Defenders of Bans on Cashless Businesses Say They're Defending Choice. They're Not.

Prohibiting businesses from going cardless ignores the choices of consumers and businesses alike.


When politicians and pundits take aim at cashless businesses, they often argue that such places violate the choices of consumers who lack bank accounts. But on closer examination, these places' commitment to choice is remarkably limited.

When New York City Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D–Bronx) introduced a bill to ban card-only establishments, for example, he said that while he uses debit cards for almost all of his transactions, "that should be a choice that I make freely as a consumer not a requirement imposed on me by a business." The ATM company Cardtronics offers a stirring, if self-interested, defense of "consumer payment choice" in written testimony supporting Torres' legislation. And Andy Callado, a financial coach for the working poor, tells Vox Media's Facebook show Consider It that while he wishes everyone had a bank account, "we can't force people to do that. We have to empower people to make their own decisions and do what's best for them."

So far, such arguments have proven persuasive enough for cashless bans to pass in Philadelphia and New Jersey. New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are all considering prohibitions on cashless establishments.

Yet for their rhetoric about protecting choice, pro-cash politicians are happy to override businesses' decisions. While dismissing the idea that we can't force consumers to have bank accounts, both Collado and Torres are more than happy to force businesses into accepting cash that they otherwise wouldn't.

Accepting cash, as Reason's Billy Binion has pointed out, comes with a number of costs, including the time it takes to count up bills and coins and the need to hire armored cars to transport this currency off-site. Cash-accepting businesses also face a heightened risk of theft. Surely businesses should also have the choice to avoid or minimize these costs if they want.

Consumers who avoid banks do so because banks come with trade-offs. ("You go in expecting one thing, and then once you look at your statement, you have this $35 fee, this $15 fee," one woman tells Considering It.) Businesses that avoid cash are doing the same thing. Forcing businesses to take cash is less about protecting consumers' choices and more about shifting the costs of these consumers' decisions onto the businesses.

For the small minority of enterprises that have decided to go cashless, the costs of cash outweigh the sales they might lose from going card-only. For other businesses—including, I suspect, most businesses in neighborhoods where banks are scarce—the calculation points the other way. Rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all standard on everyone, wouldn't it be better to let everyone sort out all these trade-offs in the marketplace?

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  1. It doesn’t take a bunch of paragraphs to explain that “ban” does not mean “giving a choice”

    1. Yeah

  2. Rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all standard on everyone, wouldn’t it be better to let everyone sort out all these trade-offs in the marketplace?

    Two words “operation choke point”. It is essential for a free society that people have a way of engagin in commerce that doesn’t leave a record and can’t be easily stopped by the government.

    Reason as usual thinks anything is great, no matter wha the second order effects, as long as it is “the market” doing it.

    1. Businesses make decisions with their customers in mind. If they feel a decision saves them time or money or a hassle and won’t lose them too many customers, why can’t they make that decision?

      If it’s a bad decision, they’ll have to change back, accept the results, or see a competitor gain


        Does that not mean what it says? Seems to me that a refusal to accept such notes is a breech of contract.

        1. That clause is only relevant when you have a debt. When purchasing an item from a store, you have not received anything before payment, therefore you have not incurred a debt. The store can refuse cash.

          However, when you order and eat a meal before paying for it, you arguably have incurred a debt. In that case, the legal tender cause could apply.

          Unless the restaurant clearly displayed payment terms to you before the debt was incurred. If they had a “No Cash” sign at the register, then contract law applies and you’re out of luck because you are assumed to have consented to their no-cash policy before you ordered your food.

          So refusal to accept such notes might be a problem but almost always isn’t.

    2. It’s not like they are forcing it the other way, and making businesses go cashless. Then you would have a right to complain. As it is you have the “right” to go shop somewhere else!

    3. Two words “operation choke point”.


    4. “Legal tender for all debts, public and private”

  3. It is not about “choice”. It is about ensuring there are ways to transact business that can’t easily be stopped or monitored by the government.

    1. That’s better than what progressives usually mean by “choice” which is kill the baby.

  4. Not one word about the global effort to ban cash transactions.

    To write this article without considering the bans against the backdrop of the globalists’ desire to prohibit cash transactions is journalistic malpractice.

    1. Yes it is. And not a single word about the Keynsian central planners who want to ban cash so that they can force people to spend it. At some point, you need to think deeper about an issue than just in buzz words.

    2. OTOH, it is odd that the same progressives who can usually be counted on to support Keynesian notions about banning cash are taking the opposite position and want to ban cashless businesses. Just wait until someone points out to them that its easier to avoid taxes by paying cash.

    3. Well, Gillespie has already declared that libertarians “must make common cause with globalists”. I mean, nothing says “liberty!” like worldwide government monitoring of all transactions and the ability to economically cripple anyone at any time.

      But since libertarians have only one principle nowdays, guess those are insignificant concerns.

  5. If you can prevent viewpoint discrimination by financial institutions, then the ban is too much.

    You can’t. So cash stays, and the ban does too. Don’t like it? Stop viewpoint discrimination.

  6. “”Prohibiting businesses from going cardless ignores the choices of consumers and businesses alike.””

    It may ignore the choice for a business to decide, but it does not ignore the choice of customers. If a customer can’t choose cash, then the business is ignoring the choice of the customer. The ban helps keep customer choice alive.

  7. Not too long ago we were all upset about the threat of government eliminating cash altogether. Honestly, I think requiring businesses to all buy into the legal tender of the nation isn’t the worst thing in the world. Its actually nice to see politicians supporting cash rather than trying to get rid of it so they can track you (and fine you, and jail you and kill you) for making the wrong purchases with your money.

  8. This is about illegal immigrants.

    There is no way it is cheaper to pay a check cashing fee for your paycheck than to have a no frills bank account.

    1. It is not cheaper at all. But some people are amazingly stupid and short sighted. It is not just illegal aliens.

      1. It depends. It’s not cheaper per transaction but if you know that you don’t have the self-discipline to avoid overdrafts, late fees or any of the other ways of triggering penalties, it can be cheaper for you in aggregate to simply avoid the temptation.

        I have a family member in just this situation. He is a mild manic-depressive. In his manic stage, he has very little fiscal self-discipline. But he’s self-aware enough the rest of the time to recognize it and to know that during his manic phase, he won’t have the patience to open a bank account. It’s not my choice but it works for him.

        1. Sorry, but “mentally ill edge case” is not and never should be an argument.

          1. Lacking self-discipline is hardly an edge case. Looking at the average financial state of most families, especially young adults, it is arguably the norm.

            Though I will concede that being self-aware enough to do something about it might be closer to an edge case.

  9. Meh. It’s not a beastly regulation, but it’s still bad.

    If many places stop accepting cash, every grocery store in America will start selling Visa prepaid debit cards. Problem 99% solved.

    That said, if my cash isn’t good at the bar, I’m finding another bar.

    1. Then the government will monitor and require the names of everyone buying one of those to be recorded and for you to show ID to get one. Stick with cash. This is a good regulation.

      1. This will get really interesting once they force all bakeries to accept cash for forced gay wedding cakes. The joys of choice!

        1. This will get really interesting once they force all bakeries to accept cash for forced gay wedding cakes.

          Everyone knows that you have to pay for your gay wedding cake with a card to create a paper trail. Otherwise the baker can deny you were actually a customer.

  10. We need more transactions that can be done by using your phone. Even the most “unbanked,” poverty stricken moron owns a smart phone these days, right?

    1. “Pay by phone” is still “pay by bank” – you’re just using your phone to connect to your bank (or to your credit card – which is also from a bank).

    1. Arghh… Forgot to close the link. And the new commenting system still doesn’t give us an edit function.

    2. Why the fuck would you pay a government debt in cash? If you can’t prove you paid it, they can throw you in jail. And its not as if they don’t already have that particular transaction tracked.

      1. Because it would piss them off? Because you want to make a political point? Performance art? Because you feel like it?

        I never said you should. As you point out, it would be a very risky thing to do. But that argument does nothing to undercut the hypocrisy of government compelling businesses to accept a form of payment that they will not accept themselves.

      2. You can get a receipt. But the bigger point is that the IRS is a scofflaw (again): a tax you owe is a “public debt” and that is payable with currency by the laws establishing that currency. And how can you trust currency if the government that issues it won’t honor it?

  11. The problem is, you’re allowing banks to decide who can and cannot purchase stuff.

    We’ve already seen them refuse to do business with gun companies, porn companies, and more. We’ve seen people denied bank accounts because of political opinions.

    1. Exactly. Some government or bank employee can make you a non-person by putting a lock on your money.

      Use cash as much as possible and noisily refuse to purchase things if they don’t accept cash. Keep cash king.

  12. Did any of the restaurants offer up the “Well, it keeps the riff-raff out.” justification for going cashless? Probably not, but there ya are.

    1. There needs to be more incentives not to be Riff Raff.

  13. “Accepting cash, as Reason‘s Billy Binion has pointed out, comes with a number of costs, including the time it takes to count up bills and coins and the need to hire armored cars to transport this currency off-site”

    Guess I missed the part where card companies dropped their fees that were so high the feds investigated. The real problem with cash, of course, is that public school educated employees cannot compute change, or in some cases even count out what the computer tells them.

  14. I think Amazon should no longer pay sales tax in Philadelphia. They are not legally allowed to operate since they don’t take cash so they don’t need to pay any sales tax on transactions in the city since they clearly are not doing business in the city.

  15. The right to pay cash is the right not to be tracked and profiled.
    This right is so important that we must defend it actively.
    We must not allow ourselves to be manipulated into giving it up
    with childish excuses such as the pretense that it’s our choice.

    The purpose of democracy is so that we can join together and stop
    the powerful from pressuring us into “choosing” to let them
    dominate us.

    for the general issue, and for our anonymous payment system.

  16. Guess I’ll disagree with everyone here.
    1 st – paying in cash is not a right. Sorry, it’s not. People used to pay in salt, or tulips.
    2 nd – even the Government pays in card form. EIB is electronic now.
    3 rd – I know big brother is bad. Oh no, they are going to track my transactions. Our government is incompetent. Hate to break it to you but they could track you if they wanted – ATMs, traffic cameras, phones, GPS, satellites.

    Look aren’t we supposed to be about progress? People didn’t like the car over the horse, than computers over typerwriters, beta and VHS. Geez, and who still writes out checks besides 80 year olds?

    Cash money is dying out. Sorry. Yes, it’s easier to not track – that’s why illegals and criminals love it. It’s expensive – a penny is pricey to make. It can be counterfeited so protections are pricey. You have to exchange it in other countries for a cost. (And banks charge you for counting sometimes)

    So me personally, I’m fine if a business wants to go cashless. If they don’t want customers and the overhead that is their choice.

    1. The customers they lose they won’t miss much, is what they’re saying.

  17. […] US – defenders of bans on cashless bans say they are defending choice, but they’re not […]

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