I’m a rare bird amongst my friends because I always have some cash on hand. In this day of credit cards, Apple Pay, Bitcoin, and other forms of electronics payments, cash seems antiquated. However, when the power grid and Internet connectivity become unreliable, all of those forms of electronic payments cease to function:
In post-hurricane San Juan on Monday, commerce picked up ever so slightly. With a little effort, you could get the basics and sometimes more: diapers, medicine, or even a gourmet hamburger smothered in fried onions and Gorgonzola cheese.
But almost impossible to find was a place that accepted credit cards.
“Cash only,” said Abraham Lebron, the store manager standing guard at Supermax, a supermarket in San Juan’s Plaza de las Armas. He was in a well-policed area, but admitted feeling like a sitting duck with so many bills on hand. “The system is down, so we can’t process the cards. It’s tough, but one finds a way to make it work.”
The cash economy has reigned in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria decimated much of the U.S. commonwealth last week, leveling the power grid and wireless towers and transporting the island to a time before plastic existed. The state of affairs could carry on for weeks or longer in some remote parts of the commonwealth, and that means it could be impossible to trace revenue and enforce tax rules.
I believe that it’s important to always have a backup plan. While we enjoy mostly reliable power and Internet connectivity here in the United States, the infrastructure that provides those assets is only a natural disaster away from not functioning. Having cash on hand gives you an option if the infrastructure is damaged.