of course, in the name of fighting "tax evasion, financial crime, terrorism and corruption."
Of course, there is one 'asset' in which to store wealth that is easier to transport than shoeboxes of dollar-bills...
But then again, they can always confiscate that too... (but as we noted previously, even that might be different this time)...
Today, only a tiny fraction of the U.S. population owns gold. Heck, I’d bet most Americans have never even seen a gold coin, much less appreciate its value.
This wasn’t the case in 1933, when the U.S. was still on a variation of the gold standard. That’s why the government probably won’t repeat the 1933 rip-off. It’s simply not worth the effort.
If the government wants to confiscate wealth, it’s far more likely to go for the easy option… steadily debasing the currency by printing money. It’s a stealthy way to confiscate from savers.
That doesn’t mean gold owners are in the clear.
I think the government will try a new scam: taxing windfall profits on gold. This would make it much easier for the government to accomplish something similar to its 1933 heist.
There’s precedence for it, too. In 1980, Congress passed the Crude Oil Windfall Profit Tax Act, which taxed up to 70% of “windfall profits” of domestic oil producers.
What the heck is a windfall profit anyway?
As far as I can tell, it’s whatever politicians decide it is. It’s completely arbitrary. There are no objective measures to define it.
In short, a windfall profit is simply a profit politicians don’t like. The whole concept is a scam—a word trick to camouflage and sanitize legalized theft.
If the price of gold explodes, don't be surprised if Congress passes a Fair Share Gold Windfall Profit Tax Act levying a tax of 80%, 90%, or more on gold profits.