How to fight government corruption whether on Earth or Mars

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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.

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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, Kolkata

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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, Kolkata

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.