On India’s Education Policy

http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinion/Task-Cut-Out-for-Smriti-Irani/2014/06/16/article2282316.ece
http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/289101/The-New-Indian-Express-Chennai/16-06-2014#page/8/3

Mrs Irani’s New Job
Published in New Indian Express 16 June 2014 as “Task Cut Out For Smriti Irani”

 

When there is success in Indian education it is because of the genius of our children and youth, the deep involvement of parents, our stable families and cultures, and the efforts of thousands of dedicated unsung teachers and professors. Education is the ladder of social and economic mobility, allowing within a generation the children of labourers to become teachers, electricians, nurses and pharmacists, the children of teachers and tradesmen to become engineers, doctors and industrialists.

It is a universal task of government to make sure such ladders of learning exist to be climbed everywhere and that they’re sturdy and spacious. The ladders do not have to be government-provided; there can be as many or more privately offered alternatives too, and the choice should belong to parents and children as to which ladder of which kind they invest their hard-earned money and time in, so their families are best able to climb out of poverty or misfortune.

Education can be government financed without being government provided. For example, government can provide the parent or guardian of each school-pupil a handsome voucher to be used at any school of choice, public or private, for the child. This would allow a vast resource to be tapped which is the local knowledge that parents and pupils have about specific educational problems and opportunities in their own area.

Besides public financing of at least school education, government’s role remains one of ensuring and enforcing academic and financial discipline, so that any education provided at any level by any purported provider is worth its name. At its loftiest we may want education to nurture the child’s soul and build character, and consist of science, mathematics, literature, as well as music, sports and games. At the very least in Indian circumstances, we may insist upon a minimum of the three traditional Rs of Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic reaching every child without fail. There is a vital public interest in wanting every citizen to comprehend the world around him or her and function in it productively and thoughtfully as an adult.

Such may be Mrs Smriti Irani’s goals in her new job. The reality she faces though may be abysmal at best and appalling at worst. Throughout the system, Indian education has come close to being ruined in recent decades.

Those responsible for the situation include her predecessors in recent decades, plus bureaucrats who range from indifferent at best to corrupt at worst, and self-styled educationists and bogus “educational consultants” purveying the latest expensive educational fad, besides administrators, professors and teachers who have too often lost all sense of vocation, being interested more in the business of building and equipment contracts, private consulting, private tuition, everything but their simple job of transmission of substantial standard knowledge to young people.

The government’s own India Education Report said not long ago: “It does not require clever tools of measurement to demonstrate that there are millions of children in India who are totally deprived of any education worth the name. And it is not as if they are invisible, remote, and therefore unreached. They are everywhere in the cities: on the streets, wiping cars at traffic junctions, picking rags in mounds of waste; in the roadside eateries; in small factories, as cheap labour or domestic help; at ‘home’ completing household chores. In the villages again they are everywhere, responding to the contextual demands of family work as well as bonded labour.”

Even leaving that aspect of the tragedy aside, our schoolchildren have ranked last or near last in standardised international testing in recent years, while our best higher education and technical institutions fail to reach world standards despite their pretensions and expenditure. That individual Indian students fare very well in foreign educational systems only reinforces the idea that they must escape our own system to do so, that a “brain drain” is somehow inevitable of our finest talent who have to migrate abroad to serve foreign nations after being educated at Indian public expense.

Mrs Irani can tell her bureaucrats: “Look, I do not pretend to be a highly educated person but if you think you and your ‘educational consultants’ can bamboozle me you are wrong. I am determined to improve our systems of education and let me tell you what we are going to be doing: we are going to be putting the full power of this ministry on the side of the weakest, most powerless and voiceless stakeholders in the system. Your sole criterion for policy in each educational situation you face is going to be judging what it does for the weakest voiceless stakeholder, typically primary and secondary-age children and their parents, as well as undergraduate or postgraduate students and dedicated teachers and researchers. That’s it.”

She can tell IIT and IIM directors and university VCs and registrars: “Why are you so interested in so many buildings and computer contracts? I’m going to have specially audited all such big purchase items in the last decade and more. And top foreign varsities are putting all their courses online. Can you at least put your faculty members’ names and credentials and courses online too, as well as your syllabi, schedules and accounts? Everyone in higher education will be asked to do the same. All this may enable better informed choice by parents and students while encouraging productive faculty members and discouraging the corrupt”.

She can tell state education ministers: “I fully know your problems of schools with one teacher for 100 children, schools without water or toilets or blackboards or roofs or books, leave aside midday meals. I know your problems with teacher-training and rote learning. Please prepare a practical school-by-school wish list of all the resources you need, and I assure you whatever funding the state government gives towards achieving such a goal, the Union government will double or triple that. We have a lot of public money being wasted on foreign weapons’ systems and all sorts of subsidies leave aside corruption, and I assure you I will find whatever money you need to establish proper schooling throughout India for the first time ever, for all our children.”

If Mrs Irani seeks to even try to do something like this seriously, hope for Indian education will be revived and she’ll have earned the applause of the country.

On the rot of institutions (and what an Academy might be like in the Facebook/Internet Age): Listening to the ladies….

From Facebook Aug 31 2011:

Subroto Roy has really done what he can, just about, for his country, & has been rewarded by his country’s government and its “institution of national importance” with the most despicable evil. It is a toss-up between whether my personal experience of Indian corruption and vicious state-tyranny is worse than my personal experience of bribery and perjury in the federal court system in America.

AKe Your bitterness is understandable. Patriotism is rising above appropriate anger toward individuals and continuing to love and serve the nation, even if it is infected by wicked individuals.

Subroto Roy Yes it is indeed, you are right…

AKe The history of most great nations contains examples of individuals who, though later acknowledged as heroes, were treated shabbily by their respective homelands. It is sad that you are being treated badly, but surely it is just by one institution and its envious employees, rather than by the entire country? At least, I hope this is caused by a small number of wickedly envious people rather than by an established policy of the government.;

Subroto Roy Corruption is endemic in India… the matters I exposed some years ago had to do with (a) apparent siphoning off money in building (and purchase) contracts; and (b) apparently abusing the fiduciary interest of students by stealing from their fees to pay for round the world business-class travel, etc.. No, I am not bitter, either about India or about America but yes, as I have said it is a toss-up between whether my personal experience of Indian corruption and vicious state-tyranny is worse than my personal experience of bribery and perjury in the federal court system in America.

AlKu  A is right, though, that you were affected by individual actions more, I think, than by the nation as a whole in both instances. I wish that your fine work was getting the lion’s share of attention and not causing you troubles at all. But ideas have their natural audiences and all too often that audience is located in the future — as Andrea noted. Keep the faith, Suby. Truth does win out in time. And that really does matter too. Listen to the ladies, Suby …

Subroto Roy Thanks though, that you were affected by individual actions”, Individualism is of course something I know much about since my Hayek days (Frank Hahn called me 26 years ago “probably the outstanding young Hayekian”) but my experience has been mixed.

I have had quite long associations with three academic institutions, two in America, one in India. At the first, my academic work was attacked by a gang of what I have called “inert game theorists”, game theory being the prevalent fashion at the time, there was an academic freedom issue and I let it be; but on top of that arose the open and blatant sexual harassment of a woman graduate student by the department head, and my helping her, in a very minimal but essential way, contributed to the conflict. I did not fight it more than a bit and left (for BYU, where the Mormons gave me refuge and allowed me to complete my book, almost).

The second case, also in America, was one of outrageous collective targeting of my work as an academic and an economist by my national origin, even my purported race and religion, and when I did battle that, having immense faith in the American system, my adversary responded by demonstrated perjury, buying out my attorney (and getting caught doing it), and compromising the federal judge. Not good. Certainly my faith in the American system was shaken but *not* in America herself — why? because two of the greatest 20th C American economists, Milton Friedman and TW Schultz — gladly stood for me, and their testimony (ignored by the compromised judge) was far more important than anything else to me. I.e., it was these two American *individuals* (as well as several others less eminent but equally heroic) who allowed my faith in America to continue unshaken even though the personal experience of the institutions had been ghastly.

The Indian case is wholly different as it is a wholly different political culture for the most part. The issues are cheap and pathetic — fraudulent academic credentials, stealing money from the government, stealing money from students, stealing others’ property wherever possible in the knowledge you can get away with it, etc.

There is hardly anything of deep significance involved except it gives the lie to all the government and elite propaganda about how well India is doing — and in that context becomes relevant too what I did in America which came to Rajiv Gandhi through my advice to him in his last months

AlK meanwhile, it was Abigail Adams’s sage advice to “remember the ladies”

Subroto Roy Indeed I do, and follow it; my best buddy, an old lady almost 86, is usually full of sage wisdom these days.

Subroto Roy What is the solution? It is, in my case. what I have said here: “A friend has been kind enough to call me an Academician, which I probably am, though one who really needs his own Academy because the incompetence, greed and mendacity encountered too often in the modern professoriat is dispiriting.”

Subroto Roy And what does such an Academy consist of in the Internet/Facebook Age? Big buildings? Naaaa…

AlK What would Socrates do???? WWSD — for short

Subroto Roy Quite so, what would Socrates do? His Academy today would be his Facebook profile and his blog. 🙂

AlK I get to be Plato — called it first!!

Subroto Roy LOL… Platoletha has a nice ancient ring about it…

AK I think Aletha would be Πλάτωνίσ, and I would then be Ἀριστοτέλά, your devoted acolytes.

Subroto Roy LOL… 🙂 I actually was given the Roman name Subius Maximus myself by my buddy Bobbus Fluhartius, aka Bob Fluharty in Charleston WVa..

“Climate Change” Alarmism (2008/9): The real battle is against corruption, pollution, deforestation, energy waste etc

Last year I wrote but happened not to publish this brief article which may be relevant today.

Climate Change Alarmism: The real battle is against corruption, pollution, deforestation, energy waste etc

Subroto Roy
May 28 2008

Like the AIDS epidemic that never was, “climate change” is on its way to becoming the new myth sold by paternalist governments and their bureaucrat/scientist busybodies to ordinary people coping with their normal lives. E.g., someone says, without any trace of irony: “Everyone in the world should have the same emissions quota. Since Trotsky’s permanent revolution is unfortunately on hold at the moment, and the world still happens to be partitioned into nations, once the per capita quotas are determined they would have to be grouped on a nationwide basis”.

Trotskyism will have to be made of sterner stuff. Canada’s Lorne Gunter (*National Post* 20 May 2008) reports that Noel Keenlyside, the principal scientist who suggested that man-made global warming exists, has now led a team from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Science and Max Planck Institute of Meteorology which “for the first time entered verifiable data on ocean circulation cycles into one of the UN’s climate supercomputers, and the machine spit out a projection that there will be no more warming for the foreseeable future.…” Oops! So much for impending catastrophe. Rajendra Pachauri himself has in January “reluctantly admitted to Reuters… that there has been no warming so far in the 21st Century”.

Mr Pachauri had earlier gone on Indian television comparing himself to CV Raman and Mother Theresa as an Indian Nobel Prize winner — in fact, Al Gore and the 2500 member “UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” chaired by Mr Pachauri shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year. Now the prediction from that UN “Panel” of “a 0.3 deg C rise in temperature in the coming decade” has been contradicted by Noel Keenlyside’s own scientific results. Gunter reports further that 2007 “saw a drop in the global average temperature of nearly 0.7 deg C (the largest single-year movement up or down since global temperature averages have been calculated). Despite advanced predictions that 2007 would be the warmest year on record, made by such UN associates as Britain’s Hadley Centre, a government climate research agency, 2007 was the coolest year since at least 1993. According to the U. S. National Climatic Data Centre, the average temperature of the global land surface in January 2008 was below the 20th-Century mean for the first time since 1982. Also in January, Southern Hemisphere sea ice coverage was at its greatest summer level (January is summer in the Southern Hemisphere) in the past 30 years. Neither the 3,000 temperature buoys that float throughout the world’s oceans nor the eight NASA satellites that float above our atmosphere have recorded appreciable warming in the past six to eight years. Climate alarmists the world over were quick to add that they had known all along there would be periods when the Earth’s climate would cool even as the overall trend was toward dangerous climate change.”

Honest government doctors know that the myth that HIV/AIDS can spread at Western rates in a society as conservative and sexless as India’s has diverted vast public resources away from India’s numerous real killer diseases: filariasis, dysentery, leprosy, influenza, malaria, gastroenteritis, TB, whooping cough, enteric fever, infectious hepatitis, gonococcal infection, syphilis, measles, tetanus, chicken-pox, cholera, rabies, diptheria, meningococcal infection, poliomelitis, dengue and haemmorrhagic fever and encephalitis. Candid environmentalists similarly know that obsessing about climate change distracts from what is significant and within our power to do, namely, the prevention or at least regulation of the pollution of our air and water and prevention of the waste of energy using policies appropriate for a myriad of local communities and neighbourhoods.

The pollution of India’s atmosphere, rivers, lakes, roads and public property is an unending disgrace. Pollution and corruption are mirror images of each other: corruption is to steal something valuable that belongs to the public; pollution is to dispose private waste into the public domain. Both occur conspicuously where property rights between public and private domains are vague or fuzzy, where pricing of public and private goods and services is distorted, and where judicial and legal processes enforcing contracts are for whatever reason weak or inoperable.

Walk into any government office in India and lights, fans, ACs may be found working at top speed whether or not any living being can be seen. A few rare individual bureaucrats may be concerned but India’s Government as a whole cares not a hoot if public electricity or for that matter any public funds and resources are being wasted, stolen or abused.
At the same time, private motorists face little disincentive from pouring untaxed “black money” into imported gas-guzzling heavy automobiles regardless of India’s narrow roads and congestion. There are no incentives whatsoever for anyone who does not have to do so to want to bicycle or walk to work. The “nuclear deal” involves importing “six to eight lightwater reactors” on a turnkey basis; like the Enron-Dabhol deal a decade ago, it makes no financial sense at all and will make even less if the rupee depreciates anytime in future. Our government policy is in general invented and carried out regardless of technical or financial feasibility; the waste of energy and pollution of the environment are merely examples of the waste of resources and abuse of public property in general.

Someone says “The North”, mainly the USA, “is primarily responsible for climate change”. He may mean Western countries have contributed relatively more pollutants and effluents into the world’s waters and air which is probably a good guess since the West has also contributed more to the world’s scientific, industrial and agricultural progress in general over the centuries.

But to think human beings today understand the complexities of climate and its changes adequately enough to be able to control it is a fatal conceit. Philip Stott, emeritus professor of biogeography at the University of London, is among many scientists who have challenged “the key contradiction at the heart of the Kyoto Protocol, the global climate agreement – that climate is one of the most complex systems known, yet that we can manage it by trying to control a small set of factors, namely greenhouse gas emissions. Scientifically, this is not mere uncertainty: it is a lie…The problem with a chaotic coupled non-linear system as complex as climate is that you can no more predict successfully the outcome of doing something as of not doing something. Kyoto will not halt climate change. Full stop.” (BBC 25 February 2002). For Indian foreign or economic policy to waffle on about climate change is as ineffectual and irrelevant as for the Indian Finance Minister to waffle on about AIDS.

“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last.

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy  is hurt that Christopher Booker says “Not for nothing was Copenhagen the city in which Hans Andersen wrote his story about the Emperor whose people were brainwashed into believing that he was wearing a beautiful suit of clothes” because he always thought Hans Andersen meant it for modern New Delhi.

Protected: The point is not about a PhD but deception about it

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Protected: Why the Governing Body of India’s National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) Must Resign In Toto And A Fresh Board Constituted: A Letter to Shri Bimal Jalan, MP, Rajya Sabha, et al

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On the general theory of expertise in democracy: reflections on what emerges from the American “torture memos” today

Twenty years ago, I wrote in Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, London & New York, 1989) quoting from Solzhenitsyn’s experience:

“….the received theory of economic policy… must be silent about the appropriate role of the expert not only under conditions of tyranny (Solzhenitsyn: “The prison doctor was the interrogator’s and executioner’s right-hand man. The beaten prisoner would come to on the floor only to hear the doctor’s voice: ‘You can continue, the pulse is normal’” ); but also where the duly elected government of an open and democratic society proceeded to do things patently wrong or tyrannical (the imprisonment of the Japanese Americans). Hence Popper’s “paradox of democracy” and “tyranny of the majority”..… A theory of economic policy which both assumes a free and open society and bases itself upon a moral scepticism cannot have anything to say ultimately about the objective reasons why a free and open society may be preferred to an unfree or closed society, or about the good or bad outcomes that may be produced by the working of democratic processes…”

Today’s Washington Post reports:

“When the CIA began what it called an “increased pressure phase” with captured terrorism suspect Abu Zubaida in the summer of 2002, its first step was to limit the detainee’s human contact to just two people. One was the CIA interrogator, the other a psychologist. During the extraordinary weeks that followed, it was the psychologist who apparently played the more critical role. According to newly released Justice Department documents, the psychologist provided ideas, practical advice and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break Abu Zubaida, physically and mentally. Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear — all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so. “No severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted,” a Justice Department lawyer said in a 2002 memo explaining why waterboarding, or simulated drowning, should not be considered torture. The role of health professionals as described in the documents has prompted a renewed outcry from ethicists who say the conduct of psychologists and supervising physicians violated basic standards of their professions. Their names are among the few details censored in the long-concealed Bush administration memos released Thursday, but the documents show a steady stream of psychologists, physicians and other health officials who both kept detainees alive and actively participated in designing the interrogation program and monitoring its implementation. Their presence also enabled the government to argue that the interrogations did not include torture. Most of the psychologists were contract employees of the CIA, according to intelligence officials familiar with the program. “The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology,” said Frank Donaghue, chief executive of Physicians for Human Rights, an international advocacy group made up of physicians opposed to torture. “All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again.” The CIA declined to comment yesterday on the role played by health professionals in the agency’s self-described “enhanced interrogation program,” which operated from 2002 to 2006 in various secret prisons overseas. “The fact remains that CIA’s detention and interrogation effort was authorized and approved by our government,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said Thursday in a statement to employees. The Obama administration and its top intelligence leaders have banned harsh interrogations while also strongly opposing investigations or penalties for employees who were following their government’s orders. The CIA dispatched personnel from its office of medical services to each secret prison and evaluated medical professionals involved in interrogations “to make sure they could stand up, psychologically handle it,” according to a former CIA official. The alleged actions of medical professionals in the secret prisons are viewed as particularly troubling by an array of groups, including the American Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross. AMA policies state that physicians “must not be present when torture is used or threatened.” The guidelines allow doctors to treat detainees only “if doing so is in their [detainees’] best interest” and not merely to monitor their health “so that torture can begin or continue.” The American Psychological Association has condemned any participation by its members in interrogations involving torture, but critics of the organization faulted it for failing to censure members involved in harsh interrogations. The ICRC, which conducted the first independent interviews of CIA detainees in 2006, said the prisoners were told they would not be killed during interrogations, though one was warned that he would be brought to “the verge of death and back again,” according to a confidential ICRC report leaked to the New York Review of Books last month. “The interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics,” the ICRC report concluded….” (emphasis added)

Twenty-five years ago, the draft-manuscript that became the book Philosophy of Economics got me into much trouble in American academia. As I have said elsewhere, a gang of “inert game theorists”, similar to many (often unemployable ex-mathematicians) who had come to and still dominate what passes for academic economics in many American and European universities, did not like at all what I was saying. A handful of eminent senior economists – Frank Hahn, T W Schultz, Milton Friedman, James M Buchanan, Sidney Alexander – defended my work and but for their support over the decade 1979-1989, my book would not have seen light of day.  Eventually, I have had to battle over years in the US federal courts over it – only to find myself having to battle bribery of court officers and the suborning of perjury by government legal officers  too! (And speaking of government-paid psychologists, I was even required at one point by my corrupt opponent to undergo tests for having had the temerity of being in court at all! Fortunately for me that particular psychologist declined to participate in the nefariousness of his employer!).

I find all this poignant today as Philosophy of Economics may have, among other things, described the general theoretical problem that has been brought to light today.  I was delighted to hear from a friend in 1993 that my book had been prescribed for a course at Yale Law School and was strewn all over an alley in the bookshop.

Separately, I am also delighted to find that a person pioneering the current work is a daughter of our present PM. I have been sharply critical of Dr Singh’s economics and politics, but I have also said I have had high personal regard for him ever since 1973 when he, as a friend of my father’s, visited our then-home in Paris to advise me before I embarked on my study of economics. My salute to the ACLU’s work in this – may it be an example in defeating cases of State-tyranny in India too.

Subroto Roy,

Will someone please teach the BJP’s gerontocracy some Economics 101 on an emergency basis?

Two years ago, I said in “Political Paralysis”,

“[I]f Atal Behari Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani could bring themselves to honestly walk away from BJP politics, there would have to be a genuine leadership contest and some new principles emerging in their party. There is an excellent and very simple political reason for Vajpayee and Advani to go, which is not that they are too old (which they are) but that they led their party to electoral defeat. Had they walked away in May 2004, there might have been by now some viable conservative political philosophy in India and some recognisable new alternative leadership for 2009. Instead there is none and the BJP has not only failed very badly at being a responsible Opposition, it will go into the 2009 General Election looking exceptionally decrepit and incompetent.”

Lest anyone think this was a tirade against the BJP, most of the article was actually a criticism of the Congress and the Communists!

Mr LK Advani’s claim that Indian resources have been illegally shipped overseas is hardly new or interesting — what is truly grotesque is the sheer irresponsibility of his claim that if somehow this could be reversed, it would suffice to

” Relieve the debts of all farmers and landless • Build world-class roads all over the country – from national and state highways to district and rural roads; • Completely eliminate the acute power shortage in the country and also to bring electricity to every unlit rural home; • Provide safe and adequate drinking water in all villages and towns in India • Construct good-quality houses, each worth Rs. 2.5 lakh, for 10 crore families; • Provide Rs. 4 crore to each of the nearly 6 lakh villages; the money can be used to build, in every single village, a school with internet-enabled education, a primary health centre with telemedicine facility, a veterinary clinic, a playground with gymnasium, and much more. “

This is simply appalling in its sheer mendacity. The BJP is going to give an amnesty to all those with such money and then confiscate it or requisition it or forcibly borrow it to make these resources equivalent to tax-revenues for the purposes of Indian public finance? What can one say beyond this being grotesque in its incomprehension of both facts and economic principles? Could someone who supports the BJP please teach them some Econ 101 asap?

As I have said elsewhere, only quackery, fallacious finance and multitudinous intellectual fraud seem destined to emerge from New Delhi’s governing class of all political parties and their media and businessman friends. “Government finance requires scientific honesty, especially by way of clear rigorous accounting and audit of uses and origins of public resources. That scientific honesty is what we have not had at Union or State level for more than half a century.”

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

Could this be the real state of some of our higher education institutions?

Just how much intellectual fraud can Delhi produce?

Today’s English-language newspapers report a front-page story that suggests the extent of intellectual fraud emanating from our capital-city’s English-speaking elite may be unending and limitless and uncontrollable (and this  Delhi-based elite has spread itself to other places in the country too).

Such  may be a source of our ridiculous politics, paralleled by the corruption in organized business in both public and private sectors.  Delhi was perhaps the wrong place to which to move India’s capital  one hundred years ago; the geography was such that it made ordinary survival hard or at least highly stressful, and when you have a capital-city in which the elite have to work so hard all the time merely to remain within the city-limits, it was inevitable perhaps that truthfulness and honesty would become  major casualties.

Subroto Roy

Satyam and IT-firms in general may be good candidates to become “Labour-Managed” firms

Satyam may be able to summarily solve the problems caused by its high-level corporate fraud by transforming itself into a “Labour-Managed Firm”.

One of the new Government-appointed board members has stated publicly today that the company has little or no debt.  If this is true it would be interesting because not only were the vast cash-assets non-existent, the liabilities-side of the balance-sheet also may be small, which could mean the company was simply far smaller in terms of value than it had made itself out to be.  In a bankrupt firm, the remaining assets normally come to belong to the creditors but what if the main creditors happen to be the work-force?  If that is in fact the situation in this case, Satyam may be a prime candidate to be transformed into a “Labour-Managed Firm” of the sort discussed by Jaroslav Vanek (The General Theory of Labour Managed Firms and Market Economies, 1970) and James Meade (The theory of the labour-managed firm and profit-sharing, Economic Journal 1972), and surveyed by e.g. Louis Putterman in the New Palgrave Dictionary and by Martin Ricketts in The Economics of Business Enterprise 2003.

As I had briefly mentioned earlier here, the transition could be made by Satyam’s existing  technical and other staff being allowed to participate (with their personal savings and claims to future income) in any auction of the “works-in-progress” that constitute the client contracts the company presently has around the world and which constitute its major intangible asset.   This may be the single best way to preserve the firm’s value as well as the income-streams of its staff.

The staff would have to make a transition from being employees to becoming self-managers which may not be easy in practice, although in theory the information-technology industry may be well-suited to labour-managed firms given the peculiarly intangible nature of their products.  The marginal cost of production of (true) information is typically very high but the marginal cost of dissemination of information  is near- zero.

If this happened and a corrupt bankrupt Satyam-I transformed itself into a viable Labour-Managed Satyam-II, the newly appointed board would become redundant even more quickly than it would have done otherwise — though this board may be even less likely to know of Vanek and Meade than to be familiar with modern corporate finance.  Time perhaps to hit the textbooks, gentlemen, and burn that midnight candle!  Is that something we can expect from some of the key lobbyists of India’s organized business sector?

Subroto Roy

Postscript  1 :  Of course if the asset-side has been fraudulently exaggerated while the liabilities-side has been small, the fraud has been directly perpetrated on equity-holders who held stock that was overvalued  by the market as a direct result of the fraud.

Postscript 2:  I find (grotesquely) amusing the new found emphasis on “Independent Directors” in view of the obvious fraud in the advertised biographies of some rather notorious Independent Directors in the IT-business and other sectors of corporate India and the higher bureaucracy!   There seems in fact to have been a wild hyperinflation of reputations generally, especially in Delhi,  Mumbai,  Bangalore, Pune and other such hip with-it places  — people claiming to have earned PhDs when they have none,  people calling themselves “Dr” on the basis of some defunct Soviet management institute  having once paid them off, people claiming to be Harvard postgraduates on the basis of  some outsourced executive development programme of a few weeks’ duration, people claiming academic publications and academic affiliations which are non-existent, etc etc.   All that for another day!  (But any former students of mine who may find the above pertinent to themselves may please know their old prof is cross with them! Tsk tsk!)  (And then there was the one of the senior government economic planner who told his astrologer on the  telephone his correct date  of birth but had lied to the Government of India by a couple of years…. clearly he did not want to get his own Ptolomaic horoscope wrong even if his plans for India in the Copernican world went awry!)

Corporate Governance & the Principal-Agent Problem (a brief lecture dated 31 May 2006)

Corporate Governance & the Principal-Agent Problem
by

Subroto Roy
for a conference on corporate governance

I am most grateful for this opportunity to speak at this distinguished gathering.  I have to say I have had just a day to collect my thoughts on the subject of our discussion, so I may be less precise than I would wish to be.  But I am delighted I  have  a mere 7 minutes to speak, and I will not plan to speak for a second more!

I would like to ask you to consider the following pairings:

PATIENT: DOCTOR
CLIENT: LAWYER
PUPIL: TEACHER
STUDENT: PROFESSOR
SHAREHOLDER: DIRECTORS & MANAGERS
CITIZEN: GOVERNMENT

You will recognize something in common to all of these pairings I am sure.  A patient goes to a doctor with a problem, like a swelling or a stomach ache or a fever, and expects the doctor to do his/her best to treat it successfully.  A client goes to a  lawyer with a problem, of a contract or a tort or a criminal charge, and expects the lawyer to represent him to the best of his ability.  A student attends a University or higher educational Institute, and expects the professors there to impart some necessary knowledge,  to explain some difficult or complex natural or social phenomena, to share some well-defined expertise, so the student too may aspire to becoming an expert.

In each case, there is a Principal – namely the patient, the client, the student, — and there is an Agent, namely, the doctor, the lawyer, the professor.  The Agent is not acting out of charity but is someone who receives payment from the Principal either directly through fees or indirectly through taxes.

The Agent is also someone who necessarily knows more than the Principal about the answer to the Principal’s problem.  I.e. there is an asymmetry in the information between the two sides.   The Agent has the relevant information or expertise —  the Principal needs this information or expertise and wishes to purchase it from him one way or another.

A company’s Board of Directors and the management that reports to it, may be similarly assumed to have far greater specific knowledge than the company’s shareholders (and other stakeholders) about the state of a company’s operations, its finances, its organisation, its position in various input and output markets, its potential for growth in the industry it is a part of, and so on.  Yet the shareholders are the Principal and the directors and managers are their Agents.

And indeed the Government of a country, i.e. its political leadership and the bureaucracy and military that are reporting to it, also have much more relevant decision-making information available to them than does the individual citizen as to the economic and political direction the country should be taking and why, and again the body of the ordinary citizenry of any country may have a reasonable expectation that politicians, bureaucrats and military generals are acting on their behalf.

In each of these cases, the Principal, having less information than the Agent, must necessarily trust that the Agent is going to be acting in good faith on the Principal’s behalf.  There is a corporate governance problem in each case simply because the Agent can abuse this derived power that he acquires over the Principal, and breach the contract he has entered into with the Principal.   Doctors or lawyers can practise improperly, professors can cheat their students of their money and teach them nothing or less than nothing, boards of directors and managers can cheat their shareholders and other “stakeholders” (including their workers who have expectations about the company) of value that should be rightfully theirs — and of course politicians, bureaucrats and military men are all too easily able to misuse the public purse in a way that the public will not even begin to know how to rectify.

In such situations, the only real checks against abuse can come from within the professions themselves.   It is only doctors who can control medical malpractice, and only a doctor can certify that another doctor has behaved badly.  It is only lawyers who can control legal malpractice, and testify that yes a client has been cheated of his money by some unscrupulous attorney.  It is only good professors and good teachers who can do what they can to stand out as contrasting examples against corrupt professors or incompetent teachers.

In case of managerial malpractice, it is only fellow-managers who may be able to comprehend the scam that a particular CEO has been part of, in stealing money from his shareholders.   And in case of political malpractice, similarly, it is only rival political parties and when even those fail, rival political institutions like the courts or the press and media, who can expose the shenanigans of a Government, and tell an electorate to throw the rascals out in the next election.

In other words, self-policing, and professional self-discipline are the only ultimate checks and balances that any society has.  The ancient Greeks asked the question “Who guards the guardians”,  and the answer has to be that the guardians themselves have to guard themselves.   We ultimately must police ourselves .  I think it was William Humboldt who said that a people get the government they deserve.

In India today, indeed in India in the last thirty or forty years, perhaps ever since 1966 after the passing away of Lal Bahadur Shastri, we may be facing a universal problem of the breach of good faith especially so perhaps in the Government and the organised corporate sector.   Such breaches occur in other countries too, but when an American court sends the top management of Enron to jail for many years or a Korean court sends the top management of Daewoo to jail for many years, we know that there are processes in these countries which are at least making a show of trying to rectify the breaches of good faith that may have occurred there.   That is regrettably not the situation in India.  And the main responsibility for that rests with our Government simply because our Government is by far the largest organised entity in the country and dwarfs everyone else.

As an economist, I have been personally intrigued to realise that Government corruption is closely caused by the complete absence of serious accounting and audit norms being followed in Government organisations and institutions.   Get control of as big a budget as you can, is the aim of every Government department, then spend as little of it as is absolutely necessary on the publicly declared social or national aim that the department is supposed to have, and instead spend as much as possible on the travel or personal lifestyles of those in charge, or better still transform as much as possible into the personal property of those in charge – for example, through kickbacks on equipment purchases or building contracts.  For example, it is not unknown for the head of some or other government institution to receive an apartment off-site from a builder who may have been chosen for a major construction project on site.  This kind of thing has unfortunately become the implicit goal of almost all departments of the Government of India as well as the Governments of our more than two dozen States.    I have no doubt it is a state of affairs ultimately being caused by the macroeconomic processes of continuous deficit-financing and unlimited printing of paper-money over decades.   For the first two decades or so after Independence, our institutions still had enough self-discipline, integrity, competence and optimism to correct for the natural human instincts of greed and domination.  The next four decades — roughly, as I have said, from the death of Shastriji — there has been increasing social and political rot.  I have to wonder if and when a monetary collapse will follow.

Fable of the Fox, the Farmer, and the Would-Be Tailors (circa Oct 1998)

Fable of the Fox, the Farmer, and the Would-Be Tailors

In the Land of Milk and Honey, there was once a great shortage of Tailors. So the King called for Tailors from all other Lands to come, and they would be each paid the princely sum of forty gold ducats for their work…

A Fox who lived in the Land of Stones and Dust heard of this. In the Land of Stones and Dust, people were hardworking but were mostly poor and destitute. If they worked hard all year, they could manage to keep only a half or maybe one ducat of gold. The Fox had an idea. Maybe he could start sending people to be Tailors in the Land of Milk and Honey. So he called a big gathering of the people and said: “People of the Land of Stones and Dust! I want to make you wealthy. All year long you toil and make only a few ducats under the blazing sun! I will make you into Tailors and send you within a few short weeks to the cool and lovely Land of Milk and Honey! Do you know how much a Tailor makes there? Forty gold ducats in a year! Think of that! You and your family will live in the lap of luxury!“ There was a sigh of disbelief mixed with happiness in the crowd at the mention of such an unearthly large sum of money. Nobody, not even the richest, could earn such amounts here, which mere Tailors could make over there! None of the people had been to the Land of Milk and Honey but they had heard many stories of its riches before.

“Come right up, sign right here, sign right here!” said the Fox, and many people crowded to sign on. “It will cost you a couple of ducats, just a couple, that’s all, and we will soon have you off to the Land of Milk and Honey where forty gold ducats are yours for the taking! Isn’t that something?!” When he mentioned the two ducats they had to pay, a lot of people stopped. “But how can we pay so much, you know that in our country we only earn a pittance every year; two ducats are beyond our reach, it means our life’s savings!” “Come now my friends,” said the Fox, “what kind of spirit is that? Can’t you see that soon within a few short weeks you will be in the Land of Milk and Honey, and as a Tailor you will be making forty ducats, now isn’t that truly a princely sum the likes of which you’ve never seen? Think about that! You are being asked to contribute a little something to that goal, what’s one or two ducats here and there, think of your future! If you don’t have the two ducats in your pocket, sell a few things you don’t need, even your house for soon you will be on your way to the Land of Milk and Honey!”

The Fox spoke so persuasively and with such a kind voice and generosity in his eyes that as many as one hundred and sixty people sold their belongings, and each confidently put two ducats into the Fox’s hands. The three hundred and twenty gold ducats brought tears of joy to the Fox as he counted them; this could become such a pleasant activity he thought to himself!

But now, he thought, I have a problem; the King of the Land of Milk and Honey has asked for Tailors, and these people I have are all woodcutters, weavers and candlestick-makers. Somehow, I have to make them all Tailors. Let me go to my friend the Farmer, maybe he can teach them some tailoring for a few ducats!

The Old Farmer listened to the Fox’s offer with increasing anticipation. He had always liked a good sum of money in hand though he was careful not to show it by any ostentation. He had many mouths to feed, and besides if something was left over he would like to visit the Land of Milk and Honey just once himself with all his family. “Certainly, my good friend,” he told the Fox, “give me the money and soon I’ll make tailors out of these people. Oh what fun we shall have together!” The fact he was a farmer and not a tailor himself or that he had never been to the Land of Milk and Honey and knew nothing about it did not seem to bother him. He was a man who felt he knew the substance of almost all the subjects under the sun beneath which he had toiled. Why, even on the subject of tailoring in the Land of Milk and Honey, he had an opinion or two which he felt to be surely among the very best. Besides, he said to himself, what he knew not himself he would rely on his many friends and relatives to provide. So he brought together his wife, who did some sewing, and a cousin who had once cut cloth for a coat, and three nephews who were apprenticed to a weaver, and two of his nieces who were supposed to knit wool so fast that it was said they could make a whole blanket in half a day, as well as a few trusted friends here and there, including one who had once been a tailor’s apprentice many years ago but had not succeeded because of his poor eyesight.

And the Fox brought all the Would-be Tailors to the Old Farmer, who put them all in a room with his kith and kin so they could be taught their skills every day and night for some weeks. A Traveller happened to pass through and find this in progress. “But will this help these woodcutters, weavers and candlestick-makers to become Tailors?” he innocently asked the Old Farmer. The Old Farmer made no reply. Instead, in the deep of night when the Traveller slept, the Farmer and the Fox arranged to have the hapless fool’s throat cut and then threw his body into the sea.

When the Would-Be Tailors came out of the room into the sunlight, the Fox had ships ready for them at the harbour to take them to the Land of Milk and Honey. He bundled them on board, and almost before they could say their farewells to their loved ones, the ships were quickly on their way. “But are we Tailors now?” shouted one from the decks. “What?”, the Fox said over all the noise, “are you Tailors now? Yes, yes, of course you are Tailors, what else do you think you are, don’t worry about anything, you are Tailors all right, you are just what they want in the Land of Milk and Honey, work hard now, and all the best to you, good luck!”

Alas, it was not to be. Some of the Would-Be Tailors never reached as their ships sank en route. Others reached but could not find work or were killed by the locals in the Land of Milk and Honey or were sent in slave ships back to the Land of Stones and Dust. A few Would-Be Tailors did manage to stay on somehow and per chance learned to become tailors and earn a modest living, but they too yearned for their homes and families and even the hot sun of their own Land of Stones and Dust. As for the Fox and the Old Farmer, life went on nicely enough, as they went from town to town speaking to people about the glories and riches that awaited them in the cool and lovely Land of Milk and Honey, and many crowds gathered to hear them everywhere they went.

Moral: Do not interfere with people when they are making money (or, for that matter, when they are eating, or making love).

Transparency and Economic Policy-Making

Transparency and Economic Policy-Making

An address by Professor Subroto Roy to the Asia-Pacific Public Relations Conference, (panel on Transparency chaired by C. R. Irani) January 30 1998.

This talk is dedicated to the memory of my sister Suchandra Bhattacharjee (14.02.1943-10.01.1998).
1. I would like to talk about transparency and economic policy-making in our country. For something to be transparent is, in plain language, for it to be able to be openly seen through, for it to not to be opaque, obscure or muddy, for it to be clear to the naked eye or to the reasonable mind. A clear glass of water is a transparent glass of water. Similarly, an open and easily comprehensible set of economic policies is a transparent set of economic policies.

The philosopher Karl Popper wrote a famous book after the Second World War titled The Open Society and its Enemies. It contained a passionate defence of liberal institutions and democratic freedoms and a bitter attack on totalitarian doctrines of all kinds. It generated a lot of controversy, especially over its likely misreading of the best known work of political philosophy since the 4th Century BC, namely, Plato’s Republic .[1] I shall borrow Popper’s terms ‘open society’ and ‘closed society’ and will first try to make this a useful distinction for modern times, and then apply it to the process of economic policy-making in India today.

2. An open society is one in which the ordinary citizen has reasonably easy access to any and all information relating to the public or social interest — whether the information is directly available to the citizen himself or herself, or is indirectly available to his or her elected representatives like MP’s and MLA’s. Different citizens will respond to the same factual information in different ways, and conflict and debate about the common good will result. But that would be part of the democratic process.

The assessment that any public makes about the government of the day depends on both good and bad news about the fate of the country at any given time. In an open society, both good news and bad news is out there in the pubic domain — open to be assessed, debated, rejoiced over, or wept about. If we win a cricket match or send a woman into space we rejoice. If we lose a child in a manhole or a busload of children in a river, we weep. If some tremendous fraud on the public exchequer comes to be exposed, we are appalled. And so on.

It is the hallmark of an open society that its citizens are mature enough to cope with both the good and the bad news about their country that comes to be daily placed before them. Or, perhaps more accurately, the experience of having to handle both good and bad news daily about their world causes the citizens in an open society to undergo a process of social maturation in formulating their understanding of the common good as well as their responses to problems or crises that the community may come to face. They might be thereby thought of as improving their civic capacities, as becoming better-informed and more discerning voters and decision-makers, and so becoming better citizens of the country in which they live.

The opposite of an open society is a closed society — one in which a ruling political party or a self-styled elite or nomenclatura keep publicly important information to themselves, and do not allow the ordinary citizen easy or reasonably free access to it. The reason may be merely that they are intent on accumulating assets for themselves as quickly as they can while in office, or that they are afraid of public anger and want to save their own skins from demands for accountability. Or it may be that they have the impression that the public is better off kept in the dark — that only the elite nomenclatura is in position to use the information to serve the national interest.

In a closed society it is inevitable that bad news comes to be censored or suppressed by the nomenclatura, and so the good news gets exaggerated in significance. News of economic disasters, military defeats or domestic uprisings gets suppressed. News of victories or achievements or heroics gets exaggerated. If there are no real victories, achievements or heroics, fake ones have to be invented by government hacks — although the suppressed bad news tends to silently whisper all the way through the public consciousness in any case.

Such is the way of government propaganda in almost every country, even those that pride themselves on being free and democratic societies. Dostoevsky’s cardinal advice in Brothers Karamasov was: “Above all, never lie to yourself”. Yet people in power tend to become so adept at propaganda that they start to deceive themselves and forget what is true and what is false, or worse still, cannot remember how to distinguish between true and false in the first place. In an essay thirty years ago titled Truth and Politics, the American scholar Hannah Arendt put it like this:

“Insofar as man carries within himself a partner from whom he can never win release, he will be better off not to live with a murderer or a liar; or: since thought is the silent dialogue carried out between me and myself, I must be careful to keep the integrity of this partner intact, for otherwise I shall surely lose the capacity for thought altogether.”[2]

3. Closed societies may have been the rule and open societies the exception for most of human history. The good news at the end of the 20th Century is surely that since November 7 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, the closed society has officially ceased to be a respectable form of human social organization. The age of mass access to television and telecommunications at the end of the 20th Century may be spelling the permanent end of totalitarianism and closed societies in general. The Berlin Wall was perhaps doomed to fall the first day East Germans were able to watch West German television programs.

Other than our large and powerful neighbour China, plus perhaps North Korea, Myanmar, and some Islamic countries, declared closed societies are becoming hard to find, and China remains in two minds whether to be open or closed. No longer is Russia or Romania or Albania or South Africa closed in the way each once was for many years. There may be all sorts of problems and confusions in these countries but they are or trying to become open societies.

Under the glare of TV cameras in the 21st Century, horrors like the Holocaust or the Gulag or even an atrocity like Jalianwalla Bag or the Mai Lai massacre will simply not be able to take place anywhere in the world. Such things are not going to happen, or if they do happen, it will be random terrorism and not systematic, large scale genocide of the sort the 20th Century has experienced. The good news is that somehow, through the growth of human ingenuity that we call technical progress, we may have made some moral progress as a species as well.

4. My hypothesis, then, is that while every country finds its place on a spectrum of openness and closedness with respect to its political institutions and availability of information, a broad and permanent drift has been taking place as the 20th Century comes to an end in the direction of openness.

With this greater openness we should expect bad news not to come to be suppressed or good news not to come to be exaggerated in the old ways of propaganda. Instead we should expect more objectively accurate information to come about in the public domain — i.e., better quality and more reliable information, in other words, more truthful information. This in turn commensurately requires more candour and maturity on the part of citizens in discussions about the national or social interest. Closed society totalitarianism permitted the general masses to remain docile and unthinking while the nomenclatura make the decisions. Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor said that is all that can be expected of the masses. Open society transparency and democracy defines the concept of an ordinary citizen and requires from that citizen individual rationality and individual responsibility. It is the requirement Pericles made of the Athenians:

“Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well; even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics – this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.”[3]

5. All this being said, I am at last in a position to turn to economic policy in India today. I am sorry to have been so long-winded and pedantic but now I can state my main substantive point bluntly: in India today, there is almost zero transparency in the information needed for effective macroeconomic policy-making whether at the Union or State levels. To illustrate by some examples.

(A) Macroeconomic policy-making in any large country requires the presence of half a dozen or a dozen well-defined competing models produced by the government and private agencies, specifying plausible causal links between major economic variables, and made testable against time-series data of reasonably long duration. In India we seem to have almost none. The University Economics Departments are all owned by some government or other and can hardly speak out with any academic freedom. When the Ministry of Finance or RBI or Planning Commission, or the India teams of the World Bank or IMF, make their periodic statements they do not appear to be based on any such models or any such data-base. If any such models exist, these need to be published and placed in the public domain for thorough discussion as to their specification and their data. Otherwise, whatever is being predicted cannot be assessed as being very much more reliable than the predictions obtained from the Finance Minister’s astrologer or palmist. (NB: Horse-Manure is a polite word used in the American South for what elsewhere goes by the initials of B. S.). Furthermore, there is no follow-up or critical review to see whether what the Government said was going to happen a year ago has in fact happened, and if not, why not.

(B) The Constitution of India defines many States yet no one seems to be quite certain how many States really constitute the Union of India at any given time. We began with a dozen. Some 565 petty monarchs were successfully integrated into a unitary Republic of India, and for some years we had sixteen States. But today, do we really have 26 States? Is Delhi a State? UP with 150 million people would be the fifth or sixth largest country in the world on its own; is it really merely one State of India? Are 11 Small States de facto Union Territories in view of their heavy dependence on the Union? Suppose we agreed there are fifteen Major States of India based on sheer population size: namely, Andhra, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, MP, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, UP and West Bengal. These States account for 93% of the population of India. The average population of these 15 Major States is 58 million people each. That is the size of a major country like France or Britain. In other words, the 870 million people in India’s Major States are numerically 15 Frances or 15 Britains put together.

Yet no reliable, uniformly collected GDP figures exist for these 15 States. The RBI has the best data, and these are at least two years old, and the RBI will tell you without further explanation that the data across States are not comparable. If that is the case at State-level, I do not see how the national-level Gross Domestic Product can possibly be estimated with any meaningfulness at all.

(C) Then we hear about the Government Budget deficit as a percentage of GDP. Now any national government is able to pay for its activities only by taxation or borrowing or by using its monopoly over the domestic medium of exchange to print new money. In India today, universal money-illusion seems to prevail. It would not be widely recognised by citizens, journalists or policy-makers that, say, 100,000 Rupees nominally taxed at 10% under 20% inflation leaves less real disposable income than the same taxed at 20% with 5% inflation. This is in part because inflation figures are unknown or suspect. There is no reliable all-India or State-level consumer price index. The wholesale price index on the basis of which the Government of India makes its inflation statements, may not accurately reflect the actual decline in the purchasing power of money, as measured, say, by rises in prices of alternative stores of value like land. The index includes artificially low administered or subsidized prices for petroleum, cereals, and electricity. To the extent these prices may be expected to move towards international equilibrium prices, the index contains a strong element of deferred inflation. One urgent task for all macroeconomic research in India is construction of reliable price-data indices at both Union and State levels, or at a minimum, the testing for reliability by international standards of series currently produced by Government agencies.

Without reliable macroeconomic information being spread widely through a reasonably well-informed electorate, the Government of India has been able to wash away fiscal budget constraints by monetization and inflation without significant response from voters. The routine method of meeting deficits has become “the use of the printing press to manufacture legal tender paper money”, either directly by paying Government creditors “with new paper money specially printed for the purpose” or indirectly by paying creditors “out of loans to itself from the Central Bank”, issuing paper money to that amount. Every Budget of the Government of India, including the most recent ones of 1996 and 1997, comes to be attended by detailed Press discussion with regard to the minutae of changes in tax rates or tax-collection — yet the enormous phenomena of the automatic monetization of the Government’s deficit is ill-understood and effectively ignored. Historically, a policy of monetization started with the British Government in India during the Second World War, with a more than five-fold increase in money supply occurring between 1939 and 1945. Inflation rates never seen in India before or since were the result (Charts 0000), attended by the Great Famine of 1942/43. Though these were brought down after succession of C. D. Deshmukh as Governor of the Reserve Bank, the policy of automatic monetization did not cease and continues until the present day. Inflation “sooner or later destroys the confidence, not only of businessmen, but of the whole community, in the future value of the currency. Then comes the stage known as “the flight from the currency.” Had the Rupee been convertible during the Bretton Woods period, depreciation would have signalled and helped to adjust for disequilibrium. But exchange-controls imposed during the War were enlarged by the new Governments of India and Pakistan after the British departure to exclude convertible Sterling Area currencies as well. With the Rupee no longer convertible, internal monetization of deficits could continue without commensurate exchange-rate depreciation.

The Reserve Bank was originally supposed to be a monetary authority independent of the Government’s fiscal compulsions. It has been prevented from developing into anything more than a department of the Ministry of Finance, and as such, has become the captive creditor of the Government. The RBI in turn has utilized its supervisory role over banking to hold captive creditors, especially nationalized banks whose liabilities account for 90% of commercial bank deposits in the country. Also captive are nationalized insurance companies and pension funds. Government debt instruments show on the asset side of these balance-sheets. To the extent these may not have been held had banks been allowed to act in the interests of proper management of depositors’ liabilities and share-capital according to normal principles, these are pseudo-assets worth small fractions of their nominal values. Chart 0000 shows that in the last five years the average term structure of Government debt has been shortening rapidly, suggesting the Government is finding it increasingly difficult to find creditors, and portending higher interest rates.

General recognition of these business facts, as may be expected to come about with increasing transparency, would be a recipe for a crisis of confidence in the banking and financial system if appropriate policies were not in place beforehand.

(D) As two last examples, I offer two charts. The first shows the domestic interest burden of the Government of India growing at an alarming rate, even after it has been deflated to real terms. The second tries to show India’s foreign assets and liabilities together – we always come to know what is happening to the RBI’s reserve levels, what is less known or less understood is the structure of foreign liabilities being accumulated by the country. Very roughly speaking, in terms that everyone can understand, every man, woman and child in India today owes something like 100 US dollars to the outside world. The Ministry of Finance will tell you that this is not to be worried about because it is long-term debt and not short-term debt. Even if we take them at their word, interest payments still have to be paid on long-term debt, say at 3% per annum. That means for the stock of debt merely to be financed, every man, woman and child in India must be earning $3 every year in foreign exchange via the sale of real goods and services abroad. I.e., something like $3 billion must be newly earned every year in foreign exchange merely to finance the existing stock of debt. Quite clearly, that is not happening and it would stretch the imagination to see how it can be made to happen.

In sum, then, India, blessed with democratic political traditions which we had to take from the British against their will — remember Tilak, “Freedom is my birthright, and I shall have it” — may still be stuck with a closed society mentality when it comes to the all-important issue of economic policy. There is simply an absence in Indian public discourse of vigourous discussion of economic models and facts, whether at Union or State levels. A friendly foreign ambassador pointedly observed an absence in India of political philosophy. It may be more accurate to say that without adequate experience of a normal agenda of government being seen to be practised, widespread ignorance regarding fiscal and monetary causalities and inexperience of the technology of governance remains in the Indian electorate, as well as among public decision-makers at all levels. Our politicians seem to spend an inordinate amount of their time either garlanding one another with flowers or garlanding statues and photographs of the glorious dead. It is high time they stopped to think about the living and the future.

[1] Renford Bambrough (ed.) Plato, Popper and Politics: Some Contributions to a Modern Controversy, 1967.

[2] Philosophy, Politics and Society, 2nd Series, Peter Laslett & W. G. Runciman (eds.), 1967.

[3] Thucydides, History of the Pelopennesian War, II.40.