What happens when you don’t have cash

After harping on about the power of cash these last few days, your editor was caught short of any when it mattered most.

Phone lines, internet and therefore payment systems are down across the Nullarbor Desert in South Australia. You can’t pay by card for about two days’ worth of driving. That’s about three tank refills.

Our last $70 went into the tank at Cocklebiddy, about 800 km from the next functioning cash machine or credit card facility. Thanks to the communications outage, the price of petrol was up about 40%.

The lack of cash and the high price meant we were a few hundred kilometres short of civilisation with a partial refill.

Unless payment systems turned back on again at a stop along the way, we’d run out of fuel half way. In the middle of the desert.

Would you go for it? Or turn back?

In other words, do you have faith in technology, infrastructure, bank IT systems, communications companies and everything else it takes to keep digital cash flowing?

Given I’m writing this, you’ll have guessed what happened. Guessed partially wrong though.

About five minutes into our gamble, in the hope we could pay in pound notes if things went against us at the roadhouse half way, we realised we did have cash after all. My girlfriend’s dad gave us some Aussie dollars before returning to Japan. “You’ll need it someday,” he told us.

After some rummaging in the back, filled with the entirety of our belongings, we found the precious bank notes.

I’ll never hear the end of this.

In fact, my own dad just chimed in with “Well, that’s cashless society for you” – his way of being glad we’re ok.

The whole drama was a good laugh in the end. For us, anyway. We passed plenty of marooned truckies and tourists on our way to civilisation. They had relied on their bank cards. The cashless society had failed them.

The petrol station owners seemed only too pleased to have their motels full. Even if nobody could pay yet.

But what about you? Would you make it across the Nullarbor today? How much cash do you have on hand? How reliant are you on technology each day?

The digital threat, or opportunity?

There’s no doubt that paying by card has made life easier and more convenient. But at some point that isn’t true either. If convenience becomes reliance, then you have the potential to be stuck in the Nullarbor Desert with no fuel or place to stay. Hardly convenient or easy, is it?

It’s the same for privacy issues. Online banking, bill paying and email mean all your details and affairs are at your fingertips. But they’re also at everyone else’s.

The solution is not effortless. If you want to optimise your life, to find the balance between the digital economy and its failings, you need to figure out ways to game the system. To be robust.

Boaz Shoshan continues his work on exactly how you can do all this. His reports are nearing completion. Keep your eyes peeled. And your wallet full.

Until next time,

Nick Hubble
Capital & Conflict

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Category: Economics

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