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“It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!” - Friedrich Nietzsche

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On November 9, 2016 an economic earthquake occurred in India. Without warning the Indian government declared the two largest cash denomination bills invalid in an instant, meaning that 80% of circulating cash became unusable. The 500 and 1000 rupee notes are worth 6 and 12 pounds sterling respectively. Even though people could take these denomination notes to their bank which would then be credited to the amount they deposited, the fact is just under half of all Indian people do not even have bank accounts and those that do often have to travel tens of miles to access their bank. The deadline for depositing these now obsolete banknotes was 31 December 2016. With massive queues forming outside banks to deposit these notes, many people simply missed the deadline. Many poor people without bank accounts simply could not exchange these banknotes and as a result, for them, lost a considerable amount of money.

The principal reasons given by the Indian  government for initiating such a grossly unfair and ill-conceived decision was to root out corruption and compel people to use digital transactions. Why would such a financial experiment be initiated by a country which is probably one of the least equipped to deal with its aftermath? For the answer to this you need to look at the core organisations who have provided the impetus and finance for this bold project and where it originated - the United States.

A month before the Indian government's sudden announcement, USAID (a development and political tool of American multinational corporations), announced the establishment of ‘Catalyst Inclusive Cashless Payment Partnership’ with the whole idea being to eventually turn India  and the rest of the world into a cashless society. The concept was dressed up in staggering cynical terminology such as – freeing people from the ‘entrapment of a cash ecosystem’. And yet India, as a developing country, relies on cash in order for poorer people in remote areas and without bank accounts to trade. It’s not like being in Oxford Street on a sunny afternoon and choosing which store or credit card to use today. In this respect, the idea of suddenly turning India (of all countries) into a digital economy beggars belief.

The Indian government’s decision starts to make more sense when you look at the deal agreed between USAID and India’s Ministry of Finance.  Within this deal are scores of stakeholders which include many other key Indian and American multinational organisations. And lo and behold, the bulk of these companies' expertise is in either IT or payment service providers such as MasterCard, Visa, MetLife Foundation, Dell Foundation and the Gates Foundation.

If you have any preconceptions USAID had partnered with these organisations because they wanted to reduce corruption in India and create prosperity by digitising the economy, you will  be sorely disappointed. The parallels with past American International conduct in developing countries is striking. For those of you who can cast their minds back to the 1980’s, you may recall when the Reagan administration which used an economic model (later known as ‘The Shock Doctrine’) as a ‘battering ram’ to change self-reliant economies to free-market economies - creating a dependency on foreign imports in order to annex raw materials and cheap labour markets. Also in the '80's, we saw the emergence of GM crops – advertised as a means of solving the world food problem, but in effect creating a dependency on US based multinationals for seeds and pesticides. For this to be achieved, sustainable farming models in many developing countries had to be completely dismantled with cheaper imports and promises of more prosperity. No expense was spared in creating a dependency and demand for US multinationals' agricultural products.

Virtually the exact same thing is happening again. A bold attempt is being made to dismantle the economic cash model and accepted transactional habits which have served millions of Indian people adequately well up to now. The target again is focused on an essential human need – with GM it was food and now it is people’s ability to make any kind of transaction. Once cash is removed India’s population will be forced into using some form of digital means to affect even the simplest transaction. For anyone who has not worked it out already, billions are set to be made providing Indian people with the devices needed for these transactions together with the potential commission levied on top of each transaction. And let’s not forget the value of the information which can be gathered on people’s buying habits etc.

The suddenness with which this removal of 80% of circulating cash has been affected, parallels in speed and urgency of economic reforms in developing countries through the ‘shock doctrine’ in the Reagan era. Then, as now, millions of people found their way of life and their prosperity destroyed by decisions implemented so fast there was little room for consultation, opposition or recompense.

With a severe lack of critical analysis from any of the mainstream media outlets, what we are witnessing in India is unprecedented. If this corporate experiment is pushed through it will no doubt be used as a model for other developing nations. The members of the Indian government are either incredibly naïve or incredibly corrupt to allow this financial experiment on a country least able to mitigate against its effects and which will leave generations to come even more disenfranchised and impoverished as a result.{comments on}

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