(Electronic) money, (electronic) money, (electronic) money

How do you promote your campaign to phase out physical currency? Get an endorsement from ABBA, of co

Because of all the excitement over the Budget, one could be forgiven for missing the biggest story today, in the Washington Post:

“I can’t see why we should be printing bank notes at all anymore,” says Björn Ulvaeus, former member of 1970’s pop group ABBA, and a vocal proponent for a world without cash...

A cashless society may seem like an odd cause for someone who made a fortune on “Money, Money, Money” and other ABBA hits, but for Ulvaeus it’s a matter of security.

After his son was robbed for the third time he started advocating a faster transition to a fully digital economy, if only to make life harder for thieves.

“If there were no cash, what would they do?” says Ulvaeus, 66.

The Financial Times (£) has a more serious take on the same issue, which contains this interesting point:

Apart from anything else, there is a cost to handling cash, in terms of storing, guarding and shifting it. A 2010 report by Visa cited a European Commission estimate that the cost to society of all payment methods is the equivalent of about 2-3 per cent of Europe’s GDP, of which cash accounts for two-thirds. A 2008 study by the McKinsey consultancy estimated that in Europe €60bn-€100bn annually is spent on processing cash payments, a figure that includes the production of notes and coins, transport and security. A similar study by the Dutch central bank puts the price tag at €300 per family. A number of Dutch supermarkets are talking about moving exclusively to cashless payments by 2014, in part to get away from cash handling costs. The motivation is the same for governments.

Given we were talking about the downside of transaction taxes this morning, it's worth bearing in mind that transaction costs have the same problem. If someone doesn't buy something because they don't have the cash on them, that is a net loss in welfare – both the potential buyer and potential seller are worse off than if the transaction had gone ahead. As anyone who has ever actually been in that situation knows.

Gimme, gimme, gimme a card after midnight. Credit: Getty

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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