It would be better to go cashless, while creating new low-cost banking options for poor residents
Is cash a bane or a boon?
The underlying trends are clear. Across the country, from high-end salad chain Sweetgreen to the new Amazon Go stores, more and more retailers are going cashless as technology improves. For a company like Amazon, doing without cash means speeding or eliminating the checkout process, including getting rid of long lines at peak times. For small retailers, the advantages are fewer losses from cash theft and much simplified operations, especially in high-crime areas.
In response, New Jersey is considering new legislation that would require all brick-and-mortar stores to accept cash. Similar bills have been introduced in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. Supporters say that such legislation is important to protect poor Americans who don’t have access to credit cards or bank accounts.
This move to lock in the status quo is a mistake. The shift to cashless stores is a positive for poor Americans and small retailers, if combined with a concerted effort to bring low-cost banking to poor Americans. Moreover, regulations requiring cash are likely to reduce the competitiveness of brick-and-mortar stores against e-commerce.