For most of us, money is a mystery and a wonder. Despite that, we seldom pause to consider just where it comes from and how it works, taking for granted that our bills and coins are secure and valuable. We spend much of our lives trying to get and hold onto money, but do we still need actual currency in the 21st century?
David Wolman says we don’t. “In an era when books, movies, music, and newsprint are transmuting from atoms to bits, money remains irritatingly analog.” If the Luddites among us fail to see that as a valid reason for dispensing with currency, we are still left with no counter-argument for Wolman’s reminder that
“Physical currency is a bulky, germ-smeared, carbon-intensive, expensive medium of exchange…. Kill cash, and you can have fewer cashiers, fewer security issues, no employees skimming off the top, and fewer germs to boot.”
Putting his money where his mouth is, Wolman attempted to avoid the use of cash for an entire year—an experiment that was less challenging than you might think, unless you’re one of those anarchists who already live cash-free by employing credit and debit cards for every purchase. Even the major farmers markets, where one might expect to find the last bastions of traditional commerce, are set up to accept payment via cell phone or with alternative currencies—the financial equivalent of eating locally—like Ithaca Hours or BerkShares.
It’s a sleeker, healthier, less costly way of conducting both commercial and private business, but not everyone agrees with such radical change. Some people like cash because of the anonymity it gives them, and personal finance gurus tout the finite nature of cash as a safer bet for the economically irresponsible, for example.
The End of Money is not, however, a book about Wolman’s personal experiment. Here is an objective and current exploration of the history, evolution, structure, and production of money as well as our cultural and emotional attachment to the stuff. From the rural South to Europe and Asia, Wolman reveals the various approaches that societies take to ensure sound economies, along with the many theories advanced by individuals about the stability and necessity of currency in the contemporary world. One needn’t be an economist or even interested in the field in order to enjoy this revealing and often surprising look at how money affects us on a personal level and as a community.
Whether you’re eager to be rid of those stray pennies or you think the end of cash is the beginning of the end, you’ll be challenged by the facts Wolman brings to light in this vivacious account.