Photo by Sara Schmitt

In November 2016, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, laid out a plan that would turn the Indian economy upside down by demonetizing the Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes. Demonetization or “stripping a currency unit of its status as legal tender” was done in order to curb the amount of black money in the market. For an economy that almost exclusively operates on cash, this news sent shock waves. Nearly 86% of the circulating currency had become worthless.

Indians all over the country had a month to exchange the voided bills for new bills, after which there was no chance of getting your money back from the banks. People travelled long and far to line up in front of banks and ATMs for hours and hours sometimes to be turned away because there was no more money to be exchanged.

No one was spared. People of all socioeconomic levels were hit hard — from farmers to businessmen to servants and mob bosses.

One would think that after this debacle there would be unrest in the nation with violent protests in the streets calling for Modi’s resignation. Surprisingly, the exact opposite had occurred. Modi’s approval ratings were higher than ever. According the podcast Planet Money episode 771, reporter Stacey Vanek Smith said that many people had the following mind-set, “Yes, it’s been hard for me. Yes, a lot of people were harmed, but the government did the right thing.”

What is most shocking about this event is not the economic impact that demonetization will have on the country, a topic that many economists have analyzed and written about.
What stands out to me is solidarity of the people in the face of an incredibly unfair decision. The people of India are willing to face this struggle in the hopes that the future generations will be able to live in a fairer and more technologically advanced economy in which participants need not worry about corruption.

Americans have not come together in such a way since the 9/11 tragedy. Since then, we have been a divided nation where each citizen seems to only be looking out for him or herself. We are focused on immediate rewards and seem to think that the government is there to serve our every need on an individual basis. This selfish mindset that we possess poses severe consequences for the development of our nation. The events of this summer are clear evidence.

President Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, mentioning that coal was one of the reasons. Regardless, of whether or not global warming is a hoax or if the Paris Agreement is even effective, the fact of the matter is that coal is not making a comeback. It is not ever going to become the energy of the future. Believing otherwise is delusional, so it makes no sense that we are actively trying to save and expand jobs in the coal mining industry.

This is a clear example of how we are focused on the immediate rewards for a subset of people instead of thinking about the long term impact this could have. Rather than wasting efforts to save this industry, money and resources could be better utilized to retrain workers for different industries. Yes, the livelihood of tens of thousands of people will be in limbo, but it is not a completely hopeless situation and this sacrifice will help push the nation forward.

A similar argument could be made about the country’s stance on healthcare. Since the introduction of Obamacare many critics have complained about paying higher premiums. Yes, it is flawed and needs to be improved. But here’s the thing, the intention of the bill was noble and created to ensure that everyone could have affordable healthcare. The unquantifiable benefits of helping save lives far outweighs the quantifiable amount of money that we as a nation have to sacrifice for it.

We the people must have the wherewithal to realize that sacrifice is a necessity in order to better our nation and remain a leader on the global front. It is imperative that we come together and put aside our selfish desires for the greater common good because otherwise it will be our downfall.