Ken Rogoff and the Curse of Cash

by Frederic Friedel
9/8/2016 – He used to be a very strong chess grandmaster, one of the 40 best in the world. But at eighteen he abandoned chess to study economics, and went on to become a leader in the field. We met Kenneth Rogoff over a year ago in Munich, Germany, where he and GM Helmut Pfleger exchanged chess memories. Ken also delivered a remarkable lecture on the curse of paper currency. Today his book on the subject has been released – to keen world-wide attention.

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Munich lecture by Ken Rogoff

The Center for Economic Studies (CES), which is an independent institute within the Faculty of Economics of the University of Munich, invites visiting scholars to conduct their research in Munich, Germany, and to give a lecture series in return. In November 2014 their guest was Ken Rogoff, who received a prize and held a talk on a fairly controversial subject.

The prizegiving and the lecture were extremely well attended...

... and Ken Rogoff held a speech which surprised everybody.

Watch the video – you won't regret it!

Here is the full lecture that Ken held in Munich at the end of 2014 at the ifo Institut – Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung an der Universität München e.V. It is a fascinating 42-minute talk you should reserve time to watch. The lecture is an early version of what Rogoff has laid out in his new book: that paper money has brought on a great deal of problems for humanity, and that possibly the time come for governments to start phasing out paper currency (cash), except perhaps for small-denomination notes, coins, or both. Miss this lecture at your own peril – with the publication of Curse of Cash the subject is going to become mainstream in a short time.

Kenneth Saul Rogoff is the Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy and Professor of Economics at Harvard University. He has served as an economist at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and at the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, and has also been an advisor on the team of a presidential candidate. As a former chess grandmaster, who at the height of this career was ranked number forty in the world, Ken has not been able to abandon his love of the game.

A conjunction of pure brain power: world class economist and chess grandmaster Ken Rogoff, GM and author John Nunn, computer and computer chess pioneer Ken Thompson at the London Chess Classic 2011

I (Frederic Friedel, above in the middle) was able to attend the lecture in Munich and reunite with two old and close friends. Ken has visited me in Hamburg, and I have seen him in London and California. Helmut Pfleger (right) was the first GM I met in my life. I used him in two science documentaries on how computers play chess, and we have been friends ever since.

On the day after the lecture I got Ken and Helmut to discuss a game they had played 44 years ago at the 17th World Student Team Chess Championship in Haifa. Helmut did not remember the moves, but Ken did. It was a Benko in which Helmut hung on to the pawn and crushed him. Here's that memorable game:

[Event "WchT U26 17th"] [Site "Haifa"] [Date "1970.08.18"] [Round "10.1"] [White "Pfleger, Helmut"] [Black "Rogoff, Kenneth"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "A58"] [PlyCount "117"] [EventDate "1970.08.04"] [EventType "team"] [EventRounds "11"] [EventCountry "ISR"] [SourceTitle "EXT 2001"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2000.11.22"] 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. g3 c5 4. d5 b5 5. cxb5 d6 6. Bg2 a6 7. bxa6 Bxa6 8. Nc3 Bg7 9. Nf3 Nbd7 10. O-O O-O 11. Re1 Ne8 12. e4 Nc7 13. Bf4 Qb8 14. Qc1 Nb5 15. Bh3 Nb6 16. Nxb5 Bxb5 17. Bh6 Ra7 18. Bxg7 Kxg7 19. b4 Na4 20. bxc5 Nxc5 21. Rb1 Rb7 22. Nd4 Ba4 23. Qc3 Kg8 24. Rxb7 Qxb7 25. e5 Rb8 26. exd6 exd6 27. Qf3 Re8 28. Rxe8+ Bxe8 29. Nb3 Ba4 30. Nxc5 Qb1+ 31. Bf1 dxc5 32. Qe2 Bd7 33. Kg2 Qb7 34. Qf3 Qb4 35. a3 Qb1 36. g4 Qc1 37. h3 c4 38. Qf6 Ba4 39. Qd4 Qxa3 40. Bxc4 Qd6 41. g5 Bd7 42. Qf6 Qc5 43. Qd8+ Kg7 44. Qf6+ Kg8 45. Qf4 Kf8 46. h4 Bf5 47. d6 Ke8 48. Qe3+ Qxe3 49. fxe3 Kd7 50. Bxf7 Kxd6 51. Bg8 Be4+ 52. Kg3 Bc6 53. Bxh7 Be8 54. Kf4 Ke7 55. Bg8 Kf8 56. Bc4 Ke7 57. Ke5 Kf8 58. Kf6 Bf7 59. Bd3 1-0

Ken wrote us today: "I am pretty sure my game with Helmut was my first and last attempt to play the Benko Gambit. Obviously, I had no feel for it, deserved to crushed, and Helmut executed with flair. Fortunately, our team captain had faith and let me continue to play on first board for the US after this defeat., I ultimately recovered, and the US team won the tournament on the back of a spectucular performance by my teammate Andrew Soltis."

Incidentally in 2012 Ken played chess moves for the first time in thirty years: a blitz game against a guy called Magnus Carlsen. He (Ken) was slightly better but drew.

[Event "Exhibition blitz game"] [Site "?"] [Date "2012.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Rogoff, Kenneth"] [Black "Carlsen, Magnus"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C95"] [PlyCount "66"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Re1 b5 7. Bb3 O-O 8. c3 d6 9. h3 Nb8 10. d4 Nbd7 11. Nbd2 c5 12. Nf1 Re8 13. Ng3 Bf8 14. a4 Bb7 15. Ng5 c4 16. Bc2 d5 17. dxe5 Nxe5 18. f4 Nd3 19. Bxd3 cxd3 20. e5 Ne4 21. N3xe4 dxe4 22. Qh5 Qb6+ 23. Kh2 Qg6 24. Qxg6 hxg6 25. Nxe4 f6 26. axb5 axb5 27. Rxa8 Rxa8 28. Nf2 fxe5 29. Nxd3 e4 30. Nf2 Ra1 31. Bd2 Ra2 32. Bc1 Ra1 33. Bd2 Ra2 1/2-1/2

The Curse of Cash by Kenneth S. Rogoff

From the New York Times bestselling author of This Time Is Different, “a fascinating and important book” (Ben Bernanke) about phasing out most paper money to fight crime and tax evasion—and to battle financial crises by tapping the power of negative interest rates.

onglisted for the FT & McKinsey Business Book of the Year 2016

Hardcover | 2016 | $29.95 | £22.95 | ISBN: 9780691172132
296 pp. | 6 x 9 | 30 line illus.
eBook | ISBN: 9781400883219 |

The world is drowning in cash—and it’s making us poorer and less safe. In The Curse of Cash, Kenneth Rogoff, one of the world’s leading economists, makes a persuasive and fascinating case for an idea that until recently would have seemed outlandish: getting rid of most paper money.

Even as people in advanced economies are using less paper money, there is more cash in circulation—a record $1.4 trillion in U.S. dollars alone, or $4,200 for every American, mostly in $100 bills. And the United States is hardly exceptional. So what is all that cash being used for? The answer is simple: a large part is feeding tax evasion, corruption, terrorism, the drug trade, human trafficking, and the rest of a massive global underground economy.

As Rogoff shows, paper money can also cripple monetary policy. In the aftermath of the recent financial crisis, central banks have been unable to stimulate growth and inflation by cutting interest rates significantly below zero for fear that it would drive investors to abandon treasury bills and stockpile cash. This constraint has paralyzed monetary policy in virtually every advanced economy, and is likely to be a recurring problem in the future.

The Curse of Cash offers a plan for phasing out most paper money—while leaving small-denomination bills and coins in circulation indefinitely—and addresses the issues the transition will pose, ranging from fears about privacy and price stability to the need to provide subsidized debit cards for the poor.

While phasing out the bulk of paper money will hardly solve the world’s problems, it would be a significant step toward addressing a surprising number of very big ones. Provocative, engaging, and backed by compelling original arguments and evidence, The Curse of Cash is certain to spark widespread debate.

Kenneth S. Rogoff, the Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is the coauthor of the New York Times bestseller This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly (Princeton). He appears frequently in the national media and writes a monthly newspaper column that is syndicated in more than fifty countries. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Don't miss the above article in the Wall Street Journal, August 27 7 2016: The Sinister Side of Cash, by Kenneth S. Rogoff. It is apparently free on the Internet and not hidden behind a paywall.

Currently there are close to 5000 articles on "Curse of Cash" in the international press. A few of them contain visceral criticism, as do some of the feedback items posted below. Ken Rogoff is posting a blog about once a week on the Princeton Univeristy Press Website addressing some of them. Here's the first.

Previous ChessBase articles with Ken Rogoff

Chess Grandmasters at the Davos conference
03.02.2009 – As the World Economic Forum held its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, two chess grandmasters weighed in on the crisis that has hit the economies of industrialised nations. One was Chess World Champion Vishy Anand, the other one of the leading economic thinkers in the world, Ken Rogoff – who in his day was listed in 40th place in the world chess rankings. Articles and videos.
Rogoff: Things are not going to get better soon
01.04.2009 Are you baffled by the global financial crisis? Are the contradictory statements put out by various experts confusing you? Then listen to this interview with one of the world's leading economists, Kenneth S. Rogoff, who very lucidly explains the current situation, its causes and its possible remedies. Ken is also a chess grandmaster, and in 1972 he played the following jewel of a game.
Grandmasters and Global Growth
07.01.2010 – Professor Kenneth Rogoff is a strong chess grandmaster, who also happens to be one of the world's leading economists. In a Project Syndicate article that appeared this week Ken sees the new decade as one in which "artificial intelligence hits escape velocity," with an economic impact on par with the emergence of India and China. He uses computer chess to illustrated the point.
Rogoff: Technology and Inequality – parallels in chess
21.07.2011 – When a leading economic thinker happens to also be a strong chess grandmaster, his explanations of financial matters tend to draw allegories from the game he loves. Prof. Kenneth Rogoff periodically sets out his views in TV interviews and newspaper columns. Here is one from Project Syndicate that has appeared in many news sites. A while ago Ken sent warm birthday greetings to ChessBase.
Rogoff on chess addiction and why he had to give up the game
16.12.2011 – One of the highlights of the London Chess Classic has been the visits of a large number of important and interesting people. One of them, the Professor and world-renowned economist Ken Rogoff, is also a chess grandmaster. He was whisked away from the VIP room at Olympia for an interview with the BBC, in which he very frankly discusses the dangerous side of his former chess career.
Rogoff on innovation, unemployment, inequality and dislocation
10/7/2012 – "Two hundred years of breathtaking innovation have produced rising living standards for ordinary people," says a renowned economist (and chess grandmaster), "with no sharply rising trend for unemployment." As an example, Ken Rogoff looks at the world of professional chess, where technology has actually contributed to equalizing incomes of player and trainers. Must-read article.
Magnus Carlsen Storms New York's Chess Scene
06.09.2012 – They could barely reach the other side of the chessboard, but playing against the world's top-rated grandmaster Magnus Carlsen was a thrilling experience for many New York kids. Carlsen also played with billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros, and a blitz game against one of the world's leading economists, Kenneth Rogoff. Lubomir Kavalek reports in The Huffington Post.
Ken Rogoff: economist and chess player
9/30/2015 – If you own a television set and watch news you will know him: Prof Kenneth Rogoff, who is interviewed on a weekly basis by the biggest news outlets in the world – CNN, CNBC, New York Times, Bloomberg – regarding world economics. But did you know that this famous economist started off as a chess player – and a highly successful one at that? Mini-series on Rogoff and chess.
Rogoff on the Fischer movie "Pawn Sacrifice"
9/18/2015 – Harvard professor Kenneth Rogoff is a world famous economist – and a chess grandmaster. He thinks that in the Hollywood movie actor Toby Maguire portrays Fischer with remarkable authenticity "indeed, pitch-perfect for those of us who met Bobby in his prime" (as Rogoff did). In his review Ken speculates how Fischer would not be Fischer in today's world.
Did you guess who annotated Rogoff-Spencer 1969?
10/2/2015 – In a previous article we reproduced a report on the 1969 US Junior Championship in which Ken Rogoff, today a world famous economist, won the title with a two-point lead over the field. The key game in the final round was witnessed by a kibitzing chess columnist, who expressed his admiration for the sixteen-year-old and annotated his game – with advice for budding chess players.

Topics Rogoff

Editor-in-Chief of the ChessBase News Page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.
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Stefan64 Stefan64 9/9/2016 11:36
Rogoff played chess tournaments until 1980 when he was 27.

So that he left chess at 18 is NONSENSE.

He left school at 16 to play chess according to wiki.
RonaldRump RonaldRump 9/9/2016 04:35
Sounds like Ken Rogoff is advocating economic terrorism at the insistence of his elitist friends. Yeah let's abandon virtues like saving and paying down debt and encourage people to spend money they don't have on things they don't need and use the media to drum up this message.

Who's running such a circus? Rogoff and his war mongering economist buddies.

If the elite are so interested in doing away with cash, then they should make actual physical resources available instead of hoarding on them by printing more currency and backing that currency with the power of their guns.

Interesting notion of buying natural resources that belong to all species, with a printing press.

Gee just imagine if someone decided to buy out all the land from underneath my feet simply because they controlled the mint. Ooh where would I stand on this planet then? LOL.

RonaldRump RonaldRump 9/9/2016 04:25
Economists are mathematicians that failed to become Astrophysicists.
quantentunnel quantentunnel 9/9/2016 02:15
@fons: good summary! Especially the part about [macro]economics, which not only is no science but was, over the centuries, always just following the current political system, trying to justify it via crazy assumptions and invalid reasoning, hidden behind walls of scientific sounding terms. Nasty discipline that, compared to real science.

I personally found the craziest moment of the talk when he justifies his Orwellian vision by the claim, that bankers told him in secrecy their worst fears would be "Trucks"(!), stuffed with cash from their banks, driving away the money to a negative interest free place...
TMMM TMMM 9/9/2016 01:18
Boring talk and I agree with others that it's not a great idea either. And it's not even related to chess.
fons fons 9/9/2016 12:47
1) You are SERIOUSLY deluded if you think removing paper money will curb down on crime. And yes: drug cartels DO use banks (and electronic money) to launder their millions upon millions of money.

2) Fight tax evasion? Ditto. You think these corporations evade billions in tax money by moving paper money around? Get real. Remember the 'Panama Papers'? All that went through banks.

3) Fighting the financial crisis? This a joke?. All "financial crisis" are caused by... you guessed it: the banks and stock market shenanigans.

What this WILL do however is create even more control for governments over it's citizens. Whoopty doo. Looks like this guy has a weird political agenda. (Keep in mind he's based in the US.)

All that being said: paper money is gradually being phased out already anyway. We pay more and more with digital money as we speak. The future will be downright Orwellian considering the rise of mass surveillance and the like.

Digital money has its benefits, but I wouldn't banish paper money completely just yet, not in the world we live in today.

Funny thing watching the video: when he mentions the privacy issue they cut to a yawning audience member. Well played editor, well played. I also learned that Bitcoin is only used for drugs.

Oh and BTW: did you know that economics is not a science? Strange how they never mention that. It does explain a lot though.

The video ends with a brazz band playing some kind of party music. Was it all just a dream?
frappeboy frappeboy 9/9/2016 12:10
Of course the elite want to ban cash. Their next goal is to implement negative interest rates (charge you to keep money in the bank). They know people will just withdraw all their money and hide it under the mattress. So the obvious first step is to ban cash.
Masquer Masquer 9/8/2016 11:38
How about the curse of credit cards?
quantentunnel quantentunnel 9/8/2016 10:39
Absolutely disgusting that the lies and deceptions of the global elite running the western world now even penetrate me on a *chess* website. Mr. Friedel, you have *no* idea of what you are promoting here...
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 9/8/2016 01:52
Well Rogoff why not coins? So yes take away the paper Money but let us start use coins instead of this dumb credit card. The CC one could have at home for online shopping. Heavy coins instead of 100 dollar bills would be hard to cary around. And everyone could be forced to cash in their paper Money anonymously to coins or inte digital Money. We could even take a 10% tax of thouse one (the criminals) who want to cash in their paper to coins.
Mr TambourineMan Mr TambourineMan 9/8/2016 01:02
Worlds shortest chess games? 1.e4 draw? One arent allowed to offer draw Before one making a move. Or maybe one the rules once said that if the opponent wasnt on time then the games started one could write down the move and then fold the notation upside down inform the arbiter about the move and in order to not show the move to the opponent or someone that helps him press the Clock without executing the move on the board and then opponent comes the arbiter execute the move. In that way we can have 1.e4 on paper but not executed and the game could end in a draw as the opponent comes and one offers a draw Before the arbiter execute the move.
bmerim bmerim 9/8/2016 11:30
the guy with advanced excel skills?!
lajosarpad lajosarpad 9/8/2016 10:20
Never trust bankers.