Pick n Pay, one of South Africa’s biggest supermarket chain, is trialling bitcoin payments with YouTuber Paco De La India giving it a go as shown above.
The process is somewhat simple. Rather than a bitcoin payment as such, this is a QR code payment.
You scan the QR code, Paco then chooses his Moon bitcoin wallet, and we have the receipt printed out.
Making it as fast as Apple Pay considering you have to put in your phone code with Apple Pay.
Not as fast as contactless payments. They’re tap and go so you can’t really get faster than that, but this is a fairly quick and convenient way to pay too.
Getting bitcoin is not too easy, so why on earth would you give it away, especially if the receiver is some conglomerate that will insta-fiat it without caring about you at all.
For some, the reason may well be just the novelty, seeing how it works, experiencing all that nervousness, flashing red, and the embarrassment of bitcoining in public instead of conforming.
The main reason however is probably out of need. Cards sometime fails and can fail for many reasons. The card network, though rarely, does sometime go down completely. Maybe you’ve forgotten to check your balance in a while and it is somehow zero, or some forgotten and unexpected direct debit even sent it minus.
These edge reasons are too many to name, but they exist even in the west. They probably occur at least once a year per person. For a business like Pick n Pay which may have one million customers, that’s one million failed transactions a year that would have gone through if it was all by bitcoiners that do hold some bitcoin on their phone wallet.
Small amounts, considering they may handle 100 million transactions, but it is not zero. Beyond the raw numbers in addition, one million bad experiences is not a small amount.
One can imagine, this has happened, that you’re due in court to represent someone with only about 20 minutes for lunch. You order your sandwich at the nice ‘home made’ place near the Court of Justice and are very much looking forward to the treat, but the card fails.
Shock is the first response, anger is the second, and some embarrassment as well at the till. You call the bank and they ask you to go into a branch because they know you’ve changed your address, which you have and forgot to tell them. What they tell you is ‘suspicious’ transaction because you’re not spending in the area you used to.
All is fine, naturally, but not at this precise moment when you need to have your lunch, go to court, and sort this out later. Instead you don’t have lunch for the day and hungrily wonder how nice it would have been if they accepted bitcoin.
Not that you keep a phone bitcoin wallet anyway. Why would you, that’s a bit insecure in theory. But after this experience, and especially if bitcoin starts being accepted even more widely, you’d probably set up the contingency arrangements of a $100 bitcoin phone wallet so that the bank can never again interfere at its pleasure, albeit for some fair reasons in this case as that’s what the dumb bots told them.
This is one instance where you would pay and without embarrassment, but with some relief, and similar instances are where bitcoin payments would make most sense for the majority because they’re out of need.
The Last Cash
There are other reasons however, beyond a variance on the above or differences in the frequencies of these edge cases.
Western banking for example is fairly developed, but even there, you might still have card problems abroad.
That applies even more if traveling while banking in the developing world where you may find all sorts of quirks, including that your card might not do international payments online.
A different sort of the edge, however, might be privacy considerations. Your card usually has your name, not that it usually matters but for some people, sometime, in some cases it might and for some people it might matter in all cases.
Some may therefore just prefer to pay in bitcoin, replacing all the bitcoin they spend by buying it with new fiat.
And yet another reason may be more philosophical in some way. Cash is disappearing in the west, even as it becomes nice plasticky non-washable.
There are some good reasons for it to disappear. Chiefly, it is very easy to forge paper fiat. In addition, cash payments are fairly slow and clunky as you need to give change.
Some places therefore don’t accept cash at all now, that includes all buses in London. In UK in particular, you might go for months and even years without seeing cash at all.
So cash is disappearing and this generation may well be the last one to remember paper fiat, certainly where ubiquitous use is concerned as that does not apply even now, but potentially even any use at all except abroad on some exotic holiday or in rare instances like you might see them cassette tapes in some cool pub when two decades ago they were in everyone’s room.
And cash disappearing will have some consequences. First of all, money as something tangible will no longer apply as a feeling at least to the extent it does now. More importantly, money will no longer quite be in the hands of the public.
Paper cash is both money and a payment system. The transfer of that cash is itself accounting, is itself a clearing house, and therefore you need nothing for cash to operate save for the minter.
The minting is done by the Treasury, the government, and thus in a democracy effectively by the public as they elect their representatives.
With central banking that has become a bit more complex, but still Congress in absurdium could mint a $30 trillion coin to pay off its debt, or a $1 trillion coin to fund whatever Great New Project.
With the disappearance of cash, you have a breakdown of money in as far as there won’t be a monetary representation that in itself is accounting, the clearing houses, the payment system, and of course the unit valid on its face.
Instead, the unit will be and is handled by the central bank through interest rates or capital reserve requirements, while the payment system is and will be handled by commercial for profit private entities that are mainly banks.
This is a fundamental and historic change that has never applied before, yet was made clear in 2008 when banks threatened to stop ATM cash withdrawals and that’s why we have bitcoin.
Until that point and sometime before, cash was dominant so you didn’t need banks to transfer money, if you were using a bank at all.
The arrival of ATM machines and now 70 years later this completely bank based monetary system, however, pretty much means that if you want to transfer money or engage in any monetary activity, you have to go through a bank, and therefore commercial banks are vital as they are the payment system. If they do not process payments, the system collapses, and to keep them processing payments, they will be given anything they want, including an estimated half a trillion in 2008, with politicians and the public thus losing agency to some extent.
In a system where cash no longer exists, as is the case in some countries to a large extent, bitcoin is the last cash remaining.
It is the only digital unit of account that is its own payment system, its own clearing house, and its own accounting.
That makes it fundamentally different from commercial bank money, which nowadays is almost all money in everyday use, in as far as no bank CEO can stop the payment system, which they can with bank money and threatened to do so in 2008.
This too however can be seen as a variance on the edge, the edge here being a collapse of the bank payment system.
No one can say it won’t happen, because it has. Whether it was solved or not remains to be seen, but regardless the public should want a choice and an alternative especially since it exists in bitcoin.
Where commerce is concerned therefore, accepting bitcoin has practical business considerations but also philosophical considerations in as far as it gives commerce a backup, an alternative, not only in ordinary edge cases, but also in potentially black swan edge cases.
It provides resilience and therefore should be accepted ubiquitously because bitcoin payments are as convenient as digital bank money payments, so why on earth should it not be accepted.
In addition, we should preserve cash. Maybe not the paper one, but certainly the digital cash because a commercial bank payment system of all money is a very new thing and the power it provides may lead to abuse.
Competition from bitcoin might at least minimize that abuse, and if it is egregious, it might even replace it completely. Without this asset instead, the public would be at the complete mercy of commercial banks, and that includes their representatives in whatever house and whatever side of the divide.