My 13 Sep 2019 Advice to PM Modi’s Adviser: Let PM address each State Legislature, get all India Govt Accounting & Public Decision-Making to have integrity
I recently had a nice chat by email with one of Mr Modi’s economic advisers who knew me from years past. No I do not mean Bibek Debroy who was my stable-mate under Hahn at Cambridge in 1976. This adviser knew me as a colleague briefly in Washington during my American years 1980:1996. My advice has been as follows:
The future PM Narendra Modi came from India to DC in October 1984 where I had been asked by Shekhar Tiwari whom you may know to give a Deendayal lecture, which I did. I recall Modiji well from that time. We have not met since. I should like him to be writing to each State Legislature Speaker seeking to address each State Assembly if they wish to extend an invitation, one by one. The aim of his addressing each State Assembly one by one that wishes to hear him (all will) would be to establish a Union-State link of fiscal cooperation, getting all State Government accounting cleaned up to the Premchand standard, so everyone in the country knows easily or can find out easily what is the state of finance in each State (as well as the Union of course). It would take a few months plus two dozen rooms and a team of about 40 people to modernize all India Government accounts to the best world standards or even surpass them. Obviously Planning had to go and I said so publicly in May 2014 as soon as Modiji was elected. At the same time, I said Finance had to be bifurcated, creating a new Ministry of Money and Banking where RBI and all PSU banks could be hived off. Then Finance would be left with doing Budgets, both Union and helping with States, all year round, getting them to the Premchand standard which is, basically, the world standard. Now I see “Corporate Affairs” has been a systemic problem too, because it allows Big Business to have too easy access to the Minister and his/her agenda and the latter never even gets to start normal public finance. Finance without Money and Banking and without Corporate Affairs can and should be handling all Budgets, year round, no lobbying. You can see in this thread https://twitter.com/subyroy/status/1119845358572646400?s=20 up and down what happens as a prototype if the Premchand template gets applied in India. In the meantime, a monetary disaster is unfolding on the RBI “surplus” issue… there is no surplus… it is a mirage… #RBIMirage. You may see it herein: https://independentindian.com/2019/08/04/critique-of-monetary-ideas-of-manmohan-modi-the-roy-model-explaining-to-bimal-jalan-nirmala-sitharaman-rbi-etc-what-it-is-they-are-doing-draft-4-august-2019/ I had denounced in 2007 what Manmohan, Montek, Chidambaram had tried which was very similar, and they stopped. Now Modiji, the FM, Bimal Jalan et al have followed suit, even worse. Do tell them. I completely agree the West, the Russians, etc each have their own agenda (and local agents in Delhi). The IT revolution has reached everyone in India, working classes especially. Yet worldwide and with us especially public finance and public decision making remain untouched and backward. It would take 6 months and a small team to apply Premchand to each State’s finances and the Union too. That is not about markets but about govt activities (in the public finance sense) and expenditures, hence political discussion about priorities. All State legislators plus aam janta should become empowered with public finance data. All India is in the States. Hence I would like to see PM address each State legislature one by one… build the fiscal cooperation framework as described. More later… The root problem is something I started working on in 1993… Hubert Neiss at the IMF asked me “Do you understand the States’ budgets?” because nobody at the Fund or Bank did! I fibbed and said yes, knowing I knew more than they did. 🙂 But seriously
India’s States, the 18 larger of which are as populous as countries,
have no control over direct or indirect taxes… hence there is no incentive to either limit expenditure or control incurrence of public debt… https://twitter.com/subyroy/status/1076703533137711104?s=20 Where does all that public debt go? Into banks’ asset sides! Ie all the bad spending decisions of both GoI and States end up as bank assets! So the banks keep sinking! Where and how PM and this govt must act is to make it the next step that Sardar Patel would have demanded: namely, Sardar gave us the federal democratic set up, he *created* the States, 18 of which are as big as countries (see Table)… Now Sardar would have demanded proper budgeting and spending… *not* garbage “austerity”… but decisions under control and public discussion… civil strife itself will reduce eg in NE… ! Everyone needs to carry forward to the next stage #SardarVallabhaiPatel #StatueOfUnity nation-building: modernization of all gov’t accounts & audit. Everyone in India can & shd know how public resources are being spent & how raised.. exactly.. https://twitter.com/subyroy/status/1130661889921433600?s=20 My idea has been #twodozenrooms… in Delhi… joint GoI and State teams… one room each for the 18 larger States https://twitter.com/subyroy/status/1029412133665169409 maybe two for UP plus J&K Goa Him Uttarakhand, 7 remaining NE Sisters.. Combined Union & State Finance teams then get all their budgets exactly right.. inc military & railways getting all govt accounting to the best available world standards… Union, all States, all PSUs, military, railways, everyone https://twitter.com/subyroy/status/1135197723156656128?s=20 a clear head, CAG data, Premchand’s book, 40 desktops and Excel… will take two months 24/7 work… 40 people in each of three shifts… 0700:1500 1500:2300 2300:0700 (graveyard)…
the data are all there with CAG… every activity, every expenditure… every anomaly… gets revealed… who is supposed to discuss spending priorities then? aam janta of course through their 4125+ State level + 800 Union legislators… let there be proper discussion in Assemblies… the State legislatures are dysfunctional, so is Parliament almost! Not because they want to be but because they are uninformed about problems and data! So a massive change in our public discourse if aam janta and any legislator can access and discuss top quality public finance data… let them decide and talk about what priorities should be… the mind focuses then on **numbers**… which are hard data… It will be top of the world incidentally… no large country has done this, certainly not the USA etc… corruption also crashes as everyone can see everything… PM starts the process by writing to the State Speakers… yes seeking an invitation… to address State legislators… **nothing partisan** no political meetings…. just PM and State as Constitutional entities… each State taken seriously one by one… Not three four the same day as he does with tours to NE. The process can take a year or more. The Speakers respond with an invitation or not… a scheduling is done… one by one… no political party favouritism… he speaks addressing serious problems… about concrete decision making and processes… no rhetoric is needed… He gives them a template of their Budget/accounts in the best possible world format… they have to then use all that data, decide what they want to do, how much help do they want in making better decisions… Ie it is a change in process…. As for the private sector, first thing is to get “Corporate Affairs” out of the Finance Ministry! That has become the vehicle of entrenched lobbying! It explains Chidambaram and Jaitley and all of them! Yes I have blasted Big Business for (a) their frauds; (b) their attempts to push risk onto the Government whenever possible… there has been systematic elite capital flight and international arbitrage allowed by both Manmohan and the present Govt! The Government says to the private sector: we are cleaning up all our accounts, Union States Military Railways etc… all… you had better do the same and fast…!
Mr Modi’s victory is more amazing and bigger than Reagan’s in 1980 or 1984, or Thatcher’s in 1979 or 1984…One hopes one does not have to make comparisons with any earlier times… The interviews he gave in recent days were excellent in their sobriety, quite unlike his sneering rabble-rousing mass speeches… I have said I do not doubt his commitment to India’s national interest, and I add I do not doubt his managerial competence. What does concern me is the vacuum of commonsense as well as expert reasoning around him although that around Sonia-Manmohan was as bad as well as being more pretentious. If Mr Modi can do anything like what I said in Delhi on 3 December 2012, which Manmohan was too incompetent and bureaucratic to even try, he has my applause. The first task is to ****not**** fill up the so-called Planning Commission with BJP worthies and cronies, and instead ***to declare he is closing it down and integrating its assets with the Finance Ministry***… The second is to remove control of the banks and the RBI from the Finance Ministry and create a different agency or department or even Ministry for Money & Banking. Finance (with Planning under it) does the fiscal budgets and government accounting, for Union and States. Money & Banking seeks to bring some slight semblance of integrity to the currency for the first time ever, both at home and abroad. Don’t ask Montek Ahluwalia, don’t ask Rangarajan, for heavens’ sake don’t ask Manmohan Singh or even his young man Raghuram Rajan… Just do it…
18 May 2014 Mr Modi has a unique chance to change the face of Indian governance for the better — and the chance is now, **before** he announces a Cabinet. Essentially, he is beholden to no one in making his choices, he can bring in the maximum amount of commonsense and expert reasoning right at the start.
My first recommendation has been to *scrap the so-called Planning Commission* rather than populate it with BJP cronies and worthies where it was populated by Congress worthies and cronies before. If you start populating it with your cronies then you have lost the plot immediately, as you are needlessly creating vested interests once more, impossible to get rid of later. Vajpayee-Advani lacked the guts and vision to do this. Modi can do it easily. Montek Ahluwalia and Manmohan Singh got the so-called Deputy Chairman to have a higher rank in the Order of Precedence than elected Chief Ministers of States! Ahluwalia attended Union Cabinet meetings and “GOM” meetings as a member without being elected to anything at all. The Planning Commission’s physical assets should be merged under the Finance Ministry immediately with a one-line Executive Order. At the same time, the RBI and the nationalised banks should be removed from the Finance Ministry’s control completely, if necessary into a new Ministry of Money & Banking.
Finance (& Accounts and Planning) are then tasked to get the budgets right, both Union *and* States — *and including the military and the railways*! That is all they do, that should be their full-time year long occupation, nothing more, not listening to or yielding to lobby groups, not allowing anyone to get even faintly close to them, just getting all the Budgets right. Money & Banking would run the nationalised banks on commercial lines (and that means being ready to battle their fat cat unions), plus there is the RBI with its usual banking supervisory and money creation and balance of payments management roles.
Secondly, change the name of the Defence Ministry to the War Ministry or Forces Ministry, Raksha Mantralaya to Yudh Mantralaya or Fauj Mantralaya. India has never fought an aggressive war and is not going to do so now. Every war it has fought has been defensive, so calling it the Defence Ministry is superfluous and even perverse. Calling it the War Ministry tells it what to do, namely, win any war that is thrust on you, any which way you can and at least cost all around. Simple as that. Why it is perverse to talk of a Defence Ministry is because of its fiscal implications. Fat cat peacetime generals, air marshalls and admirals are prevailed upon by foreign weapons’ salesmen acting through ex-servicemen Noida brokers to waste public moneys endlessly on innumerable things which are utterly unrelated to war-fighting capabilities. And there can be no fiscal responsibility ever in India until the military budgets are brought under control. I have called the military budget the Black Hole of Indian public finance, no one knows what goes in or what comes out. And the preparedness for war itself is unknown as well — as the Mumbai massacres showed. Mr Modi and his putative War Minister should simply get the generals, air marshalls and admirals to tell them what plans they have to win different wars thrust upon them in different scenarios; what are their strategies to win those wars, and what resources do they need for those strategies to prevail; that is how you figure out the military budget. All the rest is fat, which only causes corruption and inflation too.
Thirdly, design a better cabinet on the lines, for example, I would have given to Rajiv Gandhi if he had not been assassinated. Manmohan Singh had 79 Ministers! You only need a dozen senior ones and a dozen junior ones, really…
Don’t set up a committee of worthies to examine all this… Just do it… I will applaud and so will everyone else…
My 5 December 2012 interview by Mr Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, on Lok Sabha TV, the channel of India’s Lower House of Parliament, broadcast for the first time on 9 December 2012 on Lok Sabha TV, is here and here in two parts.
My interview by GDI Impuls banking quarterly of Zürich published on 6 Dec 2012 is here.
My interview by Ragini Bhuyan of Delhi’s Sunday Guardian published on 16 Dec 2012 is here.
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!
“…if in 1991 India embraced many of the Track-I reforms, writings by Sen played no role in it… The intellectual origins of the reforms are to be found instead in the writings of Bhagwati, both solely and jointly with Padma Desai and T N Srinivasan….”
Now Amartya Sen has not claimed involvement in the 1991 economic reforms so we are left with Panagariya claiming
“The intellectual origins of the reforms are to be found instead in the writings of Bhagwati…”
Should we suppose Professor Panagariya’s master and co-author Jagdish Bhagwati himself substantially believes and claims the same? Three recent statements from Professor Bhagwati suffice by way of evidence:
“This policy framework had been questioned, and its total overhaul advocated, by me and Padma Desai in writings through the late 1960s which culminated in our book, India: Planning for Industrialization (Oxford University Press: 1970) with a huge blowback at the time from virtually all the other leading economists and policymakers who were unable to think outside the box. In the end, our views prevailed and the changes which would transform the economy began, after an external payments crisis in 1991, under the forceful leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was the Finance Minister at the time….”
“When finance minister Manmohan Singh was in New York in 1992, he had a lunch for many big CEOs whom he was trying to seduce to come to India. He also invited me and my wife, Padma Desai, to the lunch. As we came in, the FM introduced us to the invitees and said: ‘These friends of mine wrote almost a quarter century ago [India: Planning for Industrialisation was published in 1970 by Oxford] recommending all the reforms we are now undertaking. If we had accepted the advice then, we would not be having this lunch as you would already be in India’.”
“… I was among the intellectual pioneers of the Track I reforms that transformed our economy and reduced poverty, and witness to that is provided by the Prime Minister’s many pronouncements and by noted economists like Deena Khatkhate.. I believe no one has accused Mr. Sen of being the intellectual father of these reforms. So, the fact is that this huge event in the economic life of India passed him by…”
From these pronouncements it seems fair to conclude Professors Bhagwati and Panagariya are claiming Bhagwati has been the principal author of “the intellectual origins” of India’s 1991 reforms, has been their “intellectual father” or at the very least has been “among the intellectual pioneers” of the reform (“among” his own collaborators and friends, since none else is mentioned). Bhagwati has said too his friend Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister participated in the process while quoting Manmohan as having said Bhagwati was the principal author.
Bhagwati’s opponent in current debate, Amartya Sen, has been in agreement with him that Manmohan, their common friend during college days at Cambridge in the 1950s, was a principal originating the 1991 reforms, saying to Forbes in 2006:
“When Manmohan Singh came to office in the early 1990s as the newly appointed finance minister, in a government led by the Congress Party, he knew these problems well enough, as someone who had been strongly involved in government administration for a long time.”
In my experience, such sorts of claims, even in their weakest form, have been, at best, scientifically sloppy and unscholarly, at worst mendacious suppressio veri/suggestio falsi, and in between these best and worst interpretations, examples of academic self-delusion and mutual flattery. We shall see Bhagwati’s opponent, Amartya Sen, has denied academic paternity of recent policies he has spawned while appearing to claim academic paternity of things he has not! Everyone may have reasonably expected greater self-knowledge, wisdom and scholarly values of such eminent academics. Their current spat has instead seemed to reveal something rather dismal and self-serving.
You can decide for yourself where the truth, ever such an elusive and fragile thing, happens to be and what is best done about it. Here is some evidence.
In mentioning the volume “edited by Subroto Roy and William E James”, Professor Panagariya did not appear to find the normal scientific civility to identify our work by name, date or publisher. So here that is now:
In 2004 from Britain, I wrote to the 9/11 Commission saying if our plan to study Afghanistan after India and Pakistan had not been thwarted by malign local forces among our sponsors themselves, we, a decade before the September 11 2001 attacks on the USA, may just have come up with a pre-emptive academic analysis. It was not to be.
Milton Friedman’s chapter that we published for the first time was a memorandum he wrote in November 1955 for the Government of India which the GoI had effectively suppressed. I came to know of it while a doctoral student at Cambridge under Frank Hahn, when at a conference at Oxford about 1979-1980, Peter Tamas Bauer sat me down beside him and told me the story. Later in Blacksburg about 1981, N. Georgescu-Roegen on a visit from Vanderbilt University told me the same thing. Specifically, Georgescu-Roegen told me that leading Indian academics had almost insulted Milton in public which Milton had borne gamely; that after Milton had given a talk in Delhi to VKRV Rao’s graduate-students, a talk Georgescu-Roegen had been present at, VKRV Rao had addressed the students and told them in all seriousness “You have heard what Professor Friedman has to say, if you repeat what he has said in your exams, you will fail”.
In 1981-1982 my doctoral thesis emerged, titled “On liberty & economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”,
I myself said about it decades later “My original doctoral topic in 1976 ‘A monetary theory for India’ had to be altered not only due to paucity of monetary data at the time but because the problems of India’s political economy and allocation of resources in the real economy were far more pressing. The thesis that emerged in 1982 … was a full frontal assault from the point of view of microeconomic theory on the “development planning” to which everyone routinely declared their fidelity, from New Delhi’s bureaucrats and Oxford’s “development” school to McNamara’s World Bank with its Indian staffers. Frank Hahn protected my inchoate liberal arguments for India; and when no internal examiner could be found, Cambridge showed its greatness by appointing two externals, Bliss at Oxford and Hutchison at Birmingham, both Cambridge men. “Economic Theory and Development Economics” was presented to the American Economic Association in December 1982 in company of Solow, Chenery, Streeten, and other eminences…” How I landed on that eminent AEA panel in December 1982 was because its convener Professor George Rosen of the University of Illinois recruited me overnight — as a replacement for Jagdish Bhagwati, who had had to return to India suddenly because of a parental death. The results were published in 1983 in World Development.
“When Mr. Dennis Healey in the Commons recently stated that Hongkong, with one per cent of the population of India has twice India’s trade, he was making an important point about Hongkong but an equally important point about India. If Hongkong with one per cent of its population and less than 0.03 per cert of India’s land area (without even water as a natural resource) can so outpace India, there must be something terribly wrong with the way Indian governments have managed their affairs, and there is. A paper by an Indian economist published today (Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India by Subroto Roy, IEA £1.80) shows how Asia’s largest democracy is gradually being stifled by the imposition of economic policies whose woeful effect and rhetorical unreality find their echo all over the Third World. As with many of Britain’s former imperial possessions, the rot set in long before independence. But as with most of the other former dependencies, the instrument of economic regulation and bureaucratic control set up by the British has been used decisively and expansively to consolidate a statist regime which inhibits free enterprise, minimizes economic success and consolidates the power of government in all spheres of the economy. We hear little of this side of things when India rattles the borrowing bowl or denigrates her creditors for want of further munificence. How could Indian officials explain their poor performance relative to Hongkong? Dr Roy has the answers for them. He lists the causes as a large and heavily subsidized public sector, labyrinthine control over private enterprise, forcibly depressed agricultural prices, massive import substitution, government monopoly of foreign exchange transactions, artificially overvalued currency and the extensive politicization of the labour market, not to mention the corruption which is an inevitable side effect of an economy which depends on the arbitrament of bureaucrats. The first Indian government under Nehru took its cue from Nehru’s admiration of the Soviet economy, which led him to believe that the only policy for India was socialism in which there would be “no private property except in a restricted sense and the replacement of the private profit system by a higher ideal of cooperative service.” Consequently, the Indian government has now either a full monopoly or is one of a few oligipolists in banking, insurance, railways, airlines, cement, steel, chemicals, fertilizers, ship-building, breweries, telephones and wrist-watches. No businessman can expand his operation while there is any surplus capacity anywhere in that sector. He needs government approval to modernize, alter his price-structure, or change his labour shift. It is not surprising that a recent study of those developing countries which account for most manufactured exports from the Third World shows that India’s share fell from 65 percent in 1953 to 10 per cent in 1973; nor, with the numerous restrictions on inter-state movement of grains, that India has over the years suffered more from an inability to cope with famine than during the Raj when famine drill was centrally organized and skillfully executed without restriction. Nehru’s attraction for the Soviet model has been inherited by his daughter, Mrs. Gandhi. Her policies have clearly positioned India more towards the Soviet Union than the West. The consequences of this, as Dr Roy states, is that a bias can be seen in “the antipathy and pessimism towards market institutions found among the urban public, and sympathy and optimism to be found for collectivist or statist ones.” All that India has to show for it is the delivery of thousands of tanks in exchange for bartered goods, and the erection of steel mills and other heavy industry which help to perpetuate the unfortunate obsession with industrial performance at the expense of agricultural growth and the relief of rural poverty.”…..
I felt there were inaccuracies in this and so replied dated 4 June which The Times published on 16 June 1984:
Milton and I met for the first time in the Fall of 1984 at the Mont Pelerin Society meetings at Cambridge when I gave him a copy of the IEA monograph, which he came to think extremely well of. I told him I had heard of his 1955 document and asked him for it; he sent me the original blue/purple version of this soon thereafter.
[That original document was, incidentally, in my professorial office among all my books, papers, theses and other academic items including my gown when I was attacked in 2003 by a corrupt gang at IIT Kharagpur — all yet to be returned to me by IIT despite a High Court order during my present ongoing battle against corruption there over a USD 1.9 million scam !… Without having ever wished to, I have had to battle India’s notorious corruption first hand for a decade!]
I published Milton’s document for the first time on 21 May 1989 at the conference of the Hawaii project over the loud objection of assorted leftists…
Amartya Sen, Jagdish Bhagwati, Manmohan Singh or any of their acolytes will not be seen in this group photograph dated 21 May 1989 at the UH President’s House, because they were not there. The Government of India was represented by the Ambassador to Washington, PK Kaul, as well as the Consul General in San Francisco, KS Rana (later Ambassador to Germany), besides the founding head of ICRIER who had invited himself.
Manmohan Singh was not there as he precisely represented the Indian economic policy establishment I had been determined to reform! In any case, he had left India about 1987 on his last assignment before retirement, with Julius Nyerere of Tanzania relating to the “South-South Commission”.
I have said over more than a half dozen years now that there is no evidence whatsoever of Manmohan Singh having been a liberal economist in any sense of that word at any time before 1991, and scant evidence that he originated any liberal economic ideas since. The widespread worldwide notion that he is to be credited for originating a sudden transformation of India from a path of pseudo-socialism to one of pseudo-liberalism has been without basis in evidence — almost entirely a political fiction, though an explicable one and one which has served, as such political fictions do, the purposes of those who invent them.
Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen were in their mid 50s and were two of the three senior-most Indians in US academic economics at the time. I and Ted James, both in our 30s, decided to invite both Bhagwati and Sen to the Hawaii project-conference as distinguished guests but to do so somewhat insincerely late in the day, predicting they would decline, which is what they did, yet they had come to be formally informed of what we were doing. We had a very serious attitude that was inspired a bit, I might say, by Oppenheimer’s secret “Manhattan project” and we wanted neither press-publicity nor anyone to become the star who ended up hogging the microphone or the limelight.
Besides, and most important of all, neither Bhagwati nor Sen had done work in the areas we were centrally interested in, namely, India’s macroeconomic and foreign trade framework and fiscal and monetary policies.
Bhagwati, after his excellent 1970 work with Padma Desai for the OECD on Indian industry and trade, also co-authored with TN Srinivasan a fine 1975 volume for the NBER Foreign Trade Regimes and Economic Development: India.
TN Srinivasan was the third of the three senior-most Indian economists at the time in US academia; his work made us want to invite him as one of our main economic authors, and we charged him with writing the excellent chapter in Foundations that he came to do titled “Planning and Foreign Trade Reconsidered”.
The other main economist author we had hoped for was Sukhamoy Chakravarty from Delhi University and the Government of India’s Planning Commission, whom I had known since 1977 when I had been given his office at the Delhi School of Economics as a Visiting Assistant Professor while he was on sabbatical; despite my pleading he would not come due to ill health; he strongly recommended C Rangarajan, telling me Rangarajan had been the main author with him of the crucial 1985 RBI report on monetary policy; and he signed and gave me his last personal copy of that report dating it 14 July 1987. Rangarajan said he could not come and recommended the head of the NIPFP, Amaresh Bagchi, promising to write jointly with him the chapter on monetary policy and public finance.
Along with Milton Friedman’s suppressed 1955 memorandum which I was publishing for the first time in 1989, TN Srinivasan and Amaresh Bagchi authored the three main economic policy chapters that we felt we wanted.
Other chapters we commissioned had to do with the state of governance (James Manor), federalism (Bhagwan Dua), Punjab and similar problems (PR Brass), agriculture (K Subbarao, as proposed by CH Hanumantha Rao), health (Anil Deolalikar, through open advertisement), and a historical assessment of the roots of economic policy (BR Tomlinson, as proposed by Anil Seal). On the vital subject of education we failed to agree with the expert we wanted very much (JBG Tilak, as proposed by George Psacharopolous) and so we had to cover the subject cursorily in our introduction mentioning his work. And decades later, I apologised to Professor Dietmar Rothermund of Heidelberg University for having been so blinkered in the Anglo-American tradition at the time as to not having obtained his participation in the project.
[The sister-volume we commissioned in parallel on Pakistan’s political economy had among its authors Francis Robinson, Akbar Ahmed, Shirin Tahir-Kehli, Robert La Porte, Shahid Javed Burki, Mohsin Khan, Mahmood Hasan Khan, Naved Hamid, John Adams and Shahrukh Khan; this book came to be published in Pakistan in 1993 to good reviews but apparently was then lost by its publisher and is yet to be found; the military and religious clergy had been deliberately not invited by us though the name of Pervez Musharraf had I think arisen, and the military and religious clergy in fact came to rule the roost through the 1990s in Pakistan; the volume, two decades old, takes on fresh relevance with the new civilian governments of recent years.] [Postscript 27 November 2015: See my strident critique at Twitter of KM Kasuri, P Musharraf et al e.g. at https://independentindian.com/2011/11/22/pakistans-point-of-view-or-points-of-view-on-kashmir-my-as-yet-undelivered-lahore-lecture-part-i/ passing off ideas they have taken from this volume without acknowledgement, ideas which have in any case become defunct to their author, myself.]
Milton himself said this about his experience with me in his memoirs:
And Milton wrote on my behalf when I came to be attacked, being Indian, at the very University that had sponsored us:
My obituary notice at his passing in 2006 said: “My association with Milton has been the zenith of my engagement with academic economics…. 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….”
In August 1990 in Delhi I came to tell Siddhartha Shankar Ray about the unpublished India-manuscript resulting from the Hawaii project that was in my possession as it headed to its publisher.
Ray was a family-friend whose maternal grandfather CR Das led the Congress Party before MK Gandhi and had been a friend and colleague of my great grandfather SN Roy in Bengal’s politics in the 1920s; Ray had also consented to stand on my behalf as Senior Counsel in a matter in the Supreme Court of India.
Ray was involved in daily political parlays at his Delhi home with other Congress Party personages led by PV Narasimha Rao. These senior regional figures seemed to me to be keeping their national leader, Rajiv Gandhi, aloof in splendid isolation at 10 Jan Path.
Ray told me he and his wife had been in London in May 1984 on the day The Times had written its lead editorial on my work and they had seen it with excitement. Upon hearing of the Hawaii project and the manuscript I had with me, Ray immediately insisted of his own accord that I must meet Rajiv Gandhi, and that he would be arranging a meeting.
Rajiv made me a senior adviser, and I have claimed principal authorship of the 22 March 1991 draft of the Congress manifesto that actually shook and changed the political thinking of the Congress on economic matters in the direction Rajiv had desired and as I had advised him at our initial 18 September 1990 meeting.
“… He began by talking about how important he felt panchayati raj was, and said he had been on the verge of passing major legislation on it but then lost the election. He asked me if I could spend some time thinking about it, and that he would get the papers sent to me. I said I would and remarked panchayati raj might be seen as decentralized provision of public goods, and gave the economist’s definition of public goods as those essential for the functioning of the market economy, like the Rule of Law, roads, fresh water, and sanitation, but which were unlikely to appear through competitive forces.
I distinguished between federal, state and local levels and said many of the most significant public goods were best provided locally. Rajiv had not heard the term “public goods” before, and he beamed a smile and his eyes lit up as he voiced the words slowly, seeming to like the concept immensely. It occurred to me he had been by choice a pilot of commercial aircraft. Now he seemed intrigued to find there could be systematic ways of thinking about navigating a country’s governance by common pursuit of reasonable judgement. I said the public sector’s wastefulness had drained scarce resources that should have gone instead to provide public goods. Since the public sector was owned by the public, it could be privatised by giving away its shares to the public, preferably to panchayats of the poorest villages. The shares would become tradable, drawing out black money, and inducing a historic redistribution of wealth while at the same time achieving greater efficiency by transferring the public sector to private hands. Rajiv seemed to like that idea too, and said he tried to follow a maxim of Indira Gandhi’s that every policy should be seen in terms of how it affected the common man. I wryly said the common man often spent away his money on alcohol, to which he said at once it might be better to think of the common woman instead. (This remark of Rajiv’s may have influenced the “aam admi” slogan of the 2004 election, as all Congress Lok Sabha MPs of the previous Parliament came to receive a previous version of the present narrative.)
Our project had identified the Congress’s lack of internal elections as a problem; when I raised it, Rajiv spoke of how he, as Congress President, had been trying to tackle the issue of bogus electoral rolls. I said the judiciary seemed to be in a mess due to the backlog of cases; many of which seemed related to land or rent control, and it may be risky to move towards a free economy without a properly functioning judicial system or at least a viable system of contractual enforcement. I said a lot of problems which should be handled by the law in the courts in India were instead getting politicised and decided on the streets. Rajiv had seen the problems of the judiciary and said he had good relations with the Chief Justice’s office, which could be put to use to improve the working of the judiciary.
The project had worked on Pakistan as well, and I went on to say we should solve the problem with Pakistan in a definitive manner. Rajiv spoke of how close his government had been in 1988 to a mutual withdrawal from Siachen. But Zia-ul-Haq was then killed and it became more difficult to implement the same thing with Benazir Bhutto, because, he said, as a democrat, she was playing to anti-Indian sentiments while he had found it somewhat easier to deal with the military. I pressed him on the long-term future relationship between the countries and he agreed a common market was the only real long-term solution. I wondered if he could find himself in a position to make a bold move like offering to go to Pakistan and addressing their Parliament to break the impasse. He did not say anything but seemed to think about the idea. Rajiv mentioned a recent Time magazine cover of Indian naval potential, which had caused an excessive stir in Delhi. He then talked about his visit to China, which seemed to him an important step towards normalization. He said he had not seen (or been shown) any absolute poverty in China of the sort we have in India. He talked about the Gulf situation, saying he did not disagree with the embargo of Iraq except he wished the ships enforcing the embargo had been under the U.N. flag. The meeting seemed to go on and on, and I was embarrassed at perhaps having taken too much time and that he was being too polite to get me to go. V. George had interrupted with news that Sheila Dixit (as I recall) had just been arrested by the U. P. Government, and there were evidently people waiting. Just before we finally stood up I expressed a hope that he was looking to the future of India with an eye to a modern political and economic agenda for the next election, rather than getting bogged down with domestic political events of the moment. That was the kind of hopefulness that had attracted many of my generation in 1985. I said I would happily work in any way to help define a long-term agenda. His eyes lit up and as we shook hands to say goodbye, he said he would be in touch with me again…. The next day I was called and asked to stay in Delhi for a few days, as Mr. Gandhi wanted me to meet some people…..
… That night Krishna Rao dropped me at Tughlak Road where I used to stay with friends. In the car I told him, as he was a military man with heavy security cover for himself as a former Governor of J&K, that it seemed to me Rajiv’s security was being unprofessionally handled, that he was vulnerable to a professional assassin. Krishna Rao asked me if I had seen anything specific by way of vulnerability. With John Kennedy and De Gaulle in mind, I said I feared Rajiv was open to a long-distance sniper, especially when he was on his campaign trips around the country. This was one of several attempts I made since October 1990 to convey my clear impression to whomever I thought might have an effect that Rajiv seemed to me extremely vulnerable. Rajiv had been on sadhbhavana journeys, back and forth into and out of Delhi. I had heard he was fed up with his security apparatus, and I was not surprised given it seemed at the time rather bureaucratized. It would not have been appropriate for me to tell him directly that he seemed to me to be vulnerable, since I was a newcomer and a complete amateur about security issues, and besides if he agreed he might seem to himself to be cowardly or have to get even closer to his security apparatus. Instead I pressed the subject relentlessly with whomever I could. I suggested specifically two things: (a) that the system in place at Rajiv’s residence and on his itineraries be tested, preferably by some internationally recognized specialists in counter-terrorism; (b) that Rajiv be encouraged to announce a shadow-cabinet. The first would increase the cost of terrorism, the second would reduce the potential political benefit expected by terrorists out to kill him. On the former, it was pleaded that security was a matter being run by the V. P. Singh and then Chandrashekhar Governments at the time. On the latter, it was said that appointing a shadow cabinet might give the appointees the wrong idea, and lead to a challenge to Rajiv’s leadership. This seemed to me wrong, as there was nothing to fear from healthy internal contests for power so long as they were conducted in a structured democratic framework. I pressed to know how public Rajiv’s itinerary was when he travelled. I was told it was known to everyone and that was the only way it could be since Rajiv wanted to be close to the people waiting to see him and had been criticized for being too aloof. This seemed to me totally wrong and I suggested that if Rajiv wanted to be seen as meeting the crowds waiting for him then that should be done by planning to make random stops on the road that his entourage would take. This would at least add some confusion to the planning of potential terrorists out to kill him. When I pressed relentlessly, it was said I should probably speak to “Madame”, i.e. to Mrs. Rajiv Gandhi. That seemed to me highly inappropriate, as I could not be said to be known to her and I should not want to unduly concern her in the event it was I who was completely wrong in my assessment of the danger. The response that it was not in Congress’s hands, that it was the responsibility of the VP Singh and later the Chandrashekhar Governments, seemed to me completely irrelevant since Congress in its own interests had a grave responsibility to protect Rajiv Gandhi irrespective of what the Government’s security people were doing or not doing. Rajiv was at the apex of the power structure of the party, and a key symbol of secularism and progress for the entire country. Losing him would be quite irreparable to the party and the country. It shocked me that the assumption was not being made that there were almost certainly professional killers actively out to kill Rajiv Gandhi — this loving family man and hapless pilot of India’s ship of state who did not seem to have wished to make enemies among India’s terrorists but whom the fates had conspired to make a target. The most bizarre and frustrating response I got from several respondents was that I should not mention the matter at all as otherwise the threat would become enlarged and the prospect made more likely! This I later realized was a primitive superstitious response of the same sort as wearing amulets and believing in Ptolemaic astrological charts that assume the Sun goes around the Earth — centuries after Kepler and Copernicus. Perhaps the entry of scientific causality and rationality is where we must begin in the reform of India’s governance and economy. What was especially repugnant after Rajiv’s assassination was to hear it said by his enemies that it marked an end to “dynastic” politics in India. This struck me as being devoid of all sense because the unanswerable reason for protecting Rajiv Gandhi was that we in India, if we are to have any pretensions at all to being a civilized and open democratic society, cannot tolerate terrorism and assassination as means of political change. Either we are constitutional democrats willing to fight for the privileges of a liberal social order, or ours is truly a primitive and savage anarchy concealed beneath a veneer of fake Westernization….. Proceedings began when Rajiv arrived. This elite audience mobbed him just as the farmers had mobbed him earlier. He saw me and beamed a smile in recognition, and I smiled back but made no attempt to draw near him in the crush. He gave a short very apt speech on the role the United Nations might have in the new post-Gulf War world. Then he launched the book, and left for an investiture at Rashtrapati Bhavan. We waited for our meeting with him, which finally happened in the afternoon. Rajiv was plainly at the point of exhaustion and still hard-pressed for time. He seemed pleased to see me and apologized for not talking in the morning. Regarding the March 22 draft, he said he had not read it but that he would be doing so. He said he expected the central focus of the manifesto to be on economic reform, and an economic point of view in foreign policy, and in addition an emphasis on justice and the law courts. I remembered our September 18 conversation and had tried to put in justice and the courts into our draft but had been over-ruled by others. I now said the social returns of investment in the judiciary were high but was drowned out again. Rajiv was clearly agitated that day by the BJP and blurted out he did not really feel he understood what on earth they were on about. He said about his own family, “We’re not religious or anything like that, we don’t pray every day.” I felt again what I had felt before, that here was a tragic hero of India who had not really wished to be more than a happy family man until he reluctantly was made into a national leader against his will. We were with him for an hour or so. As we were leaving, he said quickly at the end of the meeting he wished to see me on my own and would be arranging a meeting. One of our group was staying back to ask him a favour. Just before we left, I managed to say to him what I felt was imperative: “The Iraq situation isn’t as it seems, it’s a lot deeper than it’s been made out to be.” He looked at me with a serious look and said “Yes I know, I know.” It was decided Pitroda would be in touch with each of us in the next 24 hours. During this time Narasimha Rao’s manifesto committee would read the draft and any questions they had would be sent to us. We were supposed to be on call for 24 hours. The call never came. Given the near total lack of system and organization I had seen over the months, I was not surprised. Krishna Rao and I waited another 48 hours, and then each of us left Delhi. Before going I dropped by to see Krishnamurty, and we talked at length. He talked especially about the lack of the idea of teamwork in India. Krishnamurty said he had read everything I had written for the group and learned a lot. I said that managing the economic reform would be a critical job and the difference between success and failure was thin….”
“… I got the afternoon train to Calcutta and before long left for America to bring my son home for his summer holidays with me. In Singapore, the news suddenly said Rajiv Gandhi had been killed. All India wept. What killed him was not merely a singular act of criminal terrorism, but the system of humbug, incompetence and sycophancy that surrounds politics in India and elsewhere. I was numbed by rage and sorrow, and did not return to Delhi….”
In December 1991, I visited Rajiv’s widow at 10 Jan Path to express my condolences, the only time I have met her, and I gave her for her records a taped copy of Rajiv’s long-distance telephone conversations with me during the Gulf War earlier that year. She seemed an extremely shy taciturn figure in deep mourning, and I do not think the little I said to her about her late husband’s relationship with me was comprehended. Nor was it the time or place for more to be said.
In September 1993, at a special luncheon at the Indian Ambassador’s Residence in Washington, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, then the Ambassador to Washington, pointed at me and declared to Manmohan Singh, then Finance Minister, in presence of Manmohan’s key aides accompanying him including MS Ahluwalia, NK Singh, C Rangarajan and others,
“Congress manifesto was written on his computer”.
This was accurate enough to the extent that the 22 March 1991 draft as asked for by Rajiv and that came to explicitly affect policy had been and remains on my then-new NEC laptop.
At the Ambassador’s luncheon, I gave Manmohan Singh a copy of the Foundations book as a gift. My father who knew him in the early 1970s through MG Kaul, ICS, had sent him a copy of my 1984 IEA monograph which Manmohan had acknowledged. And back in 1973, he had visited our then-home at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel in Paris to advise me about economics at my father’s request, and he and I had ended up in a fierce private debate for about forty minutes over the demerits (as I saw them) and merits (as he saw them) of the Soviet influence on Indian economic policy-making. But in 1993 we had both forgotten the 1973 meeting.
In May 2002, the Congress passed an official party resolution moved by Digvijay Singh in presence of PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh that the 1991 reforms had originated with Rajiv Gandhi and not with either Narasimha Rao or Manmohan; no one dissented. It was intended to flatter Sonia Gandhi as the Congress President, but there was truth in it too which all Congress MPs of the 13th Lok Sabha had come to know in a publication of mine they had received from me at IIT Kharagpur where since 1996 I had become Professor.
Manmohan Singh himself, to his credit, has not at any point, except once during his failed Lok Sabha bid, claimed the reforms as his own invention and has said always he had followed what his Prime Minister had told him. However, he has not been averse to being attributed with all the credit by his flatterers, by the media, by businessmen and many many others around the world, and certainly he did not respond to Ambassador Siddhartha Shankar Ray telling him and his key aides how the Congress-led reform had come about through my work except to tell me at the 1993 luncheon that when Arjun Singh criticised the reforms in Cabinet, he, Manmohan, would mention the manifesto.
On 28 December 2009, Rajiv’s widow in an official Congress Party statement finally declared her late husband
“left his personal imprint on the (Congress) party’s manifesto of 1991.″
How Sonia Gandhi, who has never had pretensions to knowledge of economics or political economy or political science or governance or history, came to place Manmohan Singh as her prime ministerial candidate and the font of economic and political wisdom along with Pranab Mukherjee, when both men hardly had been favourites of her late husband, would be a story in its own right. And how Amartya Sen’s European-origin naturalised Indian co-author Jean Drèze later came to have policy influence from a different direction upon Sonia Gandhi, also a naturalised Indian of European origin, may be yet another story in its own right, perhaps best told by themselves.
I would surmise the same elderly behind-the-scenes figure, now in his late 80s, had a hand in setting up both sets of influences — directly in the first case (from back in 1990-1991), and indirectly in the second case (starting in 2004) . This was a man who in a November 2007 newspaper article literally erased my name and inserted that of Manmohan Singh as part of the group that Rajiv created on 25 September following his 18 September meeting with me! Reluctantly, I had to call this very elderly man a liar; he has not denied it and knows he has not been libeled.
One should never forget the two traditional powers interested in the subcontinent, Russia and Britain, have been never far from influence in Delhi. In 1990-1991 what worried vested bureaucratic and business interests and foreign powers through their friends and agents was that they could see change was coming to India but they wanted to be able to control it themselves to their advantage, which they then broadly proceeded to do over the next two decades. The foreign weapons’ contracts had to be preserved, as did other big-ticket imports that India ends up buying needlessly on credit it hardly has in world markets. There are similarities to what happened in Russia and Eastern Europe where many apparatchiks and fellow-travellers became freedom-loving liberals overnight; in the Indian case more than one badly compromised pro-USSR senior bureaucrat promptly exported his children and savings to America and wrapped themselves in the American flag.
The stubborn unalterable fact remains that Manmohan Singh was not physically present in India and was still with the Nyerere project on 18 September 1990 when I met Rajiv for the first time and gave him the unpublished results of the UH-Manoa project. This simple straightforward fact is something the Congress Party, given its own myths and self-deception and disinformation, has not been able to cope with in its recently published history. For myself, I have remained loyal to my memory of my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi, and my understanding of him. The Rajiv Gandhi I knew had been enthused by me in 1990-1991 carrying the UH-Manoa perestroika-for-India project that I had led since 1986, and he had loved my advice to him on 18 September 1990 that he needed to modernise the party by preparing a coherent agenda (as other successful reformers had done) while still in Opposition waiting for elections, and to base that agenda on commitments to improving the judiciary and rule of law, stopping the debauching of money, and focusing on the provision of public goods instead. Rajiv I am sure wanted a modern and modern-minded Congress — not one which depended on him let aside his family, but one which reduced that dependence and let him and his family alone.
As for Manmohan Singh being a liberal or liberalising economist, there is no evidence publicly available of that being so from his years before or during the Nyerere project, or after he returned and joined the Chandrashekhar PMO and the UGC until becoming, to his own surprise as he told Mark Tully, PV Narasimha Rao’s Finance Minister. Some of his actions qua Finance Minister were liberalising in nature but he did not originate any basic idea of a change in a liberal direction of economic policy, and he has, with utmost honesty honestly, not claimed otherwise.Innumerable flatterers and other self-interested parties have made out differently, creating what they have found to be a politically useful fiction; he has yet to deny them.
Siddhartha Shankar Ray and I met last in July 2009, when I gave him a copy of this 2005 volume I had created, which pleased him much.
I said to him Bengal’s public finances were in abysmal condition, calling for emergency measures financially, and that Mamata Banerjee seemed to me to be someone who knew how to and would dislodge the Communists from their entrenched misgovernance of decades but she did not seem quite aware that dislodging a bad government politically was not the same thing as knowing how to govern properly oneself. He, again of his own accord, said immediately,
“I will call her and her people to a meeting here so you can meet them and tell them that directly”.
It never transpired. In our last phone conversation I mentioned to him my plans of creating a Public Policy Institute — an idea he immediately and fully endorsed as being essential though adding “I can’t be part of it, I’m on my way out”.
“I’m on my way out”. That was Siddhartha Shankar Ray — always intelligent, always good-humoured, always public-spirited, always a great Indian, my only friend among politicians other than the late Rajiv Gandhi himself.
In March February 2010, my father and I called upon the new Bengal Governor, MK Narayanan and gave him a copy of the Thatcher volume for the Raj Bhavan Library; I told him the story about my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray and its result; Narayanan within a few days made a visit to Ray’s hospital-bed, and when he emerged after several hours he made a statement, which in substance he repeated again when Ray died in November 2010:
To what facts did MK Narayanan, a former Intelligence Bureau chief, mean to refer with this extravagant praise of Ray? Was Narayanan referring to Ray’s politics for Indira Gandhi? To Ray’s Chief Ministership of Bengal? To Ray’s Governorship of Punjab? You will have to ask him but I doubt that was what he meant: I surmise Narayanan’s eulogy could only have resulted after he confirmed with Ray on his hospital-bed the story I had told him, and that he was referring to the economic and political results that followed for the country once Ray had introduced me in September 1990 to Rajiv Gandhi. But I say again, you will have to ask MK Narayanan himself what he and Ray talked about in hospital and what was the factual basis of Narayanan’s precise words of praise. To what facts exactly was MK Narayanan, former intelligence chief, meaning to refer when he stated Siddhartha Shankar Ray had made a “magnificent contribution to India’s growth and progress”?
3. Jagdish Bhagwati & Manmohan Singh? That just don’t fly!
Now returning to the apparent desire of Professor Panagariya, the Jagdish Bhagwati Professor of Indian Political Economy at Columbia, to attribute to Jagdish Bhagwati momentous change for the better in India as of 1991, even if Panagariya had not the scientific curiosity to look into our 1992 book titled Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s or into Milton Friedman’s own 1998 memoirs, we may have expected him to at least turn to his co-author and Columbia colleague, Jagdish Bhagwati himself, and ask, “Master, have you heard of this fellow Subroto Roy by any chance?”
Jagdish would have had to say yes, since not only had he received a copy of the proofs of my 1984 IEA work Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, he was kind enough to write in a letter dated 15 May 1984 that I had
“done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems!”
Also Jagdish may or may not have remembered our only meeting, when he and I had had a long conversation on the sofas in the foyer of the IMF in Washington when I was a consultant there in 1993 and he had come to meet someone; he was surprisingly knowledgeable about my personal 1990 matter in the Supreme Court of India which astonished me until he told me his brother the Supreme Court judge had mentioned the case to him!
Now my 1984 work was amply scientific and scholarly in fully crediting a large number of works in the necessary bibliography, including Bhagwati’s important work with his co-authors. Specifically, Footnote 1 listed the literature saying:
“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-seeking society, 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….”
There were two specific references to Bhagwati’s work with Srinivasan:
“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.’”
“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’”
and one to Bhagwati and Desai:
“The best descriptions of Indian industrial policy are still to be found in Bhagwati and Desai (1970)…”
Professors Bhagwati and Panagriya have not apparently referred to anything beyond these joint works of Bhagwati’s dated 1970 with Padma Desai and 1975 with TN Srinivasan. They have not claimed Bhagwati did anything by way of either publication or political activity in relation to India’s economic policy between May 1984, when he read my soon-to-be-published-work and found I had
“done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems”,
and September 1990 when I gave Rajiv the University of Hawaii perestroika-for-India project results developed since 1986, which came to politically spark the 1991 reform in the Congress’s highest echelons from months before Rajiv’s assassination.
There may have been no such claim made by Bhagwati and Panagariya because there may be no such evidence. Between 1984 and 1990, Professor Bhagwati’s research interests were away from Indian economic policy while his work on India through 1970 and 1975 had been fully and reasonably accounted for as of 1984 by myself.
What is left remaining is Bhagwati’s statement :
“When finance minister Manmohan Singh was in New York in 1992, he had a lunch for many big CEOs whom he was trying to seduce to come to India. He also invited me and my wife, Padma Desai, to the lunch. As we came in, the FM introduced us to the invitees and said: ‘These friends of mine wrote almost a quarter century ago [India: Planning for Industrialisation was published in 1970 by Oxford] recommending all the reforms we are now undertaking. If we had accepted the advice then, we would not be having this lunch as you would already be in India’
Now this light self-deprecating reference by Manmohan at an investors’ lunch in New York “for many big CEOs” was an evident attempt at political humour written by his speech-writer. It was clearly, on its face, not serious history. If we test it as serious history, it falls flat so we may only hope Manmohan Singh, unlike Jagdish Bhagwati, has not himself come to believe his own reported joke as anything more than that.
The Bhagwati-Desai volume being referred to was developed from 1966-1970. India saw critical economic and political events in 1969, in 1970, in 1971, in 1972, in 1975, in 1977, etc.
Those were precisely years during which Manmohan Singh himself moved from being an academic to becoming a Government of India official, working first for MG Kaul, ICS, and then in 1971 coming to the attention of PN Haksar, Indira Gandhi’s most powerful bureaucrat between 1967 and 1974: Haksar himself was Manmohan Singh’s acknowledged mentor in the Government, as Manmohan told Mark Tully in an interview.
After Manmohan visited our Paris home in 1973 to talk to me about economics, my father — who had been himself sent to the Paris Embassy by Haksar in preparation for Indira Gandhi’s visit in November 1971 before the Bangladesh war —
had told me Manmohan was very highly regarded in government circles with economics degrees from both Cambridge and Oxford, and my father had added, to my surprise, what was probably a Haksarian governmental view that Manmohan was expected to be India’s Prime Minister some day. That was 1973.
PN Haksar had been the archetypal Nehruvian Delhi intellectual of a certain era, being both a fierce nationalist and a fierce pro-USSR leftist from long before Independence. I met him once on 23 March 1991, on the lawns of 10 Jan Path at the launch of General V Krishna Rao’s book on Indian defence which Rajiv was releasing, and Haksar gave a speech to introduce Rajiv (as if Rajiv needed introduction on the lawns of his own residence); Haksar was in poor health but he seemed completely delighted to be back in favour with Rajiv, after years of having been treated badly by Indira and her younger son.
Had Manmohan Singh in the early 1970s gone to Haksar — the architect of the nationalisation of India’s banking going on right then — and said “Sir, this OECD study by my friend Bhagwati and his wife says we should be liberalising foreign trade and domestic industry”, Haksar would have been astonished and sent him packing.
There was a war on, plus a massive problem of 10 million refugees, a new country to support called Bangladesh, a railway strike, a bad crop, repressed inflation, shortages, and heaven knows what more, besides Nixon having backed Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan et al.
Then after Bangladesh and the railway strike etc, came the rise of the politically odious younger son of Indira Gandhi and his friends (at least one of whom is today Sonia Gandhi’s gatekeeper) followed by the internal political Emergency, the grave foreign-fueled problem of Sikh separatism and its control, the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh bodyguards, and the Rajiv Gandhi years as Prime Minister.
Certainly it was Rajiv’s arrival in office and Benazir’s initial return to Pakistan, along with the rise of Michael Gorbachev in the changing USSR, that inspired me in far away Hawaii in 1986 to design with Ted James the perestroika-projects for India and Pakistan which led to our two volumes, and which, thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray, came to reach Rajiv Gandhi in Opposition in September 1990 as he sat somewhat forlornly at 10 Jan Path after losing office. “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune….
My friend and collaborator Ted James died of cancer in Manila in May 2010; earlier that year he came to say publicly
“Seldom are significant reforms imposed successfully by international bureaucracies. Most often they are the result of indigenous actors motivated by domestic imperatives. I believe this was the case in India in 1991. It may have been fortuitous that Dr. Roy gained an audience with a receptive Rajiv Gandhi in 1990 but it was not luck that he was prepared with a well-thought out program; this arose from years of careful thought and debate on the matter.”
Changing the direction of a ship of state is very hard, knowing in which direction it should change and to what degree is even harder; it has rarely been something that can be done without random shocks arising let aside the power of vested interests. Had Rajiv Gandhi lived to form a new Government, I have little doubt I would have led the reform that I had chalked out for him and that he had approved of; Sonia Gandhi would have remained the housewife, mother and grandmother that she had preferred to be and not been made into the Queen of India by the Congress Party; Manmohan Singh had left India in 1987 for the Nyerere project and it had been rumoured at the time that had been slightly to do with him protesting, to the extent that he ever has protested anything, the anti-Sikh pogrom that some of Rajiv’s friends had apparently unleashed after Indira’s killing; he returned in November 1990, joined Chandrashekhar in December 1990, left Chandrashekhar in March 1991 when elections were announced and was biding his time as head of the UGC; had Rajiv Gandhi lived, Manmohan Singh would have had a governor’s career path, becoming the governor of one state after another; he would not have been brought into the economic reform process which he had had nothing to do with originating; and finally Pranab Mukherjee, who left the Congress Party and formed his own when Rajiv took over, would have been likely rehabilitated slowly but would not have come to control the working of the party as he did. I said in my Lok Sabha TV interview on 5 9 December 2012 that there have been many microeconomic improvements arising from technological progress in the last 22 years but the macroeconomic and monetary situation is grim, because at root the fiscal situation remains incoherent and confused. I do not see anyone in Manmohan Singh’s entourage among all his many acolytes and flatterers and apologists who is able to get to these root problems. We shall address these issues in Part II.
What Manmohan Singh said in self-deprecating humour at an investors’ lunch in New York in 1992 is hardly serious history as Jagdish Bhagwati has seemed to wish it to be. Besides, it would have been unlike Manmohan, being the devoted student of Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor as he told Mark Tully, to have taken such a liberalising initiative at all. Furthermore, the 1969 American Economic Review published asurvey of Indian economic policy authored by his Delhi University colleagues Jagdish Bhagwati and Sukhamoy Chakravarty which made little mention of his work, and it would have been unreasonable to expect him to have been won over greatly by theirs. Perhaps there is a generous review from the 1970s by Manmohan Singh of the Bhagwati-Desai volume hidden somewhere but if so we should be told where it is. A list of Manmohan Singh’s publications as an economist do not seem easily available anywhere.
Lastly and perhaps most decisively, the 1970 Bhagwati-Desai volume, excellent study that it was, was hardly the first of its genre by way of liberal criticism of modern Indian economic policy! Bhagwati declared in his 2010 speech to the Lok Sabha
“This policy framework had been questioned, and its total overhaul advocated, by me and Padma Desai in writings through the late 1960s…”
But why has Bhagwati been forever silent about the equally if not more forceful and fundamental criticism of “the policy framework”, and advocacy of its “total overhaul”, by scholars in the 1950s, a decade and more earlier than him, when he and Manmohan and Amartya were still students? Specifically, by BR Shenoy, Milton Friedman, and Peter Bauer? The relevant bibliography from the mid 1950s is given in Footnote 1 of my 1984 work.
Peter Tamas Bauer (1915-2002) played a vital role in all this as had he himself not brought the Friedman 1955 document to my attention I would not have known of it.
As undergraduates at the LSE, we had been petrified of him and I never spoke to him while there, having believed the propaganda that floated around about him; then while a Research Student at Cambridge, I happened to be a speaker with him at a conference at Oxford; he made me sit next to him at a meal and told me for the first time about Milton Friedman’s 1955 memorandum to the Government of India which had been suppressed. I am privileged to say Peter from then on became a friend, and wrote, at my request, what became I am sure the kiss of death for me at the World Bank of 1982:
Later he may have been responsible for the London Times writing its lead editorial of 29 May 1984 on my work.
Now Milton had sent me in 1984, besides the original of his November 1955 memorandum to the Government of India, a confidential 1956 document also which seemed to have been written for US Government consumption. I did not publish this in Hawaii in 1989 as I was having difficulty enough publishing the 1955 memorandum. I gave it to be published on the Internet some years ago, and after Milton’s passing, I had it published in The Statesman on the same day as my obituary of him.
It makes fascinating reading, especially about Mahalanobis and Shenoy, of how what Bhagwati wishes to call “the policy framework” that, he claims, he and Desai called for a “total overhaul” of, came to be what it was in the decade earlier when he and Amartya and Manmohan were still students.
Friedman’s 1956 document said
“I met PC Mahalanobis in 1946 and again at a meeting of the International Statistical Institute in September 1947, and I know him well by reputation. He was absent during most of my stay in New Delhi, but I met him at a meeting of the Indian Planning Commission, of which he is one of the strongest and most able members. Mahalanobis began as a mathematician and is a very able one. Able mathematicians are usually recognized for their ability at a relatively early age. Realizing their own ability as they do and working in a field of absolutes, tends, in my opinion, to make them dangerous when they apply themselves to economic planning. They produce specific and detailed plans in which they have confidence, without perhaps realizing that economic planning is not the absolute science that mathematics is. This general characteristic of mathematicians is true of Mahalanobis but in spite of the tendency he is willing to discuss a problem and listen to a different point of view. Once his decision is reached, however, he has great confidence in it. Mahalanobis was unquestionably extremely influential in drafting the Indian five-year plan. There were four key steps in the plan. The first was the so-called “Plan Frame” drafted by Mahalanobis himself. The second was a tentative plan based on the “Plan Frame”. The third step was a report by a committee of economists on the first two steps, and the fourth was a minority report by BR Shenoy on the economists’ report. The economists had no intention of drafting a definitive proposal but merely meant to comment on certain aspects of the first two steps. Shenoy’s minority report, however, had the effect of making the economists’ report official. The scheme of the Five Year Plan attributed to Mahalanobis faces two problems; one, that India needs heavy industry for economic development; and two, that development of heavy industry uses up large amounts of capital while providing only small employment. Based on these facts, Mahalanobis proposed to concentrate on heavy industry development on the one hand and to subsidize the hand production cottage industries on the other. The latter course would discriminate against the smaller manufacturers. In my opinion, the plan wastes both capital and labour and the Indians get only the worst of both efforts. If left to their own devices under a free enterprise system I believe the Indians would gravitate naturally towards the production of such items as bicycles, sewing machines, and radios. This trend is already apparent without any subsidy. The Indian cottage industry is already cloaked in the same popular sort of mist as is rural life in the US. There is an idea in both places that this life is typical and the backbone of their respective countries. Politically, the Indian cottage industry problem is akin to the American farm problem. Mohandas Gandhi was a proponent of strengthening the cottage industry as a weapon against the British. This reason is now gone but the emotions engendered by Gandhi remain. Any move to strengthen the cottage industry has great political appeal and thus, Mahalanobis’ plan and its pseudo-scientific support for the industry also has great political appeal. I found many supporters for the heavy industry phase of the Plan but almost no one (among the technical Civil Servants) who really believes in the cottage industry aspects, aside from their political appeal. In its initial form, the plan was very large and ambitious with optimistic estimates. My impression is that there is a substantial trend away from this approach, however, and an attempt to cut down. The development of heavy industry has slowed except for steel and iron. I believe that the proposed development of a synthetic petroleum plant has been dropped and probably wisely so. In addition, I believe that the proposed five year plan may be extended to six years. Other than his work on the plan, I am uncertain of Mahalanobis’ influence. The gossip is that he has Nehru’s ear and potentially he could be very influential, simply because of his intellectual ability and powers of persuasion. The question that occurs to me is how much difference Mahalanobis’ plan makes. The plan does not seem the important thing to me. I believe that the new drive and enthusiasm of the Indian nation will surmount any plan, good or bad. Then too, I feel a wide diversity in what is said and what is done. I believe that much of Nehru’s socialistic talk is simply that, just talk. Nehru has been trying to undermine the Socialist Party by this means and apparently the Congress Party’s adoption of a socialistic idea for industry has been successful in this respect. One gets the impression, depending on whom one talks with, either that the Government runs business, or that two or three large businesses run the government. All that appears publicly indicates that the first is true, but a case can also be made for the latter interpretation. Favour and harassment are counterparts in the Indian economic scheme. There is no significant impairment of the willingness of Indian capitalists to invest in their industries, except in the specific industries where nationalization has been announced, but they are not always willing to invest and take the risks inherent in the free enterprise system. They want the Government to support their investment and when it refuses they back out and cry “Socialism”..”
I look forward to seeing a fundamental classical liberal critique from India’s distinguished American friends at Columbia University, Professors Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai and Arvind Panagariya, if and when such a critique arises, of the “policy framework” in India as that evolved from the mid 1950s to become what exists across India in 2013 today. Specifically: Where is the criticism from Bhagwati of Mahalanobis and friends? And where is Bhagwati’s defence of Shenoy, leave aside of Milton Friedman or Peter Bauer? They seem not to exist. The most we get is a footnote again without the civility of any references, in the otherwise cogent 1975 Desai-Bhagwati paper “Socialism and Indian Economic Policy” alleging
” Of these three types of impact of the Soviet example, the Plan-formulation approach was to be enthusiastically received by most commentators and, indeed, to lead to demands on the part of aid agencies for similar efforts by other developing countries. However, the shift to heavy industry was seen as a definite mistake by economic opinion of the Chicago school variety, reflecting their basic unfamiliarity with the structural models of growth and development planning of the Feldman-Mahalanobis variety-an ignorance which probably still persists. The detailed regulation was not quite noticed at the time, except by conservative commentators whose position however was extreme and precluded governmental planning of industrial investments on any scale.”
Desai and Bhagwati naturally found no apparent desire to locate any possible scientific truth or reasonableness among
nor among the unnamed and undescribed
“economic opinion of the Chicago school variety”.
Could Desai and Bhagwati have done anything different after all, even when talking about India to an American audience, without being at risk of losing their East Coast Limousine Liberal credentials? Bhagwati used to routinely declare his “socialist” credentials, and even the other day on Indian TV emphatically declared he was not a “conservative” and scornfully dismissed “Thatcher and Reagan” for their “trickle down economics”…
Jagdish Bhagwati has evidently wanted to have his cake and eat it too…
4. Amartya Sen’s Half-Baked Communism: “To each according to his need”?
If I have been candid or harsh in my assessments of Jagdish Bhagwati and Manmohan Singh as they relate to my personal experience with the change of direction in Indian economic policy originating in 1990-1991, I am afraid I must be equally so with Bhagwati’s current opponent in debate, Amartya Sen. Certainly I have found the current spat between Bhagwati and Sen over India’s political economy to be dismal, unscholarly, unscientific and misleading (or off-base) except for it having allowed a burst of domestic policy-discussion in circumstances when India needs it especially much.
None of this criticism is personal but based on objective experience and the record. My criticism of Professor Bhagwati and Dr Manmohan Singh does not diminish in the slightest my high personal regard for both of them.
Similarly, Amartya Sen and I go back, momentarily, to Hindustan Park in 1964 when there was a faint connection as family friends from World War II (as Naren Deb and Manindranath Roy were friends and neighbours, and we still have the signed copy of a book gifted by the former to the latter), and then he later knew me cursorily when I was an undergraduate at LSE and he was already a famous professor, and I greatly enjoyed his excellent lectures at the LSE on his fine book On Economic Inequality, and a few years later he wrote in tangential support of me at Cambridge for which he was thanked in the preface to my 1989 Philosophy of Economics — even though that book of mine also contained in its Chapter 10 the decisive criticism of his main contribution until that time to what used to be called “social choice theory”. Amartya Sen had also written some splendid handwritten letters, a few pages of which remain with me, which puzzled me at the time due to his expressing his aversion to what is normally called ‘price theory’, namely the Marshallian and/or Walrasian theory of value.
Professor Sen and I met briefly in 1978, and then again in 2006 when I was asked to talk to him in our philosophical conversation which came to be published nicely. In 2006 I told him of my experience with Rajiv Gandhi in initiating what became the 1991 reform on the basis of my giving Rajiv the results of the Hawaii project, and Amartya was kind enough to say that he knew I had been arguing all this “very early on”, referring presumably to the 1984 London Times editorial which he would have seen in his Oxford days before coming to Harvard.
This personal regard on my part or personal affection on his part aside, I have been appalled to find Professor Sen not taking moral and intellectual responsibility for and instead disclaiming paternity of the whole so-called “Food Security” policy which Sonia Gandhi has been prevailed upon over the years by him and his acolytes and friends and admirers to adopt, and she in her ignorance of all political economy and governance has now wished to impose upon the Congress Party and India as a whole:
“Questioner: You are being called the creator of the Food Security Bill.
Amartya Sen has repeatedly over the years gone on Indian prime-time television and declared things like
“If you don’t agree there’s hunger in the world, there’s something morally wrong with you”
besides over the decades publishing titles like Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, Hunger and Public Action, The Political Economy of Hunger etc and ceaselessly using his immense power with the media, with book publishing houses, with US academic departments and the world development economics business, to promote his own and his acolytes’ opinions around the world, no matter how ill-considered or incoherent these may be. A passage from his latest book with Jean Drèzereportedly reads
“If development is about the expansion of freedom, it has to embrace the removal of poverty as well as paying attention to ecology as integral parts of a unified concern, aimed ultimately at the security and advancement of human freedom. Indeed, important components of human freedoms — and crucial ingredients of our quality of life — are thoroughly dependent on the integrity of the environment, involving the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the epidemiological surroundings in which we live….”
Had such a passage reached me in an undergraduate essay, I would have considered it incoherent waffle, and I am afraid I cannot see why merely because it is authored by an eminence at Harvard and his co-author, the evaluation should be any different. I am reminded of my encounter in 1976 with Joan Robinson, the great tutor in 1950s Cambridge of Amartya and Manmohan: “Joan Robinson cornered me once and took me into the office she shared with EAG… She came at me for an hour or so wishing to supervise me, I kept declining politely… saying I was with Frank Hahn and wished to work on money… “What does Frankie know about India?” she said… I said I did not know but he did know about monetary theory and that was what I needed for India; I also said I did not think much about the Indian Marxists she had supervised… and mentioned a prominent name… she said about him, “Yes most of what he does can go straight into the dustbin”…” The Indian Marxist whom I had referred to in this conversation with Joan was not Amartya but someone else much younger, yet her candid “can go straight into the dustbin” still applies to all incoherent waffle, whomsoever may produce it.
Indeed, Amartya Sen, if anyone, really should get down to writing his memoirs, and candidly so in order to explain his own thinking and deeds over the decades to himself and to the world in order that needless confusions do not arise.
Else it becomes impossible to explain how someone who was said to be proud to have been a Communist student on the run from the police in West Bengal, who was Joan Robinson’s star pupil at a time she was extolling Maoist China and who has seemingly nurtured a deep lifelong fascination and affection for Communist China despite all its misdeeds, who was feted by the Communist regime of West Bengal after winning the Bank of Sweden Prize (on the same day that same regime had tossed into jail one unfortunate young Mr Khemkha merely for having been rude to its leaders on the Internet), and who seemed to share some of those winnings on social causes like primary education at the behest of the Communist regime’s ministers, etc, how someone with that noble comradely leftist personal history as an economist allows a flattering interviewer with a Harvard connection to describe him in Business Standard of 25 July 2013 as having been all along really a
who also happens to be
“the greatest living scholar of the original philosopher of the free market, Adam Smith”!
Amartya Sen a neoclassical economist and a great scholar of Adam Smith? It is hilarious to suppose so. The question arises, Does Sen, having published about Adam Smith recently in a few newspapers and leftist periodicals, agree with such a description by his flattering admirer from Harvard at Business Standard? “Neoclassical” economics originated with men like Jevons, Menger, Walras, Pareto, Marshall, Wicksell, and was marked by the theory of value being explained by a demand-side too, and not, like classical economics, merely by the cost of production alone on the supply side. Indeed a striking thing about the list below published by the Scandinavian Journal of Economics of Amartya’s books following his 1998 Bank of Sweden Prize
is how consistently these works display his avoidance of all neoclassical economics, and the absence of all of what is normally called ‘price theory’, namely the Marshallian and/or Walrasian theory of value. No “neoclassical economics” anywhere here for sure!
It would be fair enough if Professor Sen says he is hardly responsible for an admirer’s ignorant misdescription of his work — except the question still arises why he has himself also evidently misdescribed his own work! For example, in his 13 July 2013 letter to The Economist in response to the criticism of Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya, he says he had always been keenly interested in
“the importance of economic growth as a means— not an end”
This is a very peculiar opinion indeed to have been expressed by Professor Sen about his own work because the 1970 volume Growth Economics listed above among his books hardly can be said at all to be one of his own “earliest writings” as he now describes it to have been!
What had happened back then was that Sen, as someone considered a brilliant or promising young Indian economist at the time, had been asked by the editors of the famous Penguin Modern Economics Readings series to edit the specific issue devoted to growth-theory — a compendium of classic already-published essays including those of Roy Harrod, Evsey Domar, Robert Solow and many others, to which young Amartya was given a chance to write an editorial Introduction. Every economist familiar with that literature knows too that the growth-theory contained in that volume and others was considered highly abstract and notoriously divorced from actual historical processes of economic growth in different countries.Everyone also knew that the individual editors in that famous Penguin Modern Economics Series were of relative unimportance as they did not commission new papers but merely collected classics already published and wrote an introduction.
This is significant presently because neither Professor Sen nor Professor Bhagwati may be objectively considered on the evidence of his life’s work as an economist to have been a major scholar of economic growth, either in theory or in historical practice. As of December 1989, Amartya Sen himself described his own interests to the American Economic Association as
“theory of international trade and policy, economic development”.
Neither Sen nor Bhagwati mentioned growth economics or economic history or even general economic theory, microeconomics, macroeconomics, monetary economics, public finance, etc. Furthermore, Sen saying in his letter to The Economist that he has been always interested in economic growth seems to be baseless in light of the list of his books above, other than the Penguin compendium already discussed.
Incidentally in the same American Economic Association volume of 1989, Padma Desai had described her interests as
“Soviet economy and comparative economic systems”;
Arvind Panagariya had described his interests as
“economies of scale and trade; smuggling; parallel markets in planned economies”;
and one Suby Roy described his interests as
“foundations of monetary economics”.
Reflecting on Amartya Sen’s works over the 40 year period that I have known them
[and again, my personal copies of his books and those of Bhagwati and Desai, were all in my professorial office at IIT Kharagpur when I was attacked by a corrupt gang there in 2003; and IIT have been under a High Court order to return them but have not done so],
I wonder in fact if it might be fairly said that Sen has been on his own subjective journey over the decades around the world seeking to reinvent economics and political economy from scratch, and inventing his own terminology like “capabilities”, “functionings” and yes “entitlements” etc. to help him do so, while trying to assiduously avoid mention of canonical works of modern world economics like Marshall’s Principles, Hicks’s Value and Capital, Debreu’s Theory of Value, or Arrow and Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis, all defining the central neoclassical tradition of the modern theory of value.
But no contemporary science, economics and political economy included, is open to be re-invented from scratch, and what Amartya Sen has ended up doing instead is seeming to be continually trying to reinvent the wheel, possibly without having had the self-knowledge to realise this. Wittgenstein once made a paradoxical statement that one may know another’s mind better than one knows one’s own…
“First, unlike the process of development in Japan, China, Korea and other countries, which pursued what Jean Drèze and I have called “Asian economic development” in our book, India has not had enough focus on public spending on school education and basic healthcare, which these other countries have had….”
Can you see any reference in this 1997 survey to TW Schultz’s 1960 American Economic Association Presidential Address or to Schultz’s classic 1964 book Transforming Traditional Agriculture or to his 1979 Bank of Sweden Prize address? I could not. If one did not know better, one might have thought from Professor Sen’s 1997 survey that there was nothing done worth talking about on the subject of “human capital” from the time of Adam Smith and David Hume until Amartya Sen finally came to the subject himself.
Thirdly, one is told by Sen’s admirer and collaborator, Professor James Foster of George Washington University, that what Sen means by his notion of
is that this is something
“enhanced when a marginally nourished family now has the capability to be sufficiently nourished due to public action”…
Are Amartya and his acolytes claiming he has invented or reinvented welfare economics ab initio? That before Amartya Sen, we did not know the importance of the able-bodied members of a community assisting those who are not able-bodied?
Where have they been? Amartya needed merely to have read Marshall’s Principles evenslightly to find Marshall himself, the master of Maynard Keynes and all of Cambridge and modern world economics, declaring without any equivocation at the very start
“….the study of the causes of poverty is the study of the causes of the degradation of a large part of mankind…”
But Marshall was interested in study, serious study, of poverty and its causes and amelioration, which is not something as easy or trivial as pontification on modern television. My 1984 article “Considerations on Utility, Benevolence and Taxation” which also became a chapter of my 1989 Philosophy of Economics surveyed some of Marshall’s opinion.
“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was a utopian slogan around 1875 from Karl Marx, which generations of passionate undergraduates have found impressive. Amartya Sen deserves to tell us squarely about his engagement with Marx or Marxist thought from his earliest days until now. His commitment in recent decades to democracy and the open and free society is clear; but has he also at the same time all along been committed to a kind of half-baked communist utopia as represented by Marx’s 1875 slogan?
“To each according to his need” sounds to be the underlying premise that is seeing practical manifestation in the Sonia Congress’s imposition of a so-called “right to food”; “from each according to his ability” is its flip side in the so-called “rural employment guarantee”. Leave aside the limitless resource-allocation and incentive and public finance problems created by such naive ideas being made into government policy, there is a grave and fundamental issue that Amartya and other leftists have been too blinkered to see:
Do they suppose the organised business classes have been weakly cooperative and will just allow such massive redistribution to occur without getting the Indian political system to pay them off as well? And how do the organised business classes get paid off? By their getting to take the land of the inhabitants of rural India. And land in an environment of a debauching of money and other paper assets is as good as gold.
So the peasants will lose their land to the government’s businessman friends on the one hand while purportedly getting “guaranteed” employment and food from the government’s bureaucrats on the other! A landless, asset-less slave population, free to join the industrial proletariat! Is that what Amartya wants to see in India? It may become what results within a few decades from his and his acolytes’ words and deeds.
Rajiv Gandhi once gave me his private phone numbers at 10 Jan Path. I used them back in January 1991 during the Gulf war. But I cannot do so now as Rajiv is gone. Amartya can. Let him phone Sonia and prevail upon her to put the brakes on the wild food and employment schemes he and his friends have persuaded her about until he reads and reflects upon what I said in January 2007 in “On Land-Grabbing” and in my July 2007 open letter to him, reproduced below:
“At a business meet on 12 January 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh showered fulsome praise on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as “dynamic”, “the Nation’s Best Chief Minister”, whose “wit and wisdom”, “qualities of head and heart”, “courage of conviction and passionate commitment to the cause of the working people of India” he admired, saying “with Buddhadeb Babu at the helm of affairs it appears Bengal is once again forging ahead… If today there is a meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata, it is because the ideas that I and Buddhadebji represent have captured the minds of the people of India. This is the idea of growth with equity and social justice, the idea that economic liberalization and modernization have to be mindful of the needs of the poor and the marginalized.”…. Dr Singh returned to the “needs of the poor and the marginalized” at another business meet on 8 January 2007 promising to “unveil a new Rehabilitation Policy in three months to increase the pace of industrialisation” which would be “more progressive, humane and conducive to the long-term welfare of all stakeholders”, while his businessman host pointedly stated about Singur “land for industry must be made available to move the Indian manufacturing sector ahead”. The “meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata” seems to be that agriculture allegedly has become a relatively backward slow-growing sector deserving to yield in the purported larger national interest to industry and services: what the PM means by “long-term welfare of all stakeholders” is the same as the new CPI-M party-line that the sons of farmers should not remain farmers (but become automobile technicians or IT workers or restaurant waiters instead). It is a political viewpoint coinciding with interests of organised capital and industrial labour in India today, as represented by business lobbies like CII, FICCI and Assocham on one hand, and unions like CITU and INTUC on the other. Business Standard succinctly (and ominously) advocated this point of view in its lead editorial of 9 January as follows: “it has to be recognised that the world over capitalism has progressed only with the landed becoming landless and getting absorbed in the industrial/service sector labour force ~ indeed it is obvious that if people don’t get off the land, their incomes will rise only slowly”. Land is the first and ultimate means of production, and the attack of the powerful on land-holdings or land-rights of the unorganised or powerless has been a worldwide phenomenon ~ across both capitalism and communism. In the mid-19th Century, white North America decimated hundreds of thousands of natives in the most gargantuan land-grab of history. Defeated, Chief Red Cloud of the Sioux spoke in 1868 for the Apache, Navajo, Comanche, Cheyenne, Iroquois and hundreds of other tribes: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept any except one: they promised to take our land, and they took it.” Half a century later, while the collapse of grain prices contributed to the Great Depression and pauperisation of thousands of small farmers in capitalist America in the same lands that had been taken from the native tribes, Stalin’s Russia embarked on the most infamous state-sponsored land-grab in modern history: “The mass collectivisation of Soviet agriculture (was) probably the most warlike operation ever conducted by a state against its own citizens…. Hundreds of thousands and finally millions of peasants… were deported… desperate revolts in the villages were bloodily suppressed by the army and police, and the country sank into chaos, starvation and misery… The object of destroying the peasants’ independence…was to create a population of slaves, the benefit of whose labour would accrue to industry. The immediate effect was to reduce Soviet agriculture to a state of decline from which it has not yet recovered… The destruction of the Soviet peasantry, who formed three quarters of the population, was not only an economic but a moral disaster for the entire country. Tens of millions were driven into semi-servitude, and millions more were employed as executants…” (Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism). Why did Stalin destroy the peasants? Lenin’s wishful “alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry” in reality could lead only to the peasants being pauperised into proletarians. At least five million peasants died and (Stalin told Churchill at Yalta) another ten million in the resultant famine of 1932-1933. “Certainly it involved a struggle ~ but chiefly one between urban Communists and villagers… it enabled the regime to obtain much of the capital desired for industrialization from the defeated village… it was the decisive step in the building of Soviet totalitarianism, for it imposed on the majority of the people a subjection which only force could maintain” (Treadgold, 20th Century Russia). Mr Bhattacharjee’s CPI-M is fond of extolling Chinese communism, and the current New Delhi establishment have made Beijing and Shanghai holiday destinations of choice. Dr Singh’s Government has been eager to create hundreds of “Special Economic Zones” run by organised capital and unionised labour, and economically privileged by the State. In fact, the Singur and Nandigram experiences of police sealing off villages where protests occur are modelled on creation of “Special Economic Zones” in China in recent years. For example, Chinese police on 6 December 2005 cracked down on farmers and fishermen in the seaside village of Dongzhou, 125 miles North East of Hong Kong. Thousands of Dongzhou villagers clashed with troops and armed police protesting confiscation of their lands and corruption among officials. The police immediately sealed off the village and arrested protesters. China’s Public Security Ministry admitted the number of riots over land had risen sharply, reaching more than seventy thousand across China in 2004; police usually suppressed peasant riots without resort to firing but in Dongzhou, police firing killed 20 protesters. Such is the reality of the “emergence” of China, a totalitarian police-state since the Communist takeover in 1949, from its period of mad tyranny until Mao’s death in 1976, followed by its ideological confusion ever since. Modern India’s political economy today remains in the tight grip of metropolitan “Big Business” and “Big Labour”. Ordinary anonymous individual citizens ~ whether housewife, consumer, student, peasant, non-union worker or small businessman ~ have no real voice or representation in Indian politics. We have no normal conservative, liberal or social democratic party in this country, as found in West European democracies where the era of land-grabbing has long-ceased. If our polity had been normal, it would have known that economic development does not require business or government to pauperise the peasantry but instead to define and secure individual property rights and the Rule of Law, and establish proper conditions for the market economy. The Congress and BJP in Delhi and CPI-M in Kolkata would not have been able to distract attention from their macroeconomic misdeeds over the decades ~ indicated, for example, by increasing interest-expenditure paid annually on Government debt as a fraction of tax revenues… This macroeconomic rot originated with the Indira Gandhi-PN Haksar capriciousness and mismanagement, which coincided with the start of Dr Singh’s career as India’s best known economic bureaucrat….”
“Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University, Dear Professor Sen, Everyone will be delighted that someone of your worldwide stature has joined the debate on Singur and Nandigram; The Telegraph deserves congratulations for having made it possible on July 23. I was sorry to find though that you may have missed the wood for the trees and also some of the trees themselves. Perhaps you have relied on Government statements for the facts. But the Government party in West Bengal represents official Indian communism and has been in power for 30 years at a stretch. It may be unwise to take at face-value what they say about their own deeds on this very grave issue! Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there are many candid communists who privately recognise this dismal truth about themselves. To say this is not to be praising those whom you call the “Opposition” ~ after all, Bengal’s politics has seen emasculation of the Congress as an opposition because the Congress and communists are allies in Delhi. It is the Government party that must reform itself from within sua sponte for the good of everyone in the State. The comparisons and mentions of history you have made seem to me surprising. Bengal’s economy now or in the past has little or nothing similar to the economy of Northern England or the whole of England or Britain itself, and certainly Indian agriculture has little to do with agriculture in the new lands of Australia or North America. British economic history was marked by rapid technological innovations in manufacturing and rapid development of social and political institutions in context of being a major naval, maritime and mercantile power for centuries. Britain’s geography and history hardly ever permitted it to be an agricultural country of any importance whereas Bengal, to the contrary, has been among the most agriculturally fertile and hence densely populated regions of the world for millennia. Om Prakash’s brilliant pioneering book The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal 1630-1720 (Princeton 1985) records all this clearly. He reports the French traveller François Bernier saying in the 1660s “Bengal abounds with every necessary of life”, and a century before him the Italian traveller Verthema saying Bengal “abounds more in grain, flesh of every kind, in great quantity of sugar, also of ginger, and of great abundance of cotton, than any country in the world”. Om Prakash says “The premier industry in the region was the textile industry comprising manufacture from cotton, silk and mixed yarns”. Bengal’s major exports were foodstuffs, textiles, raw silk, opium, sugar and saltpetre; imports notably included metals (as Montesquieu had said would always be the case). Bengal did, as you say, have industries at the time the Europeans came but you have failed to mention these were mostly “agro-based” and, if anything, a clear indicator of our agricultural fecundity and comparative advantage. If “deindustrialization” occurred in 19th Century India, that had nothing to do with the “deindustrialization” in West Bengal from the 1960s onwards due to the influence of official communism. You remind us Fa Hiaen left from Tamralipta which is modern day Tamluk, though he went not to China but to Ceylon. You suggest that because he did so Tamluk effectively “was greater Calcutta”. I cannot see how this can be said of the 5th Century AD when no notion of Calcutta existed. Besides, modern Tamluk at 22º18’N, 87º56’E is more than 50 miles inland from the ancient port due to land-making that has occurred at the mouth of the Hooghly. I am afraid the relevance of the mention of Fa Hiaen to today’s Singur and Nandigram has thus escaped me. You say “In countries like Australia, the US or Canada where agriculture has prospered, only a very tiny population is involved in agriculture. Most people move out to industry. Industry has to be convenient, has to be absorbing”. Last January, a national daily published a similar view: “For India to become a developed country, the area under agriculture has to shrink, urban and industrial land development has to take place, and about 100 million workers have to move out from agriculture into industry and services. This is the only way forward for bringing prosperity to the rural population”. Rice is indeed grown in Arkansas or Texas as it is in Bengal but there is a world of difference between the technological and geographical situation here and that in the vast, sparsely populated New World areas with mechanized farming! Like shoe-making or a hundred other crafts, agriculture can be capital-intensive or labour-intensive ~ ours is relatively labour-intensive, theirs is relatively capital-intensive. Our economy is relatively labour-abundant and capital-scarce; their economies are relatively labour-scarce and capital-abundant (and also land-abundant). Indeed, if anything, the apt comparison is with China, and you doubtless know of the horror stories and civil war conditions erupting across China in recent years as the Communist Party and their businessman friends forcibly take over the land of peasants and agricultural workers, e.g. in Dongzhou. All plans of long-distance social engineering to “move out” 40 per cent of India’s population (at 4 persons per “worker”) from the rural hinterlands must also face FA Hayek’s fundamental question in The Road to Serfdom: “Who plans whom, who directs whom, who assigns to other people their station in life, and who is to have his due allotted by others?” Your late Harvard colleague, Robert Nozick, opened his brilliant 1974 book Anarchy, State and Utopia saying: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”. You have rightly deplored the violence seen at Singur and Nandigram. But you will agree it is a gross error to equate violence perpetrated by the Government which is supposed to be protecting all people regardless of political affiliation, and the self-defence of poor unorganised peasants seeking to protect their meagre lands and livelihoods from state-sponsored pogroms. Kitchen utensils, pitchforks or rural implements and flintlock guns can hardly match the organised firepower controlled by a modern Government. Fortunately, India is not China and the press, media and civil institutions are not totally in the hands of the ruling party alone. In China, no amount of hue and cry among the peasants could save them from the power of organised big business and the Communist Party. In India, a handful of brave women have managed to single-handedly organise mass movements of protest which the press and media have then broadcast that has shocked the whole nation to its senses. You rightly say the land pricing process has been faulty. Irrelevant historical prices have been averaged when the sum of discounted expected future values in an inflationary economy should have been used. Matters are even worse. “The fear of famine can itself cause famine. The people of Bengal are afraid of a famine. It was repeatedly charged that the famine (of 1943) was man-made.” That is what T. W. Schultz said in 1946 in the India Famine Emergency Committee led by Pearl Buck, concerned that the 1943 Bengal famine should not be repeated following dislocations after World War II. Of course since that time our agriculture has undergone a Green Revolution, at least in wheat if not in rice, and a White Revolution in milk and many other agricultural products. But catastrophic collapses in agricultural incentives may still occur as functioning farmland comes to be taken by government and industry from India’s peasantry using force, fraud or even means nominally sanctioned by law. If new famines come to be provoked because farmers’ incentives collapse, let future historians know where responsibility lay. West Bengal’s real economic problems have to do with its dismal macroeconomic and fiscal position which is what Government economists should be addressing candidly. As for land, the Government’s first task remains improving grossly inadequate systems of land-description and definition, as well as the implementation and recording of property rights. With my most respectful personal regards, I remain, Yours ever, Suby”
How does India, as a state, treat its weakest and most vulnerable citizens? Not very well at all. It is often only because families and society have not collapsed completely, as they have elsewhere, that the weakest survive. Can we solve in the 21st Century, in a practical manner appropriate to our times, the problem Buddha raised before he became the Buddha some twenty six centuries ago? Says Eliot,
“The legend represents him as carefully secluded from all disquieting sights and as learning the existence of old age, sickness and death only by chance encounters which left a profound impression”
It is to this list we add “the poor” too, especially if we want to include a slightly later and equally great reformer some miles west of the Terai in the Levant. I said some years ago “As we as infants and children need to be helped to find courage to face the start of life, we when very elderly can need to be helped to find courage to face life’s end”. Old age carries with it the fear of death, fear of the end of life and what that means, which raises the meaning of life itself, or at least of the individual life, because we can hardly grasp what the end of life is if we haven’t what it is supposed to be the end of in the first place. What the very elderly need, as do the dying and terminally ill, is to find courage within themselves to comprehend all this with as much equanimity as possible. Companionship and camaraderie — or perhaps let us call it love — go towards that courage coming to be found; something similar goes for the sick, whether a sick child missing school or the elderly infirm, courage that they are not alone and that they can and will recover and not have to face death quite yet, that life will indeed resume.
As for the poor, I said in 2009 about the bizarre Indian scheme of “interrogating, measuring, photographing and fingerprinting them against their will” that “the poor have their privacy and their dignity. They are going to refuse to waste their valuable time at the margins of survival volunteering for such gimmickry.”
“What New Delhi’s governing class fails to see is that the masses of India’s poor are not themselves a mass waiting for New Delhi’s handouts: they are individuals, free, rational, thinking individuals who know their own lives and resources and capacities and opportunities, and how to go about living their lives best. What they need is security, absence of state or other tyranny, roads, fresh water, electricity, functioning schools for their children, market opportunities for work, etc, not handouts from a monarch or aristocrats or businessmen….” Or, to put it differently in Kant’s terms, the poor need to be treated as ends in themselves, and not as the means towards the ends of others…
Part II India’s Right Road Forward Now: Some Thoughtful Analysis for Grown Ups
5. Transcending a Left-Right/Congress-BJP Divide in Indian Politics
6. Budgeting Military & Foreign Policy
7. Solving the Kashmir Problem & Relations with Pakistan
8. Dealing with Communist China
9. Towards Coherence in Public Accounting, Public Finance & Public Decision-Making
10. India’s Money: Towards Currency Integrity at Home & Abroad
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…”
“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.”
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.
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”, 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.
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!
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.
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 was recognised and received the comity of nations when it signed the Treaty of Versailles as a victor, later becoming a Dominion and successor-state of British India in 1947, and a sovereign republic in 1950. Pakistan emerged as a new state created out of British India in 1947, remaining a Dominion until 1956 when it became an Islamic republic.
India was an original member of the League of Nations, a signatory to the UN’s San Francisco Declaration, a participant at Bretton Woods, and an original member of the IMF.
Yet some 65 years later, sovereign India has failed to develop a currency universally acceptable as a freely convertible world money. Nor do trade, monetary, fiscal or political conditions appear such that the rupee can become a hard currency of the world economy easily or very soon.
JM Keynes in his first book, a century ago, gave a masterly survey of the immediate monetary history. The rupee had been on a silver standard until 1893 when an attempt at bimetallism failed; instead India stumbled into the 20th century on a modified gold standard that chanced to fulfil desiderata known since Ricardo, namely “the currency media used in the internal circulation are confined to notes and cheap token coins, which are made to act precisely as if they were bits of gold by being made convertible into gold for foreign payment purposes”.
Ie, the rupee was legal tender at home and convertible into sterling for international payments in London, the price being set at 1s 4d. Gold at £3.17s.10½d until August 1914 meant a rupee price of Rs 31 per troy oz.- long-forgotten now when gold retails at Rs 90,000 per troy oz, measuring an average annual rate of inflation in the gold price of about 8.5 per cent for the century.
Until 1947 the rupee remained subservient to British policy. Sterling payments included paying for merchandise imports, dividends and repayments on British business, as well as iniquitous “home charges” imposed by Britain to rule India as an unfree imperial dependency. Britain “returned to gold” in 1925, and did so notoriously at the same price as before though the rupee was revalued to 1s 6d.; Indian businessmen complained to no avail that this hurt exports and worsened the large deflation caused by the Depression. The same continued after sterling became a paper money again in September 1931, backed only by London’s position as a financial capital.
India remained a major trading nation during 1870-1914 with a share of world manufactured exports as high as 4 per cent. Keynes found Britain (the world’s largest exporter), exporting most to India; while Germany (the world’s fastest growing economy) received 5 per cent of its imports from India and sent 1½ per cent of its exports to India, 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).
As of 1917-1918, India’s macroeconomics 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 (32.85 million troy ozs of gold), and a 1916-17 budget surplus of £6,594,885. The rupee, though legal tender only on the subcontinent, became what we might call a “super convertible” currency in being widely accepted in markets and stock markets from the Middle East through South East Asia to Australia.
Even at mid-century, India (without Pakistan) was still a trading power with 2 per cent 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. But then a collapse occurred over several decades to near insignificance in world trade and payments, from which India has yet to recover.
Of world merchandise exports, the subcontinent’s share fell to less than 1 per cent, and of Asia’s to less than 6 per cent, India accounting for two thirds; Malaysia alone accounted for more. Among 11 major developing countries (Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Israel, Yugoslavia), India’s share of manufactured exports fell from 65 per cent in 1953 to 51 percent in 1960 to 31 per cent in 1966 to 10 per cent by 1973. And this was before the entry of China.
Even India’s legendary textiles lost ground steadily. As of 1962-71, India held an average annual market-share of almost 20 per cent of manufactured textile imports into the USA; this fell to 10 per cent by 1972-81 and less than 5 per cent by 1982-91. 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 may not be among the top thirty merchandise exporters of the world today, although there has been new growth seen in areas like pharmaceuticals and computer-services.
Causes of the collapse include Western protectionism as well as emergence of new technologies and new competitors willing to use these. But it was largely policy-induced. Between 1939 and 1945/46, Britain clamped draconian exchange-controls on what remained of the Sterling Area (which, besides Eqypt and Iraq, included the Empire and Commonwealth without Canada, Newfoundland and Hong Kong). The controls were relative to currencies outside the Sterling area, principally the US dollar.
The new India and new Pakistan, far from ending these war-time controls of their respective rupees (as Britain would itself do gradually with the pound) instead made them more draconian to include the Sterling area as well. Hence the Ricardo-Keynes dictum was breached – the rupee remained an inexpensive medium for internal circulation but was no longer convertible externally, indeed it had become open to being debauched the more easily.
Milton Friedman in November 1955 argued to the government of India that the new sovereign country should remove exchange controls completely and have a freely convertible rupee at a floating market-determined price on the pattern of the Canadian dollar, along with a steady predictable monetary climate. Far from debating such a proposal, the government ignored his advice, and his document was suppressed until I published it 34 years later in May 1989 at the University of Hawaii.
Intricate barriers, subsidies and licensing (based on war-time “essentiality” and “actual user” criteria) continued, now in name of import-substitution and “planning”. Major industries were nationalised, which became leading consumers of imports obtained by administrative rationing of foreign exchange earned by export sectors. Domestic business predictably diverted to the large protected markets that resulted. Import restrictions of consumer goods and gold expectedly led to smuggling and open corruption in Customs.
A vast parallel or “black” economy arose with its thriving “hawala” sector. The exchange-rate was seen as yet another administered price, not a reflection of demand for foreign relative to domestic moneys. Foreign currency earnings from exports were confiscated in exchange for rupees at the administered rate, then rationed first to meet foreign debt repayments and government expenditures abroad like maintenance of embassies, military imports, official foreign travel, etc; then for import of food, fertilisers, petroleum and inputs required by government firms; then 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.
Not only was extension of war-time exchange-controls seen as axiomatic, the massive war-time deficit finance via money creation that the British had indulged in with India’s public finances, came to be permanently institutionalised in the name of socialist planning.
On 7 December 1952 the planners said: “The raison d’ être of a planned economy is the fullest mobilisation of available resources and their allocation so as to secure optimum results. There is no doubt that the Reserve Bank, which is a nationalised institution, will play its appropriate part in furthering economic development along agreed lines”’; and on 14 May 1956: “Insofar as government expenditure is financed by central bank credit, there is a direct increase in currency in circulation”.
The fate of India’s paper money was sealed. Just as the Bank of England could “theoretically lend the full amount” the UK government was authorised to spend by Parliament, and the US government had assurance the Federal Reserve “could and would see that the Treasury was supplied with all the money that it needed for war finance beyond those secured by taxation and by borrowing from non-bank sources”, so government of India expenditure over seven decades has been for all practical purposes assured of automatic limitless financing via money creation. Since more than two dozen state governments have no money-creating powers, their debts also effectively accrue to the government of India.
The next mention of money supply was 43 years later on April 5 1999 in the “Ninth Plan” when it was said a “viable monetary posture” was “to accept an average inflation rate in the region of 7 per cent per annum, which would justify a growth rate of money supply (base money) of 16 per cent per annum”. Recent money supply growth has been near 19-21 per cent per annum, and inflation properly measured has been well above 10 per cent. Hidden in thousands of pages of the “Tenth Plan” dated 21 December, 2002, a half century after “planning” started, is found it being said it is “financed almost entirely by borrowing… India’s public finance inherits the consequence of fiscal mismanagement in the past”.
Had the rupee been a hard currency, the vast amounts of government debt that have accumulated today could have been evaluated at world prices. As things stand, the value at world prices of the asset-sides of banks becomes an unknown, making profitability uncertain of the domestic securities’ market in general. This compounds myriad problems of the mostly nationalised banking system, candidly surveyed over years by James A. Hanson and summarised in his sentence: “The Ministry of Finance continues to run the public sector banks”. AC Harberger a decade ago called for “thorough understanding of the facts” and a “serious study of India’s fiscal deficits”.
“Where are they being parked? At what cost? And how much vacant parking space remains to be occupied before major problems emerge?” “… the authorities appear to have little sense of alarm about these deficits. Does this represent a myopic and irresponsible vision, aimed at surviving the moment while passing an ever greater burden to future governments and later generations? Or does it mean the authorities have studied the problem well, and that today’s deficits are being placed in convenient parking lots that still have plenty of unused capacity?”
As no such study has taken place, the possibility of “a myopic and irresponsible vision” takes credence. Besides, foreign lines of credit have become squeezed or closed by separate crises in the USA, Europe and Japan. India is far from being a creditor country able to help out with any world problems at present.
The last 20 years have seen liberalisation in consumer goods imports and travel and study abroad, and the rupee is no longer an administrative price for current account purposes. Indian firms have been permitted to do business abroad, Indian residents to send large cash gifts to relatives abroad, as well as relative liberalisation of gold imports. A natural technological revolution has been underway inducing real growth in India as in the rest of Asia, where populations are large and families stable: even small increases in capital-per-head, combined with modern communication technologies making travel or migration unnecessary, may explain rapid growth in productivity and output.
To move towards a currency of integrity today that befits the real growth requires comprehensive candid study of the structure of government liabilities and expenditures, systematic cleaning of government accounts at their roots, seeking to raise productivity of government investments and expenditures by better use of the audit function, as well as bringing coherence to fiscal and monetary policy through institutional changes in the processes of public decision-making, specifically, separating the banking and central banking functions from the Treasury function, while bringing the planning function to be one serving the Treasury function rather than pretending to be above it.
Waste or ostentation in public expenditure itself creates incentives for evasion of taxes; indeed, the untaxed economy may even have caused an underestimation of real growth being made. The road exists to be taken though it may be one that demands excessive political courage.
The author thanks Dr Warren Coats for constructive comments on earlier versions of this article.
Friedman, Milton “A Memorandum to the Government of India 1955”, in Roy & James (1989).
Friedman, Milton & Rose, Two Lucky People, 1998.
Hanson, James A. “Indian Banking: Market Liberalization and the Pressures for Institutional and Market Framework Reform” in Krueger & Chinoy (2004).
Harberger, Arnold C “Parking the Deficit – The Uncertain Link between Fiscal Deficits and Inflation-cum-Devaluation”, in Krueger & Chinoy (2004).
Keynes, John Maynard, Indian Currency and Finance, 1913.
Krueger, Anne O. & Sajjid Z. Chinoy (eds) Reforming India’s External, Financial and Fiscal Policies, 2004.
Roy, Subroto, Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distrtions in India, 1984.
Roy, Subroto & WE James (eds), Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, 1989, 1992
A Memorandum to the Government of India 1955 by Milton Friedman
(published by me for the first time some 34 years later on 21 May 1989 at UH-Manoa…that original document was in my professorial office at IIT Kharagpur — and is yet to be returned despite a High Court order!)
Subroto Roy hears Dr Manmohan Singh said yesterday (to journalists “on board Air India One” returning with him from Africa) “I think industrialisation is essential for the country to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty”. Nonsense Prime Minister! That is obsolescent or, at the very least, rather quaint Stalinist chatter. Try to provide public goods properly, which means getting the judiciary etc to work well. Try to get the public finances & public decision-making processes right, which means getting govt accounting & audit right and legislatures to work across the country. Try to drastically raise the productivity of public investments and expenditures. And try not to debauch India’s money any further than you have done. All that may make a good start. (And only when you have done all that do you really need to travel abroad again on “Air India One”; that thing the telephone really is a great invention…)
Subroto Roy is scolded by Ms Siddiqui: “Out of all the corrupt money grabbing racist ministers and governors and politicians you could find only Manmohan Singh to attack? Truly discerning arent you?”,
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.
Subroto Roy says the central difference between the SubrotoRoy Model for Indiaas 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.)
“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 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.
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….?)
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.
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.
But I am unable to see what you could mean by it because your chapter seems devoid of any reference or allusion to the vast discussion over decades of the subject known as the “microeconomic foundations of macroeconomics”. Namely, the attempt to integrate the theory of value (microeconomics) with the theory of money (macroeconomics); or alternatively, the attempt to comprehend aggregate variables like Consumption, Savings, Investment, the Demand for & Supply of Money etc in conceptual terms rooted in theories of constrained optimization by masses of individual people.
It is not an easy task. Keynes made no explicit attempt at it (recall Joan Robinson’s famous quip) and probably did not have time or patience to try. Hicks and Patinkin failed, though after valiant efforts. The modern period on this work began with Clower and Leijonhufvud, followed by the French (like Grandmont), and especially Frank Hahn. Hahn’s 1976 IMSSS paper “Keynesian Economics and General Equilibrium Theory” is the survey to read, viz., Equilibrium and Macroeconomics and Money, Stability and Growth as well as of course Arrow & Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis. You may agree that the general theory of value culminated in an important sense in the Arrow-Debreu model of the 1950s — yet that is something in which no money, and hence no macroeconomics, needs to or can really appear. The hard part is to develop macroeconomic models for policy-discussion which allow for money and public finance while still making some pretence of being rooted in a theory of constrained optimization by individuals, i.e., in microeconomic behaviour. (E Roy Weintraub wrote a textbook with “Microfoundations” in its title.)
These together outline an idea that the link between macroeconomic policy in India and individual microeconomic budgets of our one billion citizens arises via the “Government Budget Constraint”. More specifically, the continual deficit-finance indulged in by the GoI for decades has been paid for by invisible taxation of nominal assets, causing the general money-price of real goods and services to rise. I.e., the GoI’s wild deficit spending over the decades has been paid for by debauching money through inflation.
(The unrecorded untaxed “black economy” needs a separate chapter altogether, and it seems to me possible it provides enough real income and transactions to be absorbing some of the wilder money supply growth into its hoards.)
India cannot be a major economy of the world until and unless the Rupee some day becomes a hard currency — for the first time in many decades, indeed perhaps for the first time since the start of fiat money. It is going to take much more than the GoI inventing a trading symbol for the Rupee! The appalling state of our government accounting, public finance and monetary policy, caused by the GoI over decades, disallows this from happening any time soon as domestic bank assets (mostly GoI debt, and mostly held by government banks) would inevitably be re-evaluated at world prices foreshadowing a monetary crisis. Perhaps you will help slow the rot — I trust you will not add to it.
Postscript March 1 2010: I recalled it as Joan Robinson’s quip, had forgotten it was in fact her quoting Gerald Shove’s quip: “Keynes was not interested in the theory of relative prices. Gerald Shove used to say that Maynard had never spent the twenty minutes necessary to understand the theory of value.” (1963)
Independent India’s Finance Ministers have never in 62 years referred to economic theory or the history of economic thought until Mr Mukherjee delivered the 4th Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture in Colombo yesterday, making the following academic claim:
“As students of economics would understand, economic theory is an evolutionary process and undergoes change with every major crisis. The classical theory gave way to Keynesian economics after the Great Depression of 1930s. Thereafter, there were post-Keynesian and monetarist approaches to economic problems during 1960s to 90s. The present crisis, which has also been called Great Recession, would be another watershed in the evolution of economics and is expected to bring about radical retooling of the theory. The crisis has, in the first place, conclusively established that the pursuit of individual goals do not necessarily lead to public good. Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ cannot guarantee allocation of resources efficiently.”
I might rather count this as intellectual progress to the extent that it at least allows the Government of India’s economists the possibility of moving away from politically-induced dissimulation and instead begin to connect with where I was 25 years ago in my May 1984 monograph published by London’s Institute of Economic Affairs (leave aside my 1976-82 doctoral thesis under Professor Frank Hahn at Cambridge “On liberty and economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”). As for the Finance Minister saying “The Indian economy has shown remarkable resilience to the crisis because the financial system had no exposure to the toxic assets”, I am afraid he has left unsaid that this is because (a) the rupee is not a hard currency; and (b) India’s banks hold plenty of domestic assets that are “toxic”.
The power of organised Big Business over New Delhi’s economic policies (whether Congress-led or BJP-led) was signalled by the presence in the audience at Rashtrapati Bhavan last week of several prominent lobbyists when Dr Manmohan Singh and his senior-most Cabinet colleagues were being sworn-in by the President of India. Why were such witnesses needed at such an auspicious national occasion?
Organised Big Business (both private sector and public sector) along with organised Big Labour (whose interests are represented most ably by New Delhi’s official communist parties like the CPI-M and CPI), are astutely aware of how best to advance their own economic interests; this usually gets assisted nicely enough through clever use of our comprador English-language TV, newspaper and magazine media. Shortly after the election results, lobbyists were all over commercial TV proposing things like FDI in insurance and airports etc– as if that was the meaning of the Sonia-Rahul mandate or were issues of high national priority. A typical piece of such “pretend-economics” appears in today’s business-press from a formerly Leftist Indian bureaucrat: “With its decisive victory, the new Manmohan Singh government should at last be able to implement the required second generation reforms. Their lineaments (sic) are well known and with the removal of the Left’s veto, many of those stalled in the legislature as well as those which were forestalled can now be implemented. These should be able to put India back on a 9-10 per cent per annum growth rate…”
Today’s business-press also reports that the new Government is planning to create a fresh “Disinvestment Ministry” and Dr Singh’s chief economic policy aide is “a frontrunner among the names short-listed to head the new ministry” with Cabinet rank.
That being said, I have to say I think a new Indian policy of creating a Ministry to privatise India’s public sector is probably a very BAD idea indeed in present circumstances — mainly because it will be driven by the interests of the organised Big Business lobbies that have so profoundly and subtly been able to control the New Delhi Government’s behaviour in recent decades.
Now our Government every year produces paper rupees and bank deposits in practically unlimited amounts to pay for its practically unlimited deficit financing, and it has behaved thus over decades. Why we do not hear about this at all is because the most prominent Government economists themselves remain clueless — sometimes by choice, mostly by sheer ignorance — about the nature of the macroeconomic process that they are or have been part of. (See my “India’s Macroeconomics”, “The Dream Team: A Critique” etc elsewhere here). As for the Opposition’s economists, the less said about the CPI-M’s economists the better while the BJP, poor thing, has absolutely no economists at all!
Briefly speaking, Indian Big Business has acquired an acute sense of this long-term nominal/paper expansion of India’s economy, and as a result acts towards converting wherever possible its own hoards of paper rupees and rupee-denominated assets into more valuable portfolios for itself of real or durable assets, most conspicuously including hard-currency denominated assets, farm-land and urban real-estate, and, now, the physical assets of the Indian public sector. Such a path of trying to transform local domestic paper assets – produced unlimitedly by Government monetary and fiscal policy and naturally destined to depreciate — into real durable assets, is a privately rational course of action to follow in an inflationary economy. It is not rocket-science to realise the long-term path of the Indian rupee is downwards in comparison to the hard-currencies of the world – just compare our money supply growth and inflation rates with those of the rest of the world.
The Statesman of November 15 2006 had a lead editorial titled Government’s land-fraud: Cheating peasants in a hyperinflation-prone economy. It said:
“There is something fundamentally dishonourable about the way the Centre, the state of West Bengal and other state governments are treating the issue of expropriating peasants, farm-workers, petty shop-keepers etc of their small plots of land in the interests of promoters, industrialists and other businessmen. Singur may be but one example of a phenomenon being seen all over the country: Hyderabad, Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana, everywhere. So-called “Special Economic Zones” will merely exacerbate the problem many times over. India and its governments do not belong only to business and industrial lobbies, and what is good for private industrialists may or may not be good for India’s people as a whole. Economic development does not necessarily come to be defined by a few factories or high-rise housing complexes being built here or there on land that has been taken over by the Government, paying paper-money compensation to existing stakeholders, and then resold to promoters or industrialists backed by powerful political interest-groups on a promise that a few thousand new jobs will be created. One fundamental problem has to do with inadequate systems of land-description and definition, implementation and recording of property rights. An equally fundamental problem has to do with fair valuation of land owned by peasants etc. in terms of an inconvertible paper-money. Every serious economist knows that “land” is defined as that specific factor of production and real asset whose supply is fixed and does not increase in response to its price. Every serious economist also knows that paper-money is that nominal asset whose price can be made to catastrophically decline by a massive increase in its supply, i.e. by Government printing more of the paper it holds a monopoly to print. For Government to compensate people with paper-money it prints itself by valuing their land on the basis of an average of the price of the last few years, is for Government to cheat them of the fair present-value of the land. That present-value of land must be calculated in the way the present-value of any asset comes to be calculated, namely, by summing the likely discounted cash-flows of future values. And those future values should account for the likelihood of a massive future inflation causing decline in the value of paper-money in view of the fact we in India have a domestic public debt of some Rs. 30 trillion (Rs. 30 lakh crore) and counting, and money supply growth rates averaging 16-17% per annum. In fact, a responsible Government would, given the inconvertible nature of the rupee, have used foreign exchange or gold as the unit of account in calculating future-values of the land. India’s peasants are probably being cheated by their Government of real assets whose value is expected to rise, receiving nominal paper assets in compensation whose value is expected to fall.”
Mamata Banerjee started her famous protest fast-unto-death in Kolkata not long afterwards, riveting the nation’s attention in the winter of 2006-2007.
What goes for the government buying land on behalf of its businessman friends also goes, mutatis mutandis, for the public sector’s real assets being bought up by the private sector using domestic paper money in a potentially hyperinflationary economy. If Dr Singh’s new Government wishes to see real public sector assets being sold, let the Government seek to value these assets not in inconvertible rupees which the Government itself has been producing in unlimited quantities but rather in forex or gold-units instead!
Today’s headline says “Short of cash, govt. plans to revive disinvestment ministry”. Big Business’s powerful lobbies will suggest that real public assets must be sold (to whom? to organised Big Business of course!) in order to solve the grave fiscal problems in an inflationary economy caused precisely by those grave fiscal problems! What I said in 2002 at IndiaSeminar may still be found to apply: I said the BJP’s privatisation ideas “deserve to be condemned…because they have made themselves believe that the proceeds of selling the public sector should merely go into patching up the bleeding haemorrhage which is India’s fiscal and monetary situation… (w)hile…Congress were largely responsible for that haemorrhage to have occurred in the first place.”
If the new Government would like to know how to proceed more wisely, they need to read and grasp, in the book edited by myself and Professor John Clarke in 2004-2005, the chapter by Professor Patrick Minford on Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal and monetary policy (macroeconomics) before they read the chapter by Professor Martin Ricketts on Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation (microeconomics). India’s fiscal and monetary or macroeconomic problems are far worse today than Britain’s were when Thatcher came in.
During the recent Election Campaign, I contrasted Dr Singh’s flattering praise in 2005 of the CPI-M’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee with Sonia Gandhi’s pro-Mamata line in 2009 saying the CPI-M had taken land away from the poor. This may soon signal a new fault-line in the new Cabinet too on economic policy with respect to not only land but also public sector privatisation – with Dr Singh’s pro-Big Business acolytes on one side and Mamata Banerjee’s stance in favour of small-scale unorganised business and labour on the other. Party heavyweights like Dr Singh himself and Sharad Pawar and Pranab Mukherjee will weigh in one side or the other with Sonia being asked in due course to referee.
I personally am delighted to see the New Rahul Gandhi deciding not to be in Government and to instead reflect further on the “common man” and “common woman” about whom I had described his father talking to me on September 18 1990 at his home. Certainly the “aam admi” is not someone to be found among India’s organised Big Business or organised Big Labour nor their paid lobbyists in the big cities.
Prefatory Note Dec 2008: This outlines what might have happened if (a) Rajiv Gandhi had not been assassinated; (b) I had known at age 36 all that I now know at age 53. Both are counterfactuals and hence this is a work of fiction. It was written long before the Mumbai massacres; the text has been left unchanged.
“India’s revolution, when it came, was indeed bloodless and non-violent but it was firm and clear-headed and inevitably upset a lot of hitherto powerful people.
The first thing the Revolutionary Government declared when it took over in Delhi was that the rupee would become a genuine hard currency of the world economy within 18 months. This did not seem a very revolutionary thing to say and the people at first did not understand what was meant. The Revolutionaries explained: “Paper money and the banks have been abused by all previous regimes ruling in Delhi since 1947 who learnt their tricks from British war-time techniques. We will give you for the first time in free India a rupee as good as gold, an Indian currency as respectable as any other in the world, dollar, pound, yen, whatever. What you earn with your hard work and resources will be measured by a sound standard of value, not continuously devalued in secret by government misuse”.
The people were intrigued but not enlightened much. Nor did they grasp things to come when the Revolutionary Government abolished the old Planning Commission, sending its former head as envoy to New Zealand (with a long reading-list); attached the Planning Commission as a new R&D wing to the Finance Ministry; detached the RBI from the Finance Ministry; instructed the RBI Governor to bring proper work-culture and discipline to his 75,000 staff and instructed the Monetary Policy Deputy Governor to prepare plans for becoming a constitutionally independent authority, besides a possible monetary decentralization towards the States. India’s people did not understand all this, but there began to be a sense that something was up in Lutyens’ Delhi faraway.
The Revolutionary Government started to seem a little revolutionary when it called in police-chiefs of all States — the PM himself then signed an order routed via the Home Ministry that they were to state in writing, within a fortnight, how they intended to improve discipline and work-culture in the forces they commanded. Each was also asked to name three reliable deputies, and left in no doubt what that meant. State Chief Ministers murmured objections but rumours swirled about more to come and they shut up quickly. The Revolutionary Government sent a terse note to all CMs asking their assistance in implementation of this and any further orders. It also set up a “Prison Reform and Reconstruction Panel” with instructions to (a) survey all prisons in the country with a view to immediately reduce injustices within the prison-system; (b) enlarge capacity in the event fresh enforcement of the Rule of Law came to demand this.
The Revolutionary Government then asked all senior members of the judiciary to a meeting in Trivandrum. There they declared the judiciary must remain impartial and objective, not show favoritism even to members of the Revolutionary Party itself who might be in court before them for whatever reason. The judges were assured of carte blanche by way of resources to improve quality of all public services under them; at the same time, a new “Internal Affairs Department” was formed that would assure the public that the Bench and the Bar never forgot their noble calling. When a former judge and a former senior counsel came to be placed in two cells of the new prison-system, the public finally felt something serious was afoot. Late night comics on TV led the public’s mirth — “Thieves have authority when judges steal themselves”, waxed one eloquently.
The Revolutionary Government’s next step reached into all nooks and crannies of the country. A large room in the new Finance Ministry was assigned to each State – a few days later, the Revolutionary Government announced it had taken over control under the Constitution’s financial emergency provision of all State budgets for a period of six months at the outset.
Now there was an irrepressible outcry from State Chief Ministers, loud enough for the Revolutionary Government to ask them to a national meeting, this time in Agartala. When the Delhi CM sweetly complained she did not know how to get there, she got back two words “Get there”; and she did.
There the PM told the CMs they would get their budgets back some day but only after the Revolutionary Government had overseen their cleaning and restoration to financial health from their current rotten state. “But Prime Minister, the States have had no physical assets”, one bright young CM found courage to blurt out.
“That is the first good question I have heard since our Revolution began,” answered the PM. “We are going to give you the Railways to start with — Indian Railways will keep control of a few national trains and tracks but will be instructed to devolve control and ownership of all other assets to you, the States. See that you use your new assets properly”. There was a collective whoop of excitement. “During the time your budgets remain with us, get your police, transport, education and hospital systems to work for the benefit of common people, confer with your oppositions about how you can get your legislatures to work at all. Keep in mind we are committed to making the rupee a hard currency of the world and we will not stand for any waste, fraud or abuse of public moneys. We really don’t want to be tested on what we mean by that. We are doing the same with the Union Government and the whole public sector”. The Chief Ministers went home nervous and excited.
Finally, the Revolutionary Government turned to Lutyens’ Delhi itself. Foreign ambassadors were called in one by one and politely informed a scale-back had been ordered in Indian diplomatic missions in their countries, and hence by due protocol, a scale-back in their New Delhi embassies was called for. “We are pulling our staff, incidentally, from almost all international and UN agencies too because we need such high-quality administrators more at home than abroad”, the Revolutionary Foreign Minister told the startled ambassadors.
Palpable tension rose in the national capital when the Revolutionary Government announced that Members of Parliament would receive public housing of high quality but only in their home constituencies! The MPs would have to vacate their Delhi bungalows and apartments! “But we are Delhi! We must have facilities in Delhi!”, MPs cried. “Yes, rooms in nationalized hotels suffice for your legislative needs; kindly vacate the bungalows as required; we will be building national memorials, libraries and museums there”, replied the radicals in power. Tension in the capital did not subside for weeks because the old political parties all had thrived on Delhi’s social circuit, whose epicenter swirled around a handful of such bungalows. Now those old power-equations were all lost. A few MPs decided to boycott Delhi and only work in their constituencies.
When the Pakistan envoy was called with a letter for her PM, outlining a process of détente on the USSR-USA pattern of mutual verification of demilitarization, both bloated militaries were upset to see their jobs and perks being cut but steps had been taken to ensure there was never any serious danger of a coup. The Indian Revolution was in full swing and continued for a few years until coherence and integrity had been forced upon the public finances and currency of a thousand million people….”
I have warned against a “monetary meltdown” in India for more than a decade and a half now. I said it to Rajiv Gandhi (who listened with care and respect) and after he was gone I have said it to Government economists in India, to IMF/World Bank bureaucrats in Washington, to academic audiences in India and the UK and to India’s general newspaper reading public.
Obviously I hope such a meltdown does not come about. But inflation, or the decline in the value of money, presently is in double-digits even by the Government’s own admission. (As a general rule, I think the decline in the value of money has been higher by several percent than what the Government says at any given time.) Hence I am publishing again some results of my macroeconomic research on India over the years. You are free to use them and communicate with me about them but please acknowledge them properly and do not steal.
The first graph of 1869-2004 data was published in print to accompany my Growth and Government Delusion in The Statesman February 22, 2008; it had also accompanied other similar articles, e.g. The Dream Team: A Critique in January 2006. The second graph of 1935-2008 data was published in print to accompany my article Indian Inflation in The Statesman of April 22 2008.
First published in slightly abbreviated form as “A scam in the making” in The Sunday Statesman April 1 2007, Front page comment
A gigantic financial scheme is in the making. Will it come to be seen in future years as having been in fact a scam – indeed India’s scam of the 21st Century for which India’s unknowing masses will be made to pay for many generations? The scheme is mind-boggling in size as well as its sheer audacity. Bofors, Quattrochi etc amount to peanuts in comparison.
No less a personage than the Finance Minister of India, P Chidambaram, has openly praised the potential of this financial scheme. And he has done so in no less an open and transparent place than his latest Budget Speech to Parliament last February.
It is a scheme openly advocated and currently being developed by our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s closest acolytes, Planning Commission head Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia and HDFC head Mr Deepak Parekh, in collaboration with Reserve Bank Governor Dr YV Reddy and the Finance Ministry’s top bureaucrats. The PM himself has come close to endorsing it explicitly. And this PM is not an elected member of the Lok Sabha but holds office and acts as the executive agent of the UPA Chairperson and Lok Sabha Member from Rae Bareilly, Sonia Gandhi.
I hasten to add nobody in the BJP has objected to this financial scheme — in fact had the BJP been in power today instead of Congress, they would have been likely even more agreeable to the scheme given their close proximity to business lobbies and organized capital. As for the Communists, none of their JNU economics professors is technically competent enough to comprehend or recognize what is going on.
The scheme involves private companies “borrowing” India’s foreign exchange reserves from the Reserve Bank of India, allegedly for purpose of “infrastructure” creation — in collaboration with the American bank Citigroup, the American financial business, Blackstone Group, and possibly the American giant, GE Capital too. Mr Chidambaram took the unprecedented step of naming Mr Deepak Parekh as well as Citigroup and Blackstone in the text of his Budget Speech.
To begin to comprehend the nature of this scheme, we need to recall an earlier case.
Foreign exchange reserves of countries typically include foreign currency holdings as well as gold stocks. One of the biggest Wall Street scams of the 1980s-1990s involved private companies borrowing not countries’ foreign currency reserves but their gold reserves.
In that scam, it was not the Reserve Bank of India that was cheated but the Central Banks of Poland, Malaysia, Portugal and Yugoslavia. The New York financial company involved was a subsidiary of the Drexel Burnham Lambert Group. The Drexel parent went bankrupt on February 13 1990 and its subsidiary followed on May 9 1990.
A report on June 4 1990 by Leah J. Nathans (now Leah Nathans Spiro) in New York’s highly respected Business Week magazine said: “Central banks, those pillars of monetary virtue, lost $219 million ($21.9 crore) to an obscure commodities subsidiary called Drexel Burnham Lambert Trading Corporation”. The sum was small by American standards but it was “a big, big number” for the countries involved at the time.
What had these national central banks done? They had been lured into becoming greedy. They had been sitting on stocks of gold as part of their national reserves which they felt “just collect dust”. So they yielded to the temptation offered by the Drexel subsidiary of leasing the gold to private parties.
In Ms. Nathans’ words, “By leasing gold, a central bank earns a modest interest rate, ranging from less than 0.5% to 2.5%. Typically, the central bank consigns the gold to a dealer – say, for 90 days. The dealer can then lend the gold to a customer, at a higher interest rate. It may be a speculator, who hopes to repay the borrowed gold when the price falls, or a gold mine that wants to repay the broker with gold produced later.”
But the Drexel parent and subsidiary went bankrupt through bad financial decisions. Drexel’s Michael Milken went to jail. The Central Banks of Poland, Malaysia, Portugal and Yugoslavia were left empty-handed – and had to sue as creditors in New York’s courts trying desperately to get back the gold they had been lured into parting with. It would be unwise to take bets on how much of their gold they ever got back.
All the present PM’s men — Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia, Parekh, Reddy et al in collaboration with one or two American financial companies – now have a scheme that will use not the RBI’s gold but its foreign currency reserves.
Mr Ahluwalia and Mr Parekh have made the outlandish claim that “India needs US$320 billion” (US 32,000 crore) by way of “investment for physical infrastructure” during the so-called “Eleventh Five-Year Plan”. (How many so-called “Five Year Plans” is India going to have incidentally? We had our “First Plan” when Manmohan Singh was a student at Punjab University. Stalin, who invented the “Five Year Plan”, died during that time, and even his old USSR has ceased to exist, let alone its “Five Year Plans”.)
That vast amount of “investment for physical infrastructure” is what Mr Ahluwalia says he knows India needs for his purported “9% growth rate” to be achieved. Where are the macroeconomic models and time-series data sets from him or his friends to back such assertions? There are none. None of the PM’s men, no one in the Finance Ministry or RBI or Planning Commission, nor any of their JNU economics professor friends or anyone else in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata etc have any such models or data with which to back such assertions. Nor do the World Bank etc. It is all sheer humbug – all a lie. It is part of the mendacity and self-delusion that our capital city has been floating upon.
In any event, the RBI reportedly has “opposed the idea of deploying forex reserves for infrastructure development on the grounds that it will create monetary expansion”. But Mr Chidambaram’s Finance Ministry owns the RBI, and the Ministry has said “the RBI’s concerns had been taken care of, as the investments would be deployed only through a structured mechanism”. (Business Standard 23 March 2007, p. 3)
What is a “structured mechanism”? Mr Chidambaram, mentioning Citigroup and Blackstone Group specifically, said in his Budget Speech that Mr Deepak Parekh has “suggested the establishment of two wholly-owned overseas subsidiaries of India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd with the following objectives: (i) to borrow funds from the RBI and lend to Indian companies implementing infrastructure projects in India, or to co-finance their External Commercial Borrowings for such projects, solely for capital expenditure outside India; and (ii) to borrow funds from the RBI, invest such funds in highly rated collateral securities, and provide ‘credit wrap’ insurance to infrastructure projects in India for raising resources in international markets. The loans by RBI to these two subsidiary companies will be guaranteed by the Government of India and the RBI will be assured of a return higher than the average rate of return on its incremental investment.”
You do not understand? Well, no one is supposed to. The most exquisite thievery occurs after all not in darkness but in broad daylight with everyone watching but no one able to see or comprehend anything. So let us return to elementary first principles.
What are foreign exchange reserves and why do countries hold them? It is quite simply answered. Consider the USA and Canada, each with its own dollar. Canadians want to purchase American goods and services, give gifts and make loans to American residents, and make investments in the USA. Americans want to do the same in Canada. Each has to use the domestic money of the other when it does so. If an American wishes to lend money to a Canadian or to purchase something from him, he receives Canadian dollar notes from the Canadian Government to make his Canadian transactions, handing over his American dollar notes instead. The American dollar notes he hands over become part of Canada’s foreign exchange reserves, held by its Central Bank. Roughly speaking, a country’s foreign exchange reserves are the residual foreign currency assets its central bank holds after all these transactions are carried out on both sides of the border.
In the US-Canada case, neither Government prevents its citizens from exchanging domestic money for foreign money. In India, our rupee has been inconvertible since about 1940. The average Indian cannot freely exchange his/her rupee-denominated assets for foreign exchange denominated ones even if he/she wished to. There has been some import-liberalisation in recent years but only someone with the political access of Mr Tata or Mr Birla can purchase foreign assets and foreign companies using their Indian money – because the rupee is inconvertible, any bad financial decisions they make in using their foreign assets will be implicitly paid for by the Indian public.
Now a country’s central bank, such as our Reserve Bank, is the custodian of its foreign exchange reserves. India’s reserves are supposed to have reached $195.96 Billion ($19,596 Crore) as of March 16 2007. Keep in mind we do not know why they have risen: they can rise merely because foreigners (including NRIs) have lent us more of their money, not because foreigners have bought more of our goods and services. In fact Business Standard yesterday 31 March 2007 said on its front page “external commercial borrowing” was “a major source of accretion” of India’s reserves.
Also keep in mind that the Reserve Bank has the duty to manage these foreign-denominated assets against which it has already issued Indian rupees. It might receive a small conservative income from the cash-management aspect of this but it may not risk them or place them in any jeopardy!
Yet the whole idea behind the Chidambaram-Ahluwalia-Parekh-Reddy scheme under discussion by the Sonia-Manmohan Government is that the RBI will “lend” some of the billions of Americans dollars in its custody to overseas subsidiaries of Indian companies – say, for example, to the Tatas who have now bought foreign “capital assets” of some US$ 12 Billion ($1200 Crore) from Corus without having anything near that kind of foreign income.
Such favoured Indian companies might then use these “borrowed” funds as collateral for other borrowings. In exchange, they will go about undertaking purported “infrastructure” projects in India. So much for the “structured mechanisms” being touted by Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia, Parekh et al.
Before India’s public understands it, the schemers will shout (as they have done with the SEZ Act) that Parliament has passed it. The BJP will applaud with envy. The Communists might uncomprehendingly complain a little, and then be bought off with a sop or two that they do understand, like a little pro-China rhetoric or being let off lightly on Nandigram.
Now international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of International Settlements officially exist to advise central banks to stay along the straight and narrow and to avoid all such mischief. Here is what the IMF explicitly warned about such schemes in its Guidelines for Foreign Exchange Reserve Management dated September 20 2001:
“Liquidity risk. The pledging of reserves as collateral with foreign financial institutions as support for loans to either domestic entities, or foreign subsidiaries of the reserve management entity, has rendered reserves illiquid until the loans have been repaid. Liquidity risks have also arisen from the direct lending of reserves to such institutions when shocks to the domestic economy led to the borrowers’ inability to repay their liabilities, and impairment of the liquidity of the reserve assets. Credit risk. Losses have arisen from the investment of reserves in high-yielding assets that were made without due regard to the credit risk associated with the issuer of the asset. Lending of reserves to domestic banks, and overseas subsidiaries of reserve management entities, has also exposed reserve management entities to credit risk.”
Dostoevsky believed man could have evil intent. Socrates was more generous and said man does not do wrong knowingly. It is not impossible our Indian schemers have innocent intent and do not even realize how close they are to becoming scamsters, or are already in the grip of scamsters. But at least we are now forewarned: India faces a clear risk of being swindled of its foreign exchange reserves. Prevention is better than cure.
Fallacious Finance: Congress, BJP, CPI-M et al may be leading India to hyperinflation
first published in The Statesman, 5 March 2007
Editorial Page Special Article
It seems the Dream Team of the PM, Finance Minister, Mr. Montek Ahluwalia and their acolytes may take India on a magical mystery tour of economic hallucinations, fantasies and perhaps nightmares. I hasten to add the BJP and CPI-M have nothing better to say, and criticism of the Government or of Mr Chidambaram’s Budget does not at all imply any sympathy for their political adversaries.
It may be best to outline a few of the main fallacies permeating the entire Governing Class in Delhi, and their media and businessman friends:
1. “India’s Savings Rate is near 32%”. This is factual nonsense. Savings is indeed normally measured by adding financial and non-financial savings. Financial savings include bank-deposits. But India is not a normal country in this. Nor is China. Both have seen massive exponential growth of bank-deposits in the last few decades. Does this mean Indians and Chinese are saving phenomenally high fractions of their incomes by assiduously putting money away into their shaky nationalized banks? Sadly, it does not. What has happened is government deficit-financing has grown explosively in both countries over decades. In a “fractional reserve” banking system (i.e. a system where your bank does not keep the money you deposited there but lends out almost all of it immediately), government expenditure causes bank-lending, and bank-lending causes bank-deposits to expand. Yes there has been massive expansion of bank-deposits in India but it is a nominal paper phenomenon and does not signify superhuman savings behaviour. Indians keep their assets mostly in metals, land, property, cattle, etc., and as cash, not as bank deposits.
2. “High economic growth in India is being caused by high savings and intelligently planned government investment”. This too is nonsense. Economic growth in India as elsewhere arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do in capital cities, but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing on part of the general population. Technological progress is a very general notion, and applies to any and every production activity or commercial transaction that now can be accomplished more easily or using fewer inputs than before. New Delhi still believes in antiquated Soviet-era savings-investment models without technological progress, and some non-sycophant must tell our top Soviet-era bureaucrat that such growth models have been long superceded and need to be scrapped from India’s policy-making too. Can politicians and bureaucrats assist India’s progress? Indeed they can: the telecom revolution in recent years was something in which they participated. But the general presumption is against them. Progress, productivity gains and hence economic growth arise from enterprise and effort of ordinary people — mostly despite not because of an exploitative, parasitic State.
3. “Agriculture is a backward sector that has been retarding India’s recent economic growth”. This is not merely nonsense it is dangerous nonsense, because it has led to land-grabbing by India’s rulers at behest of their businessman friends in so-called “SEZ” schemes. The great farm economist Theodore W. Schultz once quoted Andre and Jean Mayer: “Few scientists think of agriculture as the chief, or the model science. Many, indeed, do not consider it a science at all. Yet it was the first science – Mother of all science; it remains the science which makes human life possible”. Centuries before Europe’s Industrial Revolution, there was an Agricultural Revolution led by monks and abbots who were the scientists of the day. Thanks partly to American help, India has witnessed a Green Revolution since the 1960s, and our agriculture has been generally a calm, mature, stable and productive industry. Our farmers are peaceful hardworking people who should be paying taxes and user-fees normally but should not be otherwise disturbed or needlessly provoked by outsiders. It is the businessmen wishing to attack our farm populations who need to look hard in the mirror – to improve their accounting, audit, corporate governance, to enforce anti-embezzlement and shareholder protection laws etc.
4. “India’s foreign exchange reserves may be used for ‘infrastructure’ financing”. Mr Ahluwalia promoted this idea and now the Budget Speech mentioned how Mr Deepak Parekh and American banks may be planning to get Indian businesses to “borrow” India’s forex reserves from the RBI so they can purchase foreign assets. It is a fallacy arising among those either innocent of all economics or who have quite forgotten the little they might have been mistaught in their youth. Forex reserves are a residual in a country’s balance of payments and are not akin to tax revenues, and thus are not available to be borrowed or spent by politicians, bureaucrats or their businessman friends — no matter how tricky and shady a way comes to be devised for doing so. If anything, the Government and RBI’s priority should have been to free the Rupee so any Indian could hold gold or forex at his/her local bank. India’s vast sterling balances after the Second World War vanished quickly within a few years, and the country plunged into decades of balance of payments crisis – that may now get repeated. The idea of “infrastructure” is in any case vague and inferior to the “public goods” Adam Smith knew to be vital. Serious economists recommend transparent cost-benefit analyses before spending any public resources on any project. E.g., analysis of airport/airline industry expansion would have found the vast bulk of domestic airline costs to be forex-denominated but revenues rupee-denominated – implying an obvious massive currency-risk to the industry and all its “infrastructure”. All the PM’s men tell us nothing of any of this.
5. “HIV-AIDS is a major Indian health problem”. Government doctors privately know the scare of an AIDS epidemic is based on false assumptions and analysis. Few if any of us have met, seen or heard of an actual incontrovertible AIDS victim in India (as opposed to someone infected by hepatitis-contaminated blood supplies). Syringe-exchange by intravenous drug users is not something widely prevalent in Indian society, while the practise that caused HIV to spread in California’s Bay Area in the 1980s is not something depicted even at Khajuraho. Numerous real diseases do afflict Indians – e.g. 11 children died from encephalitis in one UP hospital on a single day in July 2006, while thousands of children suffer from “cleft lip” deformity that can be solved surgically for 20,000 rupees, allowing the child a normal life. Without any objective survey being done of India’s real health needs, Mr Chidamabaram has promised more than Rs 9.6 Billion (Rs 960 crore) to the AIDS cottage industry.
6. “Fiscal consolidation & stabilization has been underway since 1991”. There is extremely little reason to believe this. If you or I borrow Rs. 100,000 for a year, and one year later repay the sum only to borrow the same again along with another Rs 40,000, we would be said to have today a debt of Rs. 140,000 at least. Our Government has been routinely “rolling over” its domestic debt in this manner (in the asset-portfolios of the nationalised banking system) but displaying and highlighting only its new additional borrowing in a year as the “ Fiscal Deficit” (see graph, also “Fiscal Instability”, The Sunday Statesman, 4 February 2007). More than two dozen State Governments have been doing the same though, unlike the Government of India, they have no money-creating powers and their liabilities ultimately accrue to the Union as well. The stock of public debt in India may be Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) at least, and portends a hyperinflation in the future. Mr Chidambaram’s announcement of a “Debt Management Office” yet to be created is hardly going to suffice to avert macroeconomic turmoil and a possible monetary collapse. The Congress, BJP, CPI-M and all their friends shall be responsible.
Self-Styled “Planners” Have Controlled India’s Paper Money For Decades
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Feb 20 2007
Three agencies of the Executive Branch of our Government have controlled the country’s fiscal and monetary processes. The most glamorous is the Planning Commission, a nominated agency of the Government of the day without constitutional status but which has informally charged itself with articulating national and provincial preferences on public spending. It has overshadowed in impact and prestige the Finance Ministry or Treasury, which normally would design the budget, raise taxes, run the fiscal machinery and be accountable to Parliament (the Legislative Branch) via the person of the Finance Minister. In turn, the Finance Ministry owns and controls the Reserve Bank, effectively placing India’s paper money and bank deposits at the discretion of New Delhi’s purported “economic planners”.
In addition, the Finance Commission is charged with articulating a suitable allocation of public resources between the Union and States, setting some medium-term parameters of federal finance. And the Comptroller & Auditor General is supposed to assess effectiveness of Government behaviour: the “high independent statutory authority..… who sees on behalf of the Legislature that … money expended was legally available for and applied to the purpose or purposes to which it has been applied.” “Audit … is the main instrument to secure accountability of the Executive to the Legislature …. The fundamental object of audit is to secure real value for the taxpayer’s money” (Indian Government Accounts & Audit, 1930).
Weakness of Parliament
In parliamentary government, the whole Executive Branch is accountable to and the agent of the Legislative Branch. But the utter weakness of our Parliament over decades has led its institutions, including the C&AG, to be run roughshod over by the Government of the day. The Finance Commission, being a temporary and transient body, can hardly take on the entrenched bureaucracy the Planning Commission has become.
This unconstitutional subservience of policy-making to the Planning Commission began when the first planners said on December 7 1952: “The raison d’etre of a planned economy is the fullest mobilisation of available resources and their allocation so as to secure optimum results …. There is no doubt that the RBI, which is a nationalised institution, will play its appropriate part in furthering economic development along agreed lines”. When Jawaharlal Nehru as free India’s first prime minister chose to himself lead the “Second Plan”, the fate of India’s paper money was sealed. “Insofar as government expenditure is financed by central bank credit, there is a direct increase in currency in circulation”. That May 14 1956 statement marked the last mention for the next 43 years of India’s money during the process of articulating India’s public expenditure priorities.
The Reserve Bank has indeed behaved “along agreed lines”. While superficially presiding over currency, banking and foreign exchange, it has been legally and practically a department (with some 75,000 employees today) of the Finance Ministry. Since the vast bulk of customer deposits are held by nationalized banks owned and managed by the Finance Ministry, India has had practically a “one-tier” banking system on the old USSR model.
The “Ninth” and “Tenth” Planning Commissions included not only Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee but also his Finance and Foreign Ministers as members. It was not our Reserve Bank but such persons, including the prominent official (now in post-retirement service) Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who declared on April 5 1999 in the “Ninth Five Year Plan” that a “viable monetary posture” was “to accept an average inflation rate in the region of 7 per cent per annum, which would justify a growth rate of money supply (base money) of 16 per cent per annum”. Recent money supply growth rates under the Sonia-Manmohan Congress have been near 19%-21%, and inflation properly measured may be well above 10%.
In Western countries, it would be normal procedure for an acceptable level of inflation to be decided upon, followed by monetary and fiscal targets being set in view of what is statistically expected by way of real economic growth, since growth is mainly a result not of Government behaviour but of spontaneous technological progress and increase in productivity. By contrast, our “planning” process has allowed unconstrained fiscal expenditure to emerge out of chaotic and unconstrained nationwide politics on the sure-fire assumption that budget deficits are going to be “paid for” by money-printing (and hence by invisible taxation of the paper assets of an unknowing public).
For a PM and Finance Minister to sign off on fiscal-monetary targets during the “planning” process commits the entire Executive Branch to it. Reversing or even critically discussing such intentions would require nothing less than a Parliamentary Vote of No-Confidence, which itself would require public dissemination of economic models and data exclusively available to the Executive Branch, whether or not the Executive Branch is aware of it. Public exhortations and rhetoric then follow from politicians, bureaucrats and their businessman friends as to how much real growth needs to occur in order for inflation not to be above a given level!
The cart is thus squarely placed in front of and not behind the buffalo. If exhortations are not met by reality it is typically said ~ in bureaucrat-speak that avoids accountability ~ “slippages” occurred due to outside factors like rainfall, American business cycles or perhaps, now, global warming and AIDS.
Indeed because the upside-down nature of this process has likely not been grasped even by politicians, bureaucrats and establishment economists participating in it, let aside Parliament or the public, it hardly seems a conscious or deliberate “macroeconomic policy” at all, but rather an outcome of habitual, ritualistic routines taking place year after year for decades. And India’s financial press and TV media, instead of soberly seeking facts, have tended merely to flatter top politicians and bureaucrats, as is the wont of businessmen to do.
War finance, not peace
The structure of incentives and information has become such that no one in government, academia, international credit-rating agencies or elsewhere, is able to effectively point out that fiscal intentions expressed in a “Plan” may be infeasible, inflationary or generally unwise. This includes the IMF and World Bank who lead India’s creditors in Western financial markets, and whose staff are generally uninterested in the countries they work on except to make sure loans received are large and repayments timely (as their personal livelihoods depend on such factors). But a brave anonymous squeak can be found hidden in thousands of pages of “Tenth Plan” verbiage dated December 21 2002 ~ that it is all being “financed almost entirely by borrowing …. India’s public finance inherits the consequence of fiscal mismanagement in the past.” Efforts of one recent Governor to carve out a modern independent role for the Reserve Bank have apparently gone in vain, and he too has been co-opted as a Government spokesman in retirement.
The Bank of England could at one time “theoretically lend the full amount” the British Government was authorized to spend by the UK Parliament (Hirsch). For decades, the RBI has been required by our Government to do almost that in practice (see graph). During the Second World War, the US Government was assured its Central Bank “could and would see that the Treasury was supplied with all the money that it needed for war finance … beyond those secured by taxation and by borrowing from non-bank sources” (Chandler). India’s politicians and bureaucrats have given us macroeconomic processes that pretend our country has since Independence remained at war ~ when in fact we have been mostly at peace.
Indian Money & Credit by
First published in The Sunday Statesman, August 6 2006, Editorial Page Special Article
One rural household may lend another rural household 10 kg or 100 kg of grain or seed for a short time. When it does, it expects to receive back a little more than the amount lent ~ even if that little amount is in services or in plain goodwill among friends or neighbours. That extra amount is “real interest”, and the percentage of its value relative to the whole is the “real rate of interest”. So if 10 kg of grain are lent for two weeks and 11 kg are returned, an implicit real rate of interest of 10 per cent has been paid over that short period. The future is always less valuable than the present in the sense that 10 kg of grain today is worth something more than the prospect of the same 10 kg of grain tomorrow.
But loans may be made in terms of money rather than real units of grain, thus the change in the value of money over the period of the loan becomes relevant. If a loan of Rs 100,000 is made by a bank to a borrower for one year at a simple interest rate of 13 per cent per annum, and the value of money then declines at 8 per cent over the year, the debtor is paying real interest of just about 13 per cent-8 per cent = 5 per cent. The Yale economist Irving Fisher described how this monetary rate of interest equals the real rate of interest plus the rate of monetary inflation, while the great Swedish economist Knut Wicksell predicted inflation if the monetary rate fell below the real rate, and vice versa.
And there is another consideration too. A new cycle-rickshaw costs about Rs 5,000. A rickshaw driver who does not own his own machine has to pay the owner of the rickshaw a fixed rental of about Rs 15 per day. Now a government policy may want to see more cycle-rickshaw drivers owning their own machines, and allocate bank-credit accordingly. But some fraction of the drivers are alcoholics and hence are bad credit-risks, while others are industrious, have strong family lives and are good credit-risks. If a creditor is unable to distinguish between who is an alcoholic and who is not, credit terms will tend towards subsidising the alcoholic and taxing the industrious.
On the other hand, a creditor who knows each debtor individually will also know their credit-risks, and price individual loans to them accordingly. India’s credit markets, both rural and urban, have been segmented always into “formal” and “informal”, and remain so despite (or perhaps because of) much government intervention in recent decades.
Banks and the Reserve Bank of India operate in formal financial markets, but the informal credit market is where the real action is. For example, a mosaic-machine used in the construction business costs Rs 15,000 brand new and gets to be rented out at the rate of Rs 150 per day.
Someone with access to formal sector bank loans at say 13 per cent per annum, might borrow the Rs 15,000, buy a machine, rent it out, break-even within a few months and make a whopping profit afterwards. Everyone would thus hunger after subsidised formal sector bank loans, and these would be rationed quickly and then come to be allocated to people known to bank officials (like their own friends and relatives).
Rates of return on capital, i.e. real profits, are and always have been massively high in India, and that is what is to be expected because capital, both machinery and finance, is relatively scarce as a factor of production. Rates of return on labour, i.e. real wages, are on the other hand relatively low in India thanks to our vast population. For these reasons we have had for three centuries foreigners coming to India to invest their capital in enterprise and make a profit, while Indians have emigrated all over the world from Fiji to Britain to America in search of higher wages.
Now all of this is very elementary reasoning well known to serious monetary economists, yet it seems to have always escaped India’s monetary and fiscal decision-makers. For example, just the other day, the Finance Minister said in Parliament that all rural banks had been instructed to lend farmers credit at a 7 per cent (monetary) rate of interest, and failure to do so would lead to punishment. By the rickshaw example (in fact many cycle-rickshaw drivers are also marginal farmers), the FM did not wish to, and of course cannot in practice, distinguish between good and bad credit-risks among the recipients of such loans. If the value of money is declining by, say, 8 per cent per annum, a 7 per cent monetary rate is equivalent to a minus 1 per cent real rate. i.e., the FM would have done some Humpty Dumpty economics and caused the future prospect of holding Rs 1,000 tomorrow to be more and not less valuable than the certainty of holding Rs 1,000 today. It is inevitable there will be credit-rationing when credit is so massively subsidised, so the typical borrowing farmer will get some little fraction of his credit-needs at the official government price of 7 per cent per annum and then have to get the bulk of his credit-needs fulfilled in the informal market ~ at a price perhaps of 1 per cent-5 per cent PER DAY! The FM promising in his Budget to subsidise farm credit sounds nice on TV but may be wholly futile as a way of stopping farmers’ suicides.
The same kind of Humpty Dumpty monetary economics has been religiously pursued by the Reserve Bank of India for decades upon directions from its owner and master, the Finance Ministry ~ which in turn has always meekly followed the dictates of India’s unreasonable politicians of all parties. Formal sector interest rates in India have been for decades so artificially lowered that even if we use official figures measuring inflation, this leads to real interest rates being lower in capital-scarce India than in the capital-rich West! (See graphs). Negative or near-zero real interest rates in India’s formal financial sector coexisting with massively high profit rates in informal credit markets point to continuous processes of low risk profits being made by arbitrage between the two. That is why the organised private and public sectors seem so pleased with official credit policies ~ while every borrower in the informal credit markets always has suicide not far from his/her mind.
Other than Dr Rangarajan who once mentioned it, we have never had an RBI Governor who has wished to see the Reserve Bank of India constitutionally independent of the Government of the day, and hence dedicated to restoring the integrity of India’s money. Playing with the repo rate or other short term monetary rates is fun and makes the RBI think it is doing something as important as the US or UK central banks. Certainly the upward trend in such short term rates over the last few months is better than the nonsensical flip-flops previously. But it is small potatoes compared to the really giant variables which are all fiscal and not monetary in India. For example, Sonia Gandhi (as advised by another naturalized Indian, Jean Drèze, disciple of the Non-Resident Amartya Sen) insisted on a massive “Rural Employment Guarantee”; Manmohan Singh and Pranab Mukherjee have insisted on massive foreign weapons’ purchases and government wage increases; Praful Patel on massive foreign aircraft purchases; Arjun Sengupta on Scandinavian welfare benefits; Montek Ahluwalia on nuclear reactor purchases (so South Delhi will be able at least to run its ACs in 20 years’ time). All this adds endlessly to the stock of government paper being held as bank-assets, while the currency remains inconvertible (See e.g. The Statesman 30 October 2005, 6-8 January, 23 April 2006).The RSS/BJP and JNU/Left have been equally bereft of serious thought.
Tell any suicidal farmer that the Government of India has been borrowing larger and larger amounts every year just to pay interest on previously incurred debts; it may make him realise there are famous and powerful people who are even more unwise than himself and amount to effective suicide-prevention therapy. But do not tell him that they unlike himself have been playing with public money ~ or you may have the opposite effect.
The deficit-finance of all public institutions flow like rivulets into the swamp that is our Public Debt, managed by the RBI
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article
April 23 2006
THE Reserve Bank of India, like all other public institutions, belongs to all of India’s people. There has been a tendency with every national institution, whether the ONGC or nationalised banks like SBI, or the IITs and IIMs or Air India and Indian Airlines or the Railways, Army, Navy, Air Force, IAS, IFS, Central Secretariat etc, even Parliament and State legislatures, to think that its assets, both tangible and intangible, are to serve the interests mainly of its employees, whether of Class 1, 2, 3, or 4. In fact, the assets of all such national institutions belong to all Indians: all one thousand million of us, from nameless street children and rural mendicants onwards. The body of our whole Indian citizenry own any and all such public institutions, and their employees are merely our “agents”, literally “public servants” who get paid salaries and perquisites out of public revenues. The task of managing and controlling these vast cohorts of public servants is a stupendous one of democratic politics and public administration. As a country we have never been very adept at it, indeed we often have been hopelessly incompetent. Without proper control and management, employees of national institutions have naturally tended to take over control of these assets, shifting liabilities onto the shoulders and budgets of the anonymous diffused body of citizenry who are supposed to be their masters. The public’s servants have tended to become the masters of the public’s assets and resources.
The RBI, as the nation’s Central Bank, has a unique position because its principal task is to establish and maintain the integrity of our money and banking system. The deficit-finance of all public institutions flow like rivulets into the swamp that is our Public Debt, managed by the RBI.
Money as such has no “intrinsic” worth. All the paper rupees, dollars, pounds, euros, yen in the world have less “intrinsic” usefulness than a hairpin or a button or a pair of shoelaces. Hairpins, buttons and shoelaces at least keep your hair, your shirt or your shoes together ~ the paper of paper money can be at best used to roll cigarettes perhaps. Yet paper money comes to be needed and is valued by everyone in every country ~ from street children upwards to Mr Premji, Mr Gates and Mr Mittal. Everyone accepts paper money as wages in exchange for his/her work, and then plans to use that same paper to buy food, shelter, clothing and other necessities with. I.e., we accept paper money for a short time believing we can use it to acquire useful things with. It has no intrinsic worth yet it is universally valued because everyone believes it will be accepted by everyone else in exchange for real goods and services which are in fact useful and conducive to life. The use of paper money depends on a fine and invisible web of collective trust permeating throughout the economy.
Banks arose due to the increasing complexity of modern economies in the last six hundred years. Paper currency was then supplemented in commerce by “deposits”, so that a transaction between two persons need not involve turnover of cash but can come to be accomplished by adjustment in their respective deposits with their banks. This vastly increased the quantum of trust ordinary people placed in the system of normal transactions, since they had to now believe not just in the exchangeability of paper money but also in the viability of the banks where they had placed their deposits. Currency plus Bank Deposits constitute what is called the “Money Supply”, and its controller is the RBI.
Our collective trust in money and banking is in and of itself something with economic value, which commercial banks are in a unique position to exploit. Banks can usually bet that all their customers will not demand their deposits at the same time, and so they are able to lend out as loans a very large fraction of what they have received as deposits from the public. Making such loans in turn causes the recipients of the loans to make new deposits (of what they have borrowed) in yet other banks, and this in turn acts as a signal to the receiving banks to make even more loans. Hence a process of “redeposit” or “deposit multiplication” occurs in any banking system where only a fraction of deposits is legally required to be kept as reserves by the bank. A Central Bank like the RBI then has the duty to see none of this gets out of hand: that while individual banks are acting to make profitable investments on the capital risked by a bank’s owners, they are, as a collective body, creating enough but not excessive credit to meet the needs of business.
In India, most banks came to be nationalised decades ago by Indira Gandhi on advice of P. N. Haksar, the mentor of Dr Manmohan Singh in his career as an economic bureaucrat. Whatever original capital they have had also arises from the public exchequer, and all their employees are effectively “public servants” under the Ministry of Finance. We have not been hearing from the RBI anything about the deleterious effects of this continuing state of affairs.
The RBI’s functions include managing the “Public Debt”, which stands today at perhaps Rs. 30 trillion (1 trillion= 1 lakh crore), on which interest of perhaps Rs 2-3 trillion must be paid by the Union and State Governments every year to those holding the debt (mostly the nationalised banking system under duress from the RBI). Why the stock-market has been doing so “well” is because it has been like an athlete on steroids. A stock market is supposed to be risky while a debt market is supposed to be safe. Our Government’s fiscal and monetary behaviour over decades has caused the formal debt market to yield negative returns, and so the stock-market has become relatively lucrative despite its risky nature.
It is also the RBI’s task to manage the country’s foreign exchange “reserves”, i.e. the residual balance left after all forex outgoings from purchases of imports (like petroleum or weapons) and payments of interest on or repayment of foreign loans have been subtracted from flows of incoming forex arising from export revenues, emigrants’ remittances, and new foreign loans and investments. These “reserves” do not belong to the Government or the nation in the same way tax-revenues belong to the Consolidated Fund of India. It was a shocking conceptual error of the Manmohan Singh Government’s most prominent economic bureaucrat to fail to see this and to suggest forex reserves could be used for “infrastructure” development. For the business press to get excited about forex reserves being at this or that level is also misleading, since high reserves may or may not indicate a better financial position just as a heavily indebted man may or may not be in a bad position depending on what kind of use he has made of his debts.
We have not been hearing of any of these matters from the RBI under Dr Y. V. Reddy. Instead, the one definite number we have received last week is that the RBI, under behest of its master, the Ministry of Finance, has been causing the Money Supply to grow at something like 15%. The Government’s apologists would like us to believe that this gets distributed between real economic growth in the region of 10% and inflation in the region of 5%. But for all that anybody really knows, it may be that real growth is at 5% and inflation is at 10%! Ask yourself if what you bought last year for Rs 1000 costs Rs 1050 or Rs. 1100 this year. Your guess may be as good as the Government’s.
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).
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.
The RBI and Financial Repression (A Stock Market on Steroids)
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.
An address by Professor Subroto Roy to the Asia-Pacific Public Relations Conference, (panel on Transparency chaired by C. R. Irani) January 30 1998.
This talk is dedicated to the memory of my sister Suchandra Bhattacharjee (14.02.1943-10.01.1998).
1. I would like to talk about transparency and economic policy-making in our country. For something to be transparent is, in plain language, for it to be able to be openly seen through, for it to not to be opaque, obscure or muddy, for it to be clear to the naked eye or to the reasonable mind. A clear glass of water is a transparent glass of water. Similarly, an open and easily comprehensible set of economic policies is a transparent set of economic policies.
The philosopher Karl Popper wrote a famous book after the Second World War titled The Open Society and its Enemies. It contained a passionate defence of liberal institutions and democratic freedoms and a bitter attack on totalitarian doctrines of all kinds. It generated a lot of controversy, especially over its likely misreading of the best known work of political philosophy since the 4th Century BC, namely, Plato’s Republic . I shall borrow Popper’s terms ‘open society’ and ‘closed society’ and will first try to make this a useful distinction for modern times, and then apply it to the process of economic policy-making in India today.
2. An open society is one in which the ordinary citizen has reasonably easy access to any and all information relating to the public or social interest — whether the information is directly available to the citizen himself or herself, or is indirectly available to his or her elected representatives like MP’s and MLA’s. Different citizens will respond to the same factual information in different ways, and conflict and debate about the common good will result. But that would be part of the democratic process.
The assessment that any public makes about the government of the day depends on both good and bad news about the fate of the country at any given time. In an open society, both good news and bad news is out there in the pubic domain — open to be assessed, debated, rejoiced over, or wept about. If we win a cricket match or send a woman into space we rejoice. If we lose a child in a manhole or a busload of children in a river, we weep. If some tremendous fraud on the public exchequer comes to be exposed, we are appalled. And so on.
It is the hallmark of an open society that its citizens are mature enough to cope with both the good and the bad news about their country that comes to be daily placed before them. Or, perhaps more accurately, the experience of having to handle both good and bad news daily about their world causes the citizens in an open society to undergo a process of social maturation in formulating their understanding of the common good as well as their responses to problems or crises that the community may come to face. They might be thereby thought of as improving their civic capacities, as becoming better-informed and more discerning voters and decision-makers, and so becoming better citizens of the country in which they live.
The opposite of an open society is a closed society — one in which a ruling political party or a self-styled elite or nomenclatura keep publicly important information to themselves, and do not allow the ordinary citizen easy or reasonably free access to it. The reason may be merely that they are intent on accumulating assets for themselves as quickly as they can while in office, or that they are afraid of public anger and want to save their own skins from demands for accountability. Or it may be that they have the impression that the public is better off kept in the dark — that only the elite nomenclatura is in position to use the information to serve the national interest.
In a closed society it is inevitable that bad news comes to be censored or suppressed by the nomenclatura, and so the good news gets exaggerated in significance. News of economic disasters, military defeats or domestic uprisings gets suppressed. News of victories or achievements or heroics gets exaggerated. If there are no real victories, achievements or heroics, fake ones have to be invented by government hacks — although the suppressed bad news tends to silently whisper all the way through the public consciousness in any case.
Such is the way of government propaganda in almost every country, even those that pride themselves on being free and democratic societies. Dostoevsky’s cardinal advice in Brothers Karamasov was: “Above all, never lie to yourself”. Yet people in power tend to become so adept at propaganda that they start to deceive themselves and forget what is true and what is false, or worse still, cannot remember how to distinguish between true and false in the first place. In an essay thirty years ago titled Truth and Politics, the American scholar Hannah Arendt put it like this:
“Insofar as man carries within himself a partner from whom he can never win release, he will be better off not to live with a murderer or a liar; or: since thought is the silent dialogue carried out between me and myself, I must be careful to keep the integrity of this partner intact, for otherwise I shall surely lose the capacity for thought altogether.”
3. Closed societies may have been the rule and open societies the exception for most of human history. The good news at the end of the 20th Century is surely that since November 7 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, the closed society has officially ceased to be a respectable form of human social organization. The age of mass access to television and telecommunications at the end of the 20th Century may be spelling the permanent end of totalitarianism and closed societies in general. The Berlin Wall was perhaps doomed to fall the first day East Germans were able to watch West German television programs.
Other than our large and powerful neighbour China, plus perhaps North Korea, Myanmar, and some Islamic countries, declared closed societies are becoming hard to find, and China remains in two minds whether to be open or closed. No longer is Russia or Romania or Albania or South Africa closed in the way each once was for many years. There may be all sorts of problems and confusions in these countries but they are or trying to become open societies.
Under the glare of TV cameras in the 21st Century, horrors like the Holocaust or the Gulag or even an atrocity like Jalianwalla Bag or the Mai Lai massacre will simply not be able to take place anywhere in the world. Such things are not going to happen, or if they do happen, it will be random terrorism and not systematic, large scale genocide of the sort the 20th Century has experienced. The good news is that somehow, through the growth of human ingenuity that we call technical progress, we may have made some moral progress as a species as well.
4. My hypothesis, then, is that while every country finds its place on a spectrum of openness and closedness with respect to its political institutions and availability of information, a broad and permanent drift has been taking place as the 20th Century comes to an end in the direction of openness.
With this greater openness we should expect bad news not to come to be suppressed or good news not to come to be exaggerated in the old ways of propaganda. Instead we should expect more objectively accurate information to come about in the public domain — i.e., better quality and more reliable information, in other words, more truthful information. This in turn commensurately requires more candour and maturity on the part of citizens in discussions about the national or social interest. Closed society totalitarianism permitted the general masses to remain docile and unthinking while the nomenclatura make the decisions. Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor said that is all that can be expected of the masses. Open society transparency and democracy defines the concept of an ordinary citizen and requires from that citizen individual rationality and individual responsibility. It is the requirement Pericles made of the Athenians:
“Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well; even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics – this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.”
5. All this being said, I am at last in a position to turn to economic policy in India today. I am sorry to have been so long-winded and pedantic but now I can state my main substantive point bluntly: in India today, there is almost zero transparency in the information needed for effective macroeconomic policy-making whether at the Union or State levels. To illustrate by some examples.
(A) Macroeconomic policy-making in any large country requires the presence of half a dozen or a dozen well-defined competing models produced by the government and private agencies, specifying plausible causal links between major economic variables, and made testable against time-series data of reasonably long duration. In India we seem to have almost none. The University Economics Departments are all owned by some government or other and can hardly speak out with any academic freedom. When the Ministry of Finance or RBI or Planning Commission, or the India teams of the World Bank or IMF, make their periodic statements they do not appear to be based on any such models or any such data-base. If any such models exist, these need to be published and placed in the public domain for thorough discussion as to their specification and their data. Otherwise, whatever is being predicted cannot be assessed as being very much more reliable than the predictions obtained from the Finance Minister’s astrologer or palmist. (NB: Horse-Manure is a polite word used in the American South for what elsewhere goes by the initials of B. S.). Furthermore, there is no follow-up or critical review to see whether what the Government said was going to happen a year ago has in fact happened, and if not, why not.
(B) The Constitution of India defines many States yet no one seems to be quite certain how many States really constitute the Union of India at any given time. We began with a dozen. Some 565 petty monarchs were successfully integrated into a unitary Republic of India, and for some years we had sixteen States. But today, do we really have 26 States? Is Delhi a State? UP with 150 million people would be the fifth or sixth largest country in the world on its own; is it really merely one State of India? Are 11 Small States de facto Union Territories in view of their heavy dependence on the Union? Suppose we agreed there are fifteen Major States of India based on sheer population size: namely, Andhra, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, MP, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, UP and West Bengal. These States account for 93% of the population of India. The average population of these 15 Major States is 58 million people each. That is the size of a major country like France or Britain. In other words, the 870 million people in India’s Major States are numerically 15 Frances or 15 Britains put together.
Yet no reliable, uniformly collected GDP figures exist for these 15 States. The RBI has the best data, and these are at least two years old, and the RBI will tell you without further explanation that the data across States are not comparable. If that is the case at State-level, I do not see how the national-level Gross Domestic Product can possibly be estimated with any meaningfulness at all.
(C) Then we hear about the Government Budget deficit as a percentage of GDP. Now any national government is able to pay for its activities only by taxation or borrowing or by using its monopoly over the domestic medium of exchange to print new money. In India today, universal money-illusion seems to prevail. It would not be widely recognised by citizens, journalists or policy-makers that, say, 100,000 Rupees nominally taxed at 10% under 20% inflation leaves less real disposable income than the same taxed at 20% with 5% inflation. This is in part because inflation figures are unknown or suspect. There is no reliable all-India or State-level consumer price index. The wholesale price index on the basis of which the Government of India makes its inflation statements, may not accurately reflect the actual decline in the purchasing power of money, as measured, say, by rises in prices of alternative stores of value like land. The index includes artificially low administered or subsidized prices for petroleum, cereals, and electricity. To the extent these prices may be expected to move towards international equilibrium prices, the index contains a strong element of deferred inflation. One urgent task for all macroeconomic research in India is construction of reliable price-data indices at both Union and State levels, or at a minimum, the testing for reliability by international standards of series currently produced by Government agencies.
Without reliable macroeconomic information being spread widely through a reasonably well-informed electorate, the Government of India has been able to wash away fiscal budget constraints by monetization and inflation without significant response from voters. The routine method of meeting deficits has become “the use of the printing press to manufacture legal tender paper money”, either directly by paying Government creditors “with new paper money specially printed for the purpose” or indirectly by paying creditors “out of loans to itself from the Central Bank”, issuing paper money to that amount. Every Budget of the Government of India, including the most recent ones of 1996 and 1997, comes to be attended by detailed Press discussion with regard to the minutae of changes in tax rates or tax-collection — yet the enormous phenomena of the automatic monetization of the Government’s deficit is ill-understood and effectively ignored. Historically, a policy of monetization started with the British Government in India during the Second World War, with a more than five-fold increase in money supply occurring between 1939 and 1945. Inflation rates never seen in India before or since were the result (Charts 0000), attended by the Great Famine of 1942/43. Though these were brought down after succession of C. D. Deshmukh as Governor of the Reserve Bank, the policy of automatic monetization did not cease and continues until the present day. Inflation “sooner or later destroys the confidence, not only of businessmen, but of the whole community, in the future value of the currency. Then comes the stage known as “the flight from the currency.” Had the Rupee been convertible during the Bretton Woods period, depreciation would have signalled and helped to adjust for disequilibrium. But exchange-controls imposed during the War were enlarged by the new Governments of India and Pakistan after the British departure to exclude convertible Sterling Area currencies as well. With the Rupee no longer convertible, internal monetization of deficits could continue without commensurate exchange-rate depreciation.
The Reserve Bank was originally supposed to be a monetary authority independent of the Government’s fiscal compulsions. It has been prevented from developing into anything more than a department of the Ministry of Finance, and as such, has become the captive creditor of the Government. The RBI in turn has utilized its supervisory role over banking to hold captive creditors, especially nationalized banks whose liabilities account for 90% of commercial bank deposits in the country. Also captive are nationalized insurance companies and pension funds. Government debt instruments show on the asset side of these balance-sheets. To the extent these may not have been held had banks been allowed to act in the interests of proper management of depositors’ liabilities and share-capital according to normal principles, these are pseudo-assets worth small fractions of their nominal values. Chart 0000 shows that in the last five years the average term structure of Government debt has been shortening rapidly, suggesting the Government is finding it increasingly difficult to find creditors, and portending higher interest rates.
General recognition of these business facts, as may be expected to come about with increasing transparency, would be a recipe for a crisis of confidence in the banking and financial system if appropriate policies were not in place beforehand.
(D) As two last examples, I offer two charts. The first shows the domestic interest burden of the Government of India growing at an alarming rate, even after it has been deflated to real terms. The second tries to show India’s foreign assets and liabilities together – we always come to know what is happening to the RBI’s reserve levels, what is less known or less understood is the structure of foreign liabilities being accumulated by the country. Very roughly speaking, in terms that everyone can understand, every man, woman and child in India today owes something like 100 US dollars to the outside world. The Ministry of Finance will tell you that this is not to be worried about because it is long-term debt and not short-term debt. Even if we take them at their word, interest payments still have to be paid on long-term debt, say at 3% per annum. That means for the stock of debt merely to be financed, every man, woman and child in India must be earning $3 every year in foreign exchange via the sale of real goods and services abroad. I.e., something like $3 billion must be newly earned every year in foreign exchange merely to finance the existing stock of debt. Quite clearly, that is not happening and it would stretch the imagination to see how it can be made to happen.
In sum, then, India, blessed with democratic political traditions which we had to take from the British against their will — remember Tilak, “Freedom is my birthright, and I shall have it” — may still be stuck with a closed society mentality when it comes to the all-important issue of economic policy. There is simply an absence in Indian public discourse of vigourous discussion of economic models and facts, whether at Union or State levels. A friendly foreign ambassador pointedly observed an absence in India of political philosophy. It may be more accurate to say that without adequate experience of a normal agenda of government being seen to be practised, widespread ignorance regarding fiscal and monetary causalities and inexperience of the technology of governance remains in the Indian electorate, as well as among public decision-makers at all levels. Our politicians seem to spend an inordinate amount of their time either garlanding one another with flowers or garlanding statues and photographs of the glorious dead. It is high time they stopped to think about the living and the future.
 Renford Bambrough (ed.) Plato, Popper and Politics: Some Contributions to a Modern Controversy, 1967.
 Philosophy, Politics and Society, 2nd Series, Peter Laslett & W. G. Runciman (eds.), 1967.
 Thucydides, History of the Pelopennesian War, II.40.
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
“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…
Author’s Note May 2007: Between January 1993 and about May 1993 I was a Consultant to the International Monetary Fund, Washington, DC. The IMF does not usually hire consultants, and I was hired thanks to a recommendation by Gopi Arora to Hubert Neiss. At the request of Saudi IMF Executive Director Mohammad Al-Jasser, I did an interdepartmental comparative study — the only one until that time and perhaps since — of exchange-rates and exports of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. What follows is a part of that relating to exports. A little of it was published in an ICRIER study in New Delhi the following year, on India-United States trade.
EXPORTS FROM THE SUBCONTINENT
This study reports the main results of a study of exports from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh to their largest world markets in the period 1962-1991.
Panels of two-level Standard International Trade Classification (SITC) data were gathered as reported to the United Nations Statistical Office, Geneva in its Trade Analysis and Reporting System. These gave original data of all imports from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as reported by each of the United States, Britain, Japan, Germany and France (G-5 countries) over the 30-year period 1962-1991 in c.i.f. terms. These countries constitute almost 75 percent of the subcontinent’s total export market, and possibly more if indirect exports via third countries like Hong Kong and Singapore are accounted for.
The import-demand data reported by each of these countries provide the most reliable and uniform data source available.
To detect any possible trends in real growth or decline, the nominal data reported over this 30 year period were deflated to constant 1990 prices, using price-series obtained from the World Bank’s Quarterly Review of Commodity Markets December 1992. This source provides a manufactured goods unit value index for the G-5 countries, as well as individual price series for petroleum and commodities excluding energy. The latter is divided into foods (divided into beverages, cereals, fats & oils, and other), non-food agricultural, timber, and metals & minerals. It is considered the most reliable price-series data of its kind available. All figures given below are in constant 1990 U. S. dollars.
Overall, one firm regionwide fact to emerge about the subcontinent’s exports to the major industrial countries has to do with the enormous real growth of clothing, especially in the decade 1982-1991. Not only has there been remarkable growth in real terms of clothing exports from the entire region, but there has been relatively higher growth in Pakistan compared to India, and higher growth in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh compared to Pakistan.
India to the United States
India’s main exports to the United States have changed in product composition over the period 1962-1991, though not in ways predicted or hoped for by national economic plans. Between 1962-1971, the main exports other than textile manufactures (SITC 65) were agricultural: tea, coffee & spices (SITC 07), fruit and vegetables (SITC 05), sugars (SITC 06), fish and preparations (SITC 03), and crude matter(SITC 29). Between 1972-1981, the mix was transformed by growth of exports of polished diamonds (SITC 66) and clothing (SITC 84), which together with textile manufactures have dominated Indian exports to the United States since.
Between 1982-1991, the same mix continued to dominate with the significant addition of petroleum and products (SITC 33) which was the single largest export from India to the United States in each year between 1982 and 1985. Textile manufactures were the dominant export until 1978 and have been in the top four throughout the period. But there has been steady decline in real terms. The decline has been from annual averages of $740 million (c.i.f.) in 1962-71, to $406 million in 1972-1981, to $285 million in 1982-1991. India has also steadily lost market-share in total textile imports into the United States, dominating the market with an average annual market-share of 19.5 percent in 1962-1971, reduced to 10.1 percent in 1972-1981, reduced further to 4.84 percent in 1982-1991.
Clothing during the same period has shown high real growth, going from an annual average of $7 million in 1962-1971 to $178 million in 1972-1981, to $538 million in 1982-1991. Average annual market-share of total U.S. imports has gone from 0.10 percent in 1962-1971, to 2.11 percent in 1972-1981, to 2.34 percent in 1982-1991. While this has been small growth from the point of view of the United States market, the movement has been large relative to initial conditions from the point of view of Indian exporters. It is not apparent whether the decline in textile manufactures has been independent of the growth of clothing or whether there has been value-increasing substitution from textile manufactures into clothing. Comparative experience with Germany suggests there has not been such substitution.
India to Britain
India’s exports to Britain are marked by textile manufactures (SITC 65) and tea, coffee & spices (SITC 07), being among the top five exports throughout the entire period 1962-1991.
However, both of these traditional exports have declined in real terms. Annual average imports into Britain of textile manufactures from India were $253 million (c.i.f.) in 1962-1971 down to $179 million in 1972-1981 and $161 million in 1982-1991. India’s share of Britain’s imports of textile manufactures fell from 15.5 percent and 16.0 percent in 1962 and 1963 to 3.4 percent and 4.0 percent in 1990 and 1991.
Annual average imports into Britain of tea, coffee & spices from India were $269 million in 1962-1971 down to $87 million in 1972-1981 and $66 million in 1982-1991. Clothing (SITC 84) exports to Britain have shown high real growth, from annual averages of $4 million in 1962-1971 to $86 million in 1972-1981 to $200 million in 1982-1991. Of remaining exports to Britain, in the period 1962-1971 agricultural outputs like animal feed (SITC 08), tobacco (SITC 12) and crude matter (SITC 29) as well as leather goods (SITC 61) were the main product groups.
The next period 1972-1981 saw the growth of clothing (SITC 84) to a position of dominance among all Indian exports to Britain, and some growth in non-ferrous metals (SITC 68) mainly copper and aluminium alloys. The latest period 1982-1991 has seen some growth of non-traditional engineering exports to the top ranks, mainly transport equipment (SITC 73), metal manufactures (SITC 69) and non-electrical machinery (SITC 71). Clothing and textiles, however, continued to dominate more than 44 percent of all exports.
India to Japan
The main feature of India’s exports to Japan over the entire period 1962-1991 is the dominance of iron ore (SITC 28) throughout. Annual average imports of iron ore into Japan from India were $401 million in 1962-1971, rising to $556 million in 1972-1981, and $572 million in 1982-1991.
The period 1962-1971 saw, in addition to iron ore, export of raw cotton and jute fibres (SITC 26), crude agricultural matter (SITC 29), crude fertilizer (SITC 27), animal feed (SITC 08), sugar (SITC 06), ferrous alloys (SITC 67), and fish and preparations (SITC 03). The period 1972-1981 saw very high growth of exports of fish and preparations (SITC 03) and polished diamonds (SITC 66), as well as some growth of textile manufactures (SITC 65). Starting from almost zero, India’s market-share of Japanese imports of fish grew to an annual average of 7.31 percent during the period 1969-1985, before falling back to 2.7 percent in the 1990s. The latest period 1982-1991 has seen the dominance of polished diamonds equalling that of iron ore, as well as significant growth in clothing (SITC 84) and petroleum (SITC 33). The main exports of India to Japan are at present polished diamonds, iron ore, fish, ferrous-alloys and clothing. It seems plausible that India’s pattern of exports to Japan has been related to the high growth transformation of Japan’s economy during this time.
India to Germany and France
As with Japan, India’s exports to the Federal Republic of Germany show unique aspects related in all likelihood to the high growth transformation of the German economy during this period. Remarkably, textile yarn and fabric (SITC 65) from India to Germany has shown large real growth during 1962-1990. German imports of Indian textile manufactures were at an annual average of just $55 million for 1962-1971; this increased to an annual average of $163 million for 1972-1981 and to $255 million for 1982-1990. Although this has not been enough to offset the large declines of Indian textiles in the United States and British markets, it may suggest that rapid domestic growth in one large importing market can reduce the impact of loss of competitiveness in a different market. Clothing (SITC 84) has shown extremely high real growth relative to initial conditions. German imports of clothing from India were at an annual average of under $4 million in 1962-1971, rising to annual averages of $96 million in 1972-1981 and $282 million in 1982-1990. The simultaneous growth of textile manufacture and clothing exports from India to Germany may suggest that there has not been value-adding substitution from the former to the latter. Other than clothing, the product composition of Indian exports to Germany has not seen much drastic change.
In 1962-1965, iron ore (SITC 28) was the single largest export only to become abruptly insignificant, possibly implying new sources had been found by importers. Besides textile manufactures, three other traditional exports — leather goods (SITC 61), tea, coffee & spices (SITC 07), and crude matter (SITC 29) — have been among the top Indian exports to Germany throughout the period 1962-1990. Of these, leather goods have shown real growth from annual averages of $34 million in 1962-1971, to $55 million in 1972-1981, to $86 million in 1982-1990. Polished diamonds (SITC 66) also have been a major export to Germany since as early as 1964, with significant growth in the latest period 1982-1990.
India’s exports to France show certain similarities with the pattern to Germany on a smaller scale. Textile yarn and fabric (SITC 65) has shown growth in real terms from annual averages of $18 million in 1962-1971, to $51 million in 1972-1981 to $63 million in 1982-1991. (The growth of textile exports to Germany and France together have not offset the declines to the United States and Britain — average annual exports to the four countries totalling $1.07 billion for 1962-1971, $0.80 billion for 1972-1981, and $0.76 billion for 1982-1991.) Clothing exports to France have shown enormous growth relative to initial conditions, moving from annual averages of under $3 million in 1962-1971, to $57 million in 1972-1981 to $108 million in 1982-1991. Besides textile and clothing, Indian exports to France have included leather goods (SITC 61), crude matter (SITC 29), polished diamonds (SITC 66) and animal feed (SITC 07). In 1982 and 1985, France also reported petroleum imports as the single largest product from India.
Pakistan to the United States and Britain
In the period prior to 1972, Pakistan’s exports to traditional markets in the United States and Britain were dominated by raw jute and cotton fibres (SITC 26) and cotton and jute manufactures (SITC 65).
Since 1972, cotton manufactures (SITC 65) have shown remarkable real growth, and along with clothing (SITC 84) have dominated Pakistan’s exports to these markets. Annual average imports of cotton manufactures from Pakistan into the United States and Britain were $87 million and $76 million respectively in 1973-1981, rising to $182 million and $117 million respectively in 1982-1991.
Pakistan’s share of total textile imports rose from an annual average of 2.3 percent in 1973-1981 to 2.9 percent in 1982-1991 in the United States market, and from 1.8 percent to 1.9 percent in the British market. This contrasts with India’s declining textile exports to the same markets in the same period.
Average annual clothing imports from Pakistan into the United States and Britain were $22 million and $11 million respectively during 1973-1981, rising to $164 million and $62 million respectively during 1982-1991. During the period, Pakistan’s market-share of clothing imports has risen from 0.2 percent to 1.0 percent in case of the United States, and from 0.3 percent to 1.9 percent in case of Britain. Again, these are small changes for the importing markets but large changes from the point of view of exporters relative to initial conditions.
Other than textiles and clothing, significant movement in Pakistan’s exports to the United States and Britain is found in instruments, watches and clocks (SITC 86) to the United States, which went from an annual average of $10 million during 1973-1981 to $26 million in 1982-1991.
Pakistan to Japan, Germany and France
Pakistan’s exports to Japan have been dominated by cotton yarn and fabric (SITC 65) and cotton fibres (SITC 26), both showing strong real growth. The first has gone from an annual average of $79 million in 1973-1981 to $304 million in 1982-1991, the second from $48 million to $75 million in the same time period. Other exports to Japan include fish (SITC 03), leather goods (SITC 61), and petroleum and products (SITC 33).
Pakistan’s exports to Germany and France have been dominated by clothing (SITC 84) and cotton yarn and fabric (SITC 65). Average annual exports of clothing have grown from $19 million in 1973-1982 to $86 million in 1982-1991 in case of Germany, and from $8 million in 1973-1981 to $55 million in 1982-1991 in case of France. In the same periods, average annual exports of cotton yarn and fabric went up from $34 million to $66 million in case of France, and went down from $107 million to $99 million in case of Germany.
Other exports from Pakistan to Germany and France have included leather goods (SITC 61), cotton fibres (SITC 26), sugar (SITC 06) and petroleum and products (SITC 33).
Sri Lanka’s exports to the major industrial countries are marked by drastic decline in exports of tea (SITC 07) and rapid growth of exports of clothing (SITC 84).
Sri Lankan tea exports were at an annual average of $175 million to Britain and $49 million to the United States during 1962-1971, reduced to $38 million and $24 million respectively in 1972-1981, reduced to $23 million and $16 million respectively in 1982-1991. Between 1980 and 1991, Sri Lanka’s market-share of total British tea imports fell from 11 percent in 1980 to 7 percent in 1991. Evidently this loss of market-share was not India’s gain, as India’s share of the same market fell even more drastically, from 33 percent in 1980 to 17 percent in 1991. India and Sri Lanka traditionally dominated the world market for tea. Major competitors since then have been China, Indonesia, Kenya and Malawi.
Sri Lanka’s exports of clothing to the United States, Germany, Britain and France have grown very rapidly, making clothing the dominant export of Sri Lanka in the last decade. Average annual exports of clothing rose from $39 million in 1972-1981 to $361 million in 1982-1991 in case of the United States; from $10 million to $70 million in case of Germany; from $3 million to $27 million in case of Britain; from $2 million to $20 million in case of France. Although rates of value-added growth will be lower in view of Sri Lankan imports of raw materials (from India and Pakistan), clothing has clearly shown phenomenal growth relative to initial conditions.
Besides tea and clothing, significant movement in Sri Lanka’s exports over the long run appears in polished diamonds (SITC 66). Sri Lankan exports amounted to annual averages of $5 million and $4 million to Japan and the United States respectively in 1962-1971; $32 million and $17 million respectively in 1972-1981; and $38 million and $32 million respectively in 1982-1991. Value-added may be considerably lower given imports of rough diamonds via Belgium and India.
Like India and Pakistan, Bangladesh’s exports to the United States have been dominated by clothing (SITC 84) and textile yarn and fabric (SITC 65). As with India, textile manufactures have fallen drastically in real terms while clothing has shown enormous growth relative to initial conditions. While it is possible again that there has been value-increasing substitution from one towards the other, this appears unlikely as Bangladesh’s textile manufactures are mainly jute products. Average annual exports of textile manufactures from Bangladesh to the United States fell from $130 million in 1972-1981 to $75 million in 1982-1991, while clothing exports rose from near zero in 1972-1981 to an annual average of $249 million in 1982-1991. Unofficial (smuggled) trade across the India-Bangladesh border is reported to be high, and it is possible Indian exporters have sought to sidestep United States quotas by going through Bangladesh which does not face quotas.
The remaining significant movement in Bangladesh’s exports to the United States has been in fish (SITC 03), which has risen from an annual average of $8 million in 1972-1981 to $35 million in 1982-1991.
Bangladesh’s main exports to Britain have included jute fibres (SITC 26), textile manufactures (SITC 65) and fish (SITC 03). Average annual exports of jute fibres went from $19 million in 1973-1981 to $8 million in 1982-1991; textile manufactures went from $20 million in 1973-1982 to $21 million in 1982-1991; and fish went from $3 million in 1973-1981 to $18 million in 1982-1991. The remaining significant movement in Bangladesh’s exports to Britain include the appearance of transport equipment (SITC 73) as the top export at an average annual amount of $121 million in each year 1978-1980, followed by its equally sudden disappearance. And clothing exports have shown rapid growth from near zero to average annual exports of $50 million in the period 1988-1991.
Bangladesh’s exports to Japan have been dominated by fish and preparations (SITC 03), with average annual exports growing rapidly from $11 million in 1973-1982 to $54 million in 1982-1991. Other exports to Japan have included textile manufactures (SITC 65), petroleum and products (SITC 33), leather goods (SITC 61) and raw jute (SITC 26).
Bangladesh’s exports to Germany and France are marked by the rapid recent growth of clothing from negligible amounts to an annual average of $60 million in case of Germany and $52 million in case of France in 1987-1991. Other exports to Germany and France have included fish (SITC 03), textile manufactures (SITC 65), and leather goods (SITC 61).
Some discrepancy exists in the data as India does not report any exports of petroleum to either the USA or France in these years.
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.”
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