The Nobel truth: How using Richard Thaler's tweet on demonetisation backfired on BJP
Half the picture doesn't tell the whole story.
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The 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics being awarded to Richard Thaler, a revered US-based economist of global repute, brought new life to the now old BJP propaganda: Demonetisation was an awesome move.
Thaler has long been hailed as a crucial connecting link between the imperfect and biased “human” choices in economics and the perfect “econ”, or unit of economic transaction that’s absolutely rational and chooses as per the best interests and outcomes of the market forces. According to the Nobel committee, his empirical findings and theoretical insights have been instrumental in creating the new and rapidly expanding field of behavioural economics, which has had a profound impact on many areas of economic research and policy.
Thaler also happens to be one of the economists who had praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation drive at the time of its announcement. He had expressed his views on the move back on November 8, 2016, tweeting: “This is a policy I have long supported. First step towards cashless and a good start on reducing corruption.”
For many in the BJP, Thaler becoming the 79th recipient of the Nobel Prize suddenly validated a claim that has long been debunked, not only by other equally reputed economists, invalidating its actual effects.
The demonetisation drive did not rid India of black money.
The move that crippled the finances of a majority of Indians by wiping out 86 per cent of cash in circulation and caused countrywide inconveniences and even deaths was a colossal failure, if one has to go by the claims made in Narendra Modi’s November 8 speech about the drive.
The RBI's annual report for 2016-17 shows that 98.96 per cent of the demonetised notes, which were withdrawn from circulation, returned to the banking system. This means only Rs 16,000 crore (1.04 per cent) did not flow back into the coffers.
And yet, it was within moments of the Nobel committee's announcement that Thaler had won that Amit Malviya, the head of BJP’s IT cell tweeted the following:
Richard Thaler just won the Nobel for Economics.. pic.twitter.com/oUvSGO0dbX— Amit Malviya (@malviyamit) October 9, 2017
Malviya wasn’t the only BJP member to do so. His tweet was retweeted by railway minister Piyush Goyal. Giriraj Singh too, took a hit at the “so called great economists of Congress”.
Dear so called great economists of congress .......lets meet Nobel prize winner in economics pic.twitter.com/Ko78holnqf— Giriraj Singh (@girirajsinghbjp) October 9, 2017
Of course, these “so called great economists of Congress” include names like Larry Summers, Arun Kumar, CP Chandrasekhar, Jean Drèze and many more.
There is, however, a plot-twist. When Thaler tweeted his approval on the demonetisation drive, he did not know that the high-value legal tender of Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes would be replaced by an even higher-value note of Rs 2,000, in addition to the new Rs 500.
When this other bit of information was conveyed to Thaler, his response was, “Really? Damn.”
This response, that was hidden away somewhere, was soon pointed out to Malviya, Singh and Goyal by Pratik Sinha, the founder of media watchdog Alt News.
Of course, none of them seems to have given it much attention.
Hanlon's razor suggests, "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." But is that the case with BJP?
At any point, if Giriraj Singh does choose to delete this observable “spin”, one can hardly expect a clarification. And in the case of Amit Malviya, even less so. In the past, Malviya hasn't shied away from intentionally spreading misinformation to better the cause of BJP.
In any case, Thaler’s approval or not, the price this country has paid for demonetisation, and this Nobel lie, is visible to all.