The article below, which is not inaccurate, is from the *Asian Age*/*Deccan Herald* of 4 December.
There has been a Lok Sabha TV interview, 1 on One with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, aired on Sunday 9 Dec 10 pm, repeated Monday 9 am.
The article below, which is not inaccurate, is from the *Asian Age*/*Deccan Herald* of 4 December.
There has been a Lok Sabha TV interview, 1 on One with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, aired on Sunday 9 Dec 10 pm, repeated Monday 9 am.
A Memorandum to the Government of India 1955 by Milton Friedman
(published by me for the first time some 34 years later on 21 May 1989 at UH-Manoa…that original document was in my professorial office at IIT, and is yet to be returned) …
[EDITORIAL NOTE from *Foundations of India's Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s* edited by Subroto Roy & WE James...: "This memorandum is dated November 5, 1955, and was written at the invitation of the Government of India, where the author was working for some months as a consultant to the Ministry of Finance. It has not been published before. The editors believe it remains relevant to Indian discussions today. The history of the advice given by other Western economists in the early years of the Indian Republic has been recently surveyed by George Rosen in Western Economists and Eastern Societies: Agents of Social Change in South Asia 1950-1970 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1985)."]
A 5% per annum rate of increase in real national income seems entirely feasible, on the basis both of the experience of other countries and of India’s own recent past. The great untapped resource of technical and scientific knowledge available to India for the taking is the economic equivalent of the untapped continent available to the United States 150 years ago. The basic question is one of method, of the social and economic arrangements that will best promote the conversion of these potentialities into realities while at the same time maintaining freedom and democracy and giving ever-widening opportunities to the mass of the Indian people. The belief that underlies these notes is that the basic requisites are a steady and moderately expansionary monetary framework, greatly widened opportunities for education and training, improved facilities for transportation and communication to promote the mobility not only of goods but even more important of people, and an environment that gives maximum scope to the initiative and energy of farmers, businessmen, and traders. The conquest of the technical frontier like the conquest of the geographical frontier requires a varied initiative by millions of individuals, flexibility of outlook and organization, and willingness to venture. The Government of India is doing much, and much that is highly effective, to bring these requisites into being. There is much more to do that at least in Indian conditions can be done only by the Government. But the Government also is following some policies and proposing others that are likely to hinder rather than promote economic development. The following comments, which are mainly restricted to such policies, deal with investment policy; policy toward the private sector; monetary policy; resources available to the public sector; and foreign exchange policy.
Over-Emphasis on the Capital-Output Ratio. There is a tendency not only in India but in most of the literature on economic development to regard the ratio of investment to national income as almost the only key to the rate of development, to take it for granted that there is a rigid and mechanical ratio between the amount of investment and additions to output. In the opinion of this writer, this seems a serious mistake. At the one extreme, output can increase even without investment; at the other, too high a ratio of investment may actually produce a lower rate of increase in income.
There are two reasons why the amount of investment and the increase in output can be, and empirically are, only loosely connected. First, the form and distribution of investment are at least as important as its sheer magnitude. Second, what is called capital investment is only part of the total expenditure on increasing the productivity of an economy. The first reason needs little additional comment. The second is perhaps less clear. In any economy, the major source of productive power is not machinery, equipment, buildings and other physical capital; it is the productive capacity of the human beings who compose the society. Yet what we call investment refers only to expenditures on physical capital; expenditures that improve the productive capacity of human beings are generally left entirely out of account. In the United States, for example, only about one fifth of the total income is return to physical capital, four fifth to human capital. By this writer’s estimate similarly, only about one fifth of the annual rate of growth in the United States can be attributed to the direct effects of investment in the usual sense; four fifth must be attributed to the growth in the productivity of human beings. Annual expenditures on improving the quality and quantity of human resources are at least as large as and perhaps much larger than investment as usually defined. Destroy the physical plant of the United States and leave the skills of the people and it would take but a few years to restore the initial position. Destroy the skills and leave the plant and the level of output would sink irretrievably. The cathedrals of medieval Europe, the pyramids of Egypt, the monuments of the Moghul empire in India are all testimony to the possibility of a high rate of investment in physical capital without a growth in the standard of living of the masses of the people. These considerations are especially important for India, precisely because its frontier is the frontier of technical knowledge and skill.
This is not to deny in any way the desirability of investment in physical capital. It is certainly highly important and is to some measure an indispensable concomitant of the development of human capital. But it is not the whole or even the most important part of the story. The danger is that concentration on it may lead to policies that increase physical investment at the expense of investment in human capital; and even within the area of physical investment, may lead to increases in the kind of physical investment that we can measure at the expense of kinds that we cannot measure. We must be aware lest we become the victims of our statistical creations.
Emphasis on Two Extremes Against the Middle. The form of investment is no less important than its kind. The chief problem in the Indian programme that impresses one here is the tendency to concentrate investment in heavy industry at the one extreme and handicrafts at the other, at the expense of small and moderate size industry. This policy threatens an inefficient use of capital at the one extreme by combining it with too little labour, and an inefficient use of labour at the other extreme by combining it with too little capital. The presumption for an economy like India’s is that the best use of capital is in general somewhere in between, that heavy industry can best develop and be built upon a widely diversified and much expanded light industry. We may hasten to add that this is only a general presumption which may well admit of special exceptions. Perhaps, for example, the steel industry is one exception in India.
Attempt to Do Too Much in the Public Sector. Indian thought may not have taken full account of the post-War experience of European countries in expanding the public sector. Country after country moved in this direction immediately after the War; to the best of the present writer’s knowledge, the results were in every case disappointing. This experience has produced a drastic change in the attitudes of the labour and left-wing parties toward nationalization and detailed state control over economic activity. The elements in the parties that have not changed their approach are now being dubbed “reactionary” by some of their fellows!
This point may be especially important for India. The areas for which only Government can take responsibility are here so large, so vital, and require such large investments that they alone would be a heavy burden on the limited administrative personnel of high calibre. It seems the better part of wisdom therefore to avoid any activities that can be left to others. The problem involves both the kind of activities taken into the public sector and the magnitude of investment. Some further comments are made on the latter below in discussing the resources available to the public sector.
Attempt to Control Private Investment in Too Rigid and Detailed a Fashion. (i) Cutting off particular investment projects may not make resources available for other uses but may simply eliminate savings that would otherwise have been available. Much saving is made to finance specific investment projects. If it cannot be used for that purpose, it may well be directed to consumption or to the accumulation of bullion or its equivalent. (ii) It is impossible to predict in advance the lines of investment that will turn out to be the most productive — as the failure of so many private enterprises amply demonstrates. There is therefore great need for a system that is flexible and can change easily. (iii) Detailed direction wastes scarce energies and ability of public servants in producing and enforcing regulations and of private individuals in trying to evade or avoid or change them. (iv) Given that the public sector gets the resources it demands, is not the market criterion appropriate for the allocation of the rest of investment? To frustrate it means to deny consumers freedom of choice and so to reduce the value to them of the goods produced. (v) Government does have a responsibility for seeing to it that the total of public and private investment is kept within the total resources of the community without inflation. But this can best be accomplished by monetary and fiscal policy, rather than by detailed regulation, leaving the allocation of investment among private industries to be accomplished by the interest rate. Insofar as this mechanism works imperfectly, measures to improve its operation seem preferable to supplanting it.
Policy Toward the Private Sector
Protection of Inefficient Methods of Production. In addition to the Government controls already considered which are designed to direct investment, there are others whose purpose is mainly protective: the excise tax on factory-made shoes and factory-made textiles; reservation of markets, and the like. In the opinion of this writer, such policies seem misdirected. India’s basic problem is the inefficient use of manpower; it is no solution to protect inefficiency, and the attempt to do so leads to a waste not only of human resources but also of physical capital. The extra money consumers have to pay for the products, let alone direct subsidies to producers, could be channelled at least in part into investment. And there may even be actual disinvestment — we were told that some shoe machinery was lying idle and depreciating because of the tax.
There is a tendency to underrate the importance of nominally low taxes in promoting inefficiency. For example, there is a 10% tax on factory-made shoes. But half to two-thirds of the cost of shoes is the raw material. The tax therefore amounts to 20% or 30% of the value added by the factory, and it will not pay to produce shoes unless factory production is at least this much more efficient than hand production. The justification for these devices is to increase employment. The objective is fundamental, and would be worth achieving even at some cost in total output, but it seems to the present writer dubious that these means accomplish their objective even in the very short run, and certain that they work against it in the moderate or long run. What they do is to increase the number of people employed inefficiently; but they also decrease the number of workers in factories producing the same product, and in other industries stimulated by the higher income of the factory workers; the decrease is likely to exceed the increase but because it is more diffuse and less obvious, it tends to be neglected.
Coddling of Private Industry in Certain Directions Combined with Severely Restrictive Controls in Others. Just as it is inappropriate to discriminate in favour of the cottage industries, so it is equally inappropriate to discriminate in favour of factory industry or large concerns. Granting them special favours — in the form of especially advantageous loans, guaranteed markets, refusal of licenses to competitors, enforcing or even permitting private price-fixing and market-sharing agreements — simply encourages inefficiency and wastes scarce resources. If private industry is granted special favours by the Government, it is certainly inevitable that its use of these favours will be controlled; but this does not offset the harm done by the favours; it merely introduces new sources of rigidity and inefficiency. Business ingenuity is devoted to carving out protected sectors instead of to opening up new markets and lowering costs. There is no justification for private industry unless it is competitive, unless the right to receive profits is accompanied by acceptance of the risk of loss. Private industry should be made to stand on its own feet without either favour or harassment.
Erratic Policy. A stable monetary climate is a basic prerequisite for healthy economic growth. Yet over the past five years, monetary policy has been highly erratic. It first permitted and facilitated substantial price rises, then reacted too far in the opposite direction. More recently, monetary policy has again reversed direction and again threatens to go too far, this time in an inflationary direction. This erratic policy is recorded directly in the behaviour of the stock of money and of wholesale and retail prices, and indirectly, in a less rapid rate of economic advance than would have been feasible.
The present writer believes that monetary policy in India would be more stable and consistent if the monetary authorities paid more attention to the size of the money stock and less to other indicators, and if they took as their proximate goal, a steady expansion in the money stock (allowing for seasonal influences) at a rate of something like 4 to 6 per cent per year. It may be noted that detailed examination of the record of American monetary authorities persuades one that this general proposition is equally true for the United States, with a desirable rate of expansion of the money stock of 4 per cent per year.
The importance of a stable monetary policy hardly can be overemphasized. There is probably no other single area in which mistakes can be more disastrous or appropriate policy more beneficial. The fact that it operates on a general level and makes its effects felt impersonally and indirectly is at one and the same time the reason for its crucial importance and for the widespread failure to recognize its importance.
Deficit Financing. Deficit financing is currently proceeding at the rate of something like Rs. 150 to 200 crores a year. Given the generally deflationary trend of the recent past, such a rate doubtless can be absorbed for a time without a serious price rise. It is exceedingly doubtful, however, that it can be for more than a year or so. According to some rough yet fairly detailed estimates made by this writer, something less than Rs. 500 crores is the maximum amount that can be absorbed over the next five years without a substantial rise in prices. By this estimate, continued deficit financing at a rate of Rs. 200 crores per year over that period would produce a price rise of at least 30 per cent, and perhaps much more.
Resources Available to the Public Sector
There seems to be a general agreement that planned expenditures in the public sector substantially exceed expected receipts, even after allowing for a shortfall of actual expenditures, for deficit financing to the extent of Rs. 1,000 to 1,200 crores, and for a substantial amount of foreign aid. If we are right about the safe amount of deficit financing, the actual gap is substantially larger than the amounts generally cited. This financial gap corresponds to a real resource gap. It can be filled without curtailing the Plan only by either getting additional resources from abroad; or making domestic resources more productive over and above the 5 per cent per year increase already allowed for in the estimates; or transferring resources from other uses. The transfer of resources can be brought about by additional taxation, forced savings, additional voluntary savings, or a reduction in private investment. Additional voluntary savings and a reduction in private investment can in turn be brought about to some extent by a monetary policy that allows interest rates to rise. Inflation is of course a possible danger, but it is not really a separate method of filling the gap; it is a form of taxation and, in the view of this writer, a particularly inefficient and inequitable form.
This only states the problem. We have not been able to study in detail either the tax structure of India or the financial structure for mobilizing and encouraging savings, so no independent judgment can be given on the possibility of filling the resource gap by the various means. Casual impression suggests that there is some possibility of increasing tax revenues without doing much harm, but that any substantial expansion in tax revenues or heavy reliance on any of the other methods except for foreign aid is currently subject to extremely serious limitations. If this is so, filling the gap by their use, if successful, might make public investment larger only at the expense of reducing the rate of growth of aggregate real income by killing incentives outside the public sector, eliminating potentially productive private investment, and producing either inflation or a deadening network of direct controls. This is a special case of the point made earlier about the loose connection between the rate of investment and the rate of growth of income. It may well be that under the circumstances, cutting the size of the program may be preferable to trying to fill the gap on the revenue side.
On the tax side, three comments may be made: (i) The small scope of direct income taxes seems an obvious defect in the tax structure. A more broadly based tax with lower exemptions and more effective administration might both raise considerable revenues and produce a more equitable distribution of the tax burden. (One recognizes that for a country like India there are special problems of administration and enforcement that this writer is incompetent to assess.) (ii) The use of excise taxes for the protection of one method of production or one product as opposed to another not only promotes inefficiency but is also wasteful of revenue. A 10 per cent tax on shoes would yield more revenue, do less harm to productive efficiency and cost the consumer little if any more than a 10 per cent tax on factory-made shoes. As a side observation, is it clear that if the extra proceeds were used to facilitate the retraining and placement of hand workers it would be of less value even from the point of view of the employment problem? (iii) A minor possible source of additional revenue that would have favourable effects on efficiency is the auctioning off of licenses to use foreign exchange suggested as a possibility below.
The Foreign Exchange Problem
The Foreign Exchange Gap. It is generally accepted that present programmes are likely to involve a substantial excess in the demand for foreign exchange over the available supply, even if allowance is made for foreign aid at roughly the present level. These estimates take for granted not only the investment program but also retention of the existing exchange rate and the existing structure of import and export controls. Even under these assumptions, the foreign exchange gap in part and perhaps in whole is a particular aspect of the total resource gap: any reduction in the total resource gap will automatically reduce the foreign exchange gap. Given the special foreign exchange resources that are likely to be available, we may guess that solution of the total resource gap would largely solve the foreign exchange gap as well.
Exchange Controls. The existing structure of exchange-controls and their associated system of import and export licenses and of discrimination between sources of purchases, seem to this writer a major obstacle to the growth and progress of the Indian economy. They involve waste and inefficiency in the use of foreign exchange. They introduce delay, uncertainty, and arbitrariness into domestic business activities. They impose on officials in charge of exchange control a task that is bound to be discharged most imperfectly, however able and devoted the officials may be. The criteria the officials use — and must use — tend to perpetuate the status-quo ante, and therefore constitute an obstacle to dynamic change and adaptation in an area that traditionally has been one of the most dynamic sectors in the economy and the source of much of the impetus to change. Exchange controls necessarily involve the indiscriminate distribution of implicit subsidies to those granted import licenses, and they lend themselves to abuse as a means of granting administrative protection from foreign competition to inefficient or monopolistic domestic producers.
The elimination of the exchange-controls and import and export restrictions is thus a most desirable objective of policy. It must be recognized, however, that it would probably increase the demand for foreign exchange, but the likelihood of an increase means that elimination of controls would have to be accompanied by the introduction of some other means of rationing exchange. It should be emphasized that this increase in the demand for foreign exchange is not a fresh problem that would be created by the elimination of exchange-controls. The problem is there now. That is why controls are deemed necessary. The question is whether there are not less harmful ways of solving it.
Alternatives to Exchange-Controls. One alternative, which retains central control over the amount of foreign exchange to be released, is to auction off whatever amount of foreign exchange it is decided to release, permitting the purchasers to use it for anything they wish and in any currency area they wish. This would be a far more efficient system of rationing and would hinder internal economic development far less than the present system and at the same time yield some revenue. We have not been able to construct even a rough estimate of the amount of revenue, but it is unlikely to be of major magnitude.
It would be preferable to avoid this auctioning system as well. While it eliminates any distortion in the pattern of imports, it does not produce the appropriate adjustment of exports to imports. Only two other basic alternative modes of adjustment to changes in the conditions of external trades are available: first, to inflate or deflate internally in response to a putative surplus or deficit in the balance of payments; second, to permit the exchange rate to fluctuate. At least in the present worldwide monetary conditions, the first is not desirable economically, since it puts internal conditions of trade at the mercy of changes in external conditions and these are about as likely to result from vagaries in the internal policies of other countries as from changes in the “real” conditions of trade. The preferable method is to let the exchange rate be determined in a free market — the method of a floating exchange rate that has been adopted by Canada with such conspicuous success.
It may be worth saying a few words about how a floating exchange rate eliminates any foreign exchange gap and means that there are not two problems, a total resource gap and a foreign exchange gap, but only one, a total resources gap. Suppose the total programme is in balance but, at the existing exchange rate, there is an excess of demand for foreign exchange over the supply. The result is to lower the rate. This makes India’s products more attractive to the outside world, foreign products more expensive to Indians. The result is to lead to an increase in exports, thus making more foreign exchange available, to shift the pattern of investment within India away from kinds with a large import component and toward kinds with a larger domestic resource component, away from production for the domestic market to production for the foreign market, and to shift consumption from foreign goods toward domestic goods. A putative foreign exchange surplus clearly has the opposite effects. In addition to these effects on trade, there are also, of course, effects on capital movements, which depend on whether the change in rate is regarded as temporary or permanent.
India’s membership in the Sterling Area raises obvious difficulties in the way of India’s acting alone, and may make it impossible for India to free her exchange rate except in concert with a similar move by Britain. However, if these difficulties could be surmounted, an independent movement by India might have very great advantages precisely because India is entering into a period of rapid economic change and is not a major financial centre. This writer believes there is more of an analogy between India’s and Canada’s positions than might at first appear. In a world of inconvertible currencies, a country that offers convertibility, albeit at a fluctuating fate, has a special attraction for investors and traders.
The problem of trade is frequently considered separately from that of the import of foreign capital. This is a mistake. Imports of goods may bring with them no capital directly but they bring businessmen and contact, and discovery of investment opportunities by people who are anxious to exploit them and who have contacts at home interested in such opportunities. Such continuous and intimate contact is likely to produce both a larger and, equally important, more productive flow of foreign investment than any number of missions coming out for brief periods with the objective of exploring investment opportunities.
Foreign Assistance. Any foreign assistance will of course help to fill both the total resources gap and the foreign exchange gap. Its direct impact, however, is much greater on the foreign exchange gap. In consequence, foreign assistance is especially likely to permit an elimination of import and export controls without threatening the existing exchange rate. But it would be a mistake to suppose that foreign assistance, however extensive, would permit elimination of controls, a fixed exchange rate, and an independent domestic monetary policy for any length of time. Even though the exchange rate is in some sense in long-run equilibrium, accidental fluctuations will from time to time produce large drains on reserves and if there is no mechanism for adjusting to them, these drains may well make the short-run position untenable.
If these comments have concentrated largely on the financial machinery of economic organization, it is not because that is the only or even the most important problem facing India but rather because, on the one hand, it is more within this writer’s special competence, and on the other, it seems to be the area in which current policy can be improved most. The present writer is convinced that the fundamental problem for India is the improvement of the physical and technical quality of her people, the awakening of a sense of hope, the weakening of rigid social and economic arrangements, the introduction of flexibility of institutions and mobility of people, the opening up of the social and economic ladder to people of all kinds and classes. And what gives an outsider like this writer a feeling of optimism and hope about the future of India, makes one feel that India is on the move and will continue to move, is that so much is being done and such a good beginning has been made on this fundamental problem of creating the human and social basis for a dynamic and progressive economy.”
From Facebook May 29 2011:
Subroto Roy hears Dr Manmohan Singh said yesterday (to journalists “on board Air India One” returning with him from Africa) “I think industrialisation is essential for the country to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty”. Nonsense Prime Minister! That is obsolescent or, at the very least, rather quaint Stalinist chatter. Try to provide public goods properly, which means getting the judiciary etc to work well. Try to get the public finances & public decision-making processes right, which means getting govt accounting & audit right and legislatures to work across the country. Try to drastically raise the productivity of public investments and expenditures. And try not to debauch India’s money any further than you have done. All that may make a good start. (And only when you have done all that do you really need to travel abroad again on “Air India One”; that thing the telephone really is a great invention…)
Subroto Roy is scolded by Ms Siddiqui: “Out of all the corrupt money grabbing racist ministers and governors and politicians you could find only Manmohan Singh to attack? Truly discerning arent you?”,
to which I have to say Hello Ms Siddiqi, Thank you for your comment. It is I am afraid ill-informed. There is nothing personal in my critical assessment of Dr Singh’s economics and politics. To the contrary, he has been in decades past a friend or at least a colleague of my father’s, and in the autumn of 1973 visited our then-home in Paris at the request of my father to advise me, then aged 18, before I embarked on my undergraduate studies at the London School of Economics. My assessments in recent years like “The Politics of Dr Singh” https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=177565501125“Assessing Manmohan”https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=177600651125, “The Dream Team: A Critique” https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=184178641125 “Mistaken Macroeconomics” https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=179676656125 etc need to be seen along with my “Assessing Vajpayee: Hindutva True and False”, “The Hypocrisy of the CPI-M”, “Against Quackery”, “Our Dismal Politics”, “Political Paralysis” etc.
Nothing personal is intended in any of these; the purpose at hand has been to contribute to a full and vigorous discussion of the public interest in India.
February 24 2011
Subroto Roy does not know if he just heard Manmohan Singh say “inflation will soon come down” — excuse me Dr Singh, but how was it you and all your acolytes uniformly said back in July 2010 that inflation would be down to 6% by Dec 2010? 6%?! 16% more likely! I said. Until he explains his previous error, we may suppose he will repeat it.
January 11 2011:
Subroto Roy can stop the Indian inflation and bring integrity to the currency over time, and Manmohan Singh and his advisers cannot (because they have the wrong economic models/theories/data etc and refuse to change), but then they would have to make me a Minister and I keep getting reminded of what Groucho Marx said about clubs that would have him.
Subroto Roy does not think Dr Manmohan Singh or his acolytes and advisers, or his Finance Minister and his acolytes and advisers, understand Indian inflation. If you do not understand something, you are not likely to change it.
March 6 2010:
Subroto Roy says the central difference between the Subroto Roy Model for India as described in 1990-1991 to Rajiv Gandhi in his last months, and the Manmohan Singh Model for India that has developed since Rajiv’s assassination, is that by my model, India’s money and public finances would have acquired integrity enough for the Indian Rupee to have become a hard currency of the world economy by now, allowing all one billion Indians access to foreign exchange and precious metals freely, whereas by the model of Dr Singh and his countless supporters, India’s money and public finance remain subject to government misuse and abuse, and access to foreign exchange remains available principally to politicians, bureaucrats, big business and its influential lobbyists, the military, as well as perhaps ten or twenty million nomenclatura in the metropolitan cities.
April 8 2010:
Subroto Roy notes a different way of stating his cardinal difference with the economics of Dr Manmohan Singh’s Govt: in their economics, foreign exchange is “made available” by the GoI for “business and personal uses”. That is different from my economics of aiming for all one billion Indians to have a money that has some integrity, i.e., a rupee that becomes a hard currency of the world economy. (Ditto incidentally with the PRC.)
Subroto Roy reads in *Newsweek* today (Aug 19) Manmohan Singh “engineered the transition from stagnant socialism to a spectacular takeoff”. This contradicts my experience with Rajiv Gandhi at 10 Janpath in 1990-91. Dr Singh had not returned to India from his years with Julius Nyerere in his final assignment before retiring from the bureaucracy when Rajiv and I first met on 18 September 1990.
“After (Rajiv Gandhi’s) assassination, the comprador business press credited Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh with having originated the 1991 economic reform. In May 2002, however, the Congress Party itself passed a resolution proposed by Digvijay Singh explicitly stating Rajiv and not either of them was to be so credited… There is no evidence Dr Singh or his acolytes were committed to any economic liberalism prior to 1991 and scant evidence they have originated liberal economic ideas for India afterwards. Precisely because they represented the decrepit old intellectual order of statist ”Ma-Bap Sarkari” policy-making, they were not asked in the mid-1980s to be part of a “perestroika-for-India” project done at a foreign university ~ the results of which were received…by Rajiv Gandhi in hand at 10 Janpath on 18 September 1990 and specifically sparked the change in the direction of his economic thinking…”
Subroto Roy notes that current Indian public policy discussion has thus far failed to realise that the rise in money prices of real goods and services is the same as the fall in the real value of money.
Subroto Roy is interested to hear Mr Jaitley say in Parliament today the credibility of Government economists is at stake. Of course it is. There has been far too much greed and mendacity all around, besides sheer ignorance. (When I taught for a year or so at the Delhi School of Economics as a 22 year old Visiting Assistant Professor in 1977-78, I was told Mr Jaitley was in the law school and a student leader of note. I though was more interested in teaching the usefulness of Roy Radner’s “information structures” in a course on “advanced economic theory”.)
July 31 2010
Subroto Roy reads in today’s pink business newspaper the GoI’s debt level at Rs 38 trillion & three large states (WB, MH, UP) is at Rs 6 trillion, add another 18 for all other large states together, another 5 for all small states & 3 for errors and omissions, making my One Minute Estimate of India’s Public Debt Stock Rs 70 trillion (70 lakh crores). Interest payments at, say, 9%, keep the banking system afloat, extracting oxygen from the public finances like a cyanide capsule.
July 28 2010
Subroto Roy observes Parliament to be discussing Indian inflation but expects a solution will not be found until the problem has been comprehended.
July 27 2010:
July 25 2010:
Subroto Roy has no idea why Dr Manmohan Singh has himself (along with all his acolytes and flatterers in the Government and media and big business), gone about predicting Indian inflation will fall to 6% by December. 16% may be a more likely figure given a public debt at Rs 40 trillion perhaps plus money supply growth above 20%! (Of course, the higher the figure the Government admits, the more it has to pay in dearness allowance to those poor unionized unfortunates known as Government employees, so perhaps the official misunderestimation (sic) of Indian inflation is a strategy of public finance!)
July 12 2010:
Subroto Roy is amused to read Dr Manmohan Singh’s Chief Acolyte say in today’s pink business newspaper how important accounting is in project-appraisal — does the sinner repent after almost single-handedly helping to ruin project-appraisal & government accounting & macroeconomic planning over decades? I rather doubt it. For myself, I am amused to see chastity now being suddenly preached from within you-know-where.
July 4 2010:
Subroto Roy does not think the Rs 90 billion (mostly in foreign exchange) spent by the Manmohan Singh Government on New Delhi’s “Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3″ is conducive to the welfare of the common man (“aam admi”) who travels, if at all, mostly within India and by rail.
Subroto Roy hears Dr Manmohan Singh say yesterday “Global economic recession did not have much impact on us as it had on other countries”. Of course it didn’t. I had said India was hardly affected but for a collapse of exports & some fall in foreign investment. Why did he & his acolytes then waste vast public resources claiming they were rescuing India using a purported Keynesian fiscal “stimulus” (aka corporate/lobbyist pork)?
May 26 2010:
Subroto Roy would like to know how & when Dr Manmohan Singh will assess he has finished the task/assignment he thinks has been assigned to him & finally retire from his post-retirement career: when his Chief Acolyte declares on TV that 10% real GDP growth has been reached? (Excuse me, but is that per capita? And about those inequalities….?)
Apropos your reported predictions, I have had to say at Facebook:
Subroto Roy is appalled the GoI’s Chief Economic Adviser has declared (as the PM and the PM’s Chief Acolyte had declared in earlier months) that prices are trending downwards stochastically but amused that at least a stochastic (“fluctuating”) trend got mentioned.
Governor Subbarao has been set a small challenge the other day to release asap for public scrutiny the comprehensive macroeconomic model he says he believes the RBI has — which may be hard if no such model may exist at the RBI. Nor does your Ministry or anyone else in New Delhi have such a model. So what is the Government’s precise scientific basis for predicting a slowing of inflation? Nothing at all?
The Government needs to begin to try to understand that inflation does not slow down in circumstances where real public debt per capita and money supply have been growing exponentially for decades — to the contrary, inflation tends to rise to dangerous heights! Debauching of fiat money would hardly have been allowed if the rupee was a hard currency because we would have seen an honest exchange-rate crashing through the floor with this kind of inflationary finance the Government has given us over the decades. There is, sad to say, zero chance of the rupee becoming a hard currency that all one billion Indians may feel confident about so long as such inflationary finance continues unabated.
Subroto Roy says to Kaushik: Dear Kaushik, Buffer-stock interventions are *microeconomic* in nature, and won’t do to control the *macroeconomic* phenomenon that is inflation. Get government accounting straight (and clean), try to raise government productivity *drastically* and try to *understand* the fiscal situation and *hence* the monetary situation. Feel free to email or phone. Cordially, Suby
Dr Kaushik Basu, Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance
Long time no see. Happy Holi 2010.
But I am unable to see what you could mean by it because your chapter seems devoid of any reference or allusion to the vast discussion over decades of the subject known as the “microeconomic foundations of macroeconomics”. Namely, the attempt to integrate the theory of value (microeconomics) with the theory of money (macroeconomics); or alternatively, the attempt to comprehend aggregate variables like Consumption, Savings, Investment, the Demand for & Supply of Money etc in conceptual terms rooted in theories of constrained optimization by masses of individual people.
It is not an easy task. Keynes made no explicit attempt at it (recall Joan Robinson’s famous quip) and probably did not have time or patience to try. Hicks and Patinkin failed, though after valiant efforts. The modern period on this work began with Clower and Leijonhufvud, followed by the French (like Grandmont), and especially Frank Hahn. Hahn’s 1976 IMSSS paper “Keynesian Economics and General Equilibrium Theory” is the survey to read, viz., Equilibrium and Macroeconomics and Money, Stability and Growth as well as of course Arrow & Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis. You may agree that the general theory of value culminated in an important sense in the Arrow-Debreu model of the 1950s – yet that is something in which no money, and hence no macroeconomics, needs to or can really appear. The hard part is to develop macroeconomic models for policy-discussion which allow for money and public finance while still making some pretence of being rooted in a theory of constrained optimization by individuals, i.e., in microeconomic behaviour. (E Roy Weintraub wrote a textbook with “Microfoundations” in its title.)
In the Indian case, I tried to do a little in my Cambridge PhD thesis thirty years ago: “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 was very kind to say he thought my “critique of Development Economics was powerful not only on methodological but also on economic theory grounds”. Some of the results appeared in my December 1982 talk to the AEA’s NYC meetings “Economic Theory & Development Economics” (World Development 1983), and in my 1984 monograph with London’s IEA. Dr Manmohan Singh received a copy of the latter work in 1986, as well as, in 1993, a published copy of a work presented to Rajiv Gandhi in 1990, Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s.
I am glad to see from your Chapter 2 that the GoI now seems to agree with what I had said in 1984 of the need for systems that “locally include direct subsidies to those (whether in rural or urban areas) who are unable to provide any income for themselves…” Your material on the “enabling State” would also find much support in what I said there about the functions of civil government and the need for better, not necessarily more, government. On the other hand, your reliance on the very expensive (Rs.19 billion this year!) Nandan Nilekani Numbering idea is odd as there seem to me to be insurmountable “incentive-compatibility” problems with that project no matter how much gets spent on it.
Returning to possible “microfoundations of macroeconomics” relevant to the Indian case, you may find of interest
These together outline an idea that the link between macroeconomic policy in India and individual microeconomic budgets of our one billion citizens arises via the “Government Budget Constraint”. More specifically, the continual deficit-finance indulged in by the GoI for decades has been paid for by invisible taxation of nominal assets, causing the general money-price of real goods and services to rise. I.e., the GoI’s wild deficit spending over the decades has been paid for by debauching money through inflation.
(The unrecorded untaxed “black economy” needs a separate chapter altogether, and it seems to me possible it provides enough real income and transactions to be absorbing some of the wilder money supply growth into its hoards.)
India cannot be a major economy of the world until and unless the Rupee some day becomes a hard currency — for the first time in many decades, indeed perhaps for the first time since the start of fiat money. It is going to take much more than the GoI inventing a trading symbol for the Rupee! The appalling state of our government accounting, public finance and monetary policy, caused by the GoI over decades, disallows this from happening any time soon as domestic bank assets (mostly GoI debt, and mostly held by government banks) would inevitably be re-evaluated at world prices foreshadowing a monetary crisis. Perhaps you will help slow the rot — I trust you will not add to it.
Postscript March 1 2010: I recalled it as Joan Robinson’s quip, had forgotten it was in fact her quoting Gerald Shove’s quip: “Keynes was not interested in the theory of relative prices. Gerald Shove used to say that Maynard had never spent the twenty minutes necessary to understand the theory of value.” (1963)
From Facebook today
Independent India’s Finance Ministers have never in 62 years referred to economic theory or the history of economic thought until Mr Mukherjee delivered the 4th Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture in Colombo yesterday, making the following academic claim:
“As students of economics would understand, economic theory is an evolutionary process and undergoes change with every major crisis. The classical theory gave way to Keynesian economics after the Great Depression of 1930s. Thereafter, there were post-Keynesian and monetarist approaches to economic problems during 1960s to 90s. The present crisis, which has also been called Great Recession, would be another watershed in the evolution of economics and is expected to bring about radical retooling of the theory. The crisis has, in the first place, conclusively established that the pursuit of individual goals do not necessarily lead to public good. Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ cannot guarantee allocation of resources efficiently.”
I might rather count this as intellectual progress to the extent that it at least allows the Government of India’s economists the possibility of moving away from politically-induced dissimulation and instead begin to connect with where I was 25 years ago in my May 1984 monograph published by London’s Institute of Economic Affairs (leave aside my 1976-82 doctoral thesis under Professor Frank Hahn at Cambridge “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”). As for the Finance Minister saying “The Indian economy has shown remarkable resilience to the crisis because the financial system had no exposure to the toxic assets”, I am afraid he has left unsaid that this is because (a) the rupee is not a hard currency; and (b) India’s banks hold plenty of domestic assets that are “toxic”.
The Indian Revolution
Prefatory Note Dec 2008: This outlines what might have happened if (a) Rajiv Gandhi had not been assassinated; (b) I had known at age 36 all that I now know at age 53. Both are counterfactuals and hence this is a work of fiction. It was written long before the Mumbai massacres; the text has been left unchanged.
“India’s revolution, when it came, was indeed bloodless and non-violent but it was firm and clear-headed and inevitably upset a lot of hitherto powerful people.
The first thing the Revolutionary Government declared when it took over in Delhi was that the rupee would become a genuine hard currency of the world economy within 18 months. This did not seem a very revolutionary thing to say and the people at first did not understand what was meant. The Revolutionaries explained: “Paper money and the banks have been abused by all previous regimes ruling in Delhi since 1947 who learnt their tricks from British war-time techniques. We will give you for the first time in free India a rupee as good as gold, an Indian currency as respectable as any other in the world, dollar, pound, yen, whatever. What you earn with your hard work and resources will be measured by a sound standard of value, not continuously devalued in secret by government misuse”.
The people were intrigued but not enlightened much. Nor did they grasp things to come when the Revolutionary Government abolished the old Planning Commission, sending its former head as envoy to New Zealand (with a long reading-list); attached the Planning Commission as a new R&D wing to the Finance Ministry; detached the RBI from the Finance Ministry; instructed the RBI Governor to bring proper work-culture and discipline to his 75,000 staff and instructed the Monetary Policy Deputy Governor to prepare plans for becoming a constitutionally independent authority, besides a possible monetary decentralization towards the States. India’s people did not understand all this, but there began to be a sense that something was up in Lutyens’ Delhi faraway.
The Revolutionary Government started to seem a little revolutionary when it called in police-chiefs of all States — the PM himself then signed an order routed via the Home Ministry that they were to state in writing, within a fortnight, how they intended to improve discipline and work-culture in the forces they commanded. Each was also asked to name three reliable deputies, and left in no doubt what that meant. State Chief Ministers murmured objections but rumours swirled about more to come and they shut up quickly. The Revolutionary Government sent a terse note to all CMs asking their assistance in implementation of this and any further orders. It also set up a “Prison Reform and Reconstruction Panel” with instructions to (a) survey all prisons in the country with a view to immediately reduce injustices within the prison-system; (b) enlarge capacity in the event fresh enforcement of the Rule of Law came to demand this.
The Revolutionary Government then asked all senior members of the judiciary to a meeting in Trivandrum. There they declared the judiciary must remain impartial and objective, not show favoritism even to members of the Revolutionary Party itself who might be in court before them for whatever reason. The judges were assured of carte blanche by way of resources to improve quality of all public services under them; at the same time, a new “Internal Affairs Department” was formed that would assure the public that the Bench and the Bar never forgot their noble calling. When a former judge and a former senior counsel came to be placed in two cells of the new prison-system, the public finally felt something serious was afoot. Late night comics on TV led the public’s mirth — “Thieves have authority when judges steal themselves”, waxed one eloquently.
The Revolutionary Government’s next step reached into all nooks and crannies of the country. A large room in the new Finance Ministry was assigned to each State – a few days later, the Revolutionary Government announced it had taken over control under the Constitution’s financial emergency provision of all State budgets for a period of six months at the outset.
Now there was an irrepressible outcry from State Chief Ministers, loud enough for the Revolutionary Government to ask them to a national meeting, this time in Agartala. When the Delhi CM sweetly complained she did not know how to get there, she got back two words “Get there”; and she did.
There the PM told the CMs they would get their budgets back some day but only after the Revolutionary Government had overseen their cleaning and restoration to financial health from their current rotten state. “But Prime Minister, the States have had no physical assets”, one bright young CM found courage to blurt out.
“That is the first good question I have heard since our Revolution began,” answered the PM. “We are going to give you the Railways to start with – Indian Railways will keep control of a few national trains and tracks but will be instructed to devolve control and ownership of all other assets to you, the States. See that you use your new assets properly”. There was a collective whoop of excitement. “During the time your budgets remain with us, get your police, transport, education and hospital systems to work for the benefit of common people, confer with your oppositions about how you can get your legislatures to work at all. Keep in mind we are committed to making the rupee a hard currency of the world and we will not stand for any waste, fraud or abuse of public moneys. We really don’t want to be tested on what we mean by that. We are doing the same with the Union Government and the whole public sector”. The Chief Ministers went home nervous and excited.
Finally, the Revolutionary Government turned to Lutyens’ Delhi itself. Foreign ambassadors were called in one by one and politely informed a scale-back had been ordered in Indian diplomatic missions in their countries, and hence by due protocol, a scale-back in their New Delhi embassies was called for. “We are pulling our staff, incidentally, from almost all international and UN agencies too because we need such high-quality administrators more at home than abroad”, the Revolutionary Foreign Minister told the startled ambassadors.
Palpable tension rose in the national capital when the Revolutionary Government announced that Members of Parliament would receive public housing of high quality but only in their home constituencies! The MPs would have to vacate their Delhi bungalows and apartments! “But we are Delhi! We must have facilities in Delhi!”, MPs cried. “Yes, rooms in nationalized hotels suffice for your legislative needs; kindly vacate the bungalows as required; we will be building national memorials, libraries and museums there”, replied the radicals in power. Tension in the capital did not subside for weeks because the old political parties all had thrived on Delhi’s social circuit, whose epicenter swirled around a handful of such bungalows. Now those old power-equations were all lost. A few MPs decided to boycott Delhi and only work in their constituencies.
When the Pakistan envoy was called with a letter for her PM, outlining a process of détente on the USSR-USA pattern of mutual verification of demilitarization, both bloated militaries were upset to see their jobs and perks being cut but steps had been taken to ensure there was never any serious danger of a coup. The Indian Revolution was in full swing and continued for a few years until coherence and integrity had been forced upon the public finances and currency of a thousand million people….”
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.
First published in slightly abbreviated form as “A scam in the making” in The Sunday Statesman April 1 2007, Front page comment
A gigantic financial scheme is in the making. Will it come to be seen in future years as having been in fact a scam – indeed India’s scam of the 21st Century for which India’s unknowing masses will be made to pay for many generations? The scheme is mind-boggling in size as well as its sheer audacity. Bofors, Quattrochi etc amount to peanuts in comparison.
No less a personage than the Finance Minister of India, P Chidambaram, has openly praised the potential of this financial scheme. And he has done so in no less an open and transparent place than his latest Budget Speech to Parliament last February.
It is a scheme openly advocated and currently being developed by our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s closest acolytes, Planning Commission head Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia and HDFC head Mr Deepak Parekh, in collaboration with Reserve Bank Governor Dr YV Reddy and the Finance Ministry’s top bureaucrats. The PM himself has come close to endorsing it explicitly. And this PM is not an elected member of the Lok Sabha but holds office and acts as the executive agent of the UPA Chairperson and Lok Sabha Member from Rae Bareilly, Sonia Gandhi.
I hasten to add nobody in the BJP has objected to this financial scheme — in fact had the BJP been in power today instead of Congress, they would have been likely even more agreeable to the scheme given their close proximity to business lobbies and organized capital. As for the Communists, none of their JNU economics professors is technically competent enough to comprehend or recognize what is going on.
The scheme involves private companies “borrowing” India’s foreign exchange reserves from the Reserve Bank of India, allegedly for purpose of “infrastructure” creation — in collaboration with the American bank Citigroup, the American financial business, Blackstone Group, and possibly the American giant, GE Capital too. Mr Chidambaram took the unprecedented step of naming Mr Deepak Parekh as well as Citigroup and Blackstone in the text of his Budget Speech.
To begin to comprehend the nature of this scheme, we need to recall an earlier case.
Foreign exchange reserves of countries typically include foreign currency holdings as well as gold stocks. One of the biggest Wall Street scams of the 1980s-1990s involved private companies borrowing not countries’ foreign currency reserves but their gold reserves.
In that scam, it was not the Reserve Bank of India that was cheated but the Central Banks of Poland, Malaysia, Portugal and Yugoslavia. The New York financial company involved was a subsidiary of the Drexel Burnham Lambert Group. The Drexel parent went bankrupt on February 13 1990 and its subsidiary followed on May 9 1990.
A report on June 4 1990 by Leah J. Nathans (now Leah Nathans Spiro) in New York’s highly respected Business Week magazine said: “Central banks, those pillars of monetary virtue, lost $219 million ($21.9 crore) to an obscure commodities subsidiary called Drexel Burnham Lambert Trading Corporation”. The sum was small by American standards but it was “a big, big number” for the countries involved at the time.
What had these national central banks done? They had been lured into becoming greedy. They had been sitting on stocks of gold as part of their national reserves which they felt “just collect dust”. So they yielded to the temptation offered by the Drexel subsidiary of leasing the gold to private parties.
In Ms. Nathans’ words, “By leasing gold, a central bank earns a modest interest rate, ranging from less than 0.5% to 2.5%. Typically, the central bank consigns the gold to a dealer – say, for 90 days. The dealer can then lend the gold to a customer, at a higher interest rate. It may be a speculator, who hopes to repay the borrowed gold when the price falls, or a gold mine that wants to repay the broker with gold produced later.”
But the Drexel parent and subsidiary went bankrupt through bad financial decisions. Drexel’s Michael Milken went to jail. The Central Banks of Poland, Malaysia, Portugal and Yugoslavia were left empty-handed – and had to sue as creditors in New York’s courts trying desperately to get back the gold they had been lured into parting with. It would be unwise to take bets on how much of their gold they ever got back.
All the present PM’s men — Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia, Parekh, Reddy et al in collaboration with one or two American financial companies – now have a scheme that will use not the RBI’s gold but its foreign currency reserves.
Mr Ahluwalia and Mr Parekh have made the outlandish claim that “India needs US$320 billion” (US 32,000 crore) by way of “investment for physical infrastructure” during the so-called “Eleventh Five-Year Plan”. (How many so-called “Five Year Plans” is India going to have incidentally? We had our “First Plan” when Manmohan Singh was a student at Punjab University. Stalin, who invented the “Five Year Plan”, died during that time, and even his old USSR has ceased to exist, let alone its “Five Year Plans”.)
That vast amount of “investment for physical infrastructure” is what Mr Ahluwalia says he knows India needs for his purported “9% growth rate” to be achieved. Where are the macroeconomic models and time-series data sets from him or his friends to back such assertions? There are none. None of the PM’s men, no one in the Finance Ministry or RBI or Planning Commission, nor any of their JNU economics professor friends or anyone else in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata etc have any such models or data with which to back such assertions. Nor do the World Bank etc. It is all sheer humbug – all a lie. It is part of the mendacity and self-delusion that our capital city has been floating upon.
In any event, the RBI reportedly has “opposed the idea of deploying forex reserves for infrastructure development on the grounds that it will create monetary expansion”. But Mr Chidambaram’s Finance Ministry owns the RBI, and the Ministry has said “the RBI’s concerns had been taken care of, as the investments would be deployed only through a structured mechanism”. (Business Standard 23 March 2007, p. 3)
What is a “structured mechanism”? Mr Chidambaram, mentioning Citigroup and Blackstone Group specifically, said in his Budget Speech that Mr Deepak Parekh has “suggested the establishment of two wholly-owned overseas subsidiaries of India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd with the following objectives: (i) to borrow funds from the RBI and lend to Indian companies implementing infrastructure projects in India, or to co-finance their External Commercial Borrowings for such projects, solely for capital expenditure outside India; and (ii) to borrow funds from the RBI, invest such funds in highly rated collateral securities, and provide ‘credit wrap’ insurance to infrastructure projects in India for raising resources in international markets. The loans by RBI to these two subsidiary companies will be guaranteed by the Government of India and the RBI will be assured of a return higher than the average rate of return on its incremental investment.”
You do not understand? Well, no one is supposed to. The most exquisite thievery occurs after all not in darkness but in broad daylight with everyone watching but no one able to see or comprehend anything. So let us return to elementary first principles.
What are foreign exchange reserves and why do countries hold them? It is quite simply answered. Consider the USA and Canada, each with its own dollar. Canadians want to purchase American goods and services, give gifts and make loans to American residents, and make investments in the USA. Americans want to do the same in Canada. Each has to use the domestic money of the other when it does so. If an American wishes to lend money to a Canadian or to purchase something from him, he receives Canadian dollar notes from the Canadian Government to make his Canadian transactions, handing over his American dollar notes instead. The American dollar notes he hands over become part of Canada’s foreign exchange reserves, held by its Central Bank. Roughly speaking, a country’s foreign exchange reserves are the residual foreign currency assets its central bank holds after all these transactions are carried out on both sides of the border.
In the US-Canada case, neither Government prevents its citizens from exchanging domestic money for foreign money. In India, our rupee has been inconvertible since about 1940. The average Indian cannot freely exchange his/her rupee-denominated assets for foreign exchange denominated ones even if he/she wished to. There has been some import-liberalisation in recent years but only someone with the political access of Mr Tata or Mr Birla can purchase foreign assets and foreign companies using their Indian money – because the rupee is inconvertible, any bad financial decisions they make in using their foreign assets will be implicitly paid for by the Indian public.
Now a country’s central bank, such as our Reserve Bank, is the custodian of its foreign exchange reserves. India’s reserves are supposed to have reached $195.96 Billion ($19,596 Crore) as of March 16 2007. Keep in mind we do not know why they have risen: they can rise merely because foreigners (including NRIs) have lent us more of their money, not because foreigners have bought more of our goods and services. In fact Business Standard yesterday 31 March 2007 said on its front page “external commercial borrowing” was “a major source of accretion” of India’s reserves.
Also keep in mind that the Reserve Bank has the duty to manage these foreign-denominated assets against which it has already issued Indian rupees. It might receive a small conservative income from the cash-management aspect of this but it may not risk them or place them in any jeopardy!
Yet the whole idea behind the Chidambaram-Ahluwalia-Parekh-Reddy scheme under discussion by the Sonia-Manmohan Government is that the RBI will “lend” some of the billions of Americans dollars in its custody to overseas subsidiaries of Indian companies – say, for example, to the Tatas who have now bought foreign “capital assets” of some US$ 12 Billion ($1200 Crore) from Corus without having anything near that kind of foreign income.
Such favoured Indian companies might then use these “borrowed” funds as collateral for other borrowings. In exchange, they will go about undertaking purported “infrastructure” projects in India. So much for the “structured mechanisms” being touted by Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia, Parekh et al.
Before India’s public understands it, the schemers will shout (as they have done with the SEZ Act) that Parliament has passed it. The BJP will applaud with envy. The Communists might uncomprehendingly complain a little, and then be bought off with a sop or two that they do understand, like a little pro-China rhetoric or being let off lightly on Nandigram.
Now international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of International Settlements officially exist to advise central banks to stay along the straight and narrow and to avoid all such mischief. Here is what the IMF explicitly warned about such schemes in its Guidelines for Foreign Exchange Reserve Management dated September 20 2001:
“Liquidity risk. The pledging of reserves as collateral with foreign financial institutions as support for loans to either domestic entities, or foreign subsidiaries of the reserve management entity, has rendered reserves illiquid until the loans have been repaid. Liquidity risks have also arisen from the direct lending of reserves to such institutions when shocks to the domestic economy led to the borrowers’ inability to repay their liabilities, and impairment of the liquidity of the reserve assets.
Credit risk. Losses have arisen from the investment of reserves in high-yielding assets that were made without due regard to the credit risk associated with the issuer of the asset. Lending of reserves to domestic banks, and overseas subsidiaries of reserve management entities, has also exposed reserve management entities to credit risk.”
Dostoevsky believed man could have evil intent. Socrates was more generous and said man does not do wrong knowingly. It is not impossible our Indian schemers have innocent intent and do not even realize how close they are to becoming scamsters, or are already in the grip of scamsters. But at least we are now forewarned: India faces a clear risk of being swindled of its foreign exchange reserves. Prevention is better than cure.
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.
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.
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.
Waffle but No Models of Monetary Policy:
The RBI and Financial Repression (A Stock Market on Steroids)
First published in The Statesman, Perspective Page, October 27 2005, http://www.thestatesman.net
If the average Indian citizen feels flummoxed at hearing all the fancy words from official spokesmen and the talking heads on TV and the expensive pink business newspapers — words like “credit offtake”, “liquidity”, “reverse repo rate” “medium term”, “inflation mandate” etc — there is help at hand. It is as likely as not that the purveyors are as flummoxed themselves even while they bandy these terms about in what has been passing for monetary policy in India in recent years. No one has any reliable economic models backed by time-series data to support all the waffle.
Here is an example.
The Government (and specifically the department of the Finance Ministry known as the RBI) will have us believe that the decline in the value of money that has been occurring in India has been at less than 5% per annum. According to official figures, the average Indian’s purchase of consumable goods and services (food, housing, clothing, transport etc) has been costing more every year by merely 5% at the very most. “What you can buy for Rs. 1000 in one year, you have to pay just Rs 1050 to buy the next year” is what the Government will have us believe. But is anyone’s personal experience of the diminishing value of the domestic currency in India consonant with what official spokesmen say inflation happens to be?
You may well reply that you cannot quite recall what Rs. 1000 bought for you last year. Precisely so. Nor really can anyone else — and that mutual collective loss of memory on the part of the public is something that India’s Government (like many other governments across time and space) has been literally banking on!
Consider a few very simple calculations. Suppose a citizen earns an annual income of Rs. 100,000, and an honest Government told him/her to pay total taxes (from both income and expenditure) of 10%. Clearly Rs. 90,000 would be left for the citizen to spend on his/her various choices of consumption or saving afterwards. If the citizen could assume the value of money was constant (inflation was 0%) then this Rs. 90,000 in one year would buy the same amount of goods and services the next year. But instead we may be living in a political system where the Government officially taxes very lightly, and then dishonestly taxes very heavily by reducing the value of money invisibly, i.e. by inflation. The Government may make the official tax-rate 8% and the actual inflation-rate 15%. The citizen who has Rs. 100,000 will then pay Rs. 8,000 in nominal taxes, but the Rs. 92,000 that is nominally left over for his own consumption and savings, will be made to decline by a further 15% every year.
I.e., a further value of Rs.13,800 (15% of Rs. 92,000) would effectively disappear as an invisible tax from the household budget due to the decline in the value of money, without the household being any wiser. In real terms, the household would have only Rs. 78,200 left.
Where would that extra value disappear to? Clearly, the beneficiary of this invisible extraction of real resources from household budgets would be the only entity that is able to compel the decline in the value of money, namely, the Government, which holds monopoly power to print the pieces of paper (at zero cost) that we call “money” and which we are forced by circumstances to use to expedite our real transactions of goods and services. Roughly speaking, that is how the Government’s own budget deficit gets financed in India.
I.e., the Government of India has its own (massive) expenditures — not merely on things like roads and bridges and military tanks and submarines, but also on ministers and bureaucrats’ wages etc., besides enormous interest payments on past debts incurred by the Government. If the expenditures exceed the visible revenues raised from taxation, as they have done by perhaps 40-50% or more every year for several decades, then the difference gets bridged by printing more paper money over which the Government has had a monopoly.
In India, a total of perhaps 18 million people work in all branches of government and a total of perhaps 12 million people work in the entire organised private sector. That makes 30 million people — with 4 dependants each, that accounts for perhaps 150 million people in the country. That leaves another 850 million people in our population of 1,000 million. Everyone, whether in the 150 million or the 850 million, rich and named or poor and anonymous, has had to use for his/her real transactions of goods and services the paper that the Government produces as money. By causing a decline in the value of this paper every year by x%, everyone who holds this paper, as well as assets denominated in this paper, suffers an invisible taxation of x% without quite realising it. The real revenue the Government of India extracts in this way is what has allowed it to balance its own books.
Furthermore, in the Indian case, what is said to be the inflation-rate and the actual inflation-rate experienced by ordinary people, may well be two different things. The wage-bill of those 18 million people employed by government agencies are linked directly to what official spokesmen say the inflation-rate is, so if the actual rate being experienced was higher and was announced as such, so would have to be that wage-bill and public expenditure! Official spokesmen may tell us the decline in the value of money has been merely 5% or less a year, so what cost Rs. 1000 last year costs Rs. 1050 this year, but as a matter of plain fact, the average citizen’s experience (and memory) may well tell him/her something different – e.g. that what cost Rs. 1000 last year, is in fact costing Rs. 1100 or Rs 1150 or Rs 1200 this year.
So much for the value of money. Now turn to interest-rates.
Here too, the average citizen need not be a rocket-scientist to know that relative to the Western countries, India is labour abundant and is capital scarce. Roughly speaking, that means we have relatively more people and fewer high-rise concrete buildings than the West does. Where then would you expect wages (the price of labour) to be higher, in the West or in India? Clearly in the place where labour is more scarce, namely, the West. And where would you expect interest-rates (the price of capital) to be higher? Clearly, where capital is relatively more scarce, namely India. Such was clearly the case between 1864 and 1926 (Fig. 1). Calcutta bank interest-rates were uniformly higher by about 2-3% than London bank interest-rates (in an era of zero inflation). But something wholly different occurred in the pseudo-socialist India after Independence. E.g., for the years 1975-1992 official Indian interest-rates (adjusted for inflation) were uniformly lower than those in world capital markets represented by the USA (Fig. 2). That remains true today. Not only have the higher wages of the West been attractive to Indians, so seems to be the higher real rates of return on capital! Hence everyone who could fled India – exporting their adult children and their savings abroad , leaving future generations of the anonymous masses with larger public debts to pay the bills in due course. There has been a flight of skilled labour and as well as capital flight from India — are foreigners going to come when they can see the Indian “elite” has fled? Official real interest-rates in India today may well be negative if inflation is properly measured, which would explain the Bombay stock-market boom the same way an athlete can perform better when on steroids.
Of course in the unorganised capital markets, actual real rates of return have always been higher in India than in the West and remain so. Just ask anyone in the unorganised capital markets how much he has to pay to rent machinery on a daily basis e.g. in the building or construction trade in an Indian city or small town or village. He will quote you rates of 2% or 5% or 10% — per day. Hence there is a massive distortion between what is happening in the unorganised capital markets all over the country and the official money markets the RBI believes itself to be presiding over in Bombay. Until the RBI starts to tell us frankly about this phenomenon, which is known to economists as “financial repression” and which has been caused by runaway Government spending programmes in India for decades, the average citizen may discount all the talk about a few basis points changing here and there on this or that nominal rate, in our pale imitation of what we think the US Fed or the European or British central banks do as policy. The truth is the RBI has never been allowed to model itself after those institutions. Instead, India has had nationalised commercial banking whose pampered inefficient management and staff have allowed the holding of massive amounts of government debt as assets in their balance-sheets, all denominated in an inconvertible controlled currency, and all presided over by a “one-tier” central bank patterned on the old Gosbank of the former Soviet Union, completely subservient to the dictates of the runaway spending that this or that particular set of politicians in power may demand. If there are dreams to be dreamt by honest economists in India, it would be for all that to be made to change.
Path of the Indian Rupee 1947-1993
Subroto Roy 1993
Note: This was part of a 1993 study I did as a consultant at the IMF in Washington in a project on exchange-rates and exports of “South Asian” countries. The IMF is not responsible for its content. It was included in my “Our Trade & Payments” first published in The Statesman, Feb 11-12 2007. http://www.thestatesman.net, and found elsewhere here as “India in World Trade and Payments”.
“Following the initial devaluation with sterling in 1949, the Indian rupee was pegged to sterling and maintained at the same par-value for the next 16 years. This was in spite of weakening reserve positions and numerous severe shocks to the economy including a 1963 war with China and a 1965 war with Pakistan, as well as severe droughts and food crises.
Devaluation on June 6 1966 by 57.5 percent to Rs. 7.50 per United States dollar met with enormous resistance on non-economic grounds, and indirectly contributed to the Congress Party’s losses in the elections of 1967. This experience may have contributed to a distinct reluctance to even consider using the exchange-rate for economic policy, or to even attempt to find a realistic price for the rupee.
India did not respond to sterling’s devaluation in November 1967, leading to a bilateral appreciation. While the Indian economy continued to suffer egregious shocks throughout the late 1960s and 1970s — including food crises, the rise in petroleum prices, refugees from the Pakistan civil war and the 1971 war creating Bangladesh, as well as domestic turmoil of various kinds such as the Railway Strike and the political Emergency and later political instability — the rupee was not adjusted downwards. The closing of the “gold window” and breakdown of the Bretton Woods system in August 1971 led India to maintain the same bilateral exchange-rate with the United States dollar, thereby devaluing with the dollar’s depreciation and delinking from sterling, though sterling remained the intervention currency. After the Smithsonian Agreement in December 1971, the rupee was again linked to sterling at Rs. 18.97, which implicitly meant a 5.4 percent devaluation against sterling. When sterling floated in June 1972 the rupee’s peg was maintained, thus effectively devaluing the rupee along with sterling’s depreciation. Three small devaluations occurred against sterling by a total of 2 percent between June 1972 and July 1975.
In September 1975, India delinked from sterling and pegged — within 2.25 percent until January 30 1980 and then within 5 percent margins — to an undisclosed basket of hard currencies which included the United States dollar, Japanese yen and Deutschmark.
Between 1981 and 1991, the Indian rupee was actively managed downwards by the authorities, remarkably with no political resistance unlike the 1966 episode in a world of fixed rates. Discrete downward changes occurred by 6.4 percent at the end of 1981, 4.3 percent at the end of 1982, and 4.5 percent at the end of 1983. These changes in the first half of the 1980s are relatively small compared to the depreciation of other major currencies against the United States dollar in that period. From September 1985 to July 1991, the rupee followed a more rapid downward course, depreciating by some 40 percent in nominal terms, during which time the United States dollar also depreciated against the other major currencies. What this may suggest is that the dollar weighed relatively heavily in the basket with which the rupee seemed to be pegged.
In July 1991, the incoming government was able to initiate significant economic reforms with surprising ease, especially the abolishment of import quotas and removal of export subsidies. On July 1 1991, the rupee was devalued by 9 percent and then on July 3 by a further 11 percent in the context of a determined effort to change the course of Indian economic policy-making towards one required by an outward-orientation.
The first budget of the Narasimha Rao Government on March 1 1992 partially floated the rupee in a context of removal of import licensing and export subsidies, and a general domestic and external liberalization. Between March 1 1992 and the budget of March 1 1993, the rupee was on a dual rate which implicitly taxed exporters who had to surrender 40 percent of their foreign exchange earnings at an officially determined rate and could sell 60 percent in an open market. On March 1 1993, the Indian rupee was begun to be made convertible for purposes of current account transactions. With these changes, a breakthrough in thinking may have been achieved, insofar as Indian economic policy-making may have been partially freed of the belief, held since the 1940s, that the exchange-rate of the rupee must necessarily be seen as an administered price and not a market-determined price.”
Author’s Note May 2007: Between January 1993 and about May 1993 I was a Consultant to the International Monetary Fund, Washington, DC. The IMF does not usually hire consultants, and I was hired thanks to a recommendation by Gopi Arora to Hubert Neiss. At the request of Saudi IMF Executive Director Mohammad Al-Jasser, I did an interdepartmental comparative study — the only one until that time and perhaps since — of exchange-rates and exports of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. What follows is a part of that relating to exports. A little of it was published in an ICRIER study in New Delhi the following year, on India-United States trade.
EXPORTS FROM THE SUBCONTINENT
This study reports the main results of a study of exports from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to their largest world markets in the period 1962-1991.
Panels of two-level Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) data were gathered as reported to the United Nations Statistical Office, Geneva in its Trade Analysis and Reporting System. These gave original data of all imports from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as reported by each of the United States, Britain, Japan, Germany and France (G-5 countries) over the 30-year period 1962-1991 in c.i.f. terms. These countries constitute almost 75 percent of the subcontinent’s total export market, and possibly more if indirect exports via third countries like Hong Kong and Singapore are accounted for.
The import-demand data reported by each of these countries provide the most reliable and uniform data source available.
To detect any possible trends in real growth or decline, the nominal data reported over this 30 year period were deflated to constant 1990 prices, using price-series obtained from the World Bank’s Quarterly Review of Commodity Markets December 1992. This source provides a manufactured goods unit value index for the G-5 countries, as well as individual price series for petroleum and commodities excluding energy. The latter is divided into foods (divided into beverages, cereals, fats & oils, and other), non-food agricultural, timber, and metals & minerals. It is considered the most reliable price-series data of its kind available. All figures given below are in constant 1990 U. S. dollars.
Overall, one firm regionwide fact to emerge about the subcontinent’s exports to the major industrial countries has to do with the enormous real growth of clothing, especially in the decade 1982-1991. Not only has there been remarkable growth in real terms of clothing exports from the entire region, but there has been relatively higher growth in Pakistan compared to India, and higher growth in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh compared to Pakistan.
India to the United States
India’s main exports to the United States have changed in product composition over the period 1962-1991, though not in ways predicted or hoped for by national economic plans. Between 1962-1971, the main exports other than textile manufactures (SITC 65) were agricultural: tea, coffee & spices (SITC 07), fruit and vegetables (SITC 05), sugars (SITC 06), fish and preparations (SITC 03), and crude matter(SITC 29). Between 1972-1981, the mix was transformed by growth of exports of polished diamonds (SITC 66) and clothing (SITC 84), which together with textile manufactures have dominated Indian exports to the United States since.
Between 1982-1991, the same mix continued to dominate with the significant addition of petroleum and products (SITC 33) which was the single largest export from India to the United States in each year between 1982 and 1985. Textile manufactures were the dominant export until 1978 and have been in the top four throughout the period. But there has been steady decline in real terms. The decline has been from annual averages of $740 million (c.i.f.) in 1962-71, to $406 million in 1972-1981, to $285 million in 1982-1991. India has also steadily lost market-share in total textile imports into the United States, dominating the market with an average annual market-share of 19.5 percent in 1962-1971, reduced to 10.1 percent in 1972-1981, reduced further to 4.84 percent in 1982-1991.
Clothing during the same period has shown high real growth, going from an annual average of $7 million in 1962-1971 to $178 million in 1972-1981, to $538 million in 1982-1991. Average annual market-share of total U.S. imports has gone from 0.10 percent in 1962-1971, to 2.11 percent in 1972-1981, to 2.34 percent in 1982-1991. While this has been small growth from the point of view of the United States market, the movement has been large relative to initial conditions from the point of view of Indian exporters. It is not apparent whether the decline in textile manufactures has been independent of the growth of clothing or whether there has been value-increasing substitution from textile manufactures into clothing. Comparative experience with Germany suggests there has not been such substitution.
India to Britain
India’s exports to Britain are marked by textile manufactures (SITC 65) and tea, coffee & spices (SITC 07), being among the top five exports throughout the entire period 1962-1991.
However, both of these traditional exports have declined in real terms. Annual average imports into Britain of textile manufactures from India were $253 million (c.i.f.) in 1962-1971 down to $179 million in 1972-1981 and $161 million in 1982-1991. India’s share of Britain’s imports of textile manufactures fell from 15.5 percent and 16.0 percent in 1962 and 1963 to 3.4 percent and 4.0 percent in 1990 and 1991.
Annual average imports into Britain of tea, coffee & spices from India were $269 million in 1962-1971 down to $87 million in 1972-1981 and $66 million in 1982-1991. Clothing (SITC 84) exports to Britain have shown high real growth, from annual averages of $4 million in 1962-1971 to $86 million in 1972-1981 to $200 million in 1982-1991. Of remaining exports to Britain, in the period 1962-1971 agricultural outputs like animal feed (SITC 08), tobacco (SITC 12) and crude matter (SITC 29) as well as leather goods (SITC 61) were the main product groups.
The next period 1972-1981 saw the growth of clothing (SITC 84) to a position of dominance among all Indian exports to Britain, and some growth in non-ferrous metals (SITC 68) mainly copper and aluminium alloys. The latest period 1982-1991 has seen some growth of non-traditional engineering exports to the top ranks, mainly transport equipment (SITC 73), metal manufactures (SITC 69) and non-electrical machinery (SITC 71). Clothing and textiles, however, continued to dominate more than 44 percent of all exports.
India to Japan
The main feature of India’s exports to Japan over the entire period 1962-1991 is the dominance of iron ore (SITC 28) throughout. Annual average imports of iron ore into Japan from India were $401 million in 1962-1971, rising to $556 million in 1972-1981, and $572 million in 1982-1991.
The period 1962-1971 saw, in addition to iron ore, export of raw cotton and jute fibres (SITC 26), crude agricultural matter (SITC 29), crude fertilizer (SITC 27), animal feed (SITC 08), sugar (SITC 06), ferrous alloys (SITC 67), and fish and preparations (SITC 03). The period 1972-1981 saw very high growth of exports of fish and preparations (SITC 03) and polished diamonds (SITC 66), as well as some growth of textile manufactures (SITC 65). Starting from almost zero, India’s market-share of Japanese imports of fish grew to an annual average of 7.31 percent during the period 1969-1985, before falling back to 2.7 percent in the 1990s. The latest period 1982-1991 has seen the dominance of polished diamonds equalling that of iron ore, as well as significant growth in clothing (SITC 84) and petroleum (SITC 33). The main exports of India to Japan are at present polished diamonds, iron ore, fish, ferrous-alloys and clothing. It seems plausible that India’s pattern of exports to Japan has been related to the high growth transformation of Japan’s economy during this time.
India to Germany and France
As with Japan, India’s exports to the Federal Republic of Germany show unique aspects related in all likelihood to the high growth transformation of the German economy during this period. Remarkably, textile yarn and fabric (SITC 65) from India to Germany has shown large real growth during 1962-1990. German imports of Indian textile manufactures were at an annual average of just $55 million for 1962-1971; this increased to an annual average of $163 million for 1972-1981 and to $255 million for 1982-1990. Although this has not been enough to offset the large declines of Indian textiles in the United States and British markets, it may suggest that rapid domestic growth in one large importing market can reduce the impact of loss of competitiveness in a different market. Clothing (SITC 84) has shown extremely high real growth relative to initial conditions. German imports of clothing from India were at an annual average of under $4 million in 1962-1971, rising to annual averages of $96 million in 1972-1981 and $282 million in 1982-1990. The simultaneous growth of textile manufacture and clothing exports from India to Germany may suggest that there has not been value-adding substitution from the former to the latter. Other than clothing, the product composition of Indian exports to Germany has not seen much drastic change.
In 1962-1965, iron ore (SITC 28) was the single largest export only to become abruptly insignificant, possibly implying new sources had been found by importers. Besides textile manufactures, three other traditional exports — leather goods (SITC 61), tea, coffee & spices (SITC 07), and crude matter (SITC 29) — have been among the top Indian exports to Germany throughout the period 1962-1990. Of these, leather goods have shown real growth from annual averages of $34 million in 1962-1971, to $55 million in 1972-1981, to $86 million in 1982-1990. Polished diamonds (SITC 66) also have been a major export to Germany since as early as 1964, with significant growth in the latest period 1982-1990.
India’s exports to France show certain similarities with the pattern to Germany on a smaller scale. Textile yarn and fabric (SITC 65) has shown growth in real terms from annual averages of $18 million in 1962-1971, to $51 million in 1972-1981 to $63 million in 1982-1991. (The growth of textile exports to Germany and France together have not offset the declines to the United States and Britain — average annual exports to the four countries totalling $1.07 billion for 1962-1971, $0.80 billion for 1972-1981, and $0.76 billion for 1982-1991.) Clothing exports to France have shown enormous growth relative to initial conditions, moving from annual averages of under $3 million in 1962-1971, to $57 million in 1972-1981 to $108 million in 1982-1991. Besides textile and clothing, Indian exports to France have included leather goods (SITC 61), crude matter (SITC 29), polished diamonds (SITC 66) and animal feed (SITC 07). In 1982 and 1985, France also reported petroleum imports as the single largest product from India.
Pakistan to the United States and Britain
In the period prior to 1972, Pakistan’s exports to traditional markets in the United States and Britain were dominated by raw jute and cotton fibres (SITC 26) and cotton and jute manufactures (SITC 65).
Since 1972, cotton manufactures (SITC 65) have shown remarkable real growth, and along with clothing (SITC 84) have dominated Pakistan’s exports to these markets. Annual average imports of cotton manufactures from Pakistan into the United States and Britain were $87 million and $76 million respectively in 1973-1981, rising to $182 million and $117 million respectively in 1982-1991.
Pakistan’s share of total textile imports rose from an annual average of 2.3 percent in 1973-1981 to 2.9 percent in 1982-1991 in the United States market, and from 1.8 percent to 1.9 percent in the British market. This contrasts with India’s declining textile exports to the same markets in the same period.
Average annual clothing imports from Pakistan into the United States and Britain were $22 million and $11 million respectively during 1973-1981, rising to $164 million and $62 million respectively during 1982-1991. During the period, Pakistan’s market-share of clothing imports has risen from 0.2 percent to 1.0 percent in case of the United States, and from 0.3 percent to 1.9 percent in case of Britain. Again, these are small changes for the importing markets but large changes from the point of view of exporters relative to initial conditions.
Other than textiles and clothing, significant movement in Pakistan’s exports to the United States and Britain is found in instruments, watches and clocks (SITC 86) to the United States, which went from an annual average of $10 million during 1973-1981 to $26 million in 1982-1991.
Pakistan to Japan, Germany and France
Pakistan’s exports to Japan have been dominated by cotton yarn and fabric (SITC 65) and cotton fibres (SITC 26), both showing strong real growth. The first has gone from an annual average of $79 million in 1973-1981 to $304 million in 1982-1991, the second from $48 million to $75 million in the same time period. Other exports to Japan include fish (SITC 03), leather goods (SITC 61), and petroleum and products (SITC 33).
Pakistan’s exports to Germany and France have been dominated by clothing (SITC 84) and cotton yarn and fabric (SITC 65). Average annual exports of clothing have grown from $19 million in 1973-1982 to $86 million in 1982-1991 in case of Germany, and from $8 million in 1973-1981 to $55 million in 1982-1991 in case of France. In the same periods, average annual exports of cotton yarn and fabric went up from $34 million to $66 million in case of France, and went down from $107 million to $99 million in case of Germany.
Other exports from Pakistan to Germany and France have included leather goods (SITC 61), cotton fibres (SITC 26), sugar (SITC 06) and petroleum and products (SITC 33).
Sri Lanka’s exports to the major industrial countries are marked by drastic decline in exports of tea (SITC 07) and rapid growth of exports of clothing (SITC 84).
Sri Lankan tea exports were at an annual average of $175 million to Britain and $49 million to the United States during 1962-1971, reduced to $38 million and $24 million respectively in 1972-1981, reduced to $23 million and $16 million respectively in 1982-1991. Between 1980 and 1991, Sri Lanka’s market-share of total British tea imports fell from 11 percent in 1980 to 7 percent in 1991. Evidently this loss of market-share was not India’s gain, as India’s share of the same market fell even more drastically, from 33 percent in 1980 to 17 percent in 1991. India and Sri Lanka traditionally dominated the world market for tea. Major competitors since then have been China, Indonesia, Kenya and Malawi.
Sri Lanka’s exports of clothing to the United States, Germany, Britain and France have grown very rapidly, making clothing the dominant export of Sri Lanka in the last decade. Average annual exports of clothing rose from $39 million in 1972-1981 to $361 million in 1982-1991 in case of the United States; from $10 million to $70 million in case of Germany; from $3 million to $27 million in case of Britain; from $2 million to $20 million in case of France. Although rates of value-added growth will be lower in view of Sri Lankan imports of raw materials (from India and Pakistan), clothing has clearly shown phenomenal growth relative to initial conditions.
Besides tea and clothing, significant movement in Sri Lanka’s exports over the long run appears in polished diamonds (SITC 66). Sri Lankan exports amounted to annual averages of $5 million and $4 million to Japan and the United States respectively in 1962-1971; $32 million and $17 million respectively in 1972-1981; and $38 million and $32 million respectively in 1982-1991. Value-added may be considerably lower given imports of rough diamonds via Belgium and India.
Like India and Pakistan, Bangladesh’s exports to the United States have been dominated by clothing (SITC 84) and textile yarn and fabric (SITC 65). As with India, textile manufactures have fallen drastically in real terms while clothing has shown enormous growth relative to initial conditions. While it is possible again that there has been value-increasing substitution from one towards the other, this appears unlikely as Bangladesh’s textile manufactures are mainly jute products. Average annual exports of textile manufactures from Bangladesh to the United States fell from $130 million in 1972-1981 to $75 million in 1982-1991, while clothing exports rose from near zero in 1972-1981 to an annual average of $249 million in 1982-1991. Unofficial (smuggled) trade across the India-Bangladesh border is reported to be high, and it is possible Indian exporters have sought to sidestep United States quotas by going through Bangladesh which does not face quotas.
The remaining significant movement in Bangladesh’s exports to the United States has been in fish (SITC 03), which has risen from an annual average of $8 million in 1972-1981 to $35 million in 1982-1991.
Bangladesh’s main exports to Britain have included jute fibres (SITC 26), textile manufactures (SITC 65) and fish (SITC 03). Average annual exports of jute fibres went from $19 million in 1973-1981 to $8 million in 1982-1991; textile manufactures went from $20 million in 1973-1982 to $21 million in 1982-1991; and fish went from $3 million in 1973-1981 to $18 million in 1982-1991. The remaining significant movement in Bangladesh’s exports to Britain include the appearance of transport equipment (SITC 73) as the top export at an average annual amount of $121 million in each year 1978-1980, followed by its equally sudden disappearance. And clothing exports have shown rapid growth from near zero to average annual exports of $50 million in the period 1988-1991.
Bangladesh’s exports to Japan have been dominated by fish and preparations (SITC 03), with average annual exports growing rapidly from $11 million in 1973-1982 to $54 million in 1982-1991. Other exports to Japan have included textile manufactures (SITC 65), petroleum and products (SITC 33), leather goods (SITC 61) and raw jute (SITC 26).
Bangladesh’s exports to Germany and France are marked by the rapid recent growth of clothing from negligible amounts to an annual average of $60 million in case of Germany and $52 million in case of France in 1987-1991. Other exports to Germany and France have included fish (SITC 03), textile manufactures (SITC 65), and leather goods (SITC 61).
Some discrepancy exists in the data as India does not report any exports of petroleum to either the USA or France in these years.
Preface by Subroto Roy October 31 2008:
As recorded elsewhere here, I met Professor Milton Friedman for the first time at the Mont Pelerin Society meetings at Cambridge in the autumn of 1984. I there asked him for his November 1955 memorandum to the Government of India, which had been suppressed since then; when he returned to Stanford, he had the original document sent to me in Blacksburg. In January 1989, I invited him to the University of Hawaii conference on India’s modern political economy due to be held in May. I was determined to see publication of his 1955 memorandum and did so (despite opposition from “senior” Leftist professors). Milton agreed to come for two days, and what follows are his extempore comments on May 22 1989 as recorded on tape.
Milton Friedman’s extempore comments at the 1989 Hawaii conference: on India, Israel, Palestine, the USA, Debt and its uses, Erhardt abolishing exchange controls, Etc
“I don’t believe the term GNP ought to be used unless it is supplemented by a different statistic: the rate of growth of the average consumption basket consumed by the ordinary individual in the country. I think GNP rates of growth can give very misleading information. For example, you have rapid rates of growth of GNP in the Soviet Union with a declining standard of life for the people. Because GNP includes monuments and includes also other things. I’m not saying that that is the case with India; I’m just saying I would like to see the two figures together.
I have wondered about the following question for decades. What would have happened if the initial decision had been to make English the official language, and the Government had made no official statement about any of the other languages, had just allowed, as it were, free language competition? The reason I raise that is because many years ago when I was in India originally it seemed to me, that a lot of conflicts would have been eliminated, because everybody could have been opposed to English. You would have had a common opposition to it, and yet it was, in fact, the operating language of the country. If in time Hindi or any of the others had spread, they could have taken over the function. But it wouldn’t have been the subject of a political fight from then on. That may be wholly wrong, it’s just an off-hand impression. I am curious about what answer you would give the counterfactual question.
I’m just going to support Brass on the question of whether the modes of organization of the economy had anything to do with the political difficulties that were arising. I want to emphasize how important that is as an issue to be investigated, and I am not going to illustrate it with India which I don’t know enough about; I am going to give you a different even more dramatic example. I have no doubt whatsoever that a major part of the present difficulties between the occupied states in Palestine, the Palestinian organization and the Israeli government, derive from the structure of Israeli economic policies, from the socialist structure. When the occupied areas were first taken over, the generals were very wise in treating them in a completely laissez-faire manner, and they didn’t have many troubles. As you started to impose in those areas the same socialist techniques of the Israeli state, you get increasing conflict, and those conflicts have arisen until today. I think that this may be relevant to the study of political conflicts of the kind of you’re describing. Many of these difficulties arose because you were adopting economic policies which created them.
I think you have to distinguish sharply between a redistributive state and a regulatory state. I give you Sweden, which is a very highly redistributive state, but is not a highly regulatory state. As I understand it, the original Constitution of India called for a redistributive state. The ethos called for a regulatory state, and they turned out to be both very different and I would say ultimately incompatible.
I was interested in some of Dattachaudhuri’s remarks about the situation at the time of Independence and particularly about his summary of what he regarded as traditional economic development theory. I think there was an enormously important point that needs to be added to those you mentioned. That was the almost universal acceptance at that time of the view that there was a sort of technologically fixed capital output ratio. That if you wanted to develop, you just had to figure out how much capital you needed, used as a statistical technological capital output ratio, and by God the next day you could immediately tell what output you were going to achieve. That was a large part of the motivation behind some of the measures that were taken then. Secondly, you are quite right that one of the things that India inherited was a good civil service. I came back from India on my first trip there saying that in my experience, I had never met a class of civil servants who were as able as the Indian Civil Service. However, they weren’t in accord with the principles that were going to be followed. Many of them, particularly Mr HM Patel, would not have gone along, I suspect he would not have been an enthusiastic participant of the Mahalanobis Plan. I don’t know….you tell me. Am I wrong? There were people at the time who recognized fully what the consequences were going to be, the most notable example is BR Shenoy in his dissenting view on the committee of experts examining the Second Five Year Plan.
Essentially, your paper was in this great tradition of the hero theory of history versus the deterministic theory of history. Does a great man make a difference? Do personalities make a difference? Either extreme is untenable. In the particular case of India, I would say that in the early days, I have no doubt that personalities made an enormous difference. If Mr Mahalanobis for example had had a slightly different background, had been persuaded to slightly different things, you might have had a different result. You don’t have to look at the whole structure.
In my opinion, the most serious problem of India in the economic sphere can be pinned down very quickly. It has to do with the pegging of the exchange rate and the existence of change controls. My view on this is based not only on India alone; it is based on country after country. There is no other measure which opens itself so much to corruption than to spreading from one regulation to another. In some ways, if you could pull that pin out, much of the rest of the superstructure would collapse. On that particular issue, it was initially an open issue in India.
Now I agreed completely that in order to make reforms, you have to establish a base of support. You have to get a political basis to support you. But one mustn’t take that to mean that this is the best of all possible worlds and you can’t do anything about it. Let’s be clear about what our role is. Our role as economists and intellectuals is not to figure out what is politically feasible and then recommend it. Our role as economists and political scientists, in my opinion, is to look at what could be. Given the background, given the institutional limitations. It’s wrong to go to utopian solutions, but we ought to lay out what are alternative possible changes in the circumstances, whether we think at the moment or not that there is any possibility of getting backing for it. What you find in history time and again is that major changes almost never come except when you have a crisis. And when you have a crisis, things become feasible that you would have dismissed in advance as not feasible. I think you’re much too unadventuresome in your willingness to conceive of rather radical departures.
I don’t believe floating exchange rates will solve all the problems, far from it. But I do believe that exchange control is a particularly pernicious and widespread form of control.
I might be mistaken about this but I think the exchange control was ended in 1950 when they adopted the Dodge Plan for monetary reconstruction, and their recent progress might be traced from that date. Yet over and over, in country after country, you find that exchange control is the answering wedge for widening controls. I believe that the most important thing China could do right now would be to end exchange control.
The other point is that it’s an open invitation to corruption.
I want to comment on both papers also.
With respect to the debt, a balance sheet has two sides. One side is the assets and one side is the liability. A consideration of a debt problem that considers only one side is bound to be incomplete. The question of whether a high debt ratio is good, bad, or indifferent depends on what the debt was accumulated for. It is no different for a nation than it is for an individual. If I go out and borrow in order to maintain a stable of mistresses, I’m going to get into trouble. I’m a little old for that, but think of a younger person. On the other hand, if a man goes out and borrows in order to build a plant which is going to be very productive, he is not in trouble at all.
Similarly for a nation. The talk in the U.S. about the U.S. being a foreign debtor is a bunch of nonsense, because we have always had net private savings, and the debt isn’t debt, anyway, it’s acquisition of assets in the U.S. by foreigners. That acquisition has been of productive assets, and thus has increased our total capital. Similarly, if we go back to India, the question of whether the debt ratio is too high or too low is a question of what assets there are that have been created in the process of accumulating the debt, and what income they generate. We don’t ask in the U.S. or anywhere else what the private debt ratio of a country is without asking what is the private asset ratio. You don’t look at a particular individual company and say what’s the ratio of debt, you look at debt to assets. Similarly, therefore, it seems to me your paper needs to be (this really ties very much into what Seiji Naya said before about inefficient public enterprises.) If the debt was accumulated in order to finance public enterprises….I don’t like the word public; let me be precise….government enterprises….(Stanford University is a public university, but it’s not a government university.)… If debt was created to build government enterprises which were yielding a net income, the debt would be no burden at all. It would be a source of strength. It would provide the government with additional funds for other purposes. The plain fact is, of course (and I shouldn’t be saying this because I’m not up to date on the situation in India) but my impression is that the plain fact is that most government enterprises are a drain on the budget rather than contributing to it. Therefore, the debt is a real problem regardless of whether it’s 10 percent of the GNP or 60 percent of the GNP. Not because it’s 60 percent or 10 percent, but because you have to look at the other side of the balance sheet and see whether it’s been created for productive or nonproductive uses.
On a very different subject that you touched in your comment, I share completely with you the outrage at the picture of extraordinary ostentation in the midst of extraordinary poverty. I venture to predict that if you ask where the money comes from that finances that ostentation, you will find in almost every single case it comes from government favour. It is created by the present system of planning. The idea that the present system of planning is directed at egalitarianism is, I think, an absurd idea… I remember an incident which I think is very amusing. I once was in Hong Kong ten years ago, and I was entertained at the home of a very wealthy Hong Kong Indian businessman. He’s the person who owns the Hilton, Hare Nina. It was at his home. This is a man who has 50 people to dinner every night. One of the people who was present there was an Indian capitalist who would be an absolutely perfect image for a New Yorker cartoon of a bloated capitalist sitting on a pile of money. He was big, fat and just looked the image.
We ended up the evening with a vigorous argument between him and me, me defending capitalism and him defending socialism, and for understandable reasons. He was fat because of socialism. If you really want to attack that unproductive ostentation, and improve the lot of the individual people, there’s only one way that’s ever been proved to do it. That’s by setting those people free, to use their own resources as they see fit and not having around them the kind of controls that are involved in the Indian planning process. We have to separate objectives from means.
I want to go back for a moment about two comments about T.N.’s. One is, there are certain words which are red lights to fallacies. One of those words is “need”. I do not know any sentence that anybody ever uses with “need” which doesn’t turn out to have a fallacy embedded in it. The word that leads me to is not need but “essential”. “Essential import”. Every economist knows that if you have adjusted your resources properly, every item you buy is essential at the margin. It is a distinction between marginal and average. The word “essential” is a meaningless word, and any place you see it used, you can be sure there is a fallacy. The same thing with the word “shortage”. I noticed that when T.N. came to the word shortage, shortage of foreign exchange, he hesitated. He said an “alleged shortage”. Economists may not know much, but there is one thing we know very well. That is how to create shortages and surpluses. Tell us what you want a shortage in, and we’ll create it. The only thing you have to do is set a maximum price that is below the market price, and you’ll have a shortage. If you want a surplus, we’ll produce that, too. We’ll give you a case in which we’ll offer a price higher than the market price. We’ve got a surplus of wheat for that reason in the United States, and we’ve got a shortage of housing in New York for that reason. The talk about a shortage of foreign exchange is always an evasion of a problem. Some how or other, economists ought to get into the practice of never using the word shortage without accompanying it by at what price.”
One more point and I’ll be through. You say that you want to dismantle the exchange rates over a ten year period. I think you’re wrong. There are some things you want to do immediately overnight and some things you want to drag out. There are two aphorisms that bring out the point. One is: don’t cut a dog’s tail off by inches, and the other is haste makes waste. They’re the opposite of one another, but each is right in some occasions. It seems to me as a generalization with respect to any price control that it should be done instantly. You should cut the dog’s tail off at once. If you’re going to abolish exchange control, it ought to be announced on a Friday or Saturday night to be done on Sunday morning. Just as Ludwig Erhardt in the German reform announced overnight, over a weekend, he did it on Sunday because the American and British control offices were closed and so they couldn’t countermand his order. That is why he did it on a Sunday. He did it at one full stroke, all price controls abolished. Margaret Thatcher abolished exchange control in Britain overnight. Exchange control, it seems to me, is one of those things you have to abolish overnight. If you stretch it out, you will never abolish it.
With power, the product is sold. Power is something that can be provided by the private sector, it is sold, you are not giving it away. It may be infrastructure, but it’s the kind of infrastructure which ought to pay its way.
I don’t think we ought to get involved in words, and I don’t mind if we drop the word socialism. I would say that a system of detailed controls or whatever you call it, is a system which generates inequality. The private ownership of property is not enough. Some of the main beneficiaries from your controls are private enterprises and moreover as I cited in my example, they also support the system of controls and regulation. What I say is that the combinations of controls and regulations, whatever you call it, produces inequality, and chief among them is the foreign exchange control. If you could eliminate the foreign exchange control, you will eliminate a good bit of the harm which is currently being done by all your regulations.
If I might say, I have enormous sympathy with this view that it’s the same old story. It is! Exactly, and that’s what’s distressing about it. It’s a shame that in 40 years, there been no real major change in the structural characteristics of the Indian economy. That’s the real tragedy.”