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Kren Cooper
So, something that's been on my mind a lot lately, trying to rationalise how the world works... cash, or rather the lack of it.

I'm still working on the SR3 rules / world building, so I don't know if this is something that has been updated in later versions. The SR3 rulebook on P238 describes SINs as having come about since 2036, that most people are registered at birth, that criminals caught who are SINless are then assigned a Criminal SIN and that life is difficult without one - as it's required for a legal job, opening a bank account, owning property, going to school, renting an apartment, establish utility services and any form of legal travel right down to buying a bus ticket.

From this, and other snippets through the book, I've always taken it that your SIN is your combined ID stick holding your entitlements (such as passport, visas, driving licences, gun licence, medical licence, any professional qualifications or competencies) and also acting as your debit/credit card and bank access stick - allowing you to slot your stick in the bus to pay for a trip (like a travelcard, oyster card or just a debit card on newer services), to paying for service at a Stuffer Shack or McRonalds, through to paying for a new suit at a high end store or renting a car at the airport.

On top of that of course are "certified credsticks" - the closest current analogy being something like an Amazon gift card - it's been loaded with a monetary value, but then has no real tracking - if you lose the card, you lose the value of it, and if you found one lying on the street, you can spend from it with no additional checks or ID. And as a result, a lot of Shadowrunners are paid with certified credsticks, as they provide a good cut-out for the Johnson or hiring corp.

And, in the main, most places don't *have* cash, let alone use cash. It's generally a rare thing in society and most "modern" cultures, and strongly pushed by the corps and the banks, both of which want to have full control and traceability of their drones and oppressed workers, who then can't do anything without their authority and tacit approval.

So - where does that leave the bottom rungs of society?
In my Smugglers game I recently threw a curveball at the players when they landed at a desert smuggler stop who wouldn't take cash for services - only "bottles", dealing in multiples of bottles of sealed and pure water as something that had immediate value and worth in that environment - that made sense to me there. But while clean potable water should still be valuable in the slums, it's not quite the same levels of life and death as out in the desert.
So how do beggers work sitting outside the transit terminals trying to get coin out of people?
How do you bribe or pay for off the book services from people out in the barrens?
How do you pay off those marauding gangers to leave you and your buddies alone, or to keep an eye on your stash?

I could see some enterprising beggars setting up outside transit terminals with clusters of vending machines, begging for people to buy them food, water, flats, small electronic items or chips and the like - so the SINner uses their stick as normal, but then hands the goods over to the SINless person.
Runners knowing they're heading into the barrens can use their fake SINs to go shopping and load up a cool box with beers, packet food, travel med-kits and sleeping bags from the army surplus shop, that will all have value to people on the streets - even someone who has a sleeping bag already will probably take a second, either for extra warmth or to barter on themselves later.
I could also see gangs backed by organised crime having the resources to actually have cred-readers for their protection rackets. "Hey, Mrs Kowalski. Nice place you have here. Looks kinda flammable though..." "Please don't hurt me - but I don't have cash, we haven't had any for years!" "Don't worry Mrs K - we take Amex and Mastercard..." Possibly going as far as the big organised gangs with chapters - the Ancients can do "business" like a store, I'm sure. But not the Red Hot Nukes or the 419ers...

But sometimes you just need to have street urchins that "might have seen something", or drifters that just need to tell the pursuing private eye that you went "the other way" down into the slums. And without cash or some other instant funds - how do you do that?

Do you still have cash circulating in your shadows and amongst the SINless? Is it the good old US dollar, crumpled, torn and badly faded - or something else? Or do your slums operate on an intensely confusing barter system with a constantly evolving exchange rate? How do you handle this at your table, and how much does it vary between different styles of games or campaign settings?
Kren Cooper
Just been thinking about this more while I was out walking the dog - there *has* to be cash, or a cash equivalent, just for the world to work as described - or I'm really missing a beat.

Why? Two things - Street level prostitution and Street level drugs.
Sure, the Bunraku parlour run by the Yakuza and let you slot your credstick. They have deckers on the payroll, who set up a front, and can bill your SIN discretely.
The guy shifting drugs at the high-society party also has a robust front, and will bill your firm for "consultancy", while supplying you with a half kilo of nova-coke to make sure your product launch goes down nicely and everyone has a good time.

But Delicious Delores the Ork street hooker from 3rd and Main on the edge of the barrens doesn't have that kind of organisation. She's giving out 10NY blowjobs and 20NY screws in the back of the burnt out truck in that side alley over there, on a musty and stained mattress she salvaged from the dump.
And Dick the Dealer, selling his 10NY wraps of nova-coke can't take credsticks. He needs cold hard Nuyen of some form, to pay off his dealer who supplied the 250gm of product "on tick" to him.

There have to be people on the street *with* cash to pay for those services, and then someone at street level who will sell goods for services *for* cash for those people to live on.
I'm wondering if it's as simple as a glass roof - that everyone below that relies on either barter or a cash society with no electronic funds at all... Delores does tricks for cash. She pays her landlord in cash for her horrid squat, and pays the gangers in cash for protection. The gangers use that cash for drugs from Dick the Dealer. He pays his dealer in cash - who also happens to do rentals on a string of squats. Larry the landlord now has a bunch of cash - which he uses to pay gangers to do courier work to his dealer, or to rob stores for the goods he wants - meaning his legit credstick pays for his services and other stuff he can't get so easily on the street. But that keeps the cash rotating in a much smaller and more local economy. If people start sitting on their cash, or exporting it to banks or even other districts too much, it takes the supply out of an area and you run into a shortfall, leading to massive inflation or mismatch in supply and demand, and the whole house of cards falls down...

And canonically, all of those things exist. Ergo, there must be a way for them to exist - much like Shadowrunners.
This is actually a very good point. I touched on this partially here several years back with what form a SIN takes; I decided on something like a SIM card.

But ultimately I think you're right. Cash has to exist in some form or another or the underground economy can't exist. And since this is Shadowrun, we know there's one hell of an underground economy.

Cash does exist, canonically - just not for and (these are purely digital currencies). Other currencies, like the deprecated $ or the still issue coins and notes. Similarly, some corporations may issue their scrip in these forms (plastic coins are specifically mentioned in some sources).

Runners generally have zero issues procuring certified credstick bases to be loaded at need, but very poor barrens denizens either rely on self-made cash (to be exchanged into certified sticks by people with access, and usually at a premium) or live in a barter society like you described.

Of course, in the end it doesn't really matter, the important thing is that there's a currency that's not easily traceable. It can be diamonds (for whatever reason they're still artificially scarce and viable in SR), gold, telesma or whatever you like, including getting paid in different currencies, or deciding that there are, indeed, bank notes and / or coins for Nuyen.
Agree with the above, but a Criminal SIN is just a SIN of someone with a blot on their record; it's not something that your local Stuffer Shack employee can look at and decide that you are unwanted in their fine establishment; they have to run the ID first, but then they'd lose the business, and the word would spread in the local community and their business might take a nosedive - so in most cases, a 'criminal SIN' works exactly the same as any other SIN. As long as you only use the SIN to pay small amounts for everyday services like coffee, a bus ride or a genuine candy cone at the local fair to your best gal, all they check is that there is a line of credit at the other end of the stick.

Now, if you buy something that requires a permit or a license, they WILL check if you have the required permits, and will notice the 'scarlet C' that may or may not put an end to that transaction, or if you go for something high-profile like that sweet, sweet Eurocar Westwind you always wanted, the company may or may want to make sure that their brand isn't associated with unsavory types - cue the roleplaying.
Check out Sprawl Sites, p. 126-127, for a good description of credsticks that should still largely hold true in your 3E world. As others have above, it draws the distinction between personal credsticks (which combine your ID with your banking accounts and are thus traceable) vs. certified credsticks, which have no identity requirement and are effectively the equivalent of cash.

(If you don't have it, Sprawl Sites is one of my all-time favorite books. Highly recommend.)

(Edit: upon review, most of this text about credsticks in the 3E core rulebook was pulled forward from Sprawl Sites. Sprawl Sites does go into some additional details, but the 3E book shares the core concepts.)

I'm trying to avoid typing it all out manually, but here's a relevant passage to address the original question: "Physical currency is virtually obsolete, with the black market as a major exception."

In my own games, certified credsticks play the roll of cash. You can make a credstick-to-credstick transfer by tapping them together (this is canon), so you can pay Delicious Dolores her 10 or 20 directly without resorting to cash and without it being traceable. I play it that certified credsticks are ubiquitous enough that anyone will accept them except for those completely isolated from modern society. Of course there are times when other forms of payment are more effective, whether it is gold or intel or a donut with soykaf. Using bottles of water for a desert smuggler is a fun curveball.

Second Edit: If you have any 4E books, Arsenal has some additional details on p.10-11. It calls out "corporate bonds" which are basically just bearer bonds: "Corporate bonds are another popular form of payment. In short, a bond is an IOU from a corporation that matures over time. They’re untraceable because, like certsticks, they can be issued anonymously."
I remember reading in SR4 that the yakuza mainly ran on cash, so they tried to fight the perception that only criminals used cash through their casinos. A bit backwards from what you'd expect if you've ever paid cash for chips, which makes it more interesting.
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