Life’s paradoxes: On watching the fall of the Berlin Wall in Honolulu, November 1989

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy  recalls how, twenty years ago in Honolulu, he called his three-year old to the television to watch the fall of the Berlin Wall with him as a historic event — even while he had to battle as an individual against the most vicious tyranny unleashed against him by the Government of one of the fifty States (a battle that has continued).

On the curious pre-9/11 quaintness of current criticism of India’s 1998 nuclear tests

I said towards the end of my June 4-5 2006 article in The Statesman “Pakistan’s Allies”

“…America and its allies would not be safe for long since the civil war they had left behind in Afghanistan while trying to defeat the USSR now became a brew from which arose a new threat of violent Islamism. Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, whom Pakistan’s military and the USA had promoted, now encouraged unprecedented attacks on the American mainland on September 11 2001 ~ causing physical and psychological damage which no Soviet, Chinese or Cuban missiles ever had been allowed to do….”

Earlier, in The Statesman of October 26 2005,  I had outlined a series of recent US espionage failures

“There have been three or four enormous failures of American espionage (i.e. intelligence and counter-intelligence) in the last 20 years. The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of Soviet communism were salubrious events but they had not been foreseen by the United States which was caught unawares by the speed and nature of the developments that took place. Other failures have been catastrophic.

First, there was the failure to prevent the attack that took place on the American mainland on September 11 2001. It killed several thousand civilians and caused vast, perhaps irreparable, psychological and physical destruction to the United States. The attack was without precedent. The December 7 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in Hawaii, though a surprise, was carried out by one military against another military and did not affect very many civilians (except that thousands of American civilians of Japanese ancestry came to be persecuted and placed in concentration camps for years by the US Government). And the last time the American mainland had been attacked before 2001 was in 1814 when British troops marched south from Canada and burnt down the Capitol and the US President’s house in Washington.

Secondly, there has been a failure to discover any reasonable justification for the American-led attack on Iraq and its invasion and occupation. Without any doubt, America has lost, at the very least, an incalculable amount of international goodwill as a result of this, let aside suffering two thousand young soldiers killed, fifteen thousand wounded, and an unending cost in terms of prestige and resources in return for the thinnest of tangible gains. India at great cost liberated East Pakistan from the brutal military tyranny of Yahya Khan and Tikka Khan in December 1971 but the average Bangladeshi today could hardly care less. Regardless of what form of government emerges in Iraq now, there is no doubt the mass of the Iraqi people will cheer the departure of the bulk of foreign troops and tanks from their country (even if a permanent set of a dozen hermetically sealed American bases remain there for ever, as appears to have been planned).

When things go wrong in any democracy, it is natural and healthy to set up a committee to investigate, and America has done that several times now. For such committees to have any use at all they must be as candid as possible and perhaps the most candid of the American committees has been the US Government’s 9/11 Commission. But it too has appeared no closer to finding out who was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks or who financed it and who, precisely, executed it. Osama Bin Laden may have been the ideological head of a movement allied to the perpetrators, and Bin Laden undoubtedly expressed his glee afterwards, but it beggars the imagination that Bin Laden could have been executive president in charge of this operation while crawling around Sudan, Pakistan and Afghanistan. If not him, then whom? Mossad the Israeli spy agency was supposed to have pointed to a super-secret invisible Lebanese terrorist but nobody really knows. The biggest modern mass murder remains unsolved.

As for solutions, the American 9/11 Commission went into the same politically correct formulae that came to be followed in 2005 by British PM Tony Blair’s New Labour Cabinet, namely, that “moderate” peace-loving Muslims must be encouraged and bribed not to turn to terrorism (indeed to expose those among them who do), while “extremist” Muslims must be stamped out with brute force. This rests on a mistaken premise that an economic carrot-and-stick policy can work in creating a set of external incentives and disincentives for Muslims, when in fact believing Muslims, like many other religious believers, are people who feel the power of their religion deep within themselves and so are unlikely to be significantly affected by external incentives or disincentives offered by non-believers.  Another committee has been the United States Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence which reported in July 2004, and from whose findings have stemmed as an offshoot the current matter about whether high government officials broke the law that is being investigated by Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Bertrand Russell said in his obituary of Ludwig Wittgenstein that he had once gone about looking under all the tables and chairs to prove to Wittgenstein that there was not a hippopotamus present in the room. In the present case, however, there is in fact a very large hippopotamus present in the room yet the entire American foreign policy establishment has seemed to refuse to wish to see it. Saddam Hussain and OBL are undoubtedly certifiable members of the international gallery of rogues – but the central fact remains they were rogues who were in alliance with America’s defined strategic interests in the 1980s. Saddam Hussain’s Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 and gassed the Kurds in 1986; an Iraqi Mirage on May 17 1987 fired two Exocet missiles at the USS Stark killing 37 American sailors and injuring 21. The Americans did nothing. The reason was that Saddam was still in favour at the time and had not yet become a demon in the political mythology of the American state, and it was expedient for nothing to be done. Indeed Saddam’s Iraq was explicitly removed in 1982 from the US Government’s list of states sponsoring terrorism because, according to the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism, it had “moved closer to the policies of its moderate Arab neighbours”.

The very large hippopotamus that is present in the room at the moment is April Glaspie, the highly regarded professional career diplomat and American Ambassador to Iraq at the time of the 1990 Gulf War. Saddam Hussein as President had a famous meeting with her on July 25 1990, eight days before he invaded Kuwait. The place was the Presidential Palace in Baghdad and the Iraqis videotaped the meeting:

U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – “I have direct instructions from President (George Herbert Walker) Bush to improve our relations with Iraq. We have considerable sympathy for your quest for higher oil prices, the immediate cause of your confrontation with Kuwait. (pause) As you know, I lived here for years and admire your extraordinary efforts to rebuild your country. We know you need funds. We understand that, and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. (pause) We can see that you have deployed massive numbers of troops in the south. Normally that would be none of our business, but when this happens in the context of your threats against Kuwait, then it would be reasonable for us to be concerned. For this reason, I have received an instruction to ask you, in the spirit of friendship – not confrontation – regarding your intentions: Why are your troops massed so very close to Kuwait’s borders?

Saddam Hussein – As you know, for years now I have made every effort to reach a settlement on our dispute with Kuwait. There is to be a meeting in two days; I am prepared to give negotiations only this one more brief chance. (pause) When we (the Iraqis) meet (with the Kuwaitis) and we see there is hope, then nothing will happen. But if we are unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that Iraq will not accept death.

U. S. Ambassador Glaspie – What solutions would be acceptable?

Saddam Hussein – If we could keep the whole of the Shatt al Arab – our strategic goal in our war with Iran – we will make concessions (to the Kuwaitis). But, if we are forced to choose between keeping half of the Shatt and the whole of Iraq (i.e., in Saddam’ s view, including Kuwait ) then we will give up all of the Shatt to defend our claims on Kuwait to keep the whole of Iraq in the shape we wish it to be. (pause) What is the United States’ opinion on this?

U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – We have no opinion on your Arab – Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960’s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America. (Saddam smiles)

Saddam had seen himself fighting Islamic Iran on behalf of the Kuwaitis, Saudis and other Arabs, and Islamic Iran was of course the sworn adversary of the USA at least since Khomeini had deposed America’s ally, the Shah. Therefore Saddam could not be all bad in the eyes of the State Department. On August 2 1990, the Iraqi troops seen by American satellites amassed on the border, invaded and occupied Kuwait. On September 2 1990, the Iraqis released the videotape and transcript of the July 29 Saddam-Glaspie meeting and Glaspie was confronted by British journalists as she left the Embassy:

Journalist 1 – Are the transcripts (holding them up) correct, Madam Ambassador? (No answer from Glaspie)

Journalist 2 – You knew Saddam was going to invade (Kuwait ) but you didn’t warn him not to. You didn’t tell him America would defend Kuwait. You told him the opposite – that America was not associated with Kuwait.

Journalist 1 – You encouraged this aggression – his invasion. What were you thinking?

U.S. Ambassador Glaspie – Obviously, I didn’t think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait.

Journalist 1 – You thought he was just going to take some of it? But, how could you? Saddam told you that, if negotiations failed , he would give up his Iran(Shatt al Arab waterway) goal for the whole of Iraq, in the shape we wish it to be. You know that includes Kuwait, which the Iraqis have always viewed as a historic part of their country!

Journalist 1 – America green-lighted the invasion. At a minimum, you admit signalling Saddam that some aggression was okay – that the U.S. would not oppose a grab of the al-Rumeilah oil field, the disputed border strip and the Gulf Islands (including Bubiyan) – the territories claimed by Iraq?

Glaspie said nothing, the car door closed behind her, the car drove off. Nothing has been apparently heard from Glaspie ever since, and we may have to wait for her memoirs in 25 years when they are declassified to come to know what happened. It is astonishing, however, that the 521 page report of the US Senate’s Select Committee on espionage about Iraq before the 2003 war finds no cause whatsoever to mention Glaspie at all (at least in its public censored version). It is almost as if Glaspie has never existed and her conversation with Saddam never happened. Glaspie has disappeared down an Orwellian memory-hole. Yet her conversation with Saddam was the last official, recorded conversation between the Americans and Saddam while they were still on friendly terms.

There may be many causes explaining how such serious failures have come to occur in a country where billions of dollars have been annually spent on espionage. Among them must be that while America’s great strengths have included creation of the finest advanced scientific and technological base on earth, America’s great intellectual weaknesses in recent decades have included an impatience with historical and philosophical reflection of all sorts, and that includes reflection about her own as well as other cultures. This is exemplified too in the third palpable failure of intelligence of the last 20 years, which has been to have not foreseen or prevented atomic weapons from being developed by America and Britain’s Islamist ally and client-state, Pakistan, and thence to have failed to prevent the proliferation of such weapons in general. The consequences of that may yet turn out to be the most grave.”

Now as it happens, a couple of days ago, eleven years after the Government of India’s May 1998 underground nuclear tests at Pokhran, an Indian scientist who had something to do with them has engaged in a general discussion about the tests’ efficacy. Indian newspapers duly reported this as part of an ongoing domestic discussion about nuclear policy.

Oddly enough, there has been an instantaneous reaction from American critics of India’s nuclear activities – beginning with Dr Jeffrey Lewis:

“Yes, Virginia, India’s H-bomb fizzled.  K Santhanam (who was director of test site preparations for India’s 1998 nuclear tests… has admitted what everyone else has known for a long time — that India’s 1998 test of a thermonuclear device was unsuccessful.…”

Followed by Mark Hibbs:

“Is this cool or what? I remember what happened when I wrote that article in the fall of 1998 saying in the headline that the US had concluded that the Indian “H-Bomb failed.” Almost overnight after the article was published I got a huge bundle of papers from BARC and DAE sent to me by diplomatic pouch from Mumbai informing me with all kinds of numbers that I was wrong.  I gave the papers to laboratory geoscientists at several European countries and the US. One main CTBTO monitoring scientist told me explicitly: “Nope. The stuff in these papers is shitty science. They haven’t shown that you are wrong.” That having been said, please note however that, as PK Iyengar had made the case to me back a decade ago, once again this “news” is surfacing in India because their bomb makers want to keep testing. Some things in India are changing fast. Other things aren’t.”

Followed by Charles Mead:

“I got into a huge pissing match with the Indians on this issue as I was the principal author of Barker et. al. 1998 which had the yield estimates far below the Indian press releases. A number of Indian scientists tried to submit a comment to Science rebutting our analysis. We asked them to provide the in-country seismic data on which they based their analysis, but they refused. Luckily, in the end, their comment was rejected and never published.  On a related note, I saw the other day that wikipedia has a glowing description of the Indian 1998 tests, citing the inflated yields and saying the tests were a huge technical accomplishment. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pokhran-II In the next day or so, I plan to submit a corrected analysis.”

Mark Hibbs:

“Charles, I recall one of your co-authors back then explained to me in nitty-gritty detail your frustration on this with these guys. Please do correct the record for posterity.”

Charles Meade:

“Their arguments at the time were quite remarkable. They said that our seismic data didn’t reflect the true yield because of a complex interference pattern caused by the simultaneous tests. Under these circumstances, they said that one could only obtain the correct yield from near field data. We said, “fine, show it to us”. They refused and that was the end of their paper.”

Yale Simkin:

“The Indian argument: ‘For us to have a nuclear deterrent we must weaponise. For this, we must have fusion weapons, because these are smaller, lighter, and more efficient than fission weapons.’ is a lot of hooey.  They claim to be building a deterrent force, not a war-fighting arsenal with a counter-force capability.  For the size and mass of their likely early-generation fusion designs, they can instead use basic fission bombs yielding in the multi-dekakiloton range – multiples of the hell weapons that incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  That should be sufficient to deter any rational adversary. And if they aren’t rational, then you have no deterrent.”

Hmmm.  The choice of terminology even within such a brief discussion might reveal a little of the mind-set: “shitty science”, “pissing match”, “a lot of hooey”…

Rather uncool, really.

Specifically:

“A number of Indian scientists tried to submit a comment to Science rebutting our analysis. We asked them to provide the in-country seismic data on which they based their analysis, but they refused. Luckily, in the end, their comment was rejected and never published…. Their arguments at the time were quite remarkable. They said that our seismic data didn’t reflect the true yield because of a complex interference pattern caused by the simultaneous tests. Under these circumstances, they said that one could only obtain the correct yield from near field data. We said, “fine, show it to us”. They refused and that was the end of their paper.

Hmmm — once more.  The words that I have placed in bold above might be prima facie evidence of incorrect and hence unfair editorial procedures having been followed at Science (distinguished as its general reputation may be as a journal).  Why were these here-unnamed “Indian scientists” not allowed to speak for themselves, rather than have their now-unknown statements be bowdlerised out of their critics’ memories a decade later (when these critics themselves had been the subject of the rebuttal)?  Perhaps the rebuttal should not have been refused publication even if it came with an editorial caveat that all the data deemed necessary had not been provided (which may have been the case, for example, due to a Government gag-order).  Readers today would have been able to judge for themselves.

I am happy to claim zero expertise in the field known rather sweetly as “Crater Morphology”; but post 9/11, post-Iraq war, it does seem to me a rather quaint form of prejudice to be using such words as those quoted above  in discussing the precise tonnage of the Indian explosions and how, really, India’s scientists were not up to it.  Perhaps,  when matters of public policy or international diplomacy become involved, science  everywhere is too important to be left to the scientists.

Are all the available data out there in the public domain on which to judge whether the Indian explosions in 1998 were or were not what was precisely claimed at the time?  Apparently not.

Does it matter to anything today?  Hardly.  Not even to the credibility of the Government of India (something on which I have had a lot to say over decades).

Do Governments lie?  Yes Virginia, they do.

Governments the world over, whether Indian, American, Russian, Chinese, British, French, Israeli, Arab, Pakistani or whatever, let aside inter-Governmental bodies constituted by these Governments, are prone to exaggeration, propaganda, self-delusion, self-deception as well as deliberate mendacity, perhaps routinely on a daily basis.

(For myself as an individual, I have had to battle the demonstrated and deliberate mendacity of the government of one of the fifty States in the US federal courts for two decades now, as told of elsewhere…)

An Age of Government Mendacity has seemed to descend upon the world — which makes the smugness expressed so quickly today by the critics of India’s 1998 explosions seem, as I have said, quaint.

Is the current Indian debate indicating something about keeping open the possibility of more tests and isn’t this related to the Indo-US civil nuclear deal?   It may well be, I do not know.  My position for what it is worth has been clear and described in several articles in The Statesman in recent years e.g.

1) Atoms for Peace (or War)  (March 5 2006)

“Atoms for Peace” was Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1953 speech to the UN (presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister) from which arose the IAEA. Eisenhower was the warrior par excellence, having led the Allies to victory over Hitler a few years earlier.

Yet he was the first to see “no sane member of the human race” can discover victory in the “desolation, degradation and destruction” of nuclear war. “Occasional pages of history do record the faces of the ‘great destroyers’, but the whole book of history reveals mankind’s never-ending quest for peace and mankind’s God-given capacity to build.” Speaking of the atomic capacity of America’s communist adversary at the time, he said: “We never have, and never will, propose or suggest that the Soviet Union surrender what rightly belongs to it. We will never say that the peoples of the USSR are an enemy with whom we have no desire ever to deal or mingle in friendly and fruitful relationship.” Rather, “if the fearful trend of atomic military build-up can be reversed, this greatest of destructive forces can be developed into a great boon, for the benefit of all mankind…. if the entire body of the world’s scientists and engineers had adequate amounts of fissionable material… this capability would rapidly be transformed into universal, efficient and economic usage”. Eisenhower’s IAEA would receive contributions from national “stockpiles of normal uranium and fissionable materials”, and also impound, store and protect these and devise “methods whereby this fissionable material would be allocated to serve the peaceful pursuits of mankind.…to provide abundant electrical energy in the power-starved areas of the world… to serve the needs rather than the fears of mankind.” When Eisenhower visited India he was greeted as the “Prince of Peace” and a vast multitude threw rose petals as he drove by in an open limousine.

Now, half a century later, Dr Manmohan Singh read a speech in Parliament on February 27 relating to our nuclear discussions with America. But it seems unclear even his speech-writers or technical advisers knew how far it was rhetoric and how far grounded in factual realities. There is also tremendous naivete among India’s media anchors and political leaders as to what exactly has been agreed by the Americans on March 2.

Churchill once asked what might have happened if Lloyd George and Clemenceau told Woodrow Wilson: “Is it not true that nothing but your fixed and expiring tenure of office prevents you from being thrown out of power?” The same holds for George W. Bush today. Wilson made many promises to the world that came to be hit for a six by US legislators. In December 2005, Edward Markey (Democrat) and Fred Upton (Republican) promised to scuttle Bush’s agreements with India, and once the pleasant memories of his India visit fade, Bush may quite easily forget most things about us. All the Americans have actually agreed to do is to keep talking.

It needs to be understood that submarine-launched ballistic missiles are the only ultimate military deterrent. Land and air forces are all vulnerable to a massive first-strike. Only submarines lurking silently for long periods in waters near their target, to launch nuclear warheads upon learning their homeland had been hit by the enemy, act as a deterrent preventing that same enemy from making his attack at all. Indeed, the problem becomes how a submarine commander will receive such information and his instructions during such a war. (For India to acquire an ICBM capability beyond the MRBM Agni rockets is to possess an expensive backward technology — as retrograde as the idea India should spend scarce resources sending manned moon missions half a century after it has already been done. The secret is to do something new and beneficial for mankind, not repeat what others did long ago merely to show we can now do it too.) A nuclear-armed submarine needs to be submerged for long periods and also voyage long distances at sea, and hence needs to be nuclear-powered with a miniature version of a civilian nuclear reactor aboard in which, e.g. rods of enriched uranium are bombarded to release enough energy to run hydroelectric turbines to generate power. Patently, no complete separation of the use of atomic power for peace and war may be practically possible. If India creates e.g. its own thorium reactors for civilian power (and we have vast thorium reserves, the nuclear fuel of the future), and then miniaturised these somehow to manufacture reactors for submarines, the use would be both civilian and military. In 1988 the old USSR leased India a nuclear-powered submarine for “training” purposes, and the Americans did not like it at all. In January 2002, Russia’s Naval Chief announced India was paying to build and then lease from 2004 until 2009 two nuclear-powered Akula-class attack submarines, and Jaswant Singh reportedly said we were paying $1 thousand crore ($10 bn) for such a defence package. Whether the transaction has happened is not known. Once we have nuclear submarines permanently, that would be more than enough of the minimum deterrent sought.

Indeed, India’s public has been barely informed of civilian nuclear energy policy as well, and an opportunity now exists for a mature national debate to take place — both on what and why the military planning has been and what it costs (and whether any bribes have been paid), and also on the cost, efficiency and safety of the plans for greater civilian use of nuclear energy. Government behaviour after the Bhopal gas tragedy does not inspire confidence about Indian responses to a Three Mile Island/Chernobyl kind of catastrophic meltdown.

That being said, the central question remains why India or anyone else needs to be nuclear-armed at all. With Britain, France or Russia, there is no war though all three are always keen to sell India weapons. Indeed it has been a perennial question why France and Britain need their own deterrents. They have not fought one another for more than 100 years and play rugby instead. If Russia was an enemy, could they not count on America? Or could America itself conceivably become an enemy of Britain and France? America owes her origins to both, and though the Americans did fight the British until the early 1800s, they have never fought the French and love the City of Paris too much ever to do so.

Between China and India, regardless of what happened half a century ago, nuclear or any war other than border skirmishes in sparse barren lands is unlikely. Ever since Sun Yat-sen, China has been going through a complex process of self-discovery and self-definition. An ancient nation where Maoism despoiled the traditional culture and destroyed Tibet, China causes others to fear it because of its inscrutability. But it has not been aggressive in recent decades except with Taiwan. It has threatened nuclear war on America if the Americans stand up for Taiwan, but that is not a quarrel in which India has a cogent role. China (for seemingly commercial reasons) did join hands with Pakistan against India, but there is every indication the Chinese are quite bored with what Pakistan has become. With Pakistan, our situation is well-known, and there has been an implicit equilibrium since Pokhran II finally flushed out their capacity. Had India ever any ambition of using conventional war to knock out and occupy Pakistan as a country? Of course not. We are barely able to govern ourselves, let aside try to rule an ideologically hostile Muslim colony in the NorthWest. Pakistan’s purported reasons for acquiring nuclear bombs are spurious, and cruelly so in view of the abject failures of Pakistan’s domestic political economy. Could Pakistan’s Government use its bombs against India arising from its own self-delusions over J&K? Gohar Ayub Khan in 1998-1999 threatened to do so when he said the next war would be over in two hours with an Indian surrender. He thereby became the exception to Eisenhower’s rule requiring sanity. An India-Pakistan nuclear exchange is, unfortunately, not impossible, leaving J&K as Hell where Jahangir had once described it as Heaven on Earth.

America needs to end her recent jingoism and instead rediscover the legacy of Eisenhower. America can lead everyone in the world today including Russia, China, Israel, Iran and North Korea. But she can do so only by example. America can decommission many of her own nuclear weapons and then lead everyone else to the conference table to do at least some of the same. Like the UN, the IAEA (and its NPT) needs urgent reform itself. It is the right time for serious and new world parleys towards the safe use of atoms for peace and their abolition in war. But are there any Eisenhowers or Churchills to lead them?

2) Our  energy interests ( Aug 27-28 2006)

Americans are shrewd and practical people in commercial matters, and expect the same of people they do business with. Caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware”, is the motto they expect those on the other side of the table to be using. Let us not think they are doing us favours in the nuclear deal ~ they are grown-ups looking after their interests and naturally expect we shall look after our own and not expect charity while doing business. Equally, let us not blame the Americans if we find in later years (long after Manmohan Singh and Montek Ahluwalia have exited from India’s stage) that the deal has been implemented in a bad way for our masses of ordinary people.

That said, there is a remarkable disjoint between India’s national energy interests (nuclear interests in particular), and the manner in which the nuclear deal is being perceived and taken to implementation by the two sides. There may be a fundamental gap between the genuine positive benefits the Government of India says the deal contains, and the motivations American businessmen and through them Indian businessmen have had for lobbying American and Indian politicians to support it. An atmosphere of being at cross-purposes has been created, where for example Manmohan Singh is giving answers to questions different from the questions we may want to be asking Montek Ahluwalia. The fundamental gap between what is being said by our Government and what may be intended by the businessmen is something anyone can grasp, though first we shall need some elementary facts.

In 2004, the International Energy Agency estimated the new energy capacity required by rising economic growth in 2020 will derive 1400 GW from burning coal (half of it in China and India), 470 GW from burning oil, 430GW from hydro, and 400 GW from renewable sources like solar or wind power. Because gas prices are expected to remain low worldwide, construction of new nuclear reactors for electricity will be unprofitable. By 2030, new energy expected to be required worldwide is 4700GW, of which only 150GW is expected from new nuclear plants, which will be in any case replacing existing plants due to be retired. Rational choice between different energy sources depends on costs determined by history and geography. Out of some 441 civilian reactors worldwide, France has 59 and these generate 78 per cent of its electricity, the rest coming from hydro. Japan has 54 reactors, generating 34% of its electricity from them. The USA has 104 reactors but generates only 20 per cent of its electricity from them, given its vast alternative sources of power like hydro. In India as of 2003, installed power generating capacity was 107,533.3MW, of which 71 per cent came from burning fuels. Among India’s energy sources, the largest growth-potential is hydroelectric, which does not involve burning fuels ~ gravity moves water from the mountains to the oceans, and this force is harnessed for generation. Our hydro potential, mostly in the North and North-East, is some 150,000MW but our total installed hydro capacity with utilities was only 26,910MW (about 18 per cent of potential). Our 14 civilian nuclear reactors produced merely 4 per cent or less of the electricity being consumed in the country. Those 14 plants will come under “international safeguards” by 2014 under the nuclear deal.

It is extremely likely the international restrictions our existing nuclear plants have been under since the 1970s have hindered if not crippled their functioning and efficiency. At the same time, the restrictions may have caused us to be innovative too. Nuclear power arises from fission of radioactive uranium, plutonium or thorium. India has some 8 million tonnes of monazite deposits along the seacoast of which half may be mined, to yield 225,000 tonnes of thorium metal; we have one innovatively designed thorium reactor under construction. Almost all nuclear energy worldwide today arises from uranium of which there are practically unlimited reserves. Fission of a uranium atom produces 10 million times the energy produced by combustion of an atom of carbon from coal. Gas and fossil fuels may be cheap and in plentiful supply worldwide for generations to come but potential for cheap nuclear energy seems practically infinite. The uranium in seawater can satisfy mankind’s total electricity needs for 7 million years. There is more energy in the uranium impurity present in coal than can arise from actually burning the coal. There is plenty of uranium in granite. None of these become profitable for centuries because there is so much cheap uranium extractable from conventional ores. Design improvements in reactors will also improve productivity; e.g. “fast breeder” reactors “breed” more fissile material than they use, and may get 100 times as much energy from a kilogram of uranium as existing reactors do. India has about 95,000 tonnes of uranium metal that may be mined to yield about 61,000 tonnes net for power generation. Natural uranium is 99.3 per cent of the U-238 isotope and 0.7 per cent of the radioactive U-235 isotope. Nuclear power generation requires “enriched uranium” or “yellow cake” to be created in which U-235 has been increased from 0.7 per cent to 4 to 5 percent. (Nuclear bombs require highly enriched uranium with more than 90 per cent of U-235.) Yellow cake is broken into small pieces, put in metal rods placed in bundles, which are then bombarded by neutrons causing fission. In a reactor, the energy released turns water into steam, which moves turbines generating electricity. While there is no carbon dioxide “waste” as in burning fossil fuels, the “spent” rods of nuclear fuel and other products constitute grave radioactive waste, almost impossible to dispose of.

The plausible part of the Government of India’s official line on the Indo-US nuclear deal is that removing the international restrictions will ~ through importation of new technologies, inputs, fuel etc ~ improve functioning of our 14 existing civilian plants. That is a good thing. Essentially, the price being paid for that improvement is our willingness to commit that those 14 plants will not be used for military purposes. Fair enough: even if we might become less innovative as a result, the overall efficiency gains as a result of the deal will add something to India’s productivity. However, those purchasing decisions involved in enhancing India’s efficiency gains must be made by the Government’s nuclear scientists on technical grounds of improving the working of our existing nuclear infrastructure.

It is a different animal altogether to be purchasing new nuclear reactors on a turn-key basis from American or any other foreign businessmen in a purported attempt to improve India’s “energy security”. (Lalu Yadav has requested a new reactor for Bihar, plus of course Delhi will want one, etc.) The central question over such massive foreign purchases would no longer be the technical one of using the Indo-US deal to improve efficiency or productivity of our existing nuclear infrastructure. Instead it would become a question of calculating social costs and benefits of our investing in nuclear power relative to other sources like hydroelectric power. Even if all other sources of electricity remained constant, and our civilian nuclear capacity alone was made to grow by 100 per cent under the Manmohan-Montek deal-making, that would mean less than 8% of total Indian electricity produced.

This is where the oddities arise and a disjoint becomes apparent between what the Government of India is saying and what American and Indian businessmen have been doing. A “US-India Business Council” has existed for thirty years in Washington as “the premier business advocacy organization promoting US commercial interests in India.… the voice of the American private sector investing in India”. Before the nuclear or any other deals could be contemplated with American business, the USIBC insisted we pay up for Dabhol contracted by a previous Congress Government. The Maharashtra State Electricity Board ~ or rather, its sovereign guarantor the Government of India ~ duly paid out at least $140-$160 million each to General Electric and Bechtel Corporations in “an amicable settlement” of the Dabhol affair. Afterwards, General Electric’s CEO for India was kind enough to say “India is an important country to GE’s global growth. We look forward to working with our partners, customers, and State and Central Governments in helping India continue to develop into a leading world economy”.

Also, a new “US-India CEO Forum” then came about. For two Governments to sponsor private business via such a Forum was “unprecedented”, as noted by Washington’s press during Manmohan Singh’s visit in July 2005. America’s foreign ministry announced it saying: “Both our governments have agreed that we should create a high-level private sector forum to exchange business community views on key economic priorities…” The American side includes heads of AES Corporation, Cargill Inc., Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Honeywell, McGraw-Hill, Parsons Brinckerhoff Ltd, PepsiCo, Visa International and Xerox Corporation. The Indian side includes heads of Tata Group, Apollo Hospitals Group, Bharat Forge Ltd, Biocon India Group, HDFC, ICICI One Source, Infosys, ITC Ltd, Max India Group and Reliance Industries. Presiding over the Indian side has been Montek Ahluwalia, Manmohan’s trusted aide ~ and let it be remembered too that the Ahluwalias were Manmohan’s strongest backers in his failed South Delhi Lok Sabha bid. (Indeed it is not clear if the Ahluwalias have been US or Indian residents in recent years, and if it is the former, the onus is on them to clear any perception of conflict of interest arising in regard to roles regarding the nuclear deal or any other official Indo-US business.)

Also, before the Manmohan visit, the Confederation of Indian Industry registered as an official lobbyist in Washington, and went about spending half a million dollars lobbying American politicians for the nuclear deal. After the Manmohan visit, the US Foreign Commercial Service reportedly said American engineering firms, equipment suppliers and contractors faced a $1,000 billion (1 bn =100 crore) opportunity in India. Before President Bush’s visit to India in March 2006, Manmohan Singh signed vast purchases of commercial aircraft from Boeing and Airbus, as well as large weapons’ deals with France and Russia. After the Bush visit, the US Chamber of Commerce said the nuclear deal can cause $100 billion worth of new American business in India’s energy-sector alone. What is going on?

Finally, the main aspect of Manmohan Singh’s address to America’s legislature had to do with agreeing with President Bush “to enhance Indo-US cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear technology”. What precisely does this mean? If it means the Indo-US nuclear deal will help India improve or maintain its existing nuclear infrastructure, well and good. There may be legitimate business for American and other foreign companies in that cause, which also helps India make the efficiency and productivity gains mentioned. Or has the real motivation for the American businessmen driving the deal (with the help of the “CEO Forum” etc) been to sell India nuclear reactors on a turn-key basis (in collaboration with private Indian businessmen) at a time when building new nuclear reactors is unprofitable elsewhere in the world because of low gas prices? India’s citizens may demand to know from the Government whether the Manmohan-Montek deal-making is going to cause importation of new nuclear reactors, and if so, why such an expensive alternative is being considered (relative to e.g. India’s abundant hydroelectric potential) when it will have scant effect in satisfying the country’s energy needs and lead merely to a worsening of our macroeconomic problems. Both Manmohan Singh and Montek Ahluwalia have been already among those to preside over the growth of India’s macroeconomic problems through the 1980s and 1990s.

Lastly, an irrelevant distraction should be gotten out of the way. Are we a “nuclear weapons” state? Of course we are, but does it matter to anything but our vanity? Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev had control over vastly more nuclear weapons and they declared together twenty years ago: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought”, which is how the Cold War started to come to an end. We need to remind ourselves that India and Pakistan are large, populous countries with hundreds of millions of materially poor, ill-informed citizens, weak tax-bases, humongous internal and external public debts (i.e. debt owed by the Government to domestic and foreign creditors), non-investment grade credit- ratings in world financial markets, massive annual fiscal deficits, inconvertible currencies, nationalized banks, and runaway printing of paper-money. Discussing nuclear or other weapon-systems to attack one other with is mostly a pastime of our cowardly, irresponsible and yes, corrupt, elites.

3) Need for Clarity A poorly drafted treaty driven by business motives is a recipe for international misunderstanding  (August 19 2007)

Confusion prevails over the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. Businessmen, bureaucrats, politicians, diplomats, scientists and now the public at large have all joined in the cacophony in the last two years. On Wednesday August 15, America’s foreign ministry made the clearest most unequivocal statement possible as to the official American Government interpretation of the Indo-US nuclear deal: “The proposed 123 agreement has provisions in it that in an event of a nuclear test by India, then all nuclear co-operation is terminated, as well as there is provision for return of all materials, including reprocessed material covered by the agreement” (Sean McCormack). Yet our Prime Minister had told Parliament two days earlier: “The agreement does not in any way affect India’s right to undertake future nuclear tests, if it is necessary”. What is going on? Our politics are in uproar, and it has been suggested in these pages that the country go to a General Election to allow the people to speak on the matter. Clearly, we need some clarity.

Let us start at the beginning. How did it all originate? The private US nuclear industry prevailed upon India’s government bureaucrats and businessmen over several years that nuclear power is the way forward to solving India’s “infrastructure” problems. They would sell us, in words of the Manmohan-Montek Planning Commission’s energy adviser, “six to eight lightwater reactors” (especially as they may not be able to sell these anywhere else). Our usual prominent self-seeking retired bureaucrats started their waffling about the importance of “infrastructure”.

Then Manmohan Singh felt his foreign travels as PM could be hardly complete without a fife-and-drum visit to the White House. But before he could do so, Dabhol would have to be cleared up since American business in India was on a self-moratorium until GE and Bechtel were paid settlements of some $140-160 million each by the Governments of India and Maharashtra. GE’s CEO for India kindly said afterwards “India is an important country to GE’s global growth. We look forward to working with our partners, customers, and State and Central Governments in helping India continue to develop into a leading world economy”.

Also, before Manmohan’s USA trip, the Confederation of Indian Industry registered as an official Washington lobbyist and spent half a million dollars lobbying American politicians for the deal. (”Why?” would be a good question.)

So Dr Singh was able to make his White House visit, accompanied by US business lobbies saying the nuclear deal can generate $100 billion worth of new American business in India’s energy-sector alone. It is only when business has lubricated politics in America that so much agreement about the India-deal could arise. The “bottom-line” is that six to eight reactors must be sold to India, whatever politics and diplomacy it takes.

Now Dr Singh is not a PM who is a Member of the Lower House of Parliament commanding its confidence. He says his Government constitutes the Executive and can sign treaties on India’s behalf. This is unwise. If he signs a treaty and then the Congress Party loses the next General Election, a new Executive Government can use his same words to rescind the same treaty. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. One reason we are so confused is that India has not signed very many bilateral treaties, and there is barely a noted specialist in international law anywhere in the country. Dr Singh’s original mentor, PN Haksar, had gone about getting a treaty signed with the USSR back in 1971 which tided us over a war, though the USSR itself collapsed before that treaty ended.

Signing a treaty is much more than signing an international MOU. It requires a national consensus or a least a wide and deep understanding on the part of the public and the political class as to what necessitates the treaty. That plainly does not exist at present. Most people in India do not even know how nuclear power is generated, nor how small and insignificant nuclear power has been in India.

Natural uranium is 99.3 per cent of the U-238 isotope and 0.7 per cent the radioactive U-235 isotope. Nuclear power generation requires “enriched uranium” or “yellow cake” to be created in which U-235 has been increased from 0.7 per cent to 4 to 5 percent. (Nuclear bombs require “highly enriched” uranium with more than 90 per cent of U-235.) Yellow cake is broken into small pieces, put in metal rods placed in bundles, which are then bombarded by neutrons causing fission. In a reactor, the energy released turns water into steam, which moves turbines generating electricity. While there is no carbon dioxide “waste” as in burning fossil fuels, the “spent” rods of nuclear fuel and other products constitute grave radioactive waste, almost impossible to dispose of.

India’s 14 “civilian” nuclear reactors presently produce less than 4% of our total power. 70% of our power arises from burning fossil fuels, mainly coal. Much of the rest arises from hydro. We have vast hydroelectric potential in the North and Northeast but it would take a lot of serious political, administrative and civil engineering effort to organise all that, and there would not be any nice visits to Washington or Paris involved for politicians and bureaucrats.

Simple arithmetic says that even if all our principal energy sources stayed constant and only our tiny nuclear power sector grew by 100%, that would still hardly increase by very much our energy output overall. Placing a couple of expensive modern lightwater reactors around Delhi, a couple around Mumbai and a few other metros will, however, butter already buttered bread quite nicely and keep all those lifts and ACs running.

The agreed text of the “treaty” looks, from a legal standpoint, quite sloppily and hurriedly written ~ almost as if each side has cut and paste its own preferred terms in different places with a nod to the other side. For example, there is mention of “WMD” initially which is repeated as “weapons of mass destruction” just a little later. There is solemn mention of the “Government of India” and “Government of the United States of America” as the “Parties”, but this suddenly becomes merely “United States” and “India” in the middle and then reverts again to the formal usage.

Through the sloppiness comes scope for different interpretations. The Americans have said: try not to test, you don’t need to, we don’t test any more, and you have to know that if you do test, this deal is over, in fact it gets reversed. We have said, okay, we won’t test, and if we do test we know it is over with you but that does not mean it is over with others. Given such sloppy diplomacy and treaty-making, the scope for mutual misunderstanding, even war, remains immense long after all the public Indian moneys have found their way into private pockets worldwide. Will a future President Jeb Bush or Chelsea Clinton send F-22 bombers to bomb India’s nuclear facilities because India has carried out a test yet declined to return American equipment? Riding a tiger is not something generally to be recommended.

The answer to our present conundrum must be patience and the fullest transparency. What is the rush? If it is good or bad for us to buy six or eight new American reactors now, it will remain good or bad to do so a year or two from now after everyone has had a thorough think about everything that is involved. What the Manmohan-Montek Planning Commission needed to do first of all was a thorough cost-benefit analysis of India’s energy requirements but such elementary professionalism has been sorely lacking among our economists for decades.”

Subroto Roy

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

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Protected: The Case of the Missing Princeton PhD Thesis

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

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

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

Today’s Washington Post reports:

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

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

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

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

Subroto Roy,

Progress! The BBC retracts its prevarication!

I have over several months had to severely criticize an institution I would much rather have not, namely the BBC.  This had to do with pointing out that the BBC, probably under influence of its Pakistani staffers, had been deliberately distorting the history and geography of the subcontinent by portraying maps of India with Jammu & Kashmir entirely lopped off.

Imagine my surprise some minutes ago to see there seems to have been some real impact!

A few days ago, in a Damian Gramaticas story from a Gurgaon shopping-mall, a map of India was shown again with J&K lopped off — these people are hopeless, I felt. But then, wait, the next day there was a map of Pakistan too shown by the same BBC, with areas of Pakistani Jammu & Kashmir also not shown as part of it.  Hmmmm, I thought, something’s going on at least within the BBC and some little bureaucratic debate must be taking place across a table somewhere by which some bureaucratic committee has finally decided that Jammu & Kashmir is going to be lopped off all BBC maps of both India and Pakistan in the BBC’s own new version of history and geography. At least that meant the Pakistani moles within the organisation were not going  wholly unanswered (or that they were left satisfied with some kind of JKLF ideology).

And finally this morning, twenty minutes ago, success! There was another report by the same Mr Gramaticas allowing an Indian politician to get on with some spin, but wait, what preceded all this waffle? A map of India with J&K on the Indian side of the Line of Control within India — and perhaps even Aksai Chin on the other side of the Line of Actual Control with China too!

Hurray!

I had sent an email about all this to the nice man who is presently the UK’s diplomat in Kolkata (far nicer than his immediate predecessors). Perhaps someone at the British Foreign Office had finally picked up the phone and said to the bureaucrats at the BBC “Now now, look ye here, if the UK Government and the European Union recognize Indian de facto and de jure sovereignty in a certain manner in Jammu & Kashmir,  corresponding to the LOC and LAC, you had better do so too, it seems to us, as you are a public British broadcaster and  cannot really go about inventing your own history and geography as you please, no matter how badly you might want to.   We don’t want to see you being asked  by the Indians to pack your bags and leave after all, do we? Indians are rather sensitive about this whole Kashmir thing, or didn’t you know?”.

Anyway, BBC, however this has happened, well done with your progress, may you maintain it consistently and not retrogress backwards.

Subroto Roy

Just how much intellectual fraud can Delhi produce?

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

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

Subroto Roy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Subroto Roy

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

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

Letter to Wei Jingsheng

Mr Wei Jingsheng,  Citizen of  China

Dear Sir,

I am delighted to know from news reports today that you are well and active.

This short note is merely to tell you that some 28 years ago, your name entered my doctoral thesis  submitted to the Cambridge University Faculty of Economics & Politics,  titled “On liberty & economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”.

On page 23, the thesis said:

“We know such conversations should not be forcibly silenced, which is why it is wrong that Dr Sakharov is banished, or that Mr Wei Jingsheng is gaoled for a decade, or that Dr Tomin is brutally assaulted and not allowed to lecture on Aristotle.”

And again on page 104:

“A disciplined and united oligarchy can with careful planning maintain its rule indefinitely over an amorphous and anonymous citizenry.  The only thorns in its side will be men like Sakharov and Wei Jingsheng and Tomin whose courage is somehow signalled to the outside world and who thus become recognisable names.  But even these men can be exiled or gaoled or thrashed into silence, so extinguishing the small chance left of the the truth being told and the Leadership’s claim to unique wisdom being exposed for the sheer humbug it is.”

With my continuing admiration, I remain

Yours truly

Subroto Roy

Kolkata, India

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

Corporate Governance & the Principal-Agent Problem
by

Subroto Roy
for a conference on corporate governance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India’s “pork-barrel politics” needs a nice (vegetarian) Hindi name! “Teli/oily politics” perhaps? (And are we next going to see a Bill of Rights for Lobbyists?)

“Pork barrel politics” has been known as a concept  in America and other Western countries for more than a century. India is clearly playing catch-up here but advancing quickly. The so-called “second fiscal stimulus” announced yesterday by Dr Manmohan Singh’s chief economic policy aide no longer makes any pretence of any engagement with serious public finance economics at all and is instead a plain bill of rights for lobbyists, especially organised business (and with it, organised labour).

In fact New Delhi’s way seems to be for organised lobbies to deal directly with the higher bureaucracy with executive political approval or acquiescence;  pork arising from legislative politics may be secondary.

Now “pork” is too ugly a term for our Indian sensibilities and not many people eat any in the country (though, believe it or not, pork-production literally speaking is still the recipient of a government subsidy!).  So we do need a nice preferably vegetarian name for “pork-barrel politics” Indian-style.  “Tel” or “oil” may provide some ideas, and as a rough approximation I would suggest “Teli politics” or “Oily politics” but suggestions are welcome.

There are groups in America known as “Porkbusters” :

porkbustersnewsm

Any similar resistance in India responding to our version of pork-barrel politics might have to be called “Tel busters” or “Oil busters” or just  “Detergents”.

And finally, since there has been a complete takeover of the economic policy process (and the mainstream media) by organised business lobbies, are we going to be perhaps seeing next a formal Bill of Rights for Lobbyists?

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

Will the Government of India’s new macroeconomic policy dampen or worsen the business-cycle (if such a cycle exists at all)? No one knows! “Where ignorance is bliss, ‘Tis folly to be wise.”

I began a two part article published in The Statesman last year (September 23-24 2007) titled “Against Quackery” saying:

“WASTE, fraud and abuse are inevitable in the use and allocation of public property and resources in India as elsewhere, but Government is supposed to fight and resist such tendencies. The Sonia-Manmohan Government have done the opposite, aiding and abetting a wasteful anti-economics ~ i.e., an economic quackery. Vajpayee-Advani and other Governments, including Narasimha-Manmohan in 1991-1996, were just as complicit in the perverse policy-making. So have been State Governments of all regional parties…. Our dismal politics merely has the pot calling the kettle black while national self-delusion and superstition reign in the absence of reason.  The general pattern is one of well-informed, moneyed, mostly city-based special interest groups (especially including organised capital and organised labour) dominating government agendas at the cost of ill-informed, diffused anonymous individual citizens ~ peasants, small businessmen, non-unionized workers, old people, housewives, medical students etc….

The cheap money policy announced yesterday and now the so-called “fiscal stimulus” announced today may be a case in point.  Dr Manmohan Singh’s main economic policy aide said the aim was for Government to act in a “contra-cyclical”  manner,  presumably referring to an attempted “counter cyclical policy” to dampen the amplitude of a business-cycle.

But has anyone asked — let aside, does anyone know — where precisely, in terms of phase, period and amplitude, India’s macro-economy happens to be on its presumed business-cycle?  Of course not.   No one has the faintest clue.   There are no models of such a cycle existing and there are no data which have been fit to such non-existent models.   Not in Delhi, not in Mumbai, not with any international agency.

[Inspector Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Sherlock  Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Inspector Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Sherlock  Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”]

A cheap money policy and a so-called “fiscal stimulus” may in fact, for all that anyone in the Government of India or outside it really knows, exacerbate the amplitude of a business-cycle — making it worse, not better.

In such a  state of ignorance,  it is odd for policy-makers to go about glibly formulating and announcing so many policy-changes at once.   (It may all add up to be just incoherent waffle.)   Such has been the typical pattern to emerge from the process of political lobbying by “well-informed, moneyed, mostly city-based special interest groups”.   Organised capital and organised labour (as well as of course bureaucrats and politicians) will likely do very well from all this as usual, at the expense of  “ill-informed, diffused anonymous individual citizens” of India.


Become a US Supreme Court Justice! (Explorations in the Rule of Law in America)

 

For almost two decades, Since the summer of 1988 when *Philosophy of Economics* got accepted for publication, I have found myself in a saga exploring the Rule of Law, the nature of justice and freedom, and the nature of racial animosity and xenophobia in the United States. Judge it here for yourself. Files 1 and 2 marked SCOTUS are the front-matter and Petition for Writ of Mandamus as received by Circuit Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the Supreme Court of the United States in February 1996. Files 3 to 10 constitute the Appendix of Record giving the rulings of the US District Court for the District of Hawaii and the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, including especially in File 8 the “after-discovered” evidence of how my attorney had been covertly purchased by my opponent. An example of perjured trial testimony is contained in File 2. In September 2007, I asked my opponent — the Government of one of the 50 States — to voluntarily admit its wrongdoings to the present Chief Judge of the US District Court as is required by law. Government lawyers should, after all, try to act lawfully.

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Become a US Supreme Court Justice! (Explorations in the Rule of Law in America) Preface

For almost two decades, Since the summer of 1988 when *Philosophy of Economics* got accepted for publication, I have found myself in a saga exploring the Rule of Law, the nature of justice and freedom, and the nature of racial animosity and xenophobia in the United States. Judge it here for yourself. There are 10 pdf files in a password protected post of the same name. Please send me an email identifying yourself and offering any reason, including curiosity, that you may have to want to examine the matter.

Files 1 and 2 marked SCOTUS are the front-matter and Petition for Writ of Mandamus as received by Circuit Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the Supreme Court of the United States in February 1996. Files 3 to 10 constitute the Appendix of Record giving the rulings of the US District Court for the District of Hawaii and the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, including especially in File 8 the “after-discovered” evidence of how my attorney had been covertly purchased by my opponent. An example of perjured trial testimony is contained in File 2. In September 2007, I asked my opponent — the Government of one of the 50 States — to voluntarily admit its wrongdoings to the present Chief Judge of the US District Court as is required by law. Government lawyers should, after all, try to act lawfully.

For the files with the evidence please see https://independentindian.com/2008/11/09/become-a-us-supreme-court-justice-explorations-in-the-rule-of-law-in-america/

 

Political Stonewalling

Political Stonewalling
Only Transparency Can Improve Institutions

By Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, July 20 2007, Editorial Page Special Article http://www.thestatesman.net


“Stonewalling” has come to mean being continually evasive and misleading in politics by, for example, parroting a party line against fair public inquiry or criticism. “I want you to stonewall it”, was Richard Nixon’s infamous instruction during Watergate. (The original meaning was not ignoble: General T. J. “Stonewall” Jackson, during the US Civil War stayed on his horse under constant fire, taking all the bullets “like a stonewall” until he was killed.)

Stonewalling is what we are likely ever to receive from Pratibha Patil and the present day Congress Party. It is not as if India and the world will not survive if she becomes our President. Rashtrapati Bhavan has had undistinguished occupants before, even ones with clouds of disreputable or nefarious public deeds hanging over their heads. All that will happen is that our political institutions shall retrogress for five years; a pity but not something catastrophic in view of our long history ~ Nadir Shah’s brief stay set the standard for catastrophic behaviour in Delhi.

“Individuals may form communities, but it is institutions alone that can create a nation”, said Disraeli. Nation-building would become that much harder, our pessimism and disillusionment about whether we will ever succeed would become that much greater.

Corrosion
The corrosion of our political, financial, academic and other public institutions over decades has been something in which all our official political parties and religious formations are hand-in-glove complicit. In the case of Pratibha Patil, it is the PM and UPA Chair who are directly responsible for the institutional corrosion taking place in full view of all with respect to the highest office of the land.

But then Dr Manmohan Singh, despite his sojourns as a young social scientist in Britain, has not cared a hoot that the Prime Minister in a parliamentary democracy must seek to be an elected member of the House of the People. Also, ever since 1991, he has permitted the flattering fiction to develop that he or any of his acolytes had something to do with the origins of the economic reform.  As for Sonia Gandhi, her list of naïve misjudgements only grows longer ~ cardinal among them being her having apparently retained as trusted advisers around her persons who had been warned about the vulnerability of her husband to assassination. Had Rajiv not been assassinated, Sonia would have been today merely a happy grandmother and not India’s purported ruler.

Stonewalling has become standard government practice in 21st century India across party-lines. The BJP stonewalled after the post-Godhra pogrom in 2002 and held none of its own responsible; the CPI-M has done precisely the same after the Nandigram pogrom a few months ago.

In October 2005, the Supreme Court ~ proving yet again that there are or can be institutions which do work in India ~ found the Union Government had behaved unconstitutionally. Lesson 101 of Constitutional Politics says: If you are uncertain whether a head of government commands confidence, ask him/her to prove his majority on the floor of the house. Instead the Sonia-Manmohan Government had launched a pre-emptive putsch against an aspirant for a democratic majority in a State assembly. What Sonia-Manmohan should have done in response to the Supreme Court’s finding was to recall or transfer the apparent culprit, and express regret to Parliament and the Court. That would have ended the matter and also engendered some moral growth in the polity. What they did instead was stonewall. Worse stonewalling was to follow from the whole of Parliament itself in the “office-for-profit” scandal.

Aristotle said politics was the supreme good because the ends of all other activities are subsumed in politics. This means that if the politics of a national society gets corroded, so does everything else. It is because India’s politics have become rotten, that our financial, academic and other institutions have followed.

The private American “equity group” Blackstone recently purchased Hilton Hotels for 26 thousand million American dollars cash. Why is that significant to Indians? Because India’s Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, took the unprecedented step of naming Blackstone along with one private Indian citizen, Deepak Parekh in his February 2007 Budget Speech. He referred to a Government of India financial scheme by which favoured private businesses can “borrow” India’s foreign exchange reserves to pay for purchases of foreign assets. The same Reserve Bank of India which cracked down on Pratibha Patil’s dubious bank-dealings has now been bullied into allowing India’s foreign exchange reserves to be “borrowed” ~ and quite possibly never to be returned. Furthermore, foreign exchange reserves are not like tax-revenues but largely constitute already borrowed funds!
In academia, Mr Arjun Singh tyrannises defenceless medical students but presides (like his predecessor Dr Murli Manohar Joshi) over appointments at national institutes of full professors without postgraduate degrees or any experience of teaching or research. The Union Finance and Education Ministers report in the Government and their party to the PM and the UPA Chair. But neither Dr Singh nor Mrs Gandhi can have any effective control over the rot in India’s macroeconomic, financial, academic or other institutions when they are presiding over political rot themselves.

Shameless behaviour

Stonewalling is the political behavour of the shameless. Shame used to be a cultural means of political self-control in traditional societies. Modern politics makes a distinction between private and public domains, and says that transmuting valuable public property of any kind into private wealth or advantage constitutes nefarious corruption. It is possible our subcontinent has not wished to or has not yet entered the world of modern politics. Instead we remain feudal in our political behaviour ~ where large rival clans perpetually battle over what is the ill-defined common property of the realm. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, the militaries predominate and participate in this feuding. In India the feuds take place within a framework which outwardly seems democratic with institutions of a free society like a free press and official civilian control of the military. Our feuds are between three large rival clans: the Indira-Sonia Patriarchal Matriarchs, the Hindu Patriarchs, and the Communist Matriarchal Patriarchs. The Congress, BJP and Communists are yet to become modern parties, and unless and until they do, our politics shall remain in retrogression.


Mob Violence and Psychology

Mob Violence and Psychology

 

 

Mob violence remains a monthly occurrence in modern India; it gives the lie to our claims of political maturity and democratic development.

 

 

By SUBROTO ROY

 

 

First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article December 10 2006

 

 

Mob violence certainly signals collapse of the Rule of Law and absence of normal political conversation and decision-making. Mob violence in modern India remains a monthly occurrence: a child is killed by a speeding bus, the driver if he is caught is thrashed to death by a mob of onlookers and the bus burnt down; a factory closes and workers go on a rampage; a statue or political personality or religious figure is perceived to have been insulted or desecrated, and crowds take to the streets to burn vehicles and cause mayhem; a procession is said to be insulted, and rival mobs go to battle with one another. (In fact, elected legislators in Parliament and State Assemblies frequently conflate mob behaviour like slogan-shouting with political conversation itself, carrying into the House the political methods they have learned to employ outside it. And contrary to what our legislators may suppose, they do need to be constantly lectured to by the general citizenry whose paid servants they are supposed to be).

 

 

Such may be relatively simple cases to describe or diagnose. More complex cases include the deliberate burning alive of Graham Staines and his two young sons by a mob in 1999 as they slept in their vehicle in rural Orissa, or countless deeds of similar savagery during Partition and the innumerable other riots we have seen in the history of our supposedly tolerant and non-violent culture.

 

 

We are not unique in our propensity for evil. French women knitted and gossiped watching the guillotine do its bloody work during the Jacobin terror. Long before them, as the Catholic scholar Eamon Duffy reports in Faith of our fathers, Pope Gregory IX in 1233 had initiated the “Inquisition”: two anonymous witnesses could cause any person to be arrested as a heretic, tortured and then burnt alive. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII endorsed “witches” to be burnt, causing “deaths of countless thousands of harmless or eccentric women over the next 300 years. In all, as many as 25,000 people, most of them women may have been burnt as witches in Germany” alone. American history has seen countless cases of mob violence, from witch-burnings and other religious violence to cold-blooded lynching on trees of individual black men by white mobs, black mobs looting inner cities, street clashes between political groups etc. Soviet Russia and Maoist China saw systematic ideologically driven violence by Party cadres and “Red Guards” against countless individuals ~ forced to confess to imaginary misdeeds, then assaulted or shot. Nazi Germany, Czarist Russia and many other countries saw mobs attacking, dispossessing or killing individual Jews and innumerable others, again in systematic ideologically motivated pogroms. Indeed as Hannah Arendt and others have noted, the similarities between totalitarian regimes as outwardly different as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia or Communist China included the ideologically driven targeting of identifiable small minorities for systematic violence by majorities in power. Even Tony Blair’s supposedly Cool Britannia today, besides having the most notorious soccer hooligans in the world, is also a place where no individual, non-white or white, will pass a drunken mob of adolescent school-children on the streets on a Friday night without trepidation.

 

 

Every case of mob violence is different; yet what could be common is a temporary, if deliberate, suspension of the normal human sense of responsibility on part of a mob’s individual members. Reason and responsibility return if at all only after the evil has been accomplished ~ whether it is killing or assaulting someone or destroying something ~ and it can be accompanied by a sense of remorse and regret. Even where mob tyranny has been systematic, long-term, ideologically-driven and state-sponsored, as with the Inquisition or French Revolution or Nazi, Soviet or Chinese terrors, future generations look back at the past misdeeds of their ancestors and say: “That was wrong, very wrong, it should never have happened”. Moral learning does take place at some time or other, even if it is long after the evil has occurred. It is as if, when sobriety and rationality return, an individual participant in a mob realises and recognises himself/herself to have revealed a baser ignoble side which is shameful.

 

 

“Sometimes a society acts as if all power lay in the hands of the most babyish and animal members, and sometimes as if all power lay in the hands of strict old men, and sometimes it acts more as a whole ~ mostly when there’s a war on. Sometimes a man is not himself and acts as if a babyish or cunning animal had gained control ~ that’s the id ~ sometimes as if an exacting parent, a sarcastic schoolmaster, or an implacable deity possessed him ~ that’s the super-ego. Sometimes a man is more himself and acts more as a whole, a new whole which is not a combination but a synthesis of the id and the super-ego. Some are constantly at the mercy of the id, some are slaves to the super- ego, and in some first one and then the other gains an unhappy victory in a continual struggle, and in some conflict and control have vanished into cooperation…” Such was the description the Cambridge philosopher John Wisdom gave in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis in the 1940s and 1950s, when he translated into normal idiomatic language some of the difficult technical findings and theories of the mind propounded by Sigmund Freud in the previous half-century.

 

 

When the mob forms itself, its members individually choose to suppress their normal rational personalities and sense of adult responsibility, and permit instead their cunning animal or babyish instincts to take over and reign supreme within themselves. It must be a collective decision even if silently taken: for one person to behave in such a manner would look identifiably stupid and criminal but for him/her to do so in a group where everyone has simultaneously decided to abandon reason (whether spontaneously or shouting slogans together) allows the loss of individual responsibility to become hidden in the mass, and the collective to take on features of a hydra-headed monster, capable of the vilest deeds without the slightest self-doubt. The victim of their violence or abuse will often be an individual who stands out in some way ~ perhaps by natural or social attributes or even by heroic deeds: indeed Freud suggested that primitive tribes sometimes engaged in parricide and regicide, cannibalising their individual heroes in the belief that by consuming something of the hero’s remains those attributes might magically reappear in themselves.

 

 

In modern India, the presence of mob violence on a monthly basis somewhere or other in the country gives the lie to our claims of maturity of our political and democratic development. Those posing as our political leaders may make as many foreign trips and wooden prepared speeches on TV as they wish to, but their actual cowardice is manifest in having failed to address the real disjunction that exists in this country between political interests and political preferences at the grassroots on the one hand, and the lack of serious parliamentary conversation addressing these within our representative institutions on the other. The reliance by the Executive on often brutal police or paramilitary forces reflects failure of the Legislative and Judicial branches of our Government, as well as a lack of balance between them arising from our political and constitutional immaturity.

Hannah Arendt’s “Truth and Politics”: Contemporary Relevance

Subroto Roy hears Mr Blair’s testimony to the Iraq War Inquiry and recalls Hannah Arendt’s profound distinction in “Truth and Politics” between the mere liar and the fully self-deceived — the liar tells the lie but at least knows the truth himself; the self-deceived tells the lie to himself as much as to others and believes it too and so the truth is hopelessly lost to him.

Transparency and Economic Policy-Making

Transparency and Economic Policy-Making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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