By March Twisdale
When we’re dealing with human nature, concepts tend to last. Consider the phrase, “Out of the frying pan into the fire.” This has roots as far back as ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BCE, and its wisdom is summed up by two other well-oiled phrases: Sometimes, we get “caught between a rock and a hard place,” and “look before you leap!”
For the frog in the pot, observing more coal being added to an already overly hot fire, the most pressing question is not whether to jump, but “in which direction?”
Last month’s article, “How to Avoid Being Nickeled and Dimed,” presented readers with the considerable costs associated with adopting a “plastic habit.” Quite simply, our global economies have been meticulously re-designed over the past few decades to create a never-ending stream of income (“Bank Taxes”). Like the unwitting frog, many have barely noticed this shift, nor are most bothered by it.
We should be. If you missed last month’s article, check it out. In summary, Vashon Islanders are paying upwards of $160,000 in “Bank Taxes.” Every. Week.
In the 1980s and 1990s, it was typical to pay $5-$8 a month for a checking account, which included free checks and a new-fangled ATM machine (if you happened to need your money when the bank was closed). You could even use your ATM card at “some” businesses, although most people wrote checks or spent cash. At the end of a month, you’d have spent $5-$8 in fees, whereas at the end of a week today, most of us have spent upwards of $20 in fees. That’s $80 a month.
How many of us would be okay with our bank saying, “Hey! We’d like to charge you $80 a month for your checking account (with no checks), a debit card, and reduced banking hours.” Few to none. The banking industry knew this, so they got smart. They offered rewards. They made plastic ubiquitous. They incentivized society into shifting (over a couple decades) from cash to plastic. And we began to say, “Yes, yes…let’s go cashless! It must be a good idea, right?” As we floated, small, green, and trusting in an increasingly hot pot of water.
It gets worse. As an Islander, I’m not going to tell you to give up on your Amazon habit. With ferry costs and lines, gas prices, and the awful traffic throughout much of Seattle and Tacoma, I get it. But consider this: Amazon is 100% plastic, making it a “Bank Taxes Forever Zone.” Do the math. Amazon accounts for roughly 40% of the U.S. ecommerce market (2022), and Amazon’s average daily sales revenue is $1.29 billion. That $1.29 billion in transactions results in $25,800,000 in “Bank Taxes.” Every. Day. And that’s the U.S. only.
The move to shift global economies from cash (free transactions) to digital money (transactions with fees) is not coming from a place of benevolent charity. It’s a meticulously and strategically implemented plan meant to benefit its developers and investors. And it’s working. Forty years ago, Vashon Islanders primarily paid with cash or check. Today, it’s a 90/10 split (plastic/cash).
It goes beyond everyday transactions. The Superbowl. The World Series. The NBA Finals. March Madness! Middle East Film & Comic Con. Sundance Film Festival. Montreux Jazz Festival. Online gaming? (Yikes!) Each “cashless event” adds to an ever-increasing system designed with one goal in mind: to continuously extract resources from an entire planet. Forever.
It didn’t used to be this way. Banking had a much smaller footprint, it was far less costly, and it can be this way again. Vashon Island can become $160,000 richer – every week – simply by conducting local purchases with cash. Thankfully, there are some options for dodging “Bank Taxes” at most cashless venues. Next month, we’ll touch upon some of these.
For now, climb to the edge of the pan, look about for a green lily pad with Benjamin Franklin’s visage or (hopefully soon) Harriett Tubman – and jump!