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A cashless society describes an economic state whereby financial transactions are not conducted with money in the form of physical banknotes or coins, but rather through the transfer of digital information (usually an electronic representation of money) between the transacting parties. Cashless societies have existed, based on barter and other methods of exchange, and cashless transactions have also become possible using digital currencies such as bitcoin. However this article discusses and focuses on the term "cashless society" in the sense of a move towards, and implications of, a society where cash is replaced by its digital equivalent - in other words, legal tender (money) exists, is recorded, and is exchanged only in electronic digital form.
Such a concept has been discussed widely, particularly because the world is experiencing a rapid and increasing use of digital methods of recording, managing, and exchanging money in commerce, investment and daily life in many parts of the world, and transactions which would historically have been undertaken with cash are often now undertaken electronically. Some countries now set limits on transactions and transaction values for which non-electronic payment may be legally used.
The trend towards use of non-cash transactions and settlement began in daily life during the 1990s, when electronic banking became popular. By the 2010s digital payment methods were widespread in many countries, with examples including intermediaries such as Paypal, digital wallet systems operated by companies like Apple, contactless and NFC payments by electronic card or smartphone, and electronic bills and banking, all in widespread use. By the 2010s cash had become actively disfavored in some kinds of transaction which would historically have been very ordinary to pay with physical tender, and larger cash amounts were in some situations treated with suspicion, due to its versatility and ease of use in money laundering and financing of terrorism, and actively prohibited by some suppliers and retailers, to the point of coining the expression of a "war on cash". By 2016 in the UK it is now reported that 1 in 7 people no longer carries or use cash.
It has also been described as a highly controversial and at times a "sinister" or "creepy" move and as a concept connected to negative interest rates, banking transaction tax and a global taxation regime, since such a move would be both potentially useful and potentially socially dangerous, with widespread implications for society. It has potential to be very helpful for central governments and economies, in the context of global negative inflation and quantative easing, and central control of the money supply. However a loss of cash also transfers complete control of transactions, interest, and individual use of money, and information about these, to the nation state and third party providers, since the individual cannot avoid their money being held in an external system capable of regulation and control. Many countries have regulated, restricted, or banned private digital currencies such as Bitcoin. While supposedly helpful to the global economy and in fighting against crime and terrorism, many concerns have been raised over "dangerous" unintended consequences. It would mean that negative interest rates can be fully enforced, and money could be controlled in great detail. For example, some kinds of money might be set to "expire" and be worthless if not spent in specific ways or by specific times, or to devalue gradually. It also makes individual savings, and information about individual incomes and transactions, accessible to any party able to access the records - either legitimately (police and tax related) or not (hackers and persons with access to the relevant data), and in this way, it facilitates population surveillance. It also means that groups, individuals and causes could be deprived of cash by the simple expedient of preventing their access to cashless transaction media.