Currency That Kills; Converting to Electronic Money Could Prevent Disease

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard W. Rahn, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Can you imagine how many people have physically handled your money? Do you know who has previously touched it? Did they have a flu virus or some other communicable disease that is transmitted by physical contact with an infected object? Physical paper currency is often dirty - not so much to the sight, but it is a good home for dangerous microbes. It is often kept warm by our body heat and even absorbs some body moisture - a perfect breeding ground for bad stuff.

It has been well-known for decades that paper currency is a major source of disease transmission. During the life of the average dollar bill, it will be handled by hundreds, if not thousands, of people. It is hard to think of any physical object that is handled by more different people than paper currency. Millions become ill every year as a result of handling currency, and a not insignificant percentage of them die. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 36,000 Americans die each year from flu-related causes. How many people received the flu from paper currency? The precise percentage is unknown, but if it is just 10 percent, that still translates into a couple of million needlessly ill people and thousands of deaths.

The good news is that it is no longer necessary to use paper currency in the digital age. Payments of all types can be made by electronic means - with electronic banking; credit, debit and smart cards; and cell phones - all of which help the user avoid physical contact with dirty paper money. (Note: Most paper currencies are made largely from cotton cloth, which makes them very absorbent.)

The bad news is that government policies are slowing down and, in many cases, preventing the movement to the use of digital currencies. Most electronic payment systems require the user to have a bank account. For decades, the percentage of the population having a bank account grew, but that growth stopped a couple of decades ago as the government started its war on money laundering - which, ironically, resulted in the unintended consequence of requiring more people to handle dirty paper money.

Physical money is expensive to produce. It is subject to counterfeiting, easily stolen and costly to handle. As noted, it is a major transmitter of disease. A rational and responsible government would be doing everything possible to eliminate physical currency. But no - legislators and policymakers have put destruction of the citizen's financial privacy and tax collection above reducing the costs and dangers of physical currency.

People will only move away from paper currency when they can easily use an electronic wallet and have the ability to make non-identifiable and non-traceable transactions. As noted above, an electronic wallet can be a credit, debit or smart card - a cell phone or a PC. …