The Economics of a Religious Ritual

India is a very religious country. As such, there are numerous religious rituals involved. Once such religious ritual is throwing coins into ponds located within a temple. In the non-religious parlance, this can be related to throwing coins into fountains and wells for luck. How do the wasted coins affect the economy? Does the economy become poorer for all the lost wealth? Well, not quite.


Imagine that there is a lunatic out on the loose whose sole purpose in life is to steal money from people – and burn it. Now he has successfully burnt down all but Rs. 100 worth of money in the hands of every single person in the country. Imagine now what would be the likely effect on the economy. There will be deflation, heck, depression.

People will not spend at all. They will guard their Rs. 100 with their life. They will spend it sparingly, only for food and other necessities. The prices of all other goods and services will crash. Businesses will shut down. If at all some business remains operational, their good or service will be sold at a very marginal rate. Dresses will sell for Rs. 10 or so, cars will sell for Rs. 1000 and so on (Okay, not really, but at least in theory).

Putting aside the destruction and despair, think for a moment what happened to the value of money. Before the lunatic, you could get a Lay’s chips for Rs. 10, but after the fiasco, you are able to get a dress for the same amount. The value of money increased multi-fold.

This is the economic impact of what we call ‘money burning’ in Economics. When you burn money/throw it away, you make everyone else using the same currency richer by a very, very, very tiny part. In the long term you also become richer, but of course you become immediately poorer if you burn your money/throw your money away.

For those of us economically inclined, the Quantity Theory of Money establishes exactly this. Although there are some strong critics of the theory, it holds true. Otherwise, Central Banks across the world would not have ‘controlling money supply’ as one of their major motives.

Before you try this experiment for yourself, note that destroying money is a punishable offense is most countries. This is due to the fact that money is not something you own. Money is simply an instrument created by the government to represent what you own aka your wealth. But at least, the next time you throw away a few coins into a pond, pause for a second and realize how you’ve made your country richer by a teeny-tiny part.

This article was written by Dinesh Sairam (PGDM, Batch 21, XIME-B)


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