Friday, November 18, 2016
Yesterday, banking giant UBS proposed that eliminating Australia’s $100 and $50 bills would be “good for the economy and good for the banks.”
(How convenient that a bank would propose something that’s good for banks!)
This isn’t the first time that the financial establishment has pushed for a cashless society in Australia (or anywhere else).
In September 2015, Australian bank Westpac published its “Cash Free Report”, suggesting that the country would become cashless by 2022.
In July 2016, Australian payments firm Tyro published an enormously self-serving blog post touting the benefits of a cashless society and saying, “it’s only a matter of time.”
Most notably, two days ago, Citibank (yes, THAT Citibank) announced that it was going cashless at some of its Australian branches.
The media and political establishments have chimed in as well.
In February of this year, the Sydney Morning Herald released a series of articles, some of which were written by officials from Australia’s Department of the Treasury, suggesting that eliminating cash will “save billions”, and that “moving to a cashless society is the next step for the Australian dollar”.
This is how it works.
The government, media, banks, and even academia have formed a single, unified chorus to push this idea out to consumers that “cashless” is good for everyone.
And it’s happening across the planet, from Australia to India to Europe to North America.
They’re partially right.
Going cashless probably will save a lot of money; paper currency is costly to transport in large quantities due to the need for security.
It’s also accurate to suggest that going cashless will be “good for the banks.”
As UBS pointed out yesterday, “de-monetizing” Australia’s $50 and $100 bills would force anyone holding those notes to deposit them back in the banking system.
Bank deposits would rise as a result, and consequently, so would bank profits.
Governments would benefit from a cashless society because all savings would be in the banking system, and they have full regulatory control over the banks.
This means that your politicians would have more control over your savings and fewer obstacles to impose capital controls or engage in Civil Asset Forfeiture.
Even policy wonk academics would have a rare opportunity to take their lousy theories and PhD dissertations for a test drive.
Everyone benefits from a cashless society… except for you.
For individuals, cash still has plenty of important advantages.
Cash is one of the few remaining options for financial privacy that doesn’t create a permanent record of every purchase or transaction you make.
It’s also an easy way to reduce your exposure to risks in the broader financial system.
Think about it– the banking system is full of institutions that never miss an opportunity to demonstrate they cannot be trusted with our money.
Hardly a month goes by without some major banking scandal; they’re caught colluding on exchange rates, manipulating interest rates, fraudulently establishing fake accounts without customer consent (and then charging us fees on top of that).
In addition, bank safety is far from certain.
In many banking systems across the world (especially in Europe right now), banks have precariously low levels of capital and are already suffering the effects of negative interest rates.
Even in the United States, banks routinely employ very clever accounting tricksto conceal their true financial condition.
There’s also the fact that, the moment you make a deposit at a bank, it’s no longer your money. It becomes the bank’s money.
And they can do with it as they please, whether it’s freezing you out of your account or making idiotic investments with minimal reserve requirements.
You have no say in the matter.
As a bank depositor, you’re nothing more than an unsecured creditor of a financial institution which may or may not allow you to withdraw your own savings.
If you don’t believe me, take a trip down to your bank and ask to withdraw $25,000. See how quickly they treat you like a criminal terrorist.
Bottom line, conventional banking is not risk-free. And holding cash is one way to reduce that risk.
Cash essentially eliminates the middleman between you and your savings… at least, the portion of your savings that can be easily exchanged for goods and services in the economy.
Cash is a pitiful store of value over the long-term. Precious metals and other real assets are much better alternatives.
But we still can’t walk into Starbucks and pay for a cup of coffee with a quarter-ounce silver coin.
So until that day comes, cash remains an asset that you’ll want to hold.
Just make sure you don’t go overboard. The War on Cash is very real. So if you have more than a couple of months worth of living expenses, you’re taking on unnecessary risk.
Also, keep the denominations low.
As the case with India shows (see the photo), governments have no compunction about violating the public trust with immediate effect and without warning.
So if you’re in the US, don’t keep a mountain of $100 bills in your safe. Keep 10s, 20s, and 50s.
If you’re in Europe, definitely avoid the 500 and 200 euro notes, opt for 20s and 50s.
Credit to zero Hedge
Chaos in the Wake of the Ban
Here is a link to Part 1, about what happened in the first two days after India’s government made Rs 500 (~$7.50) and Rs 1,000 (~$15) banknotes illegal. They can now only be converted to Rs 100 (~$1.50) or lower denomination notes, at bank branches or post offices. Banks were closed the first day after the decision. What follows is the crux of what has happened over the subsequent four days.
India’s prime minister Nahendra Modi, author of the recent overnight currency ban
Today India is on the verge of a major social-political crisis, unless either the government backs off from the decision of banning the currency or some real magic happens. There is chaos in the streets and daily life is slowly but surely coming to a full halt.
What Modi did was not only heavy-handed, hugely arrogant, and of no value, it has been very badly implemented to boot — as everything in India always is — and carries the real potential of escalating and snowballing into something horrific. They could have seen that this was not going to end well by simply using primary school math.
Modi, Nationalism, and the Public School-Indoctrinated Middle Class
India today is like a cult under the influence of Narendra Modi — in which unlike in the past, not the poorest or uneducated citizens, but mostly members of the so-called educated middle class participate. Over the last two decades, people have been exposed to mass education, TV and nationalistic propaganda without being taught an iota of critical thinking skills.
In a society in which the concept of reason does not exist, this has made these people receptive to any kind of propaganda with a nationalistic or Hindutvabent. (Hindutva = fanatical Hinduism, which is rapidly metastasizing).
To aggrandize his position, Modi ordered a lot of military-hardware that India cannot afford, escalated tensions with Pakistan, and conducted what was very likely a fake surgical strike inside Pakistan. This united Indians under the flag.
Now, the demonetization of the Rs 500 and Rs 1000 banknotes was tagged with nationalism, anti-corruption, and anti-terrorism. Simple-minded, slogan-susceptible persons were hardwired to accept an erroneous causality. Those who did not go along were made to be afraid of being called pro-terrorist elements.
Those in the middle class have taken what they deem to be the higher moral ground, for they have mostly avoided suffering from the demonetization. Lacking moral instincts — which is unfortunately the case with much of Indian society, given its deep-rooted irrationality and superstitions — they cannot see or feel the pain of those who are suffering, even if that suffering stares into their faces.
But events are in motion that will likely very soon lead to these salaried members of the middle class starting to feel the pain as well. Their instinctive trust in Modi is likely within weeks of coming crashing down, not because of reasoned argument, but because they will be facing similar problems as the ones the common man is now facing.
Conversion to the New Currency
I went to convert my banned banknotes into new ones. The largest amount one can have converted is Rs 4,000 ($60), until further notice. There was a huge rush of people at the bank. Arguments were erupting, as people refused to stand in queues and the banks gave no explanation of what needed to be done. Fights were breaking out.
Amid the chaos I finally learned that there were three queues I had to go through in a sequence. I had to get a form from one counter, which I had to fill in with my name and address, my ID card details, the serial numbers of all the bills I wanted to exchange, and my cell-phone number.
At the second counter, I then had to present the completed form along with a photocopy of my ID card. I had to sign on the photocopy which an official then stamped. With my banknotes, the form and the photocopy of my ID card, I then went to the next queue to get my currency converted at a third counter. The whole process took about two hours. For most people in the busier parts of the cities, it took much longer.
Day 1 of the banks opening. Poor, desperate people, whom the government treats like slaves or perhaps insects. Somehow these people have been brainwashed into thinking they live in a free country. My granddad kept photographs of British royalty on the walls of his office until his final days, for he had realized that the British had treated him much better.
Anyone who thinks that a country which wastes two hours of every citizen’s life to convert his own $60 can ever hope to be an economic power is drinking too much Kool-Aid and cannot do primary level math. Forget any possibility of removing unaccounted for money or reducing corruption, what Modi is doing is a recipe for the destruction of whatever legitimate economy there is.
That same afternoon, I went to the post office with a friend who wanted to get his money converted. After waiting a long time there, we found out that the post office had run out of cash. Since then most ATMs have had limited amounts of cash available and banks keep running out of cash as well.
The queues have continued to grow. People start lining up late into the night waiting for banks to open and still have to go back home with no cash. What started with two hours of queuing is becoming an endless slog now.
An endless queue to convert Rs 4,000 (USD 60). Will they actually go home with their new cash?
The Problems Go Much Deeper
Half of India’s citizens do not have a bank account and around 25% do not even have an ID card. These are the country’s poorest people, who have no way of converting their money – even if they learn how to do it, which is already a nigh insurmountable hurdle. Also, those who are old, disabled or sick have no choice but to suffer, for without personally visiting a bank branch office, one cannot convert one’s banknotes.
An old disabled woman struggling to get her money converted. One has to be utterly heartless not to feel angry about the situation.
97% of the Indian economy is cash-based. With 88% of all outstanding currency no longer usable, the economy is coming to a standstill. The daily-wage laborer, who leads a hand-to-mouth existence in a country with GDP per capita of a mere $1,600, no longer has work, as his employer has no cash to pay his wages. His life is in utter chaos. He is not as smart as Modi — despite the fact that Modi has no real life experience except as a bully and perhaps in his early days as a tea-seller at a train-station. He has no clue where his life is headed from here.
These people are going hungry, and some have begun to raid food shops. People are dying for lack of treatment at hospitals. Old people are dying in the endless queues. Some are killing themselves, as they are unable to comprehend the situation and simply don’t know what to do. There are now hundreds of such stories in the media.
Small businesses are in shambles, and many will probably never recover. The Hindu wedding season has just started and people are left with unusable banknotes. Their personal and family lives are now an utter disaster.
Why This Problem Will Get Much Worse
Let us do a few simple numbers… What has been made illegal comprises 88% of the monetary value of all currency notes in circulation. In an economy based primarily on cash, the liquidity of cash is the lifeline of the economy. This requires that 88% of the new currency be rapidly dispersed into the market.
The Indian government has absolutely no history of being able to entertain a project of this type or magnitude ever and after the British left, India’s institutions have continued to deteriorate, so hope is not an option. If they fail to issue enough new bills, the very limited supply of Rs 100 notes will disappear within a few days.
As any rational person has a tendency to store good money while using bad money in transactions, people will hide all newly released currency as well as Rs 100 banknotes until full liquidity is restored. The rich and the well-connected have already done what was needed.
A reminder of Gresham’s law for Modi: “Bad money drives out good money.”
Those who have no need to convert their money as all their cash is already in the banking system (as is the case with the salaried middle class), which they think is making them look like a heroes in the eyes of Modi and is giving them a sense of moral superiority – they are nothing but turkeys being groomed.
Banks are giving out a mere Rs 20,000 ($300) a week at best. Their lives will suffer and for all intents and purposes, their accounts are frozen. This is Cyprus ten times over – they just haven’t realized it yet.
Whichever way one looks at the above numbers, India’s economy is going to start suffocating, within weeks, if not within days. And a serious political and social crisis will take place, which will eventually acquire a life of its own. That is when the as of yet unperturbed salaried middle class wakes up with pain.
As in any irrational system, it is not reason and morality that will have convinced them to scuttle their hypocrisy and limited vision, but the violence and pain that they themselves will suffer.
Credit to Zero Hedge