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New genetic testing reveals that cash is even more filthy than previously imagined!

While it’s true that I don’t see it as a compelling reason to ditch cash, nor a major factor in the overall calculation of the total social cost of the payment system, I do find stories about how filthy cash is interesting and in some cases amusing. There was another of these last week in the Wall Street Journal.

By analyzing genetic material on $1 bills, the NYU researchers identified 3,000 types of bacteria in all—many times more than in previous studies that examined samples under a microscope… Easily the most abundant species they found is one that causes acne. Others were linked to gastric ulcers, pneumonia, food poisoning and staph infections, the scientists said. Some carried genes responsible for antibiotic resistance.

[From Why You Shouldn’t Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is – WSJ.com]

I am not accusing Americans of having particularly revolting money, by the way. Back in the UK, ours is just as bad. And not only is it filthy, it’s a vector for transmitting filth very effectively!

It isn’t just the cash that is filthy. ATMs in the UK are also reservoirs of pestilence.

[From Money is dirty, but so are we! – Tomorrow’s Transactions]

If you are curious about the relationship between cash and filth, check out these amazing pictures from Heidi Hinder, an artist who spoke at this year’s Tomorrow’s Transactions Forum, showing the bacteria from coins growing in culture.

Hinder screen shot

Courtesy: Heidi Hinder. Photo: Jon Rowley.

I know this won’t wash (tee hee) with Wendy Grossman, who rather famously (to me, at least) offered to lick everyone’s money at the Tomorrow’s Transactions Forum a couple of years ago in order to pooh-pooh the idea that some harm might result. A brave stand. I can only assume she has some genetic protection against acne.

I pause to be annoyed by the claim that cash is filthy and spreads disease. This is Microsoft-level FUD, and not worthy of smart people claiming to want to benefit the poor and eliminate crime. In fact, I got riled enough to offer to lick any currency (or coins; I’m not proud) presented. I performed as promised on a fiver and a Danish note. And you know, they *kept* that money?

[From net.wars: March 2012 Archives]

Might the appalling lack of hygiene around money account for the distaste that women show for it? There is a gender bias in cash usage. In their paper on “Payment Choice and the Future of Currency: Insights from Two Billion Retail Transactions” at the Boston Fed’s “The Economics of Payments VII” conference (held on 3rd and 4th April, 2014), Wang and Wolman observed that:

In terms of gender differences, we find that a high female population is associated with high debit card use in place of cash.

Cash? Gross.

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