NOT much distinguishes a valuable banknote from any old piece of printed paper, as Indians discovered this week. In a surprise televised address on November 8th, Narendra Modi, the prime minister, announced that the country’s two highest-denomination notes, worth 500 and 1,000 rupees ($7.50 and $15), were to be legally worthless with near-immediate effect. This odd variant of alchemy is the latest in a series of moves to curb illicit income; economists hope long-term gains will justify a chaotic spell as India adapts.
The idea is not as barmy as it might first appear. Mr Modi has implemented a flurry of schemes to flush out “black money”, the term Indians use for cash which is both unaccounted for and outside its formal financial system. Piles of ill-gotten income have long been easy to launder into gold or property, where using notes for at least part of a purchase is the norm. “Demonetising” high-value tender means existing notes must be traded in at banks and post offices before the end of the year. That will force those with suitcases of cash either to come clean or to renounce their loot.
Still, it is dramatic: central banks…Continue reading