The Rupee’s Wake-Up Call

The Indian rupee is depreciating sharply, provoking anxiety about inflation, financial instability, and diminished debt-repayment capacity. But the rupee's decline is a symptom of a deeper problem: India's economy is in trouble, and the country's dysfunctional political system is undermining its prospects for recovery.

PRINCETON – The Indian rupee has weakened rapidly in recent months, with the exchange rate against the US dollar dropping by 11%, to around 60 rupees, since early May. As a symbol of India’s economic strength, the rupee’s fall has provoked more than the usual hand-wringing and angst at home and abroad.

There is indeed reason to be worried, but not because the rupee’s value has declined. In fact, the slide has been long in coming, and recent market uncertainty has merely been a wake-up call.

The real reason to worry is that India has lost international competitiveness and has been buying time by borrowing from fickle lenders. Growth momentum has fizzled and, with inflation persistently high, Indian producers are struggling to compete in world markets. The current-account deficit is increasing relentlessly, owing to a widening trade deficit (now at 13% of GDP), raising the danger of a balance-of-payments crisis.

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