Published October 1973 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Is Money Going Out of Style? A significant change is occurring in the way Americans buy the goods and services they need and want. More than half of our citizens, it is estimated, now use credit cards. In primitive societies, and even in the early years of our own country, barter was the rule. Farmers swapped tobacco, cotton, and produce for the necessities they did not raise, because money-an acceptable currency -was scarce or not available. The first coins struck by the U.S. government, half-cent and one-cent copper pieces, were not minted until 1793. The first dollar was not printed until a year later, 18 years after the Declaration of Independence. But currency was so much more convenient than barter that cash became king and remained so until about the turn of the last century, when checks and charge accounts began to replace it. Now the ubiquitous credit card-"plastic money," some call it-may make the check obsolete. By 1971, it was estimated that 90% of all money transactions in the U.S. were by check. The trend was so great that, in I 969, the U.S. ceased issuing any currency larger than a $I 00 bill. But the switch from cash to checks was no unmixed blessing for the banks, which must handle the staggering total of 25 billion checks a year, at great cost. Little wonder then that, to rid themselves of this enormous amount of paper work, banks are experimenting with computerized credit card systems that would eliminate checks for recurring routine transactions. Companies would deposit wages and salaries directly in banks, and banks would pay customers' credit card bills by a computerized transfer of funds between accounts and banks. Cash and checks would become unnecessary except for unprogrammed transactions. This is not as far-fetched as it may sound. Already credit cards "pay" for everything from airplane trips and vacations to church pledges and funerals. In California, income and property taxes, auto licenses and car insurance can be paid for by credit card. In other places, plastic money will get you dental, medical, and hospital care. Interestingly enough, there is a backlash to all of this-an anti-credit card movement sparked by individuals who dislike bookkeeping and businesses that offer discounts for cash. But theirs is a minority status. Money-meaning wealth-is not about to go out of style; but currency "money" may well be headed in that direction.