Just about every week someone new asks me to justify why I live in Romania. I guess I should start a new category of posts just to list all of these answers, which are far too numerous to fit into a single article.
One of the simplest reasons is cash money, (pronounced kish by most Romanians).
From the first day I got here right up until today, February 29, I have been able to pay for every single thing I’ve ever done with cash. That may seem a little unremarkable to some people who live here and are used to it but believe me, cash is becoming increasingly scarce in many countries (including the United States). I was almost refused a room once at a five star hotel in America because I insisted on paying cash. When the lady opened the register, the drawer was completely empty and my lonely green bills were laid in there all by themselves.
But why does paying with cash matter? Certainly it’s more convenient to pay with some form of digital currency (credit card, debit card, etc) right? Of course it is. It’s also more secure. If I lose my “plastic” I can call up the issuer (usually a bank) and secure my money before it is lost. If I lose cash, well there’s nothing anybody can do about it.
But cash has a number of benefits, one of which was illustrated quite succinctly by something that happened this week. With cash, you can exchange it with anyone and everyone. I can give cash to my friends, my granny, my neighbor, a merchant, the government, a drug dealer, a gypsy, a beggar or anyone and everyone. There is simply no limit on whom I can give cash to so long as the transaction is a legal one between consenting adults. I once had a drug dealer pay me 20 bucks to move a sofa for him – perfectly legal and perfectly possible with cash (hey, those were desperate times).
Yet when someone else controls the medium of exchange, that “someone” can decide who can receive your business, even when the business you’re involved in is perfectly legal. In late 2010, Paypal blocked anyone and everyone from donating money to Wikileaks. You can say what you like about Wikileaks but as of right now they have yet to be convicted of any crime.
Now Paypal has taken it one step further. They have told several independent (digital!) book publishers that certain kinds of books are so offensive to Paypal that if those publishers do not ban them outright, Paypal will stop letting those publishers use Paypal for payments to authors.
One of those digital book publishers that Paypal threatened was Smashwords, where Yours Truly has been selling books for over a year now:
On Saturday, February 18, PayPal’s enforcement division contacted Smashwords with an ultimatum. As with the other ebook retailers affected by this enforcement, PayPal gave us only a few days to achieve compliance otherwise they threatened to deactivate our PayPal services.
You might wonder if Smashwords should simply switch to a different payment provider. It’s not so easy. PayPal is designed into the wiring of the Smashwords platform. They run the credit card processing for our retail store, and they’re how we pay our authors and publishers. PayPal is also an extremely popular, trusted payment option for our customers. It is not feasible for us to simply switch to another provider, should such a suitable provider even exist, especially with so few days notice.
Mind you, I do not write the kind of books that Paypal has deemed “unacceptable” and that these independent digital publishers are now forbidden to sell. But we are talking about words here and some authors depend on income from these kinds of books to buy their children clothing and pay for the necessities of life. I’m only “lucky” in the sense that faceless bankers have not deemed what I write about to be forbidden material.
There is absolutely nothing illegal about writing words, no matter what the topic, no matter what the genre, no matter what “happens” in the stories. Every single written book previously sold that is now forbidden was entirely legal. Consenting adults were paying money to adult authors in a free exchange. And now that’s taken away because those in control of the money have deemed it so without the slightest resemblance of a democratic process.
And what can you do? What can these authors do? What can willing adults who want to read this do? What can the publishers do? You read their words – there is no feasible alternative. So first it was Wikileaks and then it was authors of certain kinds of fiction. Who is next?
I’ll leave the last word on the subject to a commenter from this thread:
The idea that bankers, who basically have no moral conscience, are dictating to people across the world what is morally acceptable for them to read is preposterous, insulting and offensive.
But it isn’t without a reason and a purpose ;)