How to fight government corruption whether on Earth or Mars

From Facebook:

Subroto Roy believes — partly from personal experience — that there is only one really sustainable way to fight government corruption whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, the UK, the USA, Russia, China or Mars: tough and clean government accounting and audit processes allied with an uncorrupted press/media. And without clean government accounting, incidentally, all public finance and hence almost all monetary policy becomes meaningless.

Eleven days and counting after the 15th Lok Sabha was elected and still no Parliament of India! (But we do have 79 Ministers — might that be a world record?)

A lawyer friend tells me she thinks it a “technicality” that there is no Lok Sabha or Parliament in India today despite eleven long days and nights having passed since the 15th Lok Sabha came to be elected by the people of India.  “At least we did not get Advani and Modi to rule”, is how she sought to justify the current circumstance.   I am afraid I think she has produced a non sequitur, and also forgotten the constitutional law she would have read as a student.

The best argument that I think the Government of India shall be able to give justifying their legal error in not having the 15th Lok Sabha up and running yet 11 days after India’s people have spoken would run something like this:

(1) The President of India invites a Council of Ministers led by a PM to form the government and has done so.

(2) The President must be satisfied that the PM commands a majority in the Lok Sabha, and the President has been satisfied by the 322  “letters of support” that the PM produced.

(3) The Government of the day calls parliamentary sessions and does so at its discretion, and the Government of the day headed by this PM has announced when it shall call the 15th Lok Sabha which will be in a few days yet.

Any such argument, I am afraid, would be specious because it simply puts the cart before the horse.

Parliament is sovereign in India, to repeat what I have said several times before.

Parliament is sovereign in India — not even the President who is the symbol of that sovereignty.  We do not follow the British quite exactly in this because we are a republic and not a monarchy.  In Britain sovereignty rests with “The King in Parliament”.  With us, Parliament is sovereign and the President is the symbol of that sovereignty.  In all matters of state, our President must act in a manner that Parliament and parliamentary law says.

Parliament is sovereign in India — not the Executive Government, certainly not its largest political party or its leader.

Parliament is sovereign in India because the people of India have chosen it to be so within the Constitution of India.

Parliament is sovereign in India and the people of India have elected the 15th Lok Sabha which has still not been allowed to meet eleven days later.

To the contrary, as noted days ago, the purported “Cabinet” of the 14th Lok Sabha, a dead institution, met on May 18 2009, some 48 hours after the 15th Lok Sabha had already been declared!   The 14th Lok Sabha in fact stood automatically dissolved in law when General Elections came to be announced.

Is all this merely a “technicality” as my friend believes?  I think not.

Executive Government in India derives its political legitimacy from being elected  by Parliament,  i.e., from holding the confidence of Parliament, and that means the Lok Sabha.

The Government of the day might  for sake of convenience have a prerogative of calling sessions of the 15th Lok Sabha once it has been constituted but the Government of the day cannot logically constitute a Lok Sabha after a General Election because it itself receives legitimacy from such a Lok Sabha.

If the 15th Lok Sabha has not met, confidence in any Executive has yet to be recorded, and hence any such Government has yet to receive legitimacy.

Do “322 letters of support” suffice?  Hardly.  They are signed after all by persons who have yet to take their seats in the Lok Sabha!  (Let us leave aside the fact that the PM, not being a member of the Lok Sabha, is in this case unable to be one of those 322 himself!)

Yet we have 79 “Ministers” of this new “Government” holding press-conferences and giving out free-bees and favours etc already.  As I have said before, Ambedkar, Nehru and others of their generation, plus Indira and Rajiv too, would all have been appalled.

Because the incompetence of the fascists and communists in the Opposition may continue to  be expected, it will be up to ordinary citizens and voters of India to point out such  simple truths whenever the Emperor is found to be naked.  (Our docile juvenile ingratiating media may well remain mostly hopeless.)

Subroto Roy

How tightly will organised Big Business be able to control economic policies this time?

The power of organised Big Business over New Delhi’s economic policies (whether Congress-led or BJP-led) was signalled by the presence in the audience at Rashtrapati Bhavan last week of several prominent lobbyists when Dr Manmohan Singh and his senior-most Cabinet colleagues were being sworn-in by the President of India. Why were such witnesses needed at such an auspicious national occasion?

Organised Big Business (both private sector and public sector) along with organised Big Labour (whose interests are represented most ably by New Delhi’s official communist parties like the CPI-M and CPI), are astutely aware of how best to advance their own economic interests; this usually gets assisted nicely enough through clever use of our comprador English-language TV, newspaper and magazine media. Shortly after the election results, lobbyists were all over commercial TV proposing things like FDI in insurance and airports etc– as if that was the meaning of the Sonia-Rahul mandate or were issues of high national priority. A typical piece of such “pretend-economics” appears in today’s business-press from a formerly Leftist Indian bureaucrat: “With its decisive victory, the new Manmohan Singh government should at last be able to implement the required second generation reforms. Their lineaments (sic) are well known and with the removal of the Left’s veto, many of those stalled in the legislature as well as those which were forestalled can now be implemented. These should be able to put India back on a 9-10 per cent per annum growth rate…”

Today’s business-press also reports that the new Government is planning to create a fresh “Disinvestment Ministry” and Dr Singh’s chief economic policy aide is “a frontrunner among the names short-listed to head the new ministry” with Cabinet rank.

Now if any enterprising doctoral student was to investigate the question, I think the evidence would show that I, and I alone – not even BR Shenoy or AD Shroff or Jagdish Bhagwati — may have been the first among Indian economists to have argued in favour of the privatisation of India’s public sector. I did so precisely 25 years ago in Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, which was so unusual for its time that it attracted the lead editorial of The Times of London on the day it was published May 29 1984, and had its due impact on Indian economic policy then and since, as has been described elsewhere here.  In 1990-1991 while with Rajiv Gandhi, I had floated an idea of literally giving away shares of the public sector to the public that owned it (as several other countries had been doing at that time), specifically perhaps giving them to the poorest panchayats in aid of their development.  In 2004-2005, upon returning to Britain after many years, I helped create the book Margaret Thatcher’s Revolution: How it Happened and What it Meant, and Margaret Thatcher if anyone was a paragon of privatisation.

That being said, I have to say I think a new Indian policy of creating a Ministry to privatise India’s public sector is probably a very BAD idea indeed in present circumstances — mainly because it will be driven by the interests of the organised Big Business lobbies that have so profoundly and subtly been able to control the New Delhi Government’s behaviour in recent decades.

Such lobbyist control is exercised often without the Government even realising or comprehending its parameters. For example, ask yourself: Is there any record anywhere of Dr Manmohan Singh, in his long career as a Government economist and then as a Rajya Sabha MP, having ever proposed before 2004-2005 that nuclear reactors were something vitally important to India’s future? And why do you suppose the most prominent Indian business lobby spent a million dollars and registered itself as an official lobbyist in Washington DC to promote the nuclear deal among American legislators? Because Big Business was feeling generous and altruistic towards the “energy security” of the ordinary people of India? Hardly.  Indian Big Business calculates and acts in its own interests, as is only to be expected under economic assumptions; those interests are frequently camouflaged by their lobbyist and media friends into seeming to be economic policy for the country as a whole.

Now our Government every year produces paper rupees and bank deposits in  practically unlimited amounts to pay for its practically unlimited deficit financing, and it has behaved thus over decades. Why we do not hear about this at all is because the most prominent Government economists themselves remain clueless — sometimes by choice, mostly by sheer ignorance — about the nature of the macroeconomic process that they are or have been part of.  (See my  “India’s Macroeconomics”, “The Dream Team: A Critique” etc elsewhere here). As for the Opposition’s economists, the less said about the CPI-M’s economists the better while the BJP, poor thing, has absolutely no economists at all!

Briefly speaking, Indian Big Business has acquired an acute sense of this long-term nominal/paper expansion of India’s economy, and as a result acts towards converting wherever possible its own hoards of paper rupees and rupee-denominated assets into more valuable portfolios for itself of real or durable assets, most conspicuously including hard-currency denominated assets, farm-land and urban real-estate, and, now, the physical assets of the Indian public sector. Such a path of trying to transform local domestic paper assets – produced unlimitedly by Government monetary and fiscal policy and naturally destined to depreciate — into real durable assets, is a privately rational course of action to follow in an inflationary economy.  It is not rocket-science  to realise the long-term path of the Indian rupee is downwards in comparison to the hard-currencies of the world – just compare our money supply growth and inflation rates with those of the rest of the world.

The Statesman of November 15 2006 had a lead editorial titled Government’s land-fraud: Cheating peasants in a hyperinflation-prone economy. It said:

“There is something fundamentally dishonourable about the way the Centre, the state of West Bengal and other state governments are treating the issue of expropriating peasants, farm-workers, petty shop-keepers etc of their small plots of land in the interests of promoters, industrialists and other businessmen. Singur may be but one example of a phenomenon being seen all over the country: Hyderabad, Karnataka, Kerala, Haryana, everywhere. So-called “Special Economic Zones” will merely exacerbate the problem many times over. India and its governments do not belong only to business and industrial lobbies, and what is good for private industrialists may or may not be good for India’s people as a whole. Economic development does not necessarily come to be defined by a few factories or high-rise housing complexes being built here or there on land that has been taken over by the Government, paying paper-money compensation to existing stakeholders, and then resold to promoters or industrialists backed by powerful political interest-groups on a promise that a few thousand new jobs will be created. One fundamental problem has to do with inadequate systems of land-description and definition, implementation and recording of property rights. An equally fundamental problem has to do with fair valuation of land owned by peasants etc. in terms of an inconvertible paper-money. Every serious economist knows that “land” is defined as that specific factor of production and real asset whose supply is fixed and does not increase in response to its price. Every serious economist also knows that paper-money is that nominal asset whose price can be made to catastrophically decline by a massive increase in its supply, i.e. by Government printing more of the paper it holds a monopoly to print. For Government to compensate people with paper-money it prints itself by valuing their land on the basis of an average of the price of the last few years, is for Government to cheat them of the fair present-value of the land. That present-value of land must be calculated in the way the present-value of any asset comes to be calculated, namely, by summing the likely discounted cash-flows of future values. And those future values should account for the likelihood of a massive future inflation causing decline in the value of paper-money in view of the fact we in India have a domestic public debt of some Rs. 30 trillion (Rs. 30 lakh crore) and counting, and money supply growth rates averaging 16-17% per annum. In fact, a responsible Government would, given the inconvertible nature of the rupee, have used foreign exchange or gold as the unit of account in calculating future-values of the land. India’s peasants are probably being cheated by their Government of real assets whose value is expected to rise, receiving nominal paper assets in compensation whose value is expected to fall.”

Mamata Banerjee started her famous protest fast-unto-death in Kolkata not long afterwards, riveting the nation’s attention in the winter of 2006-2007.

What goes for the government buying land on behalf of its businessman friends also goes, mutatis mutandis, for the public sector’s real assets being bought up by the private sector using domestic paper money in a potentially hyperinflationary economy.  If Dr Singh’s new Government wishes to see real public sector assets being sold, let the Government seek to value these assets not in inconvertible rupees which the Government itself has been producing in unlimited quantities but rather in forex or gold-units instead!

Today’s headline says “Short of cash, govt. plans to revive disinvestment ministry”. Big Business’s powerful lobbies will suggest  that real public assets must be sold  (to whom? to organised Big Business of course!) in order to solve the grave fiscal problems in an inflationary economy caused precisely by those grave  fiscal problems! What I said in 2002 at IndiaSeminar may still be found to apply: I said the BJP’s privatisation ideas “deserve to be condemned…because they have made themselves believe that the proceeds of selling the public sector should merely go into patching up the bleeding haemorrhage which is India’s fiscal and monetary situation… (w)hile…Congress were largely responsible for that haemorrhage to have occurred in the first place.”

If the new Government would like to know how to proceed more wisely, they need to read and grasp, in the book edited by myself and Professor John Clarke in 2004-2005, the chapter by Professor Patrick Minford on Margaret Thatcher’s fiscal and monetary policy (macroeconomics) before they read the chapter by Professor Martin Ricketts on Margaret Thatcher’s privatisation (microeconomics).  India’s fiscal and monetary or macroeconomic problems are far worse today than Britain’s were when Thatcher came in.

During the recent Election Campaign, I contrasted Dr Singh’s flattering praise in 2005 of the CPI-M’s Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee with Sonia Gandhi’s pro-Mamata line in 2009 saying the CPI-M had taken land away from the poor.  This may soon signal a new fault-line in the new Cabinet too on economic policy with respect to not only land but also public sector privatisation – with Dr Singh’s pro-Big Business acolytes on one side and Mamata Banerjee’s stance in favour of small-scale unorganised business and labour on the other.  Party heavyweights like Dr Singh himself and Sharad Pawar and Pranab Mukherjee will weigh in one side or the other with Sonia being asked in due course to referee.

I personally am delighted to see the New Rahul Gandhi deciding not to be in Government and to instead reflect further on the “common man” and “common woman” about whom I had described his father talking to me on September 18 1990 at his home. Certainly the “aam admi” is not someone to be found among India’s organised Big Business or organised Big Labour nor their paid lobbyists in the big cities.

Subroto Roy

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My 2009 prediction of the Sonia Congress election win

It is now coming up to be 3 pm Indian Standard Time on May 13, the last day of India’s 2009 General Elections, and there are two hours left for the polls to close.   I am happy to predict a big victory for the Congress Party, and Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul will deserve congratulations for it.

How the victory takes shape is, I think, by their having won the median voter on both the economic and the secular-communal axes of Indian politics.  (See my 2008 published graph on the Median Voter Model in Indian politics, available elsewhere here).

I have met Sonia Gandhi once, in December 1991 at her home, where I gave her a tape of her husband’s conversations with me during the first Gulf War in 1991.   Her son and I met momentarily in her husband’s office in 1990-1991 but I do not recall any conversation.   I have had nothing to do with her Government.   Dr Manmohan Singh and I have met twice, once in Paris in the autumn of 1973 and once in Washington in September 1993; on the latter occasion, I was introduced to him and his key aides by Siddhartha Shankar Ray as the person on whose laptop the Congress manifesto of 1991 had been composed for Rajiv, something described elsewhere here.   (I also gave him then a copy of the published book that emerged from the University of  Hawaii perestroika-for-India project, Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s, edited by myself and WE James.)  On the former occasion,  Dr Singh had kindly acceded to my father’s request to visit our then-home to advise me on economics before I started as a freshman undergraduate at the London School of Economics.

In May 2004 I was interviewed by BBC television in England and I praised the UPA in prospect — in comparison  to the horrors of the Vajpayee-Advani regime (including my personal experience of it, when their Education Minister had sent an astrology-believing acolyte to supposedly run a scientific/technical institute).

Since 2005, especially in the columns of The Statesman, I have dispensed rational criticism of the UPA Government as harshly as I have criticised the BJP/RSS and the Communists.  Principally, I believe they have got  some (perhaps most) much of their  economics (quite badly) wrong as well as their jurisprudence and foreign policy; they have also been willingly under the influence of the powerful organised lobbies and interest groups that populate our capital cities.

Even so, I think there is a large electoral victory in prospect for the Congress, and I send them my early congratulations.  They have done enough by way of political rhetoric and political reality to maintain or enhance their vote-share; their oppositions on either side have both failed badly. The BJP may make some marginal gains especially in Bihar but they have generally done enough to lose the day.  The CPM too will lose popularity especially in Bengal, and will never progress until they fire their JNU economists which they are never going to do.

So, Sonia-Rahul, well done!

But please try to improve your economics.

And, also, you simply must get Dr Manmohan Singh a seat in the Lok Sabha if he is to be PM — Ambedkar and Nehru and all their generation did not specify that India’s PM must be from the Lok Sabha because it was something totally OBVIOUS.

Subroto Roy

Postscript: Someone at a website has referred to my prediction above and remarked: “Perhaps the good doc is aware of the money in play”. The answer is no, I have absolutely no special information about any “money in play” on any side. My prediction is based on a layman’s observation of the campaign, as well as more specialised analysis of past voting data from the EC. In an earlier post, I pointed out the BJP had gotten some 17 million fewer votes than the Congress in 2004, and I asked if they had done enough to get enough of a net change in their favour. The answer I think is that they have not done so. To the contrary, I think there will be a quite large net change in favour of Congress thanks to a better-run and better-led campaign. Of course it is just a prediction that may be found to be incorrect.
SR

India’s incredibly volatile inflation rate!

Some months ago India’s inflation rate was said to be the highest it has been for decades and now today, right on cue, it is said to be the lowest it has been for decades!   Today’s business press says Dr Manmohan Singh’s chief economic policy aide has apparently immediately expressed his keenness to see an even further purported “fiscal stimulus package” (aka pork-barrel politics prior to an election).

For myself,  I have long given up on the credibility of such stuff emanating from our capital’s supposed policy-makers — putting it down, generally speaking, to what I consider and what  I have called “New Delhi’s intellectual and moral bankruptcy”.

Here are two simple crude alternative ways to measure India’s (long-term trend) inflation-rate:

1.  Take the Money-Supply Growth Rate, say 22% per annum, subtract from it the Growth of Real National Income, say 7%, get, hmmmm, 15%.

2.  Find C&AG data for a series of several years; read off nominal expenditure on a dozen major heads of government bureaucracy (like “Central Secretariat”); calculate an average rate of growth of nominal expenditure on bureaucratic departments.   On an assumption that Government of India  bureaucracies, especially useless unproductive ones in New Delhi, seek to maintain their real consumption-levels, that growth of nominal expenditure reflects their beliefs about the actual change in the cost of living or decline in the value of money.   Oddly enough, quick calculations of that amount to, hmmmm, 15% again!

For those who prefer to believe what emanates from New Delhi’s  pretentious  economists wallowing in their own ignorance, I wonder, as I said  a couple of years ago on The Statesman’s frontpage, might I interest you in a marble structure in Agra, or perhaps a steel bridge over the Hooghly River, very famous, like Brooklyn Bridge itself….?

Subroto Roy

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.


America’s divided economists


America’s divided economists

by

Subroto Roy

First published in

Business Standard 26 October 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Dismal Politics: Will Independent India Survive Until 2047? (from 2008)

Our Dismal Politics
Will Independent India Survive Until 2047?

By SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Statesman Editorial Page, Special Article, Feb 1 2008

Mayawati and Narendra Modi are both in their 50s. So are the current leaders of Russia, Germany, Britain, France, the USA. No country, not even Communist Party China, is as pretentiously corrupt as ours in allowing a whole generation to be bred of “babalog” politicians among children of dead politicians or existing elderly politicians in their 70s and 80s. These babalog, Rahul Gandhi pre-eminent among them, are usually in their late 30s or early 40s. Having developed no useful marketable skills in life nor done anything worthwhile or creative, they have tended to arbitrage the political positions of their parents (whether departed or living) into gaining access and advantage in Delhi or the State capitals. Some nepotism is being seen in the USA with the Bush and Clinton families but nobody had heard of a Putin, Merkel or Sarkozy before they won their way into political power.

Inheriting advantage

The Indian phenomenon of the inheritance of advantage is also seen in organised business, in Bollywood and in journalism, which, like our politics, tend to be sold via TV. Academic institutions and the civil and military services are not far behind although there the phenomenon more usually involves exporting adult children (and bank accounts) especially to the USA or UK or Australia, and then making annual trips abroad during the hot summer months to be able to tell the neighbours about later.

The idea that the future of Indian politics is in the hands of a babalog GenNext is sheer nonsense and fantasy. The victories of Mayawati and Modi were also defeats of the expectations raised by Rahul Gandhi’s Congress. There is a continuity of years between someone like Sonia Gandhi and her children which implies there can be no discontinuous jump from Sonia to Rahul in the leadership of the Congress. In between, as it were, are people like Kamal Nath among “Friends of Sanjay” or Mani Shankar Aiyar (a solitary Rajivist), both of whom have won seats in the Lok Sabha unlike Sonia’s current elderly PM. If Sonia Gandhi devolves political power to her son who then leads the Congress into another defeat, of which UP and Gujarat have been examples, there will be a revolt among senior middle-aged politicians in the Congress, and the Congress may splinter into a Right Faction and Left Faction leaving Rajiv Gandhi’s family to look after the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation which is what they should have been doing in the first place rather than playing at Indian politics.

A Congress disintegration may or may not finally cause a useful bipolarisation in Indian politics because Indian politics has not only an economic dimension, it has a social or communal dimension too. Besides being (ostensibly) pro-poor or anti-poor, you can be either “Islamophilic” or “Islamophobic” ~ i.e. either pro-Muslim “secularist” /”pseudo-secularist”/minorityist, or anti-Muslim “communalist”/ “fascist”/majority communitarian.

Narasimha Rao cleverly manipulated the median parliamentary vote along these two dimensions so as to maintain a weak Government in power for five years by seeming to ally with the BJP on economic issues and seeming to ally with Leftists on social issues. If the Congress splits after another major defeat caused by Sonia-Rahul incompetence, with the Right Faction joining hands with whatever the BJP morphs into, and the Left Faction joining hands with whatever the CPI-M and CPI morph into, the central question will become which side of the split along the economic dimension holds the median voter along the pro-Muslim/anti-Muslim social dimension.

The BJP remains as dreadful and unscientific a gathering as it has been always without displaying the slightest creative trace of being able to evolve into a serious Conservative Party that India remains in desperate need of. AB Vajpayee and LK Advani led it into electoral defeat but that was not enough for their patriarchy to be disturbed by competent new younger people. In any case, the BJPs more articulate better-educated members in their 50s and 60s are unable to command nation-wide respect nor, with the exception of Modi, are they able to win an election on their own steam. The idea that e.g. Pramode Mahajan’s son could “succeed” him on the 10 JanPath pattern fortunately self-exploded. The best the BJP could do was to choose an inarticulate member as its nominal head while the patriarchy continued unchanged in its backward communalised thinking. Its RSS parent occasionally shows a little savant-like intelligence but generally remains in mental and physical regression.

As for the so-called Left, its multi-dimensional hypocrisy and incompetence has been permanently exposed in the heartland of what passes for Indian communism, Bengal. After the demise of the USSR and transition of Communist China towards Capitalism/ Fascism, there has been no real reason why the CPI and CPI-M cannot merge into one and then renounce together their retrograde ideology in favour of becoming a genuine Social Democratic and Labour Party representing working people and the poor. But that, like any corporate merger, would mean administrative redundancies, retrenchment and new management, and the last thing Stalinist politburo members like is the idea of losing their Rajya Sabha sinecures (in Russia and China they lost their heads but Indian conditions are kinder, gentler, more non-violent).

Besides the Congress, BJP and “Left”, most other parties in India revolve around the whims, personality and IQ of some single local political warlord/warlady. The Naxals and other extremists, including Hindu and Muslim religious terrorists, at least make some pretence at representing political interests of some sections of the people; there is thus at least a slight authenticity about them, no matter how disengaged their thought processes may be from realities around them.

Endless deficit finance

The 2008 Budget or the 2009 General Election seem likely to remain in the grip of all such dramatis personae permanently on the Indian stage, and no new real creative constructive force seems likely to appear. Every political misdemeanour will be paid for by endless deficit finance and money-printing, the accounts and auditing of all public institutions shall remain in a shambles while private pockets of the heads of public institutions come to be lined with gold, the armed forces shall be ready to fight their Pakistani counterparts while deferring to any more formidable adversary, rich business people will continue with their grotesque conspicuous consumption, young people graduating from India’s pampered institutions of tertiary education will continue to line up outside foreign embassies to seek hope and escape.

Can India survive as an independent democratic republic for 100 years after 1947, let alone be a country where all citizens are reasonably free and comfortable? A worst-case scenario may see North India in endless conflict with a chaotic Pakistan, Eastern India hived off under Beijing’s influence, and peninsular India from Surat to Vizag being Western-dominated with “SEZs” on the pattern of pre-communist Coastal China. The failure of our elite classes to provide healthy creative governance over generations must inevitably result in the putrefaction of our body politic.

(Author’s Note: The graph that accompanied this article is published elsewhere here under the title “Median Voter Model of India’s Electorate”.)

Against Quackery

Against Quackery

 

 

First published in two parts in The Sunday Statesman, September 23 2007, The Statesman September 24 2007

 

by

Subroto Roy

 

 

Manmohan and Sonia have violated Rajiv Gandhi’s intended reforms; the Communists have been appeased or bought; the BJP is incompetent

 

 

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 like the CPI-M in West Bengal, DMK/ AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, Congress/NCP/ BJP/Sena in Maharashtra, TDP /Congress in Andhra Pradesh, SP/BJP/BSP in Uttar Pradesh etc. 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 extremely expensive “nuclear deal” with the USA is merely one example of such interest group politics.

 

 

Nuclear power is and shall always remain of tiny significance as a source of India’s electricity (compared to e.g. coal and hydro); hence the deal has practically nothing to do with the purported (and mendacious) aim of improving the country’s “energy security” in the long run. It has mostly to do with big business lobbies and senior bureaucrats and politicians making a grab, as they always have done, for India’s public purse, especially access to foreign currency assets. Some $300 million of India’s public money had to be paid to GE and Bechtel Corporation before any nuclear talks could begin in 2004-2005 ~ the reason was the Dabhol fiasco of the 1990s, a sheer waste for India’s ordinary people. Who was responsible for that loss? Pawar-Mahajan-Munde-Thackeray certainly but also India’s Finance Minister at the time, Manmohan Singh, and his top Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Montek Ahluwalia ~ who should never have let the fiasco get off the ground but instead actively promoted and approved it.

 

 

Cost-benefit analysis prior to any public project is textbook operating procedure for economists, and any half-competent economist would have accounted for the scenario of possible currency-depreciation which made Dabhol instantly unviable. Dr Singh and Mr Ahluwalia failed that test badly and it cost India dearly. The purchase of foreign nuclear reactors on a turnkey basis upon their recommendation now reflects similar financial dangers for the country on a vastly larger scale over decades.

 

 

Our Government seems to function most expeditiously in purchasing foreign arms, aircraft etc ~ not in improving the courts, prisons, police, public utilities, public debt. When the purchase of 43 Airbus aircraft surfaced, accusations of impropriety were made by Boeing ~ until the local Airbus representative said on TV that Boeing need not complain because they were going to be rewarded too and soon 68 aircraft were ordered from Boeing!

 

 

India imports all passenger and most military aircraft, besides spare parts and high-octane jet fuel. Domestic aviation generates near zero forex revenues and incurs large forex costs ~ a debit in India’s balance of payments. Domestic airline passengers act as importers subsidised by our meagre exporters of textiles, leather, handicrafts, tea, etc. What a managerially-minded PM and Aviation Minister needed to do before yielding to temptations of buying new aircraft was to get tough with the pampered managements and unions of the nationalized airlines and stand up on behalf of ordinary citizens and taxpayers, who, after all, are mostly rail or road-travellers not jet-setters.

 

 

The same pattern of negligent policy-behaviour led Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in an unprecedented step to mention in his 2007 Union Budget Speech the private American companies Blackstone and GE ~ endorsing the Ahluwalia/Deepak Parekh idea that India’s forex reserves may be made available to be lent out to favoured private businesses for purported “infrastructure” development. We may now see chunks of India’s foreign exchange reserves being “borrowed” and never returned ~ a monumental scam in front of the CBI’s noses.

 

 

The Reserve Bank’s highest echelons may have become complicit in all this, permitting and encouraging a large capital flight to take place among the few million Indians who read the English newspapers and have family-members abroad. Resident Indians have been officially permitted to open bank accounts of US $100,000 abroad, as well as transfer gifts of $50,000 per annum to their adult children already exported abroad ~ converting their largely untaxed paper rupees at an artificially favourable exchange-rate.

 

 

In particular, Mr Ratan Tata (under a misapprehension he may do whatever Lakshmi Mittal does) has been allowed to convert Indian rupees into some US$13,000,000,000 to make a cash purchase of a European steel company. The same has been allowed of the Birlas, Wipro, Dr Reddy’s and numerous other Indian corporations in the organised sector ~ three hundred million dollars here, five hundred million dollars there, etc. Western businessmen now know all they have to do is flatter the egos of Indian boxwallahs enough and they might have found a buyer for their otherwise bankrupt or sick local enterprise. Many newcomers to New York City have been sold the Brooklyn Bridge before. “There’s a sucker born every minute” is the classic saying of American capitalism.

 

 

The Sonia-Manmohan Government, instead of hobnobbing with business chambers, needed to get Indian corporations to improve their accounting, audit and governance, and reduce managerial pilfering and embezzlement, which is possible only if Government first set an example.

 

 

Why have Indian foreign currency reserves zoomed up in recent years? Not mainly because we are exporting more textiles, tea, software engineers, call centre services or new products to the world, but because Indian corporations have been allowed to borrow abroad, converting their hoards of paper rupees into foreign debt. Forex reserves are a residual in a country’s international balance of payments and are not like tax-resources available to be spent by Government; India’s reserves largely constitute foreign liabilities of Indian residents. This may bear endless repetition as the PM and his key acolytes seem impervious to normal postgraduate-level economics textbooks.

 

 

Other official fallacies include thinking India’s savings rate is near 32 per cent and that clever bureaucratic use of it can cause high growth. In fact, real growth arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing of the general population ~ mostly despite not because of an exploitative parasitic State. What has been mismeasured as high savings is actually expansion of bank-deposits in a fractional reserve banking system caused by runaway government deficit-spending.

 

 

Another fallacy has been that agriculture retards growth, leading to nationwide politically-backed attempts at land-grabbing by wily city industrialists and real estate developers. In a hyperinflation-prone economy with wild deficit-spending and runaway money-printing, cheating poor unorganised peasants of their land, when that land is an asset that is due to appreciate in value, has seemed like child’s play.

 

 

What of the Opposition? The BJP/RSS have no economists who are not quacks though opportunists were happy to say what pleased them to hear when they were in power; they also have much implicit support among organised business lobbies and the anti-Muslim senior bureaucracy. The official Communists have been appeased or bought, sometimes so cheaply as with a few airline tickets here and there. The nonsensical “Rural Employment Guarantee” is descending into the wasteland of corruption it was always going to be. The “Domestic Violence Act” as expected has started to destroy India’s families the way Western families have been destroyed. The Arjun-DMK OBC quota corrodes higher education further from its already dismal state. All these were schemes that Congress and Communist cabals created or wholeheartedly backed, and which the BJP were too scared or ignorant to resist.

 

 

And then came Singur and Nandigram ~ where the sheer greed driving the alliance between the Sonia-Manmohan-Pranab Congress and the CPI-M mask that is Buddhadeb, came to be exposed by a handful of brave women like Mamata and Medha.

 

 

A Fiscal U-Turn is Needed For India to Go in The Right Economic Direction

 

Rajiv Gandhi had a sense of noblesse oblige out of remembrance of his father and maternal grandfather. After his assassination, the comprador business press credited Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh with having originated the 1991 economic reform. In May 2002, however, the Congress Party itself passed a resolution proposed by Digvijay Singh explicitly stating Rajiv and not either of them was to be so credited. The resolution was intended to flatter Sonia Gandhi but there was truth in it too. Rajiv, a pilot who knew no political economy, was a quick learner with intelligence to know a good idea when he saw one and enough grace to acknowledge it.

 

 

Rule of Law

 

The first time Dr Manmohan Singh’s name arose in contemporary post-Indira politics was on 22 March 1991 when M K Rasgotra challenged the present author to answer how Dr Singh would respond to proposals being drafted for a planned economic liberalisation that had been authorised by Rajiv, as Congress President and Opposition Leader, since September 1990. It was replied that Dr Singh’s response was unknown and he had been heading the “South-South Commission” for Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, while what needed to be done urgently was make a clear forceful statement to restore India’s credit-worthiness and the confidence of international markets, showing that the Congress at least knew its economics and was planning to take bold new steps in the direction of progress.

 

 

There is no evidence Dr Singh or his acolytes were committed to any economic liberalism prior to 1991 as that term is understood worldwide, and scant evidence they have originated liberal economic ideas for India afterwards. Precisely because they represented the decrepit old intellectual order of statist ”Ma-Bap Sarkari” policy-making, they were not asked in the mid-1980s to be part of a “perestroika-for-India” project done at a foreign university ~ the results of which were received, thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray, by Rajiv Gandhi in hand at 10 Janpath on 18 September 1990 and specifically sparked the change in the direction of his economic thinking.

 

 

India is a large, populous country with hundreds of millions of materially poor citizens, a weak tax-base, a vast internal and external public debt (i.e. debt owed by the Government to domestic and foreign creditors), massive annual fiscal deficits, an inconvertible currency, and runaway printing of paper-money. It is unsurprising Pakistan’s economy is similar, since it is born of the same land and people. Certainly there have been real political problems between India and Pakistan since the chaotic demobilisation and disintegration of the old British Indian Army caused the subcontinent to plunge into war-like or “cold peace” conditions for six decades beginning with a bloody Partition and civil war in J&K. High military expenditures have been necessitated due to mutual and foreign tensions, but this cannot be a permanent state if India and Pakistan wish for genuine mass economic well-being.

 

 

Even with the continuing mutual antagonism, there is vast scope for a critical review of Indian military expenditures towards greatly improving the “teeth-to-tail” ratio of its fighting forces. The abuse of public property and privilege by senior echelons of the armed forces (some of whom have been keen most of all to export their children preferably to America) is also no great secret.

 

 

On the domestic front, Rajiv was entirely convinced when the suggestion was made to him in September 1990 that an enormous infusion of public resources was needed into the judicial system for promotion and improvement of the Rule of Law in the country, a pre-requisite almost for a new market orientation. Capitalism without the Rule of Law can quickly degenerate into an illiberal hell of cronyism and anarchy which is what has tended to happen since 1991.

 

 

The Madhava Menon Committee on criminal justice policy in July proposed a Hong Kong model of “a single high-tech integrated Criminal Justice complex in every district headquarters which may be a multi-storied structure, devoting the ground floor for the police station including a video-installed interrogation room; the first floor for the police-lockups/sub-jail and the Magistrate’s Court; the second floor for the prosecutor’s office, witness rooms, crime laboratories and legal aid services; the third floor for the Sessions Court and the fourth for the administrative offices etc…. (Government of India) should take steps to evolve such an efficient model… and not only recommend it to the States but subsidize its construction…” The question arises: Why is this being proposed for the first time in 2007 after sixty years of Independence? Why was it not something designed and implemented starting in the 1950s?

 

 

The resources put since Independence to the proper working of our judiciary from the Supreme Court and High Courts downwards have been abysmal, while the state of prisons, borstals, mental asylums and other institutions of involuntary detention is nothing short of pathetic. Only police forces, like the military, paramilitary and bureaucracies, have bloated in size.

 

 

Neither Sonia-Manmohan nor the BJP or Communists have thought promotion of the Rule of Law in India to be worth much serious thought ~ certainly less important than attending bogus international conclaves and summits to sign expensive deals for arms, aircraft, reactors etc. Yet Rajiv Gandhi, at a 10 Janpath meeting on 23 March 1991 when he received the liberalisation proposals he had authorized, explicitly avowed the importance of greater resources towards the Judiciary. Dr Singh and his acolytes were not in that loop, indeed they precisely represented the bureaucratic ancien regime intended to be changed, and hence have seemed quite uncomprehending of the roots of the intended reforms ever since 1991.

 

 

Similarly, Rajiv comprehended when it was said to him that the primary fiscal problem faced by India is the vast and uncontrolled public debt, interest payments on which suck dry all public budgets leaving no room for provision of public goods.

 

 

 

Government accounts


Government has been routinely “rolling over” its domestic debt in the asset-portfolios of the nationalised banks while displaying and highlighting only its new additional borrowing in a year as the “Fiscal Deficit”. More than two dozen States have been doing the same and their liabilities ultimately accrue to the Union too. The stock of public debt in India is Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) at least, and portends a hyperinflation in the future.

 

 

There has been no serious recognition of this since it is political and bureaucratic actions that have been causing the problem. Proper recognition would entail systematically cleaning up the budgets and accounts of every single governmental entity in the country: the Union, every State, every district and municipality, every publicly funded entity or organisation, and at the same time improving public decision-making capacity so that once budgets and accounts recover from grave sickness over decades, functioning institutions exist for their proper future management. All this would also stop corruption in its tracks, and release resources for valuable public goods and services like the Judiciary, School Education and Basic Health. Institutions for improved political and administrative decision-making are needed throughout the country if public preferences with respect to raising and allocating common resources are to be elicited and then translated into actual delivery of public goods and services. Our dysfunctional legislatures will have to do at least a little of what they are supposed to. When public budgets and accounts are healthy and we have functioning public goods and services, macroeconomic conditions would have been created for the paper-rupee to once more become a money as good as gold ~ a convertible world currency for all of India’s people, not merely the metropolitan special interest groups that have been controlling our governments and their agendas.

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