So much for the cashless society. The number of £50 notes in circulation has nearly doubled over the past decade, outstripping other denominations. By the end of last month, they were worth more than £17bn, nearly a quarter of the Bank of England (BoE ) notes in circulation. What is behind this popularity? One possibility is new converts to the “look at my wad!” school of conspicuous consumerism, promoted by 1980s' comic character Loadsamoney. But for most day-to-day transactions big notes are a pain. Spending involves gimlet-eyed checks for fraud. Hoarding at times of crisis is more plausible. In 2009, the BoE blamed rising demand for notes on fading confidence in banks. In 2016 there was an even bigger growth in £50 notes. Perhaps some of that 15% rise could be explained by panic, fuelled by lurid predictions of a Brexit-inspired economic collapse. The case for squirrelling away cash was weak. The banks were stable, having raised more than £130bn of capital since the financial cri...

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