No magic wand, Professor Rajan? Oh but there is…2013 (Plus: 7 Jan 2016 “Professor Rajan stays or goes? My answer to a query”)

7 January 2016
rajan

3 June 2014

from World Economy & Central Banking Seminar at Facebook

Professor Rajan’s statement “I determine the monetary policy. I say what it is….ultimately the interest rate that is set is set by me” equates Indian monetary policy with the money interest rate; but monetary policy in India has always involved far more than that, namely, the bulk of Indian banking and insurance has been in government hands for decades, all these institutions have been willy-nilly compelled to hold vast stocks of government debt, both Union and State, on their asset-sides…and unlimited unending deficit finance has led to vast expansion of money supply, making it all rather fragile. My “India’s Money” in 2012 might be found useful. http://tinyurl.com/o9dhe8d

11 April 2014

from World Economy & Central Banking Seminar at Facebook

I have to wonder, What is Professor Rajan on about? Growth in an individual country is affected by the world monetary system? Everyone for almost a century has seen it being a real phenomenon affected by other real factors like savings propensities, capital accumulation, learning and productivity changes, innovation, and, broadly, technological progress… A “source country” needs to consult “recipient” countries before it starts or stops Quantitative Easing? Since when? The latter can always match policy such as to be more or less unaffected… unless of course it wants to ride along for free when the going is good and complain loudly when it is not…. Monetary policy may affect the real economy but as a general rule we may expect growth (a real phenomenon) to be affected by other real factors like savings propensities, capital accumulation, learning and productivity changes, innovation, and, broadly, technological progress..

22 September 2013

“Let us remember that the postponement of tapering is only that, a postponement. We must use this time to create a bullet proof national balance sheet and growth agenda, which creates confidence in citizens and investors alike…”

I will say the statement above is the first sensible thing I have heard Dr Rajan utter anywhere, cutting through all the hype…I should also think he may be underestimating the task at hand, so here’s some help as to what needs to be done from my 19 Aug 2013 Mint article “A wand for Raghuram Rajan” and my 3 Dec 2012 Delhi lecture:

“Rajan has apparently said, “We do not have a magic wand to make the problems disappear instantaneously, but I have absolutely no doubt we will deal with them.” Of course there are no magic wands but there is a scientific path forward. It involves system-wide improvements in public finance and accounting using modern information technology to comprehend government liabilities and expenditures and raise their productivity. It also involves institutional changes in public decision-making like separating banking and central banking from the treasury while making the planning function serve the treasury function rather than pretend to be above it. It is a road long and arduous but at its end both corruption and inflation will have been reduced to minimal levels. The rupee will have acquired sufficient integrity to become a hard currency of the world in the sense the average resident of, say, rural Madhya Pradesh or Mizoram may freely convert rupees and hold or trade foreign currencies or precious metals as he/she pleases. India signed the treaty of Versailles as a victor and was an original member of the League of Nations, the United Nations and the IMF. Yet sovereign India has failed to develop a currency universally acceptable as freely convertible world money. It is necessary and possible for India to aim to do so because without such a national aim, the integrity of the currency continues to be damaged regularly by governmental abuse. An RBI governor’s single overriding goal should be to try to bring a semblance of integrity to India’s money both domestically and worldwide.”

 

 

19 August 2013

A wand for Raghuram Rajan

9 August 2013

No magic wand, Professor Rajan? Oh but there is… read up all this over some hours and you will find it… (Of course it’s not from magic really,  just hard economic science & politics)

Professor Raghuram Govind Rajan of the University of Chicago Business School deserves everyone’s congratulations on his elevation to the Reserve Bank of India’s Governorship.  But I am afraid I cannot share the wild optimism in India’s business media over this.  Of course there are several positives to the appointment.  First, having a genuine PhD and that too from a top school is a rarity among India’s policy-makers; Rajan earned a 1991 PhD in finance at MIT’s management school for a thesis titled “Essays on banking” (having to do we are told “with the downside to cozy bank-firm relationships”).   Secondly, and related,  he has not been a career bureaucrat as almost all RBI Governors have been in recent decades.  Thirdly, he has been President of the American Finance Association, he won the first Fischer Black prize in finance of that Association, and during Anne Krueger’s 2001-2006 reign as First Deputy MD at the IMF, he was given the research role made well-known by the late Michael Mussa, that of “Economic Counselor” of the IMF.

Hence, altogether, Professor Rajan has come to be well-known over the last decade in the West’s financial media. Given the dismal state of India’s credit in world capital markets, that is an asset for a new RBI Governor to have.

On the negatives, first and foremost, if Professor Rajan has renounced at any time his Indian nationality, surrendered his Indian passport and sworn the naturalization oath of the USA, then he is a US citizen with a US passport and loyalty owed to that country, and by US law he will have to enter the USA using that and no other nationality.  If that happens to be the factual case, it will be something that comes out in India’s political cauldron for sure, and there will arise legal issues and court orders  barring him from heading the RBI or representing India officially, e.g. when standing in for India’s Finance Minister at the IMF in Washington or the BIS in Basle etc.   Was he an Indian national as Economic Counselor at the IMF?   The IMF has a tradition of only European MDs and at least one American First Deputy MD.   The Economic Counselor was always American too; did Rajan break that by having remained Indian, or conform to it by having become American?  It is a simple question of fact which needs to come out clearly.   Even if Rajan is an American, he and the Government of India could perhaps try to cite to the Indian courts the new precedent set by the venerable Bank of England which recently appointed a Canadian as Governor.

Secondly, does Professor Rajan know enough (or “have enough domain knowledge” in the modern term) to comprehend let aside confront India’s myriad monetary and public finance problems?  Much of his academic experience in the USA and his approach to Western financial markets may be quite simply divorced from the reality of Indian credit markets and India’s peculiar monetary and banking system as these have evolved over decades and centuries.  Mathematical finance is a relatively new, small specialised American sub-field of economic theory, and not a part of general economics. Rajan’s academic path of engineering and management in India followed by a finance thesis in the management department of a US engineering school may have exposed him to relatively little formal textbook micro- and macroeconomics, monetary economics, public finance, international economics, economic development etc, especially as these relate to Indian circumstances  “Growing up in India, I had seen poverty all around me. I had read about John Maynard Keynes and thought, wow, here’s a guy who managed to have an enormous influence on the world. Economics must be very important.”… He ran across Robert Merton’s paper on rational option pricing, and something clicked that set him on his own intellectual path. “It all came together. You didn’t have these touchy-feely ways of describing human behavior; there were neat arbitrage ways of pricing things. It just seemed so clever and sophisticated,” he said. “And I could use the math skills that I fancied I had, so I decided to get my PhD.”

Let me take two examples.  Does Rajan realise how the important Bottomley-Chandavarkar debates of the 1960s about India’s rural credit markets influenced George Akerlof’s “Market for Lemons” theory and prompted much work on “asymmetric information”, 325.extract signalling etc in credit-markets, insurance-markets, labour-markets and markets in general, as acknowledged in the awards of several Bank of Sweden prizes?  Or will he need a tutorial on the facts of rural India’s financial and credit markets, and their relationship with the formal sector?  What the Bottomley-Chandavarkar debate referred to half a century ago still continues in rural India insofar as large arbitrage profits are still made by trading across the artificially low rates of money interest caused by financial repression of India’s “formal” monetised sector with its soft inconvertible currency against the very high real rates of return on capital in the “informal” sector.   It is obvious to the naked eye that India is a relatively labour-abundant country.  It follows the relative price of labour will be low and relative price of capital high compared to, e.g. the Western or Middle Eastern economies, with mobile factors of production like labour and capital expected to flow accordingly across national boundaries.   Indian nominal interest-rates in organized credit markets have been for decades tightly controlled, making it necessary to go back to Irving Fisher’s data to obtain benchmark interest-rates, which, as expected, are at least 2%-3% higher in India than in Western capital markets. Joan Robinson once explained “the difference between 30% in an Indian village and 3% in London” saying “side by side with the industrial revolution went great technical progress in the provision of credit and the reduction of lender’s risk.”

What is logically certain is no country can have both relatively low world prices for labour and relatively low world prices for capital!  Yet that impossibility seems to have been what India’s purported economic “planners” have planned to engineer!  The effect of financial repression over decades may have been to artificially “reverse” or “switch” the risk-premium — making it lucrative for there to be capital flight out of India, with real rates of return on capital within India being made artificially lower than those in world markets!   Just as enough export subsidies and tariffs can make a country artificially “reverse” its comparative advantage with its structure of exports and imports becoming inverted, so a labour-rich capital-scarce country may, with enough financial repression, end up causing a capital flight.  The Indian elite’s capital flight out of India exporting their adult children and savings overseas may be explained as having been induced by government policy itself.

431314_10150617690307285_69226771_n

Secondly, Professor Rajan as a finance and banking specialist, will see at once the import of this graph above that has never been produced let aside comprehended by the RBI, yet which uses the purest RBI data.  It shows India’s mostly nationalised banks have decade after decade gotten weaker and weaker financially, being kept afloat by continually pumping in of new “capital” via “recapitalisation” from the government that owns them, using more and more of the soft inconvertible currency that has been debauched merrily by government planners.  The nationalised banks with their powerful pampered employee unions, like other powerful pampered employee unions in the government sector, have been the bane of India, where a mere 30 million privileged people in a vast population work with either the government or the organised private sector.  The RBI’s own workforce at last count was perhaps 75,000… the largest central bank staff in the world by far!

Will Rajan know how to bring some system out of the institutional chaos that prevails in Indian banking and central banking?  If not, he should start with the work of James Hanson “Indian Banking: Market Liberalization and the Pressures for Institutional and Market Framework Reform”, contained in the book created by Anne Krueger who brought him into the IMF, and mentioned in my 2012 article “India’s Money” linked below.

The central question for any 21st century RBI Governor worth the name really becomes whether he or she can stand up to the Finance Ministry and insist that the RBI stop being a mere department of it — even perhaps insisting on constitutional status for its head to fulfill the one over-riding aim of trying to bring a semblance of integrity to India’s currency both domestically and worldwide.  Instead it is the so-called “Planning Commission” which has been dominating the Treasury that needs to be made a mere department of the Finance Ministry, while the RBI comes to be hived off to independence!  

Professor Rajan has apparently said “We do not have a magic wand to make the problems disappear instantaneously, but I have absolutely no doubt we will deal with them.”  Of course there are no magic wands but my 3 December 2012 talk in Delhi  has described the right path forward, complex and difficult as this may be.

The path forward involves system-wide improvements in public finance and accounting using modern information technology to comprehend government liabilities and expenditures and raise their productivity, plus institutional changes in public decision-making like separating banking and central banking from the Treasury while making the planning function serve the Treasury function rather than pretend to be above it.  The road described is long and arduous but at its end both corruption and inflation will have been reduced to minimal levels, and the rupee would have acquired integrity enough to become a hard currency of the world in the sense the average resident of, say, rural Madhya Pradesh or Mizoram may freely convert rupees and hold or trade foreign currencies or precious metals as he/she pleases.

3dec

India signed the Treaty of Versailles as a victor and was an original member of the League of Nations, UN and IMF.  Yet sovereign India has failed to develop a currency universally acceptable as a freely convertible world money. It is necessary and possible for India to do so. Without such a national aim, the integrity of the currency continues to be damaged regularly by governmental abuse. 

Professor Rajan will not want to be merely an adornment for the GoI in world capital markets for a few  years, waiting to get back to his American career and life and perhaps to the IMF again.  As RBI Governor, he can find his magic wand if he reads and reflects hard enough using his undoubted academic acumen, and then acts to lead India accordingly.  Here is the basic reading list:

“India’s Money” (2012)

“Monetary Integrity and the Rupee” (2008)

“India’s Macroeconomics” (2007)

“Fiscal Instability” (2007)

“Fallacious Finance” (2007)

“Growth and Government Delusion” (2008)

“India in World Trade & Payments” (2007)

“Path of the Indian Rupee 1947-1993” (1993)

“Our Policy Process” (2007)

“Indian Money and Credit” (2006)

“Indian Money and Banking” (2006)

Indian Inflation

“Growth of Real Income, Money & Prices in India 1869-2004” (2005)

“How to Budget” (2008)

“Waffle but No Models of Monetary Policy: The RBI and Financial Repression (2005)”

“The Dream Team: A Critique” (2006)

“Against Quackery” (2007)

“Mistaken Macroeconomics” (2009)

“The Indian Revolution (2008)”

https://independentindian.com/2013/11/23/coverage-of-my-delhi-talk-on-3-dec-2012/

Enjoy!

Posted in Academic economics, Academic research, Asia and the West, asymmetric information, Banking, Big Business and Big Labour, Bretton Woods institutions, Britain in India, Capital and labour, Deposit multiplication, Economic Policy, Economic quackery, Economic Theory, Economic Theory of Growth, Economic Theory of Interest, Economic Theory of Value, Economics of exchange controls, Economics of Exchange Rates, Economics of Public Finance, Financial Management, Financial markets, Financial Repression, Foreign exchange controls, Governance, Government accounting, Government Budget Constraint, India's Big Business, India's credit markets, India's Government economists, India's interest rates, India's savings rate, India's stock and debt markets, India's 1991 Economic Reform, India's agriculture, India's balance of payments, India's Banking, India's Budget, India's bureaucracy, India's Capital Markets, India's currency history, India's Foreign Exchange Reserves, India's Foreign Trade, India's Government Budget Constraint, India's Government Expenditure, India's Macroeconomics, India's Monetary & Fiscal Policy, India's nomenclatura, India's Polity, India's poverty, India's Public Finance, India's Reserve Bank, India's State Finances, India's Union-State relations, Inflation, Inflation targeting, Interest group politics, Interest rates, International economics, International monetary economics, International Monetary Fund IMF, Land and political economy, Microeconomic foundations of macroeconomics, Monetary Theory, Money and banking, Paper money and deposits, Power-elites and nomenclatura, Public Choice/Public Finance, Public property waste fraud, Raghuram Govind Rajan, Raghuram Rajan, Rajiv Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Statesmanship, Unorganised capital markets. Leave a Comment »

Two Different Models for India’s Political Economy: Mine & Dr Manmohan Singh’s (Updated 2013)

see

https://independentindian.com/2013/05/19/cambridge-economics-the-disputation-in-indias-economic-policy/

https://independentindian.com/2013/08/23/did-jagdish-bhagwati-originate-pioneer-intellectually-father-indias-1991-economic-reform-did-manmohan-singh-or-did-i-through-my-encounter-with-rajiv-gandhi-just-as-siddhartha-shan/

https://independentindian.com/2009/06/12/mistaken-macroeconomics-an-open-letter-to-prime-minister-dr-manmohan-singh/

From Facebook

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.)

 

Updates:

From Facebook:

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:

Subroto Roy continues to weep at New Delhi’s continual debauching of the rupee.

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….?)

(Yet Another) Memo to Dr Kaushik Basu

Dear Kaushik,

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.

Cordially yours

Suby

A New Drachma? Thinking further on the need for a new Greek domestic currency to revive trade: Is the Greek/German Eurozone problem the mathematical dual of Gresham’s Law?

from Twitter 2015 June July

 

What is my argument against € in #Greece= #grexit? It’s that Greeks didn’t need a hard world currency to turnover their real transactions… Eg suppose everyone in India was compelled to use grains of gold to buy fish or veg in the mkt or to get a haircut: mightn’t trade slow down? even if a barber gives you a haircut and accepts a grain or two of gold in exchange, he may then *hoard* that, not use it in further trade… would you use grains of gold in India to get a haircut or buy fish? if forced to,Velocityof Circulation would slow…

People would tend to hoard the gold, liquidate assets to acquire it, wait to see how things went…rather than actually trade as they used to..

My surmise has been Greeks who had assets & could liquidate did so, gaining windfall profits, then leaving/emigrating…hedging their bets..

The public debt left for those w/o assets…meanwhile velocity of circulation of the currency slowed, domestic trade& hence income collapsed.

 

From Facebook discussions:

March 2010:  …My view on Greece appears different. In my view, a transition to a new Drachma will be drastic but will not be any more catastrophic than the present trap Greece has put itself in.

The current path makes a fetish of the fiscal side when the problem at root has been monetary, arising from a purported monetary union, a *superficial* monetary union being created, when there were wildly different underlying fiscal histories and fiscal propensities and preferences.

Money has two main functions, being a medium of exchange and a store of value; the Euro has become too (implicitly) expensive for Greeks to be an effective medium of exchange, while the threat of a Greek default makes the Euro a risky store of value for Germans, Dutch et al. Greeks would have been hoarding Euros, reducing the velocity of circulation, and causing domestic trade to turnover more slowly and hence damaging national income; at the same time, others would have been wondering about a flight to safety outside the Euro. Introducing a soft inconvertible domestic money in Greece would allow the medium of exchange function to be fulfilled and revive domestic trade and income; it would have to be accompanied by exchange and import controls, leaving the Euro as a hard currency for external transactions. The present route being followed of trying to improve Greece’s fiscal situation by compulsion may worsen the situation without any new equilibrium path being anywhere near to be found.

The aim is to have a soft flexible inconvertible domestic currency *which facilitates, indeed stimulates, the turnover of domestic trade*, and allows equilibrium domestic relative prices to be found and adjusted towards. There would have to be a

(a) clamping down overnight on capital exports followed by forex rationing;
(b) closing the trade borders and imposing import controls (smuggling is inevitable);
(c) deciding a new price for the Drachma, say something like 500 or 1000 to the Euro (the aim is for equilibrium domestic relative prices to be adjusted towards and for domestic trade to turnover properly and expeditiously and indeed stop its collapse);
(d) exchanging all forex/Euro-denominated financial assets held by domestic residents to New Drachma-denominations at the new rate automatically;
(e) Euro-denominated liabilities incurred by domestic residents remain Euro-denominated: if it is the Government, they can negotiate how much or all if it they will repay over time; if it is private, private assets may be converted to pay it and/or there will be individual defaults or delays (restructuring) or write-offs.
(f) Exchanging all cash forex/Euro held by domestic residents to New Drachmas, through “licensed authorised dealers” as well as e.g. by ordering all commercial establishments to give New Drachma change in transactions.

Would Greece have “left the Euro”? Yes and No. It would not be part of the Euro Area but the New Drachma would be a Euro-standard currency where the Government guaranteed to buy up all Euro held by domestic residents at the fixed price in exchange for New Drachmas and held its forex reserves in Euros.

I have spent decades arguing *against* all this in the Indian case but have to say it is what Greece may need now, for a period of adjustment of half a dozen or so years.

Is the Greek/German Eurozone problem the mathematical dual of Gresham’s Law?
17 October 2011 
 
Money according to economic theory has two main functions, namely, being a medium of exchange and a store of value; I have been saying that I think the Euro has become too (implicitly) expensive for Greeks to be an effective medium of exchange, while the threat of a Greek default would make the Euro a risky store of value for Germans, Danes et al. If I am right, Greeks would have been hoarding Euros, reducing the velocity of circulation, and causing domestic trade to turnover more slowly and hence damaging national income; at the same time, the Germans, Danes et al would have been wondering about a flight to safety outside the Euro. Some young mathematical economist may take my idea and develop it it intelligently as the *dual* problem to Gresham’s law http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gresham%27s_law inasmuch as weak fiscal positions are causing, through a common money, stronger fiscal positions to weaken…
 
Addendum Oct 25 2011
My guess has been the Euro has become a de facto hard currency for Greeks, who will then hoard it and slow the velocity of circulation, damaging the turnover of normal domestic trade and hence damaging national income; i.e. it has become too expensive as a currency to properly fulfill the medium of exchange function of money in Greece; at the same time, Germans, Dutch and others in fiscally strong economies relatively have to account for the added risk of Greek infirmity and hence find the Euro less of a store of value than otherwise, causing incentives to flee to other denominations. Introducing a soft inconvertible domestic money in Greece would allow the medium of exchange function to be fulfilled and revive domestic trade and income; it would have to be accompanied by exchange and import controls, leaving the Euro as a hard currency for external transactions. The present route being followed of trying to improve Greece’s fiscal situation by compulsion may well worsen the situation without any new equilibrium path being anywhere near to be found.
 

Thinking further on the need for a new Greek domestic currency to revive trade
16 September 2011 
 
Subroto Roy: Re  “it is still not clear what will actually happen”, what will happen is there will be an inevitable recognition that the introduction of the Euro was premature, probably irreversible, and likely to be catastrophic as it unwinds.
 
Edward Hugh Yes, well…. and apart from that little detail Suby, what else do you forsee. I absolutely agree, by the way, that these madmen (and women) have taken the global economy to the brink of disaster through their inability to listen.
 
Maria Tadd When words like catastrophic are used, they obviously send fear into the hearts of many. Suby and Ed, how do you envision the fall out to look like?
 
Subroto Roy    There has to be a clear way out for a currency to exit; that has never been thought out beforehand; creating a monetary union is the *final* step from a free trade area to a customs union to an economic union to a monetary union.  A purported monetary union, or rather a *superficial* monetary union was created, when there were wildly different underlying fiscal histories and fiscal propensities and preferences. Now Greece needs, as I have said over two years, an inexpensive inconvertible domestic money which allows domestic trade and savings to take place normally; the Euro would have to become a hard currency for external use.
 
Edward Hugh Do you mean like what has been happening in Croatia Suby?
Subroto Roy I am afraid I have to admit ignorance of Europe’s facts, what I am working on is my (quite sound) knowledge of monetary economics acquired from Hahn, Friedman, Walters, ACL Day, Griffths, Hicks via Miller, etc. Thinking about Greece overnight: if the Euro has become a de facto hard currency there, its velocity of circulation will fall as people tend to hoard it, causing domestic transactions & trade and hence national income to fall too; hence further the need for an inexpensive domestic currency (under capital controls) for domestic trade and transactions to be revived.
 
(Capital controls imply import restrictions and the rationing of foreign exchange so Greeks will not be big tourists in the rest of the world for a while but what the heck they have so much to see in their own country.)
 
 
Oct 3 2011:
 
“What I have said for two years now is that Greece needs to introduce a soft inconvertible domestic money to facilitate domestic trade and revive growth; it would have to be accompanied by import controls and forex rationing with the Euro becoming a hard currency in Greece for external transactions. Why? Because the Euro has probably become a de facto hard currency for Greeks who would then tend to hoard it, slowing velocity of circulation and causing domestic transactions to be reduced. (At the same time, Germans, Danes and others have an incentive to leave the Euro for the safety of some other hard currency in view of a possible Greek default.) Money has two main functions, being a store of value and a medium of exchange. In present circumstances, the Euro is becoming a dubious store of value for the Germans et al while becoming too scarce to be a proper medium of exchange for the Greeks. All this is good standard monetary economics, which no one in the ECB, IMF, financial journalism etc somehow seems to be able to recall. Instead they have made a fetish of the fiscal side, and that is destined to neither address the root problem nor to bring civil peace….”

My “Reverse Euro” Model of June 1998, and my writings on a new money for Greece: letter to the Wolfson Economics Prize donors by Subroto Roy on Thursday, 20 October 2011 at 18:51 ·
 

Hello,
In June 1998, I gave an invited lecture at the Institute of Economic Affairs on a “Reverse Euro” model for India, i.e., on how India could and should consider creating (under certain conditions) more than a dozen state-monies to coexist with a national currency too in the interests of a better fisc and some slight pretence to monetary integrity. In doing so, I also expressed my very grave foreboding about what the Euro was intended to be doing the following year in actual practice in Europe; I remember visiting a prominent British  Euro-optimist too and making my argument in contrast about the Euro’s arrival.

Subsequently, Milton Friedman and I corresponded too about my idea, and he found merit in it in describing an exit route for, he said, Italy for example, if that country needed such an exit route given its fiscal condition to depart from the Euro in due course. I also talked briefly about the subject at an invited lecture at the Reserve Bank of India in April 2000, as well as elsewhere.

Over the last two years, I have (and I think was the first to do so) suggested Greece needs a New Drachma, and how this should be gone about.  This has been outlined by me with many economists informally by email, as well as discussed at Facebook at some length.

I have little doubt what I am saying is broadly right — in the sense that it is the most consistent with the formal body of economic theory known as monetary economics.  I was taught monetary economics very well in the mid 1970s at the LSE by, for example, ACL Day, Alan Walters, Brian Griffiths, Marcus Miller (a student of JR Hicks) and others which came to be followed by my doctoral dissertation at Cambridge under Frank Hahn, and postdoctoral work in America with Jim Buchanan.  Plus Milton Friedman became a friend and stood for me as an expert witness in a US federal court (the only time he ever did that)!  My most recent work is a book edited with John Clark titled Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant published by Continuum in 2005 — that has an essay relevant to this subject commissioned by us and done by Patrick Minford of Cardiff.

So I do plan to write something for your prize but whatever I do write will not be worth the vast sum of money you are offering — in fact, I would say you need to break it up into little bits in due course and parcel it out to the most fruitful ideas.  The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing… This is a fox problem, not a hedgehog one.  Perhaps you should commission a journal or a multi-essay volume or a set of volumes or monographs rather than hand out one big cheque to someone who will not deserve it. (And please say no more about the moneys the Bank of Sweden gives away every year in the name of the advancement of knowledge in economics…)  

The problem you have raised is a fundamental one and should have been raised decades ago, not merely by Eurosceptics in the occasional lecture or newspaper article but in many formal academic doctoral theses and journals all over Europe, long before the Euro came to be introduced — and note that the jump from the unification of Germany (with the 1:1 DM:Ostmark problem) was less than a decade before that.  That did not happen.  So now your belated initiative is most welcome, better late than never, better something than nothing.

Do let me know please what else I need to know to send in my theoretical thoughts on this.

Cordially

Suby Roy

February 21 2012:

My idea has been far better (because it is based on standard monetary economics which the ECB, IMF etc bureaucrats appear to have all forgotten or never learnt) …

[Devaluation refers to exchange-rates. There are no exchange-rates, that is precisely the problem; exchange-rates are prices, and as such market signals. By getting rid of them, market signals were lost. The point I am making in my notes is that there is still an *implicit* shadow exchange-rate if you like, so the Euro being used in Greece actually has a different local price in terms of real goods and services than the same Euro being used in Germany!]

Hans Suter: A Drachma at a discount of 40% would certainly push tourism by a 20% ? That would be a 3 to 4% jump of GDP.)

Subroto Roy: A New Drachma can be at 0.1 of a Euro, or less. But at least *local* trade and business will be revived and slowly national income will grow. The Greeks will feel free and self-confident and sovereign. Yes they cannot buy any more BMWs or tour Paris or Italy any more. But they can go and visit the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids perhaps. [And they can take 100 years to repay their Euro debts instead of 50 years…]

Subroto Roy hears “If the Baltics can, then why not Greece?”, and says the Baltics are the Baltics, God Bless them, Greece is Greece… I have no idea about the Baltics. The closest I got to them was an Estonian friend in Helsinki many years ago. In Greece what I am saying is that the money that is being used, the Euro, is no longer a natural money, and for that matter, it never was a natural money — money and banking evolve naturally out of trade and commerce, and to truck, barter and exchange are natural human propensities. Creating a monetary union is the *final* step from a free trade area to a customs union to an economic union to a monetary union. A purported monetary union, or rather a *superficial* monetary union was created, when there were wildly different underlying fiscal histories and fiscal propensities and preferences. The Euro has been an artificial money that eradicated the vital market signalling function that exchange-rates played (since exchange-rates are prices). A new inconvertible soft domestic money for Greece would allow domestic transactions to turnover properly once more and hence revive trade and national income. Greece could still be “in” the Eurozone nominally in the sense of having a fixed exchange-rate with the Euro which would be used for external trade. But there would have to be capital controls and import controls and foreign exchange rationing. At least for a while, probably a long while. Greece’s Euro debt would take 100 years instead of 50 years to repay. But at least the Greeks would feel free and sovereign and self-confident again, and adjust to their domestic economic realities in peace.

From Facebook May 14 2012
Diran Majarian
“The big issue here is how to deal with the debt overhang after the drachma transition since this must apply to both assets and liabilities.”

Subroto Roy The New Drachma has to be an inconvertible soft currency and Greece has to have import controls and capital export controls. Euro denominated assets held by domestic residents become Drachma-denominated (at a fixed, not a market-determined rate, e.g. 1:500 or 1:1000); Euro-denominated liabilities incurred by domestic residents remain Euro-denominated: if it is the Government, they can negotiate how much or all if it they will repay over time; if it is private, private assets may be converted to pay it and/or there will be individual defaults or delays (restructuring) or write-offs.

May 14 2012
The famous Professor Wilhelm Buiter (Cambridge BA 1971, Yale PhD 1975) has said this? “The instant before Greece exits it (somehow) introduces a new currency (the New Drachma or ND, say). Assume for simplicity that at the moment of its introduction the exchange rate between the ND and the euro is 1 for 1. This currency then immediately depreciates sharply vis-à-vis the euro (by 40 percent seems a reasonable point estimate). All pre-existing financial instruments and contracts under Greek law are redenominated into ND at the 1 for 1 exchange rate. What this means is that, as soon as the possibility of a Greek exit becomes known, there will be a bank run in Greece and denial of further funding to any and all entities, private or public, through instruments and contracts under Greek law. Holders of existing euro-denominated contracts under Greek law want to avoid their conversion into ND and the subsequent sharp depreciation of the ND. The Greek banking system would be destroyed even before Greece had left the euro area”…

Excuse me? This from the Chief Economist at Citi bank and “Professor of European Political Economy” at my alma mater, the London School of Economics and Political Science? What a load of rubbish Professor Buiter! Whom did you learn your monetary economics from? OK, ok, I should be polite: what makes you think a 1:1 exchange-rate should be fixed? Why not 1:500? Or 1:1000? The aim is to have a soft flexible inconvertible domestic currency *which facilitates, indeed stimulates, the turnover of domestic trade*, and allows equilibrium domestic relative prices to be found and adjusted towards. And why should Greece default on its Euro debt?! It might merely take a little longer to repay it. The change in currency is a conceptually distinct problem from that of credit-worthiness. Here is what I have said instead over two years, and for free:

Reintroducing the New Drachma would require

(a) clamping down overnight on capital exports followed by forex rationing;
(b) closing the trade borders and imposing import controls;
(c) deciding a new price for the Drachma, I would say something like 500 or 1000 to the Euro (the aim is for equilibrium domestic relative prices to be adjusted towards and for domestic trade to turnover properly and expeditiously and indeed stop its collapse);
(d) exchanging all forex/Euro-denominated financial assets held by domestic residents to New Drachma-denominations at the new rate automatically;
(e) exchanging all cash forex/Euro held by domestic residents to New Drachmas, through “licensed authorised dealers” as well as e.g. by ordering all commercial establishments to give New Drachma change in transactions. Would Greece have “left the Euro”? Yes and No. It would not be part of the Euro Area but the New Drachma would be a Euro-standard currency where the Government guaranteed to buy up all Euro held by domestic residents at the fixed price in exchange for New Drachmas and held its forex reserves in Euros.

A New Drachma?
Facebook April 29 2010:
Subroto Roy thinks a New Drachma is inevitable sooner or later but remains deeply puzzled at the possible ways it may get reintroduced. The examples of such monetary reforms are all long gone from memory, in the immediate aftermath of WWII. It seems clear the Euro will become an increasingly scarce currency not suitable for fulfilling the normal medium of exchange function in domestic Greek transactions and will become a rationed hard currency under capital controls for external transactions only. It may already be hard or impossible to restrain a capital flight, perhaps underway. How will the actual transition be made? Perhaps by allowing Greek government debt denominated in a new local money, call it the New Drachma, to become tradeable? I said in my *Reverse Euro* model for India lecture in June 1998 at London’s IEA that the Eurozone could end up looking less like America’s monetary union than India’s.
 
April 8 2010:
Subroto Roy, reading “It is hard to know how to interpret this large decline in deposits”, says “Not really. The Euro is becoming a *scarce hard currency* in Greece, i.e., it is becoming too expensive to use Euros to satisfy Greece’s transactions demand for money, the medium of exchange function, hence Greece has an increasing need for a new local currency which will satisfy that function while the Euro is retained for use in Greece’s international transactions”.
 
Subroto Roy thinks the only sustainable long-term solution may be the reintroduction of a New Drachma, which will need time to stabilize behind a period of foreign exchange controls and rationing. The DM/FFr-based Euro would become a hard currency relative to a New Drachma.
 
March 24 2010:
Subroto Roy expects the US, Britain, ANZ and everyone else in the IMF who is not in the Eurozone may legitimately ask why the effective subsidy of Greece by its Eurozone partners should be transferred to the rest of the world.
Subroto Roy thinks the Europeans have enough clout in the IMF to, say, insist some of their own IMF-directed resources be directed towards Greece specifically, which would spell the unravelling of the IMF if it became a general habit.
 
Subroto Roy says “I had a very productive few months in 1993 as a high-level consultant working for Hubert Neiss at the IMF (consultants are, or at least were, very rare at the IMF unlike at the World Bank etc) when I came to understand a little of how the place works (leaving aside all the theory). The French Managing Director is a politician and not an economist or even a central banker, and I am sure France and Germany can swing some IMF money towards Greece. But of course, the IMF can by definition give no *monetary* or exchange-rate advice to Greece because there is no sovereign monetary authority in Greece any more. Hence all it can do is add the same fiscal (and political) advice and conditions as the rest of the Eurozone countries have done plus make the piggy bank larger with some IMF money. It may work once, but if France and Germany then say, right, Portugal, Spain, Italy are next in line, that is the end of the IMF, because its European members may as well be asked to pull out altogether. On the other hand, my radical advice to the IMF might have been to propose to help Greece to reintroduce the drachma and re-establish a sovereign monetary authority of its own, which would take IMF advice and expertise as a New Drachma would take time to stabilize and there would be a period of capital controls on foreign exchange transactions.”
 
Subroto Roy gave a Jun ’98 lecture at London’s IEA on why India should have a  *Reverse-Euro* model: eg 16 major states have their own (domestic) monies with a national rupee coexisting too & free currency markets everywhere. I said I feared a Eurozone may end up *looking like India* rather than the US in this. India has papered over wild fiscal mismanagement by the States by even wilder fiscal mismanagement by the Union!
 
Subroto Roy says Europe could have been a confederation & an economic union for practical purposes without individual monetary sovereignties being lost. E.g., the drachma or peso or escudo or punt or lira could each have chosen to appropriately link to some combination of the DM, FFR, sterling etc. And a Europe-wide Euro from an ECB could have coexisted as well.
 
Subroto Roy  finds Mr Constanzo mention Gresham’s Law, and says, “Certainly there might have been currency competition in Europe, and some of the smaller currencies may have chosen to go to *that* Euro — but DM would not have done, and would have been an alternative to it.”
 
Subroto Roy  thought imposing a single newly invented money on different economies a bit like imposing a single newly invented language (like Esperanto) on different peoples.
 
Subroto Roy  says India has papered over the wild fiscal mismanagement by the States by even wilder fiscal mismanagement by the Union!
 
Subroto Roy  thinks the effective subsidy French farmers et al were getting from Germany in pre-Euro days all came to be subsumed within Euro-economics; an alternative would have been to *leave* DM as it was, & perhaps FFR too, & to have introduced a Euro for smaller economies to use (presumably to save transactions costs);*that* Euro could have been linked to the DM etc. The Germans would have been happy & the problems avoided.
 
Subroto Roy  says German unification hit the Germans badly enough and they seem hardly in any mood to keep on playing Sugar-Daddy to everyone else while still having to defer to the putative victors of WWII (France and Britain) for political leadership.
 

Notes on gold and central banks (3 Nov 2009)

I think the simplest argument against gold (or any precious metal) as a unique monetary standard has been that there is not enough of it to suffice for the vast volume of world trade and payments…. (and that has been the case for at least a half century)….

Someone says in response to my suggestion there has not been enough gold, “just put the price of gold high enough”. 

My response: “Who will? Central Banks as per the old gold exchange standard? There are well-known problems with all fixed exchange rate systems.”

The working of the gold, or at least the gold exchange, standard does not depend on actual holdings of course but one reason given for its abandonment had been that the vast expansion of the volume of trade and payments gave gold-producing countries a windfall bonanza and a potentially destabilising/disruptive advantage. Use of a fiduciary standard in world trade was as expected a development as its use in domestic trade and for the same kind of reasons. Of course gold retained some kind of “anchoring” role before Aug 15 1971 during the Bretton Woods era.

Yes, I agree “The development of new payment instruments that economized on gold kept pace with increased trade” — there is an economics of institutional change to be written there. Re., the “windfall bonanza” argument, I think it is merely that gold-producing countries have a kind of seignorage advantage under a pure gold standard — as the US may have had under Bretton Woods.

I am reminded of my brief time on Wall Street in the 1990s when I learnt it is not actually gold producers who earn the seignorage advantage but a cartel of a half dozen or so central banks (led by the Fed & Bank of England) who work together and between them possess vast inventories that can effectively control the supply-side completely.

(first published at Facebook)

Waffle not institutional reform is what (I predict) the “G-20 summit” will produce

“Summits”  of global political leaders require competent “sherpas”  to do the preparations.  From what I gather about the London “G-20 summit” this has not happened adequately enough, so I expect only a lot of waffle to emerge.  (If they suddenly start talking about Global Warming or AIDS in Africa or whatever, we will know the actual talks have failed badly.)

Reforming the IMF?   Hmmm, let’s see, what happened to all that talk four years ago about reforming the Big Daddy of them all, the UN?   Oh yes,  I forget, India is now a permanent veto-wielding Security Council Member, NOT!

It has been said that academic syllabus reform at a university is like ‘”moving a graveyard”.  Reforming the world monetary system and its major institutions would be like moving thousands of graveyards.   And there is no one with the brains of a White or a Keynes to help things along.  But we should not be surprised if there were pronouncements  of this or that high-powered commission of pompous worthies  who will make recommendations for reform some time in the future.    In general, little more than waffle will emerge now — I cannot even see the UK Government following informal British  advice to stand down from its founding role at the IMF.

There is no clear path to solving the great (alleged) economic and financial crisis because no one wants to admit its roots were the overvaluation (over decades) of American real-estate, and hence American assets in general.

India’s PM shall be seen at least up and about after several months out of action, indeed he will be up and about for the  first time in months doing what he (like India’s nomenclatura in general) likes doing best, which is to travel outside India.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

“A Dialogue in Macroeconomics” 1989 etc: sundry thoughts on US economic policy discourse

I have said here recently that some of the wisest advice President Obama or any leader anywhere can receive is that contained in Oliver Cromwell’s famous words “Think it possible you may be mistaken”.

This seems especially significant in context of new American macroeconomic and financial policies.  Mr Steve Clemons reports today there may be less intellectual diversity in the new President’s economic team than is possible or desirable; if so, conversation may become stifled and a greater propensity towards groupthink may arise, hence a greater likelihood of mistakes.

It is possible the directions that different people might like to see the conversation extended are different, and that would be a good sign of course!  For example, someone might think a Barro or a Mishkin could be the right addition of intellectual diversity, whereas others might suppose that to be the wrong direction towards more “market fundamentalism”.    But it would be a pity if the economic conversation within the new Administration came to be artificially or ideologically circumscribed in any direction.

Certainly I believe macroeconomic policy-discourse in the United States or elsewhere needs to proceed to a recognition of the existence of JM Keynes’s original concept of “involuntary unemployment” as well as to ask whether the actual unemployment happens to be or  not be of this sort.   (It may be “frictional” or “structural” or “voluntary” or “seasonal” etc, not the involuntary unemployment Keynes had meant.)  Furthermore, even if significant involuntary unemployment is identified, it needs to be asked whether government policy can be expected to improve or worsen outcomes.   The argument must be made either way, and, in John Wisdom’s phrase,  “Argument must be heard”.

“A Dialogue in Macroeconomics” which was Chapter 8 of my 1989 book Philosophy of Economics (Routledge,  Library of Congress HB 72.R69)  may provide some useful ballast.  The saga  that followed the  book’s publication left me unable to write about the US economy anymore, except briefly in 1992 and 1994-95 in Washington and New York, read only by a few friends.   Now in late 2008, I have published “October 1929? Not!” and “America’s divided economists” which may be of interest too, and which are republished below as well.

I have also added a couple of sundry points from an international perspective that I pointed to last September-October, namely

(i)  foreign central banks might have been left holding more bad US debt than might be remembered, and dollar depreciation and an American inflation seem to be inevitable over the next several years;

(ii) all those bad mortgages and foreclosures could vanish within a year or two by playing the demographic card and inviting in a few million new immigrants into the United States; restoring a worldwide idea of an American dream fueled by mass immigration may be the surest way for the American economy to restore itself.

Subroto Roy

I.

from Philosophy of Economics Routledge 1989

“Chapter 8.
A Dialogue in Macroeconomics

OUR next example is of quite a different sort, namely, the academic debate which has occurred in macroeconomics and monetary theory since Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. This has of course received a great amount of attention, with innumerable commentaries having been written by many scores of protagonists and moderators around the world. Only a brief and highly simplified summary of these many conversations can be attempted here, within our limited objective of illustrating once more how it may be possible for critical discussion to be seen to proceed freely and yet objectively in economics. In the previous chapter we were fortunate to have had an actual conversation to consider; here our method shall have to be one of constructing a model of a conversation. In honour of Plato, we might name our conversants Athenian and Stranger.

ATHENIAN Tell me, have you perhaps been following the discussions among macroeconomists? I shall be interested to know what you take their present state to be.

STRANGER Indeed I have, though of course it is not possible or worthwhile to follow all of what has been said. But yes I have followed some of it, and certainly we can make it a topic of conversation.

ATHENIAN Please begin.

STRANGER Very well. Shall we do so in ‘36 with the publication of Keynes’s book? Rightly or wrongly, this must be considered a watershed in the history of modern economics, if only because most economists since have had either to admit its arguments in some measure or define and explain their disagreement. You’ll remember at one time it was said by many that Keynes had fathered a revolution in economic science.

ATHENIAN Except Chicago and the Austrians.

STRANGER Quite so. Now more recently a renewal of neoclassical thought has been under way, and many doubts have been raised about the keynesian consensus, so much so that some of the main questions of the thirties seem in modern form to continue to be at issue today.

ATHENIAN The more things change, the more they stay the same! But when you say Keynes has been a central figure, I take it you mean only that he has been among the most influential and most discussed and nothing more. It is not to preclude judgement on the merits of his book, which is itself of very uneven clarity. Besides there has been too much idolatry and hagiography.

STRANGER Yes, there is so often a rush to belief and worship. There may have been less if Keynes had survived longer. Yet I should say the broad aim of the work is not hard to see. Keynes himself clearly believes that he is starting a revolution — going so far as to suggest a comparison with contemporary physics. The first chapter says the book aims to provide a “general” theory, which will explain the traditional model as a “limiting” case. The second chapter says the theory of value has been hitherto concerned with the allocation of given resources between competing ends; Keynes is going to explain how the actual level of employment comes to be what it is.

ATHENIAN And so begs the question?

STRANGER Or does traditional theory? That seems to be at the heart of it.

ATHENIAN Go on.

STRANGER The theory will be of the short run in Marshall’s sense of taking capital as a fixed factor. Traditional theory is said to postulate about the labour market (i) that the real wage equals the marginal product of labour, so there is an assumption of profit maximization by competitive producers giving rise to a short run demand curve for labour; and (ii) that the utility of the wage at a given level of employment equals the marginal disutility of that amount of employment; i.e., the real wage is just sufficient to induce the volume of labour which is actually forthcoming. So it can account for unemployment due to temporary miscalculations, or intermittent demand, or the refusal or inability of labour to accept a job at a given wage due to legislation or social practices or collective bargaining or obstinacy, or merely a rational choice of leisure — i.e., it can account for frictional and voluntary unemployment but not for what Keynes wants to call involuntary unemployment. What it can suggest is either such things as improvements in foresight, information, organization and productivity, or a lowering of the real wage. But Keynes’s critique will not have to do with such causes of the contemporary unemployment; instead the population is said to be seldom “doing as much work as it would like to do on the basis of the current wage…. More labour would, as a rule, be forthcoming at the existing money wage if it were demanded.” But it is not being demanded, and it is not being demanded because there has been a shortfall of “effective demand”. That is why there is as much unemployment as there is.

ATHENIAN Or so Keynes claims. And he would take it the neoclassical view would be that it must be the real wage is too high; it is only because the real wage has not fallen by enough that unemployment continues.

STRANGER Right. To which there are two observations. The first has to do with the actual attitude of workers towards the money wage and the real wage respectively. The traditional supply function of labour is a function of the latter; Keynes claims that at least within a certain range it must be workers are concerned more with the former.

ATHENIAN How so?

STRANGER By the interesting and perhaps plausible claim that workers are found to withdraw labour if the money wage falls but do not seem to do the same if the price level rises. A real wage reduction caused by a fall in the money wage and the same real wage reduction caused by an increase in prices seem to have different effects on labour supply. “Whether logical or illogical, experience shows that this is how labour in fact behaves.” And he cites U. S. data for ‘32 to say labour did not refuse reductions in the money wage nor did the physical productivity of labour fall yet the real wage fell and unemployment continued. “Labour is not more truculent in the depression than in the boom — far from it.”

ATHENIAN And the second observation?

STRANGER This may be of more interest. “Classical theory assumes that it is always open to labour to reduce its real wage by accepting a reduction in its money wage… [it] presumes that labour itself is in a position to decide the real wage for which it works…” Keynes does not find a traditional explanation why prices tend to follow wages, and suggests it could be because the price level is being supposed to be determined by the money supply according to the quantity theory. Keynes wants to dispute the proposition “that the general level of real wages is directly determined by the character of the wage bargain…. For there may be no method available to labour as a whole whereby…. [it] can reduce its real wage to a given figure by making revised money bargains with the entrepreneurs.” Hence he arrives at his central definition of involuntary unemployment: if the real wage falls marginally as a consequence of the price level rising with the money wage constant, and there is greater employment demanded and supplied in consequence, the initial state was one of involuntary unemployment.

ATHENIAN You are saying then that Keynes’s intent is to establish the existence of involuntary unemployment?

STRANGER At least a major part of the intent yes. To make the concept meaningful, to argue that it refers to a logical possibility, and also that much of the actual unemployment of the time may be falling under it, and is a result of lack of “effective demand”.

ATHENIAN The neoclassicals have been said to be cavalier about fluctuations in economic activity, when in fact Wicksell and Marshall and Thornton, let alone Hawtrey or Hayek as Keynes’s own critics, certainly had profound enough theories of the cycle. Before we go further, I think we should remind ourselves of what they actually said.

STRANGER Very well.

ATHENIAN Would you agree that can be summarized, then as now, as the quantity theory of money married to the theory of general equilibrium?

STRANGER Though it may be better to speak of divorce perhaps rather than marriage, in view of the dichotomy.

ATHENIAN From Smith to Mill, political economists broadly agree the role of government should extend and be restricted to such activities as defence, civil protection, the rule of law, the provision of public goods, education, the encouragement of competition, and so on. The traditional agenda does not as a rule include direct activity to restrain or otherwise change the natural course of trade, production, or consumption, and certainly no theory of what today is called macroeconomic policy. Underlying it is a broad belief that the competitive pursuit of private welfare within the necessary and minimal framework of the institutions of government, will result in tolerable social outcomes, and any further activity may be counterproductive. The State is after all endogenous to the economy, without any resources to its own name.

STRANGER The minimal state, though not so minimal perhaps as we sometimes think.

ATHENIAN The main function of money is seen to be that of facilitating real transactions. Hence the main component of the demand for money is the transactions demand, and the broad objective of monetary policy is the maintenance of the stability of the price of money. But this is recognized to be something elusive in practice, and fluctuations in economic activity are expected to occur in spite of the best intentions of the monetary authorities.

STRANGER How so?

ATHENIAN Well we might imagine two or three distinct but related markets: one for real investment and savings determined by intertemporal preferences, resources, and technologies; one a market for investment and savings defined in terms of money; one a short term credit market. The market for real investment and savings is, as it were, unobservable to the naked eye. Yet it drives the second and third markets for nominal savings and investment in which we actually participate. Monetary equilibrium requires the observable money rates of interest to equal the unobservable real rate of return on the market for physical capital. In particular, the real or natural rate of interest determined in the equilibrium of the first market is not, and perhaps ultimately cannot be, affected by nominal or monetary disturbances in the second or third markets.

STRANGER Why call it “natural”?

ATHENIAN In the sense it is a function of the real data of intertemporal preferences, resources, and technologies being what they are. If these data changed it should be expected to change too. But given these data, it would be the rate at which intertemporal constrained maximizations by individual agents resulted in planned present consumption equaling planned present production at the same time as planned future consumption equaled planned future production.

STRANGER In other words, real planned savings equal real planned investment.

ATHENIAN Exactly. It is the real interest rate, or rather the whole structure of own-rates and cross-rates at various terms, which is the key price signal for macroeconomic equilibrium.

STRANGER “Natural” seems to me to carry a physiocratic connotation. A better nomenclature would replace it with something else — perhaps “equilibrium real rate” or just “walrasian” rate.

ATHENIAN Very well, though I for one do not bias myself against the physiocrats! Now consider how a simple business cycle might occur on wicksellian lines. From a position of full real and monetary equilibrium, an expansion of credit has its first effect on the banks, increasing reserves and inducing more lending for reserve/deposit ratios to be restored, and so lowering the loan rate. But customers are only able to perceive a lowering of this nominal rate of interest and cannot know the equilibrium real rate has not changed. As far as households know, the relative price of present consumption has fallen and there is an incentive for greater consumption and lesser savings. As far as businesses know, the relative price of the future good has risen, and there is an incentive for greater investment. Inventories are run down, and markets for both consumer goods and capital goods are stimulated and show signs of excess demand. But if there was a walrasian equilibrium initially, then the economy will now show signs of inflation; with a gold standard, there would be increased demand for imports and an external drain of reserves, and even perhaps an internal drain if there was a panic and a run on the banks. The loan rate will have to rise once more to reign in reserves, but if the rate is now raised too high relative to the still unchanged real rate, there would be the makings of a recession.

STRANGER Your point being that economists before Keynes had recognized the decentralized economy may be fluctuating continually.

ATHENIAN Surely they had done so quite fully. A first set of causes such as wars, disasters, discoveries and migrations would change the real data of the economy, while a second set would be monetary disturbances like the failure of the authorities to adequately follow the dictates of the real data of the economy, i.e., failure to observe the equilibrium real rate of interest. It may even be intrinsic to the problem that they must fail in the attempt to observe, let aside compute, the equilibrium real rate warranted at a given time by the structure of the real data.

STRANGER Hence the conclusion that they cannot hope to do better than establish a climate of monetary and fiscal stability, such as by declaring a long term policy and staying with it.

ATHENIAN Exactly. Private economic agents already face endemic uncertainty with respect to changes in the real data, and must be assumed to not want more added by government policy. You appear to have seen my point nicely.

STRANGER Very well. But you have jumped ahead as this kind of a conclusion sounds very modern to me. You made me stop all the way back at Keynes’s notion of effective demand!

ATHENIAN As I said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

STRANGER Let us go back a little. I think we may be able to rejoin our initial route at a point which may bring us close to where we seem to have come by the route you have taken. Specifically suppose we go back to the question of the money wage and the real wage, and of the real wage being “too high”.

ATHENIAN That has been interpreted a number of ways, has it not?

STRANGER Yes it has. One would be to say Keynes was merely simple minded and assumed money illusion on the part of workers. Another would be to say Keynes assumed a short run context of fixed prices, so it would not make a difference whether labour happened to be concerned with changes in the real or the money wage. Yet a third would be to say Keynes, whether he realized it or not, had come upon a recondite truth about the sort of complex monetary economy in which we live — namely, that when transactions are quoted and made in a monetary economy, it may become difficult ipso facto for the walrasian equilibrium to be achieved. Even workers might fully recognize the real wage to be too high and be prepared to work more at a lower wage, but be unable to signal this willingness to potential employers.

ATHENIAN So involuntary unemployment becomes another sort of equilibrium outcome.

STRANGER Exactly. Not only of labour but of machines too, along with the unintended holding of inventories. It is as if firms would have sold what they had planned to if only workers had the income to buy it, which they would have done if only they had been able to sell as much labour they had planned to, which they would have done if only there had been an effective demand for it, which there would have been if firms had not cut back on production because they found themselves unable to sell what they had planned to sell. A kind of vicious circle, due to pessimistic and self-fulfilling expectations all around.

ATHENIAN An unhappy solution to a non-cooperative game you might say.

STRANGER Quite so. Keynes does not deny there may be a monetary route out of the impasse. A wage deflation would eventually lead to price deflation, raising the real value of money holdings, so via liquidity preference lead to an increased demand for bonds, raising their price and lowering money interest rates, which through the investment function would lead eventually to increased effective demand. But the fiscal route may be more direct and quicker in its effect on expectations. Trying to deflate across the board in the face of what seem to be excess supplies of goods and labour might be counterproductive, causing unexpected transfers from debtors to creditors and precipitating bankruptcies. Instead: “Government investment will break the vicious circle. If you can do that for a couple of years, it will have the effect, if my diagnosis is right, of restoring business profits more nearly to normal, and if that can be achieved then private enterprise will be revived. I believe you have first of all to do something to restore profits and then rely on private enterprise to carry the thing along….”

ATHENIAN A shot in the arm for enterprise in the hope of breaking the pessimism. But Keynes was hardly alone in such thinking.

STRANGER Quite true.

ATHENIAN And he certainly seemed to treat the opinions of others without due respect, which is to say he may have exaggerated the significance of his own. Hinting that he was the Einstein of economics set an especially bad example. Only the other day one eminence was comparing himself to Newton, and another was calling his friend Shakespeare. It will be Joyce and Pasternak next!

STRANGER Flattery and nepotism are common weaknesses, my friend. Like the rush to belief and worship.

ATHENIAN Besides you would have to assume the government to be outside the game, and only so being able to see the problem which private agents could not from inside the game. That may be too large an assumption, don’t you think?

STRANGER Yes it may. Yet it seems to me pump-priming was a possible solution being offered to a temporary problem. Many of the controversies may have come about because it became institutionalized, because discretionary fiscal policy became a permanent part of the government agenda.

ATHENIAN And a more direct route out was available too, was it not? With wealth placed in the consumption function directly, a deflation would increase the real value and affect effective demand directly. We would not have to wait for the roundabout effects through so-called liquidity preference.

STRANGER Which in a way brings us back to a central pillar of traditional theory: with given real data and given velocity of circulation, desired holding of real money balances will roughly be constant. In particular the demand for real money balances should not be seen as a function of the interest rate.

ATHENIAN The real rate or the monetary rate?

STRANGER For neoclassicals certainly the real; Keynes does not seem clear.

ATHENIAN There may lie a problem.

STRANGER The title of the book says “Employment, Interest, and Money”. No question employment is real and money is money — interest is the bridge. If you ask me to bet I would say Keynes’s agents make real responses to signals expressed as they must be in a large economy in monetary terms.

ATHENIAN Perhaps we ought to move on. Tell me, if you think Keynes’s book rightly or wrongly ranks as the most influential document of the last fifty years, would you agree it is Friedman’s address on the role of monetary policy which must rank second to it if not on a par with it?

STRANGER Certainly there can be few competitors.

ATHENIAN Well then, it appears to me the net effect of Friedman’s critique has been a restoration of the wicksellian theory and a banishment of the keynesian theory.

STRANGER Friedman of course makes his approach via a critique of the Phillips’ Curve.

ATHENIAN Yes, but it is Wicksell whom he acknowledges in advancing the notion of a natural rate of unemployment, one which has been “ground out by the walrasian system of general equilibrium equations” — in other words, one which happens to be consistent with the structure of the real data of the economy at a particular time.

STRANGER Though again we may as well speak of walrasian instead of natural.

ATHENIAN A monetary policy which tried to peg unemployment at lower than such a rate (if such a rate could be determined, which it cannot) is likely to be counterproductive. The initial effect of an expansionary policy on a walrasian equilibrium may be to increase real output. Workers assume the increase to reflect an increase in the unobservable real demand for their services, and hence they expect a higher real wage. Businesses see the same and assume it to reflect an increase in the unobservable real demand for their goods. But given there was no real excess demand in the first place for either labour or goods, the effect outside anything but the short run will be a return to the initial structure of real wages, and the temporary decline in unemployment is reversed to the walrasian rate at higher prices. If the government tries to maintain unemployment at less than the walrasian rate, it will have to concede — indeed it will have caused — accelerating inflation without any real fall in unemployment.

STRANGER And vice versa perhaps, so there would be a kind of knife-edge.

ATHENIAN Now your remark about Friedman making his approach via the Phillips Curve seems to me interesting. We may have been too hasty to make a comparison with the debate in the thirties. For the world suffers a very real and severe shock between Keynes’s book and the keynesian consensus, which is the Second World War itself.

STRANGER I am not sure I follow.

ATHENIAN Well think of the consensus afterwards on the need for macroeconomic policy — it is actually Tinbergen’s notion of a “policy-maker” which is married to what seems to be Phillips’s finding of a trade-off between inflation and unemployment. It becomes the role of the macroeconomist to advise the politician on how to minimize social disutility from inflation and unemployment subject to the Phillips Curve. Macroeconomics becomes a so-called “policy science”. Give your expert economist your social utility function, and he will tell you where to slide to on your Phillips Curve.

STRANGER The available instruments being money supply and tax rates. That is what I meant in saying Keynes’s idea became institutionalized.

ATHENIAN It seems to me this consensus is born out of the War.

STRANGER How so?

ATHENIAN Well just think of the structural problems of the time: demobilization of large armies, reconstruction, all the displaced peoples, and so on. What are democratic governments to do? Say to their voters, right, thank you very much, now could you please go home quietly? What could have been expected except an Employment Act? Governments were going to help their returning citizens find work, or at least it would have seemed irresponsible if they had not said they were going to.

STRANGER You are saying then that Friedman may have been arguing against a new orthodoxy, grown out of what might have been a sensible idea.

ATHENIAN Exactly. The world is a very different place now than in 1945, in ‘45 than in ‘33, in ‘33 than in 1914. Real shocks every time. It may be a grave mistake for us to look for a unique and universal theory which is supposed to explain all particular circumstances, all of history.

STRANGER Reminds me of the historical school.

ATHENIAN Why not? Again I hold no prejudice against them! Anyhow, consider that Lucas and others have followed Friedman to argue it is a mistake to formulate the problem as Tinbergen had done, with unemployment as a target in a social utility function along with inflation. If it ought to be assumed that people will not continually make the same mistakes in predicting policy, then a systematic employment policy is going to be discovered quickly enough and rendered either ineffective or counterproductive. This idea too has its origins in Wicksell. Examining an opinion that inflation might stimulate enterprise and free debtors, Wicksell says: “It need only be said that if this fall in the value of money is the result of our own deliberate policy, or indeed can be anticipated and foreseen, then these supposed beneficial effects will never occur, since the approaching rise in prices will be taken into account in all transactions by reasonably intelligent people.”

STRANGER Wicksell said that?

ATHENIAN Precisely that.

STRANGER It does sound very modern.

ATHENIAN Now Lucas speaks of how the advice that economists give should be limited only to “the well understood and empirically substantiated propositions of monetary economics, discouragingly modest as these may be.” What can we take him to mean? It seems to me he is sharing Friedman’s scepticism of the possibilities which had been claimed for macroeconomics by the keynesian consensus. And that surely has been a healthy scepticism, befitting good economists.

STRANGER As I said, there is so often a rush to belief.

ATHENIAN Which is really disastrous when combined with the craving for power.

STRANGER But the question remains, does it not, as to which propositions of monetary economics are to be considered “well understood and empirically substantiated”. I cannot help think the propositions taken to be well understood and empirically substantiated in Chicago may be very different from those taken to be well understood and empirically substantiated in Cambridge, or for that matter, those in the U. S. from those in Europe.

ATHENIAN I don’t see any difficulty in this. For first, it would have been granted there are propositions in economics which can be well understood and empirically substantiated. And that must be counted as progress! For something cannot be well understood if it cannot be understood at all, and where there is the possibility of understanding there must be the possibility of objective knowledge as well. And second, why should we not say the most appropriate task of economic theory or analytical economics is simply one of clarification and elucidation of the conceptual basis of economic thinking and expression? All theory ultimately is, or ought to be, “Critique of Language”. When we are faced with a particular and concrete problematic situation, the theorist is to whom we turn for conceptual guidance and criticism. If instead you take the role of the theorist to be one of searching the universe for grand and general and absolute and abstract truths, which need to be discovered before we can say anything about some concrete set of particulars, then it seems to me you will be either struck dumb by a total and debilitating scepticism or become very shrill in your dogmatism or alternate wildly between the two. To me it seems unimportant ultimately to whose flag one shows allegiance, or indeed that allegiance to any flag must be shown.

STRANGER It seems again I will not disagree. But you have sketched the critique of Friedman and Lucas and indeed the ghost of Wicksell addressed to the dogmas of the keynesian orthodoxy. And I have agreed with you this has been a healthy criticism of the sort we should expect economists to provide. But there has been serious question too of the framework used by Friedman and Lucas, hasn’t there? I am thinking especially of Tobin and Hahn.

ATHENIAN Tobin has done much to add clear and reasonable thinking about Keynes — his suggestion that a certain amount of inflation may be the only way to bring down real wages towards their walrasian rates in complex monetary economics is especially interesting; it shows how wide the common ground can be upon which the debate may occur. But you will have to tell me what Hahn’s criticisms have been. I have always found them too abstract and too caustic.

STRANGER That they tend to be, but don’t let that deter you. As I see it, Hahn argues somewhat as follows. We should grant Friedman and Lucas two important points: first, the government is itself a large economic agent whose actions and announced plans enter the calculations of private agents; secondly, erratic changes in monetary policy away from a steady k% rule may have perverse effects “by confusing signals of relative scarcity with those that arose from the monetary policy”. Also, we may accept that the assumptions sufficient for a full walrasian equilibrium with rational expectations suffice for the absence of any persistent involuntary unemployment by Keynes’s definition. But Hahn would say this may not be the relevant empirical description.

ATHENIAN In what way?

STRANGER Well for one thing the pricing axiom or the recontracting assumption of stability theory remains unexplained. It is possible traders will face quantity constraints, and this often seems so in markets for labour and credit. We may simply find prices not moving in the direction of excess demand even when a quantity constraint happens to be binding. The structure of wages may be “neither fixed, nor arbritrary, nor inflexible; it is what it is because given conjectures, no agent finds it advantageous to change it.” Moreover, it may not be plausible to suppose there will be convergence after arbitrary displacements back towards a stable equilibrium, because the conditions for stability are very stringent and uniqueness of equilibrium may also need to be postulated. Furthermore, it may be quite unsatisfactory to treat money in models which are isomorphic to the Arrow-Debreu model, because in such a world there is no logical use for money, so there must be some essential features of reality which have failed to be features of the model.

ATHENIAN You don’t think Patinkin’s integration was adequate?

STRANGER For many practical purposes perhaps, but certainly not to full logical satisfaction. If you put real money balances into the utility function and treat money just about like any other good, you have to be prepared to accept a possible equilibrium in which the price of money is zero. Lastly, if there are internal debts denominated in money as there are in fact, you may not assume equiproportional changes in all prices will not have real effects, unless you are prepared to assume away redistributions between creditors and debtors, which you can do only under another assumption that all households have parallel and linear Engel curves through the origin. Hahn’s line of argument is admittedly abstract, but you will have to admit it raises some fundamental questions.

ATHENIAN Another example we might say of the healthy scepticism of the theorist. It seems my turn to agree with you. But we can imagine replies too can we not?

STRANGER What do you have in mind?

ATHENIAN Well to argue there can be unemployment which is involuntary is not to have argued that an employment policy can be expected to remove it. This seems a premise and conclusion too frequently confounded by both keynesians and their critics, with disastrous consequences. Then, Buchanan would argue that a more thorough characterization needs to be given of the making of government policy, especially when it is proposed to supplant the market outcome. Policies are after all proposed, enacted, and put into effect by actual people — all of whom may need to be assumed to be pursuing private rewards as well in the course of their public duties. The relevant description for the economist needs to be one including this further fact that actual proposals of public policy can embody the private interests of the proposers too.

STRANGER Making it that much more difficult to determine what is in the public interest in a given case.

ATHENIAN Exactly. And so reinforcing the case for predictability and an orderliness in the framework of government.

STRANGER But we have been talking now for quite long enough my friend. I seem to feel a fear too that we have not gained anything at all in our discussions.

ATHENIAN Don’t be so pessimistic! Surely the point of reconstructing such conversations as we have done is not to hold absolutely to the matters raised in them. You and I after all have been making summary and highly simplified and unauthorized interpretations. I take the point of it to have been clarifying our thoughts, and perhaps to show ourselves how discussion can proceed between economists of different schools of thought. Arguments might come to a halt for any of a number of reasons, but they needn’t be supposed to have any logical or necessary end. Too often we let people retreat into different dogmatic positions, fostering the belief that each is starting from some set of absolute axioms ultimately irreconcilable with those of the other. We may need to keep insisting instead that the pursuit of knowledge and understanding is an open-ended activity with potentially indefinite limits. It yields conclusive results but has no absolute end. You or I might call a halt and retire from it, but that will not mean it cannot or will not continue without us.

STRANGER Perhaps so. But you are younger than I, and I have become tired by all these thrusts and parries. Besides, there has been the enjoyment of conversation itself.”

II

October 1929? Not!  by Subroto Roy / First published in Business Standard September 18, 2008

“Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy protection, Merrill Lynch taken over by Bank of America, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and now AIG being nationalised by the US Government, Bear Stearns getting a government bailout, many thousands of low-quality loans going bad … Does it all add up to an American financial crisis in the autumn of 2008 comparable to that in the autumn of 1929? Even Alan Greenspan himself has gone on record on TV saying it might.

But there are overriding differences. Most important, the American economy and the world economy are both incomparably larger today in the value of their capital stock, and there has also been enormous technological progress over eight decades. Accordingly, it would take a much vaster event than the present turbulence — say, something like an exchange of multiple nuclear warheads with Russia causing Manhattan and the City of London to be destroyed — before there was a return to something comparable to the 1929 Crash and the Great Depression that followed.

Besides, the roots of the crises are different. What happened back then? In 1922, the Genoa Currency Conference wanted to correct the main defect of the pre-1914 gold standard, which was freezing the price of gold while failing to stabilise the purchasing power of money. From 1922 until about 1927, Benjamin Strong of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York adopted price-stabilisation as the new American policy-objective. Britain was off the gold standard and the USA remained on it. The USA, as a major creditor nation, saw massive gold inflows which, by traditional gold standard principles, would have caused a massive inflation. Governor Strong invented the process of “sterilisation” of those gold inflows instead and thwarted the rise in domestic dollar prices of goods and services.

Strong’s death in 1928 threw the Federal Reserve System into conflict and intellectual confusion. Dollar stabilisation ended as a policy. Surplus bank money was created on the release of gold that had been previously sterilised.

The traditional balance between bulls and bears in the stock-market was upset. Normally, every seller of stock is a bear and every buyer a bull. Now, amateur investors appeared as bulls attracted by the sudden stock price rises, while bears, who sold securities, failed to place their money into deposit and were instead lured into lending it as call money to brokerages who then fuelled these speculative bulls. As of October 22, 1929 about $4 billion was the extent of such speculative lending when Chase National Bank’s customers called in their money.

Chase National had to follow their instructions, as did other New York banks. New York’s Stock Exchange could hardly respond to a demand for $4 billion at a short notice and collapsed. Within a year, production had fallen by 26 per cent, prices by 14 per cent, personal income by 14 per cent, and the Greatest Depression of recorded history was in progress — involuntary unemployment levels in America reaching 25 per cent.

That is not, by any reading, what we have today. Yes, there has been plenty of bad lending, plenty of duping shareholders and workers and plenty of excessive managerial payoffs. It will all take a large toll, and affect markets across the world.

But it will be a toll relative to our plush comfortable modern standards, not those of 1929-1933. In fact, modern decisionmakers have the obvious advantage that they can look back at history and know what is not to be done. The US and the world economy are resilient enough to ride over even the extra uncertainty arising from the ongoing presidential campaign, and then some.”


III

America’s divided economists by Subroto Roy First published in Business Standard October 26, 2008

“Future doctoral theses about the Great Tremor of 2008 will ask how it was that the Fed chief, who was an academic economist, came to back so wholeheartedly the proposals of the investment banker heading the US Treasury. If Herbert Hoover and FDR in the 1930s started something called fiscal policy for the first time, George W Bush’s lameduck year has marked the total subjugation of monetary policy.

In his 1945 classic, History of Banking Theory, the University of Chicago’s Lloyd Mints said: “No reorganisation of the Federal Reserve System, while preserving its independence from the Treasury, can offer a satisfactory agency for the implementation of monetary policy. The Reserve banks and their branches should be made agencies of the Treasury and all monetary powers delegated by Congress should be given to the Secretary of the Treasury…. It is not at all certain that Treasury control of the stock of money would always be reasonable… but Treasury influence cannot be excluded by the creation of a speciously independent monetary agency that cannot have adequate powers for the performance of its task…” Years later, Milton Friedman himself took a similar position suggesting legislation “to end the independence of the Fed by converting it into a bureau of the Treasury Department…”(see, for example, Essence of Friedman, p 416).

Ben Bernanke’s Fed has now ended any pretence of the monetary policy’s independence from the whims and exigencies of executive power. Yet Dr Bernanke’s fellow academic economists have been unanimous in advising caution, patience and more information and reflection upon the facts. The famous letter of 122 economists to the US Congress was a rare statement of sense and practical wisdom. It agreed the situation was difficult and needed bold action. But it said the Paulson-Bernanke plan was an unfair “subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.”

Besides, the plan was unclear and too far-reaching. “Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards…. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America’s dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.”

The House’s initial bipartisan “backbench revolt” against “The Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act of 2008” (ESSA) followed this academic argument and rejected the Bernanke Fed’s advice. Is there an “emergency”, and if so what is its precise nature? Is this “economic stabilisation”, and if so, how is it going to work? The onus has been on Dr Bernanke and his staff to argue both, not merely to assert them. Even if the House “held its nose” and passed the measure for now, the American electorate is angry and it is anybody’s guess how a new President and Congress will alter all this in a few months.

Several academic economists have argued for specific price-stabilisation of the housing market being the keystone of any large, expensive and risky government intervention. (John McCain has also placed this in the political discussion now.) Roughly speaking, the housing supply-curve has shifted so far to the right that collapsed housing prices need to be dragged back upward by force. Columbia Business School economists Glenn Hubbard and Chris Mayer, both former Bush Administration officials, have proposed allowing “all residential mortgages on primary residences to be refinanced into 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 5.25 per cent…. close to where mortgage rates would be today with normally functioning mortgage markets….Lower interest rates will mean higher overall house prices…” Yale’s Jonathan Koppell and William Goetzmann have argued very similarly the Treasury “could offer to refinance all mortgages issued in the past five years with a fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage at 6 per cent. No credit scores, no questions asked; just pay off the principal of the existing mortgage with a government check. If monthly payments are still too high, homeowners could reduce their indebtedness in exchange for a share of the future price appreciation of the house. That is, the government would take an ownership interest in the house just as it would take an ownership interest in the financial institutions that would be bailed out under the Treasury’s plan.”

Beyond the short run, the US may play the demographic card by inviting in a few million new immigrants (if nativist feelings hostile to the outsider or newcomer can be controlled, especially in employment). Bad mortgages and foreclosures would vanish as people from around the world who long to live in America buy up all those empty houses and apartments, even in the most desolate or dismal locations. If the US’s housing supply curve has moved so far to the right that the equilibrium price has gone to near zero, the surest way to raise the equilibrium price would be by causing a new wave of immigration leading to a new demand curve arising at a higher level.

Such proposals seek to address the problem at its source. They might have been expected from the Fed’s economists. Instead, ESSA speaks of massive government purchase and control of bad assets “downriver”, without any attempt to face the problem at its source. This makes it merely wishful to think such assets can be sold for a profit at a later date so taxpayers will eventually gain. It is as likely as not the bad assets remain bad assets.

Indeed the University of Chicago’s Casey Mulligan has argued there is a financial crisis involving the banking sector but not an economic one: “We’re not entering a second Great Depression.” The marginal product of capital remains high and increasing “far above the historical average. The third-quarter earnings reports from some companies already suggest that America’s non-financial companies are still making plenty of money…. So, if you are not employed by the financial industry (94 per cent of you are not), don’t worry. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent is not alarming, and we should reconsider whether it is worth it to spend $700 billion to bring it down to 5.9 per cent.”

Dr Bernanke has been a close student of A Monetary History of the United States in which Milton Friedman and Anna J Schwartz argued that the Fed inadvertently worsened the Great Contraction of 1929-1933 by not responding to Congress. Let not future historians find that the Fed, at the behest of the Treasury Secretary, worsened the Great Tremor of 2008 by bamboozling Congress into hasty action.”

IV

Would not a few million new immigrants solve America’s mortgage crisis?
October 10, 2008 — drsubrotoroy | Edit

America was at its best when it was open to mass immigration, and America is at its worst when it treats immigrants with racism and worse (for seeming “uppity”).

All those bad mortgages and foreclosures could vanish within a year or two by playing the demographic card and inviting in a few million new immigrants into the United States.  They would pour in from China, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, South America,  South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Israel, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan,  India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and yes, Pakistan too, and more.  They would happily buy up all those empty houses and apartments, even in all those desolate  dismal locations.  If the USA’s housing supply curve has moved so far to the right that the equilibrium price has gone to near zero, the surest way to raise the equilibrium price would be by causing a  new wave of  immigration leading to a new demand curve arising at a higher level.   But yes, nativist feelings of racism towards the outsider or the newcomer would have to be controlled  especially in employment — racists after all are often rather “sub-prime” themselves and hence unable to accept characters who may be “prime” or at least less “sub-prime” from foreign immigrant communities.   Restoring a worldwide idea of an American dream fuelled by mass immigration may be the surest way for the American economy to restore itself.

V

122 Sensible American economists

September 26, 2008 — drsubrotoroy | Edit

“$700 billion comes to more than, uhhhm, $6,000 per income taxpayer in the USA.

I was glad to see the sensible letter of 122 American economists to US legislators regarding the Paulson-Bernanke plan to address America’s financial crisis.

Somehow, I have an inkling that foreign central banks have been left holding more bad US debt than might be remembered — which would explain the embarrassment of Messrs Paulson and Bernanke vis-a-vis their foreign counterparts… Dollar depreciation and an American inflation seem to be inevitable over the next several years.”

America’s divided economists


America’s divided economists

by

Subroto Roy

First published in

Business Standard 26 October 2008

Future doctoral theses about the Great Tremor of 2008 will ask how it was that the Fed chief, who was an academic economist, came to back so wholeheartedly the proposals of the investment banker heading the US Treasury. If Herbert Hoover and FDR in the 1930s started something called fiscal policy for the first time, George W Bush’s lameduck year has marked the total subjugation of monetary policy.

In his 1945 classic, History of Banking Theory, the University of Chicago’s Lloyd Mints said: “No reorganisation of the Federal Reserve System, while preserving its independence from the Treasury, can offer a satisfactory agency for the implementation of monetary policy. The Reserve banks and their branches should be made agencies of the Treasury and all monetary powers delegated by Congress should be given to the Secretary of the Treasury…. It is not at all certain that Treasury control of the stock of money would always be reasonable… but Treasury influence cannot be excluded by the creation of a speciously independent monetary agency that cannot have adequate powers for the performance of its task…” Years later, Milton Friedman himself took a similar position suggesting legislation “to end the independence of the Fed by converting it into a bureau of the Treasury Department…”(see, for example, Essence of Friedman, p 416).

Ben Bernanke’s Fed has now ended any pretence of monetary policy’s independence from the whims and exigencies of executive power. Yet Dr Bernanke’s fellow academic economists have been unanimous in advising caution, patience and more information and reflection upon the facts. The famous letter of 122 economists to the US Congress was a rare statement of sense and practical wisdom. It agreed the situation was difficult and needed bold action. But it said the Paulson-Bernanke plan was an unfair “subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.”

Besides, the plan was unclear and too far-reaching. “Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards…. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America’s dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.”

The House’s initial bipartisan “backbench revolt” against “The Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act of 2008” (ESSA) followed this academic argument and rejected the Bernanke Fed’s advice. Is there an “emergency”, and if so what is its precise nature? Is this “economic stabilisation”, and if so, how is it going to work? The onus has been on Dr Bernanke and his staff to argue both, not merely to assert them. Even if the House “held its nose” and passed the measure for now, the American electorate is angry and it is anybody’s guess how a new President and Congress will alter all this in a few months.

Several academic economists have argued for specific price-stabilisation of the housing market being the keystone of any large, expensive and risky government intervention. (John McCain has also placed this in the political discussion now.) Roughly speaking, the housing supply-curve has shifted so far to the right that collapsed housing prices need to be dragged back upward by force. Columbia Business School economists Glenn Hubbard and Chris Mayer, both former Bush Administration officials, have proposed allowing “all residential mortgages on primary residences to be refinanced into 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 5.25 per cent…. close to where mortgage rates would be today with normally functioning mortgage markets….Lower interest rates will mean higher overall house prices…” Yale’s Jonathan Koppell and William Goetzmann have argued very similarly the Treasury “could offer to refinance all mortgages issued in the past five years with a fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage at 6 per cent. No credit scores, no questions asked; just pay off the principal of the existing mortgage with a government check. If monthly payments are still too high, homeowners could reduce their indebtedness in exchange for a share of the future price appreciation of the house. That is, the government would take an ownership interest in the house just as it would take an ownership interest in the financial institutions that would be bailed out under the Treasury’s plan.”

Beyond the short run, the US may play the demographic card by inviting in a few million new immigrants (if nativist feelings hostile to the outsider or newcomer can be controlled, especially in employment). Bad mortgages and foreclosures would vanish as people from around the world who long to live in America buy up all those empty houses and apartments, even in the most desolate or dismal locations. If the US’s housing supply curve has moved so far to the right that the equilibrium price has gone to near zero, the surest way to raise the equilibrium price would be by causing a new wave of immigration leading to a new demand curve arising at a higher level.

Such proposals seek to address the problem at its source. They might have been expected from the Fed’s economists. Instead, ESSA speaks of massive government purchase and control of bad assets “downriver”, without any attempt to face the problem at its source. This makes it merely wishful to think such assets can be sold for a profit at a later date so taxpayers will eventually gain. It is as likely as not the bad assets remain bad assets.

Indeed the University of Chicago’s Casey Mulligan has argued there is a financial crisis involving the banking sector but not an economic one: “We’re not entering a second Great Depression.” The marginal product of capital remains high and increasing “far above the historical average. The third-quarter earnings reports from some companies already suggest that America’s non-financial companies are still making plenty of money…. So, if you are not employed by the financial industry (94 per cent of you are not), don’t worry. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent is not alarming, and we should reconsider whether it is worth it to spend $700 billion to bring it down to 5.9 per cent.”

Dr Bernanke has been a close student of A Monetary History of the United States in which Milton Friedman and Anna J Schwartz argued that the Fed inadvertently worsened the Great Contraction of 1929-1933 by not responding to Congress. Let not future historians find that the Fed, at the behest of the Treasury Secretary, worsened the Great Tremor of 2008 by bamboozling Congress into hasty action.

October 1929? Not!

October 1929? Not!

by Subroto Roy

First published in

Business Standard, Editorial Page,

18 September 2008

Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy protection, Merrill Lynch taken over by Bank of America, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and now AIG being nationalised by the US Government, Bear Stearns getting a government bailout, many thousands of low-quality loans going bad … Does it all add up to an American financial crisis in the autumn of 2008 comparable to that in the autumn of 1929? Even Alan Greenspan himself has gone on record on TV saying it might.

 

But there are overriding differences. Most important, the American economy and the world economy are both incomparably larger today in the value of their capital stock, and there has also been enormous technological progress over eight decades. Accordingly, it would take a much vaster event than the present turbulence — say, something like an exchange of multiple nuclear warheads with Russia causing Manhattan and the City of London to be destroyed — before there was a return to something comparable to the 1929 Crash and the Great Depression that followed.

 

Besides, the roots of the crises are different. What happened back then? In 1922, the Genoa Currency Conference wanted to correct the main defect of the pre-1914 gold standard, which was freezing the price of gold while failing to stabilise the purchasing power of money. From 1922 until about 1927, Benjamin Strong of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York adopted price-stabilisation as the new American policy-objective. Britain was off the gold standard and the USA remained on it. The USA, as a major creditor nation, saw massive gold inflows which, by traditional gold standard principles, would have caused a massive inflation. Governor Strong invented the process of “sterilisation” of those gold inflows instead and thwarted the rise in domestic dollar prices of goods and services.

 

Strong’s death in 1928 threw the Federal Reserve System into conflict and intellectual confusion. Dollar stabilisation ended as a policy. Surplus bank money was created on the release of gold that had been previously sterilised.

 

The traditional balance between bulls and bears in the stock-market was upset. Normally, every seller of stock is a bear and every buyer a bull. Now, amateur investors appeared as bulls attracted by the sudden stock price rises, while bears, who sold securities, failed to place their money into deposit and were instead lured into lending it as call money to brokerages who then fuelled these speculative bulls. As of October 22, 1929 about $4 billion was the extent of such speculative lending when Chase National Bank’s customers called in their money.

 

Chase National had to follow their instructions, as did other New York banks. New York’s Stock Exchange could hardly respond to a demand for $4 billion at a short notice and collapsed. Within a year, production had fallen by 26 per cent, prices by 14 per cent, personal income by 14 per cent, and the Greatest Depression of recorded history was in progress — involuntary unemployment levels in America reaching 25 per cent.

 

That is not, by any reading, what we have today. Yes, there has been plenty of bad lending, plenty of duping shareholders and workers and plenty of excessive managerial payoffs. It will all take a large toll, and affect markets across the world.

 

But it will be a toll relative to our plush comfortable modern standards, not those of 1929-1933. In fact, modern decision-makers have the obvious advantage that they can look back at history and know what is not to be done. The US and the world economy are resilient enough to ride over even the extra uncertainty arising from the ongoing presidential campaign, and then some.

Nuksaan-Faida Analysis = Cost-Benefit Analysis in Hindi/Urdu

I have published about a half dozen or more articles, mainly in The Statesman‘s Editorial Page, on the India-US Nuclear Deal, e.g. “Imperialism Redux”14 March 2006, “Towards an Energy Policy” 2 April 2006, “India’s Energy Interests” 27-28 August 2006,  “Need for Clarity”, 19 August 2007.  One of my main complaints has been that the Prime Minister and his acolytes seem to have failed to do a proper cost-benefit analysis of the whole thing.  The same currency-risk that made the Dabhol-Enron project instantly unviable is also faced a fortiori in the idea of importing nuclear fuel and reactors.  The Finance Minister and Finance Secretary who failed to calculate that currency risk in the former project, and hence caused its failure, have now failed again as PM and Planning Commission chief while advocating the latter project. Is the Indian rupee destined to depreciate in the long run?  Of course it is: just look at the long run trends and compare our money supply growth rates and inflation rates with those of the USA or EU.   The cost of imported nuclear power in India must be recalculated under different scenarios for the exchange-rate of the Indian rupee including e.g. a 20% depreciation.

It is not as if the Government of India is ignorant of what Cost-Benefit Analysis is supposed to be!  For example, look up

“*Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions* * *THE INDIAN ADMINISTRATIVE SERVICES (PROBATIONERS’ FINAL EXAMINATION) REGULATIONS, 1955* * *In pursuance of rule 7 of the Indian Administrative Service (Probation) Rules, 1954, the Central Government, in consultation with the State Governments and the Union Public Service Commission, hereby makes the following regulations, namely* *1. Short title:- These regulations may be called the Indian Administrative Service (Probationers’ Final Examination) Regulations, 1955.* *2. Definition:- 2(1) In these regulations, unless the context otherwise requires,-* *(a) `Academay’ (sic) means Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration;* *(b) [ ];* *(c) `Director’ means the Director of the Academy; and * *(d) `Schedule’ means a Schedule appended to these regulations.* *2(2) All other words and expressions used in these regulations and not defined shall have the meanings respectively assigned to them in the Indian Administrative Service (Probation) Rules, 1954.* *3. Final examination.- 3(1) Every probationer shall, at or about the end of the period of training in the Academy appear at a final examination.* *3(2) The examination shall be conducted by the 4Director in the manner laid down in these regulations….4. PUBLIC ADMINSTRATION AND MANAGEMENT* *Essentials of Administration-Organisational Structure of Governments, Role of Civil Servants, Administrative Ethics and Accountability, Delegation and Decentralisation-District and Local Administration-Personal Administration, Police Administration-Jail Administration Panchayati Raj Administration- CalamityAdministration-Administration of Development and Welfare Programmes- Budget and Role of Audit and general financial principles-Role of District Officer/SDO-Conduct of Elections.* *Management and Organisation* *Behavioural Science Motivation, Leadership, Decision-Making, MBO, Management of Conflicts, Management of Change ,Transactional Analysis, -MIS-O&M & Work study-Pert-CPM, Time Management Methodology of Presentation of a subject-Financial Management Capital Budgeting, Discountal Cash Flow, Ratio Analysis, Project Formulation, Cost benefit Analysis, Project Evaluation Interpretation of Balance Sheets….”  (emphasis added)

How come there has been none with the India-US nuclear deal then?   I think we need a new more comprehensible term for Cost-Benefit Analysis, and that should be, most simply, its Hindi/Urdu equivalent: “Nuksaan-Faida Analysis”.

What is the estimated Nuksaan?

What is the estimated Faida?

How do they compare?  It all becomes so much easier!

Subroto Roy

Indian Inflation: Upside Down Economics from New Delhi’s Establishment

Indian Inflation:

Upside Down Economics From The New Delhi Establishment

by

Subroto Roy

First published in two parts in

The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article,

April 15-16, 2008

Suppose there are only three real goods and services in the economy, and their prices per unit expressed in terms of money were Rs 3, Rs 2, Rs 6 respectively. If those money prices per unit doubled to Rs 6, Rs 4, Rs 12 respectively, we would say inflation of 100% occurred during the relevant time-period. If the prices had gone instead to Rs 4.50, Rs 3, Rs 9, we would say inflation was 50%, and so on. Notice the ratios between the three prices have remained the same in these examples; i.e., while the money prices of the items have changed, relative prices between them remained constant. In reality, there are many hundreds of millions of differentiated real goods and services in any economy though the logic stays the same.

Decline of money
It is well within living memory that the monthly salary of a Government of India Joint Secretary was Rs 3,000. Middle class parents would wed their daughters respectably to a groom earning such a figure. A Joint Secretary today makes 20 times as much and Rs 3,000 is made by his driver or children’s nanny whose equivalent back then made perhaps Rs 150 per month. The relative distance between the Joint Secretary and his driver has not decreased but the absolute amount of rupees made by each has been multiplied by a factor of 20. That indicates the fall in the value of rupees or rise in prices of goods and services relative to rupees during that period.

One reason this has happened is that the monopoly issuer of rupees, namely the Government of India, has vastly enlarged the stock of rupees present in the economy, both paper-notes and bank-deposits.  Inflation, strictly speaking, is uniform decline in the value of money or, what is the same thing, uniform increase in all rupee prices, including wages, with relative prices constant. The time-period could be a year or even a month; “hyperinflation” may start to be defined if the value of money falls at more than 10% per month.

The main problem with inflation is that rupee prices never expand uniformly and hence some classes of people gain unexpectedly while others suffer catastrophe. E.g., all those with debts expressed in rupee terms pay back less in real terms while their creditors go bankrupt. Those with fixed or slow-changing incomes (like old people, unorganised non-unionised workers etc) and those with paper assets (like currency rather than land or jewelry) are all made worse off by inflation. Unionized workers, like Government employees, do very well from inflation relative to others in society as their compensation is inflation-indexed. And the Government of India itself, as the largest debtor in the economy, gains massively from inflation; indeed, printing more paper is a standard way for all governments around the world to reduce their real debts by subterfuge.

The farmers at Singur or the SEZs who hand over their land for paper rupees from the Government will find the value of that paper declining and the value of that land rising over future years ~ which may help explain the recent keenness of city-people to take over rural India.

Rupee prices are one key variable that tend to expand via inflation with expansion of money stock. The other main change occurs in real income through growth. The Joint Secretary and his driver both use colour TVs for entertainment and gas-stoves for cooking these days; their earlier counterparts would have used transistor radios and coal-fired ovens.

To that extent, we have superior standards of living than we did in the past. There has been enormous technological progress, mostly through spontaneous learning and productivity increase, and that leads to vastly greater commerce and transactions between people, hence greater income and wealth through specialization. The vastly increased volume and value of commerce requires more money to expedite its turnover.

India’s money stock in recent decades has been growing at no less than 15% per annum, most recently reaching an all-time high of 22% per annum last year. Even if current Government estimates of growth of real income at some 9% are taken at face-value, that may mean growth in all rupee prices, i.e. inflation, near 22-9=13% per annum. TV economists parrot Government WPI inflation at 5% per annum, and now newspaper headlines are screaming WPI inflation is at 7.4% ~ more realistically, the decline in the value of India’s paper money has likely been in double-digits for years.

Paper money is a peculiar thing as it has no intrinsic value ~ even a hair pin or shirt-button has more usefulness as such. Paper money derives whatever value it has only because each of us in the economy believes everyone else will accept it in transactions in payment of wages or to purchase food and other items with.

Gold standard

The currency note in your pocket may carry the signature of the RBI Governor and his “promise to pay the bearer” the face-value ~ as if he is going to pay you its equivalent in gold held by the Government. But this is open humbug, a childish fiction. In 1931 the British pound, and the Indian rupee which linked to it at the time, went off the “gold standard” and there has been no backing of the Indian currency with gold ever since then.

In a pure gold standard, gold is money ~ interchangeable in the sense the central bank guarantees it will exchange gold for the paper it issues at an announced price. If that price changes up or down, there is devaluation or revaluation of the currency with respect to gold (depending on how you count it).

A gold exchange standard is similar except gold is not used as money and central banks of nations guarantee the announced prices of their paper moneys with respect to gold in transactions with one another. In the dollar exchange standard (or Bretton Woods system from 1944 to 1971), the US Government alone and uniquely undertook to guarantee the price of the dollar at $35 a troy oz of gold in transactions with all other central banks. That was the underpinning of the international financial system until Richard Nixon “closed the gold window” on 15 August 1971 because the US had largely financed the Vietnam War through money-creation, and other countries’ central banks (like France) had accumulated large dollar-balances.

The “gold standard”, “gold exchange standard”, and “dollar exchange standard” are all examples of “fixed” exchange rate systems which came to end in 1971-1972. The price of gold at $35 an oz was obviously unrealistically low, and it shot up at once, and has even reached $1000 an oz recently. Since 1972, the Western world has been on “floating exchange rates” where currencies find their own values and gold is merely one asset among many. Fixed exchange rate systems can lead to speculation, runs against currencies and the irresponsible international export of inflation which floating exchange rate systems tend to avoid because there will tend to be market-determined movement in the exchange-rate instead.

Elite capital flight

India today has neither a proper fixed nor a proper floating exchange-rate system but instead continues a system of highly discriminatory exchange controls. Twenty or thirty million people in our major cities know how to use the present system well enough to exchange their Indian rupees for as much as US $200,000 per annum to send their children and relatives settled abroad as foreign nationals. Plus Indian corporations have been allowed to convert rupees to buy sinking foreign companies. Foreign-currency reserves have vastly climbed too as domestic Indian companies have been allowed to incur foreign-currency denominated debt. Hence the thirty million special people are rather cleverly able to borrow foreign currency with one hand and then transmit it abroad with the other.

The net result is a clear policy of government-induced elite capital flight, unprecedented in its irresponsibility anywhere in world economic history ~ signed, sealed and delivered by the Montek-Manmohan-Chidambaram trio now just as Yashwant-Jaswant-KC Pant and friends had done a little earlier. The Communists would only be worse, as their JNU economists renounce all standard textbook microeconomics and macroeconomics in favour of street-shouting instead.

Outside the thirty million Indians with NRI connections, the average Indian today is disallowed from holding foreign exchange accounts at his/ her local bank or holding or trading in gold or other precious metals freely as he/she may please ~ the physical arrest of Mohun Bagan’s hapless Brazilian footballer by our inimitable Customs officers the other day reveals the ugliness of the situation most poignantly.

Every TV economist in Delhi, Bombay and Kolkata now seems to have a solution about India’s inflation and all sorts of fallacious reasoning is in the air. Some recommend the rupee appreciating or depreciating ~ as if anyone in the country has the faintest idea how elastic imports, exports and capital flows may be in fact to changes in the (controlled) exchange-rate. The Finance Minister and PM keep saying inflation is being “imported” because international commodity prices are high ~ someone should explain to them inflation is “imported” when fixed exchange rates allow transmission through the price-specie flow mechanism, and that is far from being India’s main problem. The extra-constitutional “Planning Commission” has, we may be thankful, remained silent about inflation, and seems to have abandoned earlier misconceptions about using forex reserves for “infrastructure”. The UPA Chair, we may be thankful, also has been silent and admits innocence of all economics, implicitly trusting her PM’s wisdom in all such matters instead.

What no one wants to talk about is the hippopotamus that is present in the room, namely, the chronically diseased state of accounts and public finances of the issuer of India’s paper-rupees, the Union Government, as well as the diseased accounts and finances of more than two dozen State Governments that are subservient to it. The macroeconomic and fiscal policy process that the Congress, BJP, Communists and everyone else in the political class in New Delhi and the State capitals have been presiding over for decades is one that turns normal economics upside down.

What happens in the West is that an estimate of technological progress and population growth is made by policy-makers, then an “acceptable” or “unavoidable” or “natural” rate of inflation is added (the figure of monetary change needed for efficiency in the real economy so relative prices adjust to equilibrium in response to demand and supply changes), then a monetary growth target is set, to which the fiscal authority ~ i.e. the legislature handling the Government’s budget ~ must adjust taxation and spending plans accordingly.

What has been happening in India every year for decades is that each of some two dozen state legislatures runs up a large deficit, which are all added up and passed on to the “Centre”; the “Centre” and its “Yojana Bhavan”, at the behest of every conceivable organised interest-group with access in Delhi especially government unions and the military, runs up its own vastly larger fiscal deficit, and then this grand total of fiscal-deficits is offered to the Reserve Bank at the end of a loaded pistol ~ to pay for one way or another via new public debt creation and money printing.  Subtract the WPI rate from the Money Supply Growth rate and government spokesmen and their businessmen friends then exclaim that the economy must try to reach the difference as its “warranted” growth rate! It is all economics upside down from people who have either learnt nothing significant in the subject or forgotten whatever little they once did.

Fragile financial state

The net result has been a banking system (mostly nationalized) in which the asset side of banks’ balance-sheets is made up almost entirely of rather dubious government debt, interest payments on which are received every year from fresh money-printing. The liability side of those balance-sheets consists of course of customer-deposits. In this fragile monetary and financial state, a government-induced capital flight has been allowed to continue under pretence of liberalization ~ with Indian companies being allowed to borrow from foreign markets many times their domestic rupee-denominated net worth by which to acquire ailing foreign companies and brands. Furthermore, there has been a massive fiscal effect as vast new Government spending programs ~ like buying foreign aircraft carriers, fighter-jets or passenger aircraft or writing off farm loans ~ come to be announced and absorbed into expectations of future inflation. A monetary meltdown is what the present author cautioned against in 1990-1995 and again, publicly, in 2000-2005. Economics, candidly treated, tells us not only that there is no such thing as a free lunch but also that chickens come home to roost.

Articles of related interest include “Against Quackery”, “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Fiscal Instability”, “Indian Money and Credit”, “Indian Money and Banking”, “The Dream Team: A Critique” etc. See https://independentindian.com/2013/11/23/coverage-of-my-delhi-talk-on-3-dec-2012/


Gold standard etc: Fixed versus flexible exchange rates

Author’s Note September 2008: Most of this material has now been published in my article in The Statesman “Indian Inflation”, republished elsewhere here.  I should add that this note  written in 2007 is extremely rudimentary and was written in a few minutes; I have not altered it as it is has been a popular read, but if I rewrote it, I would say the gold exchange standard was  far more complicated than I have made it out to be in this note. Please see e.g. my recent article “October 1929? Not!” in Business Standard republished elsewhere here.

“Someone at the Ron Paul Forums asked for an explanation of the gold standard etc, so I posted the following brief note on it:

Gold standard etc: Fixed versus flexible exchange rates

Subroto Roy

First published at the Ron Paul Forums and at DailyPaul.com etc

The “gold standard”, “gold exchange standard”, and “dollar exchange standard”/Bretton Woods system are examples of “fixed” exchange rate systems.

In a pure gold standard, gold is used as money, ie interchangeably with paper money and the Central Bank of a country guarantees it will exchange gold for the paper money it issues at a certain announced price. If that price changes upwards or downwards, there is devaluation or revaluation of the currency with respect to gold (depending on how you count it).

A gold exchange standard is similar except gold is not used as money and the central banks of nations guarantee the announced prices of their paper moneys with respect to gold in transactions with one another.

In the so-called dollar exchange standard (or the Bretton Woods system from 1944 to 1971), the US Government alone and uniquely undertook to guarantee the price of the dollar at $35 a troy oz of gold in transactions with all other central banks. That was the underpinning of the international financial system until President Nixon “closed the gold window” on August 15 1971 because the US had largely financed the Vietnam War through money-creation, and other countries’ central banks (eg France) had accumulated large dollar-balances.

Since then, the world has been on floating exchange rates where currencies find their own values. and gold is merely one asset among many. Obviously the price of gold at $35 an oz had become unrealistically low, and shot up at once.

Milton Friedman had argued for floating exchange rates 20 years before they came into being. Fixed exchange rate systems can lead to speculation, runs against currencies and the irresponsible international export of inflation which floating exchange rate systems tend to avoid because there will tend to be market-determined movement in the exchange-rate instead.

As I have said before here, Dr Ron Paul’s discussions about monetary economics are probably better than that of any other candidate or politician in any party but they are not robust.

Dr Subroto Roy, Kolkata, India”

Swindling India

SWINDLING INDIA

by

Subroto Roy

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.

India in World Trade & Payments

Our Trade & Payments

by

SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Sunday Statesman, Feb 11 2007, The Statesman, Feb 12 2007

Editorial Page Special Article

 

 

TWO and a half millennia ago, the Greeks described how brightly coloured textiles imported from India were popular among the Persians. Five centuries later, the Roman historian Pliny complained that India every year “took from Italy a hundred million sesterces in return for spices, perfumes and ornaments”. Montesquieu observed in 1748: “All peoples who have traded with India have always taken metals there and brought back commodities. Indians need only our metals, which are the signs of value. In all times those who deal with India will take silver there and bring back none”.

During the British period, India remained a great trading nation. JM Keynes found Britain, the world’s largest exporter in 1913, exporting more to India than anywhere else, and Germany, the world’s fastest growing economy in 1913, receiving 5 percent of its imports from India and sending it 1.5 percent of exports, making India the sixth largest exporter to Germany (after the USA, Russia, Britain, Austria-Hungary, France) and eighth largest importer from it (after Britain, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France, the USA, Belgium, Italy). India’s share of world exports during 1870-1914 may have been about 3-4 per cent. As of 1917-1918, India’s balance of payments and fiscal budget appear idyllic: an export surplus of £61.42 million, official reserves of £66.53 million, total claims on the rest of the world of £127.5 million (or 32.85 million troy ozs of gold), and a 1916-1917 budget surplus of £6,594,885.

Even at mid-20th Century, India was still a trading power with 2 percent of world exports and a rank of 16 in the world economy after the USA, Britain, West Germany, France, Canada, Belgium, Holland, Japan, Italy, Australia, Sweden, Venezuela, Brazil, Malaya and Switzerland.

Yet during the second half of the 20th Century, the Indian subcontinent collapsed to near insignificance in world trade and payments. The traditional export surplus implied a high “treasure” demand for precious metals on capital account; this was reversed and the new India became a chronic trade-deficit country dependant on foreign borrowings and grants. Of world merchandise exports, the subcontinent’s share today is 0.8 of 1 per cent, and of Asia’s 6 percent (India accounting for two thirds); by contrast, Malaysia alone accounts for 0.9 of 1 percent of world exports and 6.5 percent of Asia’s. Most poignantly, among 11 major developing countries (Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Israel, Yugoslavia), India’s share of manufactured exports to the world fell from 65 per cent in 1953 to 51 percent in 1960 to 31 per cent in 1966 to 10 per cent by 1973. Our legendary textiles lost ground steadily. As of 1962-1971, India held an average annual market-share of almost 20 percent of manufactured textile imports into the USA; this fell to 10 percent by 1972-1981 and less than 5 percent by 1982-1991. India’s share of Britain’s imports of textile manufactures fell from 16 per cent in the early 1960s to less than 4 per cent in the 1990s. India and Sri Lanka once dominated world tea exports but lost rapidly to Kenya, Indonesia and Malawi. Of total British tea imports, Sri Lanka’s market-share fell from 11 percent in 1980 to 7 per cent by 1991 while India’s fell from 33 percent in 1980 to 17 per cent by 1991. Today India may not be in the top thirty largest merchandise exporting countries of the world.

Several causes may be identified for our historical collapse in world trade and payments. These include Western protectionism e.g. of domestic textiles between 1965-2005, and emergence of new technologies like synthetic fibres, plastics, tea-bags etc as well as new competitors in the world marketplace willing to use these. Successful commerce depends on intangible quantities like trust, reliable information and contacts between individual contracting parties. Decline in our shares of world exports led to wastage of such informational capital and commercial trust. Foreign importers established new relations with India’s competitors, and for Indian entrepreneurs (now facing lessened foreign protectionism or newly liberalized domestic policies) to win new customers or win back old ones becomes doubly difficult.

But the most important cause of the decline was undoubtedly the political discord and trauma leading to economic disintegration of Old India into modern India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Partly as a result of their conflict, independent India and Pakistan deepened government requisitioning and rationing of foreign exchange purportedly as part of pseudo-socialist “planning”.

Trade policy followed the British pattern of import quotas imposed to conserve hard currency and save shipping space during war. Discretionary controls were in place by 1942 on grounds of “essentiality” and non-availability from indigenous sources. War needs over-rode others, and consumer goods banned ~ favouring their production by domestic business houses. In 1945 consumer goods were placed on open general license, as “the pattern of post-war trade should not be dictated by perpetuation of controls set up for purely war-time purposes”, and in 1946 there was further liberalization in view of India’s enormous sterling balances. But by March 1947 this ended, and import of gold and 200 “luxury” goods were banned. Only a few “essential” goods remained on the open list.

After the British left, political/bureaucratic control of imports and foreign exchange were extended, not removed. Intricate restrictions, subsidies, barriers and import-licensing (based on obsolete war-time “essentiality” and “actual user” criteria) continued, now in name of “import-substitution” and “planning”. Major industries were nationalized, and these became leading consumers of imports obtained by administrative rationing of the foreign exchange earned by export sectors. As consumer goods’ imports were most restricted, Indian businesses predictably diverted to produce these in the large highly protected domestic markets that resulted, causing monopolistic profits and financing of a vast parallel or “black” economy with its thriving hawala sector. Restriction of consumer goods’ and gold imports also caused smuggling and open corruption in Customs. The international price of the rupee was viewed not as reflecting demand for foreign relative to domestic moneys but as just another administered price to be used by politicians and bureaucrats. Foreign exchange earnings of exporters were confiscated in exchange for rupees at the administered rate. Foreign currency thus requisitioned was (and still mostly is) disbursed by rationing in the following order of precedence: first to meet Government debt repayments to international organizations, and Government expenditures abroad like maintenance of embassies and purchase of military imports, plus politicians’ and bureaucrats’ foreign travel etc; secondly, for import of food, fertilizers, petroleum; thirdly, for imported inputs required by Government firms; fourthly, for import demands of those private firms successful in obtaining import licenses; lastly, to satisfy demands of the public at large for purposes like travel or study abroad.

After devaluing with sterling in 1949, the rupee was maintained at the same value for 17 years despite weakening reserve positions and numerous shocks to the economy like the 1962 war with China, 1965 war with Pakistan, and droughts and food crises. Devaluation on June 6 1966 to Rs. 7.50 per US dollar met political opposition and contributed to Congress Party losses in the 1967 elections. The rupee did not respond to sterling’s devaluation in November 1967 and was not adjusted downwards though the economy continued to suffer shocks like the rise in petroleum prices, refugees from the Pakistan civil war, and domestic strikes and political instability. In August 1971, India pegged to the dollar and devalued with the dollar’s depreciation but in December again linked to sterling at Rs 18.97. When sterling depreciated after floating in June 1972, the rupee effectively devalued with it, and until July 1975 there were three small devaluations against sterling. In September 1975, India pegged (within margins) to an undisclosed basket of hard currencies including the dollar, yen and deutschmark, and between 1981-1985, the rupee was slowly managed downwards, without political resistance. From September 1985-July 1991, it followed a more rapid downward course depreciating 40 per cent, while the dollar depreciated as well against major currencies, suggesting the dollar weighed heavily in the basket to which the rupee was pegged.

1991 reforms

Narasimha Rao, P Chidambaram and others received from Rajiv Gandhi in his last months the results of a “perestroika-for-India” project, and started a process of economic liberalisation. Chidambaram said at the time the reforms “were not miraculous” but based on rewriting the Congress manifesto: “We were ready when we came back to power in 1991”.

On July 1 1991, the rupee devalued 9 percent and on July 3 a further 11 percent. The new Government’s March 1 1992 Budget placed the rupee experimentally on a dual rate, implicitly taxing exporters who had to surrender 40 percent of their forex at an officially determined rate and could sell 60 percent in an open market. On March 1 1993, the rupee began to be made convertible for current account transactions, i.e. for import and export of goods and services. Trade reforms included removing many import quotas and some export subsidies. But grave fiscal and monetary problems were not (and have never been) addressed with any seriousness.

Balance of payments

The “balance of payments” sums a country’s current and capital accounts. In Western countries, the capital account consists of net trading in long and short-term securities like private stock and government debt ~ domestic securities being bought and sold freely by foreign residents and foreign securities by domestic residents. Prices determined by competitive trading are very sensitive to interest-rate differences. In India (and Pakistan etc) genuine capital account transactions have not existed since the 1930s, and do so only in highly distorted form even today. The traditional export surplus and positive current account, balanced by net inflow of precious metals, had been wiped out and current account deficits were coupled with overvalued currencies and closed capital markets – along with repressive financial policies causing capital flight of an elite nomenklatura. The inherent risk of unproductive use of funds by borrowers and consumers of forex (mostly Government) were shifted to export and other hard-currency earning sectors.

In particular, a severe trade-deficit had followed petroleum-price rises in the late 1970s, which continues today. There has been some exploration, discovery and extraction of domestic supplies of oil and gas, but no significant move to conserve or find economical alternatives to use of imported energy. (Indeed a coal-exporting petroleum-importing nation with the most heavily used railways in the world made an unprovoked decision to abolish steam-locomotives in favour of diesel and electric. And now, very expensive foreign nuclear plants are planned to be imported on a turnkey basis under a false assumption these will help India’s energy sector.)

India gained from exporting temporary workers to the Gulf since the 1970s but that could hardly finance the increased oil bill. Instead there has been large growth of foreign debt since the 1970s, mostly owed by the Government (and recently by large private businesses) to Western financial markets via brokerage of Western governments and organizations they control. India’s foreign debt amounts to more than $100 being owed by each of our one billion citizens, each of us having to earn five or six dollars every year on average just to meet interest payments due to foreign creditors.

This has been accompanied in the last few years by foreign exchange reserves (the residual in the balance of payments) seeming to grow rapidly, and rising reserves have been perceived as a sign of optimism. Just as bad luck came by way of large oil-price increases, we have seen windfall gains from spread of American “information technology” ~ causing an even larger surplus on services as Indian computer-workers are exported, or new foreign investment is lured by low costs of “business process outsourcing” using our “reserve army” of labour and seemingly cheap real estate.

Rising forex reserves may or may not indicate a better financial position just as rising debt may or may not indicate a weaker financial position. A cash-rich person or company or country may have enough liquid resources to meet an immediate payments’ crisis ~ but may have become cash-rich merely by having borrowed more. A country’s forex reserves may be rising because foreigners have lent it more or have been exploiting arbitrage opportunities presented by multiple exchange-rates or interest-rates or other capital market inefficiencies, or even because reserve-assets have appreciated in world markets due to currency movements.

Similarly, it is not the absolute size of a debt that matters but productivity of the use to which it has been put. At a conference on a “perestroika-for-India” in May 1989 at the University of Hawaii, the late Milton Friedman remarked that one man can be heavily indebted yet have used his debt for investment in capital and hence real growth, while another man can be less heavily indebted but have used borrowed money for debauchery or other wasteful consumption.

For countries too, it is the use to which debt has been put ~ the nature of assets that have been created with the debt ~ that is fundamental. If our foreign debt has been used by Government to create roads and bridges or improve agricultural productivity, fertile capital assets have been invested in, which lead to economic growth and well-being.

If borrowed foreign money has been mostly spent on fancy tanks and bombers (or even passenger aircraft, which mostly earn domestic and not foreign currency) or on foreign trips for politicians and bureaucrats, it has likely gone on sterile consumption goods for the elite. Since Pakistan and India are armed with foreign weapons intended to be used mainly against one another, the arms’ merchants on both sides have been laughing all the way to their Swiss banks for decades. Pakistan and India’s weapons’ imports have been effectively paid by their Governments having borrowed what now constitutes the bulk of their enormous sovereign debts. Requisitioning forex has permitted military generals, politicians, bureaucrats and other lobbies to spend as they wish foreign monies earned by relatively meagre export sectors under conditions of severe international competition.

False convertibility

The RBI is presently engaged in a false convertibility whereby the organised private sector can purchase foreign assets, and the elite can transfer $50,000 annually to their adult children already exported abroad. Truly freeing the rupee today would involve allowing, overnight, any Indian to hold gold, foreign currency and foreign exchange bank accounts freely at his/her local bank (just like those glamorous NRIs). But some 50% or more of public expenditure is being financed by debt compulsorily held by nationalized banks, and this would leave Government with the problem of finding real resources to pay interest and amortisation on the sovereign debt. Moving towards convertibility may induce severe inflation and instability caused by exposure of the weakness of the banks, as their assets (especially Government debt) come to be valued at international prices. Yet without a convertible rupee, proper valuation at world prices is not possible of any paper assets in India (including shares), nor is there any incentive for a responsible fiscal and monetary policy to emerge, even while the nomenklatura continue in capital flight, and India’s masses unknowingly inherit large accumulating rupee and dollar-denominated public debts.

Milton Friedman: A Man of Reason, 1912-2006

A Man of Reason


Milton Friedman (1912-2006)

 

First published in The Statesman, Perspective Page Nov 22 2006

 

Milton Friedman, who died on 16 November 2006 in San Francisco, was without a doubt the greatest economist after John Maynard Keynes. Before Keynes, great 20th century economists included Alfred Marshall and Knut Wicksell, while Keynes’s contemporaries included Irving Fisher, AC Pigou and many others. Keynes was followed by his younger critic FA Hayek, but Hayek is remembered less for his technical economics as for his criticism of “socialist economics” and contributions to politics. Milton Friedman more than anyone else was Keynes’s successor in economics (and in applied macroeconomics in particular), in the same way David Ricardo had been the successor of Adam Smith. Ricardo disagreed with Smith and Friedman disagreed with Keynes, but the impact of each on the direction and course both of economics and of the world in which they lived was similar in size and scope.

 

Friedman’s impact on the contemporary world may have been largest through his design and advocacy as early as 1953 of the system of floating exchange-rates. In the early 1970s, when the Bretton Woods system of adjustable fixed exchange-rates collapsed and Friedman’s friend and colleague George P. Shultz was US Treasury Secretary in the Nixon Administration, the international monetary system started to become of the kind Friedman had described two decades earlier. Equally large was Friedman’s worldwide impact in re-establishing concern about the frequent cause of macroeconomic inflation being money supply growth rates well above real income growth rates. All contemporary talk of “inflation targeting” among macroeconomic policy-makers since the 1980s has its roots in Friedman’s December 1967 presidential address to the American Economic Association. His main empirical disagreement with Keynes and the Keynesians lay in his belief that people held the intrinsically worthless tokens known as “money” largely in order to expedite their transactions and not as a store of value – hence the “demand for money” was a function mostly of income and not of interest rates, contrary to what Keynes had suggested in his 1930s analysis of “Depression Economics”. It is in this sense that Friedman restored the traditional “quantity theory” as being a specific theory of the demand for money.

 

Friedman’s main descriptive work lay in the monumental Monetary History of the United States he co-authored with Anna J. Schwartz, which suggested drastic contractions of the money supply had contributed to the Great Depression in America. Friedman made innumerable smaller contributions too, the most prominent and foresighted of which had to do with advocating larger parental choice in the public finance of their children’s school education via the use of “vouchers”. The modern Friedman Foundation has that as its main focus of philanthropy. The emphasis on greater individual choice in school education exemplified Friedman’s commitments both to individual freedom and the notion of investment in human capital.

 

Friedman had significant influences upon several non-Western countries too, most prominently India and China, besides a grossly misreported episode in Chile. As described in his autobiography with his wife Rose, Two Lucky People (Chicago 1998), Friedman spent six months in India in 1955 at the Government of India’s invitation during the formulation of the Second Five Year Plan. His work done for the Government of India came to be suppressed for the next 34 years. Peter Bauer had told me during my doctoral work at Cambridge in the late 1970s of the existence of a Friedman memorandum, and N. Georgescu-Roegen told me the same in America in 1980, adding that Friedman had been almost insulted publicly by VKRV Rao at the time after giving a lecture to students on his analysis of India’s problems.

 

When Friedman and I met in 1984, I asked him for the memorandum and he sent me two documents. The main one dated November 1955 I published in Hawaii on 21 May 1989 during a project on a proposed Indian “perestroika” (which contributed to the origins of the 1991 reform through Rajiv Gandhi), and was later published in Delhi in Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by myself and WE James.

 

The other document on Mahalanobis is published in The Statesman today for the first time, though there has been an Internet copy floating around for a few years. The Friedmans’ autobiography quoted what I said in 1989 about the 1955 memorandum and may be repeated: “The aims of economic policy (in India) were to create conditions for rapid increase in levels of income and consumption for the mass of the people, and these aims were shared by everyone from PC Mahalanobis to Milton Friedman. The means recommended were different. Mahalanobis advocated a leading role for the state and an emphasis on the growth of physical capital. Friedman advocated a necessary but clearly limited role for the state, and placed on the agenda large-scale investment in the stock of human capital, encouragement of domestic competition, steady and predictable monetary growth, and a flexible exchange rate for the rupee as a convertible hard currency, which would have entailed also an open competitive position in the world economy… If such an alternative had been more thoroughly discussed at the time, the optimal role of the state in India today, as well as the optimum complementarity between human capital and physical capital, may have been more easily determined.”

 

A few months before attending my Hawaii conference on India, Friedman had been in China, and his memorandum to Communist Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and two-hour dialogue of 19 September 1988 with him are now classics republished in the 1998 autobiography. Also republished there are all documents relating to Friedman’s six-day academic visit to Chile in March 1975 and his correspondence with General Pinochet, which speak for themselves and make clear Friedman had nothing to do with that regime other than offer his opinion when asked about how to reduce Chile’s hyperinflation at the time.

 

My association with Milton has been the zenith of my engagement with academic economics, with e-mails exchanged as recently as September. I was a doctoral student of his bitter enemy yet for over two decades he not only treated me with unfailing courtesy and affection, he supported me in lonely righteous battles: doing for me what he said he had never done before, which was to stand as an expert witness in a United States Federal Court. I will miss him much though I know that he, as a man of reason, would not have wished me to.

Subroto Roy

The Dream Team: A Critique

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

(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.

 

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Waffle but No Models of Monetary Policy: The RBI and Financial Repression

Waffle but No Models of Monetary Policy:

The RBI and Financial Repression (A Stock Market on Steroids)

by

Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Perspective Page, October 27 2005

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.

Towards a Highly Transparent Fiscal & Monetary Framework for India’s Union & State Governments (29 April 2000)

Towards a Highly Transparent Fiscal & Monetary Framework for India’s Union & State Governments

An address by Dr Subroto Roy to

the Conference of State Finance Secretaries, Reserve Bank of India,  Mumbai, 29 April 2000.

It is a great privilege to speak to this distinguished gathering of Finance Secretaries and economic policy-makers here at the Reserve Bank today. I should like to begin by thanking the Hon’ble Governor Dr Bimal Jalan and the Hon’ble Deputy Governor Dr YV Reddy for their kind invitation for me to do so. I should also like to record here my gratitude to their eminent predecessor, the Hon’ble Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Dr C Rangarajan, for his encouragement of my thinking on these subjects over several years.

My aim will be to share with you and seek your help with my continuing and very incomplete efforts at trying to comprehend as clearly as possible the major public financial flows taking place between the Union of India and each of its constituent States. I plan to show you by the end of this discussion how all the information presently contained in the budgets of the Union and State Governments of India, may be usefully transformed one-to-one into a fresh modern format consistent with the best international practices of government accounting and public budgeting.

I do not use the term “Central Government”, because it is a somewhat sinister anachronism left over from British times. When we were not a free nation, there was indeed a Central Government in New Delhi which took its orders from London and gave orders to its peripheral Provinces as well as to the British “Residents” parked beside the thrones of those who were called “Indian Princes”.

Free India has been a Union of States. There is a Government of the whole Union and there is a Government of each State. The Union is the sovereign and the sole international power, while the States, as political subdivisions of the Union, also possess certain sub-sovereign powers; as indeed do their own subdivisions like zilla parishads, municipalities and other local bodies in smaller measure.

Our 15 large States, which account for 97% of the population of the country, have an average of something like 61 million citizens each, which is vastly more than most countries of the world. In size of population at least, we are like 15 Frances or 15 Britains put together. The Indian Republic is unique or sui generis in that there has never been in history any attempt at federalism or democracy with such sheer large numbers of people involved.

In such a framework the citizen is supposed to feel a voter and a taxpayer at different levels, owing loyalty and taxes to both the national unit and the subdivisions in which he or she resides. In exchange, government at different levels is expected to provide citizens with public goods and services in appropriate measure. The problem of optimal fiscal decentralisation in India as elsewhere is one of allocating to each level of government the power to tax and responsibility to provide, public goods and services most appropriate to that level of government given the availability of information of resources and citizens’ preferences.

In parallel, a problem of optimal monetary decentralisation may be identified as that of allocating between an autonomous Central Bank and its regional or even State-level affiliates or subsidiaries, the power to finance through money-creation the deficits, if any, of the Union and State Governments respectively. It is not impossible to imagine a world in which individual State deficits did not flow into the Union deficit as a matter of course, but instead were intended to be financed more or less independently of the Union budget from a single-window source. There would be a clear conceptual independence between the Union and State levels of public action in the country. In such a world, the Union Government might approach a constitutionally autonomous national-level Central Bank to finance its deficit, while individual State Governments did something analogous with respect to autonomous regional or even State-level Central Banks which would be affiliates or subsidiaries of the national Central Bank.

This is similar to the intended model of the United States Federal Reserve System when it started 90 years ago, though it has not worked like that, in part because of the rapid rise to domination by the New York Federal Reserve relative to the other 11 regional Federal Reserve Banks.

A more radical monetary step would be to contemplate a “Reverse Euro” model by which a national currency issued by the national-level Central Bank acts in parallel with a number of regional or State-level currencies with full convertibility and floating exchange-rates guaranteed between all of them in a world of unhindered mobility of goods and factors.

However, these are very incomplete and theoretical thoughts which perhaps deserve to be shelved for the time being.[1] What necessitates this kind of discussion is after all not something theoretical but rather the practical ground realities of our country’s fiscal and monetary position, something of which this audience will be far better aware than am I.

Economic and political analysis suggests that managing a process of public financial decision-making requires a coincidence of the people who have the best information with the people who have the authority to act. In other words, decision-makers need to have relevant, reliable and timely information made available to them, and then they need to be considered accountable for the decisions made on that basis.

In a democracy like ours, the locus of economic policy decision-making must be Parliament and the State legislatures. Academics, civil servants, journalists, special interest groups, this or that business or industrial lobbyist or foreign management consultant can all have their say — but consensus on the direction and nature of economic policy, if it is to be genuine, has to ultimately emerge out of the legislative process on the basis of reasonable, well-informed discussion and debate, given full relevant timely information. The proper source of all economic policy decisions and initiatives is Parliament, the State legislatures and local government bodies — not this or that lobby or interest-group which may be vocal or powerful enough to be heard at a given time in New Delhi or some State capital-city.

Our 1950 Constitution was a marvellous document in its time and it has worked tolerably well. It defined the functions of government in India in accordance with the main parameters of normative public finance.

Economics ascribed a quite extensive traditional role to Government, the most important functions being collective and individual security, followed by all activities which in the words of Adam Smith,

 “though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature that the profit could never repay the expence to any individual or small number of individuals, and which it, therefore, cannot be expected that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain.” (Wealth of Nations, V.i.c., 1776)

Our 1950 Constitution defined the Union’s responsibilities to be

External Security;

Foreign Relations & Trade;

Supreme Court & Domestic Security;

Debt Service, Foreign & Domestic;

National Infrastructure;

Communications & Broadcasting;

Atomic Energy;

Public Sector Industries;

Banking; Currency & Finance;

Archives; Surveys & National Institutions;

National Universities;

National Civil Services & Administration.

Each State’s responsibilities were

High Courts & Lower Judiciary;

Police; Civil Order; Prisons;

Water; Sanitation; Health;

State Debt Service;

Intra-State Infrastructure & Communications;

Local Government;

Liquor & Other Public Sector Industries; Trade; Local Banking & Finance;

Land; Agriculture; Animal Husbandry;

Libraries, Museums, Monuments;

State Civil Service & Administration.

Some duties were supposed to be shared by the Union with each State, including

Criminal Law;

Civil & Family Law, Contracts & Torts;

Forests & Environmental Protection;

Unemployment & Refugee Relief;

Electricity;

Education.

But the authors of the 1950 Constitution could not have envisaged the nature of present problems, or foreseen in those early years what we would have become like today. Our fiscal system has become such that a few clauses may have led to an impossibly complex centralization of fiscal power and information. Not only did the 1950 Constitution identify agendas of the Union and State Governments, it also dictated the procedure of decision-making and it is this which may have become intractable over 50 years. Under Article 280, a Finance Commission is appointed every five years whose task is to try to efficiently and equitably allot tax revenues collected by the Union downwards to the States and laterally between the States. Members of Finance Commissions have been elder statesmen of high reputation and integrity, yet the practical impossibility of their task has made their actions seem to all observers to be clouded in mystery and perhaps muddle. As one recent member, Justice Qureshi, has candidly stated

 “it is humanly impossible for a person to understand the problems of the Centre and the 25 States and take a decision thereon within such a short time” (Ninth Finance Commission, Issues and Recommendations, p.350).

No matter how competent or well-meaning a Finance Commission’s members may be, their purpose may be stymied by the overload of information and overcentralisation of authority that has come to take place. As a result, it may have been inevitable that Government has ended up doing what it need not have done at the expense concomitantly of failing to do what only Government could or must have done.

The present situation is such that, despite the best efforts of the Reserve Bank and other Government agencies, there may be a gross lack of timely, relevant and reliable information reaching all decision-makers including the ordinary citizen, who as voter and taxpayer is the cornerstone of the fiscal system. My own inquiry started when Mr. Hubert Neiss, then Central Asia Director at the IMF, hired me as a consultant in December 1992. He told me the IMF was naturally concerned about India’s national budget deficit, but no one seemed to quite know how this related precisely to the budgets of the different States whose deficits seemed to be flowing into it. By its terms of reference, the IMF could not inquire into India’s States’ budgets and I did not do so in my work with them, but the import of his question remained in my thinking. Later I found similar questions being asked at the World Bank. I do not think it a great secret to state that there may be a great deal of simple puzzlement about the workings of our fiscal and monetary system on the part of observers and decision-makers who may be concerned about India’s fiscal position.

Among both public decision-makers and ordinary citizens right across the length and breadth of our country, a severe and widespread lack of information about and comprehension of India’s basic fiscal and monetary facts seems to exist. This in itself may be a cause of fiscal problems as citizens may not be adequately aware of the link between making their demands for public goods and services on the one hand, and the necessity of finding the resources to fund these goods and services on the other.

In any ultimate analysis, resources for public goods and services in an economy can be found only by diverting the real resources of individual citizens towards public uses. Other than printing fiat money, a national Government can only either tax those citizens who are present today in the population, or, borrow from the capital stock on behalf of unborn generations of future citizens.

West Europe and America are heirs to a long history of political development; yet even there, as Professor James Buchanan has often observed, the idea until has not been grasped until recently that benefits from use of public goods and services are supposed to accrue to citizens from whom resources have been raised. Until the 19th Century,

 “government outlay was frequently considered “unproductive”, and there was, by implicit assumption, no return of services to the citizens who were taxed. In a political regime that devotes the bulk of government outlay to the maintenance expenses of a single sovereign, or even of an elite, there is no demonstrable return flow of services to the taxpayers…. Tax principles were discussed as if, once collected, revenues were removed forever from the economy; taxpayers, both individually and in the aggregate, were held to suffer real income loss” (James M. Buchanan, The Demand and Supply of Public Goods, Rand 1968, p. 167).

According to Buchanan, such an undemocratic fiscal model was transformed in the work of the great Swedish economist Knut Wicksell and others by introducing the key assumption of fiscal democracy, namely, that

 “those who bear the costs of public services are also the beneficiaries in democratic structures”

Conversely, we may say those who demand public goods and services in a fiscal democracy should also expect to pay for them in real resources. If citizens are aware of taxes only as a burden and come to feel they receive little or nothing from Governments in return, there is a loss of incentive to pay taxes or to stand up and be counted as proud citizens of the country. There is an incentive instead to evade taxes or to flee the country or to cynically believe everything to be corrupt. On the other hand, if citizens demand public goods and services without expecting to contribute resources for their production, this amounts to being no more than a demand to be a free-rider on the general budget.

In our country, we may have been seeing both phenomena. On one hand, there is, rightly or wrongly, a tremendous public cynicism present almost everywhere with respect to expecting effective provision of public goods and services. On the other hand, the idea that the beneficiaries of public goods and services must also, sooner or later, come to bear the costs in terms of taxed resources is far from established so our politics come to often be unreasonable and irresponsible.

Reliable and comprehensible information about the system as a whole and about the contents of public budgets is thus vital for a fiscal democracy to function. In ancient Athens it was said:

 “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 has no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.” Pericles (Funeral Oration, Thucydides, The Pelopennesian War)

That was the criterion that Pericles defined for ancient Athenian democracy, and I see no reason why in the 21st Century it cannot be met in modern India’s democracy.

This finally brings me to the positive contribution I have promised to make. The aim my attempt to redesign the Union and State’s budgets utilising precisely the same data as available has been to make the fiscal position of all public entities accessible to any interested citizen.

We do not have to say that every Indian citizen, or even every literate and numerate citizen of our country, has to be able to understand the intricacies of the public budgets of his or her State and the Union. But if information is available such that anyone who understands the finances of his own family or his own business enterprise is also reasonably able to understand the public budget then a standard of maximum feasible transparency would have been defined and met.

I have relied on the international normative model developed by our own countryman, Mr. A. Premchand, who retired from the IMF a few years ago, as described in his outstanding book Effective Government Accounting (IMF 1995), where he showed applications for e.g. the USA, New Zealand and Switzerland. What I have done – or rather did in 1997/1998, with the help of a research assistant and a student – is apply that to all of our States and the Union too.[2] What will be seen by way of differences with the present methodology is that there is essentially an Operating Statement, a Financial Statement and a Cash Flow Statement offered for each State and the Union. The financial position and gross fiscal deficit definition emerge rather neatly from this – while there the rather confusing “Development/Non-development” and “Planning/Non-Planning” distinctions have been done away with.

The exercise points to the foundations of a new and fresh federal framework for our Republic. A central new fact of modern India is that many, perhaps most, of our States have developed what is effectively a bipolar division in their legislatures. Voters have also increasingly started to judge Governments not by the personalities they contain but rather by their performance on the job, and, at election-time, have begun to frequently enough shown one side the door in the hope the other side may do better. In such circumstances, there seems no reason in principle why an entity as large as the average State of modern India today cannot be entrusted to legislate and administer a modern tax-system, based especially on the income-tax, and especially taxing income from all sources including agriculture. In a fresh and modern federalism, an elected State Government would have appropriate economic powers to run its own affairs, and be mainly accountable to the legislature whose confidence it requires, and ultimately to voters below.

From an efficiency standpoint, we should want a framework in which repercussions of political turmoil or bad financial management by a State Government to not spill into other States or flow into the Union Government’s own problems of deficit financing. With free mobility of goods and factors throughout the Union, citizens faced with a poorly performing State Government could seek to vote it out of office, or may of course “vote with their feet” by moving their capital or resources to another part of the country. In short, State Governments will be held responsible by their electorates for their expenditures on public goods and services, while having the main powers of domestic taxation in the economy, especially taxes on income from all sources including agriculture.

At the same time, diverse as India is, we are not 15 or 25 separate republics federated together but rather one country all of whose peoples are united by a common geography and a common experience of history. From an equity and indeed national standpoint, we may also want a system which also firmly established that the National Parliament would have to determine how much each citizen should be taxed for the Union to provide public goods and services for the country as a whole, as well as what transfers ought to be made between the States via the Union in the interests of equity given differences in initial resource-endowments between them.

Here again an American example may be useful. As is well-known, the 50 United States each have their own Constitutions governing most intra-State political matters, yet all being inferior in authority to the 1789 Constitution of the United States as duly amended. In India, an author as early as 1888 recommended popular Constitutions for India’s States on the grounds

“where there are no popular constitutions, the personal character of the ruler becomes a most important factor in the government… evils are inherent in every government where autocracy is not tempered by a free constitution.”[3]

We could ask if a better institutional arrangement may occur by each State of India electing its own Constitutional Convention subject naturally to the supervision of the National Parliament and the obvious provision that all State Constitutions be inferior in authority to the Constitution of the Union of India.[4] These documents would then furnish the major sets of rules to govern intra-State political and fiscal decision-making more efficiently. An additional modern reason can be given from the work of Professor James M. Buchanan, namely, that fiscal constitutionalism, and perhaps only fiscal constitutionalism, allows over-riding to take place of the interests of competing power-groups.[5]

State-level Constitutional Conventions in India would provide an opportunity for a realistic assessment to be made by State-level legislators and citizens of the fiscal positions of their own States. Greater recognition and understanding of the plain facts and the desired relationships between income and expenditures, public benefits and public costs, would likely improve the quality of public decision-making at State-levels, sending public resources from destinations which are socially worthless towards destinations which are socially worthwhile. It bears repeating the average size of a large State of India is 61 million people, and almost all existing political Constitutions around the globe furnish rules for far smaller populations than that.

Thank you for your patience. Jai Hind.

[1] Monetary Federalism at Work: F. A. Hayek more than anyone else taught us that relative prices are signals or guides to economic activity — summarizing in a single statistic information about the resources, constraints, expectations and ambitions of market participants. An exchange-rate between two currencies is also a relative price, conveying information about relative market opinions regarding the issuers of the two currencies. Suppose we had two States of India in the fresh kind of federal framework outlined above, which were identical in all respects except one had a larger deficit and so a larger nominal money supply growth. Would that mean the first currency must depreciate relative to the second? Not necessarily; it is not the size of indebtedness that matters but rather the quality of public investment decisions, to which borrowed money has been put. Thus we come to the crux: Suppose we have two States which are identical in all respects except one: State X is found to have an efficient Government, i.e. one which has made relatively good quality public investment decisions, and State Y is found to have one which has made relatively bad quality public investment decisions. In the present amalgamated model of Indian federal finance, no objective distinction can be made between the two, and efficient State Governments are surreptitiously compelled to end up subsidising inefficient ones. In a differentiated federal framework for India, as the different information about the two State Governments comes to be discovered, the X currency will tend to appreciate as resources move towards it while the Y will tend to depreciate as resources move away from it. In an amalgamated model, efficient State Governments lose incentives to remain efficient, while in a differentiated model, inefficient State Governments will gain an incentive not to be inefficient. The present amalgamated situation is such that inefficient States – and this may include not only the State Government but also the State Legislature and the State electorate itself – receive no fiscal incentive to improve themselves. In a differentiated framework, the same inefficient State would face a tangible, visible loss of reserves or depreciation of its currency relative to other States on account of its inefficiency, and thereby have some incentive to mend its ways. I call the proposal given here a “Reverse Euro” model because Europe appears to be moving from differentiated currencies and money supplies to an amalgamated currency and money supply, while the argument given here for India is in the opposite direction. Professor Milton Friedman of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, has had the kindness, at the age of 88, to send me a brilliant and forceful critique of my Reverse Euro idea for India when I requested his comment. Since he is the founder of the flexible exchange-rate system and he has found it too radical, I have shelved it for the time being.

[2] The assistance of Dola Dasgupta and K. Shanmugam is recorded with gratitude.

[3] Surendranath Roy, A History of the Native States of India, Vol I. Gwalior, Calcutta & London: Thacker 1888.

[4] Large amounts of legal and constitutional precedent have built up on issues of a regional or local nature: whether a State legislature should be unicameral or bicameral, what should be its procedures, what days should be State holidays but need not be national holidays, on tenancy, rent control, school standards, health standards and so on ad infinitum. All this body of explicit and implicit local rules and conventions may be duly collected and placed in State-level Constitutions.

[5] James M. Buchanan, Limits to Liberty, Texas, 1978.

A major expansion and reorganization of the judiciary would have to accompany the sort of basic constitutional reform outlined above. Union and State judiciaries would need to be more clearly demarcated, and rules established for review of State-level decisions by Union courts of law. It is common knowledge the judiciary in India is in a state of organizational overload at the point of collapse and dysfunction. An expansion and reorganization of the judiciary to match new Union-State constitutional relations will likely improve efficiency, and therefore welfare levels of citizens.

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Path of the Bangladesh Taka 1972-1993

Path of the Bangladesh Taka 1972-1993

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.

“Bangladesh, being the former East Pakistan, shared the same currency and trade-policy history as the rest of Pakistan until the Bangladesh taka was created on January 1 1972.  Pakistan rupees in circulation remained legal tender until replaced by the taka 1:1 beginning March 4 1972.

The taka was set at par with the Indian rupee, and fixed to sterling at Tk 18.9677, or Tk 7.2797 to the United States dollar.   The path followed by the taka was determined partly by the initial value chosen for the new currency in 1972.  Given the devastation experienced by the Bangladesh economy from natural disaster, civil war and war in 1969-1971, the initial value chosen for the taka on par with the Indian rupee was in all likelihood unrealistic, even more so to the extent the Indian rupee was itself nominally overvalued at the time.

Since that time, the principal fact about official exchange-rate policy in Bangladesh has had to do with overseas workers’ remittances far exceeding any single sector of merchandise exports as a support for the balance of payments.  A multiple exchange-rate system prevailed with a secondary market as an incentive for overseas workers to remit through official channels instead of at parallel or “hundi” market-rates, the spread between the parallel and official channels being exceptionally high for Bangladesh compared to India and Pakistan.  IMF technical studies laid the groundwork for abolishment of the multiple exchange-rate practice and the unification of exchange-rates, which was accomplished on March 31 1992.

The path of the official taka is informative as a measure of nominal overvaluation.  Since August 1979, the official taka has been pegged within margins to a currency-weighted basket.  The taka was adjusted as many as 20 times between October 1980 and January 1982, the official rate being reduced to Tk. 38.4 to sterling or Tk.20.4 per United States dollar.  In January 1983, the weights were changed and in March 1985 changed again.  On this basis, the nominal effective exchange rate depreciated by 29 percent and the real effective exchange rate by 21 percent between August 1979 and December 1982.  From February 1985, exchange-rate policy has with IMF support tried to keep in mind an upper limit on the real effective exchange, the nominal rate declining in one year by 20 percent and the real rate by 22 percent.  From the end of 1985 through November 1988, there was further depreciation of 4 percent.  In absence of further nominal depreciation, combined with further deterioration of the domestic price-level, the real exchange rate appreciated by 7 percent between November 1988 and April 1989,  followed by further appreciation of over 9 percent during May-June 1989.  A revised index confirmed the loss of competitiveness, indicating at least 12 percent real appreciation by end June 1989 relative to 1988.  From November 1988 to February 1990, the taka remained at Tk 32.27 per United States dollar with the official secondary market 2 percent higher.  In 1990 the rates were depreciated six times by a total of 11 percent, corresponding to 8 percent real depreciation.  The official taka was at Tk.36.49 per United States dollar as of July 7 1991.  Recent Bangladesh exchange-rate policy has seemed to be guided by such considerations, and has not been responsive to regional developments such as changes in the Indian rupee.”

Path of the Sri Lankan Rupee 1948-1993

Path of the Sri Lankan Rupee 1948-1993

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.

“The Ceylon rupee traded 1:1 with the Indian rupee at the time of Independence and devalued with sterling and the Indian rupee in September 1949 to Rs.4.76 per United States dollar.  It was pegged to sterling throughout the Bretton Woods period at that value.  Sri Lanka did not respond to the Indian devaluation of 1966 but when sterling devalued in November 1967 from $2.80 to $2.40, the Ceylon rupee was devalued by 20 percent to Rs.5.95 per United States dollar.  In May 1968, a dual exchange-rate system was introduced with the official rate of Rs. 5.95 applying to official capital transactions, traditional exports of tea, rubber and copra, and imports of foods, drugs and fertilizers.  Other importers and non-traditional exports faced an exchange-rate of Rs. 8.57 per United States dollar, devalued to Rs. 9.23 in June 1969.
Following the end of the Bretton Woods mechanism in August 1971, the Ceylon rupee appreciated because of its peg to sterling.  As with India and Pakistan, the link to sterling was soon broken, and in November 1971 the Ceylon rupee was pegged to the dollar, thereby depreciating with the dollar.  The peg was at the same official rate of Rs. 5.95 as previously.  As with India and Pakistan, it is possible that long-term damage was done to Sri Lanka’s competitiveness relative to other developing countries in the Bretton Woods period by overvalued nominal exchange-rates associated with inward looking trade policies.
When sterling floated in June 1972, Sri Lanka delinked from the dollar and pegged at Rs. 15.60 to sterling, until May 1976 when the rupee was delinked again from sterling and pegged to an undisclosed basket of currencies.  In a major reform in November 1977, the multiple exchange-rates were unified and the Sri Lankan rupee was devalued by more than 46 percent to Rs. 16 per United States dollar, which was maintained until the first half of 1980.  The rupee depreciated further to Rs. 18.01 per United States dollar by the end of 1980, and to Rs.18.35 by May 1981.  Relative to a weighted average of the currencies of Sri Lanka’s major trading partners (including India and Pakistan) the rupee depreciated by 14 percent from November 1977 through July 1980 and a further 10 percent by December 1980.  But due to higher Sri Lankan price-level changes, this may have been associated with appreciation of the real exchange-rate.
From August 1983, a formal system was adopted attempting to target the real-exchange rate, by which the rupee would be adjusted periodically depending on domestic price-levels relative to Sri Lanka’s six main trading partners (Britain, the United States, India, Japan, Germany and France).  In practice, the Sri Lankan authorities took other factors into account, “most notably exchange-rate movements of the currencies of neighboring as well as competitor  countries”.   The first half of the 1980s were marked by real exchange-rate appreciation by as much as 30 percent, especially against the currencies of Sri Lanka’s neighbours and competitors including India and Pakistan.  In 1985, the rupee depreciated by more than 9 percent in nominal terms and more than 15 percent in real terms, including against India and Pakistan, but this decline did not fully offset the loss of competitiveness in 1981-1984.
Since 1986, the real effective exchange-rate has fluctuated substantially.  Between 1986 and mid-1989 it depreciated by over 10 percent, when a large nominal depreciation in September 1989 contributed to further depreciation of the real rate.  Subsequently, the real rate appreciated by about 17 percent between late-1989 and early-1991, following which further nominal depreciation contributed to gradual real depreciation through mid-1992.
Technical studies at the IMF laid the groundwork for a floating market-determined exchange-rate for Sri Lanka based on a daily interbank market.    Sri Lanka introduced such a system in August 1990, whereby the authorities were to set daily buying and selling rates as intervention points and permit the spot exchange rate to be determined within them.  This system began to work effectively with an adequate difference between the intervention points in March 1992.  The Sri Lankan rupee, at Rs. 44.6 per     United States dollar in December 1991 and Rs. 46 in December 1992, was at Rs. 47.5 in April 1993.  The Indian exchange-rate reforms of 1992-1993 have been observed closely by Sri Lankan authorities, and in late March 1993, Sri Lanka removed all remaining barriers to current account convertibility.””

Path of the Pakistan Rupee 1947-1993

Path of the Pakistan 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.

“The Pakistan rupee traded 1:1 with the Indian rupee at the time of Independence.  As noted, Pakistan chose not to devalue with sterling and the Indian rupee in 1949, which led to the end of the common market which existed with India.  Almost six years later, on July 31 1955,  Pakistan with IMF approval devalued to Rs.4.76 to the United States dollar, again establishing the same par-value as India.

Pakistan did not respond to the 1966 Indian devaluation although the Pakistan economy had suffered similar shocks, especially the 1965 war with India and natural disasters and civil conflict in East Pakistan.  On July 22 1970, a fluctuating tourist rate was introduced, effecting a partial devaluation.  Demonetization of bank-notes in June 1971 and the civil conflict leading up to the December 1971 Bangladesh war led to considerable capital flight via the well-developed parallel market where the Pakistan rupee reportedly touched Rs. 25 to the United States dollar.
Following the breakdown of the Bretton Woods mechanism as of August 1971, the official Pakistan rupee began to appreciate because of its peg to sterling.  In September, Pakistan like India changed its peg from sterling to the dollar, thereby depreciating with the dollar.  But Pakistan stayed at the same rate that had been established since 1955 of Rs.4.76 per United States dollar.  As with India, it is possible that in the period 1949-1979 long-term damage was done to Pakistan’s competitiveness relative to other developing countries by highly overvalued nominal exchange-rates associated with an inward-oriented trade regime.
In May 1972,  Pakistan implemented a major exchange reform, unifying existing multiple exchange-rates and declaring a new par value of Rs.10 to the United States dollar, which implied a 130 percent nominal devaluation and 62 percent real devaluation.  After a small appreciation in 1974, the rupee was maintained at Rs. 9.9 to the United States dollar for the next nine years.  However, the real exchange rate appreciated by an estimated 20 percent in the first half of the 1970s, and then depreciated by about 8 percent in the second half of the 1970s.  Domestic inflation relative to foreign inflation caused further loss of competitiveness as the real rate appreciated by nearly 10 percent in 1981-1982.  Although the authorities were aware of a loss of competitiveness, they were unwilling to devalue the nominal rate for almost a decade.

Faced with a severe balance of payments situation, Pakistan in January 1982 finally abandoned the fixed peg with the United States dollar and pegged to an undisclosed currency basket with the dollar retained as the intervention currency.  The rupee was depreciated by nearly 20 percent in 1982-1983 and a further 11 percent in 1983-84, with real exchange-rate depreciations of 11 percent and 4.6 percent respectively.  A substantial improvement was recorded in the current account especially on workers’ remittances (accounting for almost the same as the entire merchandise exports of Pakistan) which rose by 30 percent over the 1981-82 level.  The nominal depreciation slowed in 1984-85, with slight real rate appreciation.  This became reflected in the current account with workers’ remittances showing a remarkable elasticity and falling by almost $300 million.  In 1985-86, the nominal exchange-rate was allowed to depreciate at a more accelerated pace.

The influence on Pakistan’s exchange-rate policies of India may be separated into different factors.  Pakistan’s initial decision in 1949 not to follow the devaluation of sterling and the Indian rupee was seen by contemporary observers as a statement of national sovereignty by the new country.  However, the detrimental consequences of this led six years later to Pakistani devaluation to the same par-value as India at Rs.4.76 per United States dollar.  Pakistan did not respond to India’s 1966 devaluation to Rs.7.50 to the United States dollar, and the Pakistani devaluation of 1972 to Rs.10 to the United States dollar was a change of policy specifically in the new circumstances following the 1971 war with India over Bangladesh.   The 1972 devaluation was in all likelihood long overdue, since, as already noted, both Pakistan and India may have sustained long-term damage during the Bretton Woods period from overvalued nominal exchange-rates in face of numerous economic shocks, especially natural disasters and wars with one another.

In relation to their mutual hostilities, overvalued nominal exchange-rates in India and Pakistan have been of course conducive to each country’s defence sector imports, although at the cost of mutual loss of competitiveness for export and other hard-currency earning sectors of in the world economy.

Pakistan did not nominally depreciate any further in the 1970s despite real exchange-rate appreciation.  The delinking from the United States dollar and the start of active depreciation did not begin until January 1982.  Whether this was coincidence or a response to the fact that India actively began to depreciate at the end of 1981 is hard to tell.  In any case, the Pakistan rupee and Indian rupee both depreciated almost in tandem during most of the 1980s  The extent of similarity was tested when the Indian rupee moved in the range of -1 to 1 percent, 1-2 percent on either side, and more than 2 percent on either side.  The greater the change in the Indian rupee’s bilateral exchange-rate with respect to the United States dollar, the larger the extent of similarity in movement between the Pakistan rupee and the Indian rupee.  In the Indian case, the large likely influence of the United States dollar has been noted, with the Indian currency depreciating less fast when the dollar was appreciating with respect to other major currencies than when the dollar was depreciating with respect to other major currencies in the 1980s.  The Pakistan rupee seemed to be maintained in the 1980s at a significantly competitive rate with respect to the Indian rupee — e.g. at 1.32 per Indian in 1986, 1.34 in 1987, 1.30 in 1988, 1.27 in 1989 and 1.24 in 1990.   This indicates a distinct change from the 1949 situation when resisting devaluation was seen as a statement of national sovereignty.
The large Indian devaluations of 1991 left the Pakistan rupee at 1.06 per Indian, and in 1992 at 0.97.  The major changes which have taken place in the Indian exchange-rate regime in 1992 and 1993 have been followed closely by the Pakistan authorities and public.”

Path of the Indian Rupee 1947-1993

Prefatory Note: This was part of a 1993 study I did as a Consultant at the International Monetary Fund in Washington in a project on exchange-rates and exports of “South Asian” countries for Hubert Neiss.   The IMF is not responsible for its content.  It was included in “India in World Trade & Payments”, first published in The Statesman, Feb 11-12 2007.    See also

1)  Monetary Integrity and the Rupee

2) My article “India’s Money” in *Cayman Financial Review*

3) My 3 Dec IIC Delhi talk “Towards Making the Indian Rupee a Hard Currency of the World Economy: An analysis from British times until the present day” & its coverage in Asian Age/Deccan Herald, GDI Impuls Zurich, Lok Sabha TV & Sunday Guardian

4) Did Jagdish Bhagwati “originate”, “pioneer”, “intellectually father” India’s 1991 economic reform?  Did Manmohan Singh? Or did I, through my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi, just as Siddhartha Shankar Ray told Manmohan & his aides in Sep 1993 in Washington?  Judge the evidence for yourself.  And why has Amartya Sen misdescribed his work? India’s right path forward today remains what I said in my 3 Dec 2012 Delhi lecture!

5) No magic wand, Professor Rajan? Oh but there is…

and indeed https://independentindian.com/2013/11/23/coverage-of-my-delhi-talk-on-3-dec-2012/

 

 

 

 

 

Path of the Indian Rupee 1947-1993

by Subroto Roy

Washington June 1993

“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.”

30 August 2013:  Here is a graph showing interest in this article at my blog… It might correlate that with the currency’s recent volatility…

pathoftheIndianrupee

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

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.”

Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India (1984)

Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India Subroto Roy

First published on May 29 1984 as Occasional Paper No. 69 of the Institute of Economic Affairs, London

Preface March 2007

A quarter century has passed since my 1982 doctoral thesis at Cambridge University under Frank Hahn, examined by Christopher Bliss and Terence Hutchison, and titled “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India.” I wrote what follows shortly afterwards in Blacksburg, Virginia, and Ithaca, New York, and it was published on May 29 1984 in London by the Institute of Economic Affairs as Occasional Paper No. 69, ISBN: 0-255 36169-6. The day it was published it turned out to be the subject of the main editorial of The Times, then London’s leading newspaper. (I learnt later this had been due to Peter Bauer, and also that 700 copies sold in the first month, a record for the publisher.) The Times editorial though laudatory was misleading, and I had to clarify the contents of the monograph in a letter published on June 16 1984; both documents are available elsewhere at this site.

This work was the first explicit critique of post-Mahalanobis Indian economic thought from a classical liberal perspective since B. R. Shenoy’s initial criticism decades previously. I was 29 when it was published, I am 52 now. I do not agree with everything I wrote back then and find the tone a little puffed up as young men tend to be; it was five years before publication of my main “theoretical” work Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (Routledge: London & New York, 1989, also now republished here). My experience of life in the years since has also made me far less sanguine both about human nature and about America than I was then. But I am glad to find I am not embarrassed by what I said as a young man, indeed I am pleased I said what I did in favour of classical liberalism and against statism and totalitarianism well before it became popular to do so after the Berlin Wall fell. (In India as elsewhere, former communist apparatchiks and fellow-travellers became pseudo-liberals overnight.)

The famous November 1955 Milton Friedman memorandum is referred to herein for the first time as “unpublished” in note 1; I was to meet Milton and Rose Friedman at the Mont Pelerin Society meetings held at Cambridge later that year, where I gave them a copy of this monograph; when Milton returned to Stanford he sent to me in Blacksburg his original 1955-56 documents on Indian planning. I published the 1955 document for the first time in May 1989 during the University of Hawaii perestroika-for-India project that I was then leading, it appeared later in the 1992 volume Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by myself and WE James. The results of the Hawaii project reached Rajiv Gandhi through my hand in September 1990, as told elsewhere in “Rajiv Gandhi and the Origins of India’s 1991 Economic Reform”. The 1956 document was published in November 2006 on the front page of The Statesman, on the same day my obituary of Milton appeared in the inside pages (both are republished here too).

It is apparent from this monograph that I knew almost nothing then about Pakistan or Islam; that has changed as may be seen especially from the other book I created with WE James at the University of Hawaii, Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, as well as my more recent work on Pakistan and Islam. It is of course impossible to understand India without understanding Pakistan and vice versa.

In general, this monograph had to do with India’s microeconomics and theory of value and resource allocation while my latest work – “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Fiscal Instability”, “India’s Trade and Payments”, “Our Policy Process”, “Fallacious Finance”, “The Dream Team: A Critique” . “Against Quackery”, “Growth & Government Delusion” etc – has to do with India’s macroeconomics and monetary and fiscal theory and policy. Part of the criticism of “distorted incentives” prevailing in Indira Gandhi’s India may still be relevant to India today, while the discussion of ethnic problems, agriculture, the “public choice” factors that stymie Indian progress, misgovernance etc will almost certainly be found so.

Pricing, Planning and Politics:

A Study of Economic Distortions in India

First published on May 29 1984 as Occasional Paper No. 69 of the Institute of Economic Affairs, London

“The economic laws which operate in India are the same as in other countries of the world; the causes which lead to wealth among other nations lead to prosperity in India; the causes which impoverish other nations impoverish the people of India. Therefore, the line of enquiry which the economist will pursue in respect of India is the same which he adopts in inquiring into the wealth or poverty of other nations.” Romesh Chunder Dutt, 1906, The Economic History of India

“Satyameva Jayathe” (“Let truth be victorious”), Motto of the Indian Republic

I. INTRODUCTION

IN THE last 15 years, considerable evidence has accumulated to suggest that the most important policies pursued by successive governments of independent India have not been conducive to economic development, and have indeed gone against some of the most basic lessons that political economy has to offer. Forewarnings of the present predicament of India had come from a few economists in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but their arguments were either ignored or maligned as dogmatic and motivated by`ideology’.[1] My thesis in this Occasional Paper will be that, if the basic and commonsensical lessons of political economy had been acknowledged early on in the history of the Indian Republic, we might have found today a much more prosperous economy and a much healthier body politic than is the case.

To argue this, it is first necessary to describe an economy where the pursuit of the individual good by rational agents is conducted within some set of orderly political institutions which is conducive to both civil peace and sustained mass prosperity. Accordingly, Part I of this short Paper begins by describing the broad and familiar features of what may be called a neo-classical or liberal model, and then proceeds briefly to contrast it with a model in which individual incentives and public institutions have been distorted from their efficient characterizations.

The practical question that arises is: Where in practice have independent India’s policies led most conspicuously to distorted incentives and institutions? This will be the subject of Part III. Part II places the discussion in context by briefly describing a few relevant aspects of the political history of the Indian Republic.

I have argued elsewhere that every normative proposal for action is, in principle, open to question and criticism on the logical and factual grounds upon which it is founded. Whenever two people disagree about what ought to be done, it will be found either that at least one of them has made a mistake of logic or that they are also in disagreement about the facts of the case.[2] In Part IV, a tentative manifesto for political and economic reform in India is proposed, and I hope these proposals too will be subjected to critical scrutiny on the positive grounds upon which I shall seek to establish them.

Part I: Theory

2. EFFICIENT INCENTIVES AND INSTITUTIONS

A `FACT’ may be understood as the opposite of that which could have been the case but is not. A basic fact of the study of men and society – one which was acknowledged first by Aristotle and then, very importantly, by Adam Smith, and which has been emphasized in modern times by Friedrich Hayek – is that, while we are able to study and speak of the nature of human decision and action in general terms, we do not and cannot have a knowledge of how particular actions are moved by particular causes and circumstances.[3]

We might certainly know, for instance, that every household in an economy views some horizons, wants to fulfill some aspirations, and faces some constraints. But if we were asked to specify what all these characteristics happened to be as a matter of fact at any one moment, we would certainly not be able to do so. Men are concerned almost wholly with (and are experts at) living their own lives as best they can – foraging for food, shelter and work, celebrating weddings and births, rearing children, and mourning deaths. For the most part, they are neither interested in, nor competent at judging, what others happen to be doing in their private lives. Neither benevolence nor envy extends much beyond a man’s immediate vicinity, and, certainly, neither can extend to people he does not know or come to know of in the course of a lifetime.

This fact is also acknowledged in modern microeconomics, when it is said that, for the individual agent to be able to make decisions and act upon them, it is sufficient for him to know (besides his own desires, abilities and constraints) only of the relative prices prevailing locally of the goods and skills he wishes to trade.`Efficient incentive’ defined We might then provisionally define an `efficient incentive’ as a set of relative prices and wages such that, when economic agents act upon them, three conditions are fulfilled:(i) the difference between the total demand for and the total supply of every good and skill is zero; (ii) every consumer succeeds in trading the amounts of different goods that he desires, and so obtains the highest utility he can within the constraint of his budget; (iii) every private enterprise maximizes the difference between its total revenues and total costs, that is, its profits. [4]

Rational action, however, occurs within a particular institutional context. Which action is rational and which is not will depend on what institutions there are and how well or poorly they function. As both classical liberals and Marxists argue, the neo-Walrasian tradition in modern economics – as exemplified by the Arrow-Debreu model – is practically devoid of any explicit institutional description, and so may best be regarded as a useful but grossly incomplete metaphor in the economist’s inquiry.

The institutions most relevant to economic activity are those of government. We might therefore add a fourth condition to characterize an efficient economy, namely, that government institutions work in such a way as to allocate tax revenues towards providing public goods in the amounts desired by citizens. This must be an institutional assumption implicit in the general equilibrium construction, without which it would be impossible to see the sense of that model.

The question that follows is how we are to ascertain the composition of the set of public goods to be provided. As is commonly known, this seems to confront the economist with numerous conceptual and practical problems. I propose here to circumvent all the typical difficulties of how to discover and combine individual preferences for public goods, or how to prevent free-riders, and to take a somewhat different route.

Functions of civil government: protection, public goods, education

To answer the question `What should be public goods first and foremost? I suggest we look for the kind of answer Adam Smith or Jeremy Bentham or J. S. Mill might have given to a related but different question : `What should be the functions of government in a large civil society, regardless of whether or not it is constituted democratically?’ This was the relevant question before the modern era of mass democracy. And it is still interesting because, first, it probably remains the appropriate question for the many countries today which either do not have democratic governments or do not have long histories of democracy, and, secondly, because the kinds of answer given by classical authors were very similar to those we might expect from individual citizens in modern democracies as well.

The most important practical functions of civil government include defence against external aggression, the dispensing of civil and criminal justice, the protection of life, property and trade – broadly, the Rule of Law – and the pursuit of a judicious foreign policy. All are different aspects of the same broad objective of ensuring the survival of the community and the security of individual life.

Yet no pretext has been more common than that an imminent danger to the security of the community requires the government to take despotic measures. The guarantee by a civil government of the freedom of inquiry, discourse, criticism, and historical research should take precedence, therefore, even over ensuring security and survival, for it is probably the only final check there can be on whether what a government says is or is not in fact the case. Where this freedom is forcibly denied, or where it exists but people are too apathetic, ignorant or busy with their daily lives to exercise it, public life soon becomes self deceptive and absurd, with propaganda taking the place of discourse, and pretensions and appearances diverging more and more from attainments and reality. Wherever the questions `What is true?’ or `What is the case?’ are not asked frequently enough, there will be fewer and fewer correct answers as to what the case happens to be.[5]
After collective and individual security, the functions of government include the building of dams, embankments, bridges and canals, the provision of roads and fresh water, and so on – activities which, as Adam Smith put it, “. . . though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature that the profit could never repay the expence to any individual or small number of individuals, and which it, therefore, cannot be expected that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain.” [6]

Each may be more or less a “pure” public good in the modern sense :“that each individual’s consumption of such a good leads to no subtraction from any other individual’s consumption of that good”.[7]

Such a list could be extended to include activities as diverse as: the prevention of soil erosion; the public finance of school education, and’ of measures of basic public health such as vaccinations against contagious diseases; the issuing of currency; sewage disposal; population censuses; the standardization of weights and measures; and so on. It is unnecessary to be more specific here since some people will find even this list controversial. Dogmatists will deny the need for free inquiry; pacifists will dispute that defence is a public good; communists will protest against the public protection of private property; `anarcho-capitalists’ will contest the public dispensation of justice; and so on. To these critics, I would offer merely the following short and incomplete reply.

First, a sound argument can be made that what functions civil government should have can be ascertained, without prejudice, by reasonable citizens, though which particular functions these are may well vary according to circumstances. Secondly, if we could spend time in thoughtful and leisured conversation with every citizen of a large community, it might be predicted – as a matter of cold, empirical fact – that practically everyone would agree with the suggestion that the first destinations of tax revenues should indeed be activities like defence, civil protection and the Rule of Law, the provision of roads, and so on. If such a prediction is correct, my thesis is plainly much more democratic than it might appear to modern economists, though I shall later claim that an objective defence of democratic institutions can be made on quite different grounds as well.

If there is a clear family resemblance between classical liberal authors – from Smith and Mill through to Hayek, Robbins, Friedman, Buchanan, Bauer and many others – it has to do, not so much with the denunciation of government activity in the market-place, as with the recognition of the existence of certain duties of government outside it, the fulfillment of which are indispensable to civil life, let alone the pursuit of economic prosperity. Their protest is at the high opportunity cost of the alternatives foregone.

This raises the question of how we might tell whether government is working well or badly in a particular country at a particular time, or, generally, how we might tell whether different public goods are provided in too small or large amounts. For present purposes it will again be sufficient to suggest a very rough and common sense way of proceeding: let us look first, and think second.

For example, the Iran-Iraq war has clearly been a perfect public bad as far as the ordinary citizenry in either country are concerned. Similarly, if there happen to be millions of cases queuing outside the courts waiting to be heard, or if crime is rampant and police protection ineffective, that may constitute prima facie evidence that too few public resources have been devoted to civil order and justice. Or, if heavy rainfall annually causes landslides in the hills and floods in the plains, devastating crops and leaving innumerable citizens destitute, that also might prompt us to ask whether sufficient public resources have gone towards precautions against such havoc. And so on.[8]

Which goods happen to be public goods depends on the circumstances and the level of government being discussed. For similar circumstances and levels, similar goods will most likely be public goods in different countries. The state ordinarily consists not only of the national government but also of several provincial governments and a myriad of local governments. In particular, a premise of the liberal state would be that public goods should in fact be provided by various levels of government, financed through taxes paid respectively at those levels. The citizen is a taxpayer at a variety of levels, and accordingly public goods are due to be provided at a variety of levels. Just as the national government may not usurp the power to tax for, or spend money on, a public good which is best provided by a provincial government to the citizens of a province, so a provincial government may not tax for, or spend on, a public good best provided by a local government to the citizens of a locality.

The broad principle involved has two aspects: first, a recognition that knowledge of particular circumstances – and hence the ability to act – is infinitesimally dispersed within a population; and, secondly, as direct and visible a matching as possible of the benefits a citizen receives from a particular public good with the taxes he pays towards it, thereby perhaps reducing his incentive to be a free rider on the contributions of others.8Uncertainty and ignoranceProvisionally, therefore, efficient incentives may be thought to consist of a set of market-clearing relative prices and wages, occurring within an institutional context in which the basic and indispensable functions of government have been adequately performed at a variety of appropriate levels.

Such a definition would still be seriously incomplete in one major respect. For we must now recognise: (i) that history is unique and irretrievable, that the present consists only of the fleeting moment, and that the future, by its very nature, cannot be fully known; (ii) that such a thing as human freedom exists; and (iii) that, as a consequence, uncertainty and ignorance are ubiquitous.

Some of the uncertainty derives from the unfolding of natural events (like the rains) over which man has little or no control. The rest derives from the fact that the individual is a free agent who is affected by the actions of others but who cannot predict those actions completely because they too are free agents like himself. Game theory would have had no appeal for the economist if the existence of human freedom had not been a fact. It is this which makes it impossible to read everything in another person’s mind and thus makes it impossible to predict everything he might do. The lasting contribution of Keynesian economics could be its emphasis that such uncertainty and ignorance are important to the economist’s inquiry.

Mathematical economists have been saying for several years that what is required if we are to be realistic are models which reflect the sequential character of actual decision-making and account for the past being immutable and the future uncertain.[9] However, they have proceeded to write even more complex mathematics than we already have – disregarding Aristotle’s advice not to seek more precision from the subject of an inquiry than it may be capable of yielding.[10] My question is the more mundane one of what becomes of the classical liberals’ concept of efficient incentives and institutions in a dynamic world. I shall answer it too in a pedestrian way.

The single overwhelming reason why uncertainty and ignorance are relevant to the economist’s descriptions is that they make real the possibility of mistakes by economic agents. To extend the previous discussion to a dynamic context, what we can do is to ask which institutions are most likely to reduce or mitigate the social consequences of mistaken decisions, whether made by private agents or by those in public office. And it is here that the classical liberals advocate two important institutional features: competition and the decentralisation of decision-making.

The major value of democratic institutions over authoritarian ones is that they encourage these two principles to be put into effect. Because, in a large economy, particular knowledge is infinitesimally dispersed, it may be better for adjustments to a multitude of variables to be made continuously in response to changing circumstances by a vast number of small economic agents, rather than for adjustments to a few variables to be made at political intervals by a small group of very powerful agents. The concentration of power to make major decisions among a few fallible men is a much more ominous prospect than the distribution of power in small amounts among a large number of fallible men. It is much more dangerous for a monopoly of ideas to be claimed about where the political good of a country lies than for there to be free and open competition among such ideas at the bar of reason.

D. H. Robertson put it well when he warned “that all the eggs should not be in the same basket – that in this highly uncertain world the fortunes of a whole trade, or a whole area, should not depend on the foresight and judgement of a single centre of decision”.[11] The presumption in favour of democratic institutions is that they reduce the potential damage from wrong political decisions damage which can be rationally expected in an uncertain world.[12] Elections, in the liberal understanding, are then not so much the means to promote the interests of one’s confederates as to remove from office without bloodshed rulers who fail to do what they are entrusted with, and to replace them by those from whom better is expected. Economic efficiency in an uncertain worldThe economic notion of efficient incentives is also modified by uncertainty and ignorance. In the theory, a set of prices is market clearing only relative to unchanging preferences, resources and technologies. In a dynamic world, however, demand and supply functions are themselves changing and the notion of efficient incentives must accordingly be adapted to one in which relative prices move in the direction of the excess demand: that is, if the parameters change so that the total demand for a good or skill comes to exceed the total supply, we should want to see its relative price rising (and, conversely, if total supply exceeds total demand, we should want to see its relative price falling). During such a process of adjustment, many people may suffer very considerable hardship – something which reasonable Keynesians do well to emphasise.

If changing preferences, resources or technologies cause the demand for a product to diminish, we should want to see the firms which manufacture it either entering different markets, or improving its quality by technological innovation, or lowering prices. Similarly, we should want to see workers in these firms whether blue- or white-collar – who have skills specific to a product whose price is falling either increasing their productivity or retraining themselves in different skills more specific to the manufacture of goods whose prices are rising. Numerous enterprises can go bankrupt, and numerous workers can find themselves unable to sell the skills they possess, if they fail to adapt quickly enough to changing market conditions. The more specialised the product and the more specific the skill, the more hardship there may be. There could well be orthodox Keynesian consequences whereby laid-off workers reduce their consumption expenditures and firms on the verge of bankruptcy reduce their investment expenditures, leading to lower incomes for others, and thus to lower expenditures by them too, and so on. An anti-Keynesian who denied the existence of such hardship would be closed to the facts. He might also not be doing his own theory justice: for it is not unreasonable to argue that, while adjustments are inevitable in an uncertain world, the classical response of prices moving in the direction of excess demand probably minimises the hardship in the transition from one equilibrium to the next.

In a dynamic world, therefore, in which supply and demand functions are shifting continually and unpredictably (though probably incrementally, and not drastically), efficient incentives are better thought of as relative prices which are not stagnant but which are moving – and moving quickly – in the direction of excess demand. It should, in general, be continually profitable at the margin for firms and workers to be innovating technologically and improving productivity. As everyone knows from experience, the principle goad to such activity is fair and free competition. If a job or contract is sought badly enough, and if better quality or lower price are known to be the only criteria of selection, the expected outcome is a differentiation and improvement by competitors of the individual quality or price of what is sold.

In broad summary, the liberal understanding of how material well-being can be improved rests on the assumption that the basic functions of civil government are performed satisfactorily. Government provides the backdrop of civil order and protection necessary for private citizens freely and fairly to conduct their own lives and their transactions with one another. It is a theory which acknowledges a fundamental fact in the study of society, namely, that the individual household : (a) most commonly defines its own horizons; (b) knows the particular opportunities available to it to produce, trade and consume; (c) recognises the particular constraints which prevent it from doing all that it may desire; and(d) perceives how these opportunities and constraints may be changing. Where, as in the liberal picture, there are large numbers of producers and consumers, sellers and buyers – each family acting more or less independently – the efforts of one family do not directly make for other than its own success, while at the same time the repercussions of its mistakes are felt by itself and do not reverberate throughout the whole community. Such has been, as I see it, the American secret to mass prosperity.

3. DISTORTED INCENTIVES AND INSTITUTIONS

DISTORTED INCENTIVES are the logical opposites of efficient ones. Relative prices and wages send distorted signals to individual economic agents when they do not move in the direction of excess demand, so that there is no general tendency for markets to clear. A long-run or endemic excess demand for a good reveals itself in rationing, queueing and black markets. The price at which trade nominally takes place is too low and shows no tendency to move upwards.

Conversely, in a product market, a long-run or endemic excess supply reveals itself in surpluses and spoilages. In a labour market, it reveals itself, on the one hand, in armies of tenured employees who have no incentive to improve productivity, and, on the other hand, in lines of involuntarily or disguised unemployed who cannot sell all the skill they possess and have to settle for selling their less-specialised ones. The price at which trade nominally takes place is too high and shows no tendency to move downwards. In practical terms, firms do not find it profitable to be continually entering new markets or improving quality or enhancing technology or reducing price in order to attract and retain customers. Farmers in particular may face output and input prices which make technological improvements unprofitable.

In politics, distorted incentives are ones which make it profitable for politicians and government officials to be corruptible and taxpayers to be evasive. Because corruption is not penalised and honesty not rewarded, the pursuit of private interest may make it rational to be corrupt and irrational to be honest.

Individualism and statism

A neo-classical economic model like the one outlined above presupposes among citizens a political attitude of individualism. This may be defined as a condition in which citizens have the idea (a) that it is the individual household itself which is principally responsible for improvements in its own well-being, and (b) that government merely “is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection and security of the people …”, and that government officials are merely the citizens’ “trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.” [13]

Its logical opposite may be called an attitude of statism – defined as prevailing when various classes of citizens have the idea that it is government which is and should be principally responsible for improvements in individual and public well-being. A good sense in which `power’ can be defined in political and economic contexts is as “the capacity to restrict the choices open to other men”.[14] An attitude of statism entails a willingness, or at least an acquiescence, on the part of citizens to relinquish to those in government, with little or no questioning, the power to make decisions which may affect their lives intimately. At the same time, responsibility for relapses or lack of progress in individual well-being is also thought to be the consequence of governmental and not private decision-making. Whereas individualism is a self-assertive attitude, statism is a self abnegating one. For those in government to have a statist mentality is the same as saying they are paternalistic, that is, making the presumption that the citizen is often incapable of judging for himself what is for his own good.

The suggestion that government should have the principal responsibility for improvements in individual and collective economic well-being – in the sense that the collectivity can and should satisfy the material aspirations of every individual – appears straightaway to be self contradictory. An individual can have enough difficulty trying to articulate his own horizons, aspirations and constraints, let alone trying to do the same for others. For a politician (or economist) to claim (or imply) not only that he knows(or can know) the relevant characteristics of everyone at once, but also that he knows how to ameliorate the condition of humanity at a stroke, as if by magic, would have been considered ridiculous in more candid times than ours. If we understand `collective effort’ to mean the sum of individual labours engaged in a common pursuit or endeavour, then for the collectivity to try materially to satisfy every individual would amount to imposing a duty on everyone to try materially to satisfy everyone else – an absurd state of affairs, flying in the face of the fact that most people most of the time do not wish to, or cannot, cope with much else except their private lives.

Exhorting government directly to improve the material wellbeing of `the people’ cannot mean what it seems to because it cannot refer to literally all the people but only to some of them perhaps only a majority, or only the well-organised. That the state is endogenous to the polity implies that no government has resources of its own out of which to disburse the amounts a politician may promise or an economist recommend. To fulfil new promises, given an initial condition of budgetary equilibrium, a government is only able either to print more fiat money or to tax the resources of individual citizens more heavily. Leaving aside the first alternative, fulfillment of the exhortation amounts to using public institutions to transfer resources from some people in order to keep promises made to others.

When the attitude spreads that, in politics, one man’s gain is another man’s loss, and where political control is to be had by winning majorities in elections, the citizen comes to face a perverse incentive to try to coalesce with more and more others in the hope of capturing the public revenues in his favour – instead of thinking critically about the nature of the political good as the institutions of democracy require him to. Political power becomes less dispersed, and the size of the polity diminishes in the sense that it comes to have fewer and fewer constituent agents, each of which is a larger and larger coalition of like-minded confederates intent on acquiring control for its own benefit.

Perhaps the worst consequence of a general attitude of statism, however, is that the basic, commonsensical functions of government are obscured, ignored, and neglected. Instead of requiring politicians and government officials to fulfill these functions, a citizenry allows its public agents to become brokers and entrepreneurs – trading not only in the products of government controlled industries but also in an array of positions of power and privilege, all in the name of directing a common endeavour to help the poor. The state places itself at every profitable opportunity between private citizens who might otherwise have conducted their transactions themselves perfectly well. The result is that governments do, or try to do, what either does not need to be done or ought not to be done by government, while they neglect that which only governments can do and which therefore they ought to be doing.

Part II: History

4. INDIVIDUALISM AND STATISM IN INDIA

AN ATTITUDE of statism has probably been present in India since Mughal times at least. If anything, it spread during the British period since the raison d’être of British rule in India would have vanished without paternalism (as in the course of time it did) and the existence of British rule was the raison d’être of the nationalist movement. Paternalism towards India was espoused even by those Englishmen known for their liberal views at home. Thomas Macaulay, for instance, declared to the House of Commons in 1833: “It may be that the public mind of India may expand under our system till it has outgrown that system; that by good government we may educate our subjects into a capacity for better government; that having become instructed in European knowledge, they may, in some future stage, demand European institutions. Whether such a day will ever come I know not. But never will I attempt to avert or retard it. Whenever it comes, it will be the proudest day in English history.”[15]

Less than a hundred years later, in 1930-31, the Indian National Congress – to the considerable chagrin of the British Government – resolved to bring about an independent India in which every citizen would have the right to free speech, to profess and practise his faith freely, and to move and practise his profession anywhere in the country. There would be universal adult suffrage and no-one would be unjustly deprived of his liberty or have his property entered, sequestered or confiscated. In particular, all citizens in the future republic would be `equal before the law, irrespective of religion, caste, creed or sex’, and no disability would attach`to any citizen by reason of his or her religion, caste, creed or sex, in regard to public employment, office of power or honour, and in the exercise of any trade or calling’.[16]

These resolutions were made in the thick of the battle for independence, and underscored the fundamental argument of the nationalists that, in spite of the infinitely diverse characteristics of the inhabitants of the sub-continent, a free and secular India was possible in which all would be ruled by a common law. That argument had been in contradistinction to the frequent taunt from British Conservatives that an
India without Britain would disintegrate in internecine bloodshed, and also to the later `two nations’ theory of the Muslim League which led eventually to the creation of
Pakistan. With the departure of the British and the Pakistanis, in 1950 the Constitution of the first Indian Republic was finally able to bring into force the idea of secularity which had inspired the nationalist cause. Thus, among the Fundamental Rights established by the Constitution, Article 14 provided that the state `shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of
India’. Articles 15.1, 15.2, 16.1, 16.2 and 29.2 went on to prohibit discrimination on the arbitrary grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth in matters of public employment or access to publicly-funded education.

The century between Macaulay and the resolutions for independence was by far the most important to the country’s intellectual history since earliest antiquity. While it took its turbulent course, long severed since the time of the early Greeks – came to be re-established. The common interest and the common contribution became one of admiring and learning from Europe and from India’s own past what there was to be admired and learnt, whilst forsaking and resisting what was self contradictory or base. The maxim for a century might have been : learn the good and let the evil be buried in history. As Tagore wrote :`The lamp of Europe is still burning; we must rekindle our old and extinguished lamp at that flame and start again on the road of time. We must fulfill the purpose of our connection with the English. This is the task we face in the building up of a great India.’[17]

The ideal aspired to was swaraj, or `self rule’. It literally meant not only a government of India by Indians accountable to Indians, but also the governance of the individual by himself. Not only was the country to be sovereign vis-à-vis other states; its individual citizens were to be free vis-à-vis each other and equal before its laws. Swaraj meant, in other words, a condition of political autonomy where the citizen constrained his own free actions so as not to harm others, and where the Rule of Law would protect him when he acted autonomously and resist him when he did not. Given a backdrop of civil order, the infinite number of ways to individual happiness and prosperity in an infinitely diverse sub-continent could then be pursued. Statism all pervading

An attitude of statism, however, has pervaded all public discourse in independent India, and has been reinforced by the social and economic policies pursued by successive governments.

In the first place, a ghost from earlier controversies with the British was to remain in the 1950 Constitution. Immediately after the provisions establishing equality before the law and equality of opportunity in public employment and publicly funded education, the following caveats appeared. Article 15.3 said that the state could make “any special provision for women and children”; and then, of more significance, Article 15.4 allowed the state to make “any special provisions for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes”.

Article 16.4 allowed it to make “any provision for the reservation of appointments or posts in favour of any backward class of citizens which, in the opinion of the State, is not adequately represented in the services under the State.” Lastly, Article 335 said that “the claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts [under the State] . . .” Who was to decide who was `backward’ and who was not, or which group was to be `scheduled’ and which not? Article 341.1 said that `The President may . . . by public notification specify the castes, races or tribes which shall for the purposes of this Constitution be deemed to be Scheduled Castes’, and Article 341.2 added that `Parliament may by law include in or exclude from the list of Scheduled Castes specified under 341.1 any caste, race or tribe or part of or any group within any caste, race or tribe . . .’ Articles 342.1 and 342.2 said the same for the Scheduled Tribes.

Subsequently, two Presidential Orders named no fewer than 1,181 different groups in the country as `Scheduled Castes’ and more than 583 other groups as `Scheduled Tribes’. Roughly a sixth of the population thus came to be termed `backward’ by executive decree and were segregated by statute from the rest of the citizenry.

The direct precursor of these provisions was the `Communal Award’ by the British Government in 1932, who had taken it to be their duty “to safeguard what we believe to be the right of Depressed Classes to a fair proportion in Legislatures ”.[18] (`Depressed Classes’ was the official name for those misleadingly called `untouchables’ outside the Hindu fold.)

The complex customs of the Hindus call for endogamy and commensality among members of the same caste, thus making anyone outside a caste somewhat `untouchable’ for its members. In marriage and dining habits, many orthodox Hindus would hold foreigners, Muslims, and even Hindus of other castes at the same distance as those formally classified as `Depressed Classes’. Indeed, non-Hindus in India -including the British often maintained social protocols that were equally as strict.

No serious Indian historian would doubt that members of the `Depressed Classes’ had been oppressed and had suffered countless indignities throughout Indian history at the hands of so-called`caste Hindus’. At various times, persecution had led to mass conversions to the more secular faiths. But the ancient wrongs of the Hindu practices had to do not so much with the lack of physical contact in personal life which the word `untouchability’ connotes for Indian society has always consisted of a myriad of voluntarily segregated groups – but rather with open and obvious inequities such as the denial of equal access to temples, public wells, baths and schools.

Gandhi, who by his personal example probably did more for the cause of the `Depressed Classes’ than anyone else, protested against the Communal Award with one of his most famous fasts. Privately, he suspected that `…the communal question [was] being brought deliberately to the forefront and magnified by the government because they did not intend to part with power’.[19] Publicly, he argued that the pernicious consequence would be a further exacerbation of the apartheid under which the `Depressed Classes’ had suffered for so long, when the important thing was for their right to be within the Hindu fold to be acknowledged by `caste’ Hindus.[20]

The Fundamental Rights in the 1950 Constitution establishing the equality of all citizens before the law evidently had the 1930-31 resolutions as their precursors; while Article17 – which specifically declared `untouchability’ to be `abolished’ and its practice `forbidden’ – was part of Gandhi’s legacy, placing those who had for centuries been denigrated and persecuted on exactly the same footing in the eyes of the laws of the Republic as their denigrators and persecutors. The subsequent clauses authorizing the state to discriminate in favour of `Scheduled Castes’, and allowing it to define by executive decree who was to be so called, were evidently the remnants of the Communal Award of 1932. Discrimination by the state was initially to last for a period of 10 years only. It has, however, been extended three times -for another 10 years on each occasion – and so continues to the present day. We shall examine a few of the consequences in Part III.‘A socialistic pattern of society’As for economic policy, while the original 1950 Constitution had ambiguously stated certain ends – such as that government was `to strive to promote the welfare of the people’ – it made no mention at all of any specific economic institutions, statist or liberal, which the new Republic was to nurture as means towards those ends. In spite of this omission, successive governments have explicitly avowed their espousal of` socialism’ as the means to the good and prosperous society.

For instance, a “socialistic pattern of society where the principal means of production are under social ownership or control” was declared to be a national objective at the ruling Congress Party’s convention in 1955; and, in 1976, the notorious 42nd Amendment purported to change the very description of the country in the preamble to the original Constitution from the sober `Sovereign, Democratic Republic’ to the awkward `Sovereign, Secular, Socialist Democratic Republic’. It is an open and important issue of constitutional practice whether a temporary majoritarian government can change the legal description of a republic so fundamentally that it necessarily begs every question now and in the future about the efficacy of socialism as the route to mass prosperity.[21]

Even so, `socialism’ is a vague and equivocal word, meaning different things to different people. Briefly, what happened in the Indian context seems to have been that the Nationalist Government explicitly took upon itself the responsibility of becoming the prime mover of the economic growth of the country. This was in addition to its other fundamental and urgent political responsibilities at the time, namely, to establish peace and civil order in the aftermath of a bloody partition, re-settle several million destitute refugees, integrate into the Republic the numerous principalities and fiefdoms run by the princes and potentates, re-draw provincial boundaries on a sensible linguistic criterion, and generally educate people about their rights and responsibilities as individual citizens in a new and democratic republic.

In a poor country which had just ended a long period of alien rule, it was understandable, if in advisable, that a nationalist government led by cultured, educated men among unlettered masses should take upon itself the responsibility for economic growth. Part of the nationalists’ critique of British rule had been precisely that it had worked to the considerable detriment of the Indian economy. And, certainly, whatever the exact calculation of the benefits and costs of the British presence in India, while there had been obvious benefits, there had also been obvious costs such as iniquitous taxes and overt racial discrimination in employment. [22]Thus, when the nationalists practically swore themselves to provide better government for the economy, it was certainly a very praiseworthy aim; 1947 would indeed be the year of India’s `tryst with destiny’.

Better government not necessarily more government
What the Nehru Government came to believe, however, was that better government for the economy necessarily meant more government activity in the economy. A similar nationalist government led by cultured, educated men among an unlettered public had chosen differently in 1776 at Philadelphia, but the times and circumstances were very different. The Indian nationalists, and most especially Prime Minister Nehru, had just witnessed what they took to be, on the one hand, the collapse of the market economy in the Great Depression and, on the other, the rapid growth to greatness of Bolshevik Russia. In his presidential address to the Congress in 1936, for instance, Nehru spoke of the immediate past in these terms: `Everywhere conflicts grew, and a great depression overwhelmed the world and there was a progressive deterioration, everywhere except in the wide flung Soviet territories of the USSR, where, in marked contrast with the rest of the world, astonishing progress was made in every direction . . .’ Thus, it seemed to him, there was`. . . no way of ending the poverty, the vast unemployment, the degradation, and the subjection of the Indian people except through Socialism”. Socialism meant, inter alia, ` the ending of private property, except in a restricted sense, and ttte repla emenr of the ,private profit system by a higher ideal of co-operative service. It means ultimately a change in our instincts and habits and desires. In short, it means a new civilisation, radically different from the present capitalist order. Some glimpse we can have of this new civilisation in the territories of the USSR. Much has happened there which has pained me greatly and with which I disagree, but I look upon that great and fascinating unfolding of anew order and a new civilisation as the most promising feature of our dismal age. If the future is full of hope it is largely because of Soviet Russia and what it has done, and I am convinced that, if some world catastrophe does not intervene, this new civilisation will spread to other lands and put an end to the wars and conflicts on which capitalism feeds’.[23]
Equally as certain and deep as his admiration for the liberal values of the West was Nehru’s evident misunderstanding of the causes and consequences of Stalin’s Russia. The political and economic history of India in the past 30 years cannot be understood without regard to her most powerful leader’s ambivalence about the nature of the political and economic good.
By the mid-1950s, many of India’s other prominent statesmen had died or retired from public life, and there was hardly a public figure of’ stature left (with the exception of Rajagopalachari) to challenge Nehru’s socialist vision of the country’s future. Moreover, men who were ostensibly `expert economists’, but whose writings revealed no knowledge of prices or markets or the concept of feasibility, were encouraged to endorse and embellish this vision, which they did without hesitation in the secure knowledge that they were shielded from critics by the intellectual patronage of a charismatic and elected leader.[24]
The choice between alternative models of mass economic prosperity must have seemed quite clear at the time. The cold fact did not, however, vanish that one of the oldest objective lessons of political economy has been that more government is not necessarily better government. It is to the consequences of ignoring this lesson that we now turn.

Part III: Practice
ECONOMIC POLICIES IN INDEPENDENT INDIA

INDIA TODAY is a bizarre maze of distorted incentives, which I (and no doubt others) have found very difficult to untangle and understand. I shall, however, list and discuss the most significant of them as methodically as I can.

(i) Industry
The Indian Government has declared a large `public sector’ in commerce and industry to be a national objective. Towards this end, it has therefore progressively acquired numerous enterprises, large and small, so that it now has either a full monopoly in an industry or is one of a few oligopolists. These industries range from banking, insurance, railways, airlines, cement, steel, chemicals, fertilisers and ship-building to making beer, soft drinks, telephones and wrist-watches. There are no explicit penalties for indefinite loss-making; indeed, bankrupt private enterprises have often been nationalised to serve politicians’ ends. And, certainly, there has been no general rule of marginal-cost pricing. In public utilities, like electricity generation and distribution or city buses and trams, prices appear to be well below marginal cost, leading to severe rationing and queueing. Sudden stoppages of electricity for hours at a time and monumental congestion on buses and trams have become endemic facts of life for millions of urban Indians.
At the same time, private industry in India has been made to face labyrinthine controls. The government has continually exhorted private firms to work in the `national interest’ – which means accepting the constraints of centralised planning. It has left no doubt that, while there is a `role’ for the min the growth of the economy, they exist at the sufferance of government and had better realise it, otherwise the dark forces of revolution which have so far been kept at bay will inevitably sweep them away altogether, as happened in Russia and China.
The constraints imposed on the operation of a private business are legion, and would make a businessman from the West or Far East reach for a psychiatrist or a pistol. An entrepreneur may not enter numerous industries without government approval of the `technical’ viability of his project; once it is approved, he cannot find credit except from a government bank; and he cannot buy raw materials and machinery of the highest quality at the lowest price since, if they are produced in India, he will be denied a licence to import better and/or cheaper foreign substitutes. The onus is on him to satisfy the government that no production occurs within India of the input he requires; only then will an import licence conceivably be granted, subject to periodic review by the government. He may be compelled to export a specified proportion of his output as a condition for the renewal of his import licence, which therefore places him at a disadvantage with foreign buyers who, of course, are aware of this restraint. He may be unable to compete internationally because the rupee is priced above its likely equilibrium and some of the inputs he uses are high-cost, low-quality domestic substitutes. As a result, he may be compelled practically to dump his output abroad at whatever price it will fetch.

The entrepreneur’s factory may be subject to random cuts in electricity for hours at a time. He may require government approval before he can increase his fixed capacity, modernise his plant, change a product-line, or even change the number of labour shifts. He may face minimum-wage and stringent unfair dismissal laws on the one hand, and price controls on the other. If he fails to meet credit obligations to the nationalised banks, he may be penalised by the appointment of one or more government directors to his board – a form of `creeping’ nationalisation. Further, he may be subjected to a constant threat of full nationalisation as and when the government decides that his industry should be in the public sector in the interests of national planning.[25]

The consequence of all these controls has been a monumental distortion of incentives away from encouraging private firms to try to attract customers by improving technology and quality or reducing prices towards encouraging them to concentrate on `rent-seeking’, in the term made familiar by Professors Gordon Tullock and James Buchanan.[26]

As Anne Krueger says in her excellent study of the automobile ancillary industry, the very notion of entrepreneurial efficiency changes in such circumstances: `Under conditions in India, the most important problem confronting entrepreneurs is that of assuring that production will continue. The combined effects of import licensing and investment licensing give virtually every firm a monopoly or quasi-monopoly position. The entrepreneur who is most successful in getting licences of greater value and/or in getting licences more quickly than his fellow producers will have higher profits. `The producer who does not compete successfully for licences cannot produce at all, no matter how skilled he is in achieving engineering efficiency, unless he enters the “open market” and pays a premium to the successful licence applicant for some materials . . . Successful entrepreneurs are therefore those who are best at obtaining the greatest number of licences most expeditiously . . .’ [27]

Moreover, firms which are low-cost and efficient (in the free market sense) and which are successful at rent-seeking as high-cost, inefficient firms may still not be able to compete the latter out of business because government will not usually allow a particular firm to expand – regardless of its efficiency – if there is excess capacity in the industry of which it is a part. High-cost firms can thereby rationally count on staying in business simply by maintaining significant excess capacity.

(ii) Foreign trade
The Government of India has always claimed that foreign exchange is a `scarce’ resource which must be rationed by fiat in the national interest. The total foreign-exchange revenue (at an exchange rate which was fixed until 1971 and has since been on a managed `peg’) has been allocated in the following order of priorities: first, to meet foreign debt repayments and government expenditures in the conduct of foreign policy, such as the maintenance of embassies (G1); secondly, to pay for imports of defence equipment, food, fertilisers and petroleum (G2); thirdly, to meet ear-marked payments for the imported inputs of public sector industries so that they may achieve projected production targets (G3); fourthly, to pay for the imported inputs of private sector firms which are
successful in obtaining import licences (P1); and, lastly, to satisfy the demands of the public at large for purposes such as travel abroad (P2).
Foreign exchange is `scarce’ in India, or elsewhere, in precisely the same sense that rice or petrol or cloth is scarce. Just as there exists some positive price for rice, petrol or cloth which, at any moment, will match total supplies with total demands, so there exists some positive price for rupees relative to dollars which, at any moment, will match the transaction and asset demands of Indians for dollars with the transaction and asset demands of foreigners for rupees. Underlying that market-clearing price would be (a) the demands of Indians for foreign goods whose f.o.b. prices were lower than those of domestic substitutes, and, similarly, the demands of foreigners for goods in which India has had a comparative advantage; and (b) the expectations of Indians and foreigners about the future purchasing power of the rupee relative to the dollar, using as a proxy, say, the difference between interest rates in India and abroad.

A free market in foreign exchange would first have encouraged India’s traditional exports, like jute manufactures and textiles, and then (if the positive theory of international trade is broadly correct)progressively encouraged the export of other non traditional goods which used India’s relatively inexpensive labour relatively intensively and thereby enabled Indian entrepreneurs to compete successfully in foreign markets. At the same time, capital flows into and out of India would have given the monetary authorities an incentive to keep domestic interest rates in line with the real opportunity cost of forgoing consumption in favour of savings.

Thus, the case against a free market in foreign exchange has always been, to say the least, far from obvious.[28] But even if, for the sake of argument, we accept the presumed superiority of rationing, the elementary theory of optimisation which underlies the so-called theory of `planning’ dictates that the government should allocate dollars between alternative uses such that the marginal dollar yields the same increase in social utility in any use. The Indian Government, however, appears to have allocated foreign exchange simply on the basis of giving a higher priority to its own foreign expenditures (categories Gl, G2 and G3) than to private foreign expenditures (categories Pl and P2). That is to say, regardless of how much social utility might have been derived from a particular increase in private-sector imports, it would not be considered until after the government had met all its own expenditures abroad.[29]
Jagdish Bhagwati and T. N. Srinivasan put it as follows : `The allocation of foreign exchange among alternative claimants and users in a direct control system . . .would presumably be with reference to a well-defined set of principles and criteria based on a system of priorities. In point of fact, however, there seem to have been few such criteria, if any, followed in practice.’[30]
With respect to imported inputs for private- and public-sector industries, a rule of `essentiality’ (that is, the input must be technically `essential’ to the production process) and a rule of `indigenous availability’(that is, there must be absolutely no domestically-produced physical substitutes, regardless of cost and quality)seem to have been followed. But, as Bhagwati and Srinivasan report, `. . . the sheer weight of numbers made any meaningful listing of priorities extremely difficult. The problem was Orwellian: all industries had priority and how was each sponsoring authority to argue that some industries had more priority than others? It is not surprising, therefore, that the agencies involved in determining allocations by industry fell back on vague notions of “fairness”, implying pro rata allocations with reference to capacity installed or employment, or shares defined by past import allocations or similar rules of thumb’. [31]

Clearly, in abjuring the free market and claiming a monopoly over foreign-exchange transactions, government planners have accepted certain premises as unquestionable: (a) that government sponsored industrialisation is the best means to mass prosperity; (b) that a policy of indefinite import-substitution is the best means to industrialisation; and (c) that such a policy requires all foreign expenditures by government to take precedence over all private foreign expenditures. The trade and foreign-exchange policies pursued cannot be understood except by reference to domestic economic policies and, in particular, to the view held about the proper functions of government in and out of the market-place.

In addition to a plethora of controls, tariffs and outright bans on imports, there have been erratic policies, subsidising the export of `new’, non-traditional manufactures like engineering goods, and taxing- and even banning – the export of goods in which India has traditionally enjoyed a comparative advantage.[32]

Moreover, the rupee has been continuously over-valued. From 1949 to 1959, the official exchange rate of Rs. 4.76 to the US dollar was, on average, 12..3 percent above the black-market rate, a figure which rose to 61 per cent between 1960 and 1965. From 1966 to 1970, the devalued official rate of Rs. 7.50 to the dollar was above the black-market rate by an average of 47.6 per cent, while from 1971 onwards the managed-peg rate has been above the black-market rate by an average of 24.3 per cent.[33]

Simple economics suggests that a free-market equilibrium rate would be somewhere between the black-market and official rates. An official exchange rate for the rupee fixed above that warranted by underlying relative demands for Indian and foreign goods, as well as by relative degrees of confidence in the rupee and the dollar, subsidises imports at the expense of exports. By discriminating in favour of its own foreign expenditures and against those of the private sector, the government has been the principal beneficiary of an over-valued rupee. If capital-intensive goods are the main imports and labour-intensive ones the main exports, an over-valued rupee further distorts incentives so as to favour the use of capital-intensive production processes over labour intensive ones – in a country with a demonstrable abundance of relatively inexpensive labour!
With an eye to India, Krueger has argued the general issue in these terms:`Subsidies can make any industry an export industry, even one that would not produce at all in an efficient allocation. Similarly, taxes can be levied on an industry that has comparative advantage which will penalize it enough to render domestic production entirely unprofitable. When taxes and subsidies are used, therefore, it is possible not only to distort the structure of production, but to distort it so much that the “wrong” commodities are exported.”[34]

The Indian Government’s planners have had the idea of forcibly effecting a reversal in the comparative advantage of the country, as if by magic overnight. The hope might have been that a forced pace of industrialisation would somehow allow economies of scale to be reaped and thus soon make Indian industrial goods competitive enough in international markets to be the country’s principal source of foreign exchange, displacing traditional manufactures like jute and textiles. In practice, however, as the evidence given by Bela Balassa
and other economists demonstrates, such a policy has not succeeded to date and is most unlikely ever to do so.
India’s import bill has risen continuously, most drastically after the 1973-74 quadrupling of petroleum prices; non-traditional manufactures have hardly been able to compete successfully in foreign markets; and the traditional exports of jute and textiles have suffered very severe setbacks. Balassa contrasts the consequences of the freer, outward-looking trade policies of South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan with those of the inward-looking, controlled regime of India as part of a study of 11 countries(including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Israel and Yugoslavia) which, along with Hong Kong, account for most of the manufactured exports of developing countries. India’s share of the total manufactured exports of these countries has fallen steadily from 65.4 per cent in 1953 to 50.7 per cent in1960, to 31.2 per
cent in 1966 and to a mere 10.3 per cent in 1973. The proportion exported of India’s total manufactured output fell from 9.7 per cent in 1960 to 9.4 per cent in 1966 and to 8.6 per cent in1973. In contrast, during the same two periods, the proportion of manufactured output exported rose from1 to 14 to 41 per cent in South Korea, from 11 to 20 to 43 per cent in Singapore, and from 9 to 19 to 50 per cent in Taiwan.[35]
Balassa cogently argues that the adverse effects of a sudden change in external factors, such as the quadrupling of petroleum prices in 1973-74 or the 1974-75 Western recession, were absorbed much more easily by developing countries with large foreign-trade sectors than by those like India with relatively small ones: `Outward orientation is associated with high export and import shares that permit reduction in non-essential imports without serious adverse effects on the functioning of the economy. By contrast, continued inward orientation involves limiting imports to an unavoidable minimum, so that any further reduction will impose a considerable cost in terms of growth. Furthermore, the greater flexibility of the national economies of countries pursuing an outward-oriented strategy, under which firms learn to live with foreign competition, makes it possible to change the product composition of exports in response to changes in world market conditions, whereas inward orientation entails establishing a more rigid economic structure.’[36]
In other words, if imports are both high in total value and diverse in composition, a rise in the relative price of a particular import for which home demand is relatively inelastic (like petroleum and its products) can be accommodated by a substitution of expenditure towards it and away from inessential imports for which demand is relatively elastic. A similar argument had typically been advanced by advocates of import-substitution when they maintained that the exports of a small country should be diverse and not concentrated on only a few goods since a decline in world prices would otherwise lead to serious falls in export revenues. This suggests that both critics and advocates of import substitution might agree that, for a country which is a price-taker in world markets, the encouragement of a large foreign-trade sector is a way of diversifying the risk of adverse effects from changes in world prices. The question remains as to whether the positive theory of trade is correct in saying that the encouragement of comparative advantage is superior to import-substitution as a means of achieving a large foreign sector. From the contrasting experiences of, say, South Korea on the one hand and India on the other, the answer seems overwhelmingly to be that it is.

(iii) Agriculture
The Indian Government has instituted a multiple-pricing system for the major food-grains, especially rice and wheat. Farmers are compelled to sell a specified fraction of their output to the government, at a price fixed by the government which is significantly lower than that warranted by underlying supply and demand conditions. Farmers may sell the remainder of their output freely. The quantities the government acquires in this way, plus any it imports (imports being subsidised by the over-valuation of the exchange rate), are sold by ration at lower than free-market prices in the so-called `fair-price’ shops – which happen to be mainly in urban areas. Urban consumers may purchase part of their requirements from such shops and the remainder on the open market at higher prices. Astute middle-class urban housewives know that rationed grain is often of poorer quality than that sold on the open market. Accordingly, the former often constitutes part of the wages of the domestic servants of the urban household, while the family consumes the latter. Insofar as this is true, it suggests that farmers distinguish quality much better than do government officials, and that they use this advantage somewhat to partition their output into low- and high-quality, selling the first under compulsion to the government and the second on the open market.
While such is the general food policy of India, the compulsory procurement of grains and their distribution to the ration-shops is implemented by individual State governments and not by the Union Government. There have usually been numerous restrictions on inter-State movements of grain, so the States do not form a full customs union; instead, the Union Government tries to be a central clearing-house, matching the desired imports of one State with the desired exports of another.[37]

Economic effects of ban on futures contracts
Furthermore, futures contracts in grains have been banned by law, in the belief that futures trading is conducive to speculation and that speculation is undesirable. A futures contract in grain consists simply of a promise by a seller to deliver an amount of grain to a buyer at some specified date in the future in return for payment at a price agreed today. The seller’s incentive to enter into the contract is the guarantee of a certain sale, and the availability of funds now; the buyer’s incentive is the guarantee of a certain price for future deliveries. The contract may be entered into because buyer and seller have different expectations about what the spot price will be in the future. The buyer minimises his expected costs and the seller maximises his expected revenues; both are able to balance their budgets inter-temporally. Even if they have the same expectations about future spot prices, buyer and seller may still find it mutually profitable to enter into a futures contract as a way of insuring against risk. Forbidding such contracts by decree thus forces more risk onto both buyer and seller than they would normally be prepared to carry, and also induces them to balance their accounts in each period rather than it inter-temporally. Alternative kinds of credit markets become it relatively more lucrative, with the potential seller and buyer of futures wheat respectively borrowing and lending more than they would otherwise have done.[38]
The government has also expressed its determination to keep prices in ration-shops low. It has accordingly stockpiled large inventories of grain, apparently regardless of the costs of storage and spoilage or the alternative of holding larger foreign-exchange reserves to permit increased imports when necessary.

The ostensible, declared objective of all such policies has been to ensure that the poor do not suffer severe adverse income effects from sudden rises in the price of food resulting (it has been thought) from the contingencies of rainfall and the actions of speculative traders. It is, however, an open secret that the policies have really been a means of (a) taxing farmers, who pay a smaller percentage of their income in direct and indirect taxes than do urban dwellers, and (b) subsidising urban consumers, who broadly comprise the industrial working class and the middle in classes.
At the same time, however, the government and its advisers — after the considerable hesitation recorded by David Hopper [39]- have also accepted that the best long-run prospects for increasing agricultural productivity lie in modernising traditional farming techniques. Given the outstanding results of the Green Revolution in wheat, they could hardly have arrived at any other conclusion. The problem from the government’s point of view has been, as a sympathetic economist puts it “…how to procure a sufficient quantity of food grains at reasonable prices without jeopardising the farmers’ incentives to produce more”.[40]

Thus, while taxing farmers de facto on their output, on the one hand, the government has tried, on the other, to promote the use of modern inputs by subsidizing them both directly and through low-interest loans from the banks for such investment.
Distortions of incentives in agriculture
The distortions of efficient incentives caused by such policies are not difficult to see. First, the low output prices of wheat and rice have, in effect, been discriminatory taxes on wheat. As Edward Schuh remarks, these discourage the production of `. . . the very crops that policy-makers believe the vulnerable groups should have greater access to . . .’[41]

Vasant Sukhatme and Theodore Schultz have argued that, even between wheat and rice, there has been severe discrimination in favour of the former. At the official over-valued exchange rate, the price of domestic wheat has been significantly higher than imported, while at open-market rates for the rupee, the domestic price approximated the import price. For rice, however, the domestic price has been consistently below the import price. Sukhatme estimated that the dead weight loss in welfare from the under pricing of rice amounted to 8.5 per cent of total agricultural income in 1967-68 and to 2.2 per cent in 1970-71. He also calculated effective rates of protection, which were strongly negative for rice whether at official or open-market exchange rates and positive for wheat at the official exchange rate. Both he and Schultz conclude that the discrimination against rice has been a major factor in explaining the absence of a Green Revolution in rice on the scale of that in wheat.[42]
Secondly, the main beneficiaries of government subsidies for modern inputs have evidently been not the many small farmers but the fewer relatively large ones. As Gilbert Brown reports :`Large-scale farmers buy most subsidised inputs. Poorer farmers usually lack the money to buy adequate amounts of fertiliser and pesticides, and are commonly unable to get credit except at near-prohibitive rates of often 60% to 100% per year. Even in countries with subsidised bank credit for agriculture, rich farmers get most of the credit because of legal or administrative restrictions and/ or through open or disguised bribery. Credit and subsidy programmes for tractors, tube wells and other fixed investments also go mostly to the largest and richest farmers . . .Water is also a subsidised input . . . The farmers who receive this subsidised water generally have substantially higher incomes (because of the water) than farmers without access to public irrigation. Thus, claims that water should be subsidised to help small farmers misses the point that most farmers with irrigation have higher incomes than those who do not.’[43]
Brown argues that subsidies for inputs have been made necessary only to offset the forced depression of output prices. Moreover, the social benefit from subsidising inputs is limited to when the input is first introduced: ‘Once the benefits and technique of using the input are widely known, however, the continuation of such subsidies serves largely to increase the benefit-cost ratio of using the input . . .’.
Whether it is better to continue with artificially low input and output prices or to adjust towards a free market in both must take into account that the subsidies have encouraged more capital-intensity in production, and also that the `. . . low prices of certain inputs, particularly water, are often associated with widespread waste and inefficient use of the resource’.[44]
Thirdly, the farmer who is too small to find investment in storage facilities profitable may also consider it not worth his while to hold any of his output for sale on the open market. He will then sell it all to the government – at a below-market price.
A general conclusion would seem to be that, if the combined effect of input subsidies and forced grain sales to government has been a net subsidy to agriculture, then it has been a progressive subsidy; whereas if the combined effect has been a net tax on agriculture, then it has been a regressive tax. The Marxists may be quite right to protest that what gains there have been in agriculture have accrued to the relatively larger farmers, while smaller peasants and farmers are becoming landless labourers in growing numbers as a result of bankruptcy (that is, there has been increasing `rural proletarianisation’, to use the Marxists’ picturesque phrase). But if this is true, the cause can be traced unambiguously to the Indian Government’s belief – vociferously shared by the Marxists – that the way towards the declared objective of helping the poor is by extensive interference in the price system. Besides, the industrial working class demonstrably benefits from low food prices, so the honest Marxist must face up to being torn by divided loyalties between the rural and the urban proletariats.

Srinivasan put it as follows in a 1974 survey article :`The public distribution system with respect to foodgrains . . . operated to the benefit of all those living in metropolitan cities and other large urban concentrations while all others, including rich and poor in relatively small urban and almost all rural areas, did not benefit at all. When one recalls that the rural population includes the most abject among the poor, namely landless workers, the inequity of the system becomes glaring. And in urban areas, the existence of the system and the fact that the ration is often inadequate provides incentives for a household to falsify the data on its size and age composition given to the rationing authorities, as well as to create bogus or ghost ration-cards, not to speak of the corruption of the personnel manning the rationing administration.’[45]

The history of the extensive control of agriculture – which has included a partial government monopsony, forcibly-depressed output prices, inter-State restrictions on grain movements, and urban ration-shops – can be traced to the last years of British rule, as an attempt to bolster the popularity of the imperial regime. [46] The continuation and reinforcement of statism in agriculture in independent India has evidently rested on certain premises, namely, that the private market would be grossly inefficient and would be dominated by a few traders continually reaping large speculative profits, with both the small farmer and the ordinary consumer suffering in consequence.

Uma Lele’s fine study of the private grain trade, however, shows the real picture to be quite different. She found that the trade was highly competitive, that individual traders were rational agents (given the constraints of technology and government policy), that location price differences closely reflected transport costs, and that temporal price differences closely reflected storage costs. She argued that, while there was considerable scope for government activity, it should be in the form, not of interfering in the competitive market, but rather of encouraging the market to work – by, for example, disseminating relevant information such as crop forecasts, standardising weights and measures, constructing or improving roads and encouraging efficiency in the market for the transport of grain, etc.[47]

The evident neglect of such findings as these, and the continued application of policies inimical to competition and the free market, suggest that successive governments of independent India have been hardly more concerned for the rural poor – whether as farmer or consumer – and hardly less concerned with bolstering their popularity in the urban areas than were the British.

(iv) Employment
An obvious consequence of the economic policies described above has been the distortion of the individual citizen’s calculation of the expected benefits and costs of living and working in urban areas compared with the rural countryside. The forced depression of output prices in agriculture and the plethora of foreign-trade policies which discriminate against agriculture certainly seem to have artificially depressed the expected incomes of farmers. At the same time, a large `public sector’ in industry, plus the array of foreign-trade policies which have protected private industry, plus the indirect subsidisation of food sold in urban ration-shops certainly seem to have artificially raised expected urban incomes. Predictably, the reaction has been a vast and continuing net migration from the villages to the towns and cities, even after adjusting for the seasonal nature of agriculture. This drift has been the subject of much inquiry and discussion by development economists.[48] I propose to set it aside and examine instead a different aspect of employment policy which has not received nearly as much attention, namely, the consequences of putting into effect the clauses in the 1950 Indian Constitution mentioned above which authorised discrimination in employment and public education in favour of the `Scheduled’ castes and tribes, as well as other policies which discriminate on grounds of ethnic origin.

The consequences have been similar in several respects to those in America of `affirmative action’ towards so-called `racial minorities’, and it will be useful to draw out the analogy a little. As Thomas Sowell has cogently argued in recent years, the racial composition of contemporary American society is a complex mosaic, and no-one can say with certainty how it has come to be what it is today. In such circumstances, for the government to try to isolate a single contingent characteristic like `race’, partition society on the basis of census data according to this characteristic, and then construct public policies accordingly, is to introduce an enormous arbitrariness into economic life. By merely defining a group by reference to a single contingent characteristic, which all its members seem to possess, the intrinsic complexity of the individual person is lost or overlooked. Two members of the same race may be very different from each other in every relevant characteristic (income, education, political preference, and so on), and indeed resemble members of other races more closely in them. A policy which introduces a citizen’s race as a relevant factor in the assignment of jobs or college places partitions the citizenry into vague groups : members of groups who are very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race rarely competing with each other anyway, while the burden and beneficence of the state’s policies fall on members of groups who are not very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race: `. . . costs are borne disproportionately by those members of the general population who meet those standards with the least margin and are therefore most likely to be the ones displaced to make room for minority applicants. Those who meet the standards by the widest margin are not directly affected – that is, pay no costs. They are hired, admitted or promoted as if blacks did not exist. People from families with the most general ability to pay also have the most ability to pay for the kind of education and training that makes such performance possible. The costs of special standards are paid by those who do not. Among the black population, those most likely to benefit from the lower standards are those closest to meeting the normal standards. It is essentially an implicit transfer of wealth among people least different in non-racial characteristics. For the white population it is a regressively graduated tax in kind, imposed on those who are rising but not on those already on top.’[49]
At the same time, there is, in effect, a progressively graduated subsidy for members of the `minority’ group in favour of those who are already closest to meeting the general standards. Those in the mainstream of each group are largely unaffected; it is at the margins of competition that the bitterness caused by such policies will be felt and will manifest itself. It would seem that the situation in India – where the racial mosaic is if anything more complex than in America – is somewhat analogous. In recent years there has been civil tension and violence in the streets as poor Muslims, `caste’ Hindus, Sikhs and others have protested at being edged out of jobs and promotions by equally poor, or wealthier, members of the `Scheduled Castes’. In March-April 1981, for instance, there was widespread civil tension and violence in Gujarat over the reservation of places in the State’s medical colleges. A quarter of these places were statutorily reserved for members of the `Scheduled Castes’, with any not taken up by qualified candidates from these groups accruing to them in the future, thereby rapidly excluding from general competition as many as half the total number of places.[50]

The cruel paradox is that, while the position of many members (perhaps the vast majority) of the `Scheduled Castes’ vis-à-vis `caste’ Hindus remains one of degradation and persecution – quite regardless of the constitutional guarantees of equality in the eyes of the law – the relatively few who have succeeded in taking advantage of the discriminatory statutes have aroused the indignation of those who have not -causing even more animosity towards the `Scheduled Castes’ in general. One commentator observes the emergence of a `new elite’ among the `Scheduled Castes’ which `ceases to identify with its caste brethren’; while, at the same time, the law on equality `is so widely flouted precisely because the Scheduled Castes have not the means or courage to seek its protection . . .’ He concludes :`Contrived gestures such as are now popular will either not benefit [the Scheduled Castes] . . . or will do so only by further lowering already deplorable academic and administrative standards’. [51]
Moreover, when all government posts are advertised with a caveat that 10 or 15 per cent of themare reserved for members of the `Scheduled Castes’ and `Scheduled Tribes’, there is a considerable incentive for people to persuade Parliament to declare them as being such. And that also has happened. Discrimination in employment on the ground of caste has not been the only kind of discrimination practised by the Indian state. In what may be the most thorough study currently available on the origins, consequences and legal history of official discrimination in India, Weiner, Katzenstein and Rao have described the plethora of policies pursued by the central and state governments which have used not caste but ethnic origin as a criterion for public employment (with the private sector also often being `encouraged’ to follow suit) :`Preferences are given to those who belong to the “local” community, with “local” understood as referring to the numerically dominant linguistic group in the locality.’ [52] The authors conclude that what is emerging in India is`. . . a government-regulated labour market in which various ethnic groups are given a reserved share of that market. Competition for employment is thus not among all Indians, but within specified linguistic, caste, and tribal groups.`. . . various ethnic groups, therefore, fight politically for a share of that labour market. The major political struggles are often over who should get reservations, how the boundaries of the ethnic groups should be defined, and how large their share should be. There are also political struggles over whether there should be reservations in both education and employment, in private as well as in public employment, and in promotions as well as hiring. The preferential policies themselves have thus stimulated various ethnic groups to assert their “rights” to reservations.’[53]

It is not difficult to understand the general economic argument against discrimination on grounds such as caste or ethnic origin. If a private employer indulges a personal preference to hire only people of an kind A when there are more able or better qualified candidates of other ethnic kinds B, C, D, . . . ,available, and if the product of his firm is subject to competition in the market from other enterprises which do not discriminate on criteria which are irrelevant to economic efficiency, we may confidently expect the discriminating employer’s product to become uncompetitive and his profits to fall. The best and most obvious example of this would be in the professional sports industry in the USA : a `whites-only’ basketball or football team would be immediately vanquished on the games-field into bankruptcy. If government pursues employment policies which discriminate according to economically irrational criteria such as caste or ethnic origin, or if it forces all private firms to do likewise, there will certainly be inefficiency resulting in a loss of real aggregate output in the economy. In the terms of modern economics, a vector of total outputs which would be feasible given the parameters of the economy, and which would leave everyone either better off or at least no worse off, would not be achieved. In sum, the consequence of direct and widespread government interference in the labour market in India appears to have been, not only a disregard for the principle of equality before the law for every citizen (in a nascent republic of immensely diverse peoples), but also a loss of real output and an enormous `politicisation’ of economic life whereby individual success becomes increasingly tied to political power and increasingly removed from personal merit, enterprise and effort. In addition, the composition of occupations in the economy has been indirectly distorted by the set of industrial, agricultural and foreign-trade policies pursued by successive governments.

6. THE MALFUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT

IT MIGHT be thought that a large and flabby `public sector’ in industry and commerce, labyrinthine controls on private industry, a government monopoly of foreign-exchange dealings, the overvaluation of the currency, indefinite import-substitution, forcibly depressed output and input prices in agriculture, enormous politicization of the labour market, disregard for equality before the law, and distortion of the composition of occupations would constitute a sufficient catalogue of symptoms of grave illness in the political economy of a nation. Sadly, however, there are in modern India other symptoms too which I can mention only briefly here.
An opinion frequently encountered among urban Indians (as well as among the majority of Western development economists) is that government control over the size of the population is a necessary condition for economic development, and indeed that it is the failure of government to do this that has dissipated the economic growth that would otherwise have resulted from the economic policies pursued. The urban Indian witnesses the hovels and shanty-towns inhabited by migrant families from the countryside attracted by the policies discussed previously, and he experiences the resulting congestion. So does the Western development economist when he ventures out of his hotel into the city streets. Very often, that is his only personal experience of the legendary `poor masses’ of India. It is understandable that such princely discomfiture should lead him to the opinion that the poor are mindless in their breeding habits and that they must be persuaded, bullied or compelled to change. If this opinion were true, it would seem to point to a neat and simple solution to many of the woes of poor countries, and India in particular. But if the opinion is false and yet widely believed, it would cause governments to be, as it were, barking up the wrong tree.
It is, however, far from established, and certainly not at all obvious, that demographic control is either necessary or desirable in India or elsewhere. In the first place, when the rate of infant mortality is known and experienced by rural people to be high, there will be mare births than there would have been otherwise. Secondly, it is perfectly clear that children are an investment good in traditional societies such as those of rural India. Even young children are a source of family income, either directly by working outside the home or indirectly by working at domestic chores and thereby releasing adult members of the family for outside work. For a child to be absent from primary school or to drop out within a few years is not necessarily truancy; it may be the outcome of a rational economic calculation about where his time may be better spent towards increasing the household’s income. Furthermore, in traditional societies adult children are the principal source of support for elderly and retired parents.
To know of the existence of artificial measures of contraception certainly enlarges the alternatives open to a couple. Assuming that such knowledge is not in itself a cause of unhappiness (as it can be if there are conflicting religious commitments), a couple may certainly be better off with that knowledge because of their ability to control the number and timing of their children. The couple might also have fewer children – though there is no necessary or causal connection between a knowledge of contraception and the number of children born to a couple. Rational calculation may produce the same number of children as the caprice of nature, the implication being that in general there is no causal connection between the availability of contraceptives and the rate of growth of the population. The value of a public policy which encourages the use of artificial contraception is not so much that it reduces the number of births as that it may allow couples more control over their own lives. Whether or not artificial contraception should be publicly subsidised is quite another question.
The Indian Government has expended considerable resources in propagating and subsidizing artificial birth control. The results appear to have been, at best, indifferent (coupled as birth control has been with indirect incentives for large families and, at worst, cruel – as when frenetic zeal spilled over into demands for, and the implementation of, compulsory sterilisation. For this author, however, the important consideration would seem to be not so much the exact costs and benefits of the demographic policies pursued as the critical acknowledgement that they have little or nothing to do with the fundamental causes of mass economic development.[54]
It remains a stark paradox that, with a general literacy rate of perhaps 30 per cent [NB: In 2007, this has grown to 73% for males and 48% for females] India still produces the third largest absolute number of science and engineering graduates in the world. This reflects the lopsidedness of the educational system, continued from British times, in which higher education is enormously subsidised relative to primary education. In addition, entry into the civil services requires a college or university education, which in turn requires a good private secondary school education, which in turn requires a good preparatory school education. Strenuously competing to enter prep. school, with the help of outside tutoring, is the unhappy fate of many a five- or six-year-old in the towns and cities, followed by strenuous competition in secondary school, college and university, and finally at the doorstep of government (or a foreign university).
A job in government – any job in government – has carried prestige since Mughal times. In addition to the prestige and the obvious benefits of tenure where ether `decent’ jobs are scarce, there has been in recent times the inner satisfaction from a belief that a person can truly do his best for his country only by being in government. Tens of thousands of youths spend significant personal resources (such as whole years in cramming schools) to compete for a few annual openings in government. It is only to be expected that the competent, ambitious, patriotic youth who succeeds will mature into a respected mandarin with an unshakeable conviction in the good his government has done for the masses, and in the further good yet in prospect.
Failure to anticipate monsoon damage and disarray of the judicial system
The most serious examples of the malfunctioning of civil government in India are probably the failure to take feasible public precautions against the monsoons and the disarray of the judicial system. Official estimates, for instance, of the damage caused by flooding to homes, crops and public utilities in a few weeks of July-August 1981 alone amounted to over Rs 1 billion, with 10.8 million people `affected’, 35,000 head of cattle lost, and 195,000 homes damaged. The full magnitude of the devastation which annually visits vast areas can be understood perhaps only by those in rural India, although the towns and cities also regularly suffer considerable chaos. [55] [NB 2007: Monsoon prediction appears far better today than it was when these words were written.]
As for the disarray of the judicial system, The Statesman lamented in July 1980:`The simplest matter takes an inordinate amount of time, remedies seldom being available to those without means or influence. Of the more than 16,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court, about 5,000 were introduced more than five years ago; while nearly 16,000 of the backlog of more than 600,000 cases in our high courts have been hanging fire for over a decade. Allahabad is the worst offender but there are about 75,000 uncleared cases in the Calcutta High Court in addition to well over a million in West Bengal’s lower courts.”[56] Such a state of affairs has been caused not only by lazy and corrupt policemen, court clerks and lawyers, but also by the paucity of judges and magistrates. In addition, however,`. . . a vast volume of laws provokes endless litigation as much because of poor drafting which leads to disputes over interpretation as because they appear to violate particular rights and privileges. Land legislation offers an example of radical zeal running away with legal good sense, giving rise to thousands of suits against the Government . . .’ [57] When governments determinedly do what they need not or should not do, it may be expected that they will fail to do what civil government positively should be doing. In a sentence, that has been the tragedy of modern India.

Part IV : Reform
A LIBERAL AGENDA

IT WILL by now have become evident to the reader from the descriptions and arguments given above that, in the judgement of the present author, only a set of radical changes in policy can put the Indian economy on a path to higher mass prosperity within a free and healthy body politic. I shall therefore put forward a tentative manifesto for reform, adding some predictions about which classes of citizens would be most likely to support or oppose a particular proposal. The scope and intention of such a manifesto should be made clear at the outset. As Aristotle taught, a set of actions which are the means towards certain ends may themselves be the ends towards which other prior means have to be taken.[58]
The ultimate ends of economic advice in India are to seek to bring about mass prosperity under conditions of individual freedom. The proposals I which follow are to be construed as means towards those ultimate ends. But they also constitute a set of intermediate ends, and their implementation would require further judgement about the best means towards achieving them. In economic policy, for instance, a firm but gradual phasing-in over a period of three or four years may be the best way to minimise the hardships entailed by the adjustment. For reasons which will become clear, however, I shall not here try to answer the question as to how the proposals might best be implemented.

(a) Effects of foreign policy on the domestic economy
It will be useful to begin with a short and very incomplete consideration of foreign policy insofar as it may bear upon domestic economic policies. It is a settled fact of international politics that, while there is no obvious connection between a nation’s economic and political institutions and the choice of strategic allies it faces, people’s subjective perceptions and opinions of the social arrangements in a foreign country can be deeply influenced by whether that country is seen as a potential ally or adversary. A related and equally settled fact is that war, or the fear of war, can make for the most incongruous of bed-fellows. In contemporary India, it is quite evident that the antipathy and pessimism towards market institutions found among the urban public, and the sympathy and optimism to be found for collectivist or statist ones, has been caused to a very significant extent by the perception that the United States is relatively hostile towards India while the Soviet Union is relatively friendly. This was not always so. The official affection between the United States and India in the early years of the Republic was grounded in sincerity and goodwill. The roots of its demise are probably to be found in the split between the Soviet Union and China in the late 1950s which, in a short period of time, made the latter a valuable strategically for the United States against the former. By the early 1970s, the spectre of a joint military threat to India from a totalitarian China and a militarist Pakistan – and especially a threat which it was perceived democratic America would do little or nothing to thwart – made it prudent for democratic India to become the virtual ally of totalitarian Russia.
Such a configuration on the international chess-board need not have been detrimental to India’s economic development. It is possible to imagine a liberal state allied to a totalitarian one for strategic reasons, yet maintaining liberal economic policies domestically and internationally. In practice[58], however, the extent of `economic collaboration’, bilateral trading arrangements, `joint ventures’, barter agreements, `cultural exchanges’, and the like into which the Indian Government has entered with the Soviet bloc, appears significantly to exceed what it has achieved with the Western powers. In particular, Soviet arms have in recent years been purchased more often and then manufactured under licence. This too need not have been economically detrimental if the Soviet products had in practice been competitive on international markets in terms of price and quality. As is common knowledge, however, this is often not so. It therefore appears that part of the price India has had to pay for the strategic support of the Soviet Union has been the foisting on her of low-quality, high-priced Soviet goods, whether arms or steel mills or technical know-how. At the same time, for reasons which are partly historical and partly related to these considerations, direct foreign investment by private Western firms has been treated with, at best, coolness and, at worst, open hostility.

A change in India’s foreign policy
If the economic liberalisation that will be proposed here for India is to be effective, a truly independent yet prudent foreign policy may be required to accompany it. A change in the present strategic configuration – in which the United States is perceived in India to be virtually the ally of both China and Pakistan, while India is perceived in the United States to be virtually the ally of the Soviet Union – is unlikely until and unless the United States finds it in her best interests in the region to distance herself from China and Pakistan, which is unlikely to happen without a rapprochement between the Soviet Union and China. A drastic alternative way for India to reduce her dependence upon the Soviet Union would be the kind of divorce Egypt effected some years ago, followed by an alliance with the Western powers. This might, however, undermine once more the independence of foreign policy and be perceived in India as a move from the devil to the deep sea. The prudent remaining alternative would appear to be an earnest and vigorous pursuit of serious no-war pacts with Pakistan and China, combined with an appropriately small independent nuclear deterrent. It seems to the author that the reasons which commend this course are closely analogous to those offered by the present American and British governments for pursuing serious no-war negotiations with the Soviet bloc whilst simultaneously improving the Western nuclear deterrent.
(b) Liberalisation of foreign trade
Not only would the truly independent foreign policy proposed in the preceding paragraph allow India to distance herself from the Soviet Union; it would probably also prompt the Western powers to end the intergovernmental transfers which go by the name of `foreign aid’. For reasons that Peter Bauer has emphasised over many years, an end to such transfers might be a boon in disguise for India.[59] In particular, it would require the government to seek to balance the foreign-exchange accounts without becoming obligated to the Western powers, and this in turn would require a major economic transformation from a closed and protectionist economy to an open one which harnessed India’s comparative advantages.
An initial liberalisation of foreign trade, involving a transition from quotas to tariffs, would probably be supported by private industry as a whole. It would, however, be opposed by incumbent politicians and government officials since it would dissipate the rents they receive under the closed regime. A subsequent reduction in tariffs, a withdrawal of export subsidies, and the free floating of the rupee would be opposed by those private firms (and their labour unions) which would be uncompetitive internationally – probably those in `non-traditional’ industries. The measures would, however, be supported by ordinary consumers, by private firms in traditional industries like jute manufactures and textiles, and particularly by farmers.
Once private industry became subject to the strict discipline of international competition again, there would be no reason whatsoever for government-imposed internal controls which were not conducive to free and fair competition among firms for the consumer’s rupee. The repeal of the plethora of licensing policies would dissipate the large rents attached to the controls under the present regime. Since these rents are paid by private industry and received, directly or indirectly, by incumbent politicians and government officials, the former could be expected to welcome repeal and the latter to oppose it vigorously.

(c) Privatisation of `public-sector’ industries
At the same time, for the so-called `public-sector’ industries to face international competition, when they are currently monopolists or oligopolists, would demand such an improvement in economic discipline as probably to require the shares of most of them to be sold on the open market, with marginal-cost pricing imposed on the remainder. There is no economic reason why the Government of India shouldbe engaged in commercial or merchant banking and insurance, or in industries from steel, machine-tools, ship-building and fertilisers to wrist-watches, hotels and beer. Nor is there any cogent reason why it should be a major producer, let alone a monopolist, in the road, rail, air and sea transport industries. Large-scale privatisation would be supported by private citizens in general, and would also draw out the reputedly vast private funds which circulate in the untaxable underground economy. But such measures would probably be opposed vigorously by the government officials who currently manage these industries, aswell as by the public-sector labour unions.

(d) Free-market pricing in agriculture
With the repudiation of the mistaken premise that government sponsored industrialisation is the best means to mass economic development, the free-market pricing of agricultural outputs and the removal of all controls that are not conducive to free competition among farmers should follow. This would be welcomed by all farmers and perhaps by the rural population in general. It could also be expected to provide much encouragement to the technological transformation of traditional agriculture. The abolition of ration-shops in urban areas would be opposed by the industrial working class, by the urban middle classes in general, and by government officials and employees engaged in the present regime of public distribution. Further, farmers, especially relatively large ones, might be expected to oppose the concomitant free-market pricing of agricultural inputs, including credit and fertilisers, as would those government employees presently charged with distributing these inputs.
The ending of the distortions in agricultural output and input prices would establish a conclusive case for uniform systems of taxation in the economy, and especially for income from agriculture to be treated on a par with income from other occupations. These systems could locally include direct subsidies to those (whether in rural or urban areas) who are unable to provide any income for themselves, such as the insane and the severely disabled – all of whom are currently cared for, if at all, by private charity, and none of whom, strangely enough, appears to enter the moral calculations of socialist and Marxist economists.

(e) Tax revenues for public goods
The first and most important destination of tax revenues, whether raised centrally, provincially or locally, must be the provision of public goods – central, provincial and local. In an earlier section, we have seen what kinds of goods these should be. Among the most urgent in India are more effective precautions against the monsoons and improvements in the efficiency of the systems of civil and criminal justice. The former might include measures to prevent soil erosion and the building of better dams, embankments, canals and roads. Such programmes would be likely to command practically unanimous support in the localities in which they were implemented.
Reforms of the judicial system might include raising the salaries of judges and policemen, as well as the penalties for their misconduct; improving the training and morale of the police, with the object of increasing public confidence in them (especially in the villages); and expanding the number of courts, at least temporarily until the monumental backlog of cases has been reduced and brought under control. A general reduction in the political and administrative direction of economic life would lead to fewer lawsuits being brought against the government itself, and thus provide further relief for the judiciary. Widespread prison reform may also be required if the reports are true that a large proportion of those held prisoner for a number of years have yet to be brought to trial, and that potential prosecution witnesses, if they are poor and uneducated, are themselves sometimes kept in jail until a case comes to court. Such reforms would command the support of everyone except criminals, capricious litigants and corrupt or incompetent members of the police and judiciary, none of which groups, it must be supposed, comprises apolitical constituency.

Together with improvements in the system of justice, the principle of equality before the law would have to be taken seriously. This would require the dispensation of justice by the state to be, as it were, a process blind to the infinitely diverse caste and ethnic characteristics of the citizenry, which in turn would imply the repeal of all laws – whether central, provincial or local – permitting governmental authorities to discriminate in favour of a particular politically-specified caste or ethnic group. Merely to have written `equality before the law’ into the Constitution without really believing it either possible or desirable is to allow the mutual caste and ethnic bigotry of private citizens to be exploited for political ends. That innumerable members of a caste, or religious or ethnic community have suffered at the hands of another, and that members of the `Scheduled Castes’ in particular have been victims of enormous cruelty, should not prevent acknowledgement of the sober fact that the past is irretrievable, or that it is similar cruelty in the present and future against any citizen at the hands of any other, or the state, that the declaration of Fundamental Rights was intended to prevent.

(f) Other reforms
Other proposals could also be suggested : the introduction of vouchers for primary and secondary education; a serious assessment of the benefits from and costs of subsidies to higher education; an end to the government monopoly of radio and television; a revision of government pay-scales to make them competitive with the private sector, together with equivalent reductions in non pecuniary benefits; a decentralisation of public spending decisions from New Delhi to the State capitals and from there to the districts; and so on. However, it is hardly necessary to go further, since even a limited liberal agenda would appear doomed to be still-born.
Incumbent politicians, government officials, and the public sector unions in general would vigorously oppose any reduction in government intervention in the economy for fear of losing the rents and sinecures of the status quo. Indeed, professional politicians in general could be expected to be averse to any lessening of the politicisation of economic life.
In other countries, a political party proposing such a reduction in government intervention would usually enjoy the backing of private industry. In India, however, private industry in general would probably see it in its own interest to support only the reduction of internal controls, whilst vigorously opposing reductions in the neo-mercantilist external controls. In July 1981, for example, I asked a prominent industrialist to imagine first a free-market regime at home : `That would be very welcome indeed’, he replied enthusiastically. I then asked him to imagine a policy of free trade : `That would wipe us out’, he replied gravely. His answers indicate very well what is perhaps the single most important feature of the equilibrium that has emerged in India: by accepting without significant protest the constraints and costs imposed upon it by the government and its `planners’, the private corporate sector has traded the freedom of enterprise for mercantilist monopoly profits in the home market.
When Indian Marxists rail about collusion between the `national bourgeoisie’ (that is, the governmental class) and the `comprador bourgeoisie’ (that is, the private sector), they make a cogent point as old as Adam Smith’s critique of mercantilism.[60] But, again, they fail to see that the fortunes of the industrial working-class have also risen with those of the private and public industries that have gained from the present regime. Moreover, a large proportion of industrial workers and blue-collar government employees are migrants with families left behind in rural areas; these rural families might also oppose reductions in the transfers currently received by their migrant relatives. Finally, while joining other farmers in welcoming a free market in grain, the politically influential larger farmers could be expected to oppose the direct taxation of agricultural incomes and the elimination of subsidies for inputs.

Who is left who would gain from the kinds of reforms proposed here? Only the ordinary citizen qua consumer, the rural poor and the residuum of severely disabled citizens unable to create any income for themselves. None of these has been or is likely to become an effective political force.

India’s `unhappy equilibrium’
The economy of the first Indian Republic has tended towards a broad and increasingly unhappy equilibrium. Distortions of efficient relative prices and wages lead to both substitution and income effects. Those who lose from one distortion rationally seek another from which they may gain; those who lose from the second seek a third; and so on ad infinitum until a maze of distorted incentives are in place and a60Adam Smith, host of income transfers are in progress – sometimes offsetting losses, sometimes not. Tullock has emphasised that the problem is not only that there are dead-weight losses in welfare, but also that people are led `. . . to employ resources in attempting to obtain or prevent such transfers.’[61] In modern India, the waste of productive resources put to the pursuit of such transfers has been incalculable. The reforms pro-posed here would cut through the maze of distorted incentives and institutions all at once – for which very reason it seems unlikely they can come to be implemented.

The economic significance of a political attitude of individualism is that it clearly recognises the relationship between individual effort and reward, and the relationship between cause and consequence generally. An attitude of statism obscures or obliterates this relationship. In republican India, statism has pervaded all public discourse and prompted most public policy. Successive groups of politicians and government officials seem never to have recognised the fundamental nature of those functions of government which are the indispensable prerequisites of civil peace and mass prosperity. Nor have they understood that it is no part of government’s agenda to be the driving force to mass prosperity, and that this can come (if it will) only from innumerable individual efforts in the pursuit of private rewards. This is not at all to say that those in government have been ill-intentioned. On the contrary, they may have sincerely sought the public good whilst introducing a Leviathan government into the market-place and neglecting the proper duties of government outside it. As Bauer has remarked in a related context :`Their financial benefits may appear to be fortuitous, as if Adam Smith’s invisible hand were to work in reverse, so that those who sought the public good achieve what was no part of their intention, namely personal prosperity.’[62] It is indeed possible that the basic fact of human nature that individual households every where ordinarily know most about, and are only concerned with, their own well-being has never been acknowledged in modern India. The simple secret of a stable and prosperous polity is to create institutions which harness the universal pursuit of individual self interest, and not ones which pretend that men are selfless saints. A polity where this fact is acknowledged would not have to depend for the viability of its institutions on mere exhortation, as the institutions of the Indian Republic seem perpetually fated to do, even while the competitive pursuit of self interest is everywhere manifest.

The logic of economic reasoning and the adducement of economic evidence have in the past had little effect in India because the distribution of gains and losses from the policies pursued has been closely matched by the distribution of effective political power. This distribution seems most likely to continue, and so the prospects of significant and sustained endogenous reform seem, to this author at least, very small. Changes in external constraints seem to be the only likely source of a major disturbance to the equilibrium, and there can be no guarantee that the results will be for the better. This is a sad and troubling conclusion to come to, for a citizen of India or anyone else who has loved the country. It places this author in the paradoxical position of believing his arguments to be broadly correct – while hoping they are not.

ENDNOTES (The original monograph in 1984 had footnotes, which have had to be transformed since pages, in this new HTML age, no longer have to be linear as in a book nor have to be turned in order to be read).

[1] The early studies notably include: B. R. Shenoy, `A note of dissent’, Papers relating to the formulation of the Second Five-Year Plan, Government of India Planning Commission, Delhi, 1955; Indian Planning and Economic Development, Asia Publishing, Bombay, 1963, especially pp. 17-53; P. T. Bauer, Indian Economic Policy and Development, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1961; M. Friedman, unpublished memorandum to the Government of India, November 1955 (referred to in Bauer, op. cit., p. 59 ff.); and, some years later, Sudha Shenoy, India : Progress or Poverty?, Research Monograph 27, Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1971. Some of the most relevant contemporary studies are: B. Balassa, `Reforming the system of incentives in World Development, 3 (1975), pp. 365-82; `Export incentives and export performance in developing countries: a comparative analysis’, Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv, 114 (1978), pp. 24-61; The process of industrial development and alternative development strategies, Essays in International Finance No. 141, Princeton University, 1980; J. N. Bhagwati & P. Desai, India: Planning for Industrialisation, OECD, Paris : Oxford University Press, 1970; `Socialism and Indian Economic Policy’, World Development, 3 (1975), pp. 213-21; J. N. Bhagwati & T. N. Srinivasan, Foreign-trade Regimes and Economic Development: India, National Bureau of Economic Research, New York, 1975; Anne O. Krueger, `Indian planning experience’, in T. Morgan et al. (eds.), Readings in Economic Development, Wadsworth, California, 1963, pp. 403-20; `The political economy of the rent-American Economic Review, 64 (June 1974); The Benefits and Costs of Import-Substitution in India : a Microeconomic Study, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1975; Growth, distortions and patterns of trade among many countries, Studies in International Finance, Princeton University, 1977; Uma Lele, Food grain marketing in India : private performance and public policy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1971; T. W. Schultz (ed.), Distortions in agricultural incentives, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1978; V. Sukhatme, “The utilization of high-yielding rice and wheat varieties in India: an economic assessment”, University of Chicago PhD thesis, 1977.

[2] S. Roy, “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”, University of Cambridge PhD thesis, 1982a, Chapters I and II; “Knowledge and freedom in economic theory: Parts I and II”, Centre for Study of Public Choice, Virginia Tech, working papers, 1982b. My epistemological arguments have closely followed those of Renford Bambrough, Moral Scepticism and Moral Knowledge, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1979.

[3] Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, in Richard McKeon (ed.), The Basic Works of Aristotle, Random House, New York, 1941. We read: `. . . the whole account of matters of conduct must be given in outline and not precisely, as we said at the very beginning that the accounts we demand must be in accordance with the subject matter; matters concerned with conduct and questions of what is good for us have no fixity, any more than matters of health. The general account being of this nature, this account of particular cases is yet more lacking in exactness; for they do not fall under any art or precept but the agents themselves must in each case consider what is appropriate to the occasion, as happens also in the art of medicine or of navigation.’ (1,104a2-a9.)`. . . we do not deliberate even about all human affairs; for instance, no Spartan deliberates about the best constitution for the Scythians. For none of these things can be brought about by our own efforts. We deliberate about things that are in our power and can be done.’ (1,112a28-30.) Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations(1776), eds. R. H. Campbell et al., Liberty Classics, Indianapolis, 1981. We read: `What is the species of domestick industry which his capital can employ, and of which the produce is likely to be of the greatest value, every individual, it is evident, can, in hislocal situation, judge much better than any statesman or lawgiver can do for him.’ (Book IV. ii. 10, p. 456.) In modern times, Friedrich Hayek has always kept this fact in the foreground of his thinking. In his Individualism and Economic Order, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1949, we read, for example, of `. . . the constitutional limitation of man’s knowledge and interests, the fact the he cannot know more than a tiny part of the whole of society and that therefore all that can enter into his motives are the immediate effects which his actions will have in the sphere he knows . . .’ (p. 14.) The individual agent has a `special knowledge of circumstances of the; thus `. . . practically every individual has some advantage over all others because he possesses unique information of which beneficial use might be made, but of which use can be made only if the decisions depending on it are left to him or are made with his active co-operation.’ (p. 80.)

[4] The mathematical economist will recognise these three conditions as the characteristics which define a multi-market general equilibrium in the Arrow-Debreu model: Gerard Debreu, Theory of Value, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1959; K. J. Arrow and F. H. Hahn, General Competitive Analysis, Oliver and Boyd, Edinburgh, 1971.

[5] This argument is discussed further in Roy (1982a), pp. 96-107, pp. 133-43.

[6] Adam Smith, op. cit., Book V. i. c., p. 723.

[7] P. A. Samuelson, `A pure theory of public expenditures’, Review of Economics & Statistics, 36, 1954,reprinted in K. J. Arrow & T. Scitovsky (eds.), Readings in Welfare Economics, R. D. Irwin, Homewood, Ill., 1969.

[8] The idea I have in the background is of some implicit public goods function endorsed more or less unanimously by citizens – but not necessarily by those with political power – with commonsense dictating the elements it should contain. Thus Let U = U (π1, π2 , …, πn) be such a function with δU/δπi > 0, δ2U/δπi2 < 0 i=1,2,…,n, where πi = 1,2,…n, is a lateral index of a public good or service like defence, civil protection, roads, dams, or the finance of basic education. Each of these is “produced” by an expenditure of public resources: πi = πi (τi ), δπi/δτi > 0, δ2πi /δτi2 < 0 i=1,2,…,k, Σ i=1,2,…,n τi = τ* where τ* is the total level of public resources available (whether by taxation or borrowing). An efficient condition, i.e., one in which given public resources are efficiently allocated among alternative public goods or services, would be δU/δπi/ δπi/δτi = δU/δπj / δπj/δτj for every i,j = 1,2,. .,n. So, if the marginal tax-rupee was put towards the production of any public good, the increase in social utility should be the same; otherwise we would find an excess supply of some public goods (e.g. bureaucrats) and an excess demand for others (e.g. courts, dams, police protection, etc.).

[9] Two examples are F. H. Hahn, On the notion of equilibrium in economics : an inaugural lecture, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1973, and J. M. Grandmont, “Temporary general equilibrium theory : a survey”, Econometrica, vol. 46, 1977.

[10] Aristotle, op. cit., 1,094b12-1,094b27

[11] D. H. Robertson, `The Economic Outlook’, in his Utility and All That, Allen & Unwin, London, 1952, pp.51-52.

[12] Karl Popper made a similar point in The Open Society and its Enemies, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1950, when he suggested that Plato’s question `who should rule?’ should be discarded for the question:`How can we so organise political institutions that bad or incompetent rulers can be prevented from doing too muchdamage?’ (p. 120). There is relevant discussion by Renford Bambrough in `Plato’s modern friends and enemies’, Philosophy, 37, 1962, reprinted in R.Bambrough (ed.), Plato, Popper and Politics : some contributions to a modern controversy, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1967. I have discussed the relationship of expertise to democracy in Roy (1982a), pp 80-95.

[13] Virginia Bill of Rights, 1776, in The Constitution of the United States, ed. E. C. Smith, Barnes & Noble, New York, 1979, p. 21.

[14] P. T. Bauer, Dissent on Development, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1971, p. 72, n. 2. The term `statism’ suggested itself to the author after he read M. R. Masani, “Post-Sanjay outlook: where salvation does not lie” The Statesman, 9 July 1980.

[15]G. M. Young (ed.), Macaulay: Prose and Poetry, London: Macmillan, 1952, p. 718. Some 20 years later, in Considerations on Representative Government, ed. H. B. Acton (London: J. M. Dent), J. S. Mill claimed that rule by`a superior people . . . is often of the greatest advantage to a people, carrying them rapidly through several stages of progress’ (Ch. IV, p. 224). Ironically, a few years ago a distinguished retired member of the Indian civil service (who happens to be a recipient of the Lenin Peace Prize) used very similar words in a newspaper article – in defence of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan!

[16] Resolution of the Indian National Congress, August 1931, reprinted in B. N. Pandey (ed.), The IndianNationalist Movement : 1885-1947, Macmillan, London, 1979, p. 67.

[17] S. Radhakrishnan, The philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore, Macmillan, London, 1918, p. 232. For an excellent account of the intercourse between ancient India and ancient Greece, H. G. Rawlinson, `Early contacts between India and Europe’, in A. L. Basham (ed.), A Cultural History of India, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1975. For excellent accounts of the growth of liberalism in India in the l9th and carly 20th centuries : Anil Seal, The Emergence of Indian Nationalism : Competition and Collaboration in the later l9th Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1971, Chs. 1, 3-6; J. R. McLane, Indian Nationalism and the Early Congress, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1977; Gordon Johnson, Provincial Politicsand Indian Nationalism,Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1973, Ch. 1.

[18] Ramsay Macdonald’s letter to M. K. Gandhi, 8 September 1932, reprinted in Pandey (ed.), op. cit., p. 74.

[19] Devdas Gandhi’s letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, 2 October 1931, reprinted in Pandey (ed.), op. cit., p. 71

[20] Gandhi’s protest succeeded to the extent that the Award itself was superseded; and in unusual, euphoric displays of fraternity, `caste’ Hindus threw open temples to members of the `Depressed Classes’ and embraced them with
garlands. The compromise Pact which replaced the Communal Award removed separate electorates but still guaranteed special political representation for some years following the agreement. For an account of Gandhi’ s position on the Communal Award, Judith M. Brown, Gandhi and Civil Disobedience, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1977, pp. 313-21.

[21] For an eminent lawyer’s commentary, N. A. Palkhivala, The Light of the Constitution, Forum of Free Enterprise, Bombay, 1976.

[22] There is reason to think the Mughals before the British had done no better and had probably done much worse. T. Raychaudhuri, `The State and the Economy: the Mughal Empire’, in T. Raychaudhuri & I. Habib (eds.), The Cambridge Economic History of India, vol. I, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1982.

[23] V. B. Singh (ed.), Nehru on Socialism, Government of India, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Publications Division, Delhi, 1977, pp. 56-57, 67.

[24] `Draft recommendations for the formulation of the Second Five Year Mahalanobis;`The Second Five-Year Plan – A tentative framework’, drafted by the economic ministries; and a `Memorandum’ written by a panel of prominent Indian economists – all contained in Papers relating to the formulation of the SecondFive Year Plan, Government of India: Planning Commission, 1955 – were the principal influences on the actual Second Plan. No significant understanding of markets, prices or the concept of feasibility is evident on the part of any of the authors. Shenoy’s lonely dissent has already been noted (note 1).

[25] The best descriptions of Indian industrial policy are still to be found in Bhagwati and Desai (1970), op. cit. Also C. Wadhwa, `New Industrial Licensing Policy: An Appraisal’, in C. Wadhwa (ed.), Some problems of India’seconomic policy, Tata-McGraw Hill, Delhi, 1977, pp. 290-324.

[26] Gordon Tullock is generally credited with introducing the notion of rent-seeking in `The welfare costs of tariffs, monopolies and theft’, Western Economic, Journal, 5 (June 1967), while Krueger (1974), op. cit., introduced the term itself. The collection edited by J. M. Buchanan et al., Toward a theory of the rent-seeking society, Texas A&M Press, College Station, 1980, contains reprints of both papers as well as other studies.

[27] Krueger (1975), op. cit., p. 108 ff.

[28] The classic argument for a free market is in M. Friedman, `The case for flexible exchange rates’, in his Essays in Positive Economics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1953, pp. 157-203. Also V. S. Vartikar,Commercial policy and economic development in India, Praeger, New York, 1969, based on his PhD at Wayne State University; and D. Lal, A liberal international economic order : the international monetary system and economic development, Essays in International Finance No. 139, Princeton University, October 1980.

[29] An additive sub-utility function might be defined within each set of categories UG= ∑ ai vi (Gi) a1 ≥ a2 ≥ a3, ∑ ai= 1UP= ∑ bj wj (Pj) b1 ≥ b2 ∑ bj= 1where the vi (.) and the wj (.) are further sub-utility functions defined on each category, etc. None of these has ever been spelt out by the Indian Government and certainly no amount of UP has seemed substitutable for an iota of UG.

[30] Bhagwati and Srinivasan, op. cit., p. 38.

[31] Ibid.,p. 38

[32] In 1980, for example, exports of pig-iron and of sheep- and goat-meat were banned; an export duty on jute manufactures was imposed on 18 February and lifted on 8 September. (Annual Report on Exchange Controls, International Monetary Fund, 1981, pp. 205-13.) The Import and Export Policy (April 1982, March 1983)announced by the Commerce Ministry reported the banning of exports of cane, paraffin wax, mustard and rape-seedoil, and `certain
wild-life items’, including lizards and robins. An embargo on the export of CTC (cut, tear and curl) tea was announced by the Ministry of Commerce on 24December 1983. CTC is high-quality tea which accounts for about three-quarters of India’s tea exports. The ban followed a doubling of domestic prices over the previous year, compulsory registration of tea dealers holding more than 1,000 kg. to prevent hoarding, and agreement by manufacturers to reduce their profit margins and cut prices ofpackaged tea by about 20 per cent (Financial Times, 14 December 1983). The Indian Government apparently feared that the supply of tea for the domestic market was going to run out (The Times, 5 January 1984). The effect of thesemeasures is artificially to depress prices in the domestic market whilst raising them overseas (The Economist, 14 January 1984).

[33] Pick’s Currency Year-book, various editions

[34] Krueger (1977), op. cit., pp. 27-28.

[35] Balassa (1978), op. cit., p. 39; Balassa (1980), op. cit., p. 16.

[36] Ibid.,p. 22.

[37] Short surveys of the relevant practices can be found in Lele, op. cit.,Appendix 1, pp. 225-37, and Sukhatme, op. cit., pp. 29-37. Also Gilbert Brown, `Agricultural pricing policies in developing countries’, and G. E.Schuh, `Approaches to “basic needs” and to “equity” that distort incentives in agriculture’, in Schultz (ed.), op. cit.,pp. 84-113 and pp. 307-27 respectively.

[38] Theoretical economists have long recognised that a fundamental flaw in, for example, the Arrow-Debreu model is its assumption that all conceivable futures contracts are practicable. The longest futures price actually quoted at
the Chicago Board of Trade, however, would be for silver, at about two years; for grains, the longest would be only about three months. Since the natural market outcome is a far-cry from the theory, the Indian Government’s fears about the effects of speculation appear to be much exaggerated. To see the risk-dispersing character of a futures contract, let us suppose that both buyer and seller place a probability of one-half on prices being either in 8 or 2; if they are risk-averse, they may prefer to trade at a certain futures price of 5 now, rather than wait for the future to unfold.

[39] David Hopper, `Distortions of agricultural development resulting from Government prohibitions,’ Schultz (ed.), op. cit., p. 69 ff.

[40] K. Prasad, `Foodgrains policy 1966-1976′, in Wadhwa (ed.), op. cit., p.479.

[41] Schultz (ed.), op. cit., p. 309.

[42] Sukhatme, op. cit., pp. 74-86; T. W. Schultz, `On the economics and politics of agriculture’, in Schultz(ed.), op. cit., p. 15 ff.

[43] Schultz (ed.), op. cit., pp. 92-93.

[44] Ibid.,p. 95.

[45] T. N. Srinivasan, `Income Distribution: A survey of policy-aspects’, in Wadhwa (ed.), op. cit., p. 265. That the small farmer may not find it profitable to invest in storage, and that (if it has been taxed) agriculture has been taxed regressively, are also remarked upon by Srinivasan.

[46] Lele, op. cit., p. 2, where reference is made to Sir Henry Knight, Food Administration in India, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1954.

[47] Lele, op. cit., pp. 214-24

[48] For example, M. Todaro, `A model of labor migration and urban unemployment in less developed countries’, American Economic Review, March 1969, 59, pp. 138-48; J. P. Harris & M. Todaro, `Migration,unemployment and development: a two-sector analysis’, American Economic Review, March 1970 60, pp. 126-42.The best paper known to the author is by Jerome Rothenberg, `On the economics of internal migration’, Working Paper No. 189, Dept. of Economics, MIT, July 1976.

[49] Thomas Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions, Basic Books, New York, 1980, pp. 268-69.

[50] `The logic of protection’, The Statesman, Editorial, 19 March 1981; also the Editorial, `Danger of caste ethnic

[51] S. K. Datta Ray, `Backlash to protection: fancy gifts ignore real reform’, The Statesman Weekly, 21 March 1981.

[52]M. Weiner, M. F. Katzenstein, K.V.N. Rao, India’s preferential policies : migrants, the middle classes and ethnic equality, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1981, pp. 16-17.

[53] Ibid. p. 5

[54] P. T. Bauer, `Population explosion: myths and realities’, in Equality, the Third World and Economic Delusion, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., 1981, pp. 42-65, contains some of the clearest arguments known to the author about this question; also M. Weiner, India at the Polls : the Parliamentary Election of 1977, American Enterprise Institute, Washington DC, 1978, pp. 35-39.

[55] 10 8 million people affected by floods’, The Statesman Weekly, 22 August 1981; also `Down the drain’, Editorial in The Statesman, 8 July 1981.

[56] Justice with speed’, Editorial in The Statesman, Calcutta and New Delhi, 21 July, 1980

[57] Aristotle, op. cit., 1,094a1-1, 094b11.

[58] There are few thorough studies known to the author that are relevant. One such is Asha L. Dattar, India’s Economic Relations with the USSR and Eastern Europe 1953-1969, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1972.

[59] Bauer (1981) op. cit. Chapters 5 & 6.

[60]. Adam Smith op cit Book IV; also B. Baysinger et al.,`Mercantilism as a rent-seeking society’, in Buchanan et al (eds) op. cit. pp. 235-68.

[61] G. Tullock in Buchanan et al. (eds.), op. cit., p. 48.

[62] Bauer (1981), op. cit., p. 144.