More than half a million Austrians have signed a petition calling for a referendum on the constitutional enshrining of the right to unlimited cash payments. In a country of 8.9 million, the massive show of support for the “right” to pay with cash demonstrates the growing movement against digital currencies promoted by central banks across the world and institutions like the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The deadline for submission of petitions regarding proposals for seven national referendums ended on Monday. As reported by the Austrian daily Kurier, the right to cash payments received the most support of seven different petitions, with 530,938 Austrians signing it.
Only petitions that receive the signatures of 100,000 citizens or more can force a debate in parliament on the topic. Given the overwhelming support behind the “right to cash” petition, there may be strong pressure to move forward with an effort to secure cash payments in the country.
Unlike Greece, the U.K., Scandinavia, and the Benelux countries, cash is still king in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, which have all bucked the trend towards a cashless society. In Austria, 50 percent of all transactions are still conducted in cash, far above the European average of approximately 30 percent. Germans are also against digital transactions, with just 9 percent saying they would use mobile payments.
The effort to enshrine the right to cash payments in the country’s constitution has already been a topic for a number of years, with the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) already suggesting making a constitutional change to protect cash transactions in 2019.
Austrians may be especially sensitive to the enormous state power that would come with a completely cashless society. The academic, author, and specialist in economic psychology Erich Kirchler said that World War II still influences the thinking of Germans and Austrians regarding the dangers of giving too much power to the state.
“In that case, the efficiency of state institutions becomes dangerous,” Kirchler told AFP.
German-speaking countries place a high value on privacy, and the fact that cash payments leave a minimal trace, makes it the most secure and private means of conducting transactions.
Other countries, such as Sweden, have enacted laws to ensure society continues to have access to cash and the ability to make payments in cash. However, if Austria enshrined the right to cash payments in the constitution, it would mark the most dramatic step yet in Europe to secure cash payments in the future.
Why protect cash?
Privacy and civil rights organizations have long advocated the right to cash with the argument that privacy, civil liberties, and finical security are at stake. Abolishing cash would force citizens to conduct all transactions through a digital medium, such as mobile payments, credit cards, or digital currencies. Banks and electronic mediums remain vulnerable to hack attacks and even natural disasters, for example, if the power grid were to be knocked out. The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, which is a part of the Ministry of Justice, warned in a report that a totally cashless society would be extremely vulnerable if the country were attacked or exposed to a natural disaster
For those concerned about privacy, such as those in Germany and Austria, digital payments give law enforcement and government authorities a direct window into all transactions.
Even more worrying for some, digital money could one day be linked to political and social behavior in Western countries in a social credit system, as seen in China. Already, during the “Freedom Convoy” trucker protests against Covid-19 policies in Canada, the left-wing government of Justin Trudeau took the unprecedented step of freezing the bank accounts of protesters. Although civil liberty groups decried the authoritarian action as a flagrant abuse of power, many critics worry that the action could now serve as a template to deal with protesters and dissent in the future. If dissidents and those critical of government cannot keep their money outside the digital space, then they will have nowhere to hide their finances should governments, like the one in Canada, take action against them.
The financial columnist and analyst Matthew Lynn wrote for the U.K.’s Telegraph in 2015 that the core issue for maintaining cash is the freedom it provides.
“More importantly, cash is about freedom. There are surely limits to the control over society we wish to hand over to governments and central banks? You don’t need to be a fully paid-up libertarian to question whether, in a world where we already worry about the amount of data that Facebook and Google can gather about us, we really want the banks and the state to know every single detail of what we are spending our money on and where. It is easy to surrender that freedom — but it will be a lot harder to get it back.”
On the other end of the spectrum, globalist institutions like the World Economic Forum have long lobbied for a cashless society and have routinely run articles such as “Why we should try to make cash obsolete,” “The benefits of a cashless society” and “Should cash be abolished?” Back in 2017, economist Joseph Stiglitz called for banning all paper currency in the United States, a position the WEF also positively reported on. Central banks across the world are also currently “leading the way” in the race to institute digital currencies. Although digital currencies and physical currency are expected to run in tandem for many, numerous globalist think tanks and economists are pushing for a complete phase out after an adjustment period.
The debate over cash is expected to rage on, but Austria’s case may not only demonstrate the societal challenges of abolishing cash but also the problems associated with countries giving up their national currency. Some critics point to the fact that Austria’s national currency is the euro may jeopardize the entire effort to secure cash payments. After Austria gave up its own national currency, the schilling, in 2002, it lost a considerable amount of control over its own finances. If the EU were to mandate a digital currency, Austria may be able to carve out a temporary exception, but may ultimately have little power to reject such a mandate.