The Money Disaster

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Essay dealing with the dangers of depending too much on electronic means in the financial world.

Submitted: December 05, 2017

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Submitted: December 05, 2017



Modern life is becoming increasingly dependent on the digital world. One of the reasons for this is the speed at which we can do things such as look up information or manipulate data, to name but a few. All phenomena which greatly enhance our lives. Yet, there is one aspect of our lives that can be harmed in a catastrophic way by putting our trust completely in the digitized world. That aspect is our financial life.
Nowadays, a large part of our finances are completely digitized. Our wages get put on a digital bank account, we pay by using debit cards or credit cards, or we transfer our money by means of internet banking. As a result, the number of cash machines in the Netherlands gets reduced drastically. Using electronic means of paying for your purchases is widely regarded to be a safe form of dealing with financial transactions. Stores don’t need to have large amounts of cash, so robbing them becomes less lucrative, which in turn means that it becomes safer. That’s all fine. Yet, you can hear people claim that we will get rid of cash altogether within a couple of years, or decades at the most. It seems logical, and it seems a safe way of structuring the world of finance. Yet, this may be a dangerous mistake.
There are a couple of incidents that recently made it clear that this dependence on electronic money can be the Achilles heel of our societies. Those incidents were the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean and the U.S.A and a power cut in our region, because a helicopter collided with a power line. Typical incidents in which the supply of electricity is temporarily in jeopardy. Because of the lack of power, electronic communication grinded to a halt. Luckily, this was a temporary situation that was fixed in a relatively short time. Yet, it makes one wonder about the vulnerability of the financial system. If one thinks about the consequences of a more serious disturbance of the power supply on a larger scale, let’s say on the scale of a continent or even on a global scale things will be different.
People who are born optimists will claim that such a disaster is never going to happen. Helicopters will not fly through every power line, and hurricanes pass in a number of hours and computers, read giant servers, will come on line again in hours or a couple of days; temporary setbacks, a mere inconvenience. Even cyber warfare by terrorists or countries will have limited effects. That may be true, but there is a whole range of things which may play havoc with our power supplies, and consequently, with our ability to get to our money or to do any transactions whatsoever. By watching documentaries about our universe, one gets a good idea about the vulnerability of our power systems.  In particular when one thinks about the influence of radiation on our power grids.
Not too many years ago a large part of the North American continent suffered a mayor power cut for some time due to a solar flare. Again, a temporary phenomenon, but something to take into account. Especially, because solar flares are unpredictable and they can last for a long time. (Solar flares are bursts of radiation sent out into space by outbursts of energy on the surface of the sun. Resulting in a violent increase in radiation which our atmosphere and our magnetic field has to neutralize. Sometimes, this fails, as can be learnt from the previously mentioned power cut). Moreover, every space agency in the world can testify that solar flares cause trouble for space craft such as satellites, often resulting in malfunctions.
But solar flares are not the only problem connected to the harmful influence of solar radiation, our magnetic field also contributes to the problem. Not the fact that we have a magnetic field, but the fact that our magnetic field is weakening and its polarity is changing. So far, the polarity of our magnetic field has changes several times in the past, as geologists can prove from the alignment of metallic materials in different geological layers of the earth’s crust. At this very moment we are going through another reversal of polarity. And this means that at one point in time there is going to be a problem with the strength of the magnetic field as a shield for radiation. We will lose most or even all our protection for a while. For how long, or when it will happen, nobody knows, but it is going to happen. All the forces driving this natural phenomenon are unknown at present. However, one things is sure, our power supply will be harmed. Too what degree they may be harmed, is open to debate, but there will be adverse effects.
Another danger that threatens our power supply is the possible collision with a sizeable meteor. It is going to happen, that’s a fact. The only thing we don’t know is when it is going to happen, and how much damage we are going to experience. The amount of damage depends on the size of the projectile. Unfortunately, the forces involved in a collision with a piece of rock hurtling through space are enormous, even when talking about a relatively small piece, let’s say the size of an ordinary car. A piece of rock slamming into our planet when travelling several tens of thousands of miles per hour will create an enormous impact crater, and it produces a shockwaves which makes the shockwaves of nuclear bombs look like ripples in a pond. An event like that can destroy an entire power grid the size of a country. Even an airburst of a meteor like the Tunguska event of the early twentieth century can flatten everything for hundreds of miles around. The power grid will vanish into thin air.
Everyone who knows about the basics of computers can tell you that every bit in a computer system does not consist of a zero or a one, but of a tiny voltage or a slightly higher voltage. Keeping in mind that our financial existence depends increasingly on electronic systems, and knowing the vulnerability of those systems, it may be a good idea to abstain from changing over to economies without cash. Finding out that the bits which should give you access to your money no longer function, may be a rude awakening to the realities and quirks of nature.

© Copyright 2018 Bert Broomberg. All rights reserved.

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