Two of the greatest proponents of world free economy have lashed out at the Centre’s Narendra Modi government for its decision to impose note ban by declaring old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currencies invalid. These notes constituted 86% of India’s total cash flow.
In its editorial, Wall Street Journal termed the demonetisation decision as ‘war on cash’ calling bizarre. While Forbes magazine’s editor-in-chief, Steve Forbes, described the note ban sickening.
Forbes’ article, which is scheduled to be published in the 24 January’s edition of the magazine, said that Modi’s demonetisation decision was ‘not only damaging its economy and threatening destitution to countless millions of its already poor citizens but also breathtaking in its immorality.’
Excerpts of WSJ editorial below;
Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley says “India has to move towards the cashless society.” Cashless society? India? Last month’s demonetization continues to wreak economic havoc, and now defenders say it will pay off long-term by promoting digital-payment systems that increase efficiency and transparency. But why should Indians believe that officials exercising arbitrary power over their cash will keep their hands off a system that monitors every transaction?
In a cashless society the state has far greater means to harm the public, both through inept policies and abuses of power. Recent weeks have been bad enough, starting with the shock announcement that 85% of Indian currency in circulation was no longer legal tender and would have to be exchanged at banks for new bills not yet printed. As citizens idle in long bank lines and businesses fold without liquidity, officials are issuing contradictory directives about the new cash regime. Now these same officials want a digital record of every exchange.
There’s also the loss of financial privacy. As journalist Amit Varma writes in the Times of India, “If you buy AIDS medication or a porn magazine or book a hotel room for a romantic alliance, this information can be accessed by the government—or any hacker with the requisite skills—and used against you.” It would also hurt people in regular interactions. “Cash is empowerment: Ask the young wife who saves spare cash from her alcoholic husband,” Mr. Varma notes, “or the old mother who stuffs spare notes under her mattress for years because it gives her a sense of autonomy.”
Excerpts from Forbes’ article:
The economic turmoil has been compounded by the fact that the government didn’t print a sufficient amount of the new bills, lest word leak out as to what was about to take place. The new bills are also a different size than the old ones, creating a huge problem with ATMs. Even though India is a high-tech powerhouse, hundreds of millions of its people live in dire poverty. Many workers are leaving the cities to go back to their villages because so many businesses are closing. Countless companies are having difficulty meeting payroll, as they can’t get the cash to do so. The real estate market has tanked.
The World Bank’s annual survey, Doing Business, measures how difficult it is to start and manage a business in 190 countries, using such metrics as what it takes to set up a legal business, obtain construction permits and get electricity. India ranks among the worst in the world in these areas.
Not since India’s short-lived forced-sterilization program in the 1970s–this bout of Nazi-like eugenics was instituted to deal with the country’s “overpopulation”–has the government engaged in something so immoral. It claims the move will fight corruption and tax evasion by allegedly flushing out illegal cash, crippling criminal enterprises and terrorists and force-marching India into a digitized credit system.
India is the most extreme and destructive example of the anticash fad currently sweeping governments and the economics profession. Countries are moving to ban high-denomination bills, citing the rationales trotted out by New Delhi. But there’s no misunderstanding what this is truly about: attacking your privacy and inflicting more government control over your life.