3:9:12 The End of Money, a book review

When I first heard of David Wolman's The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Techies, Dreamers--and the Coming Cashless Society, I was skeptical. Dismissed it as a geek fantasy I might expect from a Wired Contributing Editor (which Wolman is). If people have faith in anything, it's the green stuff. But Wolman travelled the globe in search of the authorities and characters who reveal what a cashless future might be like. And he upped the ante on his belief by going a year without coin or bills.

Still, as a reader who knows a smidge about money (including a "Money and Capital Markets" course in grad school), I knew any resolving narrative about a cashless future was sure to descend into financial arcana likely to engage only the most stubborn of readers.

[book cover]I was wrong!

The End of Money is not economic tedium--or its frequent cousin--an agenda-laden screed. Au contraire, Wolman engages us with colorful character portraits showing different aspects of our monetary lives and where we're headed. Each chapter has a theme and a character type we meet.

Thus, Chapter 1, "The Missionary," introduces Glenn Guest, pastor at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Danielsville, Georgia. Pastor Guest likes the hard-money, 1800s stance of a Ron Paul. Any notion of quitting cash for digits and plastic smacks of the Number of the Beast and related signs of the Apocalypse.

Chapter 3, "The Counterfeiters," introduces characters (and a nation: Ever wonder how pariah North Korea gets by?) using hi-tech to speed along the collapse of our coin and bill currencies. (Typical of how Wolman delves into monetary history, we learn Sir Isaac Newton, remembered as the physicist who sat under an apple tree, once took a job as head of the Royal Mint of England. He caught and convicted a bill forger, subsequently hung, drawn, and quartered.)

Perhaps the most uplifting chapter is Chapter 7, "The Revolutionaries." A revolution is afoot in places of traditional squalor like Kenya and the slums of India. Cash it turns out punishes the poor, who can't afford bank accounts to save money. But "leapfrog" cellphone technology changes that. Saving is now as simple as a text message. This third-world financial revolution outpaces our own!

Am I convinced of Wolman's cashless future? Let me answer this way: I read The End of Money on an e-reader. I now read more e-books than paper books. Not that many years ago, I didn't see this for my future. We should enjoy Wolman's scenario for the heads-up it is.

The End of Money by David Wolman, Da Capo Press/Perseus, Philadelphia, 2012, 228 pp., ISBNs: 978-0-306-81883-7 (hardcover) & 978-0-306-81946-9 (e-book).

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The Cat at Light's End

Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection, The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)

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