Did Jagdish Bhagwati “originate”, “pioneer”, “intellectually father” India’s 1991 economic reform? Did Manmohan Singh? Or did I, through my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi, just as Siddhartha Shankar Ray told Manmohan & his aides in Sep 1993 in Washington? Judge the evidence for yourself. And why has Amartya Sen misdescribed his work? India’s right path forward today remains what I said in my 3 Dec 2012 Delhi lecture!

Did Jagdish Bhagwati “originate”, “pioneer”, “intellectually father” India’s 1991 economic reform?  Did Manmohan Singh? Or did I, through my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi, just as Siddhartha Shankar Ray told Manmohan & his aides in Sep 1993 in Washington?  Judge the evidence for yourself.  And why has Amartya Sen misdescribed his work? India’s right path forward today remains what I said in my 3 Dec 2012 Delhi lecture!

 

Contents

 

Part I:  Facts vs Fiction, Flattery, Falsification, etc

 

1. Problem

2.    Rajiv Gandhi, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Milton Friedman & Myself

3.     Jagdish Bhagwati & Manmohan Singh?  That just don’t fly!

 4.    Amartya Sen’s Half-Baked Communism:  “To each according to his need”?

 

  Part II:    India’s Right Road Forward Now: Some Thoughtful Analysis for Grown Ups

5.   Transcending a Left-Right/Congress-BJP Divide in Indian Politics

6.   Budgeting Military & Foreign Policy

7.    Solving the Kashmir Problem & Relations with Pakistan

8.  Dealing with Communist China

9.   Towards Coherence in Public Accounting, Public Finance & Public Decision-Making

10.   India’s Money: Towards Currency Integrity at Home & Abroad

 

 

Part I:  Facts vs Fiction, Flattery, Falsification, etc

 

1. Problem


Arvind Panagariya says in the Times of India of 27 July 2013

 

 “…if in 1991 India embraced many of the Track-I reforms, writings by Sen played no role in it… The intellectual origins of the reforms are to be found instead in the writings of Bhagwati, both solely and jointly with Padma Desai and T N Srinivasan….”

 

Now Amartya Sen has not claimed involvement in the 1991 economic reforms so we are left with Panagariya claiming

 

“The intellectual origins of the reforms are to be found instead in the writings of Bhagwati…”

 

Should we suppose Professor Panagariya’s master and co-author Jagdish Bhagwati himself substantially believes and claims the same?  Three recent statements from Professor Bhagwati suffice by way of evidence:

 

(A)  Bhagwati said to parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha on 2 December 2010 about the pre-1991 situation:

 

“This policy framework had been questioned, and its total overhaul advocated, by me and Padma Desai in writings through the late 1960s which culminated in our book, India: Planning for Industrialization (Oxford University Press: 1970) with a huge blowback at the time from virtually all the other leading economists and policymakers who were unable to think outside the box. In the end, our views prevailed and the changes which would transform the economy began, after an external payments crisis in 1991, under the forceful leadership of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was the Finance Minister at the time….”

 

(B)  Bhagwati said to Economic Times on 28 July 2013:

 

“When finance minister Manmohan Singh was in New York in 1992, he had a lunch for many big CEOs whom he was trying to seduce to come to India. He also invited me and my wife, Padma Desai, to the lunch. As we came in, the FM introduced us to the invitees and said: ‘These friends of mine wrote almost a quarter century ago [India: Planning for Industrialisation was published in 1970 by Oxford] recommending all the reforms we are now undertaking. If we had accepted the advice then, we would not be having this lunch as you would already be in India’.”

 

(C)  And Bhagwati said in Business Standard of 9 August 2013:

 

“… I was among the intellectual pioneers of the Track I reforms that transformed our economy and reduced poverty, and witness to that is provided by the Prime Minister’s many pronouncements and by noted economists like Deena Khatkhate.. I believe no one has accused Mr. Sen of being the intellectual father of these reforms. So, the fact is that this huge event in the economic life of India passed him by…”

 

From these pronouncements it seems fair to conclude Professors Bhagwati and Panagariya are claiming Bhagwati has been the principal author of “the intellectual origins” of India’s 1991 reforms, has been their “intellectual father” or at the very least has been “among the intellectual pioneers” of the reform (“among” his own collaborators and friends, since none else is mentioned).  Bhagwati has said too his friend Manmohan Singh as Finance Minister participated in the process while quoting Manmohan as having said Bhagwati was the principal author. 

 

Bhagwati’s opponent in current debate,  Amartya Sen, has been in agreement with him that Manmohan, their common friend during college days at Cambridge in the 1950s, was a principal originating the 1991 reforms, saying to Forbes in 2006:

 

“When Manmohan Singh came to office in the early 1990s as the newly appointed finance minister, in a government led by the Congress Party, he knew these problems well enough, as someone who had been strongly involved in government administration for a long time.”

 

In my experience, such sorts of claims, even in their weakest form, have been, at best, scientifically sloppy and unscholarly,  at worst mendacious suppressio veri/suggestio falsi, and in between these best and worst interpretations, examples of academic self-delusion and mutual flattery.  We shall see Bhagwati’s opponent, Amartya Sen, has denied academic paternity of recent policies he has spawned while appearing to claim academic paternity of things he has not!  Everyone may have reasonably expected greater self-knowledge, wisdom and scholarly values of such eminent academics.  Their current spat has instead seemed to reveal something rather dismal and self-serving. 

 

You can decide for yourself where the truth, ever such an elusive and fragile thing, happens to be and what is best done about it.   Here is some evidence.

 

 

2.  Rajiv Gandhi, Siddhartha Shankar Ray,  Milton Friedman & Myself

 

Professor Arvind Panagariya is evidently an American economics professor of Indian national origin who holds the Jagdish Bhagwati Chair of Indian Political Economy at Columbia University.   I am afraid I had not known his name until he mentioned my name in Economic Times of  24 October 2001.   He said

 

panagariya

 

In mentioning the volume “edited by Subroto Roy and William E  James”,  Professor Panagariya did not appear to find the normal scientific civility to identify our work by name, date or publisher.  So here that is now:

 

 

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This was a book published in 1992 by the late Tejeshwar Singh for Sage.  It resulted from the University of Hawaii Manoa perestroika-for-India project, that I and Ted James created and led between 1986 and 1992/93.   (Yes, Hawaii — not Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Columbia or even Penn, whose India-policy programs were Johnny-come-latelies a decade or more later…)   There is a sister-volume too on Pakistan, created by a parallel project Ted and I had led at the same time:

 

 

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In 2004 from Britain, I wrote to the 9/11 Commission saying if our plan to study Afghanistan after India and Pakistan had not been thwarted by malign local forces among our sponsors themselves, we, a decade before the September 11 2001 attacks on the USA, may  just have come up with a pre-emptive academic analysis.   It was not to be.

 

Milton Friedman’s chapter that we published for the first time was a memorandum he wrote in November 1955 for the Government of India which the GoI had effectively suppressed.  I came to know of it while a doctoral student at Cambridge under Frank Hahn, when at a conference at Oxford about 1979-1980, Peter Tamas Bauer sat me down beside him and told me the story.  Later in Blacksburg about 1981, N. Georgescu-Roegen on a visit from Vanderbilt University told me the same thing.  Specifically, Georgescu-Roegen told me that leading Indian academics had almost insulted Milton in public which Milton had borne gamely; that after Milton had given a talk in Delhi to VKRV Rao’s graduate-students,  a talk Georgescu-Roegen had been present at, VKRV Rao had addressed the students and told them in all seriousness “You have heard what Professor Friedman has to say, if you repeat what he has said in your exams, you will fail”.

 

In 1981-1982 my doctoral thesis emerged, titled “On liberty & economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”,

 

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My late great master in economic theory, Frank Hahn (1925-2013), found what I had written to be a “good thesis” bringing “a good knowledge of economics and of philosophy to bear on the literature on economic planning”, saying I had  shown “a good knowledge of economic theory” and my “critique of Development Economics was powerful not only on methodological but also on economic theory grounds”.  

 

I myself said about it decades later “My original doctoral topic in 1976  ‘A monetary theory for India’ had to be altered not only due to paucity of monetary data at the time but because the problems of India’s political economy and allocation of resources in the real economy were far more pressing. The thesis that emerged in 1982 … was a full frontal assault from the point of view of microeconomic theory on the “development planning” to which everyone routinely declared their fidelity, from New Delhi’s bureaucrats and Oxford’s “development” school to McNamara’s World Bank with its Indian staffers.  Frank Hahn protected my inchoate liberal arguments for India; and when no internal examiner could be found, Cambridge showed its greatness by appointing two externals, Bliss at Oxford and Hutchison at Birmingham, both Cambridge men. “Economic Theory and Development Economics” was presented to the American Economic Association in December 1982 in company of Solow, Chenery, Streeten, and other eminences…” How I landed on that eminent AEA panel in December 1982 was because its convener Professor George Rosen of the University of Illinois recruited me overnight — as a replacement for Jagdish Bhagwati, who had had to return to India suddenly because of a parental death.  The results were published in 1983 in World Development.

 

Soon afterwards, London’s Institute of Economic Affairs published Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India.  This slim work was the first classical liberal critique of post-Mahalonobis Indian economic thought since BR Shenoy’s original criticism decades earlier.  It became the subject of The Times’ lead editorial on its day of publication 29 May 1984 — provoking the Indian High Commission in London to send copies to the Finance Ministry in Delhi where it apparently caused a stir, or so I was told years later by Amaresh Bagchi who was a recipient of it at the Ministry.

 

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The Times had said

 

“When Mr. Dennis Healey in the Commons recently stated that Hongkong, with one per cent of the population of India has twice India’s trade, he was making an important point about Hongkong but an equally important point about India. If Hongkong with one per cent of its population and less than 0.03 per cert of India’s land area (without even water as a natural resource) can so outpace India, there must be something terribly wrong with the way Indian governments have managed their affairs, and there is. A paper by an Indian economist published today (Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India by Subroto Roy, IEA £1.80) shows how Asia’s largest democracy is gradually being stifled by the imposition of economic policies whose woeful effect and rhetorical unreality find their echo all over the Third World. As with many of Britain’s former imperial possessions, the rot set in long before independence. But as with most of the other former dependencies, the instrument of economic regulation and bureaucratic control set up by the British has been used decisively and expansively to consolidate a statist regime which inhibits free enterprise, minimizes economic success and consolidates the power of government in all spheres of the economy. We hear little of this side of things when India rattles the borrowing bowl or denigrates her creditors for want of further munificence. How could Indian officials explain their poor performance relative to Hongkong? Dr Roy has the answers for them. He lists the causes as a large and heavily subsidized public sector, labyrinthine control over private enterprise, forcibly depressed agricultural prices, massive import substitution, government monopoly of foreign exchange transactions, artificially overvalued currency and the extensive politicization of the labour market, not to mention the corruption which is an inevitable side effect of an economy which depends on the arbitrament of bureaucrats. The first Indian government under Nehru took its cue from Nehru’s admiration of the Soviet economy, which led him to believe that the only policy for India was socialism in which there would be “no private property except in a restricted sense and the replacement of the private profit system by a higher ideal of cooperative service.” Consequently, the Indian government has now either a full monopoly or is one of a few oligipolists in banking, insurance, railways, airlines, cement, steel, chemicals, fertilizers, ship-building, breweries, telephones and wrist-watches. No businessman can expand his operation while there is any surplus capacity anywhere in that sector. He needs government approval to modernize, alter his price-structure, or change his labour shift. It is not surprising that a recent study of those developing countries which account for most manufactured exports from the Third World shows that India’s share fell from 65 percent in 1953 to 10 per cent in 1973; nor, with the numerous restrictions on inter-state movement of grains, that India has over the years suffered more from an inability to cope with famine than during the Raj when famine drill was centrally organized and skillfully executed without restriction. Nehru’s attraction for the Soviet model has been inherited by his daughter, Mrs. Gandhi. Her policies have clearly positioned India more towards the Soviet Union than the West. The consequences of this, as Dr Roy states, is that a bias can be seen in “the antipathy and pessimism towards market institutions found among the urban public, and sympathy and optimism to be found for collectivist or statist ones.” All that India has to show for it is the delivery of thousands of tanks in exchange for bartered goods, and the erection of steel mills and other heavy industry which help to perpetuate the unfortunate obsession with industrial performance at the expense of agricultural growth and the relief of rural poverty.”…..

 

I felt there were inaccuracies in this and so replied  dated 4 June which The Times published on 16 June 1984:

 

timesletter-11

Milton and I met for the first time in the Fall of 1984 at the Mont Pelerin Society meetings at Cambridge when I gave him a copy of the IEA monograph, which he came to think extremely well of.   I told him I had heard of his 1955 document and asked him for it; he sent me the original blue/purple version of this soon thereafter.

 

[That original document was, incidentally,  in my professorial office among all my books, papers, theses and other academic items including my gown when I was attacked in 2003 by a corrupt gang at IIT Kharagpur —  all yet to be returned to me by IIT despite a High Court order during my present ongoing battle against corruption there over a USD 1.9 million scam !… Without having ever wished to, I have had to battle India’s notorious corruption first hand for a decade!]

 

I published Milton’s document for the first time on 21 May 1989 at the conference of the Hawaii project over the loud objection of assorted leftists… 

friedman-et-al-at-uh-india-conf-19891

Amartya Sen, Jagdish Bhagwati, Manmohan Singh or any of their acolytes will not be seen in this group photograph dated 21 May 1989 at the UH President’s House, because they were not there.  The Government of India was represented by the Ambassador to Washington, PK Kaul, as well as the Consul General in San Francisco, KS Rana (later Ambassador to Germany), besides the founding head of ICRIER who had invited himself.  

 

Manmohan Singh was not there as he precisely represented the Indian economic policy establishment I had been determined to reform!   In any case, he had left India about 1987 on his last assignment before retirement, with Julius Nyerere of Tanzania relating to the “South-South Commission”.  

 

I have said over more than a half dozen years now that there is no evidence whatsoever of Manmohan Singh having been a liberal economist in any sense of that word at any time before 1991, and scant evidence that he originated any liberal economic ideas since.  The widespread worldwide notion that he is to be credited for originating a sudden transformation of India from a path of pseudo-socialism to one of pseudo-liberalism has been without basis in evidence — almost entirely a political fiction, though an explicable one and one which has served, as such political fictions do, the purposes of those who invent them.

 

Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen were in their mid 50s and were two of the three senior-most Indians in US academic economics at the time.  I and Ted James, both in our 30s, decided to invite both Bhagwati and Sen to the Hawaii project-conference as distinguished guests but to do so somewhat insincerely late in the day, predicting they would decline, which is what they did, yet they had come to be formally informed of what we were doing.  We had a very serious attitude that was inspired a bit, I might say, by Oppenheimer’s secret “Manhattan project” and we wanted neither press-publicity nor anyone to become the star who ended up hogging the microphone or the limelight.

 

Besides, and most important of all, neither Bhagwati nor Sen had done work in the areas we were centrally interested in, namely, India’s macroeconomic and foreign trade framework and fiscal and monetary policies.   

 

Bhagwati, after his excellent 1970 work with Padma Desai for the OECD on Indian industry and trade, also co-authored with TN Srinivasan a fine 1975 volume for the NBER  Foreign Trade Regimes and Economic Development: India. 

 

TN Srinivasan was the third of the three senior-most Indian economists at the time in US academia; his work made us want to invite him as one of our main economic authors, and we charged him with writing the excellent chapter in Foundations that he came to do titled “Planning and Foreign Trade Reconsidered”.

 

The other main economist author we had hoped for was Sukhamoy Chakravarty from Delhi University and the Government of India’s Planning Commission, whom I had known since 1977 when I had been given his office at the Delhi School of Economics as a Visiting Assistant Professor while he was on sabbatical; despite my pleading he would not come due to ill health; he strongly recommended C Rangarajan, telling me Rangarajan had been the main author with him of the crucial 1985 RBI report on monetary policy; and he signed and gave me his last personal copy of that report dating it 14 July 1987.  Rangarajan said he could not come and recommended the head of the NIPFP, Amaresh Bagchi, promising to write jointly with him the chapter on monetary policy and public finance. 

 

Along with Milton Friedman’s suppressed 1955 memorandum which I was publishing for the first time in 1989, TN Srinivasan and Amaresh Bagchi authored the three main economic policy chapters that we felt we wanted. 

 

Other chapters we commissioned had to do with the state of governance (James Manor), federalism (Bhagwan Dua), Punjab and similar problems (PR Brass), agriculture (K Subbarao, as proposed by CH Hanumantha Rao), health (Anil Deolalikar, through open advertisement), and a historical assessment of the roots of economic policy (BR Tomlinson, as proposed by Anil Seal).  On the vital subject of education we failed to agree with the expert we wanted very much  (JBG Tilak, as proposed by George Psacharopolous) and so we had to cover the subject cursorily in our introduction mentioning his work.  And decades later, I apologised to Professor Dietmar Rothermund of Heidelberg University for having been so blinkered in the Anglo-American tradition at the time as to not having obtained his participation in the project.  

 

[The sister-volume we commissioned in parallel on Pakistan’s political economy had among its authors Francis Robinson, Akbar Ahmed, Shirin Tahir-Kehli, Robert La Porte, Shahid Javed Burki, Mohsin Khan, Mahmood Hasan Khan,  Naved Hamid, John Adams and Shahrukh Khan; this book came to be published in Pakistan in 1993 to good reviews but apparently was then lost by its publisher and is yet to be found; the military and religious clergy had been deliberately not invited by us though the name of Pervez Musharraf had I think arisen, and the military and religious clergy in fact came to rule the roost through the 1990s in Pakistan; the volume, two decades old, takes on fresh relevance with the new civilian governments of recent years.] [Postscript  27 November 2015: See my strident critique at Twitter of KM Kasuri, P Musharraf et al  e.g. at https://independentindian.com/2011/11/22/pakistans-point-of-view-or-points-of-view-on-kashmir-my-as-yet-undelivered-lahore-lecture-part-i/ passing off ideas they have taken from this volume without acknowledgement, ideas which have in any case become defunct  to their author, myself.]

 

Milton himself said this about his experience with me in his memoirs:

 

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miltononmefinal

And Milton wrote on my behalf when I came to be attacked, being Indian, at the very University that had sponsored us:

 

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My obituary notice at his passing in 2006 said: “My association with Milton has been the zenith of my engagement with academic economics…. I was a doctoral student of his bitter enemy yet for over two decades he not only treated me with unfailing courtesy and affection, he supported me in lonely righteous battles: doing for me what he said he had never done before, which was to stand as an expert witness in a United States Federal Court. I will miss him much though I know that he, as a man of reason, would not have wished me to….”

 

In August 1990 in Delhi I came to tell Siddhartha Shankar Ray about the unpublished India-manuscript resulting from the Hawaii project that was in my possession as it headed to its publisher. 

 

Ray was a family-friend whose maternal grandfather CR Das led the Congress Party before MK Gandhi and had been a friend and colleague of my great grandfather SN Roy in Bengal’s politics in the 1920s;  Ray had also consented to stand on my behalf as Senior Counsel in a matter in the Supreme Court of India. 

 

Ray was involved in daily political parlays at his Delhi home with other Congress Party personages led by PV Narasimha Rao.  These senior regional figures seemed to me to be keeping their national leader, Rajiv Gandhi, aloof in splendid isolation at 10 Jan Path. 

 

Ray told me he and his wife had been in London in May 1984 on the day The Times had written its lead editorial on my work and they had seen it with excitement.  Upon hearing of the Hawaii project and the manuscript I had with me, Ray immediately insisted of his own accord that I must meet Rajiv Gandhi, and that he would be arranging a meeting. 

 

Hence it came to be a month later that a copy of the manuscript of the completed Hawaii project was be given by my hand on 18 September 1990 to Rajiv Gandhi, then Leader of the Opposition and Congress President, an encounter I have quite fully described elsewhere.  I offered to get a copy to the PM, VP Singh, too but a key aide of his showed no interest in receiving it.

 

Rajiv made me a senior adviser, and I have claimed principal authorship of the 22 March 1991 draft of the Congress manifesto that actually shook and changed the political thinking of the Congress on economic matters in the direction Rajiv had desired and as I had advised him at our initial 18 September 1990 meeting. 

 

“… He began by talking about how important he felt panchayati raj was, and said he had been on the verge of passing major legislation on it but then lost the election. He asked me if I could spend some time thinking about it, and that he would get the papers sent to me. I said I would and remarked panchayati raj might be seen as decentralized provision of public goods, and gave the economist’s definition of public goods as those essential for the functioning of the market economy, like the Rule of Law, roads, fresh water, and sanitation, but which were unlikely to appear through competitive forces.

 

I distinguished between federal, state and local levels and said many of the most significant public goods were best provided locally. Rajiv had not heard the term “public goods” before, and he beamed a smile and his eyes lit up as he voiced the words slowly, seeming to like the concept immensely. It occurred to me he had been by choice a pilot of commercial aircraft. Now he seemed intrigued to find there could be systematic ways of thinking about navigating a country’s governance by common pursuit of reasonable judgement. I said the public sector’s wastefulness had drained scarce resources that should have gone instead to provide public goods. Since the public sector was owned by the public, it could be privatised by giving away its shares to the public, preferably to panchayats of the poorest villages. The shares would become tradable, drawing out black money, and inducing a historic redistribution of wealth while at the same time achieving greater efficiency by transferring the public sector to private hands. Rajiv seemed to like that idea too, and said he tried to follow a maxim of Indira Gandhi’s that every policy should be seen in terms of how it affected the common man. I wryly said the common man often spent away his money on alcohol, to which he said at once it might be better to think of the common woman instead. (This remark of Rajiv’s may have influenced the “aam admi” slogan of the 2004 election, as all Congress Lok Sabha MPs of the previous Parliament came to receive a previous version of the present narrative.)

 

Our project had identified the Congress’s lack of internal elections as a problem; when I raised it, Rajiv spoke of how he, as Congress President, had been trying to tackle the issue of bogus electoral rolls. I said the judiciary seemed to be in a mess due to the backlog of cases; many of which seemed related to land or rent control, and it may be risky to move towards a free economy without a properly functioning judicial system or at least a viable system of contractual enforcement. I said a lot of problems which should be handled by the law in the courts in India were instead getting politicised and decided on the streets. Rajiv had seen the problems of the judiciary and said he had good relations with the Chief Justice’s office, which could be put to use to improve the working of the judiciary.

 

The project had worked on Pakistan as well, and I went on to say we should solve the problem with Pakistan in a definitive manner. Rajiv spoke of how close his government had been in 1988 to a mutual withdrawal from Siachen. But Zia-ul-Haq was then killed and it became more difficult to implement the same thing with Benazir Bhutto, because, he said, as a democrat, she was playing to anti-Indian sentiments while he had found it somewhat easier to deal with the military. I pressed him on the long-term future relationship between the countries and he agreed a common market was the only real long-term solution. I wondered if he could find himself in a position to make a bold move like offering to go to Pakistan and addressing their Parliament to break the impasse. He did not say anything but seemed to think about the idea. Rajiv mentioned a recent Time magazine cover of Indian naval potential, which had caused an excessive stir in Delhi. He then talked about his visit to China, which seemed to him an important step towards normalization. He said he had not seen (or been shown) any absolute poverty in China of the sort we have in India. He talked about the Gulf situation, saying he did not disagree with the embargo of Iraq except he wished the ships enforcing the embargo had been under the U.N. flag. The meeting seemed to go on and on, and I was embarrassed at perhaps having taken too much time and that he was being too polite to get me to go. V. George had interrupted with news that Sheila Dixit (as I recall) had just been arrested by the U. P. Government, and there were evidently people waiting. Just before we finally stood up I expressed a hope that he was looking to the future of India with an eye to a modern political and economic agenda for the next election, rather than getting bogged down with domestic political events of the moment. That was the kind of hopefulness that had attracted many of my generation in 1985. I said I would happily work in any way to help define a long-term agenda. His eyes lit up and as we shook hands to say goodbye, he said he would be in touch with me again…. The next day I was called and asked to stay in Delhi for a few days, as Mr. Gandhi wanted me to meet some people…..

 

… That night Krishna Rao dropped me at Tughlak Road where I used to stay with friends. In the car I told him, as he was a military man with heavy security cover for himself as a former Governor of J&K, that it seemed to me Rajiv’s security was being unprofessionally handled, that he was vulnerable to a professional assassin. Krishna Rao asked me if I had seen anything specific by way of vulnerability. With John Kennedy and De Gaulle in mind, I said I feared Rajiv was open to a long-distance sniper, especially when he was on his campaign trips around the country.  This was one of several attempts I made since October 1990 to convey my clear impression to whomever I thought might have an effect that Rajiv seemed to me extremely vulnerable. Rajiv had been on sadhbhavana journeys, back and forth into and out of Delhi. I had heard he was fed up with his security apparatus, and I was not surprised given it seemed at the time rather bureaucratized. It would not have been appropriate for me to tell him directly that he seemed to me to be vulnerable, since I was a newcomer and a complete amateur about security issues, and besides if he agreed he might seem to himself to be cowardly or have to get even closer to his security apparatus. Instead I pressed the subject relentlessly with whomever I could. I suggested specifically two things: (a) that the system in place at Rajiv’s residence and on his itineraries be tested, preferably by some internationally recognized specialists in counter-terrorism; (b) that Rajiv be encouraged to announce a shadow-cabinet. The first would increase the cost of terrorism, the second would reduce the potential political benefit expected by terrorists out to kill him. On the former, it was pleaded that security was a matter being run by the V. P. Singh and then Chandrashekhar Governments at the time. On the latter, it was said that appointing a shadow cabinet might give the appointees the wrong idea, and lead to a challenge to Rajiv’s leadership. This seemed to me wrong, as there was nothing to fear from healthy internal contests for power so long as they were conducted in a structured democratic framework. I pressed to know how public Rajiv’s itinerary was when he travelled. I was told it was known to everyone and that was the only way it could be since Rajiv wanted to be close to the people waiting to see him and had been criticized for being too aloof. This seemed to me totally wrong and I suggested that if Rajiv wanted to be seen as meeting the crowds waiting for him then that should be done by planning to make random stops on the road that his entourage would take. This would at least add some confusion to the planning of potential terrorists out to kill him. When I pressed relentlessly, it was said I should probably speak to “Madame”, i.e. to Mrs. Rajiv Gandhi. That seemed to me highly inappropriate, as I could not be said to be known to her and I should not want to unduly concern her in the event it was I who was completely wrong in my assessment of the danger. The response that it was not in Congress’s hands, that it was the responsibility of the VP Singh and later the Chandrashekhar Governments, seemed to me completely irrelevant since Congress in its own interests had a grave responsibility to protect Rajiv Gandhi irrespective of what the Government’s security people were doing or not doing. Rajiv was at the apex of the power structure of the party, and a key symbol of secularism and progress for the entire country. Losing him would be quite irreparable to the party and the country. It shocked me that the assumption was not being made that there were almost certainly professional killers actively out to kill Rajiv Gandhi — this loving family man and hapless pilot of India’s ship of state who did not seem to have wished to make enemies among India’s terrorists but whom the fates had conspired to make a target. The most bizarre and frustrating response I got from several respondents was that I should not mention the matter at all as otherwise the threat would become enlarged and the prospect made more likely! This I later realized was a primitive superstitious response of the same sort as wearing amulets and believing in Ptolemaic astrological charts that assume the Sun goes around the Earth — centuries after Kepler and Copernicus. Perhaps the entry of scientific causality and rationality is where we must begin in the reform of India’s governance and economy. What was especially repugnant after Rajiv’s assassination was to hear it said by his enemies that it marked an end to “dynastic” politics in India. This struck me as being devoid of all sense because the unanswerable reason for protecting Rajiv Gandhi was that we in India, if we are to have any pretensions at all to being a civilized and open democratic society, cannot tolerate terrorism and assassination as means of political change. Either we are constitutional democrats willing to fight for the privileges of a liberal social order, or ours is truly a primitive and savage anarchy concealed beneath a veneer of fake Westernization….. Proceedings began when Rajiv arrived. This elite audience mobbed him just as the farmers had mobbed him earlier. He saw me and beamed a smile in recognition, and I smiled back but made no attempt to draw near him in the crush. He gave a short very apt speech on the role the United Nations might have in the new post-Gulf War world. Then he launched the book, and left for an investiture at Rashtrapati Bhavan. We waited for our meeting with him, which finally happened in the afternoon. Rajiv was plainly at the point of exhaustion and still hard-pressed for time. He seemed pleased to see me and apologized for not talking in the morning. Regarding the March 22 draft, he said he had not read it but that he would be doing so. He said he expected the central focus of the manifesto to be on economic reform, and an economic point of view in foreign policy, and in addition an emphasis on justice and the law courts. I remembered our September 18 conversation and had tried to put in justice and the courts into our draft but had been over-ruled by others. I now said the social returns of investment in the judiciary were high but was drowned out again. Rajiv was clearly agitated that day by the BJP and blurted out he did not really feel he understood what on earth they were on about. He said about his own family, “We’re not religious or anything like that, we don’t pray every day.” I felt again what I had felt before, that here was a tragic hero of India who had not really wished to be more than a happy family man until he reluctantly was made into a national leader against his will. We were with him for an hour or so. As we were leaving, he said quickly at the end of the meeting he wished to see me on my own and would be arranging a meeting. One of our group was staying back to ask him a favour. Just before we left, I managed to say to him what I felt was imperative: “The Iraq situation isn’t as it seems, it’s a lot deeper than it’s been made out to be.” He looked at me with a serious look and said “Yes I know, I know.” It was decided Pitroda would be in touch with each of us in the next 24 hours. During this time Narasimha Rao’s manifesto committee would read the draft and any questions they had would be sent to us. We were supposed to be on call for 24 hours. The call never came. Given the near total lack of system and organization I had seen over the months, I was not surprised. Krishna Rao and I waited another 48 hours, and then each of us left Delhi. Before going I dropped by to see Krishnamurty, and we talked at length. He talked especially about the lack of the idea of teamwork in India. Krishnamurty said he had read everything I had written for the group and learned a lot. I said that managing the economic reform would be a critical job and the difference between success and failure was thin….”

 

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“… I got the afternoon train to Calcutta and before long left for America to bring my son home for his summer holidays with me. In Singapore, the news suddenly said Rajiv Gandhi had been killed. All India wept. What killed him was not merely a singular act of criminal terrorism, but the system of humbug, incompetence and sycophancy that surrounds politics in India and elsewhere. I was numbed by rage and sorrow, and did not return to Delhi….”

 

In December 1991, I visited Rajiv’s widow at 10 Jan Path to express my condolences, the only time I have met her, and I gave her for her records a taped copy of Rajiv’s long-distance telephone conversations with me during the Gulf War earlier that year.   She seemed an extremely shy taciturn figure in deep mourning, and I do not think the little I said to her about her late husband’s relationship with me was comprehended.  Nor was it the time or place for more to be said.

 

In September 1993, at a special luncheon at the Indian Ambassador’s Residence in Washington, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, then the Ambassador to Washington, pointed at me and declared to Manmohan Singh, then Finance Minister, in presence of Manmohan’s key aides accompanying him including MS Ahluwalia, NK Singh, C Rangarajan and others,

 

“Congress manifesto was written on his computer”.

 

This was accurate enough to the extent that the 22 March 1991 draft as asked for by Rajiv and that came to explicitly affect policy had been and remains on my then-new NEC laptop.

 

At the Ambassador’s luncheon, I gave Manmohan Singh a copy of the Foundations book as a gift.  My father who knew him in the early 1970s through MG Kaul, ICS, had sent him a copy of my 1984 IEA monograph which Manmohan had acknowledged.  And back in 1973, he had visited our then-home at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel in Paris to advise me about economics at my father’s request, and he and I had ended up in a fierce private debate for about forty minutes over the demerits (as I saw them) and merits (as he saw them) of the Soviet influence on Indian economic policy-making.  But in 1993 we had both forgotten the 1973 meeting.  

 

In May 2002, the Congress passed an official party resolution moved by Digvijay Singh in presence of PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh that the 1991 reforms had originated with Rajiv Gandhi and not with either Narasimha Rao or Manmohan; no one dissented.  It was intended to flatter Sonia Gandhi as the Congress President,  but there was truth in it too which all Congress MPs of the 13th Lok Sabha had come to know in a publication of mine they had received from me at IIT Kharagpur where since 1996 I had become Professor.  

 

Manmohan Singh himself, to his credit, has not at any point, except once during his failed Lok Sabha bid, claimed the reforms as his own invention and has said always he had followed what his Prime Minister had told him. However, he has not been averse to being attributed with all the credit by his flatterers, by the media, by businessmen and many many others around the world, and certainly he did not respond to Ambassador Siddhartha Shankar Ray telling him and his key aides how the Congress-led reform had come about through my work except to tell me at the 1993 luncheon that when Arjun Singh criticised the reforms in Cabinet, he, Manmohan, would mention the manifesto. 

 

On 28 December 2009, Rajiv’s widow in an official Congress Party statement finally declared her late husband

 

left his personal imprint on the (Congress) party’s manifesto of 1991.″ 

 

How Sonia Gandhi, who has never had pretensions to knowledge of economics or political economy or political science or governance or history, came to place Manmohan Singh as her prime ministerial candidate and the font of economic and political wisdom along with Pranab Mukherjee, when both men hardly had been favourites of her late husband, would be a story in its own right.  And how Amartya Sen’s European-origin naturalised Indian co-author Jean Drèze later came to have policy influence from a different direction upon Sonia Gandhi, also a naturalised Indian of European origin, may be yet another story in its own right,  perhaps best told by themselves.

 

I would surmise the same elderly behind-the-scenes figure, now in his late 80s, had a hand in setting up both sets of influences — directly in the first case (from back in 1990-1991),  and indirectly in the second case (starting in 2004) .  This was a man who in a November 2007 newspaper article literally erased my name and inserted that of Manmohan Singh as part of the group that Rajiv created on 25 September following his 18 September meeting with me!   Reluctantly, I had to call this very elderly man a liar; he has not denied it and knows he has not been libeled.

 

One should never forget the two traditional powers interested in the subcontinent, Russia and Britain, have been never far from influence in Delhi.  In 1990-1991 what worried vested bureaucratic and business interests and foreign powers through their friends and agents was that they could see change was coming to India but they wanted to be able to control it themselves to their advantage, which they then broadly proceeded to do over the next two decades.  The foreign weapons’ contracts had to be preserved, as did other big-ticket imports that India ends up buying needlessly on credit it hardly has in world markets.  There are similarities to what happened in Russia and Eastern Europe where many apparatchiks and fellow-travellers became freedom-loving liberals overnight;  in the Indian case more than one badly compromised pro-USSR senior bureaucrat promptly exported his children and savings to America and wrapped themselves in the American flag.

 

The stubborn unalterable fact remains that Manmohan Singh was not physically present in India and was still with the Nyerere project on 18 September 1990 when I met Rajiv for the first time and gave him the unpublished results of the UH-Manoa project.  This simple straightforward fact is something the Congress Party, given its own myths and self-deception and disinformation, has not been able to cope with in its recently published history.   For myself, I have remained loyal to my memory of my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi, and my understanding of him.  The Rajiv Gandhi I knew had been enthused by me in 1990-1991 carrying the UH-Manoa perestroika-for-India project that I had led since 1986, and he had loved my advice to him on 18 September 1990 that he needed to modernise the party by preparing a coherent agenda (as other successful reformers had done) while still in Opposition waiting for elections, and to base that agenda on commitments to improving the judiciary and rule of law, stopping the debauching of money, and focusing on the provision of public goods instead.    Rajiv I am sure wanted a modern and modern-minded Congress — not one which depended on him let aside his family, but one which reduced that dependence and let him and his family alone.

 

As for Manmohan Singh being a liberal or liberalising economist, there is no evidence publicly available of that being so from his years before or during the Nyerere project, or after he returned and joined the Chandrashekhar PMO and the UGC  until becoming,  to his own surprise as he told Mark Tully,  PV Narasimha Rao’s Finance Minister.  Some of his actions qua Finance Minister were liberalising in nature but he did not originate any basic idea of a change in a liberal direction of economic policy, and he has, with utmost honesty honestly, not claimed otherwise.  Innumerable flatterers and other self-interested parties have made out differently, creating what they have found to be a politically useful fiction; he has yet to deny them.

 

Siddhartha Shankar Ray and I met last in July 2009, when I gave him a copy of this 2005 volume I had created, which pleased him much. 

 

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I said to him Bengal’s public finances were in abysmal condition, calling for emergency measures financially, and that Mamata Banerjee seemed to me to be someone who knew how to and would dislodge the Communists from their entrenched misgovernance of decades but she did not seem quite aware that dislodging a bad government politically was not the same thing as knowing how to govern properly oneself.  He,  again of his own accord, said immediately, 

 

“I will call her and her people to a meeting here so you can meet them and tell them that directly”. 

 

It never transpired.  In our last phone conversation I mentioned to him my plans of creating a Public Policy Institute — an idea he immediately and fully endorsed as being essential though adding “I can’t be part of it,  I’m on my way out”.

 

“I’m on my way out”.   That was Siddhartha Shankar Ray — always intelligent, always good-humoured, always public-spirited, always a great Indian, my only friend among politicians other than the late Rajiv Gandhi himself.

 

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In March February 2010, my father and I called upon the new Bengal Governor, MK Narayanan and gave him a copy of the Thatcher volume for the Raj Bhavan Library; I told him the story about my encounter with Rajiv Gandhi thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray and its result;  Narayanan within a few days made a visit to Ray’s hospital-bed, and when he emerged after several hours he made a statement, which in substance he repeated again when Ray died in November 2010:

 

“There are few people in post-Independence India who could equal his magnificent contribution to India’s growth and progress”.

 

To what facts did MK Narayanan, a former Intelligence Bureau chief, mean to refer with this extravagant praise of Ray?  Was Narayanan referring to Ray’s politics for Indira Gandhi?  To Ray’s Chief Ministership of Bengal?  To Ray’s Governorship of Punjab?  You will have to ask him but I doubt that was what he meant:  I surmise Narayanan’s eulogy could only have resulted after he confirmed with Ray on his hospital-bed the story I had told him, and that he was referring to the economic and political results that followed for the country once Ray had introduced me in September 1990 to Rajiv Gandhi. But I say again, you will have to ask MK Narayanan himself what he and Ray talked about in hospital and what was the factual basis of Narayanan’s precise words of praise. To what facts exactly was MK Narayanan, former intelligence chief, meaning to refer when he stated Siddhartha Shankar Ray had made a “magnificent contribution to India’s growth and progress”?

 

 

3.   Jagdish Bhagwati & Manmohan Singh?  That just don’t fly!

 

Now returning to the apparent desire of Professor Panagariya, the Jagdish Bhagwati Professor of Indian Political Economy at Columbia, to attribute to Jagdish Bhagwati momentous change for the better in India as of 1991, even if Panagariya had not the scientific curiosity to look into our 1992 book titled Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s or into Milton Friedman’s own 1998 memoirs, we may have expected him to at least turn to his co-author and Columbia colleague, Jagdish Bhagwati himself, and ask, “Master, have you heard of this fellow Subroto Roy by any chance?”

 

Jagdish would have had to say yes, since not only had he received a copy of the proofs of my 1984 IEA work Pricing, Planning and Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, he was kind enough to write in a letter dated 15 May 1984 that I had

 

“done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems!” 

 

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Also Jagdish may or may not have remembered our only meeting, when he and I had had a long conversation on the sofas in the foyer of the IMF in Washington when I was a consultant there in 1993 and he had come to meet someone; he was surprisingly knowledgeable about my personal 1990 matter in the Supreme Court of India which astonished me until he told me his brother the Supreme Court judge had mentioned the case to him!

 

Now my 1984 work was amply scientific and scholarly in fully crediting a large number of works in the necessary bibliography, including Bhagwati’s important work with his co-authors.  Specifically, Footnote 1 listed the literature saying:

 

“The early studies notably include: B. R. Shenoy, `A note of dissent’, Papers relating to the formulation of the Second Five-Year Plan, Government of India Planning Commission, Delhi, 1955; Indian Planning and Economic Development, Asia Publishing, Bombay, 1963, especially pp. 17-53; P. T. Bauer, Indian Economic Policy and Development, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1961; M. Friedman, unpublished memorandum to the Government of India, November 1955 (referred to in Bauer, op. cit., p. 59 ff.); and, some years later, Sudha Shenoy, India : Progress or Poverty?, Research Monograph 27, Institute of Economic Affairs, London, 1971. Some of the most relevant contemporary studies are: B. Balassa, `Reforming the system of incentives in World Development, 3 (1975), pp. 365-82; `Export incentives and export performance in developing countries: a comparative analysis’, Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv, 114 (1978), pp. 24-61; The process of industrial development and alternative development strategies, Essays in International Finance No. 141, Princeton University, 1980; J. N. Bhagwati & P. Desai, India: Planning for Industrialisation, OECD, Paris : Oxford University Press, 1970; `Socialism and Indian Economic Policy’, World Development, 3 (1975), pp. 213-21; J. N. Bhagwati & T. N. Srinivasan, Foreign-trade Regimes and Economic Development: India, National Bureau of Economic Research, New York, 1975; Anne O. Krueger, `Indian planning experience’, in T. Morgan et al. (eds.), Readings in Economic Development, Wadsworth, California, 1963, pp. 403-20; `The political economy of the rent-seeking society, American Economic Review, 64 (June 1974); The Benefits and Costs of Import-Substitution in India: a Microeconomic Study, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1975; Growth, distortions and patterns of trade among many countries, Studies in International Finance, Princeton University, 1977; Uma Lele, Food grain marketing in India : private performance and public policy, Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1971; T. W. Schultz (ed.), Distortions in agricultural incentives, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1978; V. Sukhatme, “The utilization of high-yielding rice and wheat varieties in India: an economic assessment”, University of Chicago PhD thesis, 1977….”

 

There were two specific references to Bhagwati’s work with Srinivasan:

 

“Jagdish Bhagwati and T. N. Srinivasan put it as follows : `The allocation of foreign exchange among alternative claimants and users in a direct control system . . .would presumably be with reference to a well-defined set of principles and criteria based on a system of priorities. In point of fact, however, there seem to have been few such criteria, if any, followed in practice.’”

 

and

 

“But as Bhagwati and Srinivasan report, `. . . the sheer weight of numbers made any meaningful listing of priorities extremely difficult. The problem was Orwellian: all industries had priority and how was each sponsoring authority to argue that some industries had more priority than others? It is not surprising, therefore, that the agencies involved in determining allocations by industry fell back on vague notions of “fairness”, implying pro rata allocations with reference to capacity installed or employment, or shares defined by past import allocations or similar rules of thumb’”

 

and one to Bhagwati and Desai:

 

“The best descriptions of Indian industrial policy are still to be found in Bhagwati and Desai (1970)…”

 

Professors Bhagwati and Panagriya have not apparently referred to anything beyond these joint works of Bhagwati’s dated 1970 with Padma Desai and 1975 with TN Srinivasan.  They have not claimed Bhagwati did anything by way of either publication or political activity in relation to India’s economic policy between May 1984, when he read my soon-to-be-published-work and found I had

 

done an excellent job of setting out the problems afflicting our economic policies, unfortunately government-made problems”,

 

and September 1990 when I gave Rajiv the University of Hawaii perestroika-for-India project results developed since 1986, which came to politically spark the 1991 reform in the Congress’s highest echelons from months before Rajiv’s assassination.   

 

There may have been no such claim made by Bhagwati and Panagariya because there may be no such evidence.  Between 1984 and 1990,  Professor Bhagwati’s research interests were away from Indian economic policy while his work on India through 1970 and 1975 had been fully and reasonably accounted for as of 1984 by myself.

 

What is left remaining is Bhagwati’s statement :

 

“When finance minister Manmohan Singh was in New York in 1992, he had a lunch for many big CEOs whom he was trying to seduce to come to India. He also invited me and my wife, Padma Desai, to the lunch. As we came in, the FM introduced us to the invitees and said: ‘These friends of mine wrote almost a quarter century ago [India: Planning for Industrialisation was published in 1970 by Oxford] recommending all the reforms we are now undertaking. If we had accepted the advice then, we would not be having this lunch as you would already be in India’

 

Now this light self-deprecating reference by Manmohan at an investors’ lunch in New York “for many big CEOs” was an evident attempt at political humour written by his speech-writer.   It was clearly, on its face, not serious history.   If we test it as serious history, it falls flat so we may only hope Manmohan Singh, unlike Jagdish Bhagwati, has not himself come to believe his own reported joke as anything more than that.  

 

The Bhagwati-Desai volume being referred to was developed from 1966-1970.  India saw critical economic and political events  in 1969, in 1970, in 1971, in 1972, in 1975, in 1977, etc.

 

Those were precisely years during which Manmohan Singh himself moved from being an academic to becoming a Government of India official, working first for MG Kaul, ICS, and then in 1971 coming to the attention of  PN Haksar, Indira Gandhi’s most powerful bureaucrat between 1967 and 1974: Haksar himself was Manmohan Singh’s acknowledged mentor in the Government, as Manmohan told Mark Tully in an interview.  

 

After Manmohan visited our Paris home in 1973 to talk to me about economics, my father — who had been himself sent to the Paris Embassy by Haksar in preparation for Indira Gandhi’s visit in November 1971 before the Bangladesh war —

 

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had told me Manmohan was very highly regarded in government circles with economics degrees from both Cambridge and Oxford, and my father had added, to my surprise, what was probably a Haksarian governmental view that Manmohan was expected to be India’s Prime Minister some day.  That was 1973.

 

PN Haksar had been the archetypal Nehruvian Delhi intellectual of a certain era, being both a fierce nationalist and a fierce pro-USSR leftist from long before Independence.  I met him once on 23 March 1991, on the lawns of 10 Jan Path at the launch of General V Krishna Rao’s book on Indian defence which Rajiv was releasing, and Haksar gave a speech to introduce Rajiv (as if Rajiv needed introduction on the lawns of his own residence);  Haksar was in poor health but he seemed completely delighted to be back in favour with Rajiv,  after years of having been treated badly by Indira and her younger son.  

 

 Had Manmohan Singh in the early 1970s gone to Haksar — the architect of the nationalisation of India’s banking going on right then — and said “Sir, this OECD study by my friend Bhagwati and his wife says we should be liberalising foreign trade and domestic industry”, Haksar would have been astonished and sent him packing.  

 

There was a war on, plus a massive problem of 10 million refugees, a new country to support called Bangladesh, a railway strike, a bad crop, repressed inflation, shortages, and heaven knows what more, besides Nixon having backed Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan et al. 

 

 

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Then after Bangladesh and the railway strike etc, came the rise of the politically odious younger son of Indira Gandhi and his friends (at least one of whom is today Sonia Gandhi’s gatekeeper) followed by the internal political Emergency, the grave foreign-fueled problem of Sikh separatism and its control, the assassination of Indira Gandhi by her own Sikh bodyguards, and the Rajiv Gandhi years as Prime Minister. 

 

Certainly it was Rajiv’s arrival in office and Benazir’s initial return to Pakistan, along with the rise of Michael Gorbachev in the changing USSR, that inspired me in far away Hawaii in 1986 to design with Ted James the perestroika-projects for India and Pakistan which led to our two volumes, and which, thanks to Siddhartha Shankar Ray, came to reach Rajiv Gandhi in Opposition in September 1990 as he sat somewhat forlornly at 10 Jan Path after losing office. “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune….

 

My friend and collaborator Ted James died of cancer in Manila in May 2010; earlier that year he came to say publicly

 

“Seldom are significant reforms imposed successfully by international bureaucracies. Most often they are the result of indigenous actors motivated by domestic imperatives. I believe this was the case in India in 1991. It may have been fortuitous that Dr. Roy gained an audience with a receptive Rajiv Gandhi in 1990 but it was not luck that he was prepared with a well-thought out program; this arose from years of careful thought and debate on the matter.”

 

Changing the direction of a ship of state is very hard, knowing in which direction it should change and to what degree is even harder; it has rarely been something that can be done without random shocks arising let aside the power of vested interests. Had Rajiv Gandhi lived to form a new Government, I have little doubt I would have led the reform that I had chalked out for him and that he had approved of;  Sonia Gandhi would have remained the housewife, mother and grandmother that she had preferred to be and not been made into the Queen of India by the Congress Party; Manmohan Singh had left India in 1987 for the Nyerere project and it had been rumoured at the time that had been slightly to do with him protesting, to the extent that he ever has protested anything, the anti-Sikh pogrom that some of Rajiv’s friends had apparently unleashed after Indira’s killing; he returned in November 1990, joined Chandrashekhar in December 1990, left Chandrashekhar in March 1991 when elections were announced and was biding his time as head of the UGC; had Rajiv Gandhi lived, Manmohan Singh would have had a governor’s career path, becoming the governor of one state after another; he would not have been brought into the economic reform process which he had had nothing to do with originating; and finally Pranab Mukherjee, who left the Congress Party and formed his own when Rajiv took over, would have been likely rehabilitated slowly but would not have come to control the working of the party as he did. I said in my Lok Sabha TV interview on 5 9 December 2012 that there have been many microeconomic improvements arising from technological progress in the last 22 years but the macroeconomic and monetary situation is grim, because at root the fiscal situation remains incoherent and confused. I do not see anyone in Manmohan Singh’s entourage among all his many acolytes and flatterers and apologists who is able to get to these root problems.  We shall address these issues in Part II.

 

What Manmohan Singh said in self-deprecating humour at an investors’ lunch in New York in 1992 is hardly serious history as Jagdish Bhagwati has seemed to wish it to be.  Besides, it would have been unlike Manmohan,  being the devoted student of Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor as he told Mark Tully,  to have taken such a liberalising initiative at all.  Furthermore, the 1969 American Economic Review published asurvey of Indian economic policy authored by his Delhi University colleagues Jagdish Bhagwati and Sukhamoy Chakravarty which made little mention of his work, and it would have been unreasonable to expect him to have been won over greatly by theirs. Perhaps there is a generous review from the 1970s by Manmohan Singh of the Bhagwati-Desai volume hidden somewhere but if so we should be told where it is.  A list of Manmohan Singh’s publications as an economist do not seem easily available anywhere.  

 

Lastly and perhaps most decisively, the 1970 Bhagwati-Desai volume, excellent study that it was, was hardly the first of its genre by way of liberal criticism of modern Indian economic policy!   Bhagwati declared in his 2010 speech to the Lok Sabha

 

“This policy framework had been questioned, and its total overhaul advocated, by me and Padma Desai in writings through the late 1960s…”

 

But why has Bhagwati been forever silent about the equally if not more forceful and fundamental criticism of “the policy framework”, and advocacy of its “total overhaul”, by scholars in the 1950s, a decade and more earlier than him, when he and Manmohan and Amartya were still students?  Specifically, by BR Shenoy, Milton Friedman, and Peter Bauer?   The relevant bibliography from the mid 1950s is given in Footnote 1 of my 1984 work. 

 

 


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Peter Tamas Bauer (1915-2002) played a vital role in all this as had he himself not brought the Friedman 1955 document to my attention I would not have known of it.

 

 

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As undergraduates at the LSE, we had been petrified of him and I never spoke to him while there, having believed the propaganda that floated around about him; then while a Research Student at Cambridge, I happened to be a speaker with him at a conference at Oxford; he made me sit next to him at a meal and told me for the first time about Milton Friedman’s 1955 memorandum to the Government of India which had been suppressed.  I am privileged to say Peter from then on became a friend, and wrote, at my request, what became I am sure the kiss of death for me at the World Bank of 1982:

 

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Later he may have been responsible for the London Times writing its lead editorial of 29 May 1984 on my work.

 

Now Milton had sent me in 1984, besides the original of his November 1955 memorandum to the Government of India, a confidential 1956 document also which seemed to have been written for US Government consumption.  I did not publish this in Hawaii in 1989 as I was having difficulty enough publishing the 1955 memorandum.  I gave it to be published on the Internet some years ago, and after Milton’s passing, I had it published in The Statesman  on the same day as my obituary of him. 

 

It makes fascinating reading, especially about Mahalanobis and Shenoy, of how what Bhagwati wishes to call “the policy framework” that, he claims, he and Desai called for a “total overhaul” of, came to be what it was in the decade earlier when he and Amartya and Manmohan were still students. 

 

Friedman’s 1956 document said

 

“I met PC Mahalanobis in 1946 and again at a meeting of the International Statistical Institute in September 1947, and I know him well by reputation. He was absent during most of my stay in New Delhi, but I met him at a meeting of the Indian Planning Commission, of which he is one of the strongest and most able members.   Mahalanobis began as a mathematician and is a very able one. Able mathematicians are usually recognized for their ability at a relatively early age. Realizing their own ability as they do and working in a field of absolutes, tends, in my opinion, to make them dangerous when they apply themselves to economic planning. They produce specific and detailed plans in which they have confidence, without perhaps realizing that economic planning is not the absolute science that mathematics is. This general characteristic of mathematicians is true of Mahalanobis but in spite of the tendency he is willing to discuss a problem and listen to a different point of view. Once his decision is reached, however, he has great confidence in it. Mahalanobis was unquestionably extremely influential in drafting the Indian five-year plan. There were four key steps in the plan. The first was the so-called “Plan Frame” drafted by Mahalanobis himself. The second was a tentative plan based on the “Plan Frame”. The third step was a report by a committee of economists on the first two steps, and the fourth was a minority report by BR Shenoy on the economists’ report. The economists had no intention of drafting a definitive proposal but merely meant to comment on certain aspects of the first two steps. Shenoy’s minority report, however, had the effect of making the economists’ report official. The scheme of the Five Year Plan attributed to Mahalanobis faces two problems; one, that India needs heavy industry for economic development; and two, that development of heavy industry uses up large amounts of capital while providing only small employment.  Based on these facts, Mahalanobis proposed to concentrate on heavy industry development on the one hand and to subsidize the hand production cottage industries on the other. The latter course would discriminate against the smaller manufacturers. In my opinion, the plan wastes both capital and labour and the Indians get only the worst of both efforts. If left to their own devices under a free enterprise system I believe the Indians would gravitate naturally towards the production of such items as bicycles, sewing machines, and radios. This trend is already apparent without any subsidy. The Indian cottage industry is already cloaked in the same popular sort of mist as is rural life in the US. There is an idea in both places that this life is typical and the backbone of their respective countries. Politically, the Indian cottage industry problem is akin to the American farm problem. Mohandas Gandhi was a proponent of strengthening the cottage industry as a weapon against the British. This reason is now gone but the emotions engendered by Gandhi remain. Any move to strengthen the cottage industry has great political appeal and thus, Mahalanobis’ plan and its pseudo-scientific support for the industry also has great political appeal.  I found many supporters for the heavy industry phase of the Plan but almost no one (among the technical Civil Servants) who really believes in the cottage industry aspects, aside from their political appeal. In its initial form, the plan was very large and ambitious with optimistic estimates. My impression is that there is a substantial trend away from this approach, however, and an attempt to cut down. The development of heavy industry has slowed except for steel and iron. I believe that the proposed development of a synthetic petroleum plant has been dropped and probably wisely so. In addition, I believe that the proposed five year plan may be extended to six years. Other than his work on the plan, I am uncertain of Mahalanobis’ influence. The gossip is that he has Nehru’s ear and potentially he could be very influential, simply because of his intellectual ability and powers of persuasion. The question that occurs to me is how much difference Mahalanobis’ plan makes. The plan does not seem the important thing to me. I believe that the new drive and enthusiasm of the Indian nation will surmount any plan, good or bad. Then too, I feel a wide diversity in what is said and what is done. I believe that much of Nehru’s socialistic talk is simply that, just talk. Nehru has been trying to undermine the Socialist Party by this means and apparently the Congress Party’s adoption of a socialistic idea for industry has been successful in this respect.  One gets the impression, depending on whom one talks with, either that the Government runs business, or that two or three large businesses run the government. All that appears publicly indicates that the first is true, but a case can also be made for the latter interpretation. Favour and harassment are counterparts in the Indian economic scheme. There is no significant impairment of the willingness of Indian capitalists to invest in their industries, except in the specific industries where nationalization has been announced, but they are not always willing to invest and take the risks inherent in the free enterprise system. They want the Government to support their investment and when it refuses they back out and cry “Socialism”..”

 

I look forward to seeing a fundamental classical liberal critique from India’s distinguished American friends at Columbia University, Professors Jagdish Bhagwati and Padma Desai and Arvind Panagariya, if and when such a critique arises,  of the  “policy framework” in India as that evolved from the mid 1950s to become what exists across India in 2013 today.  Specifically:  Where is the criticism from Bhagwati of Mahalanobis and friends?  And where is Bhagwati’s defence of Shenoy, leave aside of Milton Friedman or Peter Bauer?   They seem not to exist. The most we get is a footnote again without the civility of any references, in the otherwise cogent 1975 Desai-Bhagwati paper “Socialism and Indian Economic Policy” alleging 

 

” Of these three types of impact of the Soviet example, the Plan-formulation approach was to be enthusiastically received by most commentators and, indeed, to lead to demands on the part of aid agencies for similar efforts by other developing countries. However, the shift to heavy industry was seen as a definite mistake by economic opinion of the Chicago school variety, reflecting their basic unfamiliarity with the structural models of growth and development planning of the Feldman-Mahalanobis variety-an ignorance which probably still persists. The detailed regulation was not quite noticed at the time, except by conservative commentators whose position however was extreme and precluded governmental planning of industrial investments on any scale.”

 

Desai and Bhagwati naturally found no apparent desire to locate any possible scientific truth or reasonableness among

 

“conservative commentators”

 

nor among the unnamed and undescribed

 

“economic opinion of the Chicago school variety”.   

 

Could Desai and Bhagwati have done anything different after all, even when talking about India to an American audience, without being at risk of losing their East Coast Limousine Liberal credentials?  Bhagwati used to routinely declare his “socialist” credentials, and even the other day on Indian TV emphatically declared he was not a “conservative” and scornfully dismissed “Thatcher and Reagan” for their “trickle down economics”…

 

Jagdish Bhagwati has evidently wanted to have his cake and eat it too…

 


 

4.    Amartya Sen’s Half-Baked Communism: “To each according to his need”? 

 

If I have been candid or harsh in my assessments of Jagdish Bhagwati and Manmohan Singh as they relate to my personal experience with the change of direction in Indian economic policy originating in 1990-1991, I am afraid I must be equally so with Bhagwati’s current opponent in debate, Amartya Sen. Certainly I have found the current spat between Bhagwati and Sen over India’s political economy to be dismal, unscholarly, unscientific and misleading (or off-base) except for it having allowed a burst of domestic policy-discussion in circumstances when India needs it especially much.  

 

None of this criticism is personal but based on objective experience and the record.  My criticism of Professor Bhagwati and Dr Manmohan Singh does not diminish in the slightest my high personal regard for both of them.

 

Similarly, Amartya Sen and I go back, momentarily, to Hindustan Park in 1964 when there was a faint connection as family friends from World War II  (as Naren Deb and Manindranath Roy were friends and neighbours, and we still have the signed copy of a book gifted by the former to the latter), and then he later knew me cursorily when I was an undergraduate at LSE and he was already a famous professor, and I greatly enjoyed his excellent lectures at the LSE on his fine book On Economic Inequality, and a few years later he wrote in tangential support of me at Cambridge for which he was thanked in the preface to my 1989 Philosophy of Economics — even though that book of mine also contained in its Chapter 10 the decisive criticism of his main contribution until that time to what used to be called “social choice theory”. Amartya Sen had also written some splendid handwritten letters, a few pages of which remain with me, which puzzled me at the time due to his expressing his aversion to what is normally called ‘price theory’, namely the Marshallian and/or Walrasian theory of value. 

 

Professor Sen and I met briefly in 1978, and then again in 2006 when I was asked to talk to him in our philosophical conversation which came to be published nicely.  In 2006 I told him of my experience with Rajiv Gandhi in initiating what became the 1991 reform on the basis of my giving Rajiv the results of the Hawaii project,  and Amartya was kind enough to say that he knew I had been arguing all this “very early on”, referring presumably to the 1984 London Times editorial which he would have seen in his Oxford days before coming to Harvard.

 

This personal regard on my part or personal affection on his part aside, I have been appalled to find Professor Sen not taking moral and intellectual responsibility for and instead disclaiming paternity of the whole so-called “Food Security” policy which Sonia Gandhi has been prevailed upon over the years by him and his acolytes and friends and admirers to adopt, and she in her ignorance of all political economy and governance has now wished to impose upon the Congress Party and India as a whole:

 

“Questioner: You are being called the creator of the Food Security Bill.

Amartya Sen: Yes, I don’t know why. That is indeed a paternity suit I’m currently fighting. People are accusing me of being the father”.

 

Amartya Sen has repeatedly over the years gone on Indian prime-time television and declared things like

 

If you don’t agree there’s hunger in the world, there’s something morally wrong with you”

 

besides over the decades publishing titles like Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, Hunger and Public Action, The Political Economy of Hunger etc and ceaselessly using his immense power with the media, with book publishing houses, with US academic departments and the world development economics business,  to promote his own and his acolytes’ opinions around the world, no matter how ill-considered or incoherent these may be.   A passage from his latest book with Jean Drèze reportedly reads

 

“If development is about the expansion of freedom, it has to embrace the removal of poverty as well as paying attention to ecology as integral parts of a unified concern, aimed ultimately at the security and advancement of human freedom. Indeed, important components of human freedoms — and crucial ingredients of our quality of life — are thoroughly dependent on the integrity of the environment, involving the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the epidemiological surroundings in which we live….”

 

Had such a passage reached me in an undergraduate essay, I would have considered it incoherent waffle, and I am afraid I cannot see why merely because it is authored  by an eminence at Harvard and his co-author, the evaluation should be any different.   I am reminded of my encounter in 1976 with Joan Robinson, the great tutor in 1950s Cambridge of Amartya and Manmohan:  “Joan Robinson cornered me once and took me into the office she shared with EAG… She came at me for an hour or so wishing to supervise me, I kept declining politely… saying I was with Frank Hahn and wished to work on money… “What does Frankie know about India?” she said… I said I did not know but he did know about monetary theory and that was what I needed for India;  I also said I did not think much about the Indian Marxists she had supervised… and mentioned a prominent name… she said about him, “Yes most of what he does can go straight into the dustbin”…”  The Indian Marxist whom I had referred to in this conversation with Joan was not Amartya but someone else much younger, yet her candid “can go straight into the dustbin” still applies to all incoherent waffle, whomsoever may produce it.

 

Indeed, Amartya Sen, if anyone, really should get down to writing his memoirs, and candidly so in order to explain his own thinking and deeds over the decades to himself and to the world in order that needless confusions do not arise.  

 

Else it becomes impossible to explain how someone who was said to be proud to have been a Communist student on the run from the police in West Bengal, who was Joan Robinson’s star pupil at a time she was extolling Maoist China and who has seemingly nurtured a deep lifelong fascination and affection for Communist China despite all its misdeeds, who was feted by the Communist regime of West Bengal after winning the Bank of Sweden Prize (on the same day that same regime had tossed into jail one unfortunate young Mr Khemkha merely for having been rude to its leaders on the Internet), and who seemed to share some of those winnings on social causes like primary education at the behest of the Communist regime’s ministers, etc, how someone with that noble comradely leftist personal history as an economist allows a flattering interviewer with a Harvard connection to describe him in Business Standard of 25 July 2013  as having been all along really a

 

“neoclassical economist”

 

who also happens to be

 

“the greatest living scholar of the original philosopher of the free market, Adam Smith”

 

Amartya Sen a neoclassical economist and a great scholar of Adam Smith?  It is hilarious to suppose so. The question arises, Does Sen, having published about Adam Smith recently in a few newspapers and leftist periodicals, agree with such a description by his flattering admirer from Harvard at Business Standard?  “Neoclassical” economics originated with men like Jevons, Menger, Walras, Pareto, Marshall, Wicksell, and was marked by the theory of value being explained by a demand-side too, and not, like classical economics, merely by the cost of production alone on the supply side.  Indeed a striking thing about the list below published by the Scandinavian Journal of Economics of Amartya’s books following his 1998 Bank of Sweden Prize

 

1467-9442.00152_p1is how consistently these works display his avoidance of all neoclassical economics, and the absence of all of what is normally called ‘price theory’, namely the Marshallian and/or Walrasian theory of value.   No “neoclassical economics” anywhere here  for sure!  

 

It would be fair enough if Professor Sen says he is hardly responsible for an admirer’s ignorant misdescription of his work — except the question still arises why he has himself also evidently misdescribed his own work!  For example, in his 13 July 2013 letter to The Economist in response to the criticism of Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya, he says he had always been keenly interested in

 

“the importance of economic growth as a means— not an end”

 

and that this

 

“has been one of the themes even in my earliest writings (including “Choice of Techniques” in 1960 and “Growth Economics” in 1970)”.

 

This is a very peculiar opinion indeed to have been expressed by Professor Sen about his own work because the 1970 volume Growth Economics listed above among his books hardly can be said at all to be one of his own “earliest writings” as he now describes it to have been!

 

What had happened back then was that Sen, as someone considered a brilliant or promising young Indian economist at the time, had been asked by the editors of the famous Penguin Modern Economics Readings series to edit the specific issue  devoted to growth-theory — a compendium of classic already-published essays including those of Roy Harrod, Evsey Domar, Robert Solow and many others, to which young Amartya was given a chance to write an editorial Introduction.   Every economist familiar with that literature knows too that the growth-theory contained in that volume and others was considered highly abstract and notoriously divorced from actual historical processes of economic growth in different countries.  Everyone also knew that the individual editors in that famous Penguin Modern Economics Series were of relative unimportance as they did not commission new papers but merely collected classics already published and wrote an introduction.

 

This is significant presently because neither Professor Sen nor Professor Bhagwati may be objectively considered on the evidence of his life’s work as an economist to have been a major scholar of economic growth, either in theory or in historical practice.  As of December 1989,  Amartya Sen himself described his own interests to the American Economic Association as

 

“social choice theory, welfare economics, economic development”

 

and Jagdish Bhagwati described his interests as

 

“theory of international trade and policy, economic development”. 

 

Neither Sen nor Bhagwati mentioned growth economics or economic history or even general economic theory, microeconomics, macroeconomics, monetary economics, public finance, etc.  Furthermore, Sen saying in his letter to The Economist  that he has been always interested in economic growth seems to be baseless in light of the list of his books above, other than the Penguin compendium already discussed.

 

Incidentally in the same American Economic Association volume of 1989, Padma Desai had described her interests as

 

“Soviet economy and comparative economic systems”; 

 

Arvind Panagariya had described his interests as

 

“economies of scale and trade; smuggling; parallel markets in planned economies”;

 

and one Suby Roy described his interests as

 

“foundations of monetary economics”.

 

Reflecting on Amartya Sen’s works over the 40 year period that I have known them

 

[and again, my personal copies of his books and those of Bhagwati and Desai, were all in my professorial office at IIT Kharagpur when I was attacked by a corrupt gang there in 2003; and IIT have been under a High Court order to return them but have not done so],

 

I wonder in fact if it might be fairly said that Sen has been on his own subjective journey over the decades around the world seeking to reinvent economics and political economy from scratch, and inventing his own terminology like “capabilities”, “functionings” and yes “entitlements” etc. to help him do so, while trying to assiduously avoid mention of canonical works of  modern world economics like Marshall’s Principles, Hicks’s Value and Capital, Debreu’s Theory of Value, or Arrow and Hahn’s General Competitive Analysis, all defining the central neoclassical tradition of the modern theory of value.  

 

But no contemporary science, economics and political economy included, is open to be re-invented from scratch, and what Amartya Sen has ended up doing instead is seeming to be continually trying to reinvent the wheel, possibly without having had the self-knowledge to realise this.  Wittgenstein once made a paradoxical statement that one may know another’s mind better than one knows one’s own…  

Here is a current example.  Professor Sen says

 

“First, unlike the process of development in Japan, China, Korea and other countries, which pursued what Jean Drèze and I have called “Asian economic development” in our book, India has not had enough focus on public spending on school education and basic healthcare, which these other countries have had….”

 

Does Sen really believes believe he and Drèze  have now in 2013 discovered and christened an economic phenomenon named “Asian economic development”?  Everyone, from Japan and Bangkok and Manila, to Hawaii and Stanford to the World Bank’s East Asia department, including  especially my Hawaii colleague Ted James, and many many others including especially Gerald M Meier at Stanford, were was publishing about all that every month — in the mid 1980s!  In fact, our project on India and Pakistan arose in the 1980s from precisely such a Hawaiian wave!  Everyone knows all that from back then or even earlier when the Japanese were talking about the “flying geese” model.  (And, incidentally,  Communist China did not at the time belong in the list.)  Where was Amartya Sen in the mid 1980s when all that was happening?  Jean Drèze was still a student perhaps. Is Professor Sen seeking to reinvent the wheel again with “Asian Economic Development” being claimed to be invented in 2013 by him and Drèze now? Oh please!  That just won’t fly either!

 

A second example may be taken from the year before Professor Sen was awarded the Bank of Sweden Prize when he gave a lecture on “human capital” theory which was published as a survey titled “Human Capital and Human Capability” in World Development 1997 Vol. 25, No. 12, 

 

Can you see any reference in this 1997 survey to TW Schultz’s 1960 American Economic Association Presidential Address or to Schultz’s classic 1964 book Transforming Traditional Agriculture or to his 1979 Bank of Sweden Prize address?  I could not.   If one did not know better, one might have thought from Professor Sen’s 1997 survey that there was nothing done worth talking about on the subject of “human capital” from the time of Adam Smith and David Hume until Amartya Sen finally came to the subject himself. 

 

Thirdly,  one is told by Sen’s admirer and collaborator, Professor James Foster of George Washington University, that what  Sen means by his notion of

 

“effective freedom”

 

is that this is something

 

“enhanced when a marginally nourished family now has the capability to be sufficiently nourished due to public action”…

 

Are Amartya and his acolytes claiming he has invented or reinvented welfare economics ab initio?   That before Amartya Sen, we did not know the importance of the able-bodied members of a community assisting those who are not able-bodied? 

 

Where have they been? Amartya needed merely to have read Marshall’s Principles evenslightly to find Marshall himself, the master of Maynard Keynes and all of Cambridge and modern world economics, declaring without any equivocation at the very start 

 

“….the study of the causes of poverty is the study of the causes of the degradation of a large part of mankind…”

 

But Marshall was interested in study, serious study, of poverty and its causes and amelioration, which is not something as easy or trivial as pontification on modern television.  My 1984 article “Considerations on Utility, Benevolence and Taxation” which also became a chapter of my 1989 Philosophy of Economics surveyed some of Marshall’s opinion.

 

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” was a utopian slogan around 1875 from Karl Marx, which generations of passionate undergraduates have found impressive. Amartya Sen deserves to tell us squarely about his engagement with Marx or Marxist thought from his earliest days until now.  His commitment in recent decades to democracy and the open and free society is clear;  but has he also at the same time all along been committed to a kind of half-baked communist utopia as represented by Marx’s 1875 slogan? 

 

“To each according to his need” sounds to be the underlying premise that is seeing practical manifestation in the Sonia Congress’s imposition of a so-called “right to food”; “from each according to his ability” is its flip side in the so-called “rural employment guarantee”.  Leave aside the limitless resource-allocation and incentive and public finance problems created by such naive ideas being made into government policy, there is a grave and fundamental issue that Amartya and other leftists have been too blinkered to see:

 

Do they suppose the organised business classes have been weakly cooperative and will just allow such massive redistribution to occur without getting the Indian political system to pay them off as well?   And how do the organised business classes get paid off?  By their getting to take the land of the inhabitants of rural India.   And land in an environment of a debauching of money and other paper assets is as good as gold.

 

So the peasants will lose their land to the government’s businessman friends on the one hand while purportedly getting “guaranteed” employment and food from the government’s bureaucrats on the other!  A landless, asset-less slave population, free to join the industrial proletariat! Is that what Amartya wants to see in India?  It may become what results within a few decades from his and his acolytes’ words and deeds. 

 

Rajiv Gandhi once gave me his private phone numbers at 10 Jan Path.  I used them back in January 1991 during the Gulf war.  But I cannot do so now as Rajiv is gone.  Amartya can.  Let him phone Sonia and prevail upon her to put the brakes on the wild food and employment schemes he and his friends have persuaded her about until he reads and reflects upon what I said in January 2007 in “On Land-Grabbing” and in my July 2007 open letter to him, reproduced below:

 

“At a business meet on 12 January 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh showered fulsome praise on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as “dynamic”, “the Nation’s Best Chief Minister”, whose “wit and wisdom”, “qualities of head and heart”, “courage of conviction and passionate commitment to the cause of the working people of India” he admired, saying “with Buddhadeb Babu at the helm of affairs it appears Bengal is once again forging ahead… If today there is a meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata, it is because the ideas that I and Buddhadebji represent have captured the minds of the people of India. This is the idea of growth with equity and social justice, the idea that economic liberalization and modernization have to be mindful of the needs of the poor and the marginalized.”…. Dr Singh returned to the “needs of the poor and the marginalized” at another business meet on 8 January 2007 promising to “unveil a new Rehabilitation Policy in three months to increase the pace of industrialisation” which would be “more progressive, humane and conducive to the long-term welfare of all stakeholders”, while his businessman host pointedly stated about Singur “land for industry must be made available to move the Indian manufacturing sector ahead”. The “meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata” seems to be that agriculture allegedly has become a relatively backward slow-growing sector deserving to yield in the purported larger national interest to industry and services: what the PM means by “long-term welfare of all stakeholders” is the same as the new CPI-M party-line that the sons of farmers should not remain farmers (but become automobile technicians or IT workers or restaurant waiters instead).   It is a political viewpoint coinciding with interests of organised capital and industrial labour in India today, as represented by business lobbies like CII, FICCI and Assocham on one hand, and unions like CITU and INTUC on the other. Business Standard succinctly (and ominously) advocated this point of view in its lead editorial of 9 January as follows: “it has to be recognised that the world over capitalism has progressed only with the landed becoming landless and getting absorbed in the industrial/service sector labour force ~ indeed it is obvious that if people don’t get off the land, their incomes will rise only slowly”.  Land is the first and ultimate means of production, and the attack of the powerful on land-holdings or land-rights of the unorganised or powerless has been a worldwide phenomenon ~ across both capitalism and communism.  In the mid-19th Century, white North America decimated hundreds of thousands of natives in the most gargantuan land-grab of history. Defeated, Chief Red Cloud of the Sioux spoke in 1868 for the Apache, Navajo, Comanche, Cheyenne, Iroquois and hundreds of other tribes: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept any except one: they promised to take our land, and they took it.”  Half a century later, while the collapse of grain prices contributed to the Great Depression and pauperisation of thousands of small farmers in capitalist America in the same lands that had been taken from the native tribes, Stalin’s Russia embarked on the most infamous state-sponsored land-grab in modern history: “The mass collectivisation of Soviet agriculture (was) probably the most warlike operation ever conducted by a state against its own citizens…. Hundreds of thousands and finally millions of peasants… were deported… desperate revolts in the villages were bloodily suppressed by the army and police, and the country sank into chaos, starvation and misery… The object of destroying the peasants’ independence…was to create a population of slaves, the benefit of whose labour would accrue to industry. The immediate effect was to reduce Soviet agriculture to a state of decline from which it has not yet recovered… The destruction of the Soviet peasantry, who formed three quarters of the population, was not only an economic but a moral disaster for the entire country. Tens of millions were driven into semi-servitude, and millions more were employed as executants…” (Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism).   Why did Stalin destroy the peasants? Lenin’s wishful “alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry” in reality could lead only to the peasants being pauperised into proletarians. At least five million peasants died and (Stalin told Churchill at Yalta) another ten million in the resultant famine of 1932-1933. “Certainly it involved a struggle ~ but chiefly one between urban Communists and villagers… it enabled the regime to obtain much of the capital desired for industrialization from the defeated village… it was the decisive step in the building of Soviet totalitarianism, for it imposed on the majority of the people a subjection which only force could maintain” (Treadgold, 20th Century Russia).  Mr Bhattacharjee’s CPI-M is fond of extolling Chinese communism, and the current New Delhi establishment have made Beijing and Shanghai holiday destinations of choice. Dr Singh’s Government has been eager to create hundreds of “Special Economic Zones” run by organised capital and unionised labour, and economically privileged by the State. In fact, the Singur and Nandigram experiences of police sealing off villages where protests occur are modelled on creation of “Special Economic Zones” in China in recent years.  For example, Chinese police on 6 December 2005 cracked down on farmers and fishermen in the seaside village of Dongzhou, 125 miles North East of Hong Kong. Thousands of Dongzhou villagers clashed with troops and armed police protesting confiscation of their lands and corruption among officials. The police immediately sealed off the village and arrested protesters. China’s Public Security Ministry admitted the number of riots over land had risen sharply, reaching more than seventy thousand across China in 2004; police usually suppressed peasant riots without resort to firing but in Dongzhou, police firing killed 20 protesters. Such is the reality of the “emergence” of China, a totalitarian police-state since the Communist takeover in 1949, from its period of mad tyranny until Mao’s death in 1976, followed by its ideological confusion ever since.  Modern India’s political economy today remains in the tight grip of metropolitan “Big Business” and “Big Labour”. Ordinary anonymous individual citizens ~ whether housewife, consumer, student, peasant, non-union worker or small businessman ~ have no real voice or representation in Indian politics. We have no normal conservative, liberal or social democratic party in this country, as found in West European democracies where the era of land-grabbing has long-ceased. If our polity had been normal, it would have known that economic development does not require business or government to pauperise the peasantry but instead to define and secure individual property rights and the Rule of Law, and establish proper conditions for the market economy. The Congress and BJP in Delhi and CPI-M in Kolkata would not have been able to distract attention from their macroeconomic misdeeds over the decades ~ indicated, for example, by increasing interest-expenditure paid annually on Government debt as a fraction of tax revenues… This macroeconomic rot originated with the Indira Gandhi-PN Haksar capriciousness and mismanagement, which coincided with the start of Dr Singh’s career as India’s best known economic bureaucrat….”

 

“Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University,  Dear Professor Sen,  Everyone will be delighted that someone of your worldwide stature has joined the debate on Singur and Nandigram; The Telegraph deserves congratulations for having made it possible on July 23.  I was sorry to find though that you may have missed the wood for the trees and also some of the trees themselves. Perhaps you have relied on Government statements for the facts. But the Government party in West Bengal represents official Indian communism and has been in power for 30 years at a stretch. It may be unwise to take at face-value what they say about their own deeds on this very grave issue! Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, and there are many candid communists who privately recognise this dismal truth about themselves. To say this is not to be praising those whom you call the “Opposition” ~ after all, Bengal’s politics has seen emasculation of the Congress as an opposition because the Congress and communists are allies in Delhi. It is the Government party that must reform itself from within sua sponte for the good of everyone in the State.  The comparisons and mentions of history you have made seem to me surprising. Bengal’s economy now or in the past has little or nothing similar to the economy of Northern England or the whole of England or Britain itself, and certainly Indian agriculture has little to do with agriculture in the new lands of Australia or North America. British economic history was marked by rapid technological innovations in manufacturing and rapid development of social and political institutions in context of being a major naval, maritime and mercantile power for centuries. Britain’s geography and history hardly ever permitted it to be an agricultural country of any importance whereas Bengal, to the contrary, has been among the most agriculturally fertile and hence densely populated regions of the world for millennia.  Om Prakash’s brilliant pioneering book The Dutch East India Company and the Economy of Bengal 1630-1720 (Princeton 1985) records all this clearly. He reports the French traveller François Bernier saying in the 1660s “Bengal abounds with every necessary of life”, and a century before him the Italian traveller Verthema saying Bengal “abounds more in grain, flesh of every kind, in great quantity of sugar, also of ginger, and of great abundance of cotton, than any country in the world”. Om Prakash says “The premier industry in the region was the textile industry comprising manufacture from cotton, silk and mixed yarns”. Bengal’s major exports were foodstuffs, textiles, raw silk, opium, sugar and saltpetre; imports notably included metals (as Montesquieu had said would always be the case).  Bengal did, as you say, have industries at the time the Europeans came but you have failed to mention these were mostly “agro-based” and, if anything, a clear indicator of our agricultural fecundity and comparative advantage. If “deindustrialization” occurred in 19th Century India, that had nothing to do with the “deindustrialization” in West Bengal from the 1960s onwards due to the influence of official communism.  You remind us Fa Hiaen left from Tamralipta which is modern day Tamluk, though he went not to China but to Ceylon. You suggest that because he did so Tamluk effectively “was greater Calcutta”. I cannot see how this can be said of the 5th Century AD when no notion of Calcutta existed. Besides, modern Tamluk at 22º18’N, 87º56’E is more than 50 miles inland from the ancient port due to land-making that has occurred at the mouth of the Hooghly. I am afraid the relevance of the mention of Fa Hiaen to today’s Singur and Nandigram has thus escaped me.  You say “In countries like Australia, the US or Canada where agriculture has prospered, only a very tiny population is involved in agriculture. Most people move out to industry. Industry has to be convenient, has to be absorbing”. Last January, a national daily published a similar view: “For India to become a developed country, the area under agriculture has to shrink, urban and industrial land development has to take place, and about 100 million workers have to move out from agriculture into industry and services. This is the only way forward for bringing prosperity to the rural population”.   Rice is indeed grown in Arkansas or Texas as it is in Bengal but there is a world of difference between the technological and geographical situation here and that in the vast, sparsely populated New World areas with mechanized farming! Like shoe-making or a hundred other crafts, agriculture can be capital-intensive or labour-intensive ~ ours is relatively labour-intensive, theirs is relatively capital-intensive. Our economy is relatively labour-abundant and capital-scarce; their economies are relatively labour-scarce and capital-abundant (and also land-abundant). Indeed, if anything, the apt comparison is with China, and you doubtless know of the horror stories and civil war conditions erupting across China in recent years as the Communist Party and their businessman friends forcibly take over the land of peasants and agricultural workers, e.g. in Dongzhou. All plans of long-distance social engineering to “move out” 40 per cent of India’s population (at 4 persons per “worker”) from the rural hinterlands must also face FA Hayek’s fundamental question in The Road to Serfdom: “Who plans whom, who directs whom, who assigns to other people their station in life, and who is to have his due allotted by others?”  Your late Harvard colleague, Robert Nozick, opened his brilliant 1974 book Anarchy, State and Utopia saying: “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”. You have rightly deplored the violence seen at Singur and Nandigram. But you will agree it is a gross error to equate violence perpetrated by the Government which is supposed to be protecting all people regardless of political affiliation, and the self-defence of poor unorganised peasants seeking to protect their meagre lands and livelihoods from state-sponsored pogroms. Kitchen utensils, pitchforks or rural implements and flintlock guns can hardly match the organised firepower controlled by a modern Government.   Fortunately, India is not China and the press, media and civil institutions are not totally in the hands of the ruling party alone. In China, no amount of hue and cry among the peasants could save them from the power of organised big business and the Communist Party. In India, a handful of brave women have managed to single-handedly organise mass movements of protest which the press and media have then broadcast that has shocked the whole nation to its senses.  You rightly say the land pricing process has been faulty. Irrelevant historical prices have been averaged when the sum of discounted expected future values in an inflationary economy should have been used. Matters are even worse. “The fear of famine can itself cause famine. The people of Bengal are afraid of a famine. It was repeatedly charged that the famine (of 1943) was man-made.” That is what T. W. Schultz said in 1946 in the India Famine Emergency Committee led by Pearl Buck, concerned that the 1943 Bengal famine should not be repeated following dislocations after World War II. Of course since that time our agriculture has undergone a Green Revolution, at least in wheat if not in rice, and a White Revolution in milk and many other agricultural products. But catastrophic collapses in agricultural incentives may still occur as functioning farmland comes to be taken by government and industry from India’s peasantry using force, fraud or even means nominally sanctioned by law. If new famines come to be provoked because farmers’ incentives collapse, let future historians know where responsibility lay.  West Bengal’s real economic problems have to do with its dismal macroeconomic and fiscal position which is what Government economists should be addressing candidly. As for land, the Government’s first task remains improving grossly inadequate systems of land-description and definition, as well as the implementation and recording of property rights.  With my most respectful personal regards, I remain, Yours ever, Suby”

 

How does India, as a state, treat its weakest and most vulnerable citizens? Not very well at all.  It is often only because families and society have not collapsed completely, as they have elsewhere, that the weakest survive.  Can we solve in the 21st Century, in a practical manner appropriate to our times, the problem Buddha raised before he became the Buddha some twenty six centuries ago?  Says Eliot,

 

“The legend represents him as carefully secluded from all disquieting sights and as learning the existence of old age, sickness and death only by chance encounters which left a profound impression”

 

It is to this list we add “the poor” too, especially if we want to include a slightly later and equally great reformer some miles west of the Terai in the Levant.  I said some years ago “As we as infants and children need to be helped to find courage to face the start of life, we when very elderly can need to be helped to find courage to face life’s end”.   Old age carries with it the fear of death, fear of the end of life and what that means, which raises the meaning of life itself, or at least of the individual life, because we can hardly grasp what the end of life is if we haven’t what it is supposed to be the end of in the first place. What the very elderly need, as do the dying and terminally ill, is to find courage within themselves to comprehend all this with as much equanimity as possible. Companionship and camaraderie — or perhaps let us call it love — go towards that courage coming to be found; something similar goes for the sick, whether a sick child missing school or the elderly infirm, courage that they are not alone and that they can and will recover and not have to face death quite yet, that life will indeed resume.  

 

As for the poor, I said in 2009 about the bizarre Indian scheme of “interrogating, measuring, photographing and fingerprinting them against their will” that “the poor have their privacy and their dignity. They are going to refuse to waste their valuable time at the margins of survival volunteering for such gimmickry.”

 

“What New Delhi’s governing class fails to see is that the masses of India’s poor are not themselves a mass waiting for New Delhi’s handouts: they are individuals, free, rational, thinking individuals who know their own lives and resources and capacities and opportunities, and how to go about living their lives best. What they need is security, absence of state or other tyranny, roads, fresh water, electricity, functioning schools for their children, market opportunities for work, etc, not handouts from a monarch or aristocrats or businessmen….” Or, to put it differently in Kant’s terms, the poor need to be treated as ends in themselves, and not as the means towards the ends of others…

 

 

Part II India’s Right Road Forward Now: Some Thoughtful Analysis for Grown Ups

 

5.   Transcending a Left-Right/Congress-BJP Divide in Indian Politics

6.   Budgeting Military & Foreign Policy

 

7.    Solving the Kashmir Problem & Relations with Pakistan

 

8.  Dealing with Communist China

 

9.   Towards Coherence in Public Accounting, Public Finance & Public Decision-Making

 

10.   India’s Money: Towards Currency Integrity at Home & Abroad

Posted in Academic research, Amartya Sen, Arvind Panagariya, Asia and the West, Bengal's Public Finances, Bhagwati-Sen spat, BJP, Britain in India, Cambridge Univ Economics, Cambridge University, Columbia University, Congress Party, Congress Party History, Credit markets, Economic inequality, Economic Policy, Economic quackery, Economic Theory, Economic Theory of Growth, Economic Theory of Interest, Economic Theory of Value, Economics of Public Finance, Financial Repression, Governance, Government accounting, Government of India, India's Big Business, India's Cabinet Government, India's Government economists, India's 1991 Economic Reform, India's balance of payments, India's Budget, India's bureaucracy, India's Capital Markets, India's constitutional politics, India's corruption, India's currency history, India's Economic History, India's Economy, India's Exports, India's Foreign Exchange Reserves, India's Government Budget Constraint, India's Industry, India's inflation, India's Macroeconomics, India's Monetary & Fiscal Policy, India's Polity, India's Public Finance, India's Reserve Bank, India's State Finances, Institute of Economic Affairs, Jagdish Bhagwati, Jean Drèze, LK Advani, Manmohan Singh, Margaret Thatcher's Revolution, Mihir Kumar Roy (MKRoy), Milton Friedman, Money and banking, Padma Desai, Paper money and deposits, Political Economy, Public Choice/Public Finance, Public property waste fraud, Rajiv Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Reverse-Euro Model for India, Sen-Bhagwati spat, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Sonia Gandhi, Subroto Roy, Sukhamoy Chakravarty, The Times (London), University of Hawaii, William E (Ted) James (1951-2010). Leave a Comment »

No magic wand, Professor Rajan? Oh but there is…2013 (Plus: 7 Jan 2016 “Professor Rajan stays or goes? My answer to a query”)

7 January 2016
rajan

3 June 2014

from World Economy & Central Banking Seminar at Facebook

Professor Rajan’s statement “I determine the monetary policy. I say what it is….ultimately the interest rate that is set is set by me” equates Indian monetary policy with the money interest rate; but monetary policy in India has always involved far more than that, namely, the bulk of Indian banking and insurance has been in government hands for decades, all these institutions have been willy-nilly compelled to hold vast stocks of government debt, both Union and State, on their asset-sides…and unlimited unending deficit finance has led to vast expansion of money supply, making it all rather fragile. My “India’s Money” in 2012 might be found useful. http://tinyurl.com/o9dhe8d

11 April 2014

from World Economy & Central Banking Seminar at Facebook

I have to wonder, What is Professor Rajan on about? Growth in an individual country is affected by the world monetary system? Everyone for almost a century has seen it being a real phenomenon affected by other real factors like savings propensities, capital accumulation, learning and productivity changes, innovation, and, broadly, technological progress… A “source country” needs to consult “recipient” countries before it starts or stops Quantitative Easing? Since when? The latter can always match policy such as to be more or less unaffected… unless of course it wants to ride along for free when the going is good and complain loudly when it is not…. Monetary policy may affect the real economy but as a general rule we may expect growth (a real phenomenon) to be affected by other real factors like savings propensities, capital accumulation, learning and productivity changes, innovation, and, broadly, technological progress..

22 September 2013

“Let us remember that the postponement of tapering is only that, a postponement. We must use this time to create a bullet proof national balance sheet and growth agenda, which creates confidence in citizens and investors alike…”

I will say the statement above is the first sensible thing I have heard Dr Rajan utter anywhere, cutting through all the hype…I should also think he may be underestimating the task at hand, so here’s some help as to what needs to be done from my 19 Aug 2013 Mint article “A wand for Raghuram Rajan” and my 3 Dec 2012 Delhi lecture:

“Rajan has apparently said, “We do not have a magic wand to make the problems disappear instantaneously, but I have absolutely no doubt we will deal with them.” Of course there are no magic wands but there is a scientific path forward. It involves system-wide improvements in public finance and accounting using modern information technology to comprehend government liabilities and expenditures and raise their productivity. It also involves institutional changes in public decision-making like separating banking and central banking from the treasury while making the planning function serve the treasury function rather than pretend to be above it. It is a road long and arduous but at its end both corruption and inflation will have been reduced to minimal levels. The rupee will have acquired sufficient integrity to become a hard currency of the world in the sense the average resident of, say, rural Madhya Pradesh or Mizoram may freely convert rupees and hold or trade foreign currencies or precious metals as he/she pleases. India signed the treaty of Versailles as a victor and was an original member of the League of Nations, the United Nations and the IMF. Yet sovereign India has failed to develop a currency universally acceptable as freely convertible world money. It is necessary and possible for India to aim to do so because without such a national aim, the integrity of the currency continues to be damaged regularly by governmental abuse. An RBI governor’s single overriding goal should be to try to bring a semblance of integrity to India’s money both domestically and worldwide.”

 

 

19 August 2013

A wand for Raghuram Rajan

9 August 2013

No magic wand, Professor Rajan? Oh but there is… read up all this over some hours and you will find it… (Of course it’s not from magic really,  just hard economic science & politics)

Professor Raghuram Govind Rajan of the University of Chicago Business School deserves everyone’s congratulations on his elevation to the Reserve Bank of India’s Governorship.  But I am afraid I cannot share the wild optimism in India’s business media over this.  Of course there are several positives to the appointment.  First, having a genuine PhD and that too from a top school is a rarity among India’s policy-makers; Rajan earned a 1991 PhD in finance at MIT’s management school for a thesis titled “Essays on banking” (having to do we are told “with the downside to cozy bank-firm relationships”).   Secondly, and related,  he has not been a career bureaucrat as almost all RBI Governors have been in recent decades.  Thirdly, he has been President of the American Finance Association, he won the first Fischer Black prize in finance of that Association, and during Anne Krueger’s 2001-2006 reign as First Deputy MD at the IMF, he was given the research role made well-known by the late Michael Mussa, that of “Economic Counselor” of the IMF.

Hence, altogether, Professor Rajan has come to be well-known over the last decade in the West’s financial media. Given the dismal state of India’s credit in world capital markets, that is an asset for a new RBI Governor to have.

On the negatives, first and foremost, if Professor Rajan has renounced at any time his Indian nationality, surrendered his Indian passport and sworn the naturalization oath of the USA, then he is a US citizen with a US passport and loyalty owed to that country, and by US law he will have to enter the USA using that and no other nationality.  If that happens to be the factual case, it will be something that comes out in India’s political cauldron for sure, and there will arise legal issues and court orders  barring him from heading the RBI or representing India officially, e.g. when standing in for India’s Finance Minister at the IMF in Washington or the BIS in Basle etc.   Was he an Indian national as Economic Counselor at the IMF?   The IMF has a tradition of only European MDs and at least one American First Deputy MD.   The Economic Counselor was always American too; did Rajan break that by having remained Indian, or conform to it by having become American?  It is a simple question of fact which needs to come out clearly.   Even if Rajan is an American, he and the Government of India could perhaps try to cite to the Indian courts the new precedent set by the venerable Bank of England which recently appointed a Canadian as Governor.

Secondly, does Professor Rajan know enough (or “have enough domain knowledge” in the modern term) to comprehend let aside confront India’s myriad monetary and public finance problems?  Much of his academic experience in the USA and his approach to Western financial markets may be quite simply divorced from the reality of Indian credit markets and India’s peculiar monetary and banking system as these have evolved over decades and centuries.  Mathematical finance is a relatively new, small specialised American sub-field of economic theory, and not a part of general economics. Rajan’s academic path of engineering and management in India followed by a finance thesis in the management department of a US engineering school may have exposed him to relatively little formal textbook micro- and macroeconomics, monetary economics, public finance, international economics, economic development etc, especially as these relate to Indian circumstances  “Growing up in India, I had seen poverty all around me. I had read about John Maynard Keynes and thought, wow, here’s a guy who managed to have an enormous influence on the world. Economics must be very important.”… He ran across Robert Merton’s paper on rational option pricing, and something clicked that set him on his own intellectual path. “It all came together. You didn’t have these touchy-feely ways of describing human behavior; there were neat arbitrage ways of pricing things. It just seemed so clever and sophisticated,” he said. “And I could use the math skills that I fancied I had, so I decided to get my PhD.”

Let me take two examples.  Does Rajan realise how the important Bottomley-Chandavarkar debates of the 1960s about India’s rural credit markets influenced George Akerlof’s “Market for Lemons” theory and prompted much work on “asymmetric information”, 325.extract signalling etc in credit-markets, insurance-markets, labour-markets and markets in general, as acknowledged in the awards of several Bank of Sweden prizes?  Or will he need a tutorial on the facts of rural India’s financial and credit markets, and their relationship with the formal sector?  What the Bottomley-Chandavarkar debate referred to half a century ago still continues in rural India insofar as large arbitrage profits are still made by trading across the artificially low rates of money interest caused by financial repression of India’s “formal” monetised sector with its soft inconvertible currency against the very high real rates of return on capital in the “informal” sector.   It is obvious to the naked eye that India is a relatively labour-abundant country.  It follows the relative price of labour will be low and relative price of capital high compared to, e.g. the Western or Middle Eastern economies, with mobile factors of production like labour and capital expected to flow accordingly across national boundaries.   Indian nominal interest-rates in organized credit markets have been for decades tightly controlled, making it necessary to go back to Irving Fisher’s data to obtain benchmark interest-rates, which, as expected, are at least 2%-3% higher in India than in Western capital markets. Joan Robinson once explained “the difference between 30% in an Indian village and 3% in London” saying “side by side with the industrial revolution went great technical progress in the provision of credit and the reduction of lender’s risk.”

What is logically certain is no country can have both relatively low world prices for labour and relatively low world prices for capital!  Yet that impossibility seems to have been what India’s purported economic “planners” have planned to engineer!  The effect of financial repression over decades may have been to artificially “reverse” or “switch” the risk-premium — making it lucrative for there to be capital flight out of India, with real rates of return on capital within India being made artificially lower than those in world markets!   Just as enough export subsidies and tariffs can make a country artificially “reverse” its comparative advantage with its structure of exports and imports becoming inverted, so a labour-rich capital-scarce country may, with enough financial repression, end up causing a capital flight.  The Indian elite’s capital flight out of India exporting their adult children and savings overseas may be explained as having been induced by government policy itself.

431314_10150617690307285_69226771_n

Secondly, Professor Rajan as a finance and banking specialist, will see at once the import of this graph above that has never been produced let aside comprehended by the RBI, yet which uses the purest RBI data.  It shows India’s mostly nationalised banks have decade after decade gotten weaker and weaker financially, being kept afloat by continually pumping in of new “capital” via “recapitalisation” from the government that owns them, using more and more of the soft inconvertible currency that has been debauched merrily by government planners.  The nationalised banks with their powerful pampered employee unions, like other powerful pampered employee unions in the government sector, have been the bane of India, where a mere 30 million privileged people in a vast population work with either the government or the organised private sector.  The RBI’s own workforce at last count was perhaps 75,000… the largest central bank staff in the world by far!

Will Rajan know how to bring some system out of the institutional chaos that prevails in Indian banking and central banking?  If not, he should start with the work of James Hanson “Indian Banking: Market Liberalization and the Pressures for Institutional and Market Framework Reform”, contained in the book created by Anne Krueger who brought him into the IMF, and mentioned in my 2012 article “India’s Money” linked below.

The central question for any 21st century RBI Governor worth the name really becomes whether he or she can stand up to the Finance Ministry and insist that the RBI stop being a mere department of it — even perhaps insisting on constitutional status for its head to fulfill the one over-riding aim of trying to bring a semblance of integrity to India’s currency both domestically and worldwide.  Instead it is the so-called “Planning Commission” which has been dominating the Treasury that needs to be made a mere department of the Finance Ministry, while the RBI comes to be hived off to independence!  

Professor Rajan has apparently said “We do not have a magic wand to make the problems disappear instantaneously, but I have absolutely no doubt we will deal with them.”  Of course there are no magic wands but my 3 December 2012 talk in Delhi  has described the right path forward, complex and difficult as this may be.

The path forward involves system-wide improvements in public finance and accounting using modern information technology to comprehend government liabilities and expenditures and raise their productivity, plus institutional changes in public decision-making like separating banking and central banking from the Treasury while making the planning function serve the Treasury function rather than pretend to be above it.  The road described is long and arduous but at its end both corruption and inflation will have been reduced to minimal levels, and the rupee would have acquired integrity enough to become a hard currency of the world in the sense the average resident of, say, rural Madhya Pradesh or Mizoram may freely convert rupees and hold or trade foreign currencies or precious metals as he/she pleases.

3dec

India signed the Treaty of Versailles as a victor and was an original member of the League of Nations, UN and IMF.  Yet sovereign India has failed to develop a currency universally acceptable as a freely convertible world money. It is necessary and possible for India to do so. Without such a national aim, the integrity of the currency continues to be damaged regularly by governmental abuse. 

Professor Rajan will not want to be merely an adornment for the GoI in world capital markets for a few  years, waiting to get back to his American career and life and perhaps to the IMF again.  As RBI Governor, he can find his magic wand if he reads and reflects hard enough using his undoubted academic acumen, and then acts to lead India accordingly.  Here is the basic reading list:

“India’s Money” (2012)

“Monetary Integrity and the Rupee” (2008)

“India’s Macroeconomics” (2007)

“Fiscal Instability” (2007)

“Fallacious Finance” (2007)

“Growth and Government Delusion” (2008)

“India in World Trade & Payments” (2007)

“Path of the Indian Rupee 1947-1993” (1993)

“Our Policy Process” (2007)

“Indian Money and Credit” (2006)

“Indian Money and Banking” (2006)

Indian Inflation

“Growth of Real Income, Money & Prices in India 1869-2004” (2005)

“How to Budget” (2008)

“Waffle but No Models of Monetary Policy: The RBI and Financial Repression (2005)”

“The Dream Team: A Critique” (2006)

“Against Quackery” (2007)

“Mistaken Macroeconomics” (2009)

“The Indian Revolution (2008)”

https://independentindian.com/2013/11/23/coverage-of-my-delhi-talk-on-3-dec-2012/

Enjoy!

Posted in Academic economics, Academic research, Asia and the West, asymmetric information, Banking, Big Business and Big Labour, Bretton Woods institutions, Britain in India, Capital and labour, Deposit multiplication, Economic Policy, Economic quackery, Economic Theory, Economic Theory of Growth, Economic Theory of Interest, Economic Theory of Value, Economics of exchange controls, Economics of Exchange Rates, Economics of Public Finance, Financial Management, Financial markets, Financial Repression, Foreign exchange controls, Governance, Government accounting, Government Budget Constraint, India's Big Business, India's credit markets, India's Government economists, India's interest rates, India's savings rate, India's stock and debt markets, India's 1991 Economic Reform, India's agriculture, India's balance of payments, India's Banking, India's Budget, India's bureaucracy, India's Capital Markets, India's currency history, India's Foreign Exchange Reserves, India's Foreign Trade, India's Government Budget Constraint, India's Government Expenditure, India's Macroeconomics, India's Monetary & Fiscal Policy, India's nomenclatura, India's Polity, India's poverty, India's Public Finance, India's Reserve Bank, India's State Finances, India's Union-State relations, Inflation, Inflation targeting, Interest group politics, Interest rates, International economics, International monetary economics, International Monetary Fund IMF, Land and political economy, Microeconomic foundations of macroeconomics, Monetary Theory, Money and banking, Paper money and deposits, Power-elites and nomenclatura, Public Choice/Public Finance, Public property waste fraud, Raghuram Govind Rajan, Raghuram Rajan, Rajiv Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, Statesmanship, Unorganised capital markets. Leave a Comment »

Budgets & Financial Positions of Three of India’s Most Populous States (combined population c.300 million)…Brought to you especially by Dr Subroto Roy… Feel free to use (with acknowledgment)…

Budgets & Financial Positions of Three of India’s Most Populous States (combined population c.300 million)…Brought to you especially by Dr Subroto Roy… Feel free to use (with acknowledgment)… Government Finance 2003-2004 (C&AG data)
EXPENDITURE ACTIVITIES : Rs Bn (Hundred Crore)
MAHARASHTRA UTTARPRADESH WEST BENGAL
government & local government 18.19 2.58% 30.33 3.52% 8.68 1.68%
judiciary 2.96 0.42% 3.17 0.37% 1.27 0.25%
police (including vigilance etc) 19.81 2.81% 25.81 2.99% 13.47 2.61%
prisons 0.86 0.12% 1.13 0.13% 0.62 0.12%
bureaucracy 27.97 3.97% 11.63 1.35% 5.69 1.10%
collecting land revenue & taxes 42.25 6.00% 8.41 0.98% 4.32 0.84%
government employee pensions 26.36 3.74% 29 3.36% 26.11 5.05%
schools, colleges, universities, institutes 93.74 13.31% 62.79 7.28% 45.06 8.72%
health, nutrition & family welfare 23.42 3.33% 18.97 2.20% 14.7 2.84%
water supply & sanitation 10.22 1.45% 6.04 0.70% 3.53 0.68%
roads, bridges, transport etc. 12.96 1.84% 16.13 1.87% 8.29 1.60%
electricity 16.96 2.41% 200.22 23.23% 31.18 6.03%
irrigation, flood cntrl., environ, ecology 70.79 10.05% 29.98 3.48% 10.78 2.09%
agricultural subsidies, rural development 41.3 5.86% 16.07 1.86% 7.97 1.54%
industrial subsidies 2.6 0.37% 8.19 0.95% 2.56 0.50%
capital city development 6.25 0.89% 1.08 0.13% 7.29 1.41%
soc security, SC, ST, OBC, lab.welfare 25.4 3.61% 18.36 2.13% 9.87 1.91%
tourism 0.89 0.13% 0.2 0.02% 0.09 0.02%
arts, archaeology, libraries, museums 0.75 0.11% 0.37 0.04% 0.16 0.03%
miscellaneous -0.47 -0.07% 0.53 0.06% 0.52 0.10%
debt amortization & debt servicing 261.03 37.07% 373.6 43.34% 314.77 60.89%
total expenditure 704.24 862.01 516.93
MAHARASHTRA UTTARPRADESH WEST BENGAL
tax revenues 285.52 268.74 141.1
operational income 35.49 22.82 6.06
grants from Union of India 22.7 24.82 18.93
loans recovered 4.82 124.98 0.91
total income 348.53 441.36 167
GOVERNMENT BORROWING REQUIREMENT
(total expenditure less total income) = 355.71 420.65 349.93
FINANCED BY
new public debt issued 317.02 385.41 339.48
use of Trust Funds etc. 38.68 35.26 10.45
355.7 420.67 349.93

Bengal Government Finances 2003/4 data (from my 2007 article)

Govt. of W. Bengal’s Finances 2003-2004

Rs Billion (Hundred Crore)

EXPENDITURE ACTIVITIES:

government & local government                           8.68            1.68%

judiciary                                                                            1.27            0.25%

police (including home guard etc.)                       13.47            2.61%

prisons                                                                               0.62             0.12%

bureaucracy                                                                     5.69            1.10%

collecting land revenue & taxes                                4.32            0.84%

government employee pensions                              26.11           5.05%

schools, colleges, universities, institutes            45.06            8.72%

health, nutrition & family welfare                              14.70           2.84%

water supply & sanitation                                               3.53           0.68%

roads, bridges, transport, etc.                                      8.29           1.60%

electricity (mostly loans to power sector)             31.18           6.03%

irrigation, flood control, environment, ecology 10.78           2.09%

agricultural subsidies, rural development, etc.    7.97            1.54%

industrial subsidies                                                            2.56            0.50%

capital city development                                                 7.29            1.41%

social security, SC, ST, OBC, labour welfare              9.87           1.91%

tourism                                                                                    0.09            0.02%

arts, archaeology, libraries, museums                        0.16            0.03%

miscellaneous                                                                         0.52            0.10%

debt amortization & debt servicing                          314.77          60.89%

total expenditure                                                              516.92

INCOME SOURCES:

tax revenue                                                     141.10

operational income                                          6.06

grants from Union                                            18.93

loans recovered                                                   0.91

total income                                                      167.00

GOVT. BORROWING REQUIREMENT

(total expenditure minus total income )               349.93

financed by:

new public debt issued                                                 339.48

use of Trust Funds etc                                                      10.45

349.93

https://independentindian.com/2007/02/25/bengals-finances/

From the author’s research 2007 and based on latest available data published by the Comptroller & Auditor General of India

Where are the Reserve Bank’s Macroeconomic Models?

“On the blissful innocence of the RBI” (2009) From Facebook:

Subroto Roy  can only sigh at the fact that while he has had to struggle for 35 years trying to grasp and then apply serious monetary economics to India’s circumstances, the RBI Governor & his four Deputy Governors appear blissfully innocent of all Hicks, Tobin, Friedman, Cagan et al yet exude confidence enough to “Waffle Away!”

see also A Small Challenge to the RBI’s Governor Subbarao

A Small Challenge to the RBI’s Governor Subbarao
April 21, 2010

The Hon’ble Gov of the Reserve Bank of India Shri D Subbarao

Dear Governor Subbarao,

You said yesterday, April 20 2010, that the Reserve Bank of India has a macroeconomic model which it uses but which you had personally not seen.

I have given two lectures at your august offices, one by invitation of Governor Jalan and Deputy Governor Reddy on April 29, 2000 to address the Conference of State Finance Secretaries, the other on May 5, 2005 to address the Chief Economist’s Monetary Economics Seminar. On both occasions, I had inquired of the RBI’s own models by which I could contrast my own but came to understand there were none.

If since then the RBI has now constructed a macroeconomic model of India’s economy, it is splendid news.

May I request the model be released publicly on the Internet at once, so its specifications of endogenous and exogenous variables, assumed coefficients, and sources of time-series data all may be seen by everyone in the country and abroad? Scientific scrutiny and replication of results would thus come to be permitted.

I would be especially interested to know the demand for money function that you have used. I well remember my meeting with the late great Sukhamoy Chakravarty on July 14 1987 at his Planning Commission offices, when he signed and gifted me his last personal copy of the famous Reserve Bank report by the committee he had chaired and of which he told me personally Dr Rangarajan had been the key author – that report may have contained the first official discussion of the demand for money function in India.

With cordial regards

Subroto Roy

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.

How to Design a Better Cabinet for the Government of India

Cabinet Government has become far too unwieldy and impractical in India, and the new Cabinet chosen by Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh over almost a fortnight  — of some 79 Ministers, almost certainly the largest number in the world — may be destined to be so as well.   If there is going to be “fiscal prudence” as the PM and Finance Minister have declared, it really needs to start at the top with the Union Government itself.  Remember we also have more than two dozen State Governments plus Union Territories and  myriad local governments too.

Here then is an example of a better-designed Cabinet for the Government of India with Cabinet Ministers in bold-face, others not so:

Prime Minister

–         Parliamentary Affairs

–         Intra-Government Liaison

Defence War/Forces  (Raksha, Yudh/Fauj)

–    Army

–    Navy & Coast Guard

–    Air Force & Strategic Forces

–    Ordnance

Finance

–         Money & Banking

–         Accountant General

–         Planning

Home Affairs

–         Law & Justice

–         Internal Security

–     Disaster Management & Civil Defence

–         Archaeology, Art & Culture

Foreign

–         Commerce & Tourism

–         Overseas Indians

–         International Organisations

Transport

–         Railways

–         Roads & Highways

–         Shipping & Waterways

–         Civil Aviation

–         Urban Development

Agriculture & Food

–         Rural Development

–         Water, Flood Control & Irrigation

–         Environment

–         Forestry & Tribal Affairs

Industry

–    Competition and Monopoly-Control

–      Steel

–      Textiles

–      Power

–      Petroleum and Energy

–      Chemicals & Fertilizers

–       Coal and Mines

–      Communications and IT

Education

–    Schools

–     Higher Education

–     Vocational Education

–      Sports

–      Science and Technology

Labour & Employment

Health and Human Services

–        Housing

–         Women and Child Development

–         Social Security

There are just eleven Cabinet Ministers (in bold-face above) including the PM, so, along with the Cabinet Secretary, they could sit with ease around a normal table which should help the process of deliberation.

This document has arisen out of one during my work as an adviser to Rajiv Gandhi  in his last months in 1990-1991 though the latter never reached him; I had intended to talk to him about its contents but it was not to be.

It may be profitably read alongside my “Distribution of Government Expenditure in India”, which is part of my ongoing research and was released in the public interest last year.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

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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Can President Obama resist the financial zombies (let alone slay them)? His economists need to consult Dr Anna J Schwartz

The wonders of the Internet continue to surprise (and yes Virginia, there was a world before SMS and before the Internet too).  In early January, in context of India’s Satyam fraud (of a size of perhaps 1 or perhaps 2 billion dollars),  I referred here  to what seemed to me the likelihood of Satyam becoming a zombie company and I said “we in India have many such zombies walking around in the organised business sector”.    I drew attention to Andrew Beattie’s astute  definition of zombies and other such ghoulish phenomena in the financial world, and also referred to John Stepek’s excellent if brief November 2008 analysis “How zombie companies suck the life from an economy”.  Today I find Ms Arianna Huffington has made reference to Mr Martin Wolf’s reference a couple of days ago to zombie companies and to his statement that President Obama needs to “Admit reality, restructure banks and, above all, slay zombie institutions at once.”  Ms Huffington has agreed, though of course all this slaying may be easier said than done.  (It is better that zombies not be created in the first place.)

Mr Wolf has pointedly asked a question that many around the world may have half-thought about but not articulated: “Has Barack Obama’s presidency already failed?”   It would be  a grave and appalling  state of affairs if it has, within less than a month of entering office.   I am grateful to find in Ms Huffington’s article a reference to an October 2008  Wall Stret Journal interview of Dr Anna Jacobson Schwartz, perhaps the most respected voice in monetary economics today.  There have been numerous people claiming to have predicted America’s financial crisis but none may have as much credibility as Dr Schwartz.   Six years ago, in a National Bureau of Economic Research study dated November 2002, “Asset Price Inflation and Monetary Policy”,Working Paper 9321 she had said with utmost clarity: “It is crucial that central banks and regulatory authorities be aware of effects of asset price inflation on the stability of the financial system. Lending activity based on asset collateral during the boom is hazardous to the health of lenders when the boom collapses. One way that authorities can curb the distortion of lenders’ portfolios during asset price booms is to have in place capital requirements that increase with the growth of credit extensions collateralized by assets whose prices have escalated. If financial institutions avoid this pitfall, their soundness will not be impaired when assets backing loans fall in value. Rather than trying to gauge the effects of asset prices on core inflation, central banks may be better advised to be alert to the weakening of financial balance sheets in the aftermath of a fall in value of asset collateral backing loans….”

Most poignantly too, Dr Schwartz was present when Ben Bernanke said  in  a 2002 speech honouring the late Milton Friedman “I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”   Dr Schwartz told the Wall Street Journal ‘”This was [his] claim to be worthy of running the Fed”.  “He was ‘familiar with history. He knew what had been done.’ But perhaps this is actually Mr. Bernanke’s biggest problem. Today’s crisis isn’t a replay of the problem in the 1930s, but our central bankers have responded by using the tools they should have used then. They are fighting the last war. The result, she argues, has been failure. ‘I don’t see that they’ve achieved what they should have been trying to achieve. So my verdict on this present Fed leadership is that they have not really done their job.'”

President Obama’s economists need to urgently consult Anna J Schwartz.

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

Postscript:  My own brief views on the subject are at “October 1929? Not!” dated September 18 2008, and “America’s divided economists” dated October 26 2008.  The latter article suggested that playing the demographic card and inducing a wave of immigration into the United States may be the surest way to move the housing demand-curve firmly upwards.

Could the Satyam/PwC fraud be the visible part of an iceberg? Where are India’s “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles”? Isn’t governance rather poor all over corporate India? Bad public finance may be a root cause

In a March 5 2007 article in The Statesman, I said:

“Our farmers are peaceful hardworking people who should be paying taxes and user-fees normally but should not be otherwise disturbed or needlessly provoked by outsiders. It is the businessmen wishing to attack our farm populations who need to look hard in the mirror – to improve their accounting, audit, corporate governance, to enforce anti-embezzlement and shareholder protection laws etc.”

In a September 23-24 2007 article in The Sunday Statesman I said:

“… 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.”

In a February 4 2007 article in The Statesman, I said:

“Financial control of India’s fiscal condition, and hence monetary expansion, vitally requires control of the growth of these kinds of dynamic processes and comprehension of their analytical underpinnings. Yet such understanding and control seem quite absent from all organs of our Government, including establishment economists and the docile financial press…. the actual difference between Government Expenditure and Income in India has been made to appear much smaller than it really is. Although neglected by the Cabinet, Finance Ministry, RBI and even (almost) the C&AG, the significance of this discrepancy in measurement will not be lost on anyone seriously concerned to address India’s fiscal and monetary problems.”

All three articles are available elsewhere here and are republished below together.  I have published elsewhere today my brief 2006 lecture on corporate governance.  (See also my “The Indian Revolution”, “Monetary Integrity & the Rupee”, “Indian Inflation”,  “The Dream Team: A Critique”, “India’s Macroeconomics”, “Growth & Government Delusion”, etc).

The fraud at Satyam amounts to it having been long bankrupt but not seemingly so.  The fact it was long bankrupt was apparently overlooked or condoned by its auditors Pricewaterhouse Coopers! This may be big news today but the response of corporate India and the Indian business media seems utterly insincere (and there has been a lot of fake pontificating on TV by some notorious frauds).  Remember the head of Satyam received awards with all the other honchos at those fake ceremonies that businessmen and the business media keep holding at this or that hotel.  (See my several articles here under the categories “Satyam corporate fraud”, “Corporate governance” etc.)

Government agencies, as enforcers of the law, must be seen in such circumstances to have greater credibility than the violators, but who can say that Government accounting and audit and corporate governance in India is not as bad as that of the private sector?    It may be in fact far, far worse.   Poor accounting, endless deficit finance, unlimited paper money creation, false convertibility of the rupee etc is what emerges from our supposedly wise economic policy-makers.

When was the last time some major businessman or top politician spoke publicly about the importance of “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles”?   The answer is never.   Government (of this party or that) has become well-oiled by political lobbyists and is hand-in-glove with organized business, especially in a few cities.  Until Government gets its own accounts straight, stops its endless deficit finance, reins in unlimited paper money-creation, creates an honest currency domestically and externally, there is no proper example or standard set for the private sector, and such scandals will erupt along with insincere responses from the cartels of corporate India.

What emerges from New Delhi’s economists seems often to have as much to do with economics as Bollywood has to do with cinema.

Subroto Roy

Fallacious Finance: Congress, BJP, CPI-M et al may be leading India to hyperinflation

by

Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, March 5 2007 Editorial Page Special Article http://www.thestatesman.net

It seems the Dream Team of the PM, Finance Minister, Mr. Montek Ahluwalia and their acolytes may take India on a magical mystery tour of economic hallucinations, fantasies and perhaps nightmares. I hasten to add the BJP and CPI-M have nothing better to say, and criticism of the Government or of Mr Chidambaram’s Budget does not at all imply any sympathy for their political adversaries. It may be best to outline a few of the main fallacies permeating the entire Governing Class in Delhi, and their media and businessman friends:

1. “India’s Savings Rate is near 32%”. This is factual nonsense. Savings is indeed normally measured by adding financial and non-financial savings. Financial savings include bank-deposits. But India is not a normal country in this. Nor is China. Both have seen massive exponential growth of bank-deposits in the last few decades. Does this mean Indians and Chinese are saving phenomenally high fractions of their incomes by assiduously putting money away into their shaky nationalized banks? Sadly, it does not. What has happened is government deficit-financing has grown explosively in both countries over decades. In a “fractional reserve” banking system (i.e. a system where your bank does not keep the money you deposited there but lends out almost all of it immediately), government expenditure causes bank-lending, and bank-lending causes bank-deposits to expand. Yes there has been massive expansion of bank-deposits in India but it is a nominal paper phenomenon and does not signify superhuman savings behaviour. Indians keep their assets mostly in metals, land, property, cattle, etc., and as cash, not as bank deposits.

2. “High economic growth in India is being caused by high savings and intelligently planned government investment”. This too is nonsense. Economic growth in India as elsewhere arises not because of what politicians and bureaucrats do in capital cities, but because of spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing on part of the general population. Technological progress is a very general notion, and applies to any and every production activity or commercial transaction that now can be accomplished more easily or using fewer inputs than before. New Delhi still believes in antiquated Soviet-era savings-investment models without technological progress, and some non-sycophant must tell our top Soviet-era bureaucrat that such growth models have been long superceded and need to be scrapped from India’s policy-making too. Can politicians and bureaucrats assist India’s progress? Indeed they can: the telecom revolution in recent years was something in which they participated. But the general presumption is against them. Progress, productivity gains and hence economic growth arise from enterprise and effort of ordinary people — mostly despite not because of an exploitative, parasitic State.

3. “Agriculture is a backward sector that has been retarding India’s recent economic growth”. This is not merely nonsense it is dangerous nonsense, because it has led to land-grabbing by India’s rulers at behest of their businessman friends in so-called “SEZ” schemes. The great farm economist Theodore W. Schultz once quoted Andre and Jean Mayer: “Few scientists think of agriculture as the chief, or the model science. Many, indeed, do not consider it a science at all. Yet it was the first science – Mother of all science; it remains the science which makes human life possible”. Centuries before Europe’s Industrial Revolution, there was an Agricultural Revolution led by monks and abbots who were the scientists of the day. Thanks partly to American help, India has witnessed a Green Revolution since the 1960s, and our agriculture has been generally a calm, mature, stable and productive industry. Our farmers are peaceful hardworking people who should be paying taxes and user-fees normally but should not be otherwise disturbed or needlessly provoked by outsiders. It is the businessmen wishing to attack our farm populations who need to look hard in the mirror – to improve their accounting, audit, corporate governance, to enforce anti-embezzlement and shareholder protection laws etc.

4. “India’s foreign exchange reserves may be used for ‘infrastructure’ financing”. Mr Ahluwalia promoted this idea and now the Budget Speech mentioned how Mr Deepak Parekh and American banks may be planning to get Indian businesses to “borrow” India’s forex reserves from the RBI so they can purchase foreign assets. It is a fallacy arising among those either innocent of all economics or who have quite forgotten the little they might have been mistaught in their youth. Forex reserves are a residual in a country’s balance of payments and are not akin to tax revenues, and thus are not available to be borrowed or spent by politicians, bureaucrats or their businessman friends — no matter how tricky and shady a way comes to be devised for doing so. If anything, the Government and RBI’s priority should have been to free the Rupee so any Indian could hold gold or forex at his/her local bank. India’s vast sterling balances after the Second World War vanished quickly within a few years, and the country plunged into decades of balance of payments crisis – that may now get repeated. The idea of “infrastructure” is in any case vague and inferior to the “public goods” Adam Smith knew to be vital. Serious economists recommend transparent cost-benefit analyses before spending any public resources on any project. E.g., analysis of airport/airline industry expansion would have found the vast bulk of domestic airline costs to be forex-denominated but revenues rupee-denominated – implying an obvious massive currency-risk to the industry and all its “infrastructure”. All the PM’s men tell us nothing of any of this.

5. “HIV-AIDS is a major Indian health problem”. Government doctors privately know the scare of an AIDS epidemic is based on false assumptions and analysis. Few if any of us have met, seen or heard of an actual incontrovertible AIDS victim in India (as opposed to someone infected by hepatitis-contaminated blood supplies). Syringe-exchange by intravenous drug users is not something widely prevalent in Indian society, while the practise that caused HIV to spread in California’s Bay Area in the 1980s is not something depicted even at Khajuraho. Numerous real diseases do afflict Indians – e.g. 11 children died from encephalitis in one UP hospital on a single day in July 2006, while thousands of children suffer from “cleft lip” deformity that can be solved surgically for 20,000 rupees, allowing the child a normal life. Without any objective survey being done of India’s real health needs, Mr Chidamabaram has promised more than Rs 9.6 Billion (Rs 960 crore) to the AIDS cottage industry.

6. “Fiscal consolidation & stabilization has been underway since 1991”. There is extremely little reason to believe this. If you or I borrow Rs. 100,000 for a year, and one year later repay the sum only to borrow the same again along with another Rs 40,000, we would be said to have today a debt of Rs. 140,000 at least. Our Government has been routinely “rolling over” its domestic debt in this manner (in the asset-portfolios of the nationalised banking system) but displaying and highlighting only its new additional borrowing in a year as the “ Fiscal Deficit” (see graph, also “Fiscal Instability”, The Sunday Statesman, 4 February 2007). More than two dozen State Governments have been doing the same though, unlike the Government of India, they have no money-creating powers and their liabilities ultimately accrue to the Union as well. The stock of public debt in India may be Rs 30 trillion (Rs 30 lakh crore) at least, and portends a hyperinflation in the future. Mr Chidambaram’s announcement of a “Debt Management Office” yet to be created is hardly going to suffice to avert macroeconomic turmoil and a possible monetary collapse. The Congress, BJP, CPI-M and all their friends shall be responsible.

Against Quackery

First published in two parts in The Sunday Statesman, September 23 2007, The Statesman September 24 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net

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.

2. 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.

Fiscal Instabilty

Interest payments quickly suck dry every year’s Budget. And rolling over old public debt means that Government Borrowing in fact much exceeds the Fiscal Deficit

by Subroto Roy

First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, February 4 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net

While releasing Mr Chidambaram’s book some days ago, our PM said that as Narasimha Rao’s Finance Minister in 1991 he had caused “fiscal stabilization” of the country. Unfortunately, Dr Manmohan Singh may have been believing the flattery of his sycophants, since the facts point differently.

The Fiscal Deficit is new borrowing by Government added for a given year. In 1994-1995 for example, the Union Government’s expenditure net of operational and other income was some Rs 1,295 billion (1 billion = 100 crore). Rs. 674 billion was generated for the Union Government by taxation that year (Rs 184 billion from direct taxes, Rs 653 billion from indirect and miscellaneous taxes, less Rs 163 billion as the States’ share). The difference between Rs 1,295 billion and Rs. 674 billion, that is Rs. 621 billion had to be borrowed by the Government of India in the name of future unborn generations of Indian citizens. That was the “Fiscal Deficit” that year. If the stock of Public Debt already accumulated has been B,this Fiscal Deficit, C, adds to the interest burden that will be faced next year since interest will have to be then paid on B + C.

Interest payments on Government debt have dominated all public finance in recent decades, quickly sucking dry the budgets every year both of the Union and each of our more than two dozen States. Some Rs. 440 billion was paid by the Union Government as interest in 1994-1995, and this had risen to some Rs. 1,281 billion by 2003-2004. As a percentage of tax revenue, interest expenditure by the Government of India on its own debt rose from 40% in 1991 to 68% in 2004 ~ through the Finance Ministerships of Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Yashwant Sinha and Jaswant Singh.

Financial control of India’s fiscal condition, and hence monetary expansion, vitally requires control of the growth of these kinds of dynamic processes and comprehension of their analytical underpinnings. Yet such understanding and control seem quite absent from all organs of our Government, including establishment economists and the docile financial press.

For example, contrary to the impression created by the Finance Ministry, RBI and Union Cabinet (whether of the UPA or NDA, while the Communists would only be worse), the Fiscal Deficit has been in fact very far from being all that the Government of India borrows from financial markets in a given year. The stock of Public Debt at any given moment consists of numerous debt-instruments of various sorts at different terms. Some fraction of these come to maturity every year and hence their principal amounts (not merely their interest) must be repaid by Government. What our Government has been doing routinely over decades is to roll over these debts, i.e. issue fresh public debt of the same amount as that being extinguished and more. For example, some Rs. 720 billion, Rs. 1,180 billion, Rs.1,330 billion and Rs. 1,390 billion were amounts spent in extinguishing maturing public debt in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996 respectively. No special taxes were raised in those years specifically for that purpose. Instead the Government merely issued additional new debt or “rolled over” or “converted” the old debt in the same amounts and more in the portfolios of the captive nationalized banking system (see graph).

Plainly, the Government of India’s actual “Borrowing Requirement”, as the difference between its Income and Expenditure, when accounted for properly, will be the sum of this rolled over old debt and the Fiscal Deficit (which is merely the additional borrowing required by a single year’s Budget). In other words, the Government’s Borrowing Requirement is the Fiscal Deficit plus the much larger amount required to annually roll over maturing debt. Because the latter expenditure does not appear at all in calculation of the Fiscal Deficit by the subterfuge of having been routinely rolled over every year, the actual difference between Government Expenditure and Income in India has been made to appear much smaller than it really is. Although neglected by the Cabinet, Finance Ministry, RBI and even (almost) the C&AG, the significance of this discrepancy in measurement will not be lost on anyone seriously concerned to address India’s fiscal and monetary problems.

On the expenditure side, Current Expenditure (anachronistically named “Revenue Expenditure” in India as it is supposed to be met by current revenue) meets recurrent liabilities from one budget-date to the next, like salaries of school-staff or coupon payments on Government debt.

Investment Expenditure “of a capital nature” is supposed to increase “concrete assets of a material and permanent character” like spending on a new public library, or reducing “recurring liabilities” by setting aside a sinking fund to reduce Government debt. Some public resources need to be spent to yield benefits or reduce costs not immediately but in the future. Besides roads, bridges and libraries, these may include less tangible investments too like ensuring proper working of law-courts or training police-officers and school-teachers.

Also, there has been large outright direct lending by the Government of India bypassing normal capital markets on the pattern of old Soviet “central planning”, whereby “credit” is disbursed to chosen recipients.

“Current”, “Investment” and “Loan” expenditure decisions of this kind are made on the same activities. For example, in 1994-1995, the Government of India spent Rs. 2.7 billion as “Loans for Power Projects” in addition to Rs. 9.8 billion under Current Expenditure on “Power” and Rs. 15.5 billion as Investment Expenditure on “Power Projects”. By 2003-2004, these had grown to Rs. 50.94 billion, Rs. 31.02 billion, Rs. 28.5 billion respectively. Yet the opaqueness of Government accounts, finances and economic decision-making today is such that nowhere will such data be found in one table giving a full picture of public expenditure on the Power sector as a whole. On the revenue side, Government’s “Current Income” includes direct and indirect taxes, operational income from public utilities (like railways or the post office), and dividends and profits from public assets. There has been a small “Investment Income” too received from sale of public assets like Maruti. Also, since loans are made directly, there has to be a category for their recovery.

“One must not take from the real needs of the people for the imaginary needs of the state”, said Montesquieu; while De Marco in the same vein said “the greatest satisfaction of collective needs” has to be sought by “the least possible waste of private wealth”. Even Mao Zedong reportedly said: “Thrift should be the guiding principle of our government expenditure”. The C&AG requires Government determine “how little money it need take out of the pockets of the taxpayers in order to maintain its necessary activities at the proper standard of efficiency”.

Yet India’s top politicians and bureaucrats spend wildly ~ driven by the organised special interest groups on whom they depend, while ostentatiously consuming public time, space and resources themselves “quite uselessly in the pleasurable business of inflating the ego” (Veblen).

For Government to do what it need not or should not do contributes to its failure to do what it must. Thus we have armies of indolent soldiers, policemen and bureaucrats and piles of rotting supplies in government warehouses while there are queues outside hospitals, schools, courts etc.

Parliament and State Legislatures need to first ask of an annual budget whether it is efficient: “Is expenditure being allocated to enhance the public interest to the greatest extent possible, and if not, how may it be made to do so?” National welfare overall should increase the same whichever public good or service the final million of public rupees has been spent on.

Fundamentally, government finance requires scientific honesty, especially by way of clear rigorous accounting and audit of uses and origins of public resources. That scientific honesty is what we have not had at Union or State level for more than half a century.

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

Pump-priming for car-dealers: Keynes groans in his grave (If evidence was needed of the intellectual dishonesty of New Delhi’s new macroeconomic policy, here it is)

Pump-priming for car-dealers: Keynes groans in his grave

(If evidence was needed of the intellectual dishonesty of New Delhi’s new macroeconomic policy, here it is)

by

Subroto Roy

I have said the  Government of India’s new macroeconomic policy announced on Sunday by Dr Manmohan Singh’s main economic policy aide has no economic models or data to support it, and may as likely worsen rather than dampen any business-cycle India might be on for the simple reason that no one has a clue where we are in the cycle, or indeed even if such a cycle exists. (See https://independentindian.com/2008/12/07/will-the-government-of-indias-economic-policy-dampen-or-worsen-the-business-cycle-if-such-a-cycle-exists-at-all-no-one-knows-%E2%80%9Cwhere-ignorance-is-bliss-%E2%80%98tis-folly-to-be-wise/)

The policy appears to be the result of the usual intense lobbying by organised  capital and organised labour with the Government’s Ministries in New Delhi.

If evidence was needed of this root intellectual dishonesty, one need look only as far as “Highlights of India’s fiscal stimulus package” (Daily News and Analysis, December 7 2008) and note the item:

” Norms for government departments to replace vehicles relaxed”.

Dr Singh’s aide, after announcing the policy, openly spoke of how private automobile manufacturers had accumulated a lot of unintended inventory due to falling sales, and how they needed, in his opinion, to lower prices.  Evidently, the Government has also decided to itself  buy a lot of that unintended inventory too, using  the very scarce  public  resources of India’s ordinary people.  Pump-priming for car-dealers — JM Keynes groans in his grave!  Watch out for those fancy  fast new cars carrying India’s bureaucrats, politicians and their friends and family!

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.

Distribution of Govt of India Expenditure (Net of Operational Income) 1995

For more than a decade and a half now, I have been engaged in some “fundamental research” about India’s public finances.  This has involved inter alia transforming the entire set of government accounting data (both Union and all States) from their present obscurity and opaqueness to what I have called a condition of “maximum feasible transparency” (see my April 29 2000 address to the Reserve Bank’s Conference of Finance Secretaries).

Here is an example of the Union Government’s 1994-1995 expenditure (net of operational income).

It is from my unpublished ongoing research and is being released as a public service for India’s people.  Readers are welcome to use it with acknowledgement under the normal “fair use” rule.  Please try not to steal it, i.e. use it without proper acknowledgement.

from-ongoing-research-of-dr-subroto-roy-on-india

Subroto Roy

see also https://independentindian.com/2013/11/23/coverage-of-my-delhi-talk-on-3-dec-2012/

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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Towards a Highly Transparent Fiscal & Monetary Framework for India’s Union & State Governments (29 April 2000)

Towards a Highly Transparent Fiscal & Monetary Framework for India’s Union & State Governments

An address by Dr Subroto Roy to

the Conference of State Finance Secretaries, Reserve Bank of India,  Mumbai, 29 April 2000.

It is a great privilege to speak to this distinguished gathering of Finance Secretaries and economic policy-makers here at the Reserve Bank today. I should like to begin by thanking the Hon’ble Governor Dr Bimal Jalan and the Hon’ble Deputy Governor Dr YV Reddy for their kind invitation for me to do so. I should also like to record here my gratitude to their eminent predecessor, the Hon’ble Governor of Andhra Pradesh, Dr C Rangarajan, for his encouragement of my thinking on these subjects over several years.

My aim will be to share with you and seek your help with my continuing and very incomplete efforts at trying to comprehend as clearly as possible the major public financial flows taking place between the Union of India and each of its constituent States. I plan to show you by the end of this discussion how all the information presently contained in the budgets of the Union and State Governments of India, may be usefully transformed one-to-one into a fresh modern format consistent with the best international practices of government accounting and public budgeting.

I do not use the term “Central Government”, because it is a somewhat sinister anachronism left over from British times. When we were not a free nation, there was indeed a Central Government in New Delhi which took its orders from London and gave orders to its peripheral Provinces as well as to the British “Residents” parked beside the thrones of those who were called “Indian Princes”.

Free India has been a Union of States. There is a Government of the whole Union and there is a Government of each State. The Union is the sovereign and the sole international power, while the States, as political subdivisions of the Union, also possess certain sub-sovereign powers; as indeed do their own subdivisions like zilla parishads, municipalities and other local bodies in smaller measure.

Our 15 large States, which account for 97% of the population of the country, have an average of something like 61 million citizens each, which is vastly more than most countries of the world. In size of population at least, we are like 15 Frances or 15 Britains put together. The Indian Republic is unique or sui generis in that there has never been in history any attempt at federalism or democracy with such sheer large numbers of people involved.

In such a framework the citizen is supposed to feel a voter and a taxpayer at different levels, owing loyalty and taxes to both the national unit and the subdivisions in which he or she resides. In exchange, government at different levels is expected to provide citizens with public goods and services in appropriate measure. The problem of optimal fiscal decentralisation in India as elsewhere is one of allocating to each level of government the power to tax and responsibility to provide, public goods and services most appropriate to that level of government given the availability of information of resources and citizens’ preferences.

In parallel, a problem of optimal monetary decentralisation may be identified as that of allocating between an autonomous Central Bank and its regional or even State-level affiliates or subsidiaries, the power to finance through money-creation the deficits, if any, of the Union and State Governments respectively. It is not impossible to imagine a world in which individual State deficits did not flow into the Union deficit as a matter of course, but instead were intended to be financed more or less independently of the Union budget from a single-window source. There would be a clear conceptual independence between the Union and State levels of public action in the country. In such a world, the Union Government might approach a constitutionally autonomous national-level Central Bank to finance its deficit, while individual State Governments did something analogous with respect to autonomous regional or even State-level Central Banks which would be affiliates or subsidiaries of the national Central Bank.

This is similar to the intended model of the United States Federal Reserve System when it started 90 years ago, though it has not worked like that, in part because of the rapid rise to domination by the New York Federal Reserve relative to the other 11 regional Federal Reserve Banks.

A more radical monetary step would be to contemplate a “Reverse Euro” model by which a national currency issued by the national-level Central Bank acts in parallel with a number of regional or State-level currencies with full convertibility and floating exchange-rates guaranteed between all of them in a world of unhindered mobility of goods and factors.

However, these are very incomplete and theoretical thoughts which perhaps deserve to be shelved for the time being.[1] What necessitates this kind of discussion is after all not something theoretical but rather the practical ground realities of our country’s fiscal and monetary position, something of which this audience will be far better aware than am I.

Economic and political analysis suggests that managing a process of public financial decision-making requires a coincidence of the people who have the best information with the people who have the authority to act. In other words, decision-makers need to have relevant, reliable and timely information made available to them, and then they need to be considered accountable for the decisions made on that basis.

In a democracy like ours, the locus of economic policy decision-making must be Parliament and the State legislatures. Academics, civil servants, journalists, special interest groups, this or that business or industrial lobbyist or foreign management consultant can all have their say — but consensus on the direction and nature of economic policy, if it is to be genuine, has to ultimately emerge out of the legislative process on the basis of reasonable, well-informed discussion and debate, given full relevant timely information. The proper source of all economic policy decisions and initiatives is Parliament, the State legislatures and local government bodies — not this or that lobby or interest-group which may be vocal or powerful enough to be heard at a given time in New Delhi or some State capital-city.

Our 1950 Constitution was a marvellous document in its time and it has worked tolerably well. It defined the functions of government in India in accordance with the main parameters of normative public finance.

Economics ascribed a quite extensive traditional role to Government, the most important functions being collective and individual security, followed by all activities which in the words of Adam Smith,

 “though they may be in the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of such a nature that the profit could never repay the expence to any individual or small number of individuals, and which it, therefore, cannot be expected that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain.” (Wealth of Nations, V.i.c., 1776)

Our 1950 Constitution defined the Union’s responsibilities to be

External Security;

Foreign Relations & Trade;

Supreme Court & Domestic Security;

Debt Service, Foreign & Domestic;

National Infrastructure;

Communications & Broadcasting;

Atomic Energy;

Public Sector Industries;

Banking; Currency & Finance;

Archives; Surveys & National Institutions;

National Universities;

National Civil Services & Administration.

Each State’s responsibilities were

High Courts & Lower Judiciary;

Police; Civil Order; Prisons;

Water; Sanitation; Health;

State Debt Service;

Intra-State Infrastructure & Communications;

Local Government;

Liquor & Other Public Sector Industries; Trade; Local Banking & Finance;

Land; Agriculture; Animal Husbandry;

Libraries, Museums, Monuments;

State Civil Service & Administration.

Some duties were supposed to be shared by the Union with each State, including

Criminal Law;

Civil & Family Law, Contracts & Torts;

Forests & Environmental Protection;

Unemployment & Refugee Relief;

Electricity;

Education.

But the authors of the 1950 Constitution could not have envisaged the nature of present problems, or foreseen in those early years what we would have become like today. Our fiscal system has become such that a few clauses may have led to an impossibly complex centralization of fiscal power and information. Not only did the 1950 Constitution identify agendas of the Union and State Governments, it also dictated the procedure of decision-making and it is this which may have become intractable over 50 years. Under Article 280, a Finance Commission is appointed every five years whose task is to try to efficiently and equitably allot tax revenues collected by the Union downwards to the States and laterally between the States. Members of Finance Commissions have been elder statesmen of high reputation and integrity, yet the practical impossibility of their task has made their actions seem to all observers to be clouded in mystery and perhaps muddle. As one recent member, Justice Qureshi, has candidly stated

 “it is humanly impossible for a person to understand the problems of the Centre and the 25 States and take a decision thereon within such a short time” (Ninth Finance Commission, Issues and Recommendations, p.350).

No matter how competent or well-meaning a Finance Commission’s members may be, their purpose may be stymied by the overload of information and overcentralisation of authority that has come to take place. As a result, it may have been inevitable that Government has ended up doing what it need not have done at the expense concomitantly of failing to do what only Government could or must have done.

The present situation is such that, despite the best efforts of the Reserve Bank and other Government agencies, there may be a gross lack of timely, relevant and reliable information reaching all decision-makers including the ordinary citizen, who as voter and taxpayer is the cornerstone of the fiscal system. My own inquiry started when Mr. Hubert Neiss, then Central Asia Director at the IMF, hired me as a consultant in December 1992. He told me the IMF was naturally concerned about India’s national budget deficit, but no one seemed to quite know how this related precisely to the budgets of the different States whose deficits seemed to be flowing into it. By its terms of reference, the IMF could not inquire into India’s States’ budgets and I did not do so in my work with them, but the import of his question remained in my thinking. Later I found similar questions being asked at the World Bank. I do not think it a great secret to state that there may be a great deal of simple puzzlement about the workings of our fiscal and monetary system on the part of observers and decision-makers who may be concerned about India’s fiscal position.

Among both public decision-makers and ordinary citizens right across the length and breadth of our country, a severe and widespread lack of information about and comprehension of India’s basic fiscal and monetary facts seems to exist. This in itself may be a cause of fiscal problems as citizens may not be adequately aware of the link between making their demands for public goods and services on the one hand, and the necessity of finding the resources to fund these goods and services on the other.

In any ultimate analysis, resources for public goods and services in an economy can be found only by diverting the real resources of individual citizens towards public uses. Other than printing fiat money, a national Government can only either tax those citizens who are present today in the population, or, borrow from the capital stock on behalf of unborn generations of future citizens.

West Europe and America are heirs to a long history of political development; yet even there, as Professor James Buchanan has often observed, the idea until has not been grasped until recently that benefits from use of public goods and services are supposed to accrue to citizens from whom resources have been raised. Until the 19th Century,

 “government outlay was frequently considered “unproductive”, and there was, by implicit assumption, no return of services to the citizens who were taxed. In a political regime that devotes the bulk of government outlay to the maintenance expenses of a single sovereign, or even of an elite, there is no demonstrable return flow of services to the taxpayers…. Tax principles were discussed as if, once collected, revenues were removed forever from the economy; taxpayers, both individually and in the aggregate, were held to suffer real income loss” (James M. Buchanan, The Demand and Supply of Public Goods, Rand 1968, p. 167).

According to Buchanan, such an undemocratic fiscal model was transformed in the work of the great Swedish economist Knut Wicksell and others by introducing the key assumption of fiscal democracy, namely, that

 “those who bear the costs of public services are also the beneficiaries in democratic structures”

Conversely, we may say those who demand public goods and services in a fiscal democracy should also expect to pay for them in real resources. If citizens are aware of taxes only as a burden and come to feel they receive little or nothing from Governments in return, there is a loss of incentive to pay taxes or to stand up and be counted as proud citizens of the country. There is an incentive instead to evade taxes or to flee the country or to cynically believe everything to be corrupt. On the other hand, if citizens demand public goods and services without expecting to contribute resources for their production, this amounts to being no more than a demand to be a free-rider on the general budget.

In our country, we may have been seeing both phenomena. On one hand, there is, rightly or wrongly, a tremendous public cynicism present almost everywhere with respect to expecting effective provision of public goods and services. On the other hand, the idea that the beneficiaries of public goods and services must also, sooner or later, come to bear the costs in terms of taxed resources is far from established so our politics come to often be unreasonable and irresponsible.

Reliable and comprehensible information about the system as a whole and about the contents of public budgets is thus vital for a fiscal democracy to function. In ancient Athens it was said:

 “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 has no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.” Pericles (Funeral Oration, Thucydides, The Pelopennesian War)

That was the criterion that Pericles defined for ancient Athenian democracy, and I see no reason why in the 21st Century it cannot be met in modern India’s democracy.

This finally brings me to the positive contribution I have promised to make. The aim my attempt to redesign the Union and State’s budgets utilising precisely the same data as available has been to make the fiscal position of all public entities accessible to any interested citizen.

We do not have to say that every Indian citizen, or even every literate and numerate citizen of our country, has to be able to understand the intricacies of the public budgets of his or her State and the Union. But if information is available such that anyone who understands the finances of his own family or his own business enterprise is also reasonably able to understand the public budget then a standard of maximum feasible transparency would have been defined and met.

I have relied on the international normative model developed by our own countryman, Mr. A. Premchand, who retired from the IMF a few years ago, as described in his outstanding book Effective Government Accounting (IMF 1995), where he showed applications for e.g. the USA, New Zealand and Switzerland. What I have done – or rather did in 1997/1998, with the help of a research assistant and a student – is apply that to all of our States and the Union too.[2] What will be seen by way of differences with the present methodology is that there is essentially an Operating Statement, a Financial Statement and a Cash Flow Statement offered for each State and the Union. The financial position and gross fiscal deficit definition emerge rather neatly from this – while there the rather confusing “Development/Non-development” and “Planning/Non-Planning” distinctions have been done away with.

The exercise points to the foundations of a new and fresh federal framework for our Republic. A central new fact of modern India is that many, perhaps most, of our States have developed what is effectively a bipolar division in their legislatures. Voters have also increasingly started to judge Governments not by the personalities they contain but rather by their performance on the job, and, at election-time, have begun to frequently enough shown one side the door in the hope the other side may do better. In such circumstances, there seems no reason in principle why an entity as large as the average State of modern India today cannot be entrusted to legislate and administer a modern tax-system, based especially on the income-tax, and especially taxing income from all sources including agriculture. In a fresh and modern federalism, an elected State Government would have appropriate economic powers to run its own affairs, and be mainly accountable to the legislature whose confidence it requires, and ultimately to voters below.

From an efficiency standpoint, we should want a framework in which repercussions of political turmoil or bad financial management by a State Government to not spill into other States or flow into the Union Government’s own problems of deficit financing. With free mobility of goods and factors throughout the Union, citizens faced with a poorly performing State Government could seek to vote it out of office, or may of course “vote with their feet” by moving their capital or resources to another part of the country. In short, State Governments will be held responsible by their electorates for their expenditures on public goods and services, while having the main powers of domestic taxation in the economy, especially taxes on income from all sources including agriculture.

At the same time, diverse as India is, we are not 15 or 25 separate republics federated together but rather one country all of whose peoples are united by a common geography and a common experience of history. From an equity and indeed national standpoint, we may also want a system which also firmly established that the National Parliament would have to determine how much each citizen should be taxed for the Union to provide public goods and services for the country as a whole, as well as what transfers ought to be made between the States via the Union in the interests of equity given differences in initial resource-endowments between them.

Here again an American example may be useful. As is well-known, the 50 United States each have their own Constitutions governing most intra-State political matters, yet all being inferior in authority to the 1789 Constitution of the United States as duly amended. In India, an author as early as 1888 recommended popular Constitutions for India’s States on the grounds

“where there are no popular constitutions, the personal character of the ruler becomes a most important factor in the government… evils are inherent in every government where autocracy is not tempered by a free constitution.”[3]

We could ask if a better institutional arrangement may occur by each State of India electing its own Constitutional Convention subject naturally to the supervision of the National Parliament and the obvious provision that all State Constitutions be inferior in authority to the Constitution of the Union of India.[4] These documents would then furnish the major sets of rules to govern intra-State political and fiscal decision-making more efficiently. An additional modern reason can be given from the work of Professor James M. Buchanan, namely, that fiscal constitutionalism, and perhaps only fiscal constitutionalism, allows over-riding to take place of the interests of competing power-groups.[5]

State-level Constitutional Conventions in India would provide an opportunity for a realistic assessment to be made by State-level legislators and citizens of the fiscal positions of their own States. Greater recognition and understanding of the plain facts and the desired relationships between income and expenditures, public benefits and public costs, would likely improve the quality of public decision-making at State-levels, sending public resources from destinations which are socially worthless towards destinations which are socially worthwhile. It bears repeating the average size of a large State of India is 61 million people, and almost all existing political Constitutions around the globe furnish rules for far smaller populations than that.

Thank you for your patience. Jai Hind.

[1] Monetary Federalism at Work: F. A. Hayek more than anyone else taught us that relative prices are signals or guides to economic activity — summarizing in a single statistic information about the resources, constraints, expectations and ambitions of market participants. An exchange-rate between two currencies is also a relative price, conveying information about relative market opinions regarding the issuers of the two currencies. Suppose we had two States of India in the fresh kind of federal framework outlined above, which were identical in all respects except one had a larger deficit and so a larger nominal money supply growth. Would that mean the first currency must depreciate relative to the second? Not necessarily; it is not the size of indebtedness that matters but rather the quality of public investment decisions, to which borrowed money has been put. Thus we come to the crux: Suppose we have two States which are identical in all respects except one: State X is found to have an efficient Government, i.e. one which has made relatively good quality public investment decisions, and State Y is found to have one which has made relatively bad quality public investment decisions. In the present amalgamated model of Indian federal finance, no objective distinction can be made between the two, and efficient State Governments are surreptitiously compelled to end up subsidising inefficient ones. In a differentiated federal framework for India, as the different information about the two State Governments comes to be discovered, the X currency will tend to appreciate as resources move towards it while the Y will tend to depreciate as resources move away from it. In an amalgamated model, efficient State Governments lose incentives to remain efficient, while in a differentiated model, inefficient State Governments will gain an incentive not to be inefficient. The present amalgamated situation is such that inefficient States – and this may include not only the State Government but also the State Legislature and the State electorate itself – receive no fiscal incentive to improve themselves. In a differentiated framework, the same inefficient State would face a tangible, visible loss of reserves or depreciation of its currency relative to other States on account of its inefficiency, and thereby have some incentive to mend its ways. I call the proposal given here a “Reverse Euro” model because Europe appears to be moving from differentiated currencies and money supplies to an amalgamated currency and money supply, while the argument given here for India is in the opposite direction. Professor Milton Friedman of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, has had the kindness, at the age of 88, to send me a brilliant and forceful critique of my Reverse Euro idea for India when I requested his comment. Since he is the founder of the flexible exchange-rate system and he has found it too radical, I have shelved it for the time being.

[2] The assistance of Dola Dasgupta and K. Shanmugam is recorded with gratitude.

[3] Surendranath Roy, A History of the Native States of India, Vol I. Gwalior, Calcutta & London: Thacker 1888.

[4] Large amounts of legal and constitutional precedent have built up on issues of a regional or local nature: whether a State legislature should be unicameral or bicameral, what should be its procedures, what days should be State holidays but need not be national holidays, on tenancy, rent control, school standards, health standards and so on ad infinitum. All this body of explicit and implicit local rules and conventions may be duly collected and placed in State-level Constitutions.

[5] James M. Buchanan, Limits to Liberty, Texas, 1978.

A major expansion and reorganization of the judiciary would have to accompany the sort of basic constitutional reform outlined above. Union and State judiciaries would need to be more clearly demarcated, and rules established for review of State-level decisions by Union courts of law. It is common knowledge the judiciary in India is in a state of organizational overload at the point of collapse and dysfunction. An expansion and reorganization of the judiciary to match new Union-State constitutional relations will likely improve efficiency, and therefore welfare levels of citizens.

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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.