Hari's Corner

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Lessons from demonetization

Filed under: People and society by Hari
Posted on Sun, Jan 8, 2017 at 10:42 IST (last updated: Sun, Jan 8, 2017 @ 10:48 IST)

(Slightly edited, original published in my FaceBook stream)

If there is one thing that demonetization has taught us, it should be the inherent worthlessness of money from an abstract point of view. Money cannot exist in a vacuum. Nobody knows what Re. 1/- is truly worth, except by assessing its purchasing power. A few measly one Rupee coins can be a boon when you need to make an emergency phone call from nowhere, when your mobile signal is down and you only have the option of a public call booth. Similarly, a thousand rupees are worth nothing if you have nothing to spend it on. After all, physical currency notes and coins being inedible (I hope so) cannot satiate hunger either.

In one stroke, a Government could render a majority of the currency notes useless. This is basically money. Going deeper, what is real property worth either? A single flood could damage houses and render them unliveable. Gold could suddenly lose all its value if the abstraction called "market" decides that it's not worth the price paid for it.

Let us not forget, long before demonetization, the constitutional right to property was removed from the ambit of "fundamental rights" and delegated to merely a "legal right" by the Indian Government, a move which has had a far greater impact (though spread out over decades and more subtle) than demonetization. It made it far easier for Government to acquire private land and set ceilings on land ownership. Basically if the Government thinks that the location of your house is suitable for a public causeway, it can acquire it. The scope for challenging Government acquisition of private immovable property is severely curtailed.

Indeed, material wealth carefully and strenuously accumulated over a lifetime of hard work is inherently powerless against nature and even powerful human agencies like Governments.

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