As we understand the news from San Diego, F. Lee Bailey is trying to put cash out of business. The celebrated trial lawyer announced to a news conference in that city: "Legitimate citizens do not need to do business in cash. We must refuse green to the criminals... we should not tolerate suspects walking around with suitcases full of $1,000 bills."
In fact, Mr. Bailey recommended that laws be passed making it illegal to receive, possess, or spend more than $500 in cash. If, for reasons Mr. Bailey cannot understand, a person should find it necessary to indulge in a cash transaction of $500 or more, the Big Spender would be required to obtain a license from the federal government.
We have never been known to carry more than about $23.56, including the get-you-home dollar in our left shoe. Yet we felt unaccountably indignant over the Bailey proposal. Waving our arms until the patches on the elbows flapped, we cried to any impecunious friend who would listen: "I've heard of money being called immoral, but never illegal. Are there no civil rights for the rich?"
But then we realized that the very rich never carry money anyway. They pay money to other people to carry their money for them. Or they get by nicely on the public assumption that the very rich do not have to show their money, like the rest of us, to prove that they have it.
Mr. Bailey was simply doing what he said he was doing trying to stamp out crime on the premise that the underworld contained the last of the cash customers and that law-abiding citizens would not dream of carrying anything but their credit cards.
Actually, Mr. Bailey may be lagging behind monetary custom. Already plastic seems just a bit oldfashioned--the whole business of taking this garishly colored card and putting it in this primitive little printing press and running off carbon copies. Why, the process is so physical!m
What comes after the Plastic Age? Certainly the alternative of a check is even more antediluvian, employing such ancient tools as pens and a quaint material like paper. In banks and supermarkets money is turning into a code word. Will one's wealth eventually be reduced to a voiceprint whispered into a computer?
At any rate, Mr. Bailey has made his larger point. We have seen the future--and it is so abstract you can't see it, or touch it, or smell it. You will never hear us talk about cold, hard cash again. Soft and melting is more like it, with George Washington's smile disappearing like the Cheshire cat.
At last we all know what Schopenhauer meant when he said, "Money is human happiness in the abstract."
Just after Mr. Bailey tolled his knell on cash we read about the team of British divers who came up with nearly five tons of gold ingots from the Royal Navy cruiser H. M. S. Edinburgh, torpedoed in the Arctic waters off Murmansk on April 30, 1942. That's $75 million, give or take a little at current gold prices.
But then we saw it all in the clear abstract light of post-Bailey economics. Gold! That's even more physical than bills, to say nothing of charge cards and voiceprints. Just because they could see the gold and touch it, and even taste it, those poor primitives probably thought they were rich. We felt nothing but pity for them. Boy, some people are really out of it.
Just one thing though. While Mr. Bailey is bringing on the future by stimulating abstraction, we wish he could revise the law about something the criminals carry along with their cash--guns. Why not make them illegal to? Call us old-fashioned to the point of obsolete, but we think of guns as an even more sinister presence in the pocket than dollar bills.