#rp23 Speaker Brett Scott: Cash, cards, and crypto

01.02.2023 - Author and former financial broker Brett Scott speaks at re:publica 23 about why our freedom is threatened in a cashless society.
rp23-Speaker Brett Scott
Photo Credit
Craig Scott

As an author, activist and former broker, Brett Scott is not only an expert on monetary politics but also a proponent of alternative economic models and movements. He has been researching the impact of technology on finance for over a decade. In 2013, Brett Scott published “The Heretics Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money“. In his first book, he provides a inside-out look at our financial system and shows how activists can tap into the internal dynamics of the sector to disrupt it.

How did the fusion of big finance and tech happen – and what does the future hold? Now that many countries are already moving in the direction of a cashless society, it is about time to shed light on the pros and cons. Is it really a good idea to exchange paper money and coins for digital transactions? Does this system deliver what it promises – reduced crime rates and money laundering, and of course convenience? In his revelatory second book, “Cloudmoney: Cash, Cards, Crypto and the War for our Wallets“, Brett Scott has a look at the downsides of going cashless. He uncovers a long-established lobbying infrastructure, as banking and tech companies are pushing to get rid of cash under the banner of progress.

Brett Scott is publishing a newsletter called Altered States of Monetary Consciousness.

Brett Scott in Twitter: @Suitpossum 


Let's talk about #CASH. An interview with Brett Scott.

Cash, cards, crypto - In which should we trust? 

I'm known for promoting physical cash, because we need it to maintain a balance of power in the monetary system. Think of physical cash as being the 'bicycle of payments', while the digital app and card systems run by the banking sector are like the 'Uber of payments'. If you want a balance of power in a transport system you'd protect bicycle lanes and make sure that Uber doesn't take over entirely, and - similarly - to maintain a balance of power in the monetary system we need to protect cash and make sure Big Finance and Big Tech doesn't take over entirely. As for crypto, well that's a complicated topic - many early crypto innovators saw themselves as creating a kind of 'digital cash' to act as a counterpower to Big Finance-Tech, but in reality most crypto-tokens have ended up as objects to trade within the monetary system rather than being money themselves. I'm not saying useful stuff can't be done with crypto, but the fixation on crypto tokens is often a big distraction.

You moved from London to Berlin to research your newest book. What makes Berlin the perfect place to investigate your topic?

Berlin has pretty high resistance to corporate capitalism, which means it has high resistance to the takeover by 'cashless' fintech systems run by finance and tech corporations. It's still considered totally normal to pay with cash in Berlin, whereas when I was living in London I'd be made to feel ashamed for demanding a non-automated form of public payment. If you think of the spread of automated corporate capitalism as a kind of social virus, then London has low immunity, while Berlin still has quite high immunity. That said, the agents of creeping corporate gentrification are finding chinks in Berlin's armour and creeping in, especially as the international middle class flocks in with their ApplePay apps.

In the world of finance, what do you believe is currently overhyped or misunderstood? Why?

Last year crypto was massively overhyped, and then predictably crashed, but I'm not following what the latest hype is. I'm guessing it's probably going to be investment into AI startups, or something like that. The financial world is notorious for being full of clever people repeatedly doing really stupid things over and over again without end.

What new developments or trends in your field should we pay attention to? 

There are new things going on in the world of money - such as CBDCs and stablecoins - but really I think it's less useful to focus on what's new and rather get to grips with what's old. There are hundreds of futurists who can give their opinions on the latest monetary buzzword, but who remain unable to describe even the most basic things about money. So forget the innovation buzzwords and rather read some anthropology of pre-capitalist gift economies, or informal reciprocity systems, or chartalist theories of money.

What topics would you like to discuss with others at #rp23?

I'd love to discuss everything about the politics and anthropology of the different layers of money in our society, and to cut through all the bs that fills the public debate on cash, digitisation and crypto. We are often stuck between banal mainstream takes on money and cranky conspiracy takes, and really we need to break past both of those poles. But I'm open to discuss anything that people are interested in.

In keeping with our theme of #CASH, what are your current recommendations for reading, podcasts, or videos?

Well, if you'd like to see more of my stuff check out: https://brettscott.substack.com. Podcasts I've been enjoying recently include “The Blockchain Socialist” (for a more progressive take on crypto), “It's Not Just in Your Head” (which looks at the intersection of mental health and capitalism), and “Odd Lots” (which is a big Bloomberg podcast that's more mainstream but really great).