Costs and Benefits to Phasing Out Paper Currency
Despite advances in transactions technologies, paper currency still constitutes a notable percentage of the money supply in most countries. For example, it constitutes roughly 10% of the US Federal Reserve's main monetary aggregate, M2. Yet, it has important drawbacks. First, it can help facilitate activity in the underground (tax-evading) and illegal economy. Second, its existence creates the artifact of the zero bound on the nominal interest rate. On the other hand, the enduring popularity of paper currency generates many benefits, including substantial seigniorage revenue. This paper explores some of the issues associated with phasing out paper currency, especially large-denomination notes.
An earlier draft of this paper formed the basis for a dinner speech at the April 11, 2014, NBER Macroeconomics Conference in Cambridge MA. The author is grateful to Ruth Judson and Stephanie Lo as well as to NBER conference participants for extremely helpful comments, and to Madhusudan Vijay and Diana Zhu for research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.