IN NOVEMBER India’s government perpetrated an unprecedented act that is not only damaging its economy and threatening destitution to countless millions of its already poor citizens but also breathtaking in its immorality. Without any warning India abruptly scrapped 85% of its currency. That’s right: Most of the country’s cash ceased to be legal tender. Shocked citizens were given only a few weeks’ notice to take their cash and turn it in at a bank for new bills.
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.
India’s economy is based mostly on cash. Moreover, much of it operates informally because of excessive rules and taxes. The government bureaucracy is notorious for its red tape, lethargy and corruption, forcing people to get by on their wits.
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.
News flash: Human nature hasn’t changed since we began roaming this planet. People will always find ways to engage in wrongdoing. Terrorists aren’t about to quit their evil acts because of a currency change. As for the digitization of money, it will happen in its own good time if free markets are permitted. And the best cure for tax evasion is a flat tax or, at the least, a simple, low-rate tax system that renders tax evasion hardly worth the effort. Make it easy to do business legally and most people will do just that.
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.
India’s awful act underscores another piece of immorality. Money represents what people produce in the real world. It is a claim on products and services, just as a coat-check ticket is a claim for a coat left at the coat check in a restaurant or a ticket is for a seat at an event. Governments don’t create resources, people do. What India has done is commit a massive theft of people’s property without even the pretense of due process–a shocking move for a democratically elected government. (One expects such things in places like Venezuela.) Not surprisingly, the government is downplaying the fact that this move will give India a onetime windfall of perhaps tens of billions of dollars.
By stealing property, further impoverishing the least fortunate among its population and undermining social trust, thereby poisoning politics and hurting future investment, India has immorally and unnecessarily harmed its people, while setting a dreadful example for the rest of the world
By stealing property, further impoverishing the least fortunate among its population and undermining social trust, thereby poisoning politics and hurting future investment, India has immorally and unnecessarily harmed its people, while setting a dreadful example for the rest of the world.
What India must do to fulfill its desire to become a global powerhouse is clear: slash income and business tax rates and simplify the whole tax structure; make the rupee as powerful as the Swiss franc; hack away at regulations, so that setting up a business can be done with no cost and in only a few minutes; and take a supersize buzz saw to all the rules that make each infrastructure project a 100-year undertaking.
The Article First Appeared In Forbes
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