It has been quite a while since I reviewed a book on this blog, but I recently came across a money/finance related book that I read and I’d like to share my review/opinion of it with you folks. The name of the book is “The End of Money” and it is written by David Wolman who is an American journalist and author. David is a contributing editor for Wired Magazine. He has also written for publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Discover, National Geographic Traveler, New Scientist and Outside. Before I go any further I should note that in my opinion the book’s title is a bit (maybe not intentionally?) misleading. The book is not about the end of money per se, more like the end of CASH – ie PHYSICAL forms of money.
The End of Money is a very recently published book – February 2012. In this book David takes a critical look at cash, from Marco Polo’s fascination with the paper notes he saw circulating in China, to end of the gold standard. He explores a growing trend of people using cell phones as replacements for both bank branches and cash and delves into the parallel worlds of counterfeiting and anti-counterfeiting technology.
Now that you got an overall idea what the book is about permit me to fire my opinions at you. First of all I should say that I am pretty much of the same opinion as David. I don’t particularly hold any affinity for money in the form of cash. To me cash is a tool that clearly has some big drawbacks – read his book to find out all the details. Where I live – Canada – the local population makes heavy use of debit and credit cards (especially debit). I am used to paying for pretty much everything with my bank debit card. It is convenient and I’ve gotten used to a life without cash. In his book, David does a very good job at outlining the drawbacks of cash and how much more efficient a purely cashless monetary system would be.
Depending on your world view you may share or not share this opinion. In one of the adventures David had while researching this topic David has a chat with a Georgian (as in the US state) pastor who – as many people who share his belief system – fears the prospect of a cashless society as it heralds the coming of the apocalypse because he believes that we will all be forced (not necesarrily physically but you get the point) to implant ourselves with microchips in our hands or some other parts of our body to still remain active participants in the economy. Another concern people have about going the cashless route is that it will give governments too much control over our lives.
In another chapter David talks with the antithesis of the Georgian pastor – David Birch. David is a staunch opponent of cash. If you look him up you’ll see why – he’s pretty heavily involved in the digital money industry. And then in another chapter David introduces us to Bernard von NotHaus’s story and the whole Liberty Dollar rise and downfall. So the book delves into a variety of viewpoints from various perspectives on the whole cash issue.
As far as the quality of writing, I found it well written. The book is well written but it is not a super detailed scholastic work. Do not come to this book expecting deep economic theories and long drawn out arguments. I think this book is a very good introduction and sort of an “open door” to the idea of purely electronic money payments.
I must also note that I was very surprised to see that David knows a bit about the peer-to-peer digital money system known as bitcoin. I feel the need to critique him for believing The Economist Magazine’s viewpoint on bitcoin, which is specifically that “bitcoin is technically sophisticated, but as an economic system it looks primitive.” He doesn’t really give bitcoin a proper explanation. I think that if he did his readers would see how bitcoin has all the advantages of cash that people love with none of the massive waste that is one of David main arguments against physical money.
A bit later on in the book David gets into the revolutionary idea of cellphone based payment systems. I think this will become a lot more common and it indeed a very empowering technology. This and the growing popularity of online payment systems (think paypal, and all sorts of e-mail based money transfer systems, e-currencies, etc) will slowly kill cash. I for one believe that the cashless society is pretty much here already – at least for sure in Western nations.
So, to sum it up, I would recommend you checkout this book as a light and interesting introduction to the idea of a cashless society.
I’d like to congratulate David on this most recent book and I look forward to any other books he might publish on this subject.
That concludes this review, but before I want to let you all know that I will try to get an e-mail interview with David and I’ll publish it here.
So stay tuned to this blog! Or better yet subscribe to my newsfeed.
If you wish to grab a copy of David’s book (and I recommend you do) you easily do so by following the Amazon link below:
Cheers, and thanks for visiting and reading my blog.