Bengal Famine Cash Coupons

Started by EWC, March 24, 2015, 09:13:27 AM

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Figleaf

Quote from: EWC on March 24, 2015, 09:13:27 AM
My information came entirely from a short paper by P L Gupta – and the primary source in that paper was a very brief and potentially ambiguous comment in the minutes of a meeting of the Chamber of Princes, 8th Nov. 1943, concerning a shortage of petty coin, and stating

"This shortage is mainly responsible for the hoarding of food grains."
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

EWC

Again - There is nothing at all ambiguous in the quote.

It states, unambiguously, the opinion that the shortage of coin was responsible for the hoarding of grain.

The problem seems to be that it says something you refuse to believe

EWC

Oops - sorry Peter.

I see now how my last comment might seem confusing.

However, the ambiguity I referred to initially was  uncertainty as to the objective facts on the ground

There is no ambiguity about the intention of the issuers.

So it is not possible to argue that these were food coupons

Figleaf

I think you are making two errors. The first is correlation without causality. You will find it difficult to explain why a shortage of goods causes a shortage of money or the other way around. In fact, a shortage of goods means forced savings. It should cause a surplus of money. The mechanism whereby a shortage of small change causes a shortage of food is another factor more difficult to explain. See above how I think an unfavourable division of income can cause money to be in the wrong hands.

Your second error is taking the statements of officials at face value. Official statements are a form of propaganda, that contains truth only when it serves the purposes of the official approving the statement (not to be confused with the official writing the statement.) The over-arching purpose of the official is not to be blamed. Ever. This is easy to explain. Officials typically work in a broad-based, pyramid-shaped organisation. Every layer contains too many candidates for promotion to the next layer up, even after turnover. Weeding out is on the basis of fault, mistake, error etc., no matter how tiny; rarely on the basis of responsibility. Criticism is a career threat. The main activity of an official is covering his own behind, especially when something is committed to paper and hysterically so when the text will become public. This is not cynicism but experience.

In this environment, a famine is always due to "inclement weather", stupid farmers or evil profiteering, never to a failing agricultural policy. Likewise, a shortage of small change is due to stupid shopkeepers, stupid banks, profiteers or another scapegoat, just never at any time ever due to central bank policy. This is true in India (and all other countries with an open form of government) today.

In other words, the statement is ambiguous because that is what the official wanted it to be. To his idiot bosses, it would read like: "you know we have a coin problem and now it has caused a food problem which is not my fault and you need to do something". If criticised for lack of internal logic, though, it would be read as "there is a coin problem and a food problem; draw your own conclusions."

Peter
An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

Pabitra

It is very much like dual currency system in Cuba.
It prevents people with extra cash to accumulate wanted goods, causing shortage.
When the wanted good is basic food, it will result in hoarding on one hand and starvation on other.
Famine money is distributed like ration, as per need and thus giving equal chance of getting food along with choice.
Other money is as per ones capacity to earn without letting him opportunity of cornering the food items.

EWC

Quote from: Figleaf on April 20, 2015, 04:55:59 PM
I think you are making two errors.

Perhaps – but they are not either of the matters you mention.

Quote from: Figleaf on April 20, 2015, 04:55:59 PM
The mechanism whereby a shortage of small change causes a shortage of food is another factor more difficult to explain

Nobody is claiming that.

Here, in more detail, are plausible suggestions that are consistent with the historical claims about a small change shortage that I mentioned earlier

Resources throughout the British Empire were diverted to the war effort.  In particular, minting of copper pennies ceased during 1941-3 in the UK.  Minting of 1/12th anna, 1/2 pice and 1/4 anna stopped altogether in India in 1942.  (I do not know when these coins were officially demonetised – can anyone assist?)  All these coins were initially issued with a significant fiduciary element of value.  This remained the case in the UK, but inflation in India had eroded that element to such an extent that the small coins were discontinued altogether in 1942.

The lack of new penny issues in the UK had no economic consequences that I am aware of (halfpenny issue continued anyhow).  However, in India a request was made for a big supply of new small coin – 200,000 rupees worth, by Bikanir State, in October 1942, which seems to indicate a shortage of small coin was being noticed by that date.  The request was refused by the Resident.  With sea lanes to London blockaded, the entire Eastern Empire was now reliant on the Indian Mints for coin production, and small change for India did not get priority.  Secondary British sources claim that the existing small change began to be hoarded by persons in India speculating on its intrinsic metal content, and thus it disappeared almost entirely from circulation.   So the small change emergency developed and 70+ states printed emergency coupon coins.

This account would seem to broadly match up with the sort of people who seem to have been worst hit by the famine - beggars and the low income self employed: since small coin constituted their only form of income and it no longer circulated.

Quote from: Figleaf on April 20, 2015, 04:55:59 PM
Your second error is taking the statements of officials at face value.

In order to claim an error in the above you have to show the Native Princes and those behind British secondary sources are both conspiring in a lie about the small change shortage.  That is not really plausible, let alone demonstrated.

It is odd however that the Chamber of Princes suggested that the lack of small change might be the main factor driving the famine, whilst the 200+ page official report by the British administration does not seem to mention the shortage of small coins at all. 

The official report is here:

http://bowbrick.org.uk/key_documents_on_the_bengal_fami.htm

THCoins

Just encountered the whole series of Bikaner cash coupons in an upcoming Dutch aution here.