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Amazon Go store in Seattle
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Why Do Progressives Hate Progress So Much?

Earlier this month, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to order every store in the city to accept cash. It seems that some innovative companies were experimenting with cashless stores as a way to cut costs, improve efficiency and keep prices down. 

But in progressive San Francisco, that kind of progress cannot be tolerated.  

Democrat-controlled Philadelphia imposed a similar ban on cashless stores in March. That same month, New Jersey’s Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law banning cashless stores throughout the Garden State. Deep-blue Massachusetts has had a ban on the books for 40 years. New York City and Washington, D.C. — two more deep blue enclaves — might be next.

Indeed, when it comes to actual progress, achieved through private sector innovation, progressives tend to be the most reactionary of anyone.

Of course, there’s always some well-meaning justification. In the case of mandating cash, it’s supposed to help the poor and those without bank accounts. San Francisco Supervisor Vallie Brown, who introduced the cashless ban legislation, said that  it “will go far in ensuring all San Franciscans have equitable access to the city’s economy.”

Philadelphia Councilman Bill Greenlee says banning cashless businesses is “about being fair to people and giving everyone an equal chance to buy a basic product.”

New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty justified the statewide ban because “this idea of ‘we don’t want to accept cash’ just marginalizes the poor, young people who haven’t established credit yet, people who prefer to pay in cash.”

But the fact of the matter is that these bans are solutions in search of a problem. 

Cashless stores are experimental at the moment, as cutting-edge businesses try to figure out ways to trim costs and improve efficiency.

Dos Toros, which has 17 outlets in New York and four in Chicago, says that its restaurants haven’t been robbed once since going cashless. It’s also cut down on employee theft, and spared managers the time and expense of counting and reconciling cash. Those savings can get passed on to its customers.

Good for them. But if other companies find that going cashless means cutting off too many customers, they will find a way to accommodate those carrying around wads of bills. Which is exactly what’s happening.

Shake Shack, for example, was considering converting stores to cashless, but decided against it when it realized how many of its customers paid with cash. Sweetgreen, a salad chain, went cashless a couple years ago, but decided to start accepting paper currency at all its stores by the end of the year. Amazon Go, which was designed from the ground up to be cashless, is taking cash at its New York store.

But if a store does want to be cashless, how is that a problem? How is it unfair? Customers who want to pay cash will always have options. Saying cashless stores are unfair because not everyone can shop there would justify banning Giorgio Armani because it “marginalizes the poor.”

Someone should inform these ban-happy progressives that the free market will sort all this out, far more effectively and efficiently and in a much more satisfactory way for all involved than any government decree ever could. 

It’s these same progressive enclaves, by the way, that have fought against other forms of actual progress, whether it’s electric scooters (which cut down pollution), ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft (which cut commuting costs), rental services like Airbnb (which opened up more options for low-income travelers) . Before that, progressives attacked innovative retailers like Walmart for being too efficient and keeping costs too low. San Francisco even banned sidewalk delivery robots because, well, who knows why.

This is a lesson everyone should heed: Government doesn’t spur innovation. It thwarts it. The more powerful and intrusive a government gets, the less innovation will occur. Always and everywhere. 

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John Merline

Veteran journalist John Merline was Deputy Editor of Commentary and Opinion at Investor's Business Daily. Before IBD, he launched and edited the Opinion section of AOL News, and was a member of the editorial board of USA Today, where he continues to be a regular contributor. He’s been published in the Washington Post, National Review, Detroit News, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Forbes, and numerous other publications. He is regular commentator on the One America News Network and on local talk radio. He got his start in journalism under the tutelage of M. Stanton Evans.


  • It is because they have nothing to do with the progress. Progressives got their name from the progressive tax (advocated in the “Communist Manifesto”), not the human progress.

  • “Big Brother” recording all financial transactions is not progress.

  • Great news for insurance agencies. Most do not want to accept cash as it makes them a target for robberies. I guess the supervisors forgot to mention armed robbers as folks that would be hurt by businesses going cashless.

  • People who deal in cash only, like drug dealers, thieves, porn paraphernalia users are a big part of Demokrat constituency.

  • Well, there is one minor fact in San Fran’s favor here. You’ll note that every dollar bill says on its face that: “This Note is Legal Tender for all Debts, Public and Private.” So federal law, which supersedes the personal preferences of shopowners, says it must be accepted.

    You might dislike that law. You might seek to have it changed. But it is as it is.

    • That is incorrect. Here is what the Federal Reserve says:

      Section 31 U.S.C. 5103, entitled “Legal tender,” states: “United States coins and currency [including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks] are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues.”

      This statute means that all United States money as identified above is a valid and legal offer of payment for debts when tendered to a creditor. There is, however, no Federal statute mandating that a private business, a person, or an organization must accept currency or coins as payment for goods or services. Private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether to accept cash unless there is a state law which says otherwise.

      • As well, the use of money substitutes, such as coupons, are another example of a private business exercising its right to decide payment.

    • If the retailer does not offer cash transactions, i.e. does not sell the product to the potential purchaser, no debt is incurred. The same as if you went to a store that accepts cash or plastic and you didn’t have either one. No sale = no debt. Maybe there could be an issue of the refusal to sell, e.g. the wedding cake issue, but “Legal Tender for all Debts” is irrelevant since no debt is incurred.

  • Progressive fascists only succeed if there are enough poor desperate people who are susceptible to their lies. Increasing poverty increases the pool of voters that could be tricked into voting Democratic l.

  • Progressives seem to think that progress means to, “Progressively put the brakes on individual freedoms, choice, initiatives, and personal individual achieved successes.”

  • Once again, the liberals who scream “Freedom” the loudest and longest (see Ritchie Havens at Woodstock), step up to the plate and curb the freedom of virtually everyone in America. “Will they ever learn?” Probably not. In my 70+years on this earth I have never understood how a well-meaning progressive can ignore reality in favor of some liberal principle that has been proven wrong over and over again. Lefties, you are incredible!

  • Cash will work whenever the power grid goes down & out. Credit cards & cryptocurrencies won’t. While people can obviously be robbed of their cash, cash is hack-proof, and doesn’t disappear the push or click of a button.

  • The very name “progressive” has always been meant to sound good rather than to be useful as a descriptor – just as progressive policies have always focused on sounding good rather than being effective. Like the Puritans that the progressives are largely descended from, they have always been mostly interested in forcing everyone around them to do as they tell them. That’s pretty much the sum of their philosophy. The idea of live and let live is anathema to them.

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