New Estimates of U.S. Currency Abroad, the Domestic Money Supply and the Unreported Economy
35 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2016
Date Written: April 1, 2012
Despite financial innovations that have created important new substitutes for cash usage, per capita holdings of U.S. currency amount to $2950. Yet American households and businesses admit to holding only 15 percent of the currency stock, leaving the whereabouts of 85 percent unknown. Some fraction of this unaccounted for currency is held abroad (the dollarization hypothesis) and some is held domestically undeclared, as a store of value and a medium of exchange for transactions involving the production and distribution of illegal goods and services, and for transactions earning income that is not reported to the IRS (the unreported economy hypothesis). We find that the percentage of U.S. currency currently held overseas is between 30-37 percent rather than the widely cited figure of 65 percent. This finding is based on the official Federal Reserve/Bureau of Economic Analysis data which is a proxy measure of the New York Federal Reserve’s (NYB) “confidential” data on wholesale currency shipments abroad. We recommend that the NYB data be aggregated so as to circumvent confidentiality concerns, and be made readily available to all researchers in order to shed greater light on the questions of how much U.S. currency is abroad and on the particular location of overseas U.S. dollars. The newly revised official estimates of overseas currency holdings are employed to determine the Federal Reserve’s seigniorage earnings from 1964-2010, which have provided a $287 billion windfall for U.S. taxpayers. Overseas currency stock data are also used to derive estimates of the domestically held stock of currency as well as narrow and broad measures of domestic monetary aggregates. These domestic monetary aggregates are believed to be better predictors of future economic activity than traditional monetary aggregates and are tested to determine their ability to predict fluctuations in real output and prices. Domestic cash holdings are finally used to estimate the size of the U.S. unreported economy as measured by the amount of income that is not properly reported to the IRS. By 2010, we estimate that legal and illegal source unreported income” is $1.9-$2.4 trillion, implying a “tax gap” in the range of $400- $550 billion. Currently, we estimate that 18-23 percent of total reportable income is not properly reported to the IRS.
Keywords: Overseas currency, currency abroad, underground economy; unreported economy; tax gap; tax evasion; cash payments; monetary aggregates
JEL Classification: E26; H26; O17; E41; E52
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation