March 24, 2010 — drsubrotoroy
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 ·
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.
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
“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.
April 22, 1988 — drsubrotoroy
A note on the welfare economics of regional cooperation
April 22 1988
(Statement at a conference on regional cooperation in Asia and Latin America held at the East West Centre, Honolulu, April 1988)
How should we evaluate the success of efforts at regional cooperation? When we look at different attempts at cooperation around the world, what general principles and observations might we bring to bear from within the discipline of economics? I propose to try to answer this broad normative question, and at the same time to report on certain aspects of the interesting and informative papers given by Dr. Ffrench-Davis, Dr. Wong, and Dr. Bhuyan on Latin America, ASEAN, and South Asia respectively.
It may be helpful to remind ourselves at the outset of the textbook classification of forms of economic cooperation. This usually traces a route from the least orderly and least integrated to the most orderly and most integrated — from the free-trade area to the customs union to the common market to the economic union. The free-trade area has no intra-area tariffs and therefore has a free flow of goods, although each member can have what tariffs it pleases with the rest of the world. The customs union maintains the free flow of goods of a free-trade area and in addition has a common tarriff barrier with the rest of the world. The common market is a customs union and in addition has free flow of factors like labour and capital. The economic union is a common market which in addition has a common currency and a uniform monetary and fiscal policy, and which probably must have a common federal government as well.
Now we learn about one thing through comparison and contrast with other things. Thus efforts at cooperation in South Asia and Latin America and ASEAN are fittingly compared and contrasted both with one another as well as with efforts, say, in post-War Europe. It has been generally believed too that more integration is a good thing. So for instance, while the European Community still remains something between a customs union and a common market, the European experiment as a whole has been motivated by a desire (or perhaps by wishful thinking) to form an economic union like that of the United States. And it is the U. S. — whose Constitution in 1789 started with the words: “We the people…, in order to form a more perfect union….” — which surely remains the best example the world has yet seen of an effective economic and political union. Yet even in the U. S. the process took a hundred years and a lot of bloodshed. In many places in the south today, the Civil War between 1861 and 1865 is still referred to as the “War between the States”. A lesson from the American experience may be that an important and yet intangible benefit of attempts at integration, regardless of how much integration it actually leads to, may be the prevention of unnecessary war. No matter how far the European Community is from its explicit goal of an economic and political union, or how wishful such a goal might be, or how much is wasted in resources by the bureaucracy in Brussells, if European cooperation has helped to reduce to zero the probability of a third European war in the twentieth century, it may have contributed to the economic welfare of Europe.
Now the prospect of pointless war within the European Community has become ludicrous but this may not be so elsewhere. Neither Dr. Ffrench-Davis nor Dr. Wong has found it necessary to say anything about military tensions, so it is possible that the prospect of needless wars within Latin America or within ASEAN has become as ludicrous as in Europe, and it is possible that regional institutions have helped towards that. If so, that should be registered on the credit-side of the balance sheet when we are evaluating the success of LAFTA or ASEAN or the Andean Pact. But certainly the same cannot be said in South Asia, where military tensions between India and Pakistan have seldom been far from the surface.
In fact the South Asian case is interestingly seen from another angle as well. For consider the basic fact that the main economic point of regional cooperation is to improve mass welfare via increasing trade. Yet Dr. Bhuyan reports that trade has yet to be put on the SAARC agenda in any serious way. The leaders of the SAARC nations have been talking about meteorology and drug abuse and the rights of children and science policy and solar technology and all kinds of other worthy issues, but they have not been talking about abolishing quotas and reducing tariffs on one another’s goods. In terms of the textbook classification, regional cooperation in South Asia in the late 1980s has not yet reached even the starting point of discussing a free-trade area. Yet paradoxically just about forty years ago, the same nations which today find it so difficult even to talk about improving trade, were completely united and integrated from an economic point of view — not merely in a free-trade area or customs union or a common market but in a full-fledged economic union. The departure of Britain from the subcontinent and the political partition between India and Pakistan did not logically entail that the economic union which South Asia had been for numerous centuries had to be completely destroyed. Yet that is what happened. The welfare costs of the lack of foresight on all sides at the time have not yet been calculated.
Drawing these thoughts together then, my first general observation is quite an obvious one. Efforts at regional cooperation can lead to more and better contacts, information, and channels of communication – between heads of governments, finance ministers, businessmen, private citizens, and so on. There is, in short, an increase in trust. Or to put it in economists’ language, there is a reduction in transactions costs or an increase in the stock of what may be called the “informational capital” available to traders and potential traders. Regardless of whether tariffs do in fact come to be reduced and trade increased, the stock of trust or informational capital is valuable. The maintenance of this stock may require expenditures on bureaucracies, conferences etc. (expenditures which Dr. Wong reports to be small in case of ASEAN). But if these expenditures have quietly reduced or are reducing the probability of needless wars between the member-states of LAFTA or ASEAN or SAARC (and here we might recall just how many needless wars were fought in European history between countries at the same so-called “stage of development” as those now in Asia and Latin America) then the expected utility of the bureaucracies may be certainly positive and perhaps rising.
Military conflicts or civil wars destroy not only physical and human capital but this kind of informational capital as well. It is this stock of informational capital which was destroyed with the breakup of the economic union in South Asia forty years ago, and which the South Asian nations are now finding so hard to rebuild. The same can be said perhaps of China and Taiwan, North and South Korea, and so on.
Next, I would like to return to the basic rationale of regional cooperation being to increase welfare via increasing trade via lowering tariffs, probably reciprocally but perhaps even unilaterally. It is to encourage as much improved efficiency in production and hence in consumption as possible; or in Jacob Viner’s terms to have as much “trade creation” and as little “trade diversion” as possible. Such a purpose would or should take as axiomatic Adam Smith’s remark: “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.” (Wealth of Nations, IV.viii.49). Yet, at the same time, the fact of the matter is that it is national governments, and not business firms let aside ordinary households and consumers, who are involved in attempts at regional cooperation. Stated in terms of a principal-agent problem, it is governments who are the agents while the mass of individual taxpayer/consumers are the principals.
The situation is such that the agents can probably get away quite well without attending to the interests of their principals in matters of mutual tariff-reduction. But if they do want to attend to the interests of their principals, what Smith’s remark does is give them a simple rule of thumb to apply: does such-and-such a policy proposal have a reasonable chance of helping the ordinary consumer? That is to say, will it enlarge the budget-set of the average household? Or in other words, will it reduce the average household’s expenditures and/or increase the average household’s income?
Improving trade necessarily implies exploiting comparative advantages better, and hence it implies increasing specialization. So if the basic purpose of regional cooperation is indeed to improve economic welfare via more trade, and if this purpose is indeed to be seriously served, then the process of obtaining the greater specialization will necessarily imply the decline of some industries and the rise of other industries in each participating economy.
If country A and country B are both involved in import-substitution, and country A’s industry 1 is relatively less inefficient than country B’s industry 1, then the economic integration of A and B will imply that country A’s industry 1 will rise and country B’s industry 1 will decline, while country B’s industry 2 will rise and country A’s industry 2 will decline.
Again I am saying something which is obvious from an economist’s standpoint. I do so for the following reason. It is clear from Dr.Wong’s paper that the leaders of ASEAN seem to be relatively serious about tariff-reduction. They may not have succeeded as much as they would have liked but they see and understand the fundamental purpose of regional cooperation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak. It would seem from Dr. Ffrench-Davis’s paper too that mutual tariff-reduction has also been a central part of the discussion surrounding Latin American cooperation, and Dr. Ffrench-Davis himself has decried the slowing down of reciprocal trade in the 1980s. However Dr. Bhuyan’s report suggests that, with trade off the SAARC agenda and all kinds of other activities on it instead, SAARC is in danger of becoming merely another vehicle for the ever-expanding role of the State in South Asia. If I might generalize on a remark Sven Arndt made yesterday: if the domestic policies of individual countries are an unsound basis for economic development, then no amount of regional cooperation will have any significant beneficial effect. Indeed it might even worsen things by distracting attention from fundamental problems, increasing centralization and politicization of economic decisions, and so on.
A few small points to end with.
1. Dr. Ffrench-Davis refers, I think in a neutral way but I am not sure, to “regional investment planning” in the Andean Pact. Dr. Bhuyan refers, I think with approval, to “balanced regional industrialization through agreed specialization… the idea is to allot particular industries to particular countries in which they have special interest” (p. 17). I have not been able to see how the increasingly centralised allocation of resources entailed by such a policy is conducive to the basic purposes of regional cooperation. Greater specialization is indeed a natural corollary of economic integration. But the forces of trade, and not the SAARC headquarters in Kathmandu, surely need to be allowed to determine its direction.
2. Both Dr. Ffrench-Davis and Dr. Bhuyan refer to stronger and weaker, or bigger and smaller, members of a regional grouping. And Dr. Bhuyan suggests “that a straightforward liberalization of trade by dismantling all trade barriers may benefit the larger countries more than the smaller ones” (p. 12). I am not at all sure that this is right. For example, in the Heckscher-Ohlin model the scale of an economy is not relevant to the gains from trade — one country may have absolutely greater amounts of every single factor than another, and yet trade may benefit both because they have relatively different amounts of the factors. (Similarly in the Ricardian model, one country may have an absolute advantage in the production of both goods, and yet trade may still be beneficial because the countries differ in the relative advantage of the production of each good.)
Thus, in conclusion, all three reports we have been given of efforts at regional cooperation in Asia and Latin America are interesting and informative. Once again it would seem ASEAN has been leading the way in getting the basic economics as right as possible given what is politically feasible. And here again we have to think not of ASEAN’s absolute success, but its success relative to other attempts, including I would say the European Community). Latin America does not seem to have been very far behind in the matter of getting the basic economics right. While South Asia, which not long ago was in fact the most closely integrated economy of all, sadly seems to lag far behind both in thinking and in achievements.