We’ve Entered An Era When The US Gov’t Won’t Even Take Its Own Money
The rush toward a cashless society has hit the most basic of government transactions — entry fees into national parks.
On May 26, Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state will be the latest park to stop accepting cash at the entry booth.
Instead, visitors will be required to pay with credit or debit cards to enter what is a taxpayer-supported recreation area meant for hiking, biking, climbing, camping, exploring and sightseeing. The park management has, in its wisdom, decided that it’s not worth it to collect actual money, a marked change in the relationship between the people and the agencies that oversee the land owned collectively by the people.
In 2022, Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan went to a plastic-only payment system. Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming and the historic home of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who signed the law taking the U.S. dollar off the gold standard, now are tap, chip or swipe destinations.
The Wright Brothers National Memorial in North Carolina, Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico, and Cumberland Island National Seashore also went cashless last year.
So far, resistance has been muted, with only a few, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, raising concerns about government barriers being raised against the poor.
Others worry about what may be seen as an invasion of privacy, or exposure to data breaches. There is also the question of whether this creates precedent for the federal government to coerce citizens to doing all transactions through government-regulated banks as a third party, raising the specter of social credit scores or tracking a person’s carbon footprint.
Most visitors to major national parks and monument lands have wallets full of plastic or, increasingly, a phone that they can tap for contactless payments.
But not everyone loves the idea of a bank getting up in their business. About 4% of Americans are “unbanked,” meaning they are part of a cash-and-carry world that most of us cannot imagine.
They are the ones who are not able to meet bank balance requirements, can’t make their credit card payments, or who just don’t trust banks. Granted, they are not the prime marketing target for national parks, but creating yet another barrier seems un-American. This is government keeping what it considers undesirables out of parks by erecting a behavior barrier.
Reducing cash collection at entries to parks may allow resources to be diverted to other needs, perhaps cleaning latrines or reducing fraud, waste and long lines at the booth. It also may keep out young people who don’t yet have credit cards, or those who have maxed out their cards but still want to get some fresh air.
Opponents of this move say that an ongoing “war on cash” imperils privacy, limits access and puts us all at the mercy of untold technical glitches, such as chips that malfunction, or a malware attack on a credit card processing entity. We’ve all had these experiences to greater or lesser degrees, even at a grocery store or gas pump.
At Cumberland Island, accessible only by ferry, the National Park website said the quiet part out loud: “Although there are multiple benefits for going cashless, our main priority is the safety of our visitors and staff.”
There you have it: Money is not safe, the government is saying, without exactly saying why.
It’s reasonable to ask what will happen if other agencies decide legal tender is not safe. Will transit agencies stop taking coins and only accept “tap here” payment? This is not theoretical: In Seattle, the King County Metro Transit has been planning for three years to discontinue the acceptance of coins and bills by 2023.
The U.S. is not alone in this rush to a digital transaction mandate. Currency is quickly becoming obsolete in China, where hardly anyone carries Yuan notes. All Chinese transactions are traceable by the government. The same holds true for India and its disappearing relationship with the rupee.
The federal government, which established the U.S. dollar with the Mint Act of 1792, should never require a bank account in order for a citizen to gain entry into a national park, historic site, or museum. Disallowing the dollar bill is not exactly like coming face-to-face with a grizzly bear, but it’s a short stroll to the next authoritarian thing — an America where every transaction is traceable by a federal bureaucrat.
Suzanne Downing is publisher of Must Read Alaska.
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