Will Israel be the World's First 'No Cash' Society?
The government on Tuesday authorized establishment of a committee that will examine ways to eliminate cash from the Israeli economy – the better to prevent citizens from cheating on their taxes. The committee will be chaired by Harel Locker, director of the Prime Minister's Office.
Cash is easily passed from individual to individual, and transactions using cash can take place without the tax man's supervision. Not so electronic transactions; with modern computers, banks can keep tabs on how much people deposit into their accounts and how much they withdraw, while credit card companies have an up to the second record of how much people spend.
Members of the panel will include top staff from the Israel Police, the Tax Authority, the chairman of the Government Authority on Money Laundering and Terror, the Bank of Israel's income and payments director, State Attorney's office officials, and more.
According to many of these officials, cash is bad – because it allows individuals to get out of their tax payment responsibilities. Today, an enterprising tax collector cannot easily compare income and outflow. While he may suspect that a person living beyond his reported means is cheating on his taxes, there is no way to know for sure, without solid evidence. In a cashless economy, all records will be electronic, and checking who makes what and how much they owe in taxes – and collecting it before it gets to their account – will be a much simpler matter, the theory goes.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office declared that “around the world, it is recognized that cash is a key element of the illegal economy and money laundering. It allows a wide gap between reported and actual incomes, with the corresponding effect on tax revenues.” By eliminating cash, the PMO said, “it will be possible to expand the tax base, and prevent money laundering.” The committee will study the issue from all its perspectives and make recommendations, the PMO said.
One issue the committee will be examining, the PMO said, was the imposing of administrative fees on electronic transactions, common in Israel. Whatever solutions the committee comes up with, the office said, it will ensure that individuals who have no choice in the matter will be able to make transactions in a manner that will not tack on extra expenses.
Observers said that it was hard to imagine the government succeeding in this effort. “A move like this could really weaken the economy,” said one observer. “The only thing declaring cash obsolete will do is to encourage people to use dollars or other foreign currency for financial transactions. Unless the government plans on making it illegal to hold foreign currency, there is no way to get rid of cash and the problems that go along with it.”