My critical assessment dated 19 August 2013 of Professor Raghuram Rajan is here
and dated 23 August 2013 of Professors Jagdish Bhagwati & Amartya Sen and Dr Manmohan Singh is here…
My 3 Dec 2012 Delhi talk on India’s Money is now available at You-Tube in an audio version here.
in two parts. In the first 30 minutes, I was grilled on my views on the Japanese, European and US economies, Wall Street, financial derivatives, the information technology revolution, etc; in the remaining 23 minutes, about China’s and India’s economic growth, manufactured exports, foreign trade, borrowing, foreign exchange reserves, India’s technological change, and grave macroeconomic and monetary and fiscal and exchange rate problems; I have lost the beard and 16 kgs in weight since then but my opinions have changed less drastically…
My interview by GDI Impuls banking quarterly of Zürich published on 6 Dec 2012 is here.
My interview by Ragini Bhuyan of Delhi’s Sunday Guardian published on 16 Dec 2012 is here.
Plus there was most immediate coverage in The *Asian Age*/*Deccan Herald* of 4 Dec 2012.
Part I: Facts vs Fiction, Flattery, Falsification, etc
2. Rajiv Gandhi, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Milton Friedman & Myself
3. Jagdish Bhagwati & Manmohan Singh? That just don’t fly!
4. Amartya Sen’s Half-Baked Communism: “To each according to his need”?
Part II: India’s Right Road Forward Now: Some Thoughtful Analysis for Grown Ups
5. Transcending a Left-Right/Congress-BJP Divide in Indian Politics
6. Budgeting Military & Foreign Policy
7. Solving the Kashmir Problem & Relations with Pakistan
8. Dealing with Communist China
9. Towards Coherence in Public Accounting, Public Finance & Public Decision-Making
10. India’s Money: Towards Currency Integrity at Home & Abroad
Part I: Facts vs Fiction, Flattery, Falsification, etc
Arvind Panagariya says in the Times of India of 27 July 2013
“…if in 1991 India embraced many of the Track-I reforms, writings by Sen played no role in it… The intellectual origins of the reforms are to be found instead in the writings of Bhagwati, both solely and jointly with Padma Desai and T N Srinivasan….”
Now Amartya Sen has not claimed involvement in the 1991 economic reforms so we are left with Panagariya claiming
“The intellectual origins of the reforms are to be found instead in the writings of Bhagwati…”
Should we suppose Professor Panagariya’s master and co-author Jagdish Bhagwati himself substantially believes and claims the same? Three recent statements from Professor Bhagwati suffice by way of evidence:
“This policy framework had been questioned, and its total overhaul advocated, by me and Padma Desai in writings through the late 1960s which culminated in our book, India: Planning for Industrialization (Oxford University Press: 1970) with a huge blowback at the time from virtually all the other leading economists and policymakers who were unable to think outside the box. In the end, our views prevailed and the changes which would transform the economy began, after an external payments crisis in 1991, under the forceful leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was the Finance Minister at the time….”
“When finance minister Manmohan Singh was in New York in 1992, he had a lunch for many big CEOs whom he was trying to seduce to come to India. He also invited me and my wife, Padma Desai, to the lunch. As we came in, the FM introduced us to the invitees and said: ‘These friends of mine wrote almost a quarter century ago [India: Planning for Industrialisation was published in 1970 by Oxford] recommending all the reforms we are now undertaking. If we had accepted the advice then, we would not be having this lunch as you would already be in India’.”
“… I was among the intellectual pioneers of the Track I reforms that transformed our economy and reduced poverty, and witness to that is provided by the Prime Minister’s many pronouncements and by noted economists like Deena Khatkhate.. I believe no one has accused Mr. Sen of being the intellectual father of these reforms. So, the fact is that this huge event in the economic life of India passed him by…”
From these pronouncements it seems fair to conclude Professors Bhagwati and Panagariya are claiming Bhagwati has been the principal author of “the intellectual origins” of India’s 1991 reforms, has been their “intellectual father” or at the very least has been “among the intellectual pioneers” of the reform (“among” his own collaborators and friends, since none else is mentioned). Bhagwati has said too his friend Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister participated in the process while quoting Manmohan as having said Bhagwati was the principal author.
Bhagwati’s opponent in current debate, Amartya Sen, has been in agreement with him that Manmohan, their common friend during college days at Cambridge in the 1950s, was a principal originating the 1991 reforms, saying to Forbes in 2006:
“When Manmohan Singh came to office in the early 1990s as the newly appointed finance minister, in a government led by the Congress Party, he knew these problems well enough, as someone who had been strongly involved in government administration for a long time.”
In my experience, such sorts of claims, even in their weakest form, have been, at best, scientifically sloppy and unscholarly, at worst mendacious suppressio veri/suggestio falsi, and in between these best and worst interpretations, examples of academic self-delusion and mutual flattery. We shall see Bhagwati’s opponent, Amartya Sen, has denied academic paternity of recent policies he has spawned while appearing to claim academic paternity of things he has not! Everyone may have reasonably expected greater self-knowledge, wisdom and scholarly values of such eminent academics. Their current spat has instead seemed to reveal something rather dismal and self-serving.
You can decide for yourself where the truth, ever such an elusive and fragile thing, happens to be and what is best done about it. Here is some evidence.
2. Rajiv Gandhi, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Milton Friedman & Myself
Professor Arvind Panagariya is evidently an American economics professor of Indian national origin who holds the Jagdish Bhagwati Chair of Indian Political Economy at Columbia University. I am afraid I had not known his name until he mentioned my name in Economic Times of 24 October 2001. He said
In mentioning the volume “edited by Subroto Roy and William E James”, Professor Panagariya did not appear to find the normal scientific civility to identify our work by name, date or publisher. So here that is now:
This was a book published in 1992 by the late Tejeshwar Singh for Sage. It resulted from the University of Hawaii Manoa perestroika-for-India project, that I and Ted James created and led between 1986 and 1992/93. (Yes, Hawaii — not Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Columbia or even Penn, whose India-policy programs were Johnny-come-latelies a decade or more later…) There is a sister-volume too on Pakistan, created by a parallel project Ted and I had led at the same time:
In 2004 from Britain, I wrote to the 9/11 Commission saying if our plan to study Afghanistan after India and Pakistan had not been thwarted by malign local forces among our sponsors themselves, we, a decade before the September 11 2001 attacks on the USA, may just have come up with a pre-emptive academic analysis. It was not to be.
Milton Friedman’s chapter that we published for the first time was a memorandum he wrote in November 1955 for the Government of India which the GoI had effectively suppressed. I came to know of it while a doctoral student at Cambridge under Frank Hahn, when at a conference at Oxford about 1979-1980, Peter Tamas Bauer sat me down beside him and told me the story. Later in Blacksburg about 1981, N. Georgescu-Roegen on a visit from Vanderbilt University told me the same thing. Specifically, Georgescu-Roegen told me that leading Indian academics had almost insulted Milton in public which Milton had borne gamely; that after Milton had given a talk in Delhi to VKRV Rao’s graduate-students, a talk Georgescu-Roegen had been present at, VKRV Rao had addressed the students and told them in all seriousness “You have heard what Professor Friedman has to say, if you repeat what he has said in your exams, you will fail”.
In 1981-1982 my doctoral thesis emerged, titled “On liberty & economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”,
My late great master in economic theory, Frank Hahn (1925-2013), found what I had written to be a “good thesis” bringing “a good knowledge of economics and of philosophy to bear on the literature on economic planning”, saying I had shown “a good knowledge of economic theory” and my “critique of Development Economics was powerful not only on methodological but also on economic theory grounds”.
I myself said about it decades later “My original doctoral topic in 1976 ‘A monetary theory for India’ had to be altered not only due to paucity of monetary data at the time but because the problems of India’s political economy and allocation of resources in the real economy were far more pressing. The thesis that emerged in 1982 … was a full frontal assault from the point of view of microeconomic theory on the “development planning” to which everyone routinely declared their fidelity, from New Delhi’s bureaucrats and Oxford’s “development” school to McNamara’s World Bank with its Indian staffers. Frank Hahn protected my inchoate liberal arguments for India; and when no internal examiner could be found, Cambridge showed its greatness by appointing two externals, Bliss at Oxford and Hutchison at Birmingham, both Cambridge men. “Economic Theory and Development Economics” was presented to the American Economic Association in December 1982 in company of Solow, Chenery, Streeten, and other eminences…” How I landed on that eminent AEA panel in December 1982 was because its convener Professor George Rosen of the University of Illinois recruited me overnight — as a replacement for Jagdish Bhagwati, who had had to return to India suddenly because of a parental death. The results were published in 1983 in World Development.
Soon afterwards, London’s Institute of Economic Affairs published Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India. This slim work was the first classical liberal critique of post-Mahalonobis Indian economic thought since BR Shenoy’s original criticism decades earlier. It became the subject of The Times’ lead editorial on its day of publication 29 May 1984 — provoking the Indian High Commission in London to send copies to the Finance Ministry in Delhi where it apparently caused a stir, or so I was told years later by Amaresh Bagchi who was a recipient of it at the Ministry.
The Times had said
“When Mr. Dennis Healey in the Commons recently stated that Hongkong, with one per cent of the population of India has twice India’s trade, he was making an important point about Hongkong but an equally important point about India. If Hongkong with one per cent of its population and less than 0.03 per cert of India’s land area (without even water as a natural resource) can so outpace India, there must be something terribly wrong with the way Indian governments have managed their affairs, and there is. A paper by an Indian economist published today (Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India by Subroto Roy, IEA £1.80) shows how Asia’s largest democracy is gradually being stifled by the imposition of economic policies whose woeful effect and rhetorical unreality find their echo all over the Third World. As with many of Britain’s former imperial possessions, the rot set in long before independence. But as with most of the other former dependencies, the instrument of economic regulation and bureaucratic control set up by the British has been used decisively and expansively to consolidate a statist regime which inhibits free enterprise, minimizes economic success and consolidates the power of government in all spheres of the economy. We hear little of this side of things when India rattles the borrowing bowl or denigrates her creditors for want of further munificence. How could Indian officials explain their poor performance relative to Hongkong? Dr Roy has the answers for them. He lists the causes as a large and heavily subsidized public sector, labyrinthine control over private enterprise, forcibly depressed agricultural prices, massive import substitution, government monopoly of foreign exchange transactions, artificially overvalued currency and the extensive politicization of the labour market, not to mention the corruption which is an inevitable side effect of an economy which depends on the arbitrament of bureaucrats. The first Indian government under Nehru took its cue from Nehru’s admiration of the Soviet economy, which led him to believe that the only policy for India was socialism in which there would be “no private property except in a restricted sense and the replacement of the private profit system by a higher ideal of cooperative service.” Consequently, the Indian government has now either a full monopoly or is one of a few oligipolists in banking, insurance, railways, airlines, cement, steel, chemicals, fertilizers, ship-building, breweries, telephones and wrist-watches. No businessman can expand his operation while there is any surplus capacity anywhere in that sector. He needs government approval to modernize, alter his price-structure, or change his labour shift. It is not surprising that a recent study of those developing countries which account for most manufactured exports from the Third World shows that India’s share fell from 65 percent in 1953 to 10 per cent in 1973; nor, with the numerous restrictions on inter-state movement of grains, that India has over the years suffered more from an inability to cope with famine than during the Raj when famine drill was centrally organized and skillfully executed without restriction. Nehru’s attraction for the Soviet model has been inherited by his daughter, Mrs. Gandhi. Her policies have clearly positioned India more towards the Soviet Union than the West. The consequences of this, as Dr Roy states, is that a bias can be seen in “the antipathy and pessimism towards market institutions found among the urban public, and sympathy and optimism to be found for collectivist or statist ones.” All that India has to show for it is the delivery of thousands of tanks in exchange for bartered goods, and the erection of steel mills and other heavy industry which help to perpetuate the unfortunate obsession with industrial performance at the expense of agricultural growth and the relief of rural poverty.”…..
I felt there were inaccuracies in this and so replied dated 4 June which The Times published on 16 June 1984:
Milton and I met for the first time in the Fall of 1984 at the Mont Pelerin Society meetings at Cambridge when I gave him a copy of the IEA monograph, which he came to think extremely well of. I told him I had heard of his 1955 document and asked him for it; he sent me the original blue/purple version of this soon thereafter.
[That original document was, incidentally, in my professorial office among all my books, papers, theses and other academic items including my gown when I was attacked in 2003 by a corrupt gang at IIT Kharagpur -- all yet to be returned to me by IIT despite a High Court order during my present ongoing battle against corruption there over a USD 1.9 million scam !... Without having ever wished to, I have had to battle India's notorious corruption first hand for a decade!]
I published Milton’s document for the first time on 21 May 1989 at the conference of the Hawaii project over the loud objection of assorted leftists…
Amartya Sen, Jagdish Bhagwati, Manmohan Singh or any of their acolytes will not be seen in this group photograph dated 21 May 1989 at the UH President’s House, because they were not there. The Government of India was represented by the Ambassador to Washington, PK Kaul, as well as the Consul General in San Francisco, KS Rana (later Ambassador to Germany), besides the founding head of ICRIER who had invited himself.
Manmohan Singh was not there as he precisely represented the Indian economic policy establishment I had been determined to reform! In any case, he had left India about 1987 on his last assignment before retirement, with Julius Nyerere of Tanzania relating to the “South-South Commission”.
I have said over more than a half dozen years now that there is no evidence whatsoever of Manmohan Singh having been a liberal economist in any sense of that word at any time before 1991, and scant evidence that he originated any liberal economic ideas since. The widespread worldwide notion that he is to be credited for originating a sudden transformation of India from a path of pseudo-socialism to one of pseudo-liberalism has been without basis in evidence — almost entirely a political fiction, though an explicable one and one which has served, as such political fictions do, the purposes of those who invent them.
Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen were in their mid 50s and were two of the three senior-most Indians in US academic economics at the time. I and Ted James, both in our 30s, decided to invite both Bhagwati and Sen to the Hawaii project-conference as distinguished guests but to do so somewhat insincerely late in the day, predicting they would decline, which is what they did, yet they had come to be formally informed of what we were doing. We had a very serious attitude that was inspired a bit, I might say, by Oppenheimer’s secret “Manhattan project” and we wanted neither press-publicity nor anyone to become the star who ended up hogging the microphone or the limelight.
Besides, and most important of all, neither Bhagwati nor Sen had done work in the areas we were centrally interested in, namely, India’s macroeconomic and foreign trade framework and fiscal and monetary policies.
Bhagwati, after his excellent 1970 work with Padma Desai for the OECD on Indian industry and trade, also co-authored with TN Srinivasan a fine 1975 volume for the NBER Foreign Trade Regimes and Economic Development: India.
TN Srinivasan was the third of the three senior-most Indian economists at the time in US academia; his work made us want to invite him as one of our main economic authors, and we charged him with writing the excellent chapter in Foundations that he came to do titled “Planning and Foreign Trade Reconsidered”.
The other main economist author we had hoped for was Sukhamoy Chakravarty from Delhi University and the Government of India’s Planning Commission, whom I had known since 1977 when I had been given his office at the Delhi School of Economics as a Visiting Assistant Professor while he was on sabbatical; despite my pleading he would not come due to ill health; he strongly recommended C Rangarajan, telling me Rangarajan had been the main author with him of the crucial 1985 RBI report on monetary policy; and he signed and gave me his last personal copy of that report dating it 14 July 1987. Rangarajan said he could not come and recommended the head of the NIPFP, Amaresh Bagchi, promising to write jointly with him the chapter on monetary policy and public finance.
Along with Milton Friedman’s suppressed 1955 memorandum which I was publishing for the first time in 1989, TN Srinivasan and Amaresh Bagchi authored the three main economic policy chapters that we felt we wanted.
Other chapters we commissioned had to do with the state of governance (James Manor), federalism (Bhagwan Dua), Punjab and similar problems (PR Brass), agriculture (K Subbarao, as proposed by CH Hanumantha Rao), health (Anil Deolalikar, through open advertisement), and a historical assessment of the roots of economic policy (BR Tomlinson, as proposed by Anil Seal). On the vital subject of education we failed to agree with the expert we wanted very much (JBG Tilak, as proposed by George Psacharopolous) and so we had to cover the subject cursorily in our introduction mentioning his work. And decades later, I apologised to Professor Dietmar Rothermund of Heidelberg University for having been so blinkered in the Anglo-American tradition at the time as to not having obtained his participation in the project.
[The sister-volume we commissioned in parallel on Pakistan's political economy had among its authors Francis Robinson, Akbar Ahmed, Shirin Tahir-Kehli, Robert La Porte, Shahid Javed Burki, Mohsin Khan, Mahmood Hasan Khan, Naved Hamid, John Adams and Shahrukh Khan; this book came to be published in Pakistan in 1993 to good reviews but apparently was then lost by its publisher and is yet to be found; the military and religious clergy had been deliberately not invited by us though the name of Pervez Musharraf had I think arisen, and the military and religious clergy in fact came to rule the roost through the 1990s in Pakistan; the volume, two decades old, takes on fresh relevance with the new civilian governments of recent years.]
Milton himself said this about his experience with me in his memoirs:
And Milton wrote on my behalf when I came to be attacked, being Indian, at the very University that had sponsored us:
My obituary notice at his passing in 2006 said: “My association with Milton has been the zenith of my engagement with academic economics…. I was a doctoral student of his bitter enemy yet for over two decades he not only treated me with unfailing courtesy and affection, he supported me in lonely righteous battles: doing for me what he said he had never done before, which was to stand as an expert witness in a United States Federal Court. I will miss him much though I know that he, as a man of reason, would not have wished me to….”
In August 1990 in Delhi I came to tell Siddhartha Shankar Ray about the unpublished India-manuscript resulting from the Hawaii project that was in my possession as it headed to its publisher.
Ray was a family-friend whose maternal grandfather CR Das led the Congress Party before MK Gandhi and had been a friend and colleague of my great grandfather SN Roy in Bengal’s politics in the 1920s; Ray had also consented to stand on my behalf as Senior Counsel in a matter in the Supreme Court of India.
Ray was involved in daily political parlays at his Delhi home with other Congress Party personages led by PV Narasimha Rao. These senior regional figures seemed to me to be keeping their national leader, Rajiv Gandhi, aloof in splendid isolation at 10 Jan Path.
Ray told me he and his wife had been in London in May 1984 on the day The Times had written its lead editorial on my work and they had seen it with excitement. Upon hearing of the Hawaii project and the manuscript I had with me, Ray immediately insisted of his own accord that I must meet Rajiv Gandhi, and that he would be arranging a meeting.
Hence it came to be a month later that a copy of the manuscript of the completed Hawaii project was
be given by my hand on 18 September 1990 to Rajiv Gandhi, then Leader of the Opposition and Congress President, an encounter I have quite fully described elsewhere. I offered to get a copy to the PM, VP Singh, too but a key aide of his showed no interest in receiving it.
Rajiv made me a senior adviser, and I have claimed principal authorship of the 22 March 1991 draft of the Congress manifesto that actually shook and changed the political thinking of the Congress on economic matters in the direction Rajiv had desired and as I had advised him at our initial 18 September 1990 meeting.
“… He began by talking about how important he felt panchayati raj was, and said he had been on the verge of passing major legislation on it but then lost the election. He asked me if I could spend some time thinking about it, and that he would get the papers sent to me. I said I would and remarked panchayati raj might be seen as decentralized provision of public goods, and gave the economist’s definition of public goods as those essential for the functioning of the market economy, like the Rule of Law, roads, fresh water, and sanitation, but which were unlikely to appear through competitive forces.
I distinguished between federal, state and local levels and said many of the most significant public goods were best provided locally. Rajiv had not heard the term “public goods” before, and he beamed a smile and his eyes lit up as he voiced the words slowly, seeming to like the concept immensely. It occurred to me he had been by choice a pilot of commercial aircraft. Now he seemed intrigued to find there could be systematic ways of thinking about navigating a country’s governance by common pursuit of reasonable judgement. I said the public sector’s wastefulness had drained scarce resources that should have gone instead to provide public goods. Since the public sector was owned by the public, it could be privatised by giving away its shares to the public, preferably to panchayats of the poorest villages. The shares would become tradable, drawing out black money, and inducing a historic redistribution of wealth while at the same time achieving greater efficiency by transferring the public sector to private hands. Rajiv seemed to like that idea too, and said he tried to follow a maxim of Indira Gandhi’s that every policy should be seen in terms of how it affected the common man. I wryly said the common man often spent away his money on alcohol, to which he said at once it might be better to think of the common woman instead. (This remark of Rajiv’s may have influenced the “aam admi” slogan of the 2004 election, as all Congress Lok Sabha MPs of the previous Parliament came to receive a previous version of the present narrative.)
Our project had identified the Congress’s lack of internal elections as a problem; when I raised it, Rajiv spoke of how he, as Congress President, had been trying to tackle the issue of bogus electoral rolls. I said the judiciary seemed to be in a mess due to the backlog of cases; many of which seemed related to land or rent control, and it may be risky to move towards a free economy without a properly functioning judicial system or at least a viable system of contractual enforcement. I said a lot of problems which should be handled by the law in the courts in India were instead getting politicised and decided on the streets. Rajiv had seen the problems of the judiciary and said he had good relations with the Chief Justice’s office, which could be put to use to improve the working of the judiciary.
The project had worked on Pakistan as well, and I went on to say we should solve the problem with Pakistan in a definitive manner. Rajiv spoke of how close his government had been in 1988 to a mutual withdrawal from Siachen. But Zia-ul-Haq was then killed and it became more difficult to implement the same thing with Benazir Bhutto, because, he said, as a democrat, she was playing to anti-Indian sentiments while he had found it somewhat easier to deal with the military. I pressed him on the long-term future relationship between the countries and he agreed a common market was the only real long-term solution. I wondered if he could find himself in a position to make a bold move like offering to go to Pakistan and addressing their Parliament to break the impasse. He did not say anything but seemed to think about the idea. Rajiv mentioned a recent Time magazine cover of Indian naval potential, which had caused an excessive stir in Delhi. He then talked about his visit to China, which seemed to him an important step towards normalization. He said he had not seen (or been shown) any absolute poverty in China of the sort we have in India. He talked about the Gulf situation, saying he did not disagree with the embargo of Iraq except he wished the ships enforcing the embargo had been under the U.N. flag. The meeting seemed to go on and on, and I was embarrassed at perhaps having taken too much time and that he was being too polite to get me to go. V. George had interrupted with news that Sheila Dixit (as I recall) had just been arrested by the U. P. Government, and there were evidently people waiting. Just before we finally stood up I expressed a hope that he was looking to the future of India with an eye to a modern political and economic agenda for the next election, rather than getting bogged down with domestic political events of the moment. That was the kind of hopefulness that had attracted many of my generation in 1985. I said I would happily work in any way to help define a long-term agenda. His eyes lit up and as we shook hands to say goodbye, he said he would be in touch with me again…. The next day I was called and asked to stay in Delhi for a few days, as Mr. Gandhi wanted me to meet some people…..
… That night Krishna Rao dropped me at Tughlak Road where I used to stay with friends. In the car I told him, as he was a military man with heavy security cover for himself as a former Governor of J&K, that it seemed to me Rajiv’s security was being unprofessionally handled, that he was vulnerable to a professional assassin. Krishna Rao asked me if I had seen anything specific by way of vulnerability. With John Kennedy and De Gaulle in mind, I said I feared Rajiv was open to a long-distance sniper, especially when he was on his campaign trips around the country. This was one of several attempts I made since October 1990 to convey my clear impression to whomever I thought might have an effect that Rajiv seemed to me extremely vulnerable. Rajiv had been on sadhbhavana journeys, back and forth into and out of Delhi. I had heard he was fed up with his security apparatus, and I was not surprised given it seemed at the time rather bureaucratized. It would not have been appropriate for me to tell him directly that he seemed to me to be vulnerable, since I was a newcomer and a complete amateur about security issues, and besides if he agreed he might seem to himself to be cowardly or have to get even closer to his security apparatus. Instead I pressed the subject relentlessly with whomever I could. I suggested specifically two things: (a) that the system in place at Rajiv’s residence and on his itineraries be tested, preferably by some internationally recognized specialists in counter-terrorism; (b) that Rajiv be encouraged to announce a shadow-cabinet. The first would increase the cost of terrorism, the second would reduce the potential political benefit expected by terrorists out to kill him. On the former, it was pleaded that security was a matter being run by the V. P. Singh and then Chandrashekhar Governments at the time. On the latter, it was said that appointing a shadow cabinet might give the appointees the wrong idea, and lead to a challenge to Rajiv’s leadership. This seemed to me wrong, as there was nothing to fear from healthy internal contests for power so long as they were conducted in a structured democratic framework. I pressed to know how public Rajiv’s itinerary was when he travelled. I was told it was known to everyone and that was the only way it could be since Rajiv wanted to be close to the people waiting to see him and had been criticized for being too aloof. This seemed to me totally wrong and I suggested that if Rajiv wanted to be seen as meeting the crowds waiting for him then that should be done by planning to make random stops on the road that his entourage would take. This would at least add some confusion to the planning of potential terrorists out to kill him. When I pressed relentlessly, it was said I should probably speak to “Madame”, i.e. to Mrs. Rajiv Gandhi. That seemed to me highly inappropriate, as I could not be said to be known to her and I should not want to unduly concern her in the event it was I who was completely wrong in my assessment of the danger. The response that it was not in Congress’s hands, that it was the responsibility of the VP Singh and later the Chandrashekhar Governments, seemed to me completely irrelevant since Congress in its own interests had a grave responsibility to protect Rajiv Gandhi irrespective of what the Government’s security people were doing or not doing. Rajiv was at the apex of the power structure of the party, and a key symbol of secularism and progress for the entire country. Losing him would be quite irreparable to the party and the country. It shocked me that the assumption was not being made that there were almost certainly professional killers actively out to kill Rajiv Gandhi — this loving family man and hapless pilot of India’s ship of state who did not seem to have wished to make enemies among India’s terrorists but whom the fates had conspired to make a target. The most bizarre and frustrating response I got from several respondents was that I should not mention the matter at all as otherwise the threat would become enlarged and the prospect made more likely! This I later realized was a primitive superstitious response of the same sort as wearing amulets and believing in Ptolemaic astrological charts that assume the Sun goes around the Earth — centuries after Kepler and Copernicus. Perhaps the entry of scientific causality and rationality is where we must begin in the reform of India’s governance and economy. What was especially repugnant after Rajiv’s assassination was to hear it said by his enemies that it marked an end to “dynastic” politics in India. This struck me as being devoid of all sense because the unanswerable reason for protecting Rajiv Gandhi was that we in India, if we are to have any pretensions at all to being a civilized and open democratic society, cannot tolerate terrorism and assassination as means of political change. Either we are constitutional democrats willing to fight for the privileges of a liberal social order, or ours is truly a primitive and savage anarchy concealed beneath a veneer of fake Westernization….. Proceedings began when Rajiv arrived. This elite audience mobbed him just as the farmers had mobbed him earlier. He saw me and beamed a smile in recognition, and I smiled back but made no attempt to draw near him in the crush. He gave a short very apt speech on the role the United Nations might have in the new post-Gulf War world. Then he launched the book, and left for an investiture at Rashtrapati Bhavan. We waited for our meeting with him, which finally happened in the afternoon. Rajiv was plainly at the point of exhaustion and still hard-pressed for time. He seemed pleased to see me and apologized for not talking in the morning. Regarding the March 22 draft, he said he had not read it but that he would be doing so. He said he expected the central focus of the manifesto to be on economic reform, and an economic point of view in foreign policy, and in addition an emphasis on justice and the law courts. I remembered our September 18 conversation and had tried to put in justice and the courts into our draft but had been over-ruled by others. I now said the social returns of investment in the judiciary were high but was drowned out again. Rajiv was clearly agitated that day by the BJP and blurted out he did not really feel he understood what on earth they were on about. He said about his own family, “We’re not religious or anything like that, we don’t pray every day.” I felt again what I had felt before, that here was a tragic hero of India who had not really wished to be more than a happy family man until he reluctantly was made into a national leader against his will. We were with him for an hour or so. As we were leaving, he said quickly at the end of the meeting he wished to see me on my own and would be arranging a meeting. One of our group was staying back to ask him a favour. Just before we left, I managed to say to him what I felt was imperative: “The Iraq situation isn’t as it seems, it’s a lot deeper than it’s been made out to be.” He looked at me with a serious look and said “Yes I know, I know.” It was decided Pitroda would be in touch with each of us in the next 24 hours. During this time Narasimha Rao’s manifesto committee would read the draft and any questions they had would be sent to us. We were supposed to be on call for 24 hours. The call never came. Given the near total lack of system and organization I had seen over the months, I was not surprised. Krishna Rao and I waited another 48 hours, and then each of us left Delhi. Before going I dropped by to see Krishnamurty, and we talked at length. He talked especially about the lack of the idea of teamwork in India. Krishnamurty said he had read everything I had written for the group and learned a lot. I said that managing the economic reform would be a critical job and the difference between success and failure was thin….”
“… I got the afternoon train to Calcutta and before long left for America to bring my son home for his summer holidays with me. In Singapore, the news suddenly said Rajiv Gandhi had been killed. All India wept. What killed him was not merely a singular act of criminal terrorism, but the system of humbug, incompetence and sycophancy that surrounds politics in India and elsewhere. I was numbed by rage and sorrow, and did not return to Delhi….”
In December 1991, I visited Rajiv’s widow at 10 Jan Path to express my condolences, the only time I have met her, and I gave her for her records a taped copy of Rajiv’s long-distance telephone conversations with me during the Gulf War earlier that year. She seemed an extremely shy taciturn figure in deep mourning, and I do not think the little I said to her about her late husband’s relationship with me was comprehended. Nor was it the time or place for more to be said.
In September 1993, at a special luncheon at the Indian Ambassador’s Residence in Washington, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, then the Ambassador to Washington, pointed at me and declared to Manmohan Singh, then Finance Minister, in presence of Manmohan’s key aides accompanying him including MS Ahluwalia, NK Singh, C Rangarajan and others,
“Congress manifesto was written on his computer”.
This was accurate enough to the extent that the 22 March 1991 draft as asked for by Rajiv and that came to explicitly affect policy had been and remains on my then-new NEC laptop.
At the Ambassador’s luncheon, I gave Manmohan Singh a copy of the Foundations book as a gift. My father who knew him in the early 1970s through MG Kaul, ICS, had sent him a copy of my 1984 IEA monograph which Manmohan had acknowledged. And back in 1973, he had visited our then-home at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel in Paris to advise me about economics at my father’s request, and he and I had ended up in a fierce private debate for about forty minutes over the demerits (as I saw them) and merits (as he saw them) of the Soviet influence on Indian economic policy-making. But in 1993 we had both forgotten the 1973 meeting.
In May 2002, the Congress passed an official party resolution moved by Digvijay Singh in presence of PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh that the 1991 reforms had originated with Rajiv Gandhi and not with either Narasimha Rao or Manmohan; no one dissented. It was intended to flatter Sonia Gandhi as the Congress President, but there was truth in it too which all Congress MPs of the 13th Lok Sabha had come to know in a publication of mine they had received from me at IIT Kharagpur where since 1996 I had become Professor.
Manmohan Singh himself, to his credit, has not at any point, except once during his failed Lok Sabha bid, claimed the reforms as his own invention and has said always he had followed what his Prime Minister had told him. However, he has not been averse to being attributed with all the credit by his flatterers, by the media, by businessmen and many many others around the world, and certainly he did not respond to Ambassador Siddhartha Shankar Ray telling him and his key aides how the Congress-led reform had come about through my work except to tell me at the 1993 luncheon that when Arjun Singh criticised the reforms in Cabinet, he, Manmohan, would mention the manifesto.
On 28 December 2009, Rajiv’s widow in an official Congress Party statement finally declared her late husband
“left his personal imprint on the (Congress) party’s manifesto of 1991.″
How Sonia Gandhi, who has never had pretensions to knowledge of economics or political economy or political science or governance or history, came to place Manmohan Singh as her prime ministerial candidate and the font of economic and political wisdom along with Pranab Mukherjee, when both men hardly had been favourites of her late husband, would be a story in its own right. And how Amartya Sen’s European-origin naturalised Indian co-author Jean Drèze later came to have policy influence from a different direction upon Sonia Gandhi, also a naturalised Indian of European origin, may be yet another story in its own right, perhaps best told by themselves.
I would surmise the same elderly behind-the-scenes figure, now in his late 80s, had a hand in setting up both sets of influences — directly in the first case (from back in 1990-1991), and indirectly in the second case (starting in 2004) . This was a man who in a November 2007 newspaper article literally erased my name and inserted that of Manmohan Singh as part of the group that Rajiv created on 25 September following his 18 September meeting with me! Reluctantly, I had to call this very elderly man a liar; he has not denied it and knows he has not been libeled.
One should never forget the two traditional powers interested in the subcontinent, Russia and Britain, have been never far from influence in Delhi. In 1990-1991 what worried vested bureaucratic and business interests and foreign powers through their friends and agents was that they could see change was coming to India but they wanted to be able to control it themselves to their advantage, which they then broadly proceeded to do over the next two decades. The foreign weapons’ contracts had to be preserved, as did other big-ticket imports that India ends up buying needlessly on credit it hardly has in world markets. There are similarities to what happened in Russia and Eastern Europe where many apparatchiks and fellow-travellers became freedom-loving liberals overnight; in the Indian case more than one badly compromised pro-USSR senior bureaucrat promptly exported his children and savings to America and wrapped themselves in the American flag.
The stubborn unalterable fact remains that Manmohan Singh was not physically present in India and was still with the Nyerere project on 18 September 1990 when I met Rajiv for the first time and gave him the unpublished results of the UH-Manoa project. This simple straightforward fact is something the Congress Party, given its own myths and self-deception and disinformation, has not been able to cope with in its recently published history. For myself, I have remained loyal to my memory of my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi, and my understanding of him. The Rajiv Gandhi I knew had been enthused by me in 1990-1991 carrying the UH-Manoa perestroika-for-India project that I had led since 1986, and he had loved my advice to him on 18 September 1990 that he needed to modernise the party by preparing a coherent agenda (as other successful reformers had done) while still in Opposition waiting for elections, and to base that agenda on commitments to improving the judiciary and rule of law, stopping the debauching of money, and focusing on the provision of public goods instead. Rajiv I am sure wanted a modern and modern-minded Congress — not one which depended on him let aside his family, but one which reduced that dependence and let him and his family alone.
As for Manmohan Singh being a liberal or liberalising economist, there is no evidence publicly available of that being so from his years before or during the Nyerere project, or after he returned and joined the Chandrashekhar PMO and the UGC until becoming, to his own surprise as he told Mark Tully, PV Narasimha Rao’s Finance Minister. Some of his actions qua Finance Minister were liberalising in nature but he did not originate any basic idea of a change in a liberal direction of economic policy, and he has, with utmost honesty
honestly, not claimed otherwise. Innumerable flatterers and other self-interested parties have made out differently, creating what they have found to be a politically useful fiction; he has yet to deny them.
I said to him Bengal’s public finances were in abysmal condition, calling for emergency measures financially, and that Mamata Banerjee seemed to me to be someone who knew how to and would dislodge the Communists from their entrenched misgovernance of decades but she did not seem quite aware that dislodging a bad government politically was not the same thing as knowing how to govern properly oneself. He, again of his own accord, said immediately,
“I will call her and her people to a meeting here so you can meet them and tell them that directly”.
It never transpired. In our last phone conversation I mentioned to him my plans of creating a Public Policy Institute — an idea he immediately and fully endorsed as being essential though adding “I can’t be part of it, I’m on my way out”.
“I’m on my way out”. That was Siddhartha Shankar Ray — always intelligent, always good-humoured, always public-spirited, always a great Indian, my only friend among politicians other than the late Rajiv Gandhi himself.
March February 2010, my father and I called upon the new Bengal Governor, MK Narayanan and gave him a copy of the Thatcher volume for the Raj Bhavan Library; I told him the story about my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray and its result; Narayanan within a few days made a visit to Ray’s hospital-bed, and when he emerged after several hours he made a statement, which in substance he repeated again when Ray died in November 2010:
To what facts did MK Narayanan, a former Intelligence Bureau chief, mean to refer with this extravagant praise of Ray? Was Narayanan referring to Ray’s politics for Indira Gandhi? To Ray’s Chief Ministership of Bengal? To Ray’s Governorship of Punjab? You will have to ask him but I doubt that was what he meant: I surmise Narayanan’s eulogy could only have resulted after he confirmed with Ray on his hospital-bed the story I had told him, and that he was referring to the economic and political results that followed for the country once Ray had introduced me in September 1990 to Rajiv Gandhi. But I say again, you will have to ask MK Narayanan himself what he and Ray talked about in hospital and what was the factual basis of Narayanan’s precise words of praise. To what facts exactly was MK Narayanan, former intelligence chief, meaning to refer when he stated Siddhartha Shankar Ray had made a “magnificent contribution to India’s growth and progress”?
3. Jagdish Bhagwati & Manmohan Singh? That just don’t fly!
Now returning to the apparent desire of Professor Panagariya, the Jagdish Bhagwati Professor of Indian Political Economy at Columbia, to attribute to Jagdish Bhagwati momentous change for the better in India as of 1991, even if Panagariya had not the scientific curiosity to look into our 1992 book titled Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s or into Milton Friedman’s own 1998 memoirs, we may have expected him to at least turn to his co-author and Columbia colleague, Jagdish Bhagwati himself, and ask, “Master, have you heard of this fellow Subroto Roy by any chance?”
Jagdish would have had to say yes, since not only had he received a copy of the proofs of my 1984 IEA work Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, he was kind enough to write in a letter dated 15 May 1984 that I had
“done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems!”
Also Jagdish may or may not have remembered our only meeting, when he and I had had a long conversation on the sofas in the foyer of the IMF in Washington when I was a consultant there in 1993 and he had come to meet someone; he was surprisingly knowledgeable about my personal 1990 matter in the Supreme Court of India which astonished me until he told me his brother the Supreme Court judge had mentioned the case to him!
Now my 1984 work was amply scientific and scholarly in fully crediting a large number of works in the necessary bibliography, including Bhagwati’s important work with his co-authors. Specifically, Footnote 1 listed the literature saying:
“The early studies notably include: B. R. Shenoy, `A note of dissent’, Papers relating to the formulation of the Second Five-Year Plan, Government of India Planning Commission, Delhi, 1955; Indian Planning and Economic Development, Asia Publishing, Bombay, 1963, especially pp. 17-53; P. T. Bauer, Indian Economic Policy and Development, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1961; M. Friedman, unpublished memorandum to the Government of India, November 1955 (referred to in Bauer, op. cit., p. 59 ff.); and, some years later, Sudha Shenoy, India : Progress or Poverty?, Research Monograph 27, Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1971. Some of the most relevant contemporary studies are: B. Balassa, `Reforming the system of incentives in World Development, 3 (1975), pp. 365-82; `Export incentives and export performance in developing countries: a comparative analysis’, Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv, 114 (1978), pp. 24-61; The process of industrial development and alternative development strategies, Essays in International Finance No. 141, Princeton University, 1980; J. N. Bhagwati & P. Desai, India: Planning for Industrialisation, OECD, Paris : Oxford University Press, 1970; `Socialism and Indian Economic Policy’, World Development, 3 (1975), pp. 213-21; J. N. Bhagwati & T. N. Srinivasan, Foreign-trade Regimes and Economic Development: India, National Bureau of Economic Research, New York, 1975; Anne O. Krueger, `Indian planning experience’, in T. Morgan et al. (eds.), Readings in Economic Development, Wadsworth, California, 1963, pp. 403-20; `The political economy of the rent-seeking society, American Economic Review, 64 (June 1974); The Benefits and Costs of Import-Substitution in India: a Microeconomic Study, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1975; Growth, distortions and patterns of trade among many countries, Studies in International Finance, Princeton University, 1977; Uma Lele, Food grain marketing in India : private performance and public policy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1971; T. W. Schultz (ed.), Distortions in agricultural incentives, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1978; V. Sukhatme, “The utilization of high-yielding rice and wheat varieties in India: an economic assessment”, University of Chicago PhD thesis, 1977….”
There were two specific references to Bhagwati’s work with Srinivasan:
“Jagdish Bhagwati and T. N. Srinivasan put it as follows : `The allocation of foreign exchange among alternative claimants and users in a direct control system . . .would presumably be with reference to a well-defined set of principles and criteria based on a system of priorities. In point of fact, however, there seem to have been few such criteria, if any, followed in practice.’”
“But as Bhagwati and Srinivasan report, `. . . the sheer weight of numbers made any meaningful listing of priorities extremely difficult. The problem was Orwellian: all industries had priority and how was each sponsoring authority to argue that some industries had more priority than others? It is not surprising, therefore, that the agencies involved in determining allocations by industry fell back on vague notions of “fairness”, implying pro rata allocations with reference to capacity installed or employment, or shares defined by past import allocations or similar rules of thumb’”
and one to Bhagwati and Desai:
“The best descriptions of Indian industrial policy are still to be found in Bhagwati and Desai (1970)…”
Professors Bhagwati and Panagriya have not apparently referred to anything beyond these joint works of Bhagwati’s dated 1970 with Padma Desai and 1975 with TN Srinivasan. They have not claimed Bhagwati did anything by way of either publication or political activity in relation to India’s economic policy between May 1984, when he read my soon-to-be-published-work and found I had
“done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems”,
and September 1990 when I gave Rajiv the University of Hawaii perestroika-for-India project results developed since 1986, which came to politically spark the 1991 reform in the Congress’s highest echelons from months before Rajiv’s assassination.
There may have been no such claim made by Bhagwati and Panagariya because there may be no such evidence. Between 1984 and 1990, Professor Bhagwati’s research interests were away from Indian economic policy while his work on India through 1970 and 1975 had been fully and reasonably accounted for as of 1984 by myself.
What is left remaining is Bhagwati’s statement :
“When finance minister Manmohan Singh was in New York in 1992, he had a lunch for many big CEOs whom he was trying to seduce to come to India. He also invited me and my wife, Padma Desai, to the lunch. As we came in, the FM introduced us to the invitees and said: ‘These friends of mine wrote almost a quarter century ago [India: Planning for Industrialisation was published in 1970 by Oxford] recommending all the reforms we are now undertaking. If we had accepted the advice then, we would not be having this lunch as you would already be in India’
Now this light self-deprecating reference by Manmohan at an investors’ lunch in New York “for many big CEOs” was an evident attempt at political humour written by his speech-writer. It was clearly, on its face, not serious history. If we test it as serious history, it falls flat so we may only hope Manmohan Singh, unlike Jagdish Bhagwati, has not himself come to believe his own reported joke as anything more than that.
The Bhagwati-Desai volume being referred to was developed from 1966-1970. India saw critical economic and political events in 1969, in 1970, in 1971, in 1972, in 1975, in 1977, etc.
Those were precisely years during which Manmohan Singh himself moved from being an academic to becoming a Government of India official, working first for MG Kaul, ICS, and then in 1971 coming to the attention of PN Haksar, Indira Gandhi’s most powerful bureaucrat between 1967 and 1974: Haksar himself was Manmohan Singh’s acknowledged mentor in the Government, as Manmohan told Mark Tully in an interview.
After Manmohan visited our Paris home in 1973 to talk to me about economics, my father — who had been himself sent to the Paris Embassy by Haksar in preparation for Indira Gandhi’s visit in November 1971 before the Bangladesh war —
had told me Manmohan was very highly regarded in government circles with economics degrees from both Cambridge and Oxford, and my father had added, to my surprise, what was probably a Haksarian governmental view that Manmohan was expected to be India’s Prime Minister some day. That was 1973.
PN Haksar had been the archetypal Nehruvian Delhi intellectual of a certain era, being both a fierce nationalist and a fierce pro-USSR leftist from long before Independence. I met him once on 23 March 1991, on the lawns of 10 Jan Path at the launch of General V Krishna Rao’s book on Indian defence which Rajiv was releasing, and Haksar gave a speech to introduce Rajiv (as if Rajiv needed introduction on the lawns of his own residence); Haksar was in poor health but he seemed completely delighted to be back in favour with Rajiv, after years of having been treated badly by Indira and her younger son.
Had Manmohan Singh in the early 1970s gone to Haksar — the architect of the nationalisation of India’s banking going on right then — and said “Sir, this OECD study by my friend Bhagwati and his wife says we should be liberalising foreign trade and domestic industry”, Haksar would have been astonished and sent him packing.
There was a war on, plus a massive problem of 10 million refugees, a new country to support called Bangladesh, a railway strike, a bad crop, repressed inflation, shortages, and heaven knows what more, besides Nixon having backed Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan et al.
Then after Bangladesh and the railway strike etc, came the rise of the politically odious younger son of Indira Gandhi and his friends (at least one of whom is today Sonia Gandhi’s gatekeeper) followed by the internal political Emergency, the grave foreign-fueled problem of Sikh separatism and its control, the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh bodyguards, and the Rajiv Gandhi years as Prime Minister.
Certainly it was Rajiv’s arrival in office and Benazir’s initial return to Pakistan, along with the rise of Michael Gorbachev in the changing USSR, that inspired me in far away Hawaii in 1986 to design with Ted James the perestroika-projects for India and Pakistan which led to our two volumes, and which, thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray, came to reach Rajiv Gandhi in Opposition in September 1990 as he sat somewhat forlornly at 10 Jan Path after losing office. “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune….
My friend and collaborator Ted James died of cancer in Manila in May 2010; earlier that year he came to say publicly
“Seldom are significant reforms imposed successfully by international bureaucracies. Most often they are the result of indigenous actors motivated by domestic imperatives. I believe this was the case in India in 1991. It may have been fortuitous that Dr. Roy gained an audience with a receptive Rajiv Gandhi in 1990 but it was not luck that he was prepared with a well-thought out program; this arose from years of careful thought and debate on the matter.”
Changing the direction of a ship of state is very hard, knowing in which direction it should change and to what degree is even harder; it has rarely been something that can be done without random shocks arising let aside the power of vested interests. Had Rajiv Gandhi lived to form a new Government, I have little doubt I would have led the reform that I had chalked out for him and that he had approved of; Sonia Gandhi would have remained the housewife, mother and grandmother that she had preferred to be and not been made into the Queen of India by the Congress Party; Manmohan Singh had left India in 1987 for the Nyerere project and it had been rumoured at the time that had been slightly to do with him protesting, to the extent that he ever has protested anything, the anti-Sikh pogrom that some of Rajiv’s friends had apparently unleashed after Indira’s killing; he returned in November 1990, joined Chandrashekhar in December 1990, left Chandrashekhar in March 1991 when elections were announced and was biding his time as head of the UGC; had Rajiv Gandhi lived, Manmohan Singh would have had a governor’s career path, becoming the governor of one state after another; he would not have been brought into the economic reform process which he had had nothing to do with originating; and finally Pranab Mukherjee, who left the Congress Party and formed his own when Rajiv took over, would have been likely rehabilitated slowly but would not have come to control the working of the party as he did. I said in my Lok Sabha TV interview on
5 9 December 2012 that there have been many microeconomic improvements arising from technological progress in the last 22 years but the macroeconomic and monetary situation is grim, because at root the fiscal situation remains incoherent and confused. I do not see anyone in Manmohan Singh’s entourage among all his many acolytes and flatterers and apologists who is able to get to these root problems. We shall address these issues in Part II.
What Manmohan Singh said in self-deprecating humour at an investors’ lunch in New York in 1992 is hardly serious history as Jagdish Bhagwati has seemed to wish it to be. Besides, it would have been unlike Manmohan, being the devoted student of Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor as he told Mark Tully, to have taken such a liberalising initiative at all. Furthermore, the 1969 American Economic Review published a survey of Indian economic policy authored by his Delhi University colleagues Jagdish Bhagwati and Sukhamoy Chakravarty which made little mention of his work, and it would have been unreasonable to expect him to have been won over greatly by theirs. Perhaps there is a generous review from the 1970s by Manmohan Singh of the Bhagwati-Desai volume hidden somewhere but if so we should be told where it is. A list of Manmohan Singh’s publications as an economist do not seem easily available anywhere.
Lastly and perhaps most decisively, the 1970 Bhagwati-Desai volume, excellent study that it was, was hardly the first of its genre by way of liberal criticism of modern Indian economic policy! Bhagwati declared in his 2010 speech to the Lok Sabha
“This policy framework had been questioned, and its total overhaul advocated, by me and Padma Desai in writings through the late 1960s…”
But why has Bhagwati been forever silent about the equally if not more forceful and fundamental criticism of “the policy framework”, and advocacy of its “total overhaul”, by scholars in the 1950s, a decade and more earlier than him, when he and Manmohan and Amartya were still students? Specifically, by BR Shenoy, Milton Friedman, and Peter Bauer? The relevant bibliography from the mid 1950s is given in Footnote 1 of my 1984 work.
Peter Tamas Bauer (1915-2002) played a vital role in all this as had he himself not brought the Friedman 1955 document to my attention I would not have known of it.
As undergraduates at the LSE, we had been petrified of him and I never spoke to him while there, having believed the propaganda that floated around about him; then while a Research Student at Cambridge, I happened to be a speaker with him at a conference at Oxford; he made me sit next to him at a meal and told me for the first time about Milton Friedman’s 1955 memorandum to the Government of India which had been suppressed. I am privileged to say Peter from then on became a friend, and wrote, at my request, what became I am sure the kiss of death for me at the World Bank of 1982:
Later he may have been responsible for the London Times writing its lead editorial of 29 May 1984 on my work.
Now Milton had sent me in 1984, besides the original of his November 1955 memorandum to the Government of India, a confidential 1956 document also which seemed to have been written for US Government consumption. I did not publish this in Hawaii in 1989 as I was having difficulty enough publishing the 1955 memorandum. I gave it to be published on the Internet some years ago, and after Milton’s passing, I had it published in The Statesman on the same day as my obituary of him.
It makes fascinating reading, especially about Mahalanobis and Shenoy, of how what Bhagwati wishes to call “the policy framework” that, he claims, he and Desai called for a “total overhaul” of, came to be what it was in the decade earlier when he and Amartya and Manmohan were still students.
Friedman’s 1956 document said
“I met PC Mahalanobis in 1946 and again at a meeting of the International Statistical Institute in September 1947, and I know him well by reputation. He was absent during most of my stay in New Delhi, but I met him at a meeting of the Indian Planning Commission, of which he is one of the strongest and most able members. Mahalanobis began as a mathematician and is a very able one. Able mathematicians are usually recognized for their ability at a relatively early age. Realizing their own ability as they do and working in a field of absolutes, tends, in my opinion, to make them dangerous when they apply themselves to economic planning. They produce specific and detailed plans in which they have confidence, without perhaps realizing that economic planning is not the absolute science that mathematics is. This general characteristic of mathematicians is true of Mahalanobis but in spite of the tendency he is willing to discuss a problem and listen to a different point of view. Once his decision is reached, however, he has great confidence in it. Mahalanobis was unquestionably extremely influential in drafting the Indian five-year plan. There were four key steps in the plan. The first was the so-called “Plan Frame” drafted by Mahalanobis himself. The second was a tentative plan based on the “Plan Frame”. The third step was a report by a committee of economists on the first two steps, and the fourth was a minority report by BR Shenoy on the economists’ report. The economists had no intention of drafting a definitive proposal but merely meant to comment on certain aspects of the first two steps. Shenoy’s minority report, however, had the effect of making the economists’ report official. The scheme of the Five Year Plan attributed to Mahalanobis faces two problems; one, that India needs heavy industry for economic development; and two, that development of heavy industry uses up large amounts of capital while providing only small employment. Based on these facts, Mahalanobis proposed to concentrate on heavy industry development on the one hand and to subsidize the hand production cottage industries on the other. The latter course would discriminate against the smaller manufacturers. In my opinion, the plan wastes both capital and labour and the Indians get only the worst of both efforts. If left to their own devices under a free enterprise system I believe the Indians would gravitate naturally towards the production of such items as bicycles, sewing machines, and radios. This trend is already apparent without any subsidy. The Indian cottage industry is already cloaked in the same popular sort of mist as is rural life in the US. There is an idea in both places that this life is typical and the backbone of their respective countries. Politically, the Indian cottage industry problem is akin to the American farm problem. Mohandas Gandhi was a proponent of strengthening the cottage industry as a weapon against the British. This reason is now gone but the emotions engendered by Gandhi remain. Any move to strengthen the cottage industry has great political appeal and thus, Mahalanobis’ plan and its pseudo-scientific support for the industry also has great political appeal. I found many supporters for the heavy industry phase of the Plan but almost no one (among the technical Civil Servants) who really believes in the cottage industry aspects, aside from their political appeal. In its initial form, the plan was very large and ambitious with optimistic estimates. My impression is that there is a substantial trend away from this approach, however, and an attempt to cut down. The development of heavy industry has slowed except for steel and iron. I believe that the proposed development of a synthetic petroleum plant has been dropped and probably wisely so. In addition, I believe that the proposed five year plan may be extended to six years. Other than his work on the plan, I am uncertain of Mahalanobis’ influence. The gossip is that he has Nehru’s ear and potentially he could be very influential, simply because of his intellectual ability and powers of persuasion. The question that occurs to me is how much difference Mahalanobis’ plan makes. The plan does not seem the important thing to me. I believe that the new drive and enthusiasm of the Indian nation will surmount any plan, good or bad. Then too, I feel a wide diversity in what is said and what is done. I believe that much of Nehru’s socialistic talk is simply that, just talk. Nehru has been trying to undermine the Socialist Party by this means and apparently the Congress Party’s adoption of a socialistic idea for industry has been successful in this respect. One gets the impression, depending on whom one talks with, either that the Government runs business, or that two or three large businesses run the government. All that appears publicly indicates that the first is true, but a case can also be made for the latter interpretation. Favour and harassment are counterparts in the Indian economic scheme. There is no significant impairment of the willingness of Indian capitalists to invest in their industries, except in the specific industries where nationalization has been announced, but they are not always willing to invest and take the risks inherent in the free enterprise system. They want the Government to support their investment and when it refuses they back out and cry “Socialism”..”
I look forward to seeing a fundamental classical liberal critique from India’s distinguished American friends at Columbia University, Professors Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai and Arvind Panagariya, if and when such a critique arises, of the “policy framework” in India as that evolved from the mid 1950s to become what exists across India in 2013 today. Specifically: Where is the criticism from Bhagwati of Mahalanobis and friends? And where is Bhagwati’s defence of Shenoy, leave aside of Milton Friedman or Peter Bauer? They seem not to exist. The most we get is a footnote again without the civility of any references, in the otherwise cogent 1975 Desai-Bhagwati paper “Socialism and Indian Economic Policy” alleging
” Of these three types of impact of the Soviet example, the Plan-formulation approach was to be enthusiastically received by most commentators and, indeed, to lead to demands on the part of aid agencies for similar efforts by other developing countries. However, the shift to heavy industry was seen as a definite mistake by economic opinion of the Chicago school variety, reflecting their basic unfamiliarity with the structural models of growth and development planning of the Feldman-Mahalanobis variety-an ignorance which probably still persists. The detailed regulation was not quite noticed at the time, except by conservative commentators whose position however was extreme and precluded governmental planning of industrial investments on any scale.”
Desai and Bhagwati naturally found no apparent desire to locate any possible scientific truth or reasonableness among
nor among the unnamed and undescribed
“economic opinion of the Chicago school variety”.
Could Desai and Bhagwati have done anything different after all, even when talking about India to an American audience, without being at risk of losing their East Coast Limousine Liberal credentials? Bhagwati used to routinely declare his “socialist” credentials, and even the other day on Indian TV emphatically declared he was not a “conservative” and scornfully dismissed “Thatcher and Reagan” for their “trickle down economics”…
Jagdish Bhagwati has evidently wanted to have his cake and eat it too…
4. Amartya Sen’s Half-Baked Communism: “To each according to his need”?
If I have been candid or harsh in my assessments of Jagdish Bhagwati and Manmohan Singh as they relate to my personal experience with the change of direction in Indian economic policy originating in 1990-1991, I am afraid I must be equally so with Bhagwati’s current opponent in debate, Amartya Sen. Certainly I have found the current spat between Bhagwati and Sen over India’s political economy to be dismal, unscholarly, unscientific and misleading (or off-base) except for it having allowed a burst of domestic policy-discussion in circumstances when India needs it especially much.
None of this criticism is personal but based on objective experience and the record. My criticism of Professor Bhagwati and Dr Manmohan Singh does not diminish in the slightest my high personal regard for both of them.
Similarly, Amartya Sen and I go back, momentarily, to Hindustan Park in 1964 when there was a faint connection as family friends from World War II (as Naren Deb and Manindranath Roy were friends and neighbours, and we still have the signed copy of a book gifted by the former to the latter), and then he later knew me cursorily when I was an undergraduate at LSE and he was already a famous professor, and I greatly enjoyed his excellent lectures at the LSE on his fine book On Economic Inequality, and a few years later he wrote in tangential support of me at Cambridge for which he was thanked in the preface to my 1989 Philosophy of Economics – even though that book of mine also contained in its Chapter 10 the decisive criticism of his main contribution until that time to what used to be called “social choice theory”. Amartya Sen had also written some splendid handwritten letters, a few pages of which remain with me, which puzzled me at the time due to his expressing his aversion to what is normally called ‘price theory’, namely the Marshallian and/or Walrasian theory of value.
Professor Sen and I met briefly in 1978, and then again in 2006 when I was asked to talk to him in our philosophical conversation which came to be published nicely. In 2006 I told him of my experience with Rajiv Gandhi in initiating what became the 1991 reform on the basis of my giving Rajiv the results of the Hawaii project, and Amartya was kind enough to say that he knew I had been arguing all this “very early on”, referring presumably to the 1984 London Times editorial which he would have seen in his Oxford days before coming to Harvard.
This personal regard on my part or personal affection on his part aside, I have been appalled to find Professor Sen not taking moral and intellectual responsibility for and instead disclaiming paternity of the whole so-called “Food Security” policy which Sonia Gandhi has been prevailed upon over the years by him and his acolytes and friends and admirers to adopt, and she in her ignorance of all political economy and governance has now wished to impose upon the Congress Party and India as a whole:
“Questioner: You are being called the creator of the Food Security Bill.
Amartya Sen: Yes, I don’t know why. That is indeed a paternity suit I’m currently fighting. People are accusing me of being the father”.
Amartya Sen has repeatedly over the years gone on Indian prime-time television and declared things like
“If you don’t agree there’s hunger in the world, there’s something morally wrong with you”
besides over the decades publishing titles like Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, Hunger and Public Action, The Political Economy of Hunger etc and ceaselessly using his immense power with the media, with book publishing houses, with US academic departments and the world development economics business, to promote his own and his acolytes’ opinions around the world, no matter how ill-considered or incoherent these may be. A passage from his latest book with Jean Drèze reportedly reads
“If development is about the expansion of freedom, it has to embrace the removal of poverty as well as paying attention to ecology as integral parts of a unified concern, aimed ultimately at the security and advancement of human freedom. Indeed, important components of human freedoms — and crucial ingredients of our quality of life — are thoroughly dependent on the integrity of the environment, involving the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the epidemiological surroundings in which we live….”
Had such a passage reached me in an undergraduate essay, I would have considered it incoherent waffle, and I am afraid I cannot see why merely because it is authored by an eminence at Harvard and his co-author, the evaluation should be any different. I am reminded of my encounter in 1976 with Joan Robinson, the great tutor in 1950s Cambridge of Amartya and Manmohan: “Joan Robinson cornered me once and took me into the office she shared with EAG… She came at me for an hour or so wishing to supervise me, I kept declining politely… saying I was with Frank Hahn and wished to work on money… “What does Frankie know about India?” she said… I said I did not know but he did know about monetary theory and that was what I needed for India; I also said I did not think much about the Indian Marxists she had supervised… and mentioned a prominent name… she said about him, “Yes most of what he does can go straight into the dustbin”…” The Indian Marxist whom I had referred to in this conversation with Joan was not Amartya but someone else much younger, yet her candid “can go straight into the dustbin” still applies to all incoherent waffle, whomsoever may produce it.
Indeed, Amartya Sen, if anyone, really should get down to writing his memoirs, and candidly so in order to explain his own thinking and deeds over the decades to himself and to the world in order that needless confusions do not arise.
Else it becomes impossible to explain how someone who was said to be proud to have been a Communist student on the run from the police in West Bengal, who was Joan Robinson’s star pupil at a time she was extolling Maoist China and who has seemingly nurtured a deep lifelong fascination and affection for Communist China despite all its misdeeds, who was feted by the Communist regime of West Bengal after winning the Bank of Sweden Prize (on the same day that same regime had tossed into jail one unfortunate young Mr Khemkha merely for having been rude to its leaders on the Internet), and who seemed to share some of those winnings on social causes like primary education at the behest of the Communist regime’s ministers, etc, how someone with that noble comradely leftist personal history as an economist allows a flattering interviewer with a Harvard connection to describe him in Business Standard of 25 July 2013 as having been all along really a
who also happens to be
“the greatest living scholar of the original philosopher of the free market, Adam Smith”!
Amartya Sen a neoclassical economist and a great scholar of Adam Smith? It is hilarious to suppose so. The question arises, Does Sen, having published about Adam Smith recently in a few newspapers and leftist periodicals, agree with such a description by his flattering admirer from Harvard at Business Standard? “Neoclassical” economics originated with men like Jevons, Menger, Walras, Pareto, Marshall, Wicksell, and was marked by the theory of value being explained by a demand-side too, and not, like classical economics, merely by the cost of production alone on the supply side. Indeed a striking thing about the list below published by the Scandinavian Journal of Economics of Amartya’s books following his 1998 Bank of Sweden Prize
is how consistently these works display his avoidance of all neoclassical economics, and the absence of all of what is normally called ‘price theory’, namely the Marshallian and/or Walrasian theory of value. No “neoclassical economics” anywhere here for sure!
It would be fair enough if Professor Sen says he is hardly responsible for an admirer’s ignorant misdescription of his work — except the question still arises why he has himself also evidently misdescribed his own work! For example, in his 13 July 2013 letter to The Economist in response to the criticism of Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya, he says he had always been keenly interested in
“the importance of economic growth as a means— not an end”
and that this
This is a very peculiar opinion indeed to have been expressed by Professor Sen about his own work because the 1970 volume Growth Economics listed above among his books hardly can be said at all to be one of his own “earliest writings” as he now describes it to have been!
What had happened back then was that Sen, as someone considered a brilliant or promising young Indian economist at the time, had been asked by the editors of the famous Penguin Modern Economics Readings series to edit the specific issue devoted to growth-theory — a compendium of classic already-published essays including those of Roy Harrod, Evsey Domar, Robert Solow and many others, to which young Amartya was given a chance to write an editorial Introduction. Every economist familiar with that literature knows too that the growth-theory contained in that volume and others was considered highly abstract and notoriously divorced from actual historical processes of economic growth in different countries. Everyone also knew that the individual editors in that famous Penguin Modern Economics Series were of relative unimportance as they did not commission new papers but merely collected classics already published and wrote an introduction.
This is significant presently because neither Professor Sen nor Professor Bhagwati may be objectively considered on the evidence of his life’s work as an economist to have been a major scholar of economic growth, either in theory or in historical practice. As of December 1989, Amartya Sen himself described his own interests to the American Economic Association as
“social choice theory, welfare economics, economic development”
and Jagdish Bhagwati described his interests as
“theory of international trade and policy, economic development”.
Neither Sen nor Bhagwati mentioned growth economics or economic history or even general economic theory, microeconomics, macroeconomics, monetary economics, public finance, etc. Furthermore, Sen saying in his letter to The Economist that he has been always interested in economic growth seems to be baseless in light of the list of his books above, other than the Penguin compendium already discussed.
Incidentally in the same American Economic Association volume of 1989, Padma Desai had described her interests as
“Soviet economy and comparative economic systems”;
Arvind Panagariya had described his interests as
“economies of scale and trade; smuggling; parallel markets in planned economies”;
and one Suby Roy described his interests as
“foundations of monetary economics”.
Reflecting on Amartya Sen’s works over the 40 year period that I have known them
[and again, my personal copies of his books and those of Bhagwati and Desai, were all in my professorial office at IIT Kharagpur when I was attacked by a corrupt gang there in 2003; and IIT have been under a High Court order to return them but have not done so],
I wonder in fact if it might be fairly said that Sen has been on his own subjective journey over the decades around the world seeking to reinvent economics and political economy from scratch, and inventing his own terminology like “capabilities”, “functionings” and yes “entitlements” etc. to help him do so, while trying to assiduously avoid mention of canonical works of modern world economics like Marshall’s Principles, Hicks’s Value and Capital, Debreu’s Theory of Value, or Arrow and Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis, all defining the central neoclassical tradition of the modern theory of value.
But no contemporary science, economics and political economy included, is open to be re-invented from scratch, and what Amartya Sen has ended up doing instead is seeming to be continually trying to reinvent the wheel, possibly without having had the self-knowledge to realise this. Wittgenstein once made a paradoxical statement that one may know another’s mind better than one knows one’s own…
Here is a current example. Professor Sen says
“First, unlike the process of development in Japan, China, Korea and other countries, which pursued what Jean Drèze and I have called “Asian economic development” in our book, India has not had enough focus on public spending on school education and basic healthcare, which these other countries have had….”
Does Sen really
believes believe he and Drèze have now in 2013 discovered and christened an economic phenomenon named “Asian economic development”? Everyone, from Japan and Bangkok and Manila, to Hawaii and Stanford to the World Bank’s East Asia department, including especially my Hawaii colleague Ted James, and many many others including especially Gerald M Meier at Stanford, were publishing about all that every month — in the mid 1980s! In fact, our project on India and Pakistan arose in the 1980s from precisely such a Hawaiian wave! Everyone knows all that from back then or even earlier when the Japanese were talking about the “flying geese” model. (And, incidentally, Communist China did not at the time belong in the list.) Where was Amartya Sen in the mid 1980s when all that was happening? Jean Drèze was still a student perhaps. Is Professor Sen seeking to reinvent the wheel again with “Asian Economic Development” being claimed to be invented in 2013 by him and Drèze now? Oh please! That just won’t fly either!
A second example may be taken from the year before Professor Sen was awarded the Bank of Sweden Prize when he gave a lecture on “human capital” theory which was published as a survey titled “Human Capital and Human Capability” in World Development 1997 Vol. 25, No. 12,
Can you see any reference in this 1997 survey to TW Schultz’s 1960 American Economic Association Presidential Address or to Schultz’s classic 1964 book Transforming Traditional Agriculture or to his 1979 Bank of Sweden Prize address? I could not. If one did not know better, one might have thought from Professor Sen’s 1997 survey that there was nothing done worth talking about on the subject of “human capital” from the time of Adam Smith and David Hume until Amartya Sen finally came to the subject himself.
Thirdly, one is told by Sen’s admirer and collaborator, Professor James Foster of George Washington University, that what Sen means by his notion of
is that this is something
“enhanced when a marginally nourished family now has the capability to be sufficiently nourished due to public action”…
Are Amartya and his acolytes claiming he has invented or reinvented welfare economics ab initio? That before Amartya Sen, we did not know the importance of the able-bodied members of a community assisting those who are not able-bodied?
Where have they been? Amartya needed merely to have read Marshall’s Principles even slightly to find Marshall himself, the master of Maynard Keynes and all of Cambridge and modern world economics, declaring without any equivocation at the very start
“….the study of the causes of poverty is the study of the causes of the degradation of a large part of mankind…”
But Marshall was interested in study, serious study, of poverty and its causes and amelioration, which is not something as easy or trivial as pontification on modern television. My 1984 article “Considerations on Utility, Benevolence and Taxation” which also became a chapter of my 1989 Philosophy of Economics surveyed some of Marshall’s opinion.
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was a utopian slogan around 1875 from Karl Marx, which generations of passionate undergraduates have found impressive. Amartya Sen deserves to tell us squarely about his engagement with Marx or Marxist thought from his earliest days until now. His commitment in recent decades to democracy and the open and free society is clear; but has he also at the same time all along been committed to a kind of half-baked communist utopia as represented by Marx’s 1875 slogan?
“To each according to his need” sounds to be the underlying premise that is seeing practical manifestation in the Sonia Congress’s imposition of a so-called “right to food”; “from each according to his ability” is its flip side in the so-called “rural employment guarantee”. Leave aside the limitless resource-allocation and incentive and public finance problems created by such naive ideas being made into government policy, there is a grave and fundamental issue that Amartya and other leftists have been too blinkered to see:
Do they suppose the organised business classes have been weakly cooperative and will just allow such massive redistribution to occur without getting the Indian political system to pay them off as well? And how do the organised business classes get paid off? By their getting to take the land of the inhabitants of rural India. And land in an environment of a debauching of money and other paper assets is as good as gold.
So the peasants will lose their land to the government’s businessman friends on the one hand while purportedly getting “guaranteed” employment and food from the government’s bureaucrats on the other! A landless, asset-less slave population, free to join the industrial proletariat! Is that what Amartya wants to see in India? It may become what results within a few decades from his and his acolytes’ words and deeds.
Rajiv Gandhi once gave me his private phone numbers at 10 Jan Path. I used them back in January 1991 during the Gulf war. But I cannot do so now as Rajiv is gone. Amartya can. Let him phone Sonia and prevail upon her to put the brakes on the wild food and employment schemes he and his friends have persuaded her about until he reads and reflects upon what I said in January 2007 in “On Land-Grabbing” and in my July 2007 open letter to him, reproduced below:
“At a business meet on 12 January 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh showered fulsome praise on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as “dynamic”, “the Nation’s Best Chief Minister”, whose “wit and wisdom”, “qualities of head and heart”, “courage of conviction and passionate commitment to the cause of the working people of India” he admired, saying “with Buddhadeb Babu at the helm of affairs it appears Bengal is once again forging ahead… If today there is a meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata, it is because the ideas that I and Buddhadebji represent have captured the minds of the people of India. This is the idea of growth with equity and social justice, the idea that economic liberalization and modernization have to be mindful of the needs of the poor and the marginalized.”…. Dr Singh returned to the “needs of the poor and the marginalized” at another business meet on 8 January 2007 promising to “unveil a new Rehabilitation Policy in three months to increase the pace of industrialisation” which would be “more progressive, humane and conducive to the long-term welfare of all stakeholders”, while his businessman host pointedly stated about Singur “land for industry must be made available to move the Indian manufacturing sector ahead”. The “meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata” seems to be that agriculture allegedly has become a relatively backward slow-growing sector deserving to yield in the purported larger national interest to industry and services: what the PM means by “long-term welfare of all stakeholders” is the same as the new CPI-M party-line that the sons of farmers should not remain farmers (but become automobile technicians or IT workers or restaurant waiters instead). It is a political viewpoint coinciding with interests of organised capital and industrial labour in India today, as represented by business lobbies like CII, FICCI and Assocham on one hand, and unions like CITU and INTUC on the other. Business Standard succinctly (and ominously) advocated this point of view in its lead editorial of 9 January as follows: “it has to be recognised that the world over capitalism has progressed only with the landed becoming landless and getting absorbed in the industrial/service sector labour force ~ indeed it is obvious that if people don’t get off the land, their incomes will rise only slowly”. Land is the first and ultimate means of production, and the attack of the powerful on land-holdings or land-rights of the unorganised or powerless has been a worldwide phenomenon ~ across both capitalism and communism. In the mid-19th Century, white North America decimated hundreds of thousands of natives in the most gargantuan land-grab of history. Defeated, Chief Red Cloud of the Sioux spoke in 1868 for the Apache, Navajo, Comanche, Cheyenne, Iroquois and hundreds of other tribes: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept any except one: they promised to take our land, and they took it.” Half a century later, while the collapse of grain prices contributed to the Great Depression and pauperisation of thousands of small farmers in capitalist America in the same lands that had been taken from the native tribes, Stalin’s Russia embarked on the most infamous state-sponsored land-grab in modern history: “The mass collectivisation of Soviet agriculture (was) probably the most warlike operation ever conducted by a state against its own citizens…. Hundreds of thousands and finally millions of peasants… were deported… desperate revolts in the villages were bloodily suppressed by the army and police, and the country sank into chaos, starvation and misery… The object of destroying the peasants’ independence…was to create a population of slaves, the benefit of whose labour would accrue to industry. The immediate effect was to reduce Soviet agriculture to a state of decline from which it has not yet recovered… The destruction of the Soviet peasantry, who formed three quarters of the population, was not only an economic but a moral disaster for the entire country. Tens of millions were driven into semi-servitude, and millions more were employed as executants…” (Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism). Why did Stalin destroy the peasants? Lenin’s wishful “alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry” in reality could lead only to the peasants being pauperised into proletarians. At least five million peasants died and (Stalin told Churchill at Yalta) another ten million in the resultant famine of 1932-1933. “Certainly it involved a struggle ~ but chiefly one between urban Communists and villagers… it enabled the regime to obtain much of the capital desired for industrialization from the defeated village… it was the decisive step in the building of Soviet totalitarianism, for it imposed on the majority of the people a subjection which only force could maintain” (Treadgold, 20th Century Russia). Mr Bhattacharjee’s CPI-M is fond of extolling Chinese communism, and the current New Delhi establishment have made Beijing and Shanghai holiday destinations of choice. Dr Singh’s Government has been eager to create hundreds of “Special Economic Zones” run by organised capital and unionised labour, and economically privileged by the State. In fact, the Singur and Nandigram experiences of police sealing off villages where protests occur are modelled on creation of “Special Economic Zones” in China in recent years. For example, Chinese police on 6 December 2005 cracked down on farmers and fishermen in the seaside village of Dongzhou, 125 miles North East of Hong Kong. Thousands of Dongzhou villagers clashed with troops and armed police protesting confiscation of their lands and corruption among officials. The police immediately sealed off the village and arrested protesters. China’s Public Security Ministry admitted the number of riots over land had risen sharply, reaching more than seventy thousand across China in 2004; police usually suppressed peasant riots without resort to firing but in Dongzhou, police firing killed 20 protesters. Such is the reality of the “emergence” of China, a totalitarian police-state since the Communist takeover in 1949, from its period of mad tyranny until Mao’s death in 1976, followed by its ideological confusion ever since. Modern India’s political economy today remains in the tight grip of metropolitan “Big Business” and “Big Labour”. Ordinary anonymous individual citizens ~ whether housewife, consumer, student, peasant, non-union worker or small businessman ~ have no real voice or representation in Indian politics. We have no normal conservative, liberal or social democratic party in this country, as found in West European democracies where the era of land-grabbing has long-ceased. If our polity had been normal, it would have known that economic development does not require business or government to pauperise the peasantry but instead to define and secure individual property rights and the Rule of Law, and establish proper conditions for the market economy. The Congress and BJP in Delhi and CPI-M in Kolkata would not have been able to distract attention from their macroeconomic misdeeds over the decades ~ indicated, for example, by increasing interest-expenditure paid annually on Government debt as a fraction of tax revenues… This macroeconomic rot originated with the Indira Gandhi-PN Haksar capriciousness and mismanagement, which coincided with the start of Dr Singh’s career as India’s best known economic bureaucrat….”
“Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University, Dear Professor Sen, Everyone will be delighted that someone of your worldwide stature has joined the debate on Singur and Nandigram; The Telegraph deserves congratulations for having made it possible on July 23. I was sorry to find though that you may have missed the wood for the trees and also some of the trees themselves. Perhaps you have relied on Government statements for the facts. But the Government party in West Bengal represents official Indian communism and has been in power for 30 years at a stretch. It may be unwise to take at face-value what they say about their own deeds on this very grave issue! Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there are many candid communists who privately recognise this dismal truth about themselves. To say this is not to be praising those whom you call the “Opposition” ~ after all, Bengal’s politics has seen emasculation of the Congress as an opposition because the Congress and communists are allies in Delhi. It is the Government party that must reform itself from within sua sponte for the good of everyone in the State. The comparisons and mentions of history you have made seem to me surprising. Bengal’s economy now or in the past has little or nothing similar to the economy of Northern England or the whole of England or Britain itself, and certainly Indian agriculture has little to do with agriculture in the new lands of Australia or North America. British economic history was marked by rapid technological innovations in manufacturing and rapid development of social and political institutions in context of being a major naval, maritime and mercantile power for centuries. Britain’s geography and history hardly ever permitted it to be an agricultural country of any importance whereas Bengal, to the contrary, has been among the most agriculturally fertile and hence densely populated regions of the world for millennia. Om Prakash’s brilliant pioneering book The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal 1630-1720 (Princeton 1985) records all this clearly. He reports the French traveller François Bernier saying in the 1660s “Bengal abounds with every necessary of life”, and a century before him the Italian traveller Verthema saying Bengal “abounds more in grain, flesh of every kind, in great quantity of sugar, also of ginger, and of great abundance of cotton, than any country in the world”. Om Prakash says “The premier industry in the region was the textile industry comprising manufacture from cotton, silk and mixed yarns”. Bengal’s major exports were foodstuffs, textiles, raw silk, opium, sugar and saltpetre; imports notably included metals (as Montesquieu had said would always be the case). Bengal did, as you say, have industries at the time the Europeans came but you have failed to mention these were mostly “agro-based” and, if anything, a clear indicator of our agricultural fecundity and comparative advantage. If “deindustrialization” occurred in 19th Century India, that had nothing to do with the “deindustrialization” in West Bengal from the 1960s onwards due to the influence of official communism. You remind us Fa Hiaen left from Tamralipta which is modern day Tamluk, though he went not to China but to Ceylon. You suggest that because he did so Tamluk effectively “was greater Calcutta”. I cannot see how this can be said of the 5th Century AD when no notion of Calcutta existed. Besides, modern Tamluk at 22º18’N, 87º56’E is more than 50 miles inland from the ancient port due to land-making that has occurred at the mouth of the Hooghly. I am afraid the relevance of the mention of Fa Hiaen to today’s Singur and Nandigram has thus escaped me. You say “In countries like Australia, the US or Canada where agriculture has prospered, only a very tiny population is involved in agriculture. Most people move out to industry. Industry has to be convenient, has to be absorbing”. Last January, a national daily published a similar view: “For India to become a developed country, the area under agriculture has to shrink, urban and industrial land development has to take place, and about 100 million workers have to move out from agriculture into industry and services. This is the only way forward for bringing prosperity to the rural population”. Rice is indeed grown in Arkansas or Texas as it is in Bengal but there is a world of difference between the technological and geographical situation here and that in the vast, sparsely populated New World areas with mechanized farming! Like shoe-making or a hundred other crafts, agriculture can be capital-intensive or labour-intensive ~ ours is relatively labour-intensive, theirs is relatively capital-intensive. Our economy is relatively labour-abundant and capital-scarce; their economies are relatively labour-scarce and capital-abundant (and also land-abundant). Indeed, if anything, the apt comparison is with China, and you doubtless know of the horror stories and civil war conditions erupting across China in recent years as the Communist Party and their businessman friends forcibly take over the land of peasants and agricultural workers, e.g. in Dongzhou. All plans of long-distance social engineering to “move out” 40 per cent of India’s population (at 4 persons per “worker”) from the rural hinterlands must also face FA Hayek’s fundamental question in The Road to Serfdom: “Who plans whom, who directs whom, who assigns to other people their station in life, and who is to have his due allotted by others?” Your late Harvard colleague, Robert Nozick, opened his brilliant 1974 book Anarchy, State and Utopia saying: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”. You have rightly deplored the violence seen at Singur and Nandigram. But you will agree it is a gross error to equate violence perpetrated by the Government which is supposed to be protecting all people regardless of political affiliation, and the self-defence of poor unorganised peasants seeking to protect their meagre lands and livelihoods from state-sponsored pogroms. Kitchen utensils, pitchforks or rural implements and flintlock guns can hardly match the organised firepower controlled by a modern Government. Fortunately, India is not China and the press, media and civil institutions are not totally in the hands of the ruling party alone. In China, no amount of hue and cry among the peasants could save them from the power of organised big business and the Communist Party. In India, a handful of brave women have managed to single-handedly organise mass movements of protest which the press and media have then broadcast that has shocked the whole nation to its senses. You rightly say the land pricing process has been faulty. Irrelevant historical prices have been averaged when the sum of discounted expected future values in an inflationary economy should have been used. Matters are even worse. “The fear of famine can itself cause famine. The people of Bengal are afraid of a famine. It was repeatedly charged that the famine (of 1943) was man-made.” That is what T. W. Schultz said in 1946 in the India Famine Emergency Committee led by Pearl Buck, concerned that the 1943 Bengal famine should not be repeated following dislocations after World War II. Of course since that time our agriculture has undergone a Green Revolution, at least in wheat if not in rice, and a White Revolution in milk and many other agricultural products. But catastrophic collapses in agricultural incentives may still occur as functioning farmland comes to be taken by government and industry from India’s peasantry using force, fraud or even means nominally sanctioned by law. If new famines come to be provoked because farmers’ incentives collapse, let future historians know where responsibility lay. West Bengal’s real economic problems have to do with its dismal macroeconomic and fiscal position which is what Government economists should be addressing candidly. As for land, the Government’s first task remains improving grossly inadequate systems of land-description and definition, as well as the implementation and recording of property rights. With my most respectful personal regards, I remain, Yours ever, Suby”
How does India, as a state, treat its weakest and most vulnerable citizens? Not very well at all. It is often only because families and society have not collapsed completely, as they have elsewhere, that the weakest survive. Can we solve in the 21st Century, in a practical manner appropriate to our times, the problem Buddha raised before he became the Buddha some twenty six centuries ago? Says Eliot,
“The legend represents him as carefully secluded from all disquieting sights and as learning the existence of old age, sickness and death only by chance encounters which left a profound impression”
It is to this list we add “the poor” too, especially if we want to include a slightly later and equally great reformer some miles west of the Terai in the Levant. I said some years ago “As we as infants and children need to be helped to find courage to face the start of life, we when very elderly can need to be helped to find courage to face life’s end”. Old age carries with it the fear of death, fear of the end of life and what that means, which raises the meaning of life itself, or at least of the individual life, because we can hardly grasp what the end of life is if we haven’t what it is supposed to be the end of in the first place. What the very elderly need, as do the dying and terminally ill, is to find courage within themselves to comprehend all this with as much equanimity as possible. Companionship and camaraderie — or perhaps let us call it love — go towards that courage coming to be found; something similar goes for the sick, whether a sick child missing school or the elderly infirm, courage that they are not alone and that they can and will recover and not have to face death quite yet, that life will indeed resume.
As for the poor, I said in 2009 about the bizarre Indian scheme of “interrogating, measuring, photographing and fingerprinting them against their will” that “the poor have their privacy and their dignity. They are going to refuse to waste their valuable time at the margins of survival volunteering for such gimmickry.”
“What New Delhi’s governing class fails to see is that the masses of India’s poor are not themselves a mass waiting for New Delhi’s handouts: they are individuals, free, rational, thinking individuals who know their own lives and resources and capacities and opportunities, and how to go about living their lives best. What they need is security, absence of state or other tyranny, roads, fresh water, electricity, functioning schools for their children, market opportunities for work, etc, not handouts from a monarch or aristocrats or businessmen….” Or, to put it differently in Kant’s terms, the poor need to be treated as ends in themselves, and not as the means towards the ends of others…
Part II India’s Right Road Forward Now: Some Thoughtful Analysis for Grown Ups
5. Transcending a Left-Right/Congress-BJP Divide in Indian Politics
6. Budgeting Military & Foreign Policy
7. Solving the Kashmir Problem & Relations with Pakistan
8. Dealing with Communist China
9. Towards Coherence in Public Accounting, Public Finance & Public Decision-Making
10. India’s Money: Towards Currency Integrity at Home & Abroad
22 September 2013
“Let us remember that the postponement of tapering is only that, a postponement. We must use this time to create a bullet proof national balance sheet and growth agenda, which creates confidence in citizens and investors alike…”
I will say the statement above is the first sensible thing I have heard Dr Rajan utter anywhere, cutting through all the hype…I should also think he may be underestimating the task at hand, so here’s some help as to what needs to be done from my 19 Aug 2013 Mint article “A wand for Raghuram Rajan” and my 3 Dec 2012 Delhi lecture:
“Rajan has apparently said, “We do not have a magic wand to make the problems disappear instantaneously, but I have absolutely no doubt we will deal with them.” Of course there are no magic wands but there is a scientific path forward. It involves system-wide improvements in public finance and accounting using modern information technology to comprehend government liabilities and expenditures and raise their productivity. It also involves institutional changes in public decision-making like separating banking and central banking from the treasury while making the planning function serve the treasury function rather than pretend to be above it. It is a road long and arduous but at its end both corruption and inflation will have been reduced to minimal levels. The rupee will have acquired sufficient integrity to become a hard currency of the world in the sense the average resident of, say, rural Madhya Pradesh or Mizoram may freely convert rupees and hold or trade foreign currencies or precious metals as he/she pleases. India signed the treaty of Versailles as a victor and was an original member of the League of Nations, the United Nations and the IMF. Yet sovereign India has failed to develop a currency universally acceptable as freely convertible world money. It is necessary and possible for India to aim to do so because without such a national aim, the integrity of the currency continues to be damaged regularly by governmental abuse. An RBI governor’s single overriding goal should be to try to bring a semblance of integrity to India’s money both domestically and worldwide.”
from https://www.facebook.com/groups/234209180060725/ Shadow Reserve Bank of India
19 August 2013
9 August 2013
No magic wand, Professor Rajan? Oh but there is… read up all this over some hours and you will find it… (Of course it’s not from magic really, just hard economic science & politics)
Professor Raghuram Govind Rajan of the University of Chicago Business School deserves everyone’s congratulations on his elevation to the Reserve Bank of India’s Governorship. But I am afraid I cannot share the wild optimism in India’s business media over this. Of course there are several positives to the appointment. First, having a genuine PhD and that too from a top school is a rarity among India’s policy-makers; Rajan earned a 1991 PhD in finance at MIT’s management school for a thesis titled “Essays on banking” (having to do we are told “with the downside to cozy bank-firm relationships”). Secondly, and related, he has not been a career bureaucrat as almost all RBI Governors have been in recent decades. Thirdly, he has been President of the American Finance Association, he won the first Fischer Black prize in finance of that Association, and during Anne Krueger’s 2001-2006 reign as First Deputy MD at the IMF, he was given the research role made well-known by the late Michael Mussa, that of “Economic Counselor” of the IMF.
Hence, altogether, Professor Rajan has come to be well-known over the last decade in the West’s financial media. Given the dismal state of India’s credit in world capital markets, that is an asset for a new RBI Governor to have.
On the negatives, first and foremost, if Professor Rajan has renounced at any time his Indian nationality, surrendered his Indian passport and sworn the naturalization oath of the USA, then he is a US citizen with a US passport and loyalty owed to that country, and by US law he will have to enter the USA using that and no other nationality. If that happens to be the factual case, it will be something that comes out in India’s political cauldron for sure, and there will arise legal issues and court orders barring him from heading the RBI or representing India officially, e.g. when standing in for India’s Finance Minister at the IMF in Washington or the BIS in Basle etc. Was he an Indian national as Economic Counselor at the IMF? The IMF has a tradition of only European MDs and at least one American First Deputy MD. The Economic Counselor was always American too; did Rajan break that by having remained Indian, or conform to it by having become American? It is a simple question of fact which needs to come out clearly. Even if Rajan is an American, he and the Government of India could perhaps try to cite to the Indian courts the new precedent set by the venerable Bank of England which recently appointed a Canadian as Governor.
Secondly, does Professor Rajan know enough (or “have enough domain knowledge” in the modern term) to comprehend let aside confront India’s myriad monetary and public finance problems? Much of his academic experience in the USA and his approach to Western financial markets may be quite simply divorced from the reality of Indian credit markets and India’s peculiar monetary and banking system as these have evolved over decades and centuries. Mathematical finance is a relatively new, small specialised American sub-field of economic theory, and not a part of general economics. Rajan’s academic path of engineering and management in India followed by a finance thesis in the management department of a US engineering school may have exposed him to relatively little formal textbook micro- and macroeconomics, monetary economics, public finance, international economics, economic development etc, especially as these relate to Indian circumstances “Growing up in India, I had seen poverty all around me. I had read about John Maynard Keynes and thought, wow, here’s a guy who managed to have an enormous influence on the world. Economics must be very important.”… He ran across Robert Merton’s paper on rational option pricing, and something clicked that set him on his own intellectual path. “It all came together. You didn’t have these touchy-feely ways of describing human behavior; there were neat arbitrage ways of pricing things. It just seemed so clever and sophisticated,” he said. “And I could use the math skills that I fancied I had, so I decided to get my PhD.”
Let me take two examples. Does Rajan realise how the important Bottomley-Chandavarkar debates of the 1960s about India’s rural credit markets influenced George Akerlof’s “Market for Lemons” theory and prompted much work on “asymmetric information”,
signalling etc in credit-markets, insurance-markets, labour-markets and markets in general, as acknowledged in the awards of several Bank of Sweden prizes? Or will he need a tutorial on the facts of rural India’s financial and credit markets, and their relationship with the formal sector? What the Bottomley-Chandavarkar debate referred to half a century ago still continues in rural India insofar as large arbitrage profits are still made by trading across the artificially low rates of money interest caused by financial repression of India’s “formal” monetised sector with its soft inconvertible currency against the very high real rates of return on capital in the “informal” sector. It is obvious to the naked eye that India is a relatively labour-abundant country. It follows the relative price of labour will be low and relative price of capital high compared to, e.g. the Western or Middle Eastern economies, with mobile factors of production like labour and capital expected to flow accordingly across national boundaries. Indian nominal interest-rates in organized credit markets have been for decades tightly controlled, making it necessary to go back to Irving Fisher’s data to obtain benchmark interest-rates, which, as expected, are at least 2%-3% higher in India than in Western capital markets. Joan Robinson once explained “the difference between 30% in an Indian village and 3% in London” saying “side by side with the industrial revolution went great technical progress in the provision of credit and the reduction of lender’s risk.”
What is logically certain is no country can have both relatively low world prices for labour and relatively low world prices for capital! Yet that impossibility seems to have been what India’s purported economic “planners” have planned to engineer! The effect of financial repression over decades may have been to artificially “reverse” or “switch” the risk-premium — making it lucrative for there to be capital flight out of India, with real rates of return on capital within India being made artificially lower than those in world markets! Just as enough export subsidies and tariffs can make a country artificially “reverse” its comparative advantage with its structure of exports and imports becoming inverted, so a labour-rich capital-scarce country may, with enough financial repression, end up causing a capital flight. The Indian elite’s capital flight out of India exporting their adult children and savings overseas may be explained as having been induced by government policy itself.
Secondly, Professor Rajan as a finance and banking specialist, will see at once the import of this graph above that has never been produced let aside comprehended by the RBI, yet which uses the purest RBI data. It shows India’s mostly nationalised banks have decade after decade gotten weaker and weaker financially, being kept afloat by continually pumping in of new “capital” via “recapitalisation” from the government that owns them, using more and more of the soft inconvertible currency that has been debauched merrily by government planners. The nationalised banks with their powerful pampered employee unions, like other powerful pampered employee unions in the government sector, have been the bane of India, where a mere 30 million privileged people in a vast population work with either the government or the organised private sector. The RBI’s own workforce at last count was perhaps 75,000… the largest central bank staff in the world by far!
Will Rajan know how to bring some system out of the institutional chaos that prevails in Indian banking and central banking? If not, he should start with the work of James Hanson “Indian Banking: Market Liberalization and the Pressures for Institutional and Market Framework Reform”, contained in the book created by Anne Krueger who brought him into the IMF, and mentioned in my 2012 article “India’s Money” linked below.
The central question for any 21st century RBI Governor worth the name really becomes whether he or she can stand up to the Finance Ministry and insist that the RBI stop being a mere department of it — even perhaps insisting on constitutional status for its head to fulfill the one over-riding aim of trying to bring a semblance of integrity to India’s currency both domestically and worldwide. Instead it is the so-called “Planning Commission” which has been dominating the Treasury that needs to be made a mere department of the Finance Ministry, while the RBI comes to be hived off to independence!
Professor Rajan has apparently said “We do not have a magic wand to make the problems disappear instantaneously, but I have absolutely no doubt we will deal with them.” Of course there are no magic wands but my 3 December 2012 talk in Delhi has described the right path forward, complex and difficult as this may be.
The path forward involves system-wide improvements in public finance and accounting using modern information technology to comprehend government liabilities and expenditures and raise their productivity, plus institutional changes in public decision-making like separating banking and central banking from the Treasury while making the planning function serve the Treasury function rather than pretend to be above it. The road described is long and arduous but at its end both corruption and inflation will have been reduced to minimal levels, and the rupee would have acquired integrity enough to become a hard currency of the world in the sense the average resident of, say, rural Madhya Pradesh or Mizoram may freely convert rupees and hold or trade foreign currencies or precious metals as he/she pleases.
India signed the Treaty of Versailles as a victor and was an original member of the League of Nations, UN and IMF. Yet sovereign India has failed to develop a currency universally acceptable as a freely convertible world money. It is necessary and possible for India to do so. Without such a national aim, the integrity of the currency continues to be damaged regularly by governmental abuse.
Professor Rajan will not want to be merely an adornment for the GoI in world capital markets for a few years, waiting to get back to his American career and life and perhaps to the IMF again. As RBI Governor, he can find his magic wand if he reads and reflects hard enough using his undoubted academic acumen, and then acts to lead India accordingly. Here is the basic reading list:
From Facebook 19 May 2013
“Manmohan and Sonia have violated Rajiv Gandhi’s intended reforms; the Communists have been appeased or bought; the BJP is incompetent”
is what I said in Sep 2007 in an op-ed in The Statesman. I have to say it again, adding Amartya Sen too for his backing of the so-called “Food Security Bill”…
But taking Sonia and Rajiv out of it all, we are left with a battle from within Cambridge economics, viz,
Sen and Singh (disciples of Joan Robinson, Kaldor, Dobb et al in the 1950s)
myself … in my PhD thesis of 1981 under Frank Hahn...
I am afraid I cannot remember a cogent coherent book authored by Amartya Sen since his 1972 *On Economic Inequality*, which had nice surveys of the Gini coefficient and related concepts…
My 2006 conversation with him about his book *Identity and Violence* is here. I now see he and a co-author seem to have produced yet one more piece of extended undergraduate waffle…E.g. “If development is about the expansion of freedom, it has to embrace the removal of poverty as well as paying attention to ecology as integral parts of a unified concern, aimed ultimately at the security and advancement of human freedom. Indeed, important components of human freedoms — and crucial ingredients of our quality of life — are thoroughly dependent on the integrity of the environment, involving the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the epidemiological surroundings in which we live….”
From Facebook 20 May 2012:
Our endless topic of conversation remains my father’s death almost four months ago. He was a man like any other of virtues and vices. When he knew he was dying, we and his doctors did not; when we knew what he was dying of, he did not. I could not imagine a world in which he was not present and do not know how we coped. But what became clear in his last days, and indeed in his last months and his last years, is that his vices receded and vanished and his virtues came to the fore. That was through a conscious deliberate process he underwent in his last year or two of what I can only call philosophical reflection and self-examination, from a man who had never been remotely academic or philosophical or even fore-sighted. His final virtues were his deepest ones of courage and decency (feeling embarrassed at the difficulty he was causing me, and telling me so with his eyes as he could no longer speak), as well as magnanimity in forgiving me my infirmities. What a struggle it was for him to bring out his last coherent sentence some two weeks before he died in which he said “aami tomakey shorboda ashirbad kori”, or roughly, my blessings are always with you. It was really the last thing he said as clear as crystal.
I am reminded of what I happened to say in a 2001 review of a book
“T. S. Eliot in *Burnt Norton* seemed to speak of looking forward at life all the way to the point of death:
“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
…Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
Leavis drew attention to the religious meaning assigned to these lines by the critic D. W. Harding:
“For the man convinced of spiritual values, life is a coherent pattern in which the ending has its due place, and, because it is part of a pattern, itself leads into the beginning.”’
The first Governor of Bengal after the 1912 reunification of Bengal and East Bengal was the Scottish Liberal politician Thomas-Gibson Carmichael, the first (and apparently last) Baron Carmichael. This is a photograph of a 1916 visit he paid to Surendranath Roy’s home at Behala, Surendranath then being the Deputy President of the Bengal Legislative Council and probably the most influential officially recognised political statesman in Bengal at the time.
Surendranath’s younger son, Manindranath, is the bespecaled and moustachioed young man in the middle holding the child. If the child is a two or three year old, it would be my father’s elder brother; if the date of the photograph is late in 1916 and the child is a one year old, it would be my father.
My father seated perhaps c. 1919, with his elder brother..
My grandfather, Manindranath Roy (1891-1958) was a quiet enigmatic literary figure and artistic benefactor in Calcutta; he wrote very well and had excellent taste and manners (though was of foolish judgement in money and friends). This photograph is from about 1922 at Allahabad where he used to take his family on annual holiday. The little boy to the left behind his mother would grow up to become my father.
Manindranath is dressed in fine post-Edwardian fashion; at the time, his father, Surendranath Rai, was at the peak of his political career as first Deputy President and then President of the new Bengal Legislative Council. Surendranath was an orthodox Brahmin and chose never to wear Western-style suits and neck-ties, and he was thoroughly averse to the idea of dining with Europeans. Manindranath was the first to wear Western clothes, as well as to dine in Calcutta’s Western restaurants. There was tension between father and son due to such matters.
His mother Nirmala, 1900-1976, was a famed beauty of Uttarpara. She was married at age 9 to her husband who was 18, but the story went her mother-in-law slept between the couple for four years as he was constantly teasing her and pulling her hair. Finally the mother-in-law must have departed and she gave birth to her first son at age 13 and to my father at age 15.
Manindranath might have bullied his wife into posing for the risque photo below; his orthodox father would have almost certainly disapproved and forbidden it had he known.
Manindranath again in a photo with his wife that his father would almost certainly have disallowed. In the days before radio, Bengali society had literature and the arts to keep itself company (besides politics). Writing and reading poetry was a common hobby. Three principal literary journals were Bharatvarsha, Probasi and Bichitra. The long-standing editor of Bharatvarsha was Jaladhar Sen, and it was he who had introduced Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya to Manindranath when Sarat had returned (in impecunious circumstances) to Bengal from Burma, probably with a request that Sarat be supported and sponsored. We made a literary find a few years ago: a notebook of Manindranath’s that he had titled Mandakini. It contains some 51 poems and poetic songs composed between 1914 and 1936, from when he was aged about 23 to when he was 45. He has been dead fifty years now and no one knew of the existence of these poems until today. Nor had he told anyone of the work (perhaps because some of the poems are especially candid; his affairs of the heart outside his marriage were said to be notorious). Between about 1933 and 1943 Manindranath found himself facing trials and tribulations of such gravity and magnitude (caused in part by his own foolish squandering of his inheritance from his father) that he may have wished to forget, ignore or even regret his creative period. Many of the poems are recorded as having been published in literary journals of the time, like Bharatbarsha and Bichitra, and some are recorded as having been sung or performed on the new radio service of the time, especially around 1931…
My father with his elder brother and younger sisters, with their grandfather Surendranath c. 1927, on the front-terrace of the house Surendranath had built c. 1926.
I was surprised when he told me a few years ago he and his brother and cousins all wore dhotis right through college days. The sofa-chair is part of a set we use every day today.
This is a 1928 photo of the male members of the Roy Family of Behala, south of Calcutta, along with the children. Adult women would have been behind an effective “purdah”. The bearded patriarch in the middle is my great grandfather, the Hon’ble Surendra Nath Roy (1860-1929) the eldest son of Rai Bahadur Umbik Churn Rai (1827-1902). *The Golden Book of India* published at the time of the Victoria Jubilee said Umbik was the twelfth descendant of one Raja Gajendra Narayan Rai, Rai-Raian, a finance official under the Great Mughal Jahangir. Surendra Nath’s second son, my grandfather, Manindranath, is seated second from the right in the second row with spectacles and moustache. The bright lad fourth from the left in the last row would grow up to be my father.
College days and then his first jobs, first with the Indian Oxygen and Acetylene Company (he knew nothing at all about chemistry), and then with the Tata Steel Company.
There seem to be large oxygen cylinders in the background of the picture at the top. He once told me that one came crashing down from a higher floor once and missed him by inches. That would have been the end of him, and our stories would not have begun at all. The lower photograph may have been with Indian Oxygen or the Tatas, I cannot tell for sure…He is standing dressed in a dapper cream double-breasted suit with a flower in his lapel-button it would seem; it suggests from his suit that the photo was dated 1936 at the Tatas, as that is written at the back of a previous photo in the same suit.
Posing with a friend c. 1937 perhaps outside the new Central Legislative building in New Delhi, which would later become India’s Parliament.
He left Indian Oxygen after a year to join the Tatas in Jamshedpur for half a dozen or so years. My mother’s father and brothers were all factory-men with the Tatas. Their family was completely different from his, being large and immensely happy with much song and studies and food and music. Her father worked with him and took a deep liking to the handsome aristocratic young man from the city, and invited him home often where he found a warmth and family-love he had not known before.
My parents married on 11 May 1942 during the war, with the Japanese bombing Calcutta. Soon thereafter my father joined the Government of India for the first time in the war-time Ministry of Supply.
The 1940 Lahore Resolution of the Muslim League did not mention the word “Pakistan” but is considered its political blueprint. MA Jinnah’s political support lay among the Muslim elite in Muslim-minority areas of India — he needed a show of support from the Muslim-majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal too, and indeed Sikandar Hyat Khan and AK Fuzlul Huq came to draft and present the Lahore Resolution.
Fuzlul Huq was Prime Minister of undivided Bengal from 1937-1943. On 11 May 1942, he led the bridegroom’s procession when my father went to wed my mother. Here is Fuzlul Huq entering the car to do so, with my grandfather Manindranath Roy helping him into the car. My mother’s family were surprised; they were Bengali Brahmins from Jamshedpur and did not quite know what to make of all this. My mother, aged 16 at the time, remembers she was non-plussed to find Fuzlul Huq ‘s bulky frame seated for some reason between her and her new husband in the car on the return journey too!
Fuzlul Huq, having been a young colleague of Surendranath Roy in the Bengal Legislative Council, was a family friend and treated my grandfather, Manindranath Roy, with affection. (Manindranath was a Justice of the Peace, but unlike his father was not political.)
Fuzlul Huq would apparently make requests of my grandmother for delivered meals during political confabulations; my grandfather’s family had been forced to leave Behala as the family home had been requisitioned by the military to be a hospital during the war, and they lived instead in Ballygunge. My father recalls cycling from there with the requested food to the political confabulations in the middle of the wartime blackout (Japanese aeroplanes had apparently reached Calcutta on their bombing missions).
Here too is a note dated 9 August 1945 from Fuzlul Huq to my grandfather thanking him for food and sending his “best blessings” to my grandmother — a Muslim, one of the founders of Pakistan, sends his blessings to an orthodox Hindu Brahmin family and everyone remains completely cheerful and apolitical: such was normal Indian secularism in practice at the time. Partition between India and Pakistan and the ghastliness that accompanied it, and the hatred and bloodshed that has followed, were all quite beyond anyone’s imagination at the time.
My parents and their eldest child Suchandra (Buju), about 1945-1946 on their way to Karachi where he headed a Ministry of Supply office. The single biggest thing my father did in his life happened here: returning from Karachi in late August 1947 as one of the last Govt of India officers there, he reported back to Shyama Prosad Mookherjee in Delhi that he had seen masses of Hindu Sindhi families huddled and camping out on the main road near the port and in danger of massacre (all the Hindu women dressed in black burkhas in fear, my father’s clerk was one Lalwani who took him around and begged him to do something); Mookherjee told him to prepare a note for the morning which he did overnight dictating to a typist, Mookherjee was a member of the Nehru Cabinet and put the note up there the next morning, the Nehru Govt sent three frigates from Bombay to Karachi the next day along with merchant vessels for a safe evacuation of the refugees… there was no massacre of the Hindu Sindhis in Karachi…. LK Advani and others might make a note…
Perhaps because of the Karachi event, the young officer’s name came to be known in the small political/official world of Delhi at the time of Independence. I do not know how else the Mountbattens themselves came to invite him on 13 January 1948 or Prime Minister Nehru himself on 20 June 1948 in the official farewell to the Mountbattens. My father’s sensibility was such that he never made use of this in his later career in the new Indian Foreign Service that he would join some years later; I would have done, though I like him was never a careerist.
My father in 1952, now with the Ministry of Commerce as “Deputy Chief Controller of Imports and Exports”… He was a contemporary of Raj Kapoor, and met him and Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand in the Bombay of the times… We used to joke that perhaps he should have gone into the movies some time..
From Facebook, 5 February 2012:
It is a month ago today that my father was admitted to hospital, for the first time in almost 40 years. A day or so later we learnt he was terminally ill, and it is almost two weeks now that he died, just as these last doctors said he would. For more than a month before that we had been bewildered about what could be wrong, and what we were told came as a surprise, a shock, not least at our own infirmity and failure. From then until now I have been trying to understand and explain what happened. I published a book some 22 years ago with “On the Scope of Reason” in its title. I claim as my philosophical master someone who spent his life reflecting on the scope of reason, in moral philosophy, in theology, in life — and he claimed as his philosophical master someone who spent his life reflecting on the nature of reason and mind and the unconscious mind in particular. Before I ever entered economics or philosophy I had some knowledge of natural science, biology and chemistry in particular. My father’s death and our failure to comprehend it has needed an explanation that draws upon all this. Slowly that has been taking shape. It was definitely a lapse of rationality, on my part, on his, on his doctors’, and perhaps others. The thickening of the bladder wall had been noticed some years ago but was not paid adequate attention to. Out of wishful thinking, out of Aristotle’s akrasia or weakness of the will, out of a wish to choose the path of least resistance. There are lessons there for life and medicine and economics and political economy too.
From 1957, Montreal, a cartoon by Vazar of Mike Roy, Indian diplomat, going about his business, mostly promoting Indian exports to Canada, especially tea…. (Note the CD for Corps Diplomatique and the hat…)
The 2009 General Election campaign is supposed to elect a Parliament and a Head of Government for the Republic of India, not a Head Boy/Head Girl at an urban middle-class high school or the karta of a joint family. Unfortunately, our comprador national-level media seem to be docile and juvenile enough in face of power and privilege to want to ask only touchy-feely koochi-woochi pretty baby questions of the “candidates” for PM (several of whom are not even running as candidates for the Lok Sabha but still seem to want to be PM). Rival candidates themselves seem to want to hurl invective and innuendo at one another, as if all this was merely some public squabble between Delhi middle-class families.
So here are a set of grown-up adult questions instead:
1. Pakistan is politically and strategically our most important neighbour. Can you assure the country that a government headed by you will have a coherent policy on both war and peace with Pakistan? How would you achieve it?
2. Do you agree with the Reagan-Gorbachev opinion that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought”? If so, what would your Government do about it?
3. If there are Indian citizens in Jammu & Kashmir presently governed by Article 370 who wish to renounce Indian nationality and remain stateless or become Pakistani/Afghan/Iranian citizens instead, would you consider letting them do so and giving them Indian “green cards” for peaceful permanent residence in J&K and India as a whole?
4. Do you know where Chumbi Valley is? If so, would your Government consider reviving the decades-old idea with China to mutually exchange permanent leases to Aksai Chin and Chumbi Valley respectively?
5. Nuclear power presently accounts as a source of about 4% of total Indian electricity; do you agree that even if nuclear power capacity alone increased by 100% over the next ten years and all other sources of electricity remained constant, nuclear power would still account for less than 8% of the total?
6. The public debt of the country may now amount to something like Rs 30 lakh crore (Rs 30 trillion); do you find that worrisome? If so, why so? If not, why not?
7. The Government of India may be paying something like Rs 3 lakh crore (Rs 3 trillion) annually on interest payments on its debt; do you agree that tends to suck dry every public budget even before it can try to do something worthwhile?
8. If our money supply growth is near 22% per annum, and the rate of growth of real income is near 7% per annum, would you agree the decline in the value of money (i.e., the rate of inflation) could be as high as 15% per annum?
9. Do you agree that giving poor people direct income subsidies is a far better way to help them than by distorting market prices for everybody? If not, why not?
10. How would you seek to improve the working of (and reduce the corruption in) the following public institutions: (1) the Army and paramilitary; (2) the Judiciary and Police; (3) Universities and technical institutes?
11. There has never been a Prime Minister in any parliamentary democracy in the world throughout the 20th Century who was also not an elected member of the Lower House; do you agree BR Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru intended that for the Republic of India as well and thought it something so obvious as not necessary to specify in the 1950 Constitution? What will your Government do to improve the working of the Presidency, the Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and State Assemblies?
12. What, personally, is your vision for India after a five-year period of a Government led by you?
Citizen & Voter
Some reviews of Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (London & New York: Routledge). First published 1989. Paperback 1991.
“Dr. Roy’s book, Philosophy of Economics, which I have read in galleys, I regard as a masterpiece, not only in economic analysis but in philosophic analysis as well.” — Sidney Hook 1989
“I shall have to ponder your rejection of the Humean position which has, I suppose, been central in not only my thought but that of most economists. Candidly, I have never understood what late Wittgenstein was saying, but I have not worked very hard at his work, and perhaps your book will give guidance.”–Kenneth J. Arrow, letter to the author, 1989
“It is an extraordinarily well-written and well-thought through book that shows a wide-ranging capacity and understanding of economics as a discipline in both its macro and micro aspects.” Milton Friedman 1991. Evidence in the US District Court for the District of Hawaii.
“There is no doubt whatsoever that he has a thorough and deep understanding of the major issues that have occupied macroeconomics over the past fifty years…. It is a sign of real understanding that Roy can state these ideas not in terms of jargon, not in terms of equations or technical terms, but in straightforward English using only a minimum of specifically economic terminology. All in all, it is a very knowledgeable and sophisticated performance.” — Milton Friedman, 1989
“I had the privilege of reading early drafts of this book. I saw it emerge as an in-depth analysis of the philosophical foundations of economics. It is scholarship of a high order. It is an original contribution of major importance to economic thought.” — Theodore W. Schultz 1989
“The core of Roy’s study is devoted to the nature and grounds of economics as knowledge; it examines the basic intellectual roots of economics. It is cogent and, what is exceedingly rare these days, it is refreshingly lucid…. Roy’s book is in several important respects an original contribution, the most important being his treatment of the philosophical foundations of economics as knowledge. He is all too modest in assessing the importance of his contribution.” Theodore W. Schultz, 1983
“This is a very ambitious work directed at the foundations of normative judgements in economics. The author arrives at some conclusions very closely matching those I arrived at some years ago. It is clear, however, that Dr. Roy arrived at his conclusions completely independently…. Dr. Roy reveals a clear understanding of the methodological positivism that invaded economic policy analysis in the thirties and still dominates the literature of economics…. Following Renford Bambrough, he arrives at a position equivalent to that of the American pragmatists, especially Dewey, who insist that the problematic situation provides the starting point for the analysis of a problem even though there are no ultimate starting points. The methodological implication is the support of inquiry as fundamental, avoiding both scepticism and dogmatism.” Sidney S. Alexander, 1985
“A work altogether well written and admirably clear.” Renford Bambrough, 1985
“I like very much the courage in trying to produce a genuine philosophy of economics. Such a book is badly needed and could be very useful to economists. The fine use made of extensive readings in older as well as contemporary theorists and the splendid choice of quotations would themselves be worth the price of admission. The style maintains a fine level of clarity and emphasis.” Max Black 1985
“The discussion of Arrow’s theorem under unintended interpretations focuses our understanding on what is really fundamental to this famous result…. Roy has obviously thought much harder about the foundational and methodological problems in economics than most of his fellow-economists.” Anonymous
“Roy’s platonist view of what is the purpose of government is very odd at this stage of history. He seems to suppose that there is an objectively best state of affairs which we must simply discover. The more urgent issue in politics is generally not that of knowing what is the best thing to do but of dealing with conflicting interests. Conflict of interests is not merely disagreement over facts.” Anonymous
“The author has performed a very valuable service for economists interested in the philosophical problems and positions discussed. He has not misrepresented the positions he discusses and his account of various issues and different positions on those issues is philosophically adequate. Many economists will be stimulated as a result of reading this work to reconsider their own positions on the issues Roy addresses.” Anonymous
“The work has many strengths. It is wide in its references and its outlook. Its endorsement of objectivism is both right and timely. The chapter on mathematics in economics is particularly fine.” Anonymous
“It is very well written and I enjoyed reading it very, very much…. The account of Arrow and Sen is beautifully clear, the best I have seen, and I was delighted to follow the argument to the conclusion…. An extremely engaging and provocative work.” Peter T. Manicas.
“A new, thoroughly subtle discussion of a fundamental yet traditional problem”. Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik (Germany).
“Effectively demonstrates the direct and significant links between the basic philosophical beliefs held by economists and their fundamental disagreements” Kyklos (Switzerland).
“Every rule of good argument is flouted. Does little to grapple with the large issues to which he rightly urges us to attend.” Times Literary Supplement (UK).
“Not the book to set off the revolution in economic epistemology and it is not even a reliable introduction to the field for undergraduates.” Journal of Applied Philosophy (UK).
“Subroto Roy’s Philosophy of Economics is a formidable contribution…. The author’s aim is to steer a middle course between scepticism and dogmatism in his account of the knowledge we can have of economic phenomena, and in this he largely succeeds. The result is a most distinguished and valuable exploration of the nature of economic inquiry.” John Gray, Economic Affairs (UK).
“Interesting and well-written. Definitely worthwhile being read by any economist interested in the philosophical foundations of his subject and profession.
Journal of Institutional & Theoretical Economics (Germany).
Roy’s basic argument is that the theory of economic knowledge underlying the work of most economists is logically inconsistent… The inconsistency lies in not permitting the skepticism that undermines the analysis of normative problems to destroy the logical foundation underlying positive analysis….. This well-documented study is a worthwhile contribution to the burgeoning literature on the philosophy of economics. Choice
“The central argument of the book shows that the skepticism/dogmatism choice is a false dichotomy, that one need not embrace dogmatism in order to have objectivity or give up objectivity for freedom…. In the final section of the book Roy applies his critique… to several debates in economics. Chapter 8 presents the development of macroeconomics from John Maynard Keynes to the present through a dialogue between economists of opposing schools… Chapter 9 is a rich, wide-ranging discussion of mathematical models in economics…. Chapter 10 discusses the foundations of welfare economics… Roy shows how philosophical mistakes can lead economic thought astray, even though some of his arguments are also unsound. As a philosopher I find it encouraging to see an economist apply recent developments in epistemology to economic debates.” Journal of Economic History
Accomplished, interesting and ambitious.” Manchester School (UK).
“Perfectly sensible.” De Economist (Netherlands).
“Engaging and illuminating study. His seamless style may lull the reader into underestimating the extent and difficulty of the philosophical ground covered.” Research in History & Methodology of Economics (USA).
(Roy’s) message is for his fellow economists, urging them not to shy away from the treatment of normative issues in their discipline. – Economics and Philosophy
When Roy refers to the present received theory of economics, he means that this is the view not only of Chicago, but also of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Cambridge, England, of Friedman, Samuelson, Myrdal, Hayek, and Joan Robinson. His coverage is broad…. In one place he states that it is precisely because it is possible for even a unanimous group of experts to be wrong that we have a reason, an objective reason, why freedom is to be valued. ‘Freedom is necessary for objectivity.’…. Whether one agrees or disagrees, one has to be impressed by the knowledge and sophistication involved in Roy’s presentation. Involved here is no run-of-the-mill carping at the economics establishment. This is a serious thoughtful work. Social Science Quarterly
I have warned against a “monetary meltdown” in India for more than a decade and a half now. I said it to Rajiv Gandhi (who listened with care and respect) and after he was gone I have said it to Government economists in India, to IMF/World Bank bureaucrats in Washington, to academic audiences in India and the UK and to India’s general newspaper reading public.
Obviously I hope such a meltdown does not come about. But inflation, or the decline in the value of money, presently is in double-digits even by the Government’s own admission. (As a general rule, I think the decline in the value of money has been higher by several percent than what the Government says at any given time.) Hence I am publishing again some results of my macroeconomic research on India over the years. You are free to use them and communicate with me about them but please acknowledge them properly and do not steal.
The first graph of 1869-2004 data was published in print to accompany my Growth and Government Delusion in The Statesman February 22, 2008; it had also accompanied other similar articles, e.g. The Dream Team: A Critique in January 2006. The second graph of 1935-2008 data was published in print to accompany my article Indian Inflation in The Statesman of April 22 2008.
For more than a decade and a half now, I have been engaged in some “fundamental research” about India’s public finances. This has involved inter alia transforming the entire set of government accounting data (both Union and all States) from their present obscurity and opaqueness to what I have called a condition of “maximum feasible transparency” (see my April 29 2000 address to the Reserve Bank’s Conference of Finance Secretaries).
Here is an example of the Union Government’s 1994-1995 expenditure (net of operational income).
It is from my unpublished ongoing research and is being released as a public service for India’s people. Readers are welcome to use it with acknowledgement under the normal “fair use” rule. Please try not to steal it, i.e. use it without proper acknowledgement.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
On the reverse of this photo is stated the date, 8 July 1955, and “the King enquiring about Indian development projects after the ceremony”. The person he is talking to is my father, then India’s Trade Commissioner in Tehran. The two photos below show Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlevi striding by a line of guests (my father is seventh from the right in the line-up) and then meeting them.
The next photo is of Reza Shah and his Queen Soraiya Esfandiary being greeted by a senior Sikh member of the Indian community.
India’s Ambassador to Iran, Dr Tara Chand, author of History of the Freedom Movement in India, accompanies Prime Minister Hossain Ala, probably at the Indian Embassy in Tehran (there is a map of India and the figure of Mahatma Gandhi on the right).
My father with members of the Indian community in Tehran.
Surendranath Roy was my paternal great grandfather. He was an eminent statesman of his time, sometime President of the Bengal Legislative Council, and close political friend of CR Das who led the Indian National Congress before MK Gandhi. SN Roy was a pioneer of primary education, and a legislative expert on local and general public finance as well as the federal politics of his time, authoring books on the “Princely” States of Gwalior and Kashmir, and proposing the origins of what became the Rajya Sabha. He also protested the Salt Tax as early as 1918. SN Roy Road in Kolkata is named after him. The first photograph is of him as a newly graduated advocate-at-law, the second may have been after his book on Gwalior was published in 1888. He also gave the Tagore Law Lectures in 1905, on the subject of customary law; these are available at India’s National Library. His role in the development of the legislative process in Bengal after the Morley-Minto reforms will be described further here in due course, as will be his role as a pioneer of primary education.
Author’s Note: My articles on related subjects recently published in The Statesman include “Understanding China”, “China’s India Aggression”, “China’s Commonwealth”, “Nixon & Mao vs India”, “Lessons from the 1962 War”, “China’s force & diplomacy” etc
China’s India Example: Tibet, Xinjiang May Not Be Assimilated Like Inner Mongolia And Manchuria
Zhang Qingli, Tibet’s current Communist Party boss, reportedly said last year, “The Communist Party is like the parent (father and mother) of the Tibetans. The Party is the real boddhisatva of the Tibetans.” Before communism, China’s people followed three non-theistic religious cultures, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, choosing whichever aspects of each they wished to see in their daily lives. Animosity towards the theism of Muslims and Christians predates the 1911 revolution. Count Witte, Russia’s top diplomatist in Czarist times, reported the wild contempt towards Islam and wholly unprovoked insult of the Emir of Bokhara by Li Hung Chang, Imperial China’s eminent Ambassador to Moscow, normally the epitome of civility and wisdom. In 1900 the slogan of the Boxer Revolts was “Protect the country, destroy the foreigner” and catholic churches and European settlers and priests were specifically targeted. The Communists have not discriminated in repression of religious belief and practice ~ monasteries, mosques, churches have all experienced desecration; monks, ulema, clergymen all expected to subserve the Party and the State.
For Chinese officials to speak of “life and death” struggle against the Dalai Lama sitting in Dharamsala is astounding; if they are serious, it signals a deep long-term insecurity felt in Beijing. How can enormous, wealthy, strong China feel any existential threat at all from unarmed poor Tibetans riding on ponies? Is an Israeli tank-commander intimidated by stone-throwing Palestinian boys? How is it China (even a China where the Party assumes it always knows best), is psychologically defensive and unsure of itself at every turn?
The Chinese in their long history have not been a violent martial people ~ disorganized and apolitical traders and agriculturists and highly civilised artisans and scholars more than fierce warriors fighting from horseback. Like Hindus, they were far more numerous than their more aggressive warlike invading rulers. Before the 20th Century, China was dominated by Manchu Tartars and Mongol Tartars from the Northeast and Northwest ~ the Manchus forcing humiliation upon Chinese men by compelling shaved heads with pigtails. Similar Tartar hordes ruled Russia for centuries and Stalin himself, according to his biographer, might have felt Russia buffered Europe from the Tartars.
Chinese nationalism arose only in the 20th Century, first under the Christian influence of Sun Yatsen and his brother-in-law Chiang Kaishek, later under the atheism of Mao Zedong and his admiring friends, most recently Deng Xiaoping and successors. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is the slogan of the present Communist Party but a more realistic slogan of what Mao and friends came to represent in their last decades may be “Chinese nationalism with socialist characteristics”. Taiwan and to lesser extent Singapore and Hong Kong represent “Chinese nationalism with capitalist characteristics”. Western observers, keen always to know the safety of their Chinese investments, have focused on China’s economics, whether the regime is capitalist or socialist and to what extent ~ Indians and other Asians may be keener to identify, and indeed help the Chinese themselves to identify better, the evolving nature of Chinese nationalism and the healthy or unhealthy courses this may now take.
Just as Czarist and Soviet Russia attempted Russification in Finland, the Baltics, Poland, Ukraine etc., Imperial and Maoist China attempted “Sinification” in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia as well as Tibet and Xinjiang (Sinkiang, East Turkestan). Russification succeeded partially but backfired in general. Similarly, Sinification succeeded naturally in Manchuria and without much difficulty in Inner Mongolia. But it has backfired and backfired very badly in Tibet and Xinjiang, and may be expected to do so always.
In India, our soft state and indolent corrupt apparatus of political parties constitute nothing like the organized aggressive war-machine that China has tried to make of its state apparatus, and we have much more freedom of all sorts. India does not prohibit or control peasant farmers or agricultural labourers from migrating to or visiting large metropolitan cities; villagers are as free as anyone else to clog up all city life in India with the occasional political rally ~ in fact India probably may not even know how to ban, suppress or repress most of the things Communist China does.
Hindu traditions were such that as long as you did not preach sedition against the king, you could believe anything ~ including saying, like the Carvaka, that hedonism and materialism were good, spiritualism was bunkum and the priestly class were a bunch of crooks and idiots. Muslim and British rulers in India were not too different ~ yes the Muslims did convert millions by offering the old choice of death or conversion to vanquished people, and there were evil rulers among them but also great and tolerant ones like Zainulabidin of Kashmir and Akbar who followed his example.
India’s basic political ethos has remained that unless you preach sedition, you can basically say or believe anything (no matter how irrational) and also pretty much do whatever you please without being bothered too much by government officials. Pakistan’s attempts to impose Urdu on Bengali-speakers led to civil war and secession; North India’s attempts to impose Hindi on the South led to some language riots and then the three-language formula ~ Hindi spreading across India through Bollywood movies instead.
China proudly says it is not as if there are no declared non-Communists living freely in Beijing, Shanghai etc, pointing out distinguished individual academics and other professionals including government ministers who are liberals, social democrats or even Kuomintang Nationalists. There are tiny state-approved non-Communist political parties in China, some of whose members even may be in positions of influence. It is just that such (token) parties must accept the monopoly and dictatorship of the Communists and are not entitled to take state power. The only religion you are freely allowed to indulge in is the ideology of the State, as that comes to be defined or mis-defined at any time by the Communist Party’s rather sclerotic leadership processes.
During China’s Civil War, the Communists apparently had promised Tibet and Xinjiang a federation of republics ~ Mao later reneged on this and introduced his notion of “autonomous” regions, provinces and districts. The current crisis in Tibet reveals that the notion of autonomy has been a complete farce. Instead of condemning the Dalai Lama and repressing his followers, a modern self-confident China can so easily resolve matters by allowing a Dalai Lama political party to function freely and responsibly, first perhaps just for Lhasa’s municipal elections and gradually in all of Tibet. Such a party and the Tibet Communist Party would be adequate for a two-party system to arise. The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles also have a natural right to be issued Chinese passports enabling them to return to Tibet~ and their right to return is surely as strong as that of any Han or Hui who have been induced to migrate to Tibet from Mainland China. Such could be the very simple model of genuine autonomy for Tibet and Xinjiang whose native people clearly do not wish to be assimilated in the same way as Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. India’s federal examples, including the three-language formula, may be helpful. Once Mainland China successfully allows genuine autonomy and free societies to arise in Tibet and Xinjiang, the road to reconciliation with Taiwan would also have been opened.
How to Budget:
Thrift, Not Theft, Needs to Guide Our Public Finances
By Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, http://www.thestatesman.net, February 26 2008
For most family households in India as elsewhere, the time for weekly or monthly budgeting and accounting is a time of sobriety ~ when reality must be faced about which goals and desires can be achieved and which cannot, about how incomings and outgoings of family resources are going to be matched. The same holds for corporations when their managements must face their boards, shareholders or workers, though individual stakeholders in large corporations may be so ignorant of the facts or so small and insignificant in size that top management can get away with a lot of bluff.
When it comes to entities the size of countries, the scope for feeding illusions to the general public becomes enormously large; hence there is need for scientific honesty in government accounting and finance, and when that is lacking as it often is in any country, there is need for intense public awareness and vigorous criticism of what the government of the day may be up to with the public purse.
Mao Zedong once said “Thrift should be the guiding principle of our government expenditure”. Those who govern fiscal and monetary processes, whether autocratically or democratically, have a general duty to be frugal or economic in using resources that have been forcibly raised from the public and which could have been spent privately in other welfare-enhancing directions.
“One must not take from the real needs of the people for the imaginary needs of the state” said Montesquieu. National Governments “take” from the people not only via direct taxation (e.g. of income) and indirect taxation (e.g. of expenditure) but also via inflation ~ invisibly reducing the purchasing power or value of paper money and other paper assets by exploiting the government’s monopoly over currency-printing (a process that economists traditionally termed “seignorage” from the debasing of metal coins that kings historically indulged in to pay for wars).
In providing public goods and services, if a government does what it need not do it may end up failing to do what it must and which only it can do. “That part of the public expenditure, which is devoted to the maintenance of civil and military establishments (i.e., all except the interest of the national debt), affords, in many of its details, ample scope for retrenchment. But while much of the revenue is wasted under the mere pretence of public service, so much of the most important business of government is left undone, that whatever can be rescued from useless expenditure is urgently required for useful” (JS Mill).
Such an idea that “whatever can be rescued from useless expenditure is urgently required for useful” was used in Gordon Brown’s 2004 rhetoric as Britain’s Finance Minister when, for example, he said 40,000 jobs would be reduced in the UK civil services to release resources to enhance “frontline” public services like schools and hospitals.
From such a practical point of view, three questions must be typically addressed by any Parliament or Government trying to optimally align public expenditure and income in a budget placed before it:
(1) Is public expenditure allocated efficiently in given circumstances, in a manner that enhances the public interest to the greatest degree possible? If not, how may it be made to do so?
(2) Can income from government operations be enhanced in given circumstances? What taxation should be imposed, raised, lowered or abolished, why so, and at what least cost to the population?
(3) If government expenditure exceeds income from taxation and operations, how should the borrowing be financed at least cost? Is the government’s existing portfolio of assets and liabilities of different liquidity and term-structure efficient, or can it be improved?
Unfortunately, we do none of this in India and have not done so for decades. Indeed New Delhi’s establishment economists and the media have not ever even been thinking on such practical lines. Instead, each bureaucratic department tries to maintain or enlarge its own size and claims on public funds every year. What New Delhi does, in a nutshell, is to allow every Ministry (especially the military) to add a 10-20% inflation-premium to its previous year’s expenditures and assert a new claim during the Budget season. (The most accurate measure of inflation in India may be that involved in growth of nominal expenditure on Government’s bureaucracy). Organised business, organised labour, exporters, importers, farmers, women, and every sundry political lobbyist then assert their claims to subsidies and concessions as well ~ and some gargantuan number comes to be added up.
To that number must be added the vast annual expenditure on interest payments by Government on the public debt accumulated from previous years and decades ~ payments which keep afloat the entire banking system in India because our nationalized banks hold such debt-instruments as their main assets where customer-deposits are their main liabilities.
A crucial question in relation to the convertibility of the rupee has to do with international valuation of that vast public debt (hence valuation of the asset side of our banking system) in the event the rupee became freely exchangeable into gold and foreign exchange for the general public, not merely city-based super-elites and NRIs.
Once interest payments have been added to other government expenditures, some humongous number comes to be reached. That number, and how it breaks down between interest expenditures, military expenditures and other expenditures, is among the key variables to look out for in Mr Chidambaram’s forthcoming Budget-Speech. From it will be subtracted the total taxation and non-tax revenues of the Government ~ each after it has been subjected to its own political lobbying process by different interest groups who have managed to obtain access to the Finance Minister. The residual (government expenditure minus government income) is the “Gross Fiscal Deficit” which is how much the Government of India says it plans to newly borrow from the (mostly captive) domestic financial markets. That residual in turn will add itself to next year’s accumulating public debt on which interest payments will have to be then made. The Finance Minister and his spokesmen typically quote the Gross Fiscal Deficit as some percentage of GDP figures; a better ratio to look for may be the size of Government interest payments per head as a percentage of tax revenues per head.
The Union Finance Ministry no longer appears to exercise effective managerial control over the budgets and accounts of the innumerable publicly funded institutions, entities and projects in the country, nor even remembers how to do so. Everyone knows that the eventual aggregate result of public financial processes will be more deficit-finance paid for by silent and unlimited money-printing. Thus, for example, we see enormous building and construction plans being requested and granted for public institutions and agencies to indulge in ~ if the private builders and developers involved in such public contracts throw in an urban apartment or two for the heads of such institutions, who are powerful enough to be making the spending decisions with their friends, what does it really matter? Deficit-finance, arising from an abysmal state of government and public sector accounting, makes government corruption quite simple and straightforward if one thinks about it.
It is sad to say that the principle guiding our public finances may have become theft, not thrift, because political and administrative decision-makers throughout the system, instead of being sober, remain drunk when it comes to spending India’s public resources.
Growth & Government Delusion:
Progress Comes From Learning, Enterprise, Exchange, Not The Parasitic State
By Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article,
February 22 2008, http://www.thestatesman.net
P Chidambaram, Montek Ahluwalia and Manmohan Singh, like their BJP predecessors, delude themselves and the country as a whole when they claim responsibility for phenomenal economic growth taking place. “My goal is to continue to maintain growth but at the same time the government reserves the right to make rapid adjustments depending upon the evolving international situation” is a typical piece of nonsensical waffle.
Honest Finance Ministers in any country cannot take personal responsibility for rates of economic growth nor is any government in the world nimble, well-informed and intelligent enough to respond to exogenous shocks in a timely manner. The UPA and NDA blaming one another for low growth or taking credit for high growth merely reveal the crude mis-education of their pretentious TV economists. There are far too many measurement and data problems as well as lead-and-lag problems for any credibility to attach to what is said.
Per capita real GDP
Indian businessmen and their politician/ bureaucratic friends seem to think “growth” refers to nominal earnings before tax for the corporate sector, or some such number that can be sold to visiting foreigners to induce them to park their money in India: “You will get a 10 per cent return if you invest in India” to which the visitor says “Oh that must mean India has 10 per cent growth going on”. Of such nonsense are expensive Davos and Delhi conferences made.
What is supposed to be measured when we speak of economic growth? It is annual growth of per capita inflation-adjusted Gross Domestic Product (National Income or Net National Product would be better if available). West Germany and Japan had the highest annual per capita real GDP growth-rates in the world starting from devastated post-War initial conditions. What were their rates? West Germany: 6.6 per cent in 1950-1960, falling to 3.5 per cent by 1960-1970, and 2.4 per cent by 1970-1978. Japan: 6.8 per cent in 1952-1960; 9.4 per cent in 1960-1970, 3.8 per cent in 1970-1978. Thus, only Japan in the 1960s measured more than 9 per cent annual growth of real per capita GDP.
Now India and China are said to be achieving 9 per cent plus routinely. Perhaps we are observing an incredible phenomenon of world economic history. Or perhaps we are just being fed something incredible, some humbug. India’s population is growing at 2 per cent so even if the Government’s number of 9 per cent is taken at face-value, we have to subtract 2 per cent population growth to get per capita figures. Typical official fallacies include thinking clever bureaucratic use of astronomically high savings rates causes growth. For example, Meghnad Desai of Britain’s Labour Party says: “China now has 10.4 per cent growth on a 44 per cent savings rate… ” Indian savings have been alleged near 32 per cent. What has been mismeasured as high savings is actually paper expansion of bank-deposits in a fractional reserve banking system induced by runaway government deficit-spending in both countries.
Real economic growth arises from spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing of the general population. World economic history suggests growth occurs in spite of, rather than due to, behaviour of an often parasitic State. Technological progress in a myriad of ways and discovery of new resources are important factors contributing to India’s growth today. But while the “real” economy does well, the “nominal” paper-money economy controlled by Government does not.
Continuous deficit financing for half a century has led to exponential growth of public debt and broad money. The vast growth of bank-deposits has been misinterpreted as indicating unusual savings behaviour when it in fact signals vast government debt being held by nationalised banks. What Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia,Manmohan Singh, the BJP et al have been presiding over is annual paper-money supply growth of 22 per cent! That is what they should be taking honest responsibility for because it certainly implies double-digit inflation (i.e. decline in the value of paper-money) perhaps as high as 14 or 15 per cent. If you believe Government numbers that inflationis near 5 per cent you may believe anything.
The mainsprings of real growth in the wealth of the individual, and so of the nation, are greater practical learning, increases in capital resources and improvements in technology. Deeper skills and improved dexterity cause output produced with fewer inputs than before, i.e. greater productivity. Adam Smith said there is “invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many”.
Consider a real life example. A fresh engineering graduate knows dynamometers are needed in testing and performance-certification of diesel engines. He strips open a meter, finds out how it works, asks engine manufacturers what design improvements they want to see, whether they will buy from him if he can make the improvement. He finds out prices and properties of machine tools needed and wages paid currently to skilled labour, calculates expected revenues and costs, and finally tries to persuade a bank of his production plans, promising to repay loans from his returns.
Overcoming restrictions of religion or caste, the secular agent is spurred by expectation of future gains to approach various others with offers of contract, and so organize their efforts into one. If all his offers ~ to creditors, labour, suppliers ~ are accepted he is, for the moment, in business. He may not be for long ~ but if he succeeds his actions will have caused an improvement in design of dynamometers and a reduction in the cost of diesel engines, as well as an increase in the economy’s produced means of production (its capital stock) and in the value of contracts made. His creditors are more confident of his ability to repay, his buyers of his product quality, he himself knows more of his workers’ skills, etc. If these people enter a second and then a third and fourth set of contracts, the increase in mutual trust in coming to agreement will quickly decline in relation to the increased output of capital goods. The first source of increasing returns to scale in production, and hence the mainspring of real economic growth, arises from the successful completion of exchange.
Risk and enterprise
Transforming inputs into outputs necessarily takes time, and it is for that time the innovator or entrepreneur or “capitalist” or “adventurer” must persuade his creditors to trust him, whether bankers who have lent him capital or workers who have lent him labour. The essence of the enterprise (or “firm”) he tries to get underway consists of no more than the set of contracts he has entered into with the various others, his position being unique because he is the only one to know who all the others happen to be at the same time. In terms introduced by Professor Frank Hahn, the entrepreneur transforms himself from being “anonymous” to being “named” in the eyes of others, while also finding out qualities attaching to the names of those encountered in commerce.
Profits earned are partly a measure of the entrepreneur’s success in this simultaneous process of discovery and advertisement. Another potential entrepreneur, fresh from engineering college, may soon pursue the pioneer’s success and start displacing his product in the market ~ eventually chasers become pioneers and then get chased themselves, and a process of dynamic competition would be underway. As it unfolds, anonymous and obscure graduates from engineering colleges become by dint of their efforts and a little luck, named and reputable firms and perhaps founders of industrial families. Multiply this simple story many times, with a few million different entrepreneurs and hundreds of thousands of different goods and services, and we shall be witnessing India’s actual Industrial Revolution, not the fake promise of it from self-seeking politicians and bureaucrats.
Review of Subroto Roy’s Philosophy of Economics
by Karl Georg Zinn of Aachen, Germany, in Jahrbücher für Nationalökonomie und Statistik
(translated from the German by Nahar Bhattacharya)
“The author intends to discuss some of the central philosophical questions facing modern economic theory. In the foreground is a disposition of the conventional problem of value-independence. Roy sees the value-independence postulate as “Hume’s Scepticism”. He defines Hume’s First and Second Laws on the basis of two signified propositions taken from R. M. Hare.
(1) From positive empirical premises, no normative postulate can be derived; in order to establish obligatory propositions, at least one normative proposition is needed.
(2) In a specified economic context, after all empirical and formal/logical matters are resolved, little scope exists for further intersubjectively valid answers. Valuations beyond this limit are based on the subjective feelings of the economist to the concerned problem.
The scientific/theoretical attitude representative of most economists of the 20th century has been based on this characteristic Humean scepticism. To show this, the author reviews short representative quotations from some of the known names of recent economic theory: Friedman, Myrdal, Lionel Robbins, P. A. Samuelson, Hicks, Joan Robinson, Hayek, Oskar Lange, Schumpeter, Arrow, Blaug, Frank Hahn.
Subsequently, the author raises the point as to what explains this scientific-theoretical approval. A cursory survey of important real and virtual historical developments since antiquity confirms that the essential reason for the reported wide acceptance of a humean position by the economic scientist indeed could have been as a defensive posture against dogmatism and political dictatorship (“It is part of the democratic reaction against medieval authoritarianism” p.45).
Conditioned by their “disgust with the tyrannies and ideologies of the twentieth century”, these authorities tried to protect economic science and guarantee the objectivity of research by resort to moral scepticism.
Hence the author arrives at the starting position of his actual subject: After using Hume to escape from dependence on Plato e tutti quanti, has not value-free economics gotten into a fresh dependence, namely, moral scepticism and its philosophical consequence, moral indifference? Here too a contradiction is shown to arise, namely, that each argumentation against the normative can stand its ground only through normative premises. Thus ultimately something like correct standards become necessary. This however is only a marginal problem compared to a very much more important point: whether the moral scepticism permeating the strict scientific-theoretical position, is not just part of a very much more comprehensive scepticism, which includes Hume’s own criticism of induction as well. But then the same scepticism makes positive theory dubious as well: “Either all of positive economics is attacked with just as much scepticism as anything in normative economics, or we accept one and reject the other when instead there are reasons to think they share the same ultimate grounds and must be accepted or rejected together”(p.47).
The author illustrates the difficulties with radical scepticism in a continental traversal of economic theory: micro and macroeconomics, mathematical economic theory and welfare theory are stations on this tour. A solution of the problem in the strict sense is not given nor could have been expected. But Roy delivers a methodical rule which permits a more exact definition of the limits to which normative discussion can take place precisely and objectively: first, to distinguish always whether an objective answer is at all possible to certain questions, and secondly, to ask who is competent or in the best position to give an answer.
For readers interested in a new, thoroughly subtle discussion of a basic yet customary problem, this book will be profitable reading. However, the author could have argued some matters slightly more elaborately and others less redundantly, and set forth the central idea more clearly through appropriate summaries.”
See also: http://independentindian.com/thoughts-words-deeds-my-work-1973-2010/introduction-and-some-biography/philosophy-of-economics-on-the-scope-of-reason-in-economic-inquiry-1989/apropos-philosophy-of-economics/
Fallacious Finance: Congress, BJP, CPI-M et al may be leading India to hyperinflation
First published in The Statesman, March 5 2007 Editorial Page Special Article www.thestatesman.net
It seems the Dream Team of the PM, Finance Minister, Mr. Montek Ahluwalia and their acolytes may take India on a magical mystery tour of economic hallucinations, fantasies and perhaps nightmares. I hasten to add the BJP and CPI-M have nothing better to say, and criticism of the Government or of Mr Chidambaram’s Budget does not at all imply any sympathy for their political adversaries. It may be best to outline a few of the main fallacies permeating the entire Governing Class in Delhi, and their media and businessman friends:
1. “India’s Savings Rate is near 32%”. This is factual nonsense. Savings is indeed normally measured by adding financial and non-financial savings. Financial savings include bank-deposits. But India is not a normal country in this. Nor is China. Both have seen massive exponential growth of bank-deposits in the last few decades. Does this mean Indians and Chinese are saving phenomenally high fractions of their incomes by assiduously putting money away into their shaky nationalized banks? Sadly, it does not. What has happened is government deficit-financing has grown explosively in both countries over decades. In a “fractional reserve” banking system (i.e. a system where your bank does not keep the money you deposited there but lends out almost all of it immediately), government expenditure causes bank-lending, and bank-lending causes bank-deposits to expand. Yes there has been massive expansion of bank-deposits in India but it is a nominal paper phenomenon and does not signify superhuman savings behaviour. Indians keep their assets mostly in metals, land, property, cattle, etc., and as cash, not as bank deposits.
2. “High economic growth in India is being caused by high savings and intelligently planned government investment”. This too is nonsense. Economic growth in India as elsewhere arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do in capital cities, but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing on part of the general population. Technological progress is a very general notion, and applies to any and every production activity or commercial transaction that now can be accomplished more easily or using fewer inputs than before. New Delhi still believes in antiquated Soviet-era savings-investment models without technological progress, and some non-sycophant must tell our top Soviet-era bureaucrat that such growth models have been long superceded and need to be scrapped from India’s policy-making too. Can politicians and bureaucrats assist India’s progress? Indeed they can: the telecom revolution in recent years was something in which they participated. But the general presumption is against them. Progress, productivity gains and hence economic growth arise from enterprise and effort of ordinary people — mostly despite not because of an exploitative, parasitic State.
3. “Agriculture is a backward sector that has been retarding India’s recent economic growth”. This is not merely nonsense it is dangerous nonsense, because it has led to land-grabbing by India’s rulers at behest of their businessman friends in so-called “SEZ” schemes. The great farm economist Theodore W. Schultz once quoted Andre and Jean Mayer: “Few scientists think of agriculture as the chief, or the model science. Many, indeed, do not consider it a science at all. Yet it was the first science – Mother of all science; it remains the science which makes human life possible”. Centuries before Europe’s Industrial Revolution, there was an Agricultural Revolution led by monks and abbots who were the scientists of the day. Thanks partly to American help, India has witnessed a Green Revolution since the 1960s, and our agriculture has been generally a calm, mature, stable and productive industry. Our farmers are peaceful hardworking people who should be paying taxes and user-fees normally but should not be otherwise disturbed or needlessly provoked by outsiders. It is the businessmen wishing to attack our farm populations who need to look hard in the mirror – to improve their accounting, audit, corporate governance, to enforce anti-embezzlement and shareholder protection laws etc.
4. “India’s foreign exchange reserves may be used for ‘infrastructure’ financing”. Mr Ahluwalia promoted this idea and now the Budget Speech mentioned how Mr Deepak Parekh and American banks may be planning to get Indian businesses to “borrow” India’s forex reserves from the RBI so they can purchase foreign assets. It is a fallacy arising among those either innocent of all economics or who have quite forgotten the little they might have been mistaught in their youth. Forex reserves are a residual in a country’s balance of payments and are not akin to tax revenues, and thus are not available to be borrowed or spent by politicians, bureaucrats or their businessman friends — no matter how tricky and shady a way comes to be devised for doing so. If anything, the Government and RBI’s priority should have been to free the Rupee so any Indian could hold gold or forex at his/her local bank. India’s vast sterling balances after the Second World War vanished quickly within a few years, and the country plunged into decades of balance of payments crisis – that may now get repeated. The idea of “infrastructure” is in any case vague and inferior to the “public goods” Adam Smith knew to be vital. Serious economists recommend transparent cost-benefit analyses before spending any public resources on any project. E.g., analysis of airport/airline industry expansion would have found the vast bulk of domestic airline costs to be forex-denominated but revenues rupee-denominated – implying an obvious massive currency-risk to the industry and all its “infrastructure”. All the PM’s men tell us nothing of any of this.
5. “HIV-AIDS is a major Indian health problem”. Government doctors privately know the scare of an AIDS epidemic is based on false assumptions and analysis. Few if any of us have met, seen or heard of an actual incontrovertible AIDS victim in India (as opposed to someone infected by hepatitis-contaminated blood supplies). Syringe-exchange by intravenous drug users is not something widely prevalent in Indian society, while the practise that caused HIV to spread in California’s Bay Area in the 1980s is not something depicted even at Khajuraho. Numerous real diseases do afflict Indians – e.g. 11 children died from encephalitis in one UP hospital on a single day in July 2006, while thousands of children suffer from “cleft lip” deformity that can be solved surgically for 20,000 rupees, allowing the child a normal life. Without any objective survey being done of India’s real health needs, Mr Chidamabaram has promised more than Rs 9.6 Billion (Rs 960 crore) to the AIDS cottage industry.
6. “Fiscal consolidation & stabilization has been underway since 1991”. There is extremely little reason to believe this. If you or I borrow Rs. 100,000 for a year, and one year later repay the sum only to borrow the same again along with another Rs 40,000, we would be said to have today a debt of Rs. 140,000 at least. Our Government has been routinely “rolling over” its domestic debt in this manner (in the asset-portfolios of the nationalised banking system) but displaying and highlighting only its new additional borrowing in a year as the “ Fiscal Deficit” (see graph, also “Fiscal Instability”, The Sunday Statesman, 4 February 2007). More than two dozen State Governments have been doing the same though, unlike the Government of India, they have no money-creating powers and their liabilities ultimately accrue to the Union as well. The stock of public debt in India may be Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) at least, and portends a hyperinflation in the future. Mr Chidambaram’s announcement of a “Debt Management Office” yet to be created is hardly going to suffice to avert macroeconomic turmoil and a possible monetary collapse. The Congress, BJP, CPI-M and all their friends shall be responsible.
Our Policy Process:
Self-Styled “Planners” Have Controlled India’s Paper Money For Decades
By Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Feb 20 2007, www.thestatesman.net
Three agencies of the Executive Branch of our Government have controlled the country’s fiscal and monetary processes. The most glamorous is the Planning Commission, a nominated agency of the Government of the day without constitutional status but which has informally charged itself with articulating national and provincial preferences on public spending. It has overshadowed in impact and prestige the Finance Ministry or Treasury, which normally would design the budget, raise taxes, run the fiscal machinery and be accountable to Parliament (the Legislative Branch) via the person of the Finance Minister. In turn, the Finance Ministry owns and controls the Reserve Bank, effectively placing India’s paper money and bank deposits at the discretion of New Delhi’s purported “economic planners”.
In addition, the Finance Commission is charged with articulating a suitable allocation of public resources between the Union and States, setting some medium-term parameters of federal finance. And the Comptroller & Auditor General is supposed to assess effectiveness of Government behaviour: the “high independent statutory authority..… who sees on behalf of the Legislature that … money expended was legally available for and applied to the purpose or purposes to which it has been applied.” “Audit … is the main instrument to secure accountability of the Executive to the Legislature …. The fundamental object of audit is to secure real value for the taxpayer’s money” (Indian Government Accounts & Audit, 1930).
Weakness of Parliament
In parliamentary government, the whole Executive Branch is accountable to and the agent of the Legislative Branch. But the utter weakness of our Parliament over decades has led its institutions, including the C&AG, to be run roughshod over by the Government of the day. The Finance Commission, being a temporary and transient body, can hardly take on the entrenched bureaucracy the Planning Commission has become.
This unconstitutional subservience of policy-making to the Planning Commission began when the first planners said on December 7 1952: “The raison d’etre of a planned economy is the fullest mobilisation of available resources and their allocation so as to secure optimum results …. There is no doubt that the RBI, which is a nationalised institution, will play its appropriate part in furthering economic development along agreed lines”. When Jawaharlal Nehru as free India’s first prime minister chose to himself lead the “Second Plan”, the fate of India’s paper money was sealed. “Insofar as government expenditure is financed by central bank credit, there is a direct increase in currency in circulation”. That May 14 1956 statement marked the last mention for the next 43 years of India’s money during the process of articulating India’s public expenditure priorities.
The Reserve Bank has indeed behaved “along agreed lines”. While superficially presiding over currency, banking and foreign exchange, it has been legally and practically a department (with some 75,000 employees today) of the Finance Ministry. Since the vast bulk of customer deposits are held by nationalized banks owned and managed by the Finance Ministry, India has had practically a “one-tier” banking system on the old USSR model.
The “Ninth” and “Tenth” Planning Commissions included not only Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee but also his Finance and Foreign Ministers as members. It was not our Reserve Bank but such persons, including the prominent official (now in post-retirement service) Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who declared on April 5 1999 in the “Ninth Five Year Plan” that a “viable monetary posture” was “to accept an average inflation rate in the region of 7 per cent per annum, which would justify a growth rate of money supply (base money) of 16 per cent per annum”. Recent money supply growth rates under the Sonia-Manmohan Congress have been near 19%-21%, and inflation properly measured may be well above 10%.
In Western countries, it would be normal procedure for an acceptable level of inflation to be decided upon, followed by monetary and fiscal targets being set in view of what is statistically expected by way of real economic growth, since growth is mainly a result not of Government behaviour but of spontaneous technological progress and increase in productivity. By contrast, our “planning” process has allowed unconstrained fiscal expenditure to emerge out of chaotic and unconstrained nationwide politics on the sure-fire assumption that budget deficits are going to be “paid for” by money-printing (and hence by invisible taxation of the paper assets of an unknowing public).
For a PM and Finance Minister to sign off on fiscal-monetary targets during the “planning” process commits the entire Executive Branch to it. Reversing or even critically discussing such intentions would require nothing less than a Parliamentary Vote of No-Confidence, which itself would require public dissemination of economic models and data exclusively available to the Executive Branch, whether or not the Executive Branch is aware of it. Public exhortations and rhetoric then follow from politicians, bureaucrats and their businessman friends as to how much real growth needs to occur in order for inflation not to be above a given level!
The cart is thus squarely placed in front of and not behind the buffalo. If exhortations are not met by reality it is typically said ~ in bureaucrat-speak that avoids accountability ~ “slippages” occurred due to outside factors like rainfall, American business cycles or perhaps, now, global warming and AIDS.
Indeed because the upside-down nature of this process has likely not been grasped even by politicians, bureaucrats and establishment economists participating in it, let aside Parliament or the public, it hardly seems a conscious or deliberate “macroeconomic policy” at all, but rather an outcome of habitual, ritualistic routines taking place year after year for decades. And India’s financial press and TV media, instead of soberly seeking facts, have tended merely to flatter top politicians and bureaucrats, as is the wont of businessmen to do.
War finance, not peace
The structure of incentives and information has become such that no one in government, academia, international credit-rating agencies or elsewhere, is able to effectively point out that fiscal intentions expressed in a “Plan” may be infeasible, inflationary or generally unwise. This includes the IMF and World Bank who lead India’s creditors in Western financial markets, and whose staff are generally uninterested in the countries they work on except to make sure loans received are large and repayments timely (as their personal livelihoods depend on such factors). But a brave anonymous squeak can be found hidden in thousands of pages of “Tenth Plan” verbiage dated December 21 2002 ~ that it is all being “financed almost entirely by borrowing …. India’s public finance inherits the consequence of fiscal mismanagement in the past.” Efforts of one recent Governor to carve out a modern independent role for the Reserve Bank have apparently gone in vain, and he too has been co-opted as a Government spokesman in retirement.
The Bank of England could at one time “theoretically lend the full amount” the British Government was authorized to spend by the UK Parliament (Hirsch). For decades, the RBI has been required by our Government to do almost that in practice (see graph). During the Second World War, the US Government was assured its Central Bank “could and would see that the Treasury was supplied with all the money that it needed for war finance … beyond those secured by taxation and by borrowing from non-bank sources” (Chandler). India’s politicians and bureaucrats have given us macroeconomic processes that pretend our country has since Independence remained at war ~ when in fact we have been mostly at peace.
(Author’s Note: This is one of a set of articles in The Statesman and Business Standard that include “India in World Trade & Payments”, “Fiscal Instability”, “Fallacious Finance”, “Indian Money & Credit”, “Indian Money & Banking”, “Against Quackery”, “Indian Inflation”, “Monetary Integrity and the Rupee”, “The Dream Team: A Critique” etc., as well as “Mistaken Macroeconomics” etc.)
Real growth has steadily occurred because India has shared the world’s technological progress. But bad fiscal, monetary policies over decades have led to monetary weakness and capital flight
By Subroto Roy
First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article
January 20 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net
Anyone wishing to understand India’s macroeconomics today must seek to grasp how Government expenditure and taxing behaviour have become related over decades to Government’s rapid creation of paper-money and bank-deposits. Even those policy-makers who have caused this phenomenon (notably our present PM during his long career as the top economic bureaucrat, as well as his many acolytes and foreign and domestic flatterers) seem to have failed to grasp this. Thus they may be unlikely to identify let alone carry out the key political task facing India today, which is to transform the feeble existing state corroded by corruption and waste into a robust modern one with public institutions of a quality meeting or exceeding world standards.
Government expenditure in a democracy is supposed to be representative of real public needs. But democracy is everywhere imperfect, and spending tends to follow instead the pattern of special interest groups, i.e., who has how much organised lobbying power in the polity. “Whatever can be rescued from useless expenditure is urgently required for useful”, said JS Mill. How can public spending be made more productive (or less unproductive) by cutting waste, fraud and abuse, and instead better alleviate mass ignorance, poverty and destitution? And how can there be reduced chance of a collapse of confidence in public institutions, especially currency and the banks as has happened in other countries at different times? These are central questions for serious macroeconomic policy-making in India today. In fact, it is likely the Indian people are at present both over-taxed and under-taxed: we are over-taxed by the corroded, corrupt wasteful polity that has actually arisen, while we are under-taxed relative to the fiscal and monetary needs of a robust modern democratic polity yet to exist.
India has shared the technological progress the world economy witnessed in the 20th Century. Private ingenuity, enterprise and business acumen at all scales of operation are manifest in countless examples across the country every day. Real economic growth has taken place steadily as a result, and there is no doubt average levels of health, education, and material well-being have improved almost everywhere ~ often despite government action, sometimes thanks to it. Our legendary population has grown mainly due to lowering of mortality rates via better health, nutrition and awareness, causing longer life-spans than ever before. Our village festivals, market-towns and city-streets are filled with bustling shops with busy people and merchandise, while large concrete buildings are being built everywhere by invisible builders. There is no apparent lack of a potential basis for taxation of private resources for public uses in the country.
At the same time, monumental problems of absolute poverty, ignorance, destitution and inequality remain obvious to the naked eye everywhere in India, affecting hundreds of millions of citizens. A rare candid Government study said: “It does not require clever tools of measurement to demonstrate that there are millions of children in India who are totally deprived of any education worth the name. And it is not as if they are invisible, remote, and therefore unreached. They are everywhere in the cities: on the streets, wiping cars at traffic junctions, picking rags in mounds of waste; in the roadside eateries; in small factories, as cheap labour or domestic help; at ‘home’ completing household chores. In the villages again they are everywhere, responding to the contextual demands of family work as well as bonded labour.” (India Education Report, 2002, p. 47). Such and similar children, their parents and kith and kin constitute the hundreds of anonymous millions of India today.
Less than 30 million people are employed in the “organised” sector, about 18 by government and 12 by the “organised private sector”. Even if four dependents are assumed for each, that hardly makes 15% of the whole population of one billion people today. So while there may be some 150 million people in India who in one way or another engage with the “organised sector”, there may be 850 million who do not ~ reminiscent of Disraeli’s “Two Nations” of Dickensian England.
India’s tax-revenues are raised in proportion of about 30% direct to 70% indirect, where the same ratio for an advanced economy like the USA is about 90% direct to 10% indirect. A mere 10 million income-tax returns are received in a given year in all of India. The masses are being taxed, perhaps heavily, though they are mostly unaware of what is being indirectly extracted out of their household budgets through ubiquitous archaic systems of Customs and Excise. From long before the British arrived in India, there was a tax on salt via government monopoly, and long after MK Gandhi’s march to the Arabian Sea to produce salt freely, indirect taxes bear down invisibly upon the masses of democratic India today. Nicholas Kaldor approved the current system in 1956 but by 1959 had retracted and recommended widespread direct taxation instead, which has never happened. Kaldor’s best known Indian student is today PM of the country.
Also, everyone’s holdings of monetary assets in India have been taxed by inflation, without people realising it except for a continual feeling or memory of the dwindling value of the rupee and other paper assets. Government debt, the quantity of money and general price-level of real goods and services (the inverse of the price of money) have been on exponential growth paths, most conspicuously since the compulsory government take-over of banks in the early 1970s, though origins reach back to the start of pseudo-socialist “planning” in the 1950s (see graph).
When transparent visible taxation cannot be proposed and voted for in the “real” economy because it needs too much political effort or insight, governments resort to invisible, undemocratic means of taxing the public’s monetary resources by the subterfuge of inflating currency and bank deposits. Inflation has everywhere raised real resources for governments too weak to administer proper tax systems or resist the onslaught of organised pressure-groups in incurring public expenditure.
Taxation via inflation “does not require detailed legislation, and can be administered very simply. All that it requires is to spend newly created notes. The resulting inflation automatically imposes a tax on cash balances by depreciating the value of money” (Cagan). A routine means of meeting a government’s deficits can become “use of the printing press to manufacture legal tender paper money”, either directly by paying its creditors “with new paper money specially printed for the purpose”, or indirectly by paying its creditors “out of loans to itself from the Central Bank”, issuing money to that amount in exchange for government debt (Dalton). Because public memories are short and economic models and data unavailable to ordinary people, a large scope exists for governments to extract real resources by inflation before “money-illusion” comes to be dispelled. Briefly, such has been how India’s continuous budget-deficits have been financed ever since Independence – made possible with impunity because our rulers have also kept our currency from being internationally convertible (except for themselves).
These quite subtle facts remain practically unknown to the Indian public whose lives and those of future generations are deeply affected by them, though in recent decades elite elements like bureaucrats, academics, military officers, businessmen, politicians etc with better information and access to resources have sensed monetary weakness in the country and exported their adult children and savings abroad expeditiously. The sphere of knowledge and concerns of most people are so close to needs of their own survival that they make easy prey for the machinations of others with better information or access to resources. This may help explain why we, who for more than a century and a half have seen a vast political awakening take place and can take pride in having a free press and the world’s largest electorate, at the same time have had our political life and public institutions wracked by enormous corruption, fraud and venality, enfeebling the political economy by widespread cynicism and loss of confidence, and inducing capital flight abroad on the part of a vapid elite.
Indian Money & Credit
First published in The Sunday Statesman, August 6 2006, Editorial Page Special Article, www.thestatesman.net
One rural household may lend another rural household 10 kg or 100 kg of grain or seed for a short time. When it does, it expects to receive back a little more than the amount lent ~ even if that little amount is in services or in plain goodwill among friends or neighbours. That extra amount is “real interest”, and the percentage of its value relative to the whole is the “real rate of interest”. So if 10 kg of grain are lent for two weeks and 11 kg are returned, an implicit real rate of interest of 10 per cent has been paid over that short period. The future is always less valuable than the present in the sense that 10 kg of grain today is worth something more than the prospect of the same 10 kg of grain tomorrow.
But loans may be made in terms of money rather than real units of grain, thus the change in the value of money over the period of the loan becomes relevant. If a loan of Rs 100,000 is made by a bank to a borrower for one year at a simple interest rate of 13 per cent per annum, and the value of money then declines at 8 per cent over the year, the debtor is paying real interest of just about 13 per cent-8 per cent = 5 per cent. The Yale economist Irving Fisher described how this monetary rate of interest equals the real rate of interest plus the rate of monetary inflation, while the great Swedish economist Knut Wicksell predicted inflation if the monetary rate fell below the real rate, and vice versa.
And there is another consideration too. A new cycle-rickshaw costs about Rs 5,000. A rickshaw driver who does not own his own machine has to pay the owner of the rickshaw a fixed rental of about Rs 15 per day. Now a government policy may want to see more cycle-rickshaw drivers owning their own machines, and allocate bank-credit accordingly. But some fraction of the drivers are alcoholics and hence are bad credit-risks, while others are industrious, have strong family lives and are good credit-risks. If a creditor is unable to distinguish between who is an alcoholic and who is not, credit terms will tend towards subsidising the alcoholic and taxing the industrious.
On the other hand, a creditor who knows each debtor individually will also know their credit-risks, and price individual loans to them accordingly. India’s credit markets, both rural and urban, have been segmented always into “formal” and “informal”, and remain so despite (or perhaps because of) much government intervention in recent decades.
Banks and the Reserve Bank of India operate in formal financial markets, but the informal credit market is where the real action is. For example, a mosaic-machine used in the construction business costs Rs 15,000 brand new and gets to be rented out at the rate of Rs 150 per day.
Someone with access to formal sector bank loans at say 13 per cent per annum, might borrow the Rs 15,000, buy a machine, rent it out, break-even within a few months and make a whopping profit afterwards. Everyone would thus hunger after subsidised formal sector bank loans, and these would be rationed quickly and then come to be allocated to people known to bank officials (like their own friends and relatives).
Rates of return on capital, i.e. real profits, are and always have been massively high in India, and that is what is to be expected because capital, both machinery and finance, is relatively scarce as a factor of production. Rates of return on labour, i.e. real wages, are on the other hand relatively low in India thanks to our vast population. For these reasons we have had for three centuries foreigners coming to India to invest their capital in enterprise and make a profit, while Indians have emigrated all over the world from Fiji to Britain to America in search of higher wages.
Now all of this is very elementary reasoning well known to serious monetary economists, yet it seems to have always escaped India’s monetary and fiscal decision-makers. For example, just the other day, the Finance Minister said in Parliament that all rural banks had been instructed to lend farmers credit at a 7 per cent (monetary) rate of interest, and failure to do so would lead to punishment. By the rickshaw example (in fact many cycle-rickshaw drivers are also marginal farmers), the FM did not wish to, and of course cannot in practice, distinguish between good and bad credit-risks among the recipients of such loans. If the value of money is declining by, say, 8 per cent per annum, a 7 per cent monetary rate is equivalent to a minus 1 per cent real rate. i.e., the FM would have done some Humpty Dumpty economics and caused the future prospect of holding Rs 1,000 tomorrow to be more and not less valuable than the certainty of holding Rs 1,000 today. It is inevitable there will be credit-rationing when credit is so massively subsidised, so the typical borrowing farmer will get some little fraction of his credit-needs at the official government price of 7 per cent per annum and then have to get the bulk of his credit-needs fulfilled in the informal market ~ at a price perhaps of 1 per cent-5 per cent PER DAY! The FM promising in his Budget to subsidise farm credit sounds nice on TV but may be wholly futile as a way of stopping farmers’ suicides.
The same kind of Humpty Dumpty monetary economics has been religiously pursued by the Reserve Bank of India for decades upon directions from its owner and master, the Finance Ministry ~ which in turn has always meekly followed the dictates of India’s unreasonable politicians of all parties. Formal sector interest rates in India have been for decades so artificially lowered that even if we use official figures measuring inflation, this leads to real interest rates being lower in capital-scarce India than in the capital-rich West! (See graphs). Negative or near-zero real interest rates in India’s formal financial sector coexisting with massively high profit rates in informal credit markets point to continuous processes of low risk profits being made by arbitrage between the two. That is why the organised private and public sectors seem so pleased with official credit policies ~ while every borrower in the informal credit markets always has suicide not far from his/her mind.
Other than Dr Rangarajan who once mentioned it, we have never had an RBI Governor who has wished to see the Reserve Bank of India constitutionally independent of the Government of the day, and hence dedicated to restoring the integrity of India’s money. Playing with the repo rate or other short term monetary rates is fun and makes the RBI think it is doing something as important as the US or UK central banks. Certainly the upward trend in such short term rates over the last few months is better than the nonsensical flip-flops previously. But it is small potatoes compared to the really giant variables which are all fiscal and not monetary in India. For example, Sonia Gandhi (as advised by another naturalized Indian, Jean Drèze, disciple of the Non-Resident Amartya Sen) insisted on a massive “Rural Employment Guarantee”; Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee have insisted on massive foreign weapons’ purchases and government wage increases; Praful Patel on massive foreign aircraft purchases; Arjun Sengupta on Scandinavian welfare benefits; Montek Ahluwalia on nuclear reactor purchases (so South Delhi will be able at least to run its ACs in 20 years’ time). All this adds endlessly to the stock of government paper being held as bank-assets, while the currency remains inconvertible (See e.g. The Statesman 30 October 2005, 6-8 January, 23 April 2006).The RSS/BJP and JNU/Left have been equally bereft of serious thought.
Tell any suicidal farmer that the Government of India has been borrowing larger and larger amounts every year just to pay intereston previously incurred debts; it may make him realise there are famous and powerful people who are even more unwise than himself and amount to effective suicide-prevention therapy. But do not tell him that they unlike himself have been playing with public money ~ or you may have the opposite effect.
First published in The Sunday Statesman and The Statesman Editorial Page Special Article 30-31 July 2006,
By SUBROTO ROY
Pakistan’s political institutions have failed to develop properly over sixty years. Yet in the last ten years or more, its Government has acquired weapons of mass destruction and in 1998-99 its Foreign Minister half-threatened to use these against India in a first strike. As a religious and cultural phenomenon and as a putative nation-state, Pakistan needs to be sought to be understood in as unbiased and objective a manner as possible, not least by Pakistanis themselves, as well as by Afghans, Bangladeshis, Chinese, Americans,Israelis, Arabs, Iranians etc. besides ourselves in India.
The slogan “Islam in danger” has always had some substance since orthodox Muslims constantly face temptations in the world existing around them from materialism, scepticism, syncretism, pantheism etc. Some responded defensively to the Westernisation/modernisation of India’s Hindus, Parsees and Christians by becoming insular and separatist in outlook, and anti-individualist or communal in behaviour.
“We are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and Arabic language are our pride,” declared Wali Allah (1703-1762), a contemporary of Nejd’s founder of Wahhabism. “We must repudiate all those Indian, Persian and Roman customs which are contrary to the Prophet’s teaching”, declared Barelvi (1786-1831), who also initiated the idea of a religious mass migration of North Indian Muslims. His movement saw “jihad as one of the basic tenets of faith… it chose as the venue of jihad the NW Frontier of the subcontinent, where it was directed against the Sikhs. Barelvi temporarily succeeded in carving out a small theocratic principality which collapsed owing to the friction between his Pathan and North Indian followers…” (A. Ahmed, in Basham (ed) Cultural History of India).
Political and psychological tensions between Pakistan’s Pashtun/Baloch tribal people and Punjabi/ Urdu elite continue to this day, even when many of the former have integrated into industries and vocations controlled by the latter. The highlanders were never part of Hindu societies, while the plainsmen, whether they admit it or not, ethnically were converts for the most part from India’s native religions (though here again the religious syncretism of Sindhis, both Muslim and Hindu, may be contrasted with orthodoxy). Barelvi’s theocracy, named Tariqa-yi Muhammadiya, had remnants near Sittana until the First World War, and his followers are still a major component of Pakistan’s most orthodox today.
Muslim separatism in North India would have been futile without British political backing. As early as 1874, the British saw their advantage: “The existence side by side of these hostile creeds (Hindu and Muslim) is one of the strong points in our political position in India. The better classes of Mohammedans are a source of strength to us and not of weakness. They constitute a comparatively small but an energetic minority of the population whose political interests are identical with ours.” When the Agha Khan’s 1906 delegation first pleaded for communal representation, Minto agreed with them, and Minto’s wife wrote in her diary the effect was “nothing less than the pulling back of sixty two millions (of Muslims) from joining the ranks of the seditious opposition.” The slogan “If you are not with us you are against us” was always widely applied by the British in India in the form “If you dare to not be with us, we definitely will be with your adversaries”.
One obscure ideological current of today’s Pakistan came via the enigmatic personage of Inayatullah Mashriqi (1888-1963), who, from being a Cambridge Wrangler, became a friend of Adolf Hitler in 1926, received a Renault as a gift from Hitler (possibly housed in a Lahore museum today) and claimed to have affected Hitler’s ideology. Mashriqi created the Khaksars, modelled on the Nazi SA, and was often jailed for violence.
But the official ideology of today’s Pakistan came from Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938), an admirer of Friedrich Nietzsche. Indeed, “Pakistan” would have been better named “Iqbalistan” and its nationals “Iqbalians”, just as countries like Colombia, the USA, Israel, Saudi Arabia etc. have been named after an individual person. Iqbal’s 1930 Presidential Speech to the Muslim League in Allahabad conceptualised the country that exists today: “I would like to see the Punjab, NWFP, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state…the formation of a consolidated NW Indian Muslim state appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims at least of NW India… India is the greatest Muslim country in the world. The life of Islam as a cultural force in this living country very largely depends on its centralisation in a specified territory… “
Though Kashmiri himself, Iqbal was silent about J&K being any part of this new entity. Nor did he see this Muslim country being theocratic or filled with anti-Hindu bigotry: “A community which is inspired by feelings of ill-will towards other communities is low and ignoble. I entertain the highest respect for the customs, laws, religious and social institutions of other communities…. Yet I love the communal group which is the source of my life and my behaviour; and which has formed me what I am by giving me its religion, its literature, its thought, its culture,and thereby recreating its whole past, as a living operating factor, in my present consciousness… Nor should the Hindus fear that the creation of autonomous Muslim states will mean the introduction of a kind of religious rule in such states…. I therefore demand the formation of a consolidated Muslim state in the best interests of India and Islam. For India it means security and peace resulting from an internal balance of power, for Islam an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian Imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilise its law, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and the spirit of modern times.” Iqbal clearly wished to be rid of the same stamp of Arabian Imperialism that Wali Allah had extolled.
In 1937, Iqbal added an economic dimension referring to Shariat in order that “at least the right to subsistence is secured to everybody”. A “free Muslim state or states” was “the only way to solve the problem of bread for Muslims as well as to secure a peaceful India.”
Iqbal persuaded MA Jinnah (1876-1948), who had settled once again into his London law practice, to return to India in 1934. But when, following the 1935 Government of India Act, India experienced its first democratic elections in 1937, the Muslim League’s ideology promoted by Iqbal and Jinnah failed miserably in the very four provinces that Iqbal had named.
Three days after Hitler’s attack on Poland, the British chose to politically empower Jinnah. Until September 4 1939, the British “had had little time for Jinnah and his League. The Government’s declaration of war on Germany on 3 September, however, transformed the situation. A large part of the army was Muslim, much of the war effort was likely to rest on the two Muslim majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal. The following day, the Viceroy invited Jinnah for talks on an equal footing with Gandhi…. because the British found it convenient to take the League seriously, everyone had to as well” (F. Robinson, in James & Roy (eds) Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy). Jinnah himself was amazed: “suddenly there was a change in the attitude towards me. I was treated on the same basis as Mr Gandhi. I was wonderstruck why all of a sudden I was promoted and given a place side by side with Mr Gandhi.”
Britain at war was faced too with intransigence from the Congress — Gandhi, for example, rudely dismissing the 1942 Cripps offer as a “post-dated cheque on a failing bank”. It was unsurprising this would contribute to the British tilt towards Congress’s adversary. Suddenly, Rahmat Ali’s acronym “PAKSTAN” , supposedly invented on the top floor of a London bus, was becoming a credible possibility.
By 1946, Muslim electoral opinion had changed drastically in the League’s favour. By 1947, Iqbal’s lofty philosophical vision of a cultured Muslim state had degenerated into irrational street mobs shouting: “Larke lenge Pakistan; Marke lenge Pakistan; Khun se lenge Pakistan; Dena hoga Pakistan”.
Events remote from India’s history and geography, namely, Hitler’s rise and the Second World War, had contributed between 1937 and 1947 to the change of fortune of Jinnah’s League, and hence the fate of all the people of the subcontinent. Even so, thanks to AK Azad’s diplomacy, the May 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan denying Partition and Pakistan did come to be accepted by Jinnah’s Muslim League, and it was doubtless the obduracy and megalomania of Azad’s Congress colleagues which contributed equally to the failure to find a political solution ~ along with the vapid behaviour of a pompous, vacuous Mountbatten who caused infinite uncertainty until June 3 1947, as to what was going to happen to the lives of scores of millions of ordinary people within a few weeks.
In August 1947, the new Pakistani elite hardly felt or even wished to feel free of the British ~ they merely felt independent of what they saw as Congress domination, and had now acquired some power for themselves. Far from any nation-building taking place, Pakistan’s early years were marked by political, legal, constitutional and military chaos and trauma. Both Dominions made a grab for the Raj’s common assets, especially the armed forces.
Indeed, how did the Kashmir problem originate? As much as any other factor, it occurred because of the incompetent partitioning of military assets and hurried decommissioning of British Indian armies ~ causing thousands of Mirpuri soldiers to return to a communally inflamed Punjab/ Jammu region.
The first J&K war started within weeks of Partition and was in all but name a civil war ~ somewhat like the American Civil War. It was a civil war not merely between Kashmir’s National and Muslim Conferences but also between Army regiments who had been jointly fighting Britain’s enemies until very recently.
Pakistan’s leadership vacuum started at once. Jinnah was ill and died shortly. Liaquat Ali Khan was the only politician of any experience left. He faced on one side Pashtuns having no wish to be dominated by a new Karachi/ Rawalpindi elite, and on the other side, the Kashmir conflict. The most basic functions of governance never got started. Taking a Census has been one such function since Roman times, yet Pakistan has never had one. Writing a Constitution is another, but Maududi and others demanded “That the sovereignty in Pakistan belongs to God Almighty alone and that the Government of Pakistan shall administer the country as His agent”. As a result, Pakistan’s few constitutionalists have been battling impossibly ever since to overcome the ontological mistake made of assuming that any earthly government, no matter how pious, can be in communication with God Almighty as easily as it can be with foreign governments.
The Rule of Law is another basic function. But when Liaquat was himself assassinated in 1951, his assassin was killed on the spot yet the murder remained unsolved. Mashriqi was immediately arrested because of his hostility to the Muslim League, but later released. Because the assassin was Pashtun, Afghanistan was blamed but the Afghan Government proved otherwise. The investigating policeman was killed in an aircrash, and all documents went with him. Final suspicion pointed towards Akbar Khan, the renegade Army general who had led the attack on J&K and was in jail for the Rawalpindi conspiracy. Years later, Liaquat’s widow (the former Irene Pant of Naini Tal) rued the fact no one was ever prosecuted.
After Liaquat’s assassination, the period of Ghulam Mohammad, Nazimuddin, Mohammad Ali Bogra, Chaudhury Mohammad Ali, and most importantly, Iskander Mirza leading up to Ayub Khan’s Martial Law in 1958, was simply appalling in its display of the sheer irresponsibility of Pakistan’s new super-elite. Instead of domestic nation-building or fulfilling the basic functions of governance, close comprador relations came to be established with the US and British Governments ~ exemplified by Mirza’s elder son taking the American Ambassador’s daughter as his (first) wife and moving to a lifelong career with the World Bank in Washington. This comprador relationship between Washington, London and Pakistan’s super-elite flourishes and continues to this day. E.g., the current World Bank head and architect of the 2003 Bush invasion of Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz, remains in a mentoring relationship with Shaukat Aziz, a former American bank executive, who is General Musharraf’s Prime Minister. For better or worse, Pakistan’s Government will never veer from the side of Anglo-American policy while such comprador relationships remain intact.
Before the 1971 war, West Pakistan was in a frenzy from a propaganda campaign of “Crush India” and “Hang Mujib”. General Niazi’s surrender to General Arora in Dhaka Stadium ~ causing 90,000 PoWs whom India then protected from Bangladeshi revenge ~ shocked Pakistan and shattered the self-image of its Army. ZA Bhutto was the only populist politician of the country ever, and his few years held vanishing promise of a normal political agenda (no matter how economically misguided) finally arising. But Bhutto suppressed the new Baloch revolt with the Shah of Iran’s military help; at the same time he failed to protect his own back against Zia ul Haq’s coup, leading to his judicial murder in 1979. Zia tried to rebuild the Army’s shattered esprit de corps the only way he knew how, which was by indoctrinating the Punjabi officer corps with Sunni dogmatism. This coincided with the Afghan civil war, influx of refugees, and US-Saudi-Chinese plan to defeat the USSR. Pakistan’s super-elite in their comprador role were happy to allow themselves to be used again and be hung out to dry afterwards.
All normal branches of Pakistan’s polity, like the electorate,press, political parties, Legislature and Judiciary, have remained at best in ill-formed inchoate states of being. The economy remains, like India’s, one fed on endless deficit finance paid for by unlimited printing of inconvertible paper money, though Pakistan has had relatively more labour emigration and much less foreign investment and technological progress than India. Both are wracked by corruption, poverty, ignorance and superstition.
Over half a century, the military has acquired vast economic and political interests and agendas, on pretext of protecting Pakistan from India or gaining “Kashmeer” for it. With few and noble exceptions, academics, politicians and journalists have remained timid in face of fascistic State-power with its militarist/Islamist ideology ~ causing a transferance of the people’s anger and frustration onto an easier target, namely ourselves in India. Anti-Indianism (especially over J&K) remains the sole unifying factor of Pakistan’s super-elite, regardless of what history’s objective facts may have to say. Much political courage and understanding will be needed for that to be reversed.
All countries hunger for genuine national heroes who take upon themselves individual risks on behalf of ordinary people. Wali Khan stood up to his father’s jailors, and young Benazir of 1980s vintage to her father’s executioner. But Pakistan has had few such heroes,certainly none among its bemedalled generals. Why AQ Khan is seen as a hero is because he at least took some personal risks, and finally brought Pakistan a kind of respect and independence in the world with his Bomb.
ON MONEY & BANKING
The deficit-finance of all public institutions flow like rivulets into the swamp that is our Public Debt, managed by the RBI
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article
April 23 2006, www.thestatesman.net
THE Reserve Bank of India, like all other public institutions, belongs to all of India’s people. There has been a tendency with every national institution, whether the ONGC or nationalised banks like SBI, or the IITs and IIMs or Air India and Indian Airlines or the Railways, Army, Navy, Air Force, IAS, IFS, Central Secretariat etc, even Parliament and State legislatures, to think that its assets, both tangible and intangible, are to serve the interests mainly of its employees, whether of Class 1, 2, 3, or 4. In fact, the assets of all such national institutions belong to all Indians: all one thousand million of us, from nameless street children and rural mendicants onwards. The body of our whole Indian citizenry own any and all such public institutions, and their employees are merely our “agents”, literally “public servants” who get paid salaries and perquisites out of public revenues. The task of managing and controlling these vast cohorts of public servants is a stupendous one of democratic politics and public administration. As a country we have never been very adept at it, indeed we often have been hopelessly incompetent. Without proper control and management, employees of national institutions have naturally tended to take over control of these assets, shifting liabilities onto the shoulders and budgets of the anonymous diffused body of citizenry who are supposed to be their masters. The public’s servants have tended to become the masters of the public’s assets and resources.
The RBI, as the nation’s Central Bank, has a unique position because its principal task is to establish and maintain the integrity of our money and banking system. The deficit-finance of all public institutions flow like rivulets into the swamp that is our Public Debt, managed by the RBI.
Money as such has no “intrinsic” worth. All the paper rupees, dollars, pounds, euros, yen in the world have less “intrinsic” usefulness than a hairpin or a button or a pair of shoelaces. Hairpins, buttons and shoelaces at least keep your hair, your shirt or your shoes together ~ the paper of paper money can be at best used to roll cigarettes perhaps. Yet paper money comes to be needed and is valued by everyone in every country ~ from street children upwards to Mr Premji, Mr Gates and Mr Mittal. Everyone accepts paper money as wages in exchange for his/her work, and then plans to use that same paper to buy food, shelter, clothing and other necessities with. I.e., we accept paper money for a short time believing we can use it to acquire useful things with. It has no intrinsic worth yet it is universally valued because everyone believes it will be accepted by everyone else in exchange for real goods and services which are in fact useful and conducive to life. The use of paper money depends on a fine and invisible web of collective trust permeating throughout the economy.
Banks arose due to the increasing complexity of modern economies in the last six hundred years. Paper currency was then supplemented in commerce by “deposits”, so that a transaction between two persons need not involve turnover of cash but can come to be accomplished by adjustment in their respective deposits with their banks. This vastly increased the quantum of trust ordinary people placed in the system of normal transactions, since they had to now believe not just in the exchangeability of paper money but also in the viability of the banks where they had placed their deposits. Currency plus Bank Deposits constitute what is called the “Money Supply”, and its controller is the RBI.
Our collective trust in money and banking is in and of itself something with economic value, which commercial banks are in a unique position to exploit. Banks can usually bet that all their customers will not demand their deposits at the same time, and so they are able to lend out as loans a very large fraction of what they have received as deposits from the public. Making such loans in turn causes the recipients of the loans to make new deposits (of what they have borrowed) in yet other banks, and this in turn acts as a signal to the receiving banks to make even more loans. Hence a process of “redeposit” or “deposit multiplication” occurs in any banking system where only a fraction of deposits is legally required to be kept as reserves by the bank. A Central Bank like the RBI then has the duty to see none of this gets out of hand: that while individual banks are acting to make profitable investments on the capital risked by a bank’s owners, they are, as a collective body, creating enough but not excessive credit to meet the needs of business.
In India, most banks came to be nationalised decades ago by Indira Gandhi on advice of P. N. Haksar, the mentor of Dr Manmohan Singh in his career as an economic bureaucrat. Whatever original capital they have had also arises from the public exchequer, and all their employees are effectively “public servants” under the Ministry of Finance. We have not been hearing from the RBI anything about the deleterious effects of this continuing state of affairs.
The RBI’s functions include managing the “Public Debt”, which stands today at perhaps Rs. 30 trillion (1 trillion= 1 lakh crore), on which interest of perhaps Rs 2-3 trillion must be paid by the Union and State Governments every year to those holding the debt (mostly the nationalised banking system under duress from the RBI). Why the stock-market has been doing so “well” is because it has been like an athlete on steroids. A stock market is supposed to be risky while a debt market is supposed to be safe. Our Government’s fiscal and monetary behaviour over decades has caused the formal debt market to yield negative returns, and so the stock-market has become relatively lucrative despite its risky nature.
It is also the RBI’s task to manage the country’s foreign exchange “reserves”, i.e. the residual balance left after all forex outgoings from purchases of imports (like petroleum or weapons) and payments of interest on or repayment of foreign loans have been subtracted from flows of incoming forex arising from export revenues, emigrants’ remittances, and new foreign loans and investments. These “reserves” do not belong to the Government or the nation in the same way tax-revenues belong to the Consolidated Fund of India. It was a shocking conceptual error of the Manmohan Singh Government’s most prominent economic bureaucrat to fail to see this and to suggest forex reserves could be used for “infrastructure” development. For the business press to get excited about forex reserves being at this or that level is also misleading, since high reserves may or may not indicate a better financial position just as a heavily indebted man may or may not be in a bad position depending on what kind of use he has made of his debts.
We have not been hearing of any of these matters from the RBI under Dr Y. V. Reddy. Instead, the one definite number we have received last week is that the RBI, under behest of its master, the Ministry of Finance, has been causing the Money Supply to grow at something like 15%. The Government’s apologists would like us to believe that this gets distributed between real economic growth in the region of 10% and inflation in the region of 5%. But for all that anybody really knows, it may be that real growth is at 5% and inflation is at 10%! Ask yourself if what you bought last year for Rs 1000 costs Rs 1050 or Rs. 1100 this year. Your guess may be as good as the Government’s.
The Dream Team: A Critique
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman and The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, January 6,7,8 2006 www.thestatesman.net
(Author’s Note: Within a few weeks of this article appearing, the Dream Team’s leaders appointed the so-called Tarapore 2 committee to look into convertibility — which ended up recommending what I have since called the “false convertibility” the RBI is presently engaged in. This article may be most profitably read along with other work republished here: “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform”, “Three Memoranda to Rajiv Gandhi”, “”Indian Money & Banking”, “Indian Money & Credit” , “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Fiscal Instability”, “Fallacious Finance”, “India’s Trade and Payments”, “Our Policy Process”, “Against Quackery”, “Indian Inflation”, etc)
1. New Delhi’s Consensus: Manmohantekidambaromics
Dr Manmohan Singh has spoken of how pleasantly surprised he was to be made Finance Minister in July 1991 by PV Narasimha Rao. Dr Singh was an academic before becoming a government economic official in the late 1960s, rising to the high office of Reserve Bank Governor in the 1980s. Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia now refers to him as “my boss” and had been his Finance Secretary earlier. Mr Ahluwalia was a notable official in the MacNamara World Bank before being inducted a senior government official in 1984. Mr P Chidambaram was PVNR’s Commerce Minister, and later became Finance Minister in the Deve Gowda and Gujral Governments. Mr Chidamabaram is a Supreme Court advocate with an MBA from Harvard’s Business School. During 1998-2004, Dr Singh and Mr Chidambaram were in Opposition but Mr Ahluwalia was Member-Secretary of the Vajpayee Planning Commission. Since coming together again in Sonia Gandhi’s United Progressive Alliance, they have been flatteringly named the “Dream Team” by India’s pink business newspapers, a term originally referring to some top American basketball players.
Based on pronouncements, publications and positions held, other members or associates of the “Dream Team” include Reserve Bank Governor Dr YV Reddy; his predecessor Dr Bimal Jalan; former PMO official Mr NK Singh, IAS; Chief Economic Advisers Dr Shankar Acharya and Dr Ashok Lahiri; RBI Deputy Governor Dr Rakesh Mohan; and others like Dr Arvind Virmani, Dr Isher Ahluwalia, Dr Parthasarathi Shome, Dr Vijay Khelkar, Dr Ashok Desai, Dr Suman Bery, Dr Surjit Bhalla, Dr Amaresh Bagchi, Dr Govind Rao. Honorary members include Mr Jaswant Singh, Mr Yashwant Sinha, Mr KC Pant and Dr Arun Shourie, all economic ministers during the Vajpayee premiership. Institutional members include industry chambers like CII and FICCI representing “Big Business”, and unionised “Big Labour” represented by the CPI, CPI(M) and prominent academics of JNU. Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar joins the Dream Team with his opinion that a gas pipeline is “necessary for the eradication of poverty in India”. Mr Jairam Ramesh explicitly claimed authoring the 1991 reform with Mr Pranab Mukherjee and both must be members (indeed the latter as Finance Minister once had been Dr Singh’s boss). Dr Arjun Sengupta has claimed Indira Gandhi started the reforms, and he may be a member too. External members include Dr Jagdish Bhagwati, Dr. TN Srinivasan, Dr Meghnad Desai, Dr Vijay Joshi, Mr Ian Little, Dr Anne O. Krueger, Dr John Williamson, IMF Head Dr R Rato, and many foreign bank analysts who deal in Bombay’s markets. Harvard’s Dr Larry Summers joins with his statement while US Treasury Secretary in January 2000 that a 10% economic growth rate for India was feasible. His Harvard colleague Dr Amartya Sen — through disciples like Dr Jean Dreze (adviser to Sonia Gandhi on rural employment) — must be an ex officio member; as an old friend, the Prime Minister launched Dr Sen’s recent book while the latter has marked Dr Singh at 80% as PM. Media associates of the Dream Team include editors like Mr Aroon Purie, Mr Vinod Mehta, Dr Prannoy Roy, Mr TN Ninan, Mr Vir Sanghvi and Mr Shekhar Gupta, as well as the giddy young anchors of what passes for news and financial analysis on cable TV.
This illustrious set of politicians, government officials, economists, journalists and many others have come to define what may be called the “New Delhi Consensus” on contemporary India’s economic policy. While it is unnecessary everyone agree to the same extent on every aspect — indeed on economic policy the differences between the Sonia UPA and Vajpayee NDA have had to do with emphasis on different aspects, each side urging “consensus” upon the other — the main factual and evaluative claims and policy-prescriptions of the New Delhi Consensus may be summarised as follows:
A: “The Narasimha Rao Government in July 1991 found India facing a grave balance of payments crisis with foreign exchange reserves being very low.”
B: “A major cause was the 1990-1991 Gulf War, in its impact as an exogenous shock on Indian migrant workers and oil prices.”
C: “The Dream Team averted a macroeconomic crisis through “structural adjustment” carried out with help of the IMF and World Bank; hence too, India was unaffected by the 1997 ‘Asian crisis’”.
D: “The PVNR, Deve Gowda, Gujral and Vajpayee Governments removed the notorious license-quota-permit Raj.”
E: “India’s measurable real economic growth per capita has been raised from 3% or lower to 7% or more.”
F: “Foreign direct investment has been, relative to earlier times, flooding into India, attracted by lower wages and rents, especially in new industries using information technology.”
G: “Foreign financial investment has been flooding into India too, attracted by India’s increasingly liberalised capital markets, especially a liberalised current account of the balance of payments.”
H: “The apparent boom in Bombay’s stock market and relatively large foreign exchange reserves bear witness to the confidence foreign and domestic investors place in India’s prospects.”
I: “The critical constraint to India’s future prosperity is its “infrastructure” which is far below what foreign investors are used to in other countries elsewhere in Asia.”
J: “It follows that massive, indeed gargantuan, investments in highways, ports, airports, aircraft, city-flyovers, housing-estates, power-projects, energy exploration, gas pipelines, etc, out of government and private resources, domestic and foreign, is necessary to remove remaining “bottlenecks” to further prosperity for India’s masses, and these physical constructions will cause India’s economy to finally ‘take off’.”
K: “India’s savings rate (like China’s) is exceptionally high as is observable from vast expansion of bank-deposits, and these high (presumed) savings, along with foreign savings, will absorb the gargantuan investment in “infrastructure” without inflation.”
L: “Before the gargantuan macroeconomic investments bear the fruits of prosperity, equally large direct transfer payments also must be made from the Government to prevent mass hunger and/or raise nominal incomes across rural India, while existing input or other subsidies to producers, especially farmers, also must continue.”
M: “While private sector participants may increasingly compete via imports or as new entrants in industries where the public sector has been dominant, no bankruptcy or privatisation must be allowed to occur or be seen to occur which does not provide public sector workers and officials with golden parachutes.”
Overall, the New Delhi Consensus paints a picture of India’s economy on an immensely productive trajectory as led by Government partnered by Big Business and Big Labour, with the English-speaking intellectuals of the Dream Team in the vanguard as they fly between exotic conferences and international commercial deals. An endless flow of foreign businessmen and politicians streaming through Bangalore, Hyderabad, five-star hotels or photo-opportunities with the PM, followed by official visits abroad to sign big-ticket purchases like arms or aircraft, reinforce an impression that all is fine economically, and modern India is on the move. Previously rare foreign products have become commonplace in India’s markets, streets and television-channels, and a new materialist spirit, supposedly of capitalism, is captured by the smug slogan yeh dil mange more (this heart craves more) as well as the more plaintive cry pardesi jana nahin, mujhe chhorke (foreigner, please don’t leave me).
2. Money, Convertibility, Inflationary Deficit Financing
India’s Rupee became inconvertible in 1942 when the British imposed exchange controls over the Sterling-Area. After 1947 independent India and Pakistan, in name of “planned” economic development, greatly widened this war-time regime – despite the fact they were at war now only with one another over Jammu & Kashmir and, oddly enough, formed an economic union until 1951 with their currencies remaining freely convertible with each other.
On May 29 1984, the present author’s Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India proposed in London that the Indian Rupee become a convertible hard currency again — the first time liberal economics had been suggested for India since BR Shenoy’s critique of the Second Five Year Plan (a fact attracting an editorial of The Times). The simple litmus test whether believers in the New Delhi Consensus have or have not the courage of their stated convictions – i.e., whether what they have been saying is, in its empirical fundamentals, more signal or noise, more reality or rhetorical propaganda – would be to carry through that proposal made 21 years ago. The Dream Team have had more than enough political power to undertake this, and it remains the one measure necessary for them to demonstrate to India’s people and the world that the exuberant confidence they have been promoting in their model of India’s economy and its prospects is not spurious.
What does convertibility entail? For a decade now, India has had limited ease of availability of foreign exchange for traders, students and tourists. Indeed some senior Government monetary economists believe there is convertibility already except forex dealers are being allowed “one-way” and not “two-way” quotes! That is wrong. The Government since 1942 has requisitioned at the border all foreign exchange earned by exporters or received as loans or investment — allocating these first to pay interest and amortisation on the country’s foreign debt, then to make its own weapons and other purchases abroad, then to release by ration what remains to private traders, students, tourists et al. Current account liberalisation has meant the last of these categories has been relaxed, especially by removal of some import quotas. What a convertible Rupee would mean is far more profound. It would allow any citizen to hold and save an Indian money that was exchangeable freely (i.e. without Government hindrance) into moneys of other countries. Full convertibility would mean all the paper money, bank deposits and rupee-denominated nominal assets held by ordinary people in India becomes, overnight, exchangeable without hindrance into dollars, yens, pounds or euros held anywhere (although not of course at the “one-way” rates quoted today).
Now money is a most peculiar human institution. Paper money is intrinsically worthless but all of India’s 1,000 million people (from street children onwards) have need to hold it temporarily to expedite their individual transactions of buying and selling real goods and services. Money also acts as a repository of value over time and unit of account or measure of economic value. While demand to hold such intrinsically worthless paper is universal, its supply is a Government monopoly. Because Government accepts obligations owed to it in terms of the fiat money it has itself issued, the otherwise worthless paper comes to possess value in exchange. Because Government controls its supply, money also can be abused easily enough as a technique of invisible taxation via inflation.
With convertibility in India, the quantity of currency and other paper assets like public debt instruments representing fiscal decisions of India’s Union and State Governments, will have to start to compete with those produced by other governments. Just as India’s long-jumpers and tennis-players must compete with the world’s best if they are to establish and sustain their athletic reputations, so India’s fiscal and monetary decisions (i.e. about government spending and revenues, interest-rates and money supply growth) will have to start competing in the world’s financial markets with those of the EU, USA, Japan, Switzerland, ASEAN etc.
The average family in rural Madhya Pradesh who may wish, for whatever personal reason, to liquidate rupee-denominated assets and buy instead Canadian, Swiss or Japanese Government debt, or mutual fund shares in New York, Frankfurt or Singapore, would not be hindered by India’s Government from doing so. They would become as free as the swankiest NRI jet-setters have been for years (like many members of the New Delhi Consensus and their grown children abroad). Scores of millions of ordinary Indians unconnected with Big Business or Big Labour, neither among the 18 million people in government nor the 12 million in the organised private sector, would become free to hold any portfolio of assets they chose in global markets (small as any given individual portfolio may be in value). Like all those glamorous NRIs, every Indian would be able to hold dollar or Swiss Franc deposit accounts at the local neighbourhood bank. Hawala operators worldwide would become redundant. Ordinary citizens could choose to hold foreign shares, real-estate or travellers’ cheques as assets just as they now choose jewellery before a wedding. The Indian Rupee, after more than 65 years, would once again become as good as all the proverbial gold in Fort Knox.
When added up, the new demand of India’s anonymous masses to hold foreign rather than Rupee-denominated assets will certainly make the Rupee decline in price in world markets. But — if the implicit model of India’s economy promoted by the Dream Team is based on correctly ascertained empirical facts — foreign and domestic investor confidence should suffice for countervailing tendencies to keep India’s financial and banking system stable under convertibility. Not only would India’s people be able to use and save a currency of integrity, the allocation of real resources would also improve in efficiency as distortions would be reduced in the signalling function of domestic relative prices compared to world relative prices. An honest Rupee freely priced in world markets at, say, 90 per dollar, would cause very different real microeconomic decisions of Government and private producers and consumers (e.g., with respect to weapons’ purchases or domestic transportation, given petroleum and jet fuel imports) than a semi-artificial Rupee at 45 per dollar which forcibly an inconvertible asset in global markets. A fully convertible Rupee will cause economic and political decisions in the country more consistent with word realities.
Why the Rupee is not going to be made convertible in the foreseeable future – or why, in India’s present fiscal circumstances if it was, it would be imprudent to do so – is because, contrary to the immense optimism promoted by the Dream Team about their own deeds since 1991, they have in fact been causing India’s monetary economy to skate on the thinnest of thin ice. Put another way, a house of cards has been constructed whose cornerstone constitutes that most unscientific anti-economic of assumptions, the “free lunch”: that something can be had for nothing, that real growth in average consumption levels of the masses of ordinary households of rural and urban India can meaningfully come about by nominal paper-money creation accompanied by verbal exhortation, hocus-pocus or abracadabra from policy-makers and their friends in Big Business, Big Labour and the media. (Lest half-remembered inanities about “orthodox economics” come to be mouthed, Maynard Keynes’s 1936 book was about specific circumstances in Western economies during the Depression and it is unwise to extend its presumptions to unintended situations.)
3. Rajiv Gandhi and Perestroika Project
On 25 May 2002, India’s newspapers reported “PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh lost their place in Congress history as architects of economic reforms as the Congress High Command sponsored an amendment to a resolution that had laid credit at the duo’s door. The motion was moved by…. Digvijay Singh asserting that the reforms were a brainchild of the late Rajiv Gandhi and that the Rao-Singh combine had simply nudged the process forward.”
Now Rajiv Gandhi was an airline-pilot and knew no economics. But the origins of the 1991 reform did come about because of an encounter he had, as Opposition Leader and Congress President from September 1990 onwards, with a “perestroika” project for India’s political economy occurring at an American university since 1986 (viz., The Statesman Editorial Page July 31-August 2 1991, now republished here; Freedom First October 2001). In being less than candid in acknowledging the origins of the reform, the Dream Team may have failed to describe accurately the main symptoms of illness that afflicted India before 1991, and have consequently failed to diagnose and prescribe for it correctly ever since.
The Government of India, like many others, has been sorely tempted to finance its extravagant expenditures by abusing its monopoly over paper-money creation. The British taught us how to do this, and in 1941-43 caused the highest inflation rates ever seen in India as a result. Fig. 1 shows this, and also that real growth in India follows as expected the trend-rate of technological progress (having little to do with government policy). Independent India has continually financed budget- deficits by money creation in a process similar to what the British and Americans did in wartime. This became most conspicuous after Indira Gandhi’s bank and insurance nationalisations of 1969-1970. Indeed, among current policy-makers, Pranab Mukherjee, Manmohan Singh, Arjun Sengupta, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Bimal Jalan, NK Singh, Amaresh Bagchi and Shankar Acharya, were among those governing such macroeconomic processes before 1991 — albeit in absence of the equations that illustrate their nature. Why the Rupee cannot be made an honest, internationally convertible, stable money held with confidence by all Indians today, is because the Dream Team have continued with the same macroeconomics ever since. The personal and political ambitions of the tiniest super-elite that the New Delhi Consensus represent (both personal and political) have depended precisely on gargantuan unending deficit-financing backed by unlimited printing of paper-money, and hence the continuing destruction of the integrity of India’s banking system. A convertible Rupee would allow India’s ordinary people to choose to hold other stores of value available in the world today, like gold or monies issued by foreign governments, and thus force an end to such processes.
Two recent articles in The Statesman (Perspective Page 30 October 2005, Front Page 29 November 2005) outlined India’s financial repression and negative real interest rates (which suffice to explain the present stock market boom the way athletes perform better on steroids), and also how deficits get financed by money creation accompanied by wishful projections of economic growth in an upside down imitation of how macroeconomic policy gets done in the West.
“Narrow Money” consists mostly of hand-to-hand currency. “Broad Money” consists of Narrow Money plus bank-deposits. Modern banking is built on “fractional reserves”, i.e. a system of trust where your bank does not literally hold onto deposits you place there but lends these out again – which causes further deposit expansion because no individual banker can tell whether a new deposit received by it is being caused by the depositor having himself borrowed. As a general rule, bank lending causes further deposit expansion. Why India’s (and China’s) bank deposits have been expanding is not because Indians (or Chinese) are superhuman savers of financial assets in banks but because the Government of India (and China) has for decades compelled (the mostly nationalised) banks to hold vast sums of Government debt on the asset side of their balance-sheets. Thus there has been humongous lending by the banking system to pay for Government expenditures. The Dream Team’s macroeconomics relies entirely on this kind of unending recourse to deficit finance and money creation, causing dry rot to set into banks’ balance sheets (Figs. 2,3, 4). If the Rupee became convertible, those vast holdings of Government debt by banks would become valued at world prices. The crucial question would be how heavily New York, London and Hong Kong financial markets discounted Indian sovereign debt. If upon convertibility, the asset sides of domestic Indian banks get discounted very heavily by world financial markets, their insolvency upon being valued at international prices could trigger catastrophic repercussions throughout India’s economy. Hence the Rupee cannot be made convertible — and all our present inefficiencies and inequities will continue for ever with New Delhi’s rhetorical propaganda alongside. The capital flight of 10 out of 1000 million Indians will continue, leaving everyone else with the internal and foreign public debts to pay.
4. A Different Strategy had Rajiv Not Been Assassinated
Had Rajiv Gandhi not been assassinated and the perestroika project allowed to take its course, a different strategy would have been chosen. Honest money first demands honest Government and political leadership. It would at the outset have been recognised by Government (and through Government by all India’s people) that the asset-liability, income-expenditure and cash-flow positions of every public entity in the country without exception — of the Union Government, every State and local Government, every public undertaking and project – is abysmal. Due to entanglement with government financial loans, labour regulations, subsidies, price controls, protection and favouritism, the same holds for the financial positions of vast numbers of firms in the organised private sector. Superimpose on this dismal scene, the bleak situation of the Rule of Law in the country today – where Courts of Justice from highest to lowest suffer terrible abuse receiving pitiable amounts of public resources despite constituting a third and independent branch of India’s Government (while police forces, despite massive expenditure, remain incompetent, high-handed and brutal). What India has needed ever since 1991 is the Rule of Law, total transparency of public information, and the fiercest enforcement of rigorous accounting and audit standards in every government entity and public institution. It is only when budgets and financial positions become sound that ambitious goals can be achieved.
The Dream Team have instead made a fetish of physical construction of “infrastructure”, in some grandiose make-believe dreamworld which says the people of India wish the country to be a superpower. The Dream Team have failed to properly redefine for India’s masses the appropriate fiscal and monetary relationship between State and citizen – i.e. to demarcate public from private domains, and so enhance citizens’ sense of individual responsibility for their own futures, as well as explain and define what government and public institutions can and cannot do to help people’s lives. Grotesque corruption and inefficiency have thus continued to corrode practically all organs, institutions and undertakings of government. Corruption is the transmutation of publicly owned things into private property, while its mirror image, pollution, is the disposal of private wastes into the public domain. Both become vastly more prevalent where property rights between private and public domains remain ill demarcated. What belongs to the individual citizen and what to sovereign India –their rights and obligations to one another – remains fuzzy. Hence corruption and pollution run amuck. The irrational obsession with “infrastructure” is based on bad economics, and has led to profoundly wrong political and financial directions. The Rupee cannot be made an honest stable money because India’s fiscal and monetary situation remains not merely out of control but beyond New Delhi’s proper comprehension and grasp. If and when the Dream Team choose to wake up to India’s macroeconomic realities, a great deal of serious work will need to be done.
Professor Frank Hahn, who supervised my doctoral thesis, was kind enough to once say he considered me “probably the outstanding young Hayekian”. Certainly throughout my undergraduate days at the London School of Economics and my research work at Cambridge and later in the United States, I was quite an ardent Hayekian in several respects, and I recall being thrilled to receive the enclosed letter from FA Hayek himself in February 1981. My 1989 book Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (London & New York: Routledge International Library of Philosophy), now republished here, records both my praise and my criticism of Hayek. My 1984 monograph on India, also republished here, applied the work of Hayek and many others.
– perhaps housed in the Supreme Court in New Delhi,
– perhaps designated a UN Special Tribunal if necessary,
– consisting of four judges, two Indian and two Italian,
– (hence there is no further conflict over jurisdiction — and indeed both countries have concurrent jurisdiction requiring a cooperative approach in the interests of justice)
– with judges well-versed in the Law of the Sea (for example, Judge Rao and Judge Treves of the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea)
– to calmly and objectively try the evidence of the case:
Was there murderous intent? Yes/No.
Was there criminal negligence? Yes/No.
Was there honest error? Yes/No.
That is it. Three questions are to be investigated for answers based on the evidence at hand.
This will require a **joint prosecution** — the Kerala police can give the experience of the victims, the Italian military prosecutor will be needed to depose the shooters themselves or otherwise ascertain the presence or not of mens rea. In any case, whatever the verdict, the men will return to the custody of the Italian military to serve any sentence.
The case will set a precedent in the Law of the Sea.
The personal nationality of the shooters and of the victims is wholly irrelevant — only the nationality of the vessels is relevant and the location in the waters. The shooters could have been nationals of a third country, the victims the nationals of a fourth. Italy has been disingenuous in claiming sovereign immunity saying they were military personnel — because the Italian vessel was not a warship but a merchant; and an Indian warship was within its rights under the Law of the Sea to arrest it and board it on suspicion of it having caused illegal violence on another vessel under Article 101 of the Law of the Sea: “Article 101 Piracy consists of …any illegal acts of violence … committed for private ends by the crew or the passengers of a private ship … and directed… on the high seas, against another ship … or against persons or property on board such ship…”. Equally, I do not think it salubrious if India has moved to designate an ordinary criminal court in Delhi as the Special Court required by the Supreme Court. Neither the State of Kerala nor the NCT of Delhi has standing in law except as a witness as this is a matter of international law on the high seas between the Republic of Italy and the Republic of India. The Supreme Court has asked for a *Special Court* to be established to try a case without known precedent in international law and diplomacy; it did not mean to merely change the venue from Kerala to Delhi.
My proposed design of such a Special Court may be the best there is.