Lenin – the supposed inventor of the phrase “useful idiots”

Who are the anti-cash lobby and why are they so against other people using what they like to pay for stuff?

This lobby has become vocal during the COVID-19 crisis (as if it was not vocal enough before) in conflating usage with cash with spreading the virus.

Prior to that the lead messages were either an eco one (cash causes fuel usage and therefore is an emissions-heavy payment means, but sssh..don’t mention crypto’s electricity consumption), a tech one (there’s much better payment means – like this app I have just invented) or an AML one (all cash is the proceeds of crime or tax evasion).

My interest is as chair of the Association of UK Payment Institutions, and our members include those that service the people at the bottom of the income tree, who are often paid in cash, and some of whom wish to send amounts to family and friends in other countries. This wish has been rendered synonymous with economic crime if those family and friends happen to live in “high-risk countries”.

The biggest impact, under COVID-19, will be an inability to transmit resources to where they are most needed, through Payment Institutions, which are a form of Money Services Business or MSB. MSBs are the end-users’ preferred transmission channel, but MSBs have been subjected to a multi-year and multi-level interdiction of access to payment circuits, the upshot of which will now become clear.

HMRC have done a great job, especially recently, in tarnishing the entire MSB sector as being hell-bent on criminality. In February we had an action of the type more familiarly used against a terrorist faction.

First we had the raids on remittance companies in the Bayswater and Queensway areas. Then we had the press coverage: the supposed head of specialist crime at the Metropolitan Police briefed the Guardian on 13th February that UK drugs barons had ditched banks and were using MSBs instead. Finally, some way behind, we get the proof, such as it was: the draft report on the Public/Private Threat Assessment on the Money Services Business sector.

Contrary to the “we’re going in real hard” wording in the Guardian, the raids were just leaflet distribution and the draft report contained many assertions but precious little proof. Proof, in this area, cannot of course be disclosed due to the concern about “tipping off”. Unlike in a normal criminal justice system, in this one the accused is not permitted to know what they are charged with. Rather reminiscent of Stalinist purges…

So who are the anti-cash lobby, and how can we achieve a taxonomy of its constituent parts?

How many are frontrunners, driven by commercial interest, and using the issue to further these interests, like a stockbroker issuing a positive note on a company whose new share issue they have underwritten?

How many are fellow travellers, intellectually sympathetic to the ideology of the destruction of cash, co-operating in its pursuit, without having any commercial fish to fry?

How many are – to use a term often attributed to Lenin – useful idiots, those propagandizing for the cause without fully comprehending the cause’s goals, and who are being used by the cause’s leaders?

The curious thing is that the lobbying seems to stop at the frontrunners, without the principals – the big-league economic beneficiaries of the elimination of cash – having to identify themselves. They don’t need to, with such a massive, vocal and messianic group of foghorns to do the job for them.