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The EU’s cash crackdown is a step towards a surveillance state

Politicians and Governments have had it in for cash for quite a while, for a whole range of reasons, but one above all others: It is, by and large, untraceable. This makes it perfect if you want to hide your wealth from the Government, or engage in crime, or avoid taxes like VAT, or do a whole range of other things that the Government does not like. Electronic payments, of course, have the great advantage of being entirely traceable, and permanently recorded. The tax man (or woman) will be able to see, for the rest of eternity, that €7.99 you spent in centra on a bottle of coke and a frozen pizza. He or she will be able to see it in the shop’s accounts, too, and charge the right amount of VAT and income tax.

In other words, if you are in Government, you have an incentive to do away with cash. And, to apply one of the universal laws of humanity, if it is good for the Government, it is almost certainly bad for you, and me:

Cash payments over €10,000 for transactions such as car purchases, home improvements or funeral bills will be banned under EU rules expected to come into force within three years.

The EU legislation is being considered in an attempt to clamp down on cross-border money laundering on a wider European basis.

Don’t believe the “ten thousand euro limit”, by the way, and think “oh well, that won’t affect me, it is just for drug dealers and such”. Ten thousand is where it will start. Then in a few years it will be five thousand. Then two and a half. Then five hundred. Then a hundred. That is how these things have proceeded since the dawn of time, and how they will always proceed. The intention, and direction of travel, is much more important than where you start.

We should all be opposed to this. Not because tax evasion or crime are good (they are, in fact, mostly bad, aside from not paying the TV licence, which is your patriotic duty) but because there should always be limits on the power of Government. The principle of the cashless society is that the Government should have the power to observe and monitor all financial transactions in order to prevent crime. But once you accept that principle, what is the argument against allowing the Government to observe and monitor all phone calls, for the same purpose? What is the argument against allowing them to track vehicles with GPS monitoring, to make sure that nobody ever breaks the speed limit?

One of the downsides of a single currency across multiple countries is that cash can easily and illicitly be transported, and spent, across borders. In fact, that was one of the foundational appeals of the euro: No more visits to the bureau de change every time you visited Italy, or Spain. But getting rid of cash, and limiting its use, completely undermines that. After all, once you have a credit or a debit card, currencies become basically meaningless: You can swipe your card in Belfast and pay in Sterling without even noticing. Without cash, the single currency has no practical impact on anybody’s life in Europe, aside from removing an excuse for banks to charge currency conversion fees.

This is, then, a policy proposal which is not designed to benefit you. It is not designed to expand your rights, or your freedoms. It is designed, incrementally, to bring your life further under the control and observation of the government, and to limit your theoretical freedom to do things that Governments mislike. When Governments propose such things, even in the name of good public policy, they should be opposed. In this case, it is an EU proposal, which makes it even harder to oppose, since those responsible for it will never take responsibility for it, and will even claim, if pressed, that they opposed it. Like much bad law that comes from Europe, nobody who is directly accountable to you at the ballot box will ever take credit for bringing it in.

But in so far as it is possible, those with the power and platform to oppose this measure should oppose it fiercely. The direction of travel, at the moment, is towards ever fewer freedoms, and ever more surveillance. We will come to regret it, and miss the freedoms that were once ours.

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