The Continued Attack on Cash (Was: "The Right of Anonymity"...)

Black Unicorn (
Mon, 02 Feb 1998 00:51:11 -0600

Mr. May said:

>Suffice it to say that I find nearly all cases where someone is "demanding"
>personal information to be cases where the government has required them to,
>for various unseemly purposes, or in cases where credit is being arranged.

Of late I tried to pay off a rather large American Express bill.

Suddenly, AMEX won't take cash in excess of $1,000 in any single billing
period (30 days). The large sign on the wall indicated the substance of
the new rule (or the old rule newly enforced) and added that customers "may
be required to produce two forms of identification including a government
issued identification card and a social security number." Here's a
situation where the payor is (theoretically) positively identified to the
payee (including ssn), where credit has already been established, and where
records are certain to exist for all transactions which are being paid for.
The AMEX Corporate card was once a wonderful tool to preserve anonymity
with. One could issue several cards for a domestic company, 100% owned by
an offshore, and settle in cash. Properly done, this was perfectly legal.
Well, once upon a time anyhow.

I find it extremely alarming that a general transaction like this can be
illegal where almost no case can be made for a danger of money laundering
or some kind of support of the "underground economy" (except perhaps that
I'd have Pablo Escobar pay off my Amex to compensate me for my illegal
smuggling flights, but that's a bit thin in my view).

Increasingly, I try and find explanations for these kinds of regulations
which do not include a paranoid rant about governments making sure they
maintain a firm set of records on every citizen for whenever it might be
"needed," (or wanted). Increasingly, this becomes a difficult mental task.

Increasingly, it is difficult to make cash transactions. In the end that
seems to be the point. Make it difficult to pay with cash. Make it
suspicious to pay with cash. Make it an attention getter if you pay with

Sound paranoid? Try this. I'd like everyone who reads this to try and go
45 days without using plastic or writing a check. Just 45 days. If you
don't grow alarmist very quickly (like in the first week) I'd like to hear
your experience. If nothing else, try adding up a few months of finance
charges, yearly fees on your credit cards, transactions fees, check fees,
interest lost on no-interest checking accounts... see what you're paying to
keep people from looking at you like a criminal.

There's an interesting new awakening in personal finance right now which
advises, among other things, "pay in cash, die broke." I'm interested to
see how this "pay in cash" advice, which I have followed religiously years
before it was put in print, clashes with post-modern financial regulation.

I know things have gotten really out of hand because the phrase "No, I'll
pay with cash," which I find I have to use more and more often, turns more
and more heads and is met more and more often with a cross look from a
teller and a finger pointed at a large sign bearing the heading
"Restrictions on Cash Transactions."

When the question becomes "Which credit card will you be paying with?" and
no longer does one hear "How will you be paying for that?" I think people
better start thinking about what's happening.

(I'm not on cypherpunks anymore, mail me directly).

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