As Greece moves closer to becoming a cashless society, it is clear that the country’s attitude towards cash is reckless and dangerous. The supposed convenience of switching to a cash-free system comes with a great deal of risk, including needless overreach by the state.
by Michael Nevradakis
Part 2 - The IMF’s Greek experiment in austerity
These suggestions, which of course the IMF does not necessarily officially agree with, have already begun to be implemented to a significant extent in the IMF debt colony known officially as Greece, where the IMF has been implementing “socially fair and just” austerity policies since 2010, which have resulted, during this period, in a GDP decline of over 25 percent, unemployment levels exceeding 28 percent, repeated cuts to what are now poverty-level salaries and pensions, and a “brain drain” of over 500,000 people—largely young and university-educated—migrating out of Greece.
Indeed, it could be said that Greece is being used as a guinea pig not just for a grand neoliberal experiment in both austerity, but de-cashing as well. The examples are many, and they have found fertile ground in a country whose populace remains shell-shocked by eight years of economic depression. A new law that came into effect on January 1 incentivizes going cashless by setting a minimum threshold of spending at least 10 percent of one’s income via credit, debit, or prepaid card in order to attain a somewhat higher tax-free threshold.
Beginning July 27, dozens of categories of businesses in Greece will be required to install aptly-acronymized “POS” (point-of-sale) card readers and to accept payments by card. Businesses are also required to post a notice, typically by the entrance or point of sale, stating whether card payments are accepted or not. Another new piece of legislation, in effect as of June 1, requires salaries to be paid via direct electronic transfers to bank accounts. Furthermore, cash transactions of over 500 euros have been outlawed.
In Greece, where in the eyes of the state citizens are guilty even if proven innocent, capital controls have been implemented preventing ATM cash withdrawals of over 840 euros every two weeks. These capital controls, in varying forms, have been in place for two years with no end in sight, choking small businesses that are already suffering.
Citizens have, at various times, been asked to collect every last receipt of their expenditures, in order to prove their income and expenses—otherwise, tax evasion is assumed, just as ownership of a car (even if purchased a decade or two ago) or an apartment (even if inherited) is considered proof of wealth and a “hidden income” that is not being declared. The “heroic” former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis had previously proposed a cap of cash transactions at 50 or 70 euros on Greek islands that are popular tourist destinations, while also putting forth an asinine plan to hire tourists to work as “tax snitches,” reporting businesses that “evade taxes” by not providing receipts even for the smallest transactions.
All of these measures, of course, are for the Greeks’ own good and are in the best interest of the country and its economy, combating supposedly rampant “tax evasion” (while letting the biggest tax evaders off the hook), fighting the “black market” (over selling cheese pies without issuing a receipt, apparently), and of course, nipping “terrorism” in the bud.
As with the previous discussion I observed about Amazon being a satisfactory replacement for the endangered brick-and-mortar business, one learns a lot from observing everyday conversations amongst ordinary citizens. A recent conversation I personally overheard while paying a bill at a public utility revealed just how successful the initial and largely uncontested steps enacted in Greece have been.
In the line ahead of me, an elderly man announced that he was paying his water bill by debit card, “in order to build towards the tax-free threshold.” When it was suggested to him that the true purpose of encouraging cashless payments was to track every transaction, even for a stick of gum, and to transfer all money into the banking system, he and one other elderly gentleman threw a fit, claiming “there is no other way to combat tax evasion.”
The irony that they were paying by card to avoid taxation themselves was lost on them—as is the fact that the otherwise fiscally responsible Germany, whose government never misses an opportunity to lecture the “spendthrift” and “irresponsible” Greeks, has the largest black market in Europe (exceeding 100 billion euros annually), ranks first in Europe in financial fraud, is the eighth-largest tax haven worldwide, and one of the top tax-evading countries in Europe.
Also lost on these otherwise elderly gentlemen was a fact not included in the official propaganda campaign: Germans happen to love their cash, as evidenced by the fierce opposition that met a government plan to outlaw cash payments of 5,000 euros or more. In addition, about 80 percent of transactions in Germany are still conducted in cash. The German tabloid Bild went as far as to publish an op-ed titled “Hands off our cash” in response to the proposed measure.