Skip to main content

Noteban: Harvard, Goldman Sachs scholars bemoan lack of "authentic" growth data

By Rajiv Shah
In a sharp observation, scholars of a recent high-profile study, "Cash and the Economy: Evidence from India's Demonetization", whose results have been widely reported, have bemoaned: That there is lack of authentic official data on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with the Government of India, forcing them to use “nightlights data”, a methodology usually adopted by top international scholars to assess socio-economic growth in highly underdeveloped countries of East Africa and parts of Asia, where no authentic ground level surveys are available to assess development.
Under this methodology, statisticians the world over use satellite images of earth’s nightlights to measure social and economic activity and provide data that can help determine socioeconomic indicators when no other reliable information exists where economic accounting systems are weak, or when satellite images are more frequently available than such data.
Says an Asia Development Bank (ADB) expert, Arturo Martinez, Jr, who has used this method, "The data are more than just satellite images of earth; researchers use these images to derive proxy measures of various official statistics. The presumption is that most social and economic activities at night require light; hence the intensity of nighttime lights and the area they cover should correlate with socioeconomic indicators and economic development."
Using this method as an important measure to assess demonetization (losely referred to as noteban), scholars with well-known institutes – Gabriel Chodorow-Reich (Harvard), Gita Gopinath (Harvard), Prachi Mishra (Goldman Sachs), and Abhinav Narayanan (Reserve Bank of India) – in their study on demonetisation, find that the nightlights-based estimates suggest a “contraction” of output due to demonetization of 2 percentage points “in 2016Q4.”
Insisting that “demonetization had an adverse effect on real economic activity”, the study, published as a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) Working Paper No 25370 (December 2018), says, the results show “economically sharp, statistically highly significant contractions in areas (districts) experiencing more severe demonetization shocks”, adding, “The effects on real economic activity peak in the period immediately following the announcement (November 8, 2016) and dissipate over the next few months as new currency arrives.”
The scholars observe “a decline in nightlights-based economic activity and of employment of 3 percentage points or more in November and December of 2016”, which translates into “a decline in the quarterly growth rate of 2 percentage points or more”.
Pointing towards the reason why they adopted the nightlight activity to “measure of real activity following demonetization”, the scholars say, “Nightlight intensity refers to low-light imaging data collected by satellite and filtered to measure the quantity of artificial (i.e. human-generated) light in an area. Such data have been used to augment official measures of output and output growth and to generate estimates for areas or periods where official data are unavailable.”
Noting that nightlights activity suggest that “demonetization reduced real economic activity”, the scholars say, the areas with “larger declines in currency experienced sharper declines in employment and in nightlight activity after demonetization occurred”. They add, “The magnitude of the effect on real activity is substantial.”
Answering the question as to why does the “decline” does not reflect in the “national GDP data”, the scholars say, “National data are volatile and subject to other shocks, making it difficult to discern a single break point around demonetization”, adding, “Our measures of real activity have the advantage over official GDP of directly incorporating informal sector activity.”
This is particularly important, say the scholars, as “the informal sector in India is estimated to account for 81% of total employment (ILO, 2018) and 44% of total output and is especially cash-intensive. While the level of official GDP includes an estimate of informal sector activity derived from a quinquennial household survey, quarterly changes in GDP do not reflect any direct measurement of informal sector activity.”
The scholars note, “Our results also point to the likelihood of an absolute decline in economic activity at the end of 2016 not captured in official statistics”, underlining, “While the cashless limit may appropriately describe economies with well developed financial markets, in modern India cash continues to serve an essential role in facilitating economic activity.”
The scholars conclude, “There may be longer term advantages from demonetization that arise from improvements in tax collections and in a shift to savings in financial instruments and non-cash payment mechanisms. Evaluating these long-term consequences requires waiting for more data and an empirical strategy suited to the study of longer term effects.”

Comments

TRENDING

Arrest of Fr Stan Swamy: UN makes public letter seeking explanation from Govt of India

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Government of India (GoI), three senior United Nations (UN) officials – Elina Steinerte, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues – have said that the arrest of veteran activist Father Stan Swamy in October 2020 marks “the escalation of harassment the human rights defender has been subjected to since 2018.”

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Farm laws 'precursor' to free trade deal envisaged by US corporates to allow GMO

By Rajiv Shah Did the Government of India come up with the three farm laws, first rushed by promulgating ordinances in June 2020, to not just open the country’s agricultural sector to the corporate sector but also as a precursor to comply with the requirements of the United States for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as envisaged by the outgoing US president Donald Trump?

Modi govt 'implementing' IMF-envisaged corporate takeover of Indian agriculture

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak* The surge of wealth of Indian billionaires and the Modi-led BJP government’s onslaught on poor, marginalised and farmers continue to grow simultaneously as masses face annihilating pandemic of coronavirus. There is 90 % rise of Indian billionaire’s wealth over last one decade. It is not accidental.

A new fad in India, coding-for-toddlers culture needs to be 'nipped' in the bud

By Aditya Pandey* We are all aware of the dire consequences of subjecting young kids to intense academic pressure from an early age. In India, we have coaching institutes like FIITJEE and Resonance offering programmes for 6th standard kids to prepare them for “NTSE, IJSO, PRMO and other Olympiads”. The duration of these programmes is around 175 hours – hours that could've been spent playing games and making friends instead.

Differing from Ambedkar, Kancha Ilaiah holds a 'different' theory of caste system

By Banavath Aravind* I was introduced to Kancha Ilaiah’s work when I was about 20 years old. He was then in the midst of a controversy for a chapter in his book "Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution", which termed the Baniya community as social smugglers. During many of his debates, I had come to notice his undeterred fighting spirit in trying to bring up certain fundamental social issues that were hitherto undiscussed. I eventually came across some of his works and started reading them silently. I’m deliberately stressing upon the word ‘silently’ here, as this was the kind of silence particularly associated with sensitive social issues like caste, religion, etc. But, as I write this essay, I feel silences on sensitive issues should be broken. Ilaiah opened up an entirely new debate that had the vigour and strength to counter the systemic Brahmanism. His methods of research were also novel in terms of going back to the roo

New trend? Riots 'expanded' to new rural areas post-2002 Gujarat carnage: Report

A VHP poster declaring a Gujarat village part of Hindu Rashtra  By Rajiv Shah  Buniyaad, a Gujarat-based civil society organization, engaged in monitoring of communal violence in the state, in a new report, “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth?” has said that a “new trend” has come about in communal violence in the state, where the parts of Gujarat which didn't see communal riots in 2002 are experiencing “regular bouts” of communal violence.

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

More than 5,200 Gujarat schools to be closed down, merged, says govt document

RTE Forum, Gujarat, releasing fact-sheet on education By Our Representative A Gujarat government document has revealed that it is planning to close down 5,223 schools in the name of school merger. The document, dated July 20, 201 was released by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, Gujarat. It shows that the worst-affected districts because of this merger are those which are populated by marginalized communities – especially tribals, Dalits and minorities, said RTE Forum’s Gujarat convener Mujahid Nafees.

Consumption pattern, not economic shock behind 'poor' child health indicators

By Neeraj Kumar, Arup Mitra* The findings of the latest round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted in 2019-20 covering 22 States/UTs under Phase-I  present a somewhat disappointing picture of children’s health in India. Majority of the experts, based on prima facie evidence, just highlighted the deteriorating sign of child health in terms of increase in proportion of stunted and underweight children in most of the phase-I states/UTs over last two rounds of NFHS (2015-16 to 2019-20).