Nearly everyone can recall playing Monopoly as a child, and for many, the game served as their first exposure to handling different denominations of cash. It was exhilarating to have someone land on your Park Place property, complete with hotel, and in turn receive a fistful of $50s and $100s.
A new generation of players might never get the chance to experience this, however, as Hasbro Gaming just released an “Ultimate Banking” version of the popular board game that nixes the funny money in favor of play credit cards and an electronic scanner.
You could argue it’s just a game, but Monopoly has always had a reputation for being a reflection of capitalism as it operates in the “real” world (which is why it was banned in communist states such as the Soviet Union). The cashless version of the game is no exception, as it comes at a time when calls to limit—or in some cases eliminate—the use of cash are intensifying. And to be clear, “cash” here means cash in your pocket, not cash in the bank.
Just last week, former treasury secretary Larry Summers published an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing it’s time to “kill the $100 bill,” the reason being that it’s preferred by those involved in money-laundering, corruption and other illegal activity. (One million dollars denominated in $100 bills weighs 2.2 pounds, he points out, whereas the same amount in $20 bills weighs a much more cumbersome 50 pounds.) The European Union, he argues, should also consider getting rid of the 500-euro note, a position that’s echoed by European anti-fraud officials.
Having had the opportunity to hear Secretary Summers speak when I visited Harvard recently, I respect his opinion and believe his intentions are good. But ultimately the argument to eliminate the $100 bill is based on the presupposition that anyone using such a note is a drug trafficker or money launderer. This seems to go against one of the main tents of common law, namely, that we’re innocent until proven guilty.
The risks far outweigh the benefits when you consider where this anti-cash sentiment is leading us—a cashless society. As I discussed back in December regarding Sweden’s own trend toward a cashless economy, every transaction could be monitored, not to mention taxed and charged a fee. Accounts could be frozen, which, in a cashless world, would leave you with nothing.
I’ve experienced the inconvenience that sometimes comes with electronic transactions, as I’m sure many of you have. Occasionally my credit card couldn’t be read for one reason or another, and if you’re not carrying cash, what do you do? When I’m traveling, domestically or abroad, I always carry cash with me, and $100 bills are much more convenient than a pound of $20s.
Capital controls are nothing new, but they would be much easier to impose. In Colombia, a tax is levied on every transaction, whether it is a direct deposit from your employer, transfer of funds between accounts or a purchase. Since 2003, Venezuela’s government has significantly regulated the amount of money citizens can take with them on trips abroad, in effect blocking access to foreign travel.
Currently the limit is $2,000, but for travelers headed to the U.S., it drops to $700. This, along with a labyrinthine exchange rate (there are three), has only created a black market currency exchange. And since credit cards in Venezuela are issued by state-run banks, there’s no stopping the government from restricting payment on any goods or services, or from any vendor, it wishes.
Colombia and Venezuela are extreme cases, and there’s no reason to expect the same would ever happen in the U.S. At the same time, scrapping the $100 bill would further debase Americans’ economic liberty.