Cash and the Economy: Evidence from India's Demonetization
We analyze a unique episode in the history of monetary economics, the 2016 Indian "demonetization." This policy made 86% of cash in circulation illegal tender overnight, with new notes gradually introduced over the next several months. We present a model of demonetization where agents hold cash both to satisfy a cash-in-advance constraint and for tax evasion purposes. We test the predictions of the model in the cross-section of Indian districts using several novel data sets including: a data set containing the geographic distribution of demonetized and new notes for causal inference; nightlights data and employment surveys to measure economic activity including in the informal sector; debit/credit cards and e-wallet transactions data; and banking data on deposit and credit growth. Districts experiencing more severe demonetization had relative reductions in economic activity, faster adoption of alternative payment technologies, and lower bank credit growth. The cross-sectional responses cumulate to a contraction in employment and nightlights-based output due to demonetization of 2 p.p. and of bank credit of 2 p.p. in 2016Q4 relative to their counterfactual paths, effects which dissipate over the next few months. We use our model to show these cumulated effects are a lower bound for the aggregate effects of demonetization. We conclude that unlike in the cashless limit of new-Keynesian models, in modern India cash serves an essential role in facilitating economic activity.
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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w25370