In a 1960s Chevron ad for their new credit card, animated character Hy Fynn says "…with my Chevron credit card, I don't even need money!" The concept of using a card for payment is found in literature as early as 1887 in Edward Bellamy's utopian novel Looking Backward. Bellamy used the term eleven times, though his concept is more like a modern-day debit card than credit card. It was not until 1958 that revolving credit financial systems were successfully established and Bank of America launched the BankAmericard – the first successful recognizably modern credit card.
While we seem to be transitioning increasingly to a cashless society, cash still accounts for more than 80 percent of the world's transactions. In the United States, though, that number falls drastically to only one-third of transactions. There are many reasons for this trend. On the retailer side, it costs money to have banks process coins and bills and utilize armored truck services, and cash-less payments reduce the likelihood that retail stores will be robbed. On the other side, consumers like the convenience of using cards or even their phone to pay for their goods.
Recently, however, governments have been looking at banning cashless merchants as they believe these stores are discriminating against poor customers and seniors who aren't comfortable with the technology. Legislation was introduced on the municipal level in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Chicago tried to do the same in 2017 but failed. On the state level, Massachusetts has had a requirement to accept cash on the books since 1978, while New Jersey became the second state to pass a similar law earlier this year.
Now, Representative Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel) has brought the idea to Wisconsin. In his memo seeking support from his legislative colleagues, Tauchen said, "as we have an aging population, people who are concerned with credit fraud, people who do not have credit or debit cards, and people with lower credit scores or simply lacking credit altogether (possibly hindering them from possessing a credit card, debit card, or checking account), I am introducing 'Wisconsin Cash Option' to protect Wisconsin consumers."
The bill requires a retailer who sells goods or services from a physical location to accept cash as payment. A retailer who violates this requirement is subject to a civil forfeiture of $200 to $5,000.
There will likely be several exceptions to this bill should it become law. The New Jersey legislation included amendments that would exclude retailers inside airports and certain parking facilities from the cash requirement. Specifically, the amended bill carves out municipally owned parking facilities, parking facilities that only accept mobile payments, and airports as long as a terminal has at least two food retailers that take cash. Unlike New Jerseyans, Wisconsinites can pump their own gas, so stations that have 24-hour pumps would also need to be exempted.
Additionally, Amazon has launched cashierless retail locations in Seattle that allow consumers with an "Amazon Go" app to grab items they need and leave without checking out. Technology in the store detects when products are removed from shelves and adds them to a virtual cart. Once you leave the store, the items are charged to your account.
Government is often slow to react to market and technological changes. In this case, it may be actively trying to blunt the steady advancement towards a cash-free society.