David Wolman visited Harvard Bookstore to talk about his excellent new book, The End of Money. He packed the house, no surprise.
At the heart of David’s book is an experiment and the people it brought him to meet. He lived without cash for a year, just to see what the cashless society might look like. Why a cashless society? Cash is dirty, heavy, an invitation to smugglers and pimps and tax cheats, a drain on federal law enforcement, and downright expensive for the unbanked. He refused to use cash for a year, just to see whether you can yet opt into a cashless lifestyle. The biggest obstacles in the book were cash-only local businesses in America and, ironically, international travel. On his travels to a global hotspot for branchless banking, India, he decided it would be safer to have cash in hand when he left the airport.
A surprisingly well versed audience asked many of the right questions:
- Don’t only rich people have smartphones and Google Wallet?
- Just how much tax cheating is going on?
- Will senior citizens be ready for the digital age?
- Isn’t this just an excuse for banks to take your money?
- How will the government make money without cash?
- Wouldn’t crooks just barter like everyone else, without cash?
- How close to cashless is America? Are we the closest?
But we only met one of the vibrant characters from David’s book: the excerpt was from his visit to the workshop of Royal Hawaiian Mint founder, numismatist, and threat to national security Bernard von NotHaus. Much as I loved the excerpt, I wanted David to spend more time on the portraits that make the book come alive. Truly what sets this book apart is not the vision of a cashless society–it’s not even the first book called the End of Money–nor the first-person experiment–think Super-Size Me meets LevelUp.
What Wolman gets really right is the portraits of how people think about money. Through the portraits in the book, we learn about society through the lens of money. What we money teaches us about religion. What money teaches us about counterfeiters and crime. What money teaches us about DIY hacking. What money teaches us about hippies thinking globally and acting locally. What money teaches us about credit cards, impulse buying, feeling rich, and getting something for nothing.
Buy the book!