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In collaboration with Retro Report

Future of Money

Anarchy reigns supreme in the future of finance, decentralizing the power of banks and, in some cases, the state. But will cryptocurrencies and the blockchains that underlie them solve our financial woes, or only worsen existing inequalities?

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Retro ReportFuture of Money

Where We Thought We’d Be

Think you can predict the future? Here are some experts from the past who got it right—or delightfully wrong.

  • 1888 (for 2000)
    Debit Card

    Free cash

    At least 50 years before credit or debit cards were conceived of, science-fiction writer Edward Bellamy described a cashless society in his novel Looking Backward. He wrote that these cards would “totally obviate” normal business transactions, and that the state would give everyone a generous allowance to spend.

  • 1911 (for 2011)
    Gold

    Not worth its weight

    In one of his dimmer moments, Thomas Edison declared gold was on its way out. “The day is near when bars of it will be as common and as cheap as bars of iron or blocks of steel,” he claimed. The reason? A chemical philosopher’s stone—”the secret of transmuting metals”—was close at hand, and soon “it will be an easy matter to convert a truck load of iron bars into as many bars of virgin gold.”

  • 1950 (for 1970)

    Haves and have-nots

    Diners Club president Alfred Bloomingdale foresaw a cultural and socioeconomic divide across two classes of people: those with credit cards, and those without. When that chasm emerges, “there’s going to be one hell of a split in society,” he said.

  • 1968
    Cashless transactions

    Privacy protector

    Paul Armer of the RAND Corporation tried to warn a flummoxed US senate subcommittee about the privacy concerns that would come with digital banking. Armer foresaw that a whole lot of data on how people spent their money would be created as a byproduct of transactions going digital—and that this information would be ripe for misuse.

  • 1976

    Tokenism

    The British economist Friedrich August von Hayek suggested an alternative to present-day coins and notes in his book, Denationalisation of Money: The Argument Refined. Rather than clinking currency, he suggested “plastic or similar tokens with electronic markings which every cash register and slot machine would be able to sort out, and the ‘signature’ of which would be legally protected against forgery.”