India scraps high denomination notes

India’s Economic Times reports:

In a move to curb the black money menace, PM Narendra Modi declared that from midnight currency notes of Rs 1000 (Kshs. 1500) and Rs 500 (Kshs. 750) denomination will not be legal tender. People can deposit notes of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 in their banks from November 10 till December 30, 2016.

…. However, he said that all notes in lower denomination of Rs 100, Rs 50, Rs 20, Rs 10, Rs 5, Rs 2 and Re 1 and all coins will continue to be valid.

This is an interesting move that will likely improve the Indian government’s ability to monitor cash movements in the economy. A while back Kenya’s central bank introduced rules requiring paperwork for any cash transaction above US $10,000. India’s move goes well beyond this.

Here is Tyler Cowen’s reaction over at MR:

This is a big deal as these notes account for at least 80% of all cash in circulation! Ken Rogoff has argued for eliminating cash but this doesn’t seem to be a move in that direction since the notes will be replaced with new Rs 500 and Rs 2000 notes. Rather it seems to be a wealth tax on the black market. Old notes can be turned into a bank for replacement so ordinary people won’t lose money. People in the black market, however, probably have a lot of cash that they are unwilling to turn into a bank because they don’t want to reveal their wealth. Imagine walking into a bank and depositing a million dollars in cash–that is going to create a record that the tax authorities can follow. The wealth tax on the black market interpretation is consistent with the surprise–if people knew that this was coming they could have laundered the money but that is going to be more difficult and costly now.

It’s impressive that a government could pull off this level of secrecy. Good for Modi’s image as competent, uncorrupt and technocratic. Indians are calling it a “surgical strike on black money” which is the imagery Modi wants. But what will happen tomorrow when people don’t have enough cash to buy goods and services?

Would the Kenyan government be able to successfully pull off a surprise policy move like this? Certainly the country would probably benefit given all the bags of cash floating around.

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