Many of us in the western world don’t rely on bills and coins as much as we used to, yet the idea of cash money is still an ever-present constant in our minds. How often have you stopped to consider the idea of what “money” actually is on a larger scale, or where our changing habits could lead us? In his book The End of Money – Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers, and the Coming Cashless Society (Da Capo Press, 2012), David Wolman examines our commitment to cash, its advantages and drawbacks, how it facilitates crime and poverty, even its health and environmental issues. With an engaging and accessible style he prompts us to rethink the notion of money, how it works, and what forms it could take in the future.
Wolman starts with a short history of cash, beginning with the official introduction of paper money to the Chinese monetary system in the 13th century and Marco Polo’s reaction to it 100 years later. Next we follow him around the globe to get a cross-cultural picture of cash today – including explorations of the cultural heritage and emotional value of cash, of an increasing trend in developing countries of people using their cellphones to transfer money to both businesses and family, and of counterfeiting and anti-counterfeiting technology. Along the way he enlists a wide variety of people to help illustrate these concepts: a Georgia pastor who views the end of cash as a sign of the End Times, a convicted counterfeiter (or “Monetary Architect”, depending on who you’re talking to), a coin collector with an ambivalent attitude toward coins, and a British “digital money guru” who views money as a menace.
David Wolman is a contributing editor at Wired magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @DavidWolman. He is, in his own words, a “…guy who’s interested in seemingly small, simple, straightforward topics that in fact, when you put them under the microscope, are anything but simple.” This book is an excellent example of that, and an engrossing read. In our interview he spoke of his year-long experiment to go without using coins or bills at all, the meaning of privacy and security as it relates to money in a digital world, and what he sees as the future of “money”.