What seemed at first to be a masterstroke by Prime Minister Narendra Modi now looks like a grave miscalculation.
Now that 86 percent of India’s currency is no longer valid, the central bank has struggled to print replacement denominations -- and the new notes are the wrong size for existing ATMs. Modi’s asked people to be patient for 50 days, but the process could take as long as four months.
India’s simply too big and complex for shock and awe. Large parts of the rural economy use cash for 80 percent of transactions and have been hard-hit. In seafood-mad West Bengal, for example, the fishing industry is in a state of near-collapse; in the wheat-growing states of the northwest, farmers halfway through the sowing season have run out of cash to buy seeds.
Even setting aside the painful adjustment, the long-term effects of this monetary shock on India’s informal economy could well be severe; a large proportion of marginal firms may not survive the loss of a fortnight of income. The informal financial sector -- unregistered moneylenders who provide loans to businesses worth 40 percent of total bank lending -- will be decimated.