How to be a Finance Minister (Florence Nightingale Might Have Liked)

From Facebook, April 27 2011:

Subroto Roy reflects on what the role is of a Finance Minister/Treasury/Exchequer head: it is to be, at least, the Chief Financial Officer of the country.

And what does a good CFO do?

Preserve, if not enhance or at least not worsen, the “financial condition” of the entity in his charge, namely, the asset/liability, income/expenditure, and cashflow positions, plus the goodwill etc.

Of course the financial condition of a country’s Exchequer depends on the financial condition of each and every public entity that adds up to the whole (and less directly on the financial condition of private entities).

Good Finance Ministers should definitely stay away from TV (waffling on endlessly on TV trying to explain one’s economic model is a sure sign of an incompetent FM), probably stay away from most conferences, their favourite word has to be “No” or perhaps “No, I’m sorry”, their resignations need to be typed, signed & ready in their desk-drawer, only needing to be dated at the top.  The same a fortiori for Central Bank heads (except for the ready-resignation part).

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) revolutionized nursing by implementing her slogan “Whatever else hospitals do, they should not spread  disease”.

Economists and Finance Ministers should seek, at least, at a minimum, to do no harm.

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Outline of a Marxist/Friedmanian theory for India/Pakistan/Bangladesh etc, even perhaps China too (except the Marxists will not find it)…

I should admit I think there is a Marxist theory for India/Pakistan/Bangladesh etc (perhaps including China) yet to be written except it will never get written by any Marxist as they tend to be innocent of all normal economics; it has to do really with Marx’s idea of a vast indeed unlimited ‘reserve army of labour’ in the rural areas which through migration keeps the general structure of wages low throughout the economy, and hence allows the technologically advanced “leading”/comprador sectors to be attractive to the outside world and hence generate scarce foreign exchange, which is then controlled quantitatively in its expenditure to pay for weapons’ imports, shopping malls, elite consumption etc. while a debauched local currency is made to preside over the abysmal and unreformed public finances…. It is a steady-state equilibrium that can continue indefinitely as the land is fertile enough and the climate agreeable enough for the rural poor to always have subsistence wages sufficient for consumption, growth and reproduction… Just a thought…

On second thoughts, it is a Marxist/Friedmanian theory that I have outlined, as at its core is not merely the reserve army of labour but the distortions caused by an externally controlled and internally debauched money.


My 200 words on India’s Naxal guerrilla rebels that a “leading business magazine” invited but then found too hot to handle

April 26, 2010

“Public finances in India, state and Union, show appalling accounting and lack of transparency. Vast amounts of waste, fraud and malfeasance get hidden as a result. The Congress, BJP, official communists, socialists et al are all culpable for this situation having developed – over decades. So if you ask me, “Is the Indian state and polity in a healthy condition?” I would say no, it is pretty rotten. Well-informed, moneyed, mostly city-based special interest groups (especially including organised capital and organised labour) dominate government agendas at the cost of ill-informed, diffused masses of anonymous individual citizens ~ peasants, forest-dwellers, small businessmen, non-unionized workers, the destitute, etc. Demarcations of private, community and public property rights frequently remain fuzzy. Inflation causes non-paper assets to rise in value, encouraging land-grabs. And the fetish over purported growth-rates continues despite measurements being faulty, not reaching UN SNA standards, probably hiding increasing inequalities. India’s polity and economy are in poor shape for many millions of ordinary people. Armed rebellion, however, does not follow from this. Killing poor policemen and starting class-wars were failed Naxal tactics in the 1970s and remain so today. Naxals should put down their weapons and use Excel sheets and government accounting data instead.

Dr Subroto Roy, economist and adviser to Rajiv Gandhi 1990-1991.”


Maynard Keynes on How to Be a Good Economist

From Facebook, April 11, 2011

Since the name of Keynes is back to being used somewhat in vain around the world, it may be appropriate to recall Maynard Keynes’s description of his own role-model as an economist, his master Alfred Marshall.

“The study of economics does not seem to require any specialised gifts of an unusually high order.  Is it not, intellectually regarded, a very easy subject compared with the higher branches of philosophy and pure science?  Yet good, or even competent, economists are the rarest of birds.  An easy subject , at which very few excel!  The paradox finds its explanation, perhaps, in that the master-economist must possess a rare *combination* of gifts.  He must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talents not often found together.  He must be mathematician, historian, statesman and philosopher — in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must lie entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood: as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near the earth as a politician.”

JM Keynes “Alfred Marshall, 1842-1924” in Memorials of Alfred Marshal, edited by AC Pigou, 1925, p. 12.

Keynes himself was trained as and always thought like a mathematician, though he invariably spoke in words about practical realities. Marshall was his master, and so too, to a lesser extent, was his father, Neville Keynes.

I came to quote Keynes’s statement in Chapter 9 “Mathematical Economics and Reality” of my 1989 book *Philosophy of Economics*...