“Summits” of global political leaders require competent “sherpas” to do the preparations. From what I gather about the London “G-20 summit” this has not happened adequately enough, so I expect only a lot of waffle to emerge. (If they suddenly start talking about Global Warming or AIDS in Africa or whatever, we will know the actual talks have failed badly.)
Reforming the IMF? Hmmm, let’s see, what happened to all that talk four years ago about reforming the Big Daddy of them all, the UN? Oh yes, I forget, India is now a permanent veto-wielding Security Council Member, NOT!
It has been said that academic syllabus reform at a university is like ‘”moving a graveyard”. Reforming the world monetary system and its major institutions would be like moving thousands of graveyards. And there is no one with the brains of a White or a Keynes to help things along. But we should not be surprised if there were pronouncements of this or that high-powered commission of pompous worthies who will make recommendations for reform some time in the future. In general, little more than waffle will emerge now — I cannot even see the UK Government following informal British advice to stand down from its founding role at the IMF.
There is no clear path to solving the great (alleged) economic and financial crisis because no one wants to admit its roots were the overvaluation (over decades) of American real-estate, and hence American assets in general.
India’s PM shall be seen at least up and about after several months out of action, indeed he will be up and about for the first time in months doing what he (like India’s nomenclatura in general) likes doing best, which is to travel outside India.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
I have said here recently that some of the wisest advice President Obama or any leader anywhere can receive is that contained in Oliver Cromwell’s famous words “Think it possible you may be mistaken”.
This seems especially significant in context of new American macroeconomic and financial policies. Mr Steve Clemons reports today there may be less intellectual diversity in the new President’s economic team than is possible or desirable; if so, conversation may become stifled and a greater propensity towards groupthink may arise, hence a greater likelihood of mistakes.
It is possible the directions that different people might like to see the conversation extended are different, and that would be a good sign of course! For example, someone might think a Barro or a Mishkin could be the right addition of intellectual diversity, whereas others might suppose that to be the wrong direction towards more “market fundamentalism”. But it would be a pity if the economic conversation within the new Administration came to be artificially or ideologically circumscribed in any direction.
Certainly I believe macroeconomic policy-discourse in the United States or elsewhere needs to proceed to a recognition of the existence of JM Keynes’s original concept of “involuntary unemployment” as well as to ask whether the actual unemployment happens to be or not be of this sort. (It may be “frictional” or “structural” or “voluntary” or “seasonal” etc, not the involuntary unemployment Keynes had meant.) Furthermore, even if significant involuntary unemployment is identified, it needs to be asked whether government policy can be expected to improve or worsen outcomes. The argument must be made either way, and, in John Wisdom’s phrase, “Argument must be heard”.
“A Dialogue in Macroeconomics” which was Chapter 8 of my 1989 book Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, Library of Congress HB 72.R69) may provide some useful ballast. The saga that followed the book’s publication left me unable to write about the US economy anymore, except briefly in 1992 and 1994-95 in Washington and New York, read only by a few friends. Now in late 2008, I have published “October 1929? Not!” and “America’s divided economists” which may be of interest too, and which are republished below as well.
I have also added a couple of sundry points from an international perspective that I pointed to last September-October, namely
(i) foreign central banks might have been left holding more bad US debt than might be remembered, and dollar depreciation and an American inflation seem to be inevitable over the next several years;
(ii) all those bad mortgages and foreclosures could vanish within a year or two by playing the demographic card and inviting in a few million new immigrants into the United States; restoring a worldwide idea of an American dream fueled by mass immigration may be the surest way for the American economy to restore itself.
from Philosophy of Economics Routledge 1989
A Dialogue in Macroeconomics
OUR next example is of quite a different sort, namely, the academic debate which has occurred in macroeconomics and monetary theory since Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. This has of course received a great amount of attention, with innumerable commentaries having been written by many scores of protagonists and moderators around the world. Only a brief and highly simplified summary of these many conversations can be attempted here, within our limited objective of illustrating once more how it may be possible for critical discussion to be seen to proceed freely and yet objectively in economics. In the previous chapter we were fortunate to have had an actual conversation to consider; here our method shall have to be one of constructing a model of a conversation. In honour of Plato, we might name our conversants Athenian and Stranger.
ATHENIAN Tell me, have you perhaps been following the discussions among macroeconomists? I shall be interested to know what you take their present state to be.
STRANGER Indeed I have, though of course it is not possible or worthwhile to follow all of what has been said. But yes I have followed some of it, and certainly we can make it a topic of conversation.
ATHENIAN Please begin.
STRANGER Very well. Shall we do so in ‘36 with the publication of Keynes’s book? Rightly or wrongly, this must be considered a watershed in the history of modern economics, if only because most economists since have had either to admit its arguments in some measure or define and explain their disagreement. You’ll remember at one time it was said by many that Keynes had fathered a revolution in economic science.
ATHENIAN Except Chicago and the Austrians.
STRANGER Quite so. Now more recently a renewal of neoclassical thought has been under way, and many doubts have been raised about the keynesian consensus, so much so that some of the main questions of the thirties seem in modern form to continue to be at issue today.
ATHENIAN The more things change, the more they stay the same! But when you say Keynes has been a central figure, I take it you mean only that he has been among the most influential and most discussed and nothing more. It is not to preclude judgement on the merits of his book, which is itself of very uneven clarity. Besides there has been too much idolatry and hagiography.
STRANGER Yes, there is so often a rush to belief and worship. There may have been less if Keynes had survived longer. Yet I should say the broad aim of the work is not hard to see. Keynes himself clearly believes that he is starting a revolution — going so far as to suggest a comparison with contemporary physics. The first chapter says the book aims to provide a “general” theory, which will explain the traditional model as a “limiting” case. The second chapter says the theory of value has been hitherto concerned with the allocation of given resources between competing ends; Keynes is going to explain how the actual level of employment comes to be what it is.
ATHENIAN And so begs the question?
STRANGER Or does traditional theory? That seems to be at the heart of it.
ATHENIAN Go on.
STRANGER The theory will be of the short run in Marshall’s sense of taking capital as a fixed factor. Traditional theory is said to postulate about the labour market (i) that the real wage equals the marginal product of labour, so there is an assumption of profit maximization by competitive producers giving rise to a short run demand curve for labour; and (ii) that the utility of the wage at a given level of employment equals the marginal disutility of that amount of employment; i.e., the real wage is just sufficient to induce the volume of labour which is actually forthcoming. So it can account for unemployment due to temporary miscalculations, or intermittent demand, or the refusal or inability of labour to accept a job at a given wage due to legislation or social practices or collective bargaining or obstinacy, or merely a rational choice of leisure — i.e., it can account for frictional and voluntary unemployment but not for what Keynes wants to call involuntary unemployment. What it can suggest is either such things as improvements in foresight, information, organization and productivity, or a lowering of the real wage. But Keynes’s critique will not have to do with such causes of the contemporary unemployment; instead the population is said to be seldom “doing as much work as it would like to do on the basis of the current wage…. More labour would, as a rule, be forthcoming at the existing money wage if it were demanded.” But it is not being demanded, and it is not being demanded because there has been a shortfall of “effective demand”. That is why there is as much unemployment as there is.
ATHENIAN Or so Keynes claims. And he would take it the neoclassical view would be that it must be the real wage is too high; it is only because the real wage has not fallen by enough that unemployment continues.
STRANGER Right. To which there are two observations. The first has to do with the actual attitude of workers towards the money wage and the real wage respectively. The traditional supply function of labour is a function of the latter; Keynes claims that at least within a certain range it must be workers are concerned more with the former.
ATHENIAN How so?
STRANGER By the interesting and perhaps plausible claim that workers are found to withdraw labour if the money wage falls but do not seem to do the same if the price level rises. A real wage reduction caused by a fall in the money wage and the same real wage reduction caused by an increase in prices seem to have different effects on labour supply. “Whether logical or illogical, experience shows that this is how labour in fact behaves.” And he cites U. S. data for ‘32 to say labour did not refuse reductions in the money wage nor did the physical productivity of labour fall yet the real wage fell and unemployment continued. “Labour is not more truculent in the depression than in the boom — far from it.”
ATHENIAN And the second observation?
STRANGER This may be of more interest. “Classical theory assumes that it is always open to labour to reduce its real wage by accepting a reduction in its money wage… [it] presumes that labour itself is in a position to decide the real wage for which it works…” Keynes does not find a traditional explanation why prices tend to follow wages, and suggests it could be because the price level is being supposed to be determined by the money supply according to the quantity theory. Keynes wants to dispute the proposition “that the general level of real wages is directly determined by the character of the wage bargain…. For there may be no method available to labour as a whole whereby…. [it] can reduce its real wage to a given figure by making revised money bargains with the entrepreneurs.” Hence he arrives at his central definition of involuntary unemployment: if the real wage falls marginally as a consequence of the price level rising with the money wage constant, and there is greater employment demanded and supplied in consequence, the initial state was one of involuntary unemployment.
ATHENIAN You are saying then that Keynes’s intent is to establish the existence of involuntary unemployment?
STRANGER At least a major part of the intent yes. To make the concept meaningful, to argue that it refers to a logical possibility, and also that much of the actual unemployment of the time may be falling under it, and is a result of lack of “effective demand”.
ATHENIAN The neoclassicals have been said to be cavalier about fluctuations in economic activity, when in fact Wicksell and Marshall and Thornton, let alone Hawtrey or Hayek as Keynes’s own critics, certainly had profound enough theories of the cycle. Before we go further, I think we should remind ourselves of what they actually said.
STRANGER Very well.
ATHENIAN Would you agree that can be summarized, then as now, as the quantity theory of money married to the theory of general equilibrium?
STRANGER Though it may be better to speak of divorce perhaps rather than marriage, in view of the dichotomy.
ATHENIAN From Smith to Mill, political economists broadly agree the role of government should extend and be restricted to such activities as defence, civil protection, the rule of law, the provision of public goods, education, the encouragement of competition, and so on. The traditional agenda does not as a rule include direct activity to restrain or otherwise change the natural course of trade, production, or consumption, and certainly no theory of what today is called macroeconomic policy. Underlying it is a broad belief that the competitive pursuit of private welfare within the necessary and minimal framework of the institutions of government, will result in tolerable social outcomes, and any further activity may be counterproductive. The State is after all endogenous to the economy, without any resources to its own name.
STRANGER The minimal state, though not so minimal perhaps as we sometimes think.
ATHENIAN The main function of money is seen to be that of facilitating real transactions. Hence the main component of the demand for money is the transactions demand, and the broad objective of monetary policy is the maintenance of the stability of the price of money. But this is recognized to be something elusive in practice, and fluctuations in economic activity are expected to occur in spite of the best intentions of the monetary authorities.
STRANGER How so?
ATHENIAN Well we might imagine two or three distinct but related markets: one for real investment and savings determined by intertemporal preferences, resources, and technologies; one a market for investment and savings defined in terms of money; one a short term credit market. The market for real investment and savings is, as it were, unobservable to the naked eye. Yet it drives the second and third markets for nominal savings and investment in which we actually participate. Monetary equilibrium requires the observable money rates of interest to equal the unobservable real rate of return on the market for physical capital. In particular, the real or natural rate of interest determined in the equilibrium of the first market is not, and perhaps ultimately cannot be, affected by nominal or monetary disturbances in the second or third markets.
STRANGER Why call it “natural”?
ATHENIAN In the sense it is a function of the real data of intertemporal preferences, resources, and technologies being what they are. If these data changed it should be expected to change too. But given these data, it would be the rate at which intertemporal constrained maximizations by individual agents resulted in planned present consumption equaling planned present production at the same time as planned future consumption equaled planned future production.
STRANGER In other words, real planned savings equal real planned investment.
ATHENIAN Exactly. It is the real interest rate, or rather the whole structure of own-rates and cross-rates at various terms, which is the key price signal for macroeconomic equilibrium.
STRANGER “Natural” seems to me to carry a physiocratic connotation. A better nomenclature would replace it with something else — perhaps “equilibrium real rate” or just “walrasian” rate.
ATHENIAN Very well, though I for one do not bias myself against the physiocrats! Now consider how a simple business cycle might occur on wicksellian lines. From a position of full real and monetary equilibrium, an expansion of credit has its first effect on the banks, increasing reserves and inducing more lending for reserve/deposit ratios to be restored, and so lowering the loan rate. But customers are only able to perceive a lowering of this nominal rate of interest and cannot know the equilibrium real rate has not changed. As far as households know, the relative price of present consumption has fallen and there is an incentive for greater consumption and lesser savings. As far as businesses know, the relative price of the future good has risen, and there is an incentive for greater investment. Inventories are run down, and markets for both consumer goods and capital goods are stimulated and show signs of excess demand. But if there was a walrasian equilibrium initially, then the economy will now show signs of inflation; with a gold standard, there would be increased demand for imports and an external drain of reserves, and even perhaps an internal drain if there was a panic and a run on the banks. The loan rate will have to rise once more to reign in reserves, but if the rate is now raised too high relative to the still unchanged real rate, there would be the makings of a recession.
STRANGER Your point being that economists before Keynes had recognized the decentralized economy may be fluctuating continually.
ATHENIAN Surely they had done so quite fully. A first set of causes such as wars, disasters, discoveries and migrations would change the real data of the economy, while a second set would be monetary disturbances like the failure of the authorities to adequately follow the dictates of the real data of the economy, i.e., failure to observe the equilibrium real rate of interest. It may even be intrinsic to the problem that they must fail in the attempt to observe, let aside compute, the equilibrium real rate warranted at a given time by the structure of the real data.
STRANGER Hence the conclusion that they cannot hope to do better than establish a climate of monetary and fiscal stability, such as by declaring a long term policy and staying with it.
ATHENIAN Exactly. Private economic agents already face endemic uncertainty with respect to changes in the real data, and must be assumed to not want more added by government policy. You appear to have seen my point nicely.
STRANGER Very well. But you have jumped ahead as this kind of a conclusion sounds very modern to me. You made me stop all the way back at Keynes’s notion of effective demand!
ATHENIAN As I said, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
STRANGER Let us go back a little. I think we may be able to rejoin our initial route at a point which may bring us close to where we seem to have come by the route you have taken. Specifically suppose we go back to the question of the money wage and the real wage, and of the real wage being “too high”.
ATHENIAN That has been interpreted a number of ways, has it not?
STRANGER Yes it has. One would be to say Keynes was merely simple minded and assumed money illusion on the part of workers. Another would be to say Keynes assumed a short run context of fixed prices, so it would not make a difference whether labour happened to be concerned with changes in the real or the money wage. Yet a third would be to say Keynes, whether he realized it or not, had come upon a recondite truth about the sort of complex monetary economy in which we live — namely, that when transactions are quoted and made in a monetary economy, it may become difficult ipso facto for the walrasian equilibrium to be achieved. Even workers might fully recognize the real wage to be too high and be prepared to work more at a lower wage, but be unable to signal this willingness to potential employers.
ATHENIAN So involuntary unemployment becomes another sort of equilibrium outcome.
STRANGER Exactly. Not only of labour but of machines too, along with the unintended holding of inventories. It is as if firms would have sold what they had planned to if only workers had the income to buy it, which they would have done if only they had been able to sell as much labour they had planned to, which they would have done if only there had been an effective demand for it, which there would have been if firms had not cut back on production because they found themselves unable to sell what they had planned to sell. A kind of vicious circle, due to pessimistic and self-fulfilling expectations all around.
ATHENIAN An unhappy solution to a non-cooperative game you might say.
STRANGER Quite so. Keynes does not deny there may be a monetary route out of the impasse. A wage deflation would eventually lead to price deflation, raising the real value of money holdings, so via liquidity preference lead to an increased demand for bonds, raising their price and lowering money interest rates, which through the investment function would lead eventually to increased effective demand. But the fiscal route may be more direct and quicker in its effect on expectations. Trying to deflate across the board in the face of what seem to be excess supplies of goods and labour might be counterproductive, causing unexpected transfers from debtors to creditors and precipitating bankruptcies. Instead: “Government investment will break the vicious circle. If you can do that for a couple of years, it will have the effect, if my diagnosis is right, of restoring business profits more nearly to normal, and if that can be achieved then private enterprise will be revived. I believe you have first of all to do something to restore profits and then rely on private enterprise to carry the thing along….”
ATHENIAN A shot in the arm for enterprise in the hope of breaking the pessimism. But Keynes was hardly alone in such thinking.
STRANGER Quite true.
ATHENIAN And he certainly seemed to treat the opinions of others without due respect, which is to say he may have exaggerated the significance of his own. Hinting that he was the Einstein of economics set an especially bad example. Only the other day one eminence was comparing himself to Newton, and another was calling his friend Shakespeare. It will be Joyce and Pasternak next!
STRANGER Flattery and nepotism are common weaknesses, my friend. Like the rush to belief and worship.
ATHENIAN Besides you would have to assume the government to be outside the game, and only so being able to see the problem which private agents could not from inside the game. That may be too large an assumption, don’t you think?
STRANGER Yes it may. Yet it seems to me pump-priming was a possible solution being offered to a temporary problem. Many of the controversies may have come about because it became institutionalized, because discretionary fiscal policy became a permanent part of the government agenda.
ATHENIAN And a more direct route out was available too, was it not? With wealth placed in the consumption function directly, a deflation would increase the real value and affect effective demand directly. We would not have to wait for the roundabout effects through so-called liquidity preference.
STRANGER Which in a way brings us back to a central pillar of traditional theory: with given real data and given velocity of circulation, desired holding of real money balances will roughly be constant. In particular the demand for real money balances should not be seen as a function of the interest rate.
ATHENIAN The real rate or the monetary rate?
STRANGER For neoclassicals certainly the real; Keynes does not seem clear.
ATHENIAN There may lie a problem.
STRANGER The title of the book says “Employment, Interest, and Money”. No question employment is real and money is money — interest is the bridge. If you ask me to bet I would say Keynes’s agents make real responses to signals expressed as they must be in a large economy in monetary terms.
ATHENIAN Perhaps we ought to move on. Tell me, if you think Keynes’s book rightly or wrongly ranks as the most influential document of the last fifty years, would you agree it is Friedman’s address on the role of monetary policy which must rank second to it if not on a par with it?
STRANGER Certainly there can be few competitors.
ATHENIAN Well then, it appears to me the net effect of Friedman’s critique has been a restoration of the wicksellian theory and a banishment of the keynesian theory.
STRANGER Friedman of course makes his approach via a critique of the Phillips’ Curve.
ATHENIAN Yes, but it is Wicksell whom he acknowledges in advancing the notion of a natural rate of unemployment, one which has been “ground out by the walrasian system of general equilibrium equations” — in other words, one which happens to be consistent with the structure of the real data of the economy at a particular time.
STRANGER Though again we may as well speak of walrasian instead of natural.
ATHENIAN A monetary policy which tried to peg unemployment at lower than such a rate (if such a rate could be determined, which it cannot) is likely to be counterproductive. The initial effect of an expansionary policy on a walrasian equilibrium may be to increase real output. Workers assume the increase to reflect an increase in the unobservable real demand for their services, and hence they expect a higher real wage. Businesses see the same and assume it to reflect an increase in the unobservable real demand for their goods. But given there was no real excess demand in the first place for either labour or goods, the effect outside anything but the short run will be a return to the initial structure of real wages, and the temporary decline in unemployment is reversed to the walrasian rate at higher prices. If the government tries to maintain unemployment at less than the walrasian rate, it will have to concede — indeed it will have caused — accelerating inflation without any real fall in unemployment.
STRANGER And vice versa perhaps, so there would be a kind of knife-edge.
ATHENIAN Now your remark about Friedman making his approach via the Phillips Curve seems to me interesting. We may have been too hasty to make a comparison with the debate in the thirties. For the world suffers a very real and severe shock between Keynes’s book and the keynesian consensus, which is the Second World War itself.
STRANGER I am not sure I follow.
ATHENIAN Well think of the consensus afterwards on the need for macroeconomic policy — it is actually Tinbergen’s notion of a “policy-maker” which is married to what seems to be Phillips’s finding of a trade-off between inflation and unemployment. It becomes the role of the macroeconomist to advise the politician on how to minimize social disutility from inflation and unemployment subject to the Phillips Curve. Macroeconomics becomes a so-called “policy science”. Give your expert economist your social utility function, and he will tell you where to slide to on your Phillips Curve.
STRANGER The available instruments being money supply and tax rates. That is what I meant in saying Keynes’s idea became institutionalized.
ATHENIAN It seems to me this consensus is born out of the War.
STRANGER How so?
ATHENIAN Well just think of the structural problems of the time: demobilization of large armies, reconstruction, all the displaced peoples, and so on. What are democratic governments to do? Say to their voters, right, thank you very much, now could you please go home quietly? What could have been expected except an Employment Act? Governments were going to help their returning citizens find work, or at least it would have seemed irresponsible if they had not said they were going to.
STRANGER You are saying then that Friedman may have been arguing against a new orthodoxy, grown out of what might have been a sensible idea.
ATHENIAN Exactly. The world is a very different place now than in 1945, in ‘45 than in ‘33, in ‘33 than in 1914. Real shocks every time. It may be a grave mistake for us to look for a unique and universal theory which is supposed to explain all particular circumstances, all of history.
STRANGER Reminds me of the historical school.
ATHENIAN Why not? Again I hold no prejudice against them! Anyhow, consider that Lucas and others have followed Friedman to argue it is a mistake to formulate the problem as Tinbergen had done, with unemployment as a target in a social utility function along with inflation. If it ought to be assumed that people will not continually make the same mistakes in predicting policy, then a systematic employment policy is going to be discovered quickly enough and rendered either ineffective or counterproductive. This idea too has its origins in Wicksell. Examining an opinion that inflation might stimulate enterprise and free debtors, Wicksell says: “It need only be said that if this fall in the value of money is the result of our own deliberate policy, or indeed can be anticipated and foreseen, then these supposed beneficial effects will never occur, since the approaching rise in prices will be taken into account in all transactions by reasonably intelligent people.”
STRANGER Wicksell said that?
ATHENIAN Precisely that.
STRANGER It does sound very modern.
ATHENIAN Now Lucas speaks of how the advice that economists give should be limited only to “the well understood and empirically substantiated propositions of monetary economics, discouragingly modest as these may be.” What can we take him to mean? It seems to me he is sharing Friedman’s scepticism of the possibilities which had been claimed for macroeconomics by the keynesian consensus. And that surely has been a healthy scepticism, befitting good economists.
STRANGER As I said, there is so often a rush to belief.
ATHENIAN Which is really disastrous when combined with the craving for power.
STRANGER But the question remains, does it not, as to which propositions of monetary economics are to be considered “well understood and empirically substantiated”. I cannot help think the propositions taken to be well understood and empirically substantiated in Chicago may be very different from those taken to be well understood and empirically substantiated in Cambridge, or for that matter, those in the U. S. from those in Europe.
ATHENIAN I don’t see any difficulty in this. For first, it would have been granted there are propositions in economics which can be well understood and empirically substantiated. And that must be counted as progress! For something cannot be well understood if it cannot be understood at all, and where there is the possibility of understanding there must be the possibility of objective knowledge as well. And second, why should we not say the most appropriate task of economic theory or analytical economics is simply one of clarification and elucidation of the conceptual basis of economic thinking and expression? All theory ultimately is, or ought to be, “Critique of Language”. When we are faced with a particular and concrete problematic situation, the theorist is to whom we turn for conceptual guidance and criticism. If instead you take the role of the theorist to be one of searching the universe for grand and general and absolute and abstract truths, which need to be discovered before we can say anything about some concrete set of particulars, then it seems to me you will be either struck dumb by a total and debilitating scepticism or become very shrill in your dogmatism or alternate wildly between the two. To me it seems unimportant ultimately to whose flag one shows allegiance, or indeed that allegiance to any flag must be shown.
STRANGER It seems again I will not disagree. But you have sketched the critique of Friedman and Lucas and indeed the ghost of Wicksell addressed to the dogmas of the keynesian orthodoxy. And I have agreed with you this has been a healthy criticism of the sort we should expect economists to provide. But there has been serious question too of the framework used by Friedman and Lucas, hasn’t there? I am thinking especially of Tobin and Hahn.
ATHENIAN Tobin has done much to add clear and reasonable thinking about Keynes — his suggestion that a certain amount of inflation may be the only way to bring down real wages towards their walrasian rates in complex monetary economics is especially interesting; it shows how wide the common ground can be upon which the debate may occur. But you will have to tell me what Hahn’s criticisms have been. I have always found them too abstract and too caustic.
STRANGER That they tend to be, but don’t let that deter you. As I see it, Hahn argues somewhat as follows. We should grant Friedman and Lucas two important points: first, the government is itself a large economic agent whose actions and announced plans enter the calculations of private agents; secondly, erratic changes in monetary policy away from a steady k% rule may have perverse effects “by confusing signals of relative scarcity with those that arose from the monetary policy”. Also, we may accept that the assumptions sufficient for a full walrasian equilibrium with rational expectations suffice for the absence of any persistent involuntary unemployment by Keynes’s definition. But Hahn would say this may not be the relevant empirical description.
ATHENIAN In what way?
STRANGER Well for one thing the pricing axiom or the recontracting assumption of stability theory remains unexplained. It is possible traders will face quantity constraints, and this often seems so in markets for labour and credit. We may simply find prices not moving in the direction of excess demand even when a quantity constraint happens to be binding. The structure of wages may be “neither fixed, nor arbritrary, nor inflexible; it is what it is because given conjectures, no agent finds it advantageous to change it.” Moreover, it may not be plausible to suppose there will be convergence after arbitrary displacements back towards a stable equilibrium, because the conditions for stability are very stringent and uniqueness of equilibrium may also need to be postulated. Furthermore, it may be quite unsatisfactory to treat money in models which are isomorphic to the Arrow-Debreu model, because in such a world there is no logical use for money, so there must be some essential features of reality which have failed to be features of the model.
ATHENIAN You don’t think Patinkin’s integration was adequate?
STRANGER For many practical purposes perhaps, but certainly not to full logical satisfaction. If you put real money balances into the utility function and treat money just about like any other good, you have to be prepared to accept a possible equilibrium in which the price of money is zero. Lastly, if there are internal debts denominated in money as there are in fact, you may not assume equiproportional changes in all prices will not have real effects, unless you are prepared to assume away redistributions between creditors and debtors, which you can do only under another assumption that all households have parallel and linear Engel curves through the origin. Hahn’s line of argument is admittedly abstract, but you will have to admit it raises some fundamental questions.
ATHENIAN Another example we might say of the healthy scepticism of the theorist. It seems my turn to agree with you. But we can imagine replies too can we not?
STRANGER What do you have in mind?
ATHENIAN Well to argue there can be unemployment which is involuntary is not to have argued that an employment policy can be expected to remove it. This seems a premise and conclusion too frequently confounded by both keynesians and their critics, with disastrous consequences. Then, Buchanan would argue that a more thorough characterization needs to be given of the making of government policy, especially when it is proposed to supplant the market outcome. Policies are after all proposed, enacted, and put into effect by actual people — all of whom may need to be assumed to be pursuing private rewards as well in the course of their public duties. The relevant description for the economist needs to be one including this further fact that actual proposals of public policy can embody the private interests of the proposers too.
STRANGER Making it that much more difficult to determine what is in the public interest in a given case.
ATHENIAN Exactly. And so reinforcing the case for predictability and an orderliness in the framework of government.
STRANGER But we have been talking now for quite long enough my friend. I seem to feel a fear too that we have not gained anything at all in our discussions.
ATHENIAN Don’t be so pessimistic! Surely the point of reconstructing such conversations as we have done is not to hold absolutely to the matters raised in them. You and I after all have been making summary and highly simplified and unauthorized interpretations. I take the point of it to have been clarifying our thoughts, and perhaps to show ourselves how discussion can proceed between economists of different schools of thought. Arguments might come to a halt for any of a number of reasons, but they needn’t be supposed to have any logical or necessary end. Too often we let people retreat into different dogmatic positions, fostering the belief that each is starting from some set of absolute axioms ultimately irreconcilable with those of the other. We may need to keep insisting instead that the pursuit of knowledge and understanding is an open-ended activity with potentially indefinite limits. It yields conclusive results but has no absolute end. You or I might call a halt and retire from it, but that will not mean it cannot or will not continue without us.
STRANGER Perhaps so. But you are younger than I, and I have become tired by all these thrusts and parries. Besides, there has been the enjoyment of conversation itself.”
October 1929? Not! by Subroto Roy / First published in Business Standard September 18, 2008
“Lehman Brothers filing for bankruptcy protection, Merrill Lynch taken over by Bank of America, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and now AIG being nationalised by the US Government, Bear Stearns getting a government bailout, many thousands of low-quality loans going bad … Does it all add up to an American financial crisis in the autumn of 2008 comparable to that in the autumn of 1929? Even Alan Greenspan himself has gone on record on TV saying it might.
But there are overriding differences. Most important, the American economy and the world economy are both incomparably larger today in the value of their capital stock, and there has also been enormous technological progress over eight decades. Accordingly, it would take a much vaster event than the present turbulence — say, something like an exchange of multiple nuclear warheads with Russia causing Manhattan and the City of London to be destroyed — before there was a return to something comparable to the 1929 Crash and the Great Depression that followed.
Besides, the roots of the crises are different. What happened back then? In 1922, the Genoa Currency Conference wanted to correct the main defect of the pre-1914 gold standard, which was freezing the price of gold while failing to stabilise the purchasing power of money. From 1922 until about 1927, Benjamin Strong of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York adopted price-stabilisation as the new American policy-objective. Britain was off the gold standard and the USA remained on it. The USA, as a major creditor nation, saw massive gold inflows which, by traditional gold standard principles, would have caused a massive inflation. Governor Strong invented the process of “sterilisation” of those gold inflows instead and thwarted the rise in domestic dollar prices of goods and services.
Strong’s death in 1928 threw the Federal Reserve System into conflict and intellectual confusion. Dollar stabilisation ended as a policy. Surplus bank money was created on the release of gold that had been previously sterilised.
The traditional balance between bulls and bears in the stock-market was upset. Normally, every seller of stock is a bear and every buyer a bull. Now, amateur investors appeared as bulls attracted by the sudden stock price rises, while bears, who sold securities, failed to place their money into deposit and were instead lured into lending it as call money to brokerages who then fuelled these speculative bulls. As of October 22, 1929 about $4 billion was the extent of such speculative lending when Chase National Bank’s customers called in their money.
Chase National had to follow their instructions, as did other New York banks. New York’s Stock Exchange could hardly respond to a demand for $4 billion at a short notice and collapsed. Within a year, production had fallen by 26 per cent, prices by 14 per cent, personal income by 14 per cent, and the Greatest Depression of recorded history was in progress — involuntary unemployment levels in America reaching 25 per cent.
That is not, by any reading, what we have today. Yes, there has been plenty of bad lending, plenty of duping shareholders and workers and plenty of excessive managerial payoffs. It will all take a large toll, and affect markets across the world.
But it will be a toll relative to our plush comfortable modern standards, not those of 1929-1933. In fact, modern decisionmakers have the obvious advantage that they can look back at history and know what is not to be done. The US and the world economy are resilient enough to ride over even the extra uncertainty arising from the ongoing presidential campaign, and then some.”
America’s divided economists by Subroto Roy First published in Business Standard October 26, 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 the 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.”
Would not a few million new immigrants solve America’s mortgage crisis?
October 10, 2008 — drsubrotoroy | Edit
America was at its best when it was open to mass immigration, and America is at its worst when it treats immigrants with racism and worse (for seeming “uppity”).
All those bad mortgages and foreclosures could vanish within a year or two by playing the demographic card and inviting in a few million new immigrants into the United States. They would pour in from China, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, South America, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Israel, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and yes, Pakistan too, and more. They would happily buy up all those empty houses and apartments, even in all those desolate dismal locations. If the USA’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. But yes, nativist feelings of racism towards the outsider or the newcomer would have to be controlled especially in employment — racists after all are often rather “sub-prime” themselves and hence unable to accept characters who may be “prime” or at least less “sub-prime” from foreign immigrant communities. Restoring a worldwide idea of an American dream fuelled by mass immigration may be the surest way for the American economy to restore itself.
122 Sensible American economists
September 26, 2008 — drsubrotoroy | Edit
“$700 billion comes to more than, uhhhm, $6,000 per income taxpayer in the USA.
I was glad to see the sensible letter of 122 American economists to US legislators regarding the Paulson-Bernanke plan to address America’s financial crisis.
Somehow, I have an inkling that foreign central banks have been left holding more bad US debt than might be remembered — which would explain the embarrassment of Messrs Paulson and Bernanke vis-a-vis their foreign counterparts… Dollar depreciation and an American inflation seem to be inevitable over the next several years.”
$700 billion comes to more than, uhhhm, $6,000 per income taxpayer in the USA.
Somehow, I have an inkling that foreign central banks have been left holding more bad US debt than might be remembered — which would explain the embarrassment of Messrs Paulson and Bernanke vis-a-vis their foreign counterparts… Dollar depreciation and an American inflation seem to be inevitable over the next several years.
Author’s Note July 2007: This was a study done by me 14 years ago when I was an economic consultant in Washington DC, USA. It emerged from but was independent of the work on India’s exports and exchange-rates I had done as a consultant at the International Monetary Fund. It has not been published before though a few pages were published in an ICRIER study in 1994.
An Economic Assessment of India-United States Merchandise Trade
by Subroto Roy1]/
The aim of this study will be to give an economic assessment of the long-run trends in merchandise trade between the United States and India over the period 1962-1992.
Two basic facts have governed the long-run path and pattern of India-United States merchandise trade. One has to do with the relative decline and growth of the Indian and American economies respectively since the Second World War. The other has to do with the trade-regimes which have prevailed in each country.
On the American side, the market-based principles which are supposed to govern the United States economy have been in practice egregiously compromised by American protectionism of the domestic textiles and clothing industries — key sectors in which India and other countries of the subcontinent have held some traditional comparative advantage as exporters in the world economy. On the Indian side, the Indian economy has been egregiously distorted for decades by what can be characterized only as failed economic policies ever since the Second Five Year Plan.
Sections 2-4 briefly describe aspects of this historical and institutional background to the merchandise transactions between the two countries. Section 2 indicates the asymmetry which has come about in the relative positions of India and the United States in the world economy. Section 3 outlines the main features of American protectionism with respect to textiles and clothing. Section 4 outlines the main distortions of the trade and payments regime which has prevailed in India with respect to exports from the United States and other countries.
Sections 5 and 6 then examine the major trends in American imports from India and the major trends in Indian imports from the United States respectively. Section 7 summarizes the findings and raises some questions for policy-discussion.
Tables in the text and the Appendix give the data supporting the thesis of the study. Table 2.1. indicates the local and global sizes of the Indian and other subcontinental economies. Tables 5.1 and 5.2, reproduced from Safadi & Yeats (1993), describe the destination of the subcontinent’s exports and product composition to North America specifically. Table 5.3. describes the nominal and real changes in major Indian exports to the USA from 1962-1991. Table 5.4 and Chart 5.1. describe the changing market-share of India and Pakistan in certain key import-markets in the USA and Britain between 1962-1991. Table 5.5. indicates real growth of the subcontinent’s exports of clothing to major industrial countries in recent years. Tables 6.1-6.3 describe the major trends in American exports to India between 1962-1991 at current prices, while Table 6.4. describes the nominal and real changes in major American exports to India during the period.
Finally, for purposes of future research, Tables A.1 and A.2 in the Appendix give detailed United States Commerce Department data of all India-United States merchandise trade in the current period 1989-1992./
2. Relative Decline and Growth
Since the Second World War, India has drastically declined from moderate to insignificant size as a trading power in the world economy, while the United States has grown to become the predominant national economy in world trade and payments.
India’s precipitous decline can be indicated by a few examples.
In the era 1757-1947 “India was unquestionably one of the great trading nations of Asia”/, indeed of the world economy as a whole. While precise calculations cannot be made of the costs and benefits of British influence in India during this time, it is clear that the Indian economy both gained from British activity in promoting new products, manufactures, investment and infrastructure in the country, as well as lost from iniquitous commercial policies, taxation and imperial charges imposed by the British Government.
Britain was the world’s largest economy and India is reported to have been the single largest destination of British exports./ Germany, the world’s fastest growing economy, received as much as 5 percent of its total imports from India in 1913, and sent 1.5 percent of its exports to India, making India the sixth largest exporter to Germany (after the USA, Russia, Britain, Austria-Hungary and France) and the eighth largest importer from it (after Britain, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France, the USA, Belgium and Italy.)/ Throughout this era, the Indian economy generally showed an export surplus on merchandise account, and an excess demand only for precious metals on capital account.
India’s share of world exports were an estimated 2.5 per cent in 1867/68, 3.4 percent in 1880, 4.1 percent in 1890, 3.7 percent in 1897 and 4 per cent in 1913./ As late as the mid-1950s, just before the onset of the Government of India’s Second Five Year Plan, India could have been still considered a significant trading power with a share of 2 percent of world exports and a rank of 16 in the world economy (following the USA, Britain, West Germany, France, Canada, Belgium, Holland, Japan, Italy, Australia, Sweden, Venezuela, Brazil, Malaya and Switzerland)./
Today the combined shares of India and all other countries of the subcontinent together amount to about 0.8 of 1 percent of world exports, India’s share being 0.54 of 1 percent. As can be seen from Table 2.1, the subcontinent accounts for just 6 percent of Asia’s total exports to the world, of which the Indian economy accounts for about two thirds. By way of comparison, Malaysia on its own accounts for 6.5 percent of Asia’s total exports and almost 0.9 of 1 percent of world exports. More poignant perhaps has been India’s loss of share of manufactured exports relative to other developing countries. Of 11 major developing countries (including Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Israel and Yugoslavia), India’s share of the total manufactured exports of these countries fell from a dominant 65 percent in 1953 to 51 percent in 1960 to 31 percent in 1966 to 10 percent by 1973./
Other indicators of India’s loss of export competitiveness appear in the decline of traditional exports like textile manufactures and tea. India’s textile manufactures were legendary for centuries but have lost ground steadily. As late as 1962-1971, India held an average annual market-share of almost 20 percent of all manufactured textile imports into the United States. This fell to 10 percent in 1972-1981 and to less than 5 percent in 1982-1991. India’s share of Britain’s imports of textile manufactures has fallen from 16 percent in the early 1960s to less than 4 percent in the 1990s. This decline has been due in part to American and European protectionism of domestic textiles, and in part to Indian economic trade and exchange-rate policies.
In case of tea, India and Sri Lanka once dominated world exports but have both lost competitiveness rapidly to other exporting countries, especially Kenya, Indonesia and Malawi. Sri Lanka’s market-share of total British tea imports fell from 11 percent in 1980 to 7 percent in 1991 while India’s share of the same market has fallen even more drastically from 33 percent in 1980 to 17 percent in 1991.
Altogether, India, with the world’s second largest population, has now become the 31st largest exporting country in the world economy. Total Indian exports of $18 billion in 1990 were lower in absolute terms than the exports of China and every newly industrializing country in East and South East Asia; Brazil, Venezuela, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and every country in West Europe and North America except Portugal, Greece and Iceland./ In proportion to India’s great size, the ranking would be far more adverse.
The basic asymmetry in analyzing India-United States trade is indicated by the fact that during the same period as India’s precipitous decline, the United States has grown to become the single largest national economy in the world.
The shares of the United States (and Britain respectively) in world exports were 12 percent (20 percent) in 1880; 14 percent (16 percent) in 1900; 13 percent (15 percent) in 1913; and 12 percent (18 percent) in 1937./ After the Second World War and the decline of the British economy, the United States unambiguously became the world’s predominant national economy. The United States was the keystone of the international monetary system following the Bretton Woods Conference in December 1945. At the same time, American exports accounted for as much as 20 percent of world exports in the 1950s, decreasing to 12 percent by the 1990s following the recoveries of Germany and Japan and the high performances of some East and South East Asian economies./
The growing asymmetry in the positions of India and the United States as exporting economies may be summarized by their respective shares in world exports. The ratio of India’s share in world exports to the U. S. share of world exports was 1:3 as of 1913, which became 1:10 as of 1955, and has become 1:24 as of 1990. Such an asymmetry may be expected to be an implicit factor explaining the course of bilateral economic discussions between the Governments of the two countries, as well as transactions between private parties.
3. American Protectionism in Textiles and Clothing
The second basic fact governing the path and pattern of India-United States trade has had to do with the administration of economic policy in each country.
According to the market-based principles which are supposed to govern the United States economy, American demand for Indian imports would have been driven solely by private sector demand conditions in the U. S. economy. The United States Government would not have been expected to intervene in limiting the value of the potential contracts made between private American importers and private Indian exporters. The main factors affecting American demand-decisions for Indian exports would then have been identified as relative costs, and the preferences and income-levels of American consumers.
That is, by textbook economic principles, the main factors affecting demand-decisions regarding American imports from India would have been identified as:
(a) the cost and quality of an Indian product relative to similar products from alternative suppliers including domestic producers;
(b) the exchange-rate of the Indian rupee with respect to the United States dollar;
(c) the macroeconomic condition of the United States economy.
In practice, volume restrictions imposed by the United States Government to protect domestic producers have been critical factors determining the pattern of exports from India and other developing countries to the United States. This has hit hardest via the so-called “Multi-Fibre Arrangement” (MFA) affecting textiles and clothing, the two key export sectors of India and other countries in the subcontinent.
The roots of this aspect of American protectionism are to be found in the early 1960s, in what was supposed to be a temporary short-term measure to protect the United States textile and clothing industry. Instead of imposing global protective quotas under the GATT with respect to all textile and clothing exporters, the United States (and European Community) chose to discriminate in a country-specific manner against imports of particular products from particular countries. A possible explanation of why global quotas were not used is that while the United States (and Europe) did not want to invite trade conflicts with major trading partners, no similar reluctance was called for with respect to smaller trading partners in the developing world.
Exporters like India and the other countries of subcontinent have had little alternative but “sheer capitulation to far stronger parties in world trade”/. The MFA as administered in practice by importing countries has been so complicated and lacking in transparency that it has made “precise identification of the ex ante effective quotas virtually impossible”./ Divisiveness among the exporting countries has been inevitable, as each exporter has effectively faced in bilateral negotiations something like a large discriminating monopsonist.
The distortions caused by the MFA have been well-recorded as follows:
“The most efficient suppliers always make best use of the prevailing market conditions. The irony of discriminatory protectionism [like the MFA restrictions] is that good performance is punished. When a supplier shows a potential in a market, its most promising products are covered by quotas. Emerging suppliers usually start with a low coverage ratio and utilization rate… If they perform as expected, they soon hit the quota ceilings in those limited goods. They can move into new products, although these will also become subject to restrictions. Growth of quota ceilings do not catch up with the expansion of successful suppliers’ shipments, and product diversification is more than compensated by imposition of restrictions on the merging products. The moral of the story is that it is not only the exporters of the established suppliers who come under binding constraints. The newcomers, who might to some extent benefit from restrictions on the major suppliers, so find themselves pressed; the more successful they are, the faster and tighter they are embraced by the MFA.”/
From the point of view of reforming the system, what may be more significant is that protective volume restrictions imposed by the MFA damage economic efficiency and welfare in the importing country.
The domestic United States textile industry produces very high quality goods, and has the advantage of close integration with domestic sources of raw materials and the domestic market. Free competition with foreign imports would have reduced costs and achieved even higher standards of quality for the benefit of the American consumer. Restrictions on foreign imports in the form of selective quotas have effectively reduced competition and tended to lower quality and raise costs for the American consumer./
In short, although the ultimate sources of demand-decisions for Indian products are private businesses and households in the United States economy, the protection of textiles and clothing has transferred potential benefits from the American consumer in the direction of powerful domestic producer lobbies, and in the process reduced the potential value of imports from India and other countries to the American market.
4. Distortions of India’s Trade and Payments
On the Indian side, Indian demands for the world’s exports have been, until the 1990s, completely determined by the centralized economic regime of the Government, which made only indirect reference to the Indian public. Until the start of the current reforms in 1991, Indian commercial and exchange-rate policy was fundamentally based on the official confiscation of foreign exchange earnings of export and hard currency earning sectors, official licensing of imports, and rationing of foreign exchange disbursements according to official priorities.
The roots of this system are to be found in the import quotas imposed on the Indian economy by the British Government in 1940 to conserve foreign exchange and save shipping space on behalf of Britain’s effort in the Second World War, while control of hard currency expenditures were implemented over the whole Sterling Area. All imports were under direct quantitative control by 1942 on the basis of “essentiality” and non-availability from indigenous sources. War needs over-ruled others, and consumer goods were heavily discriminated against, hence favouring domestic production. In 1945, the British Government took a liberalizing step of placing consumer goods imported from Britain into India on open general license. The Government accepted that “the pattern of post-war trade should not be dictated by perpetuation of controls set up for purely war-time purposes”. In 1946 there was pressure for further liberalization of consumer goods in view of large foreign exchange balances accumulated due to India’s war contributions, and foods and consumer goods were placed on universal open general license. Within months, however, by March 1947, there was an end to liberalized imports, and the importation of gold and 200 “luxury” goods were banned. Only a few “essential” goods remained on the open list./
This experience set the pattern which was followed by the independent governments in India and elsewhere in the subcontinent. Quantitative restrictions on imports and the resulting quantitative exchange-control became primary instruments of Indian commercial policy. Instead of relying on the subtleties of decentralized market flows guided by price-measures like tariffs or exchange-rate changes, economic policy-makers in India and neighbouring countries tended to prefer quantitative actions which could be imposed, reduced or removed by administrative fiat.
With respect to foreign-exchange, from 1940 until when the Indian rupee moved towards market-determination and convertibility on current account in 1992/1993, the general tendency of Indian economic policy-makers was to view the exchange-rate not as an implicit price of the demand for foreign monies relative to domestic money, but as one among a number of administered prices open to be utilized by the Government for its purposes. Foreign exchange earnings of export and other hard-currency earning sectors were confiscated in exchange for Indian rupees at the administered rate, contributing to the thriving parallel foreign exchange market which has been the external trade and payments sector of the large parallel or “black” economy. Gross overvaluation of the rupee may have occurred during this period, contributing to long-term damage to India’s export competitiveness in the world economy.
Foreign exchange obtained from the earnings of exporters were then disbursed by rationing in the following order of precedence: first, to meet the Government’s debt repayments to international organizations and the Government’s expenditures abroad in conduct of its foreign policy like maintenance of embassies and purchase of defence sector imports; secondly, to pay for imports of food, fertilizers and petroleum; thirdly, to pay for imported inputs required by Government-owned firms; fourthly, to pay for import demands of those private firms which had been successful in obtaining import licenses; lastly, to satisfy demands of the public at large for purposes like travel abroad.
For the entire period until the 1990s, India and other countries of the subcontinent have had trade and payments regimes characterized by extensive controls, subsidies, barriers and licensing. Intricate systems of import-licensing based on “essentiality” and “actual user” criteria have been in place in pursuit of generalized import-substitution. In accordance with apparent goals of national economic planning, major industries were nationalized, and these have been leading consumers of imports obtained via administrative rationing of foreign exchange earnings obtained from export sectors. As consumer goods’ imports have been restricted most severely, the predicted consequence has been diversion of the domestic private sector towards production of consumer goods in the large highly protected domestic markets that have resulted, leading to quasi-monopolistic profits and finance of the parallel or “black” economy with its thriving foreign exchange sector. The restriction of consumer goods imports and gold imports has also caused profitable smuggling sectors as well as noticeable corruption in the integrity of customs services./ In sum, the patterns which have emerged of Indian exports to the USA and American exports to India have been determined by decisions made in quite different institutional contexts of the two economies:
— While American demand-decisions for Indian exports have tended to be decentralized and guided by usual factors affecting market demand, these decisions have been egregiously distorted by the protection of the domestic American textile and clothing industries.
— Indian demand-decisions for American exports have been mostly centralized within the agencies and departments of the Government of India, with only indirect reference made to the Indian public.
5. Analysis of United States Imports from India
The traditional exports of the Indian subcontinent were cotton and cotton goods, foodgrains, jute and jute manufactures, leather and tea, with destinations in Europe, Japan, the United States and China./ Today the main export markets for India and the neighbouring economies are the European Community, North America and Japan. Among the main exports have been clothing, textiles, leather goods and agricultural materials. Polished diamonds and petroleum have also become major export sectors in India since the 1980s. Tables 5.1. describes the destination and value of the exports from India and neighbouring economies to the rest of the world. Table 5.2. describes the product composition of exports from India and neighbouring economies to North America specifically./
Focusing on Indian exports to the United States in particular, Tables 5.3.1-5.3.4 describe the nominal and real changes of the four major Indian exports to the United States over the entire period 1962-1991.
In the first ten-year period under consideration, 1962-1971, the dominant Indian export to the United States was textile yarn and fabric (SITC 65). The remaining exports were mainly agricultural products, namely, tea, coffee & spices (SITC 07), fruit and vegetables (SITC 05), sugars (SITC 06), fish and preparations (SITC 03), and crude agricultural matter (SITC 29).
In the next ten years, 1972-1981, this mix was transformed by growth of exports of polished diamonds (SITC 66) and clothing (SITC 84), which along with textile manufactures have dominated Indian exports to the United States ever since. In the most recent decade 1982-1991, the same mix has continued to dominate with the significant addition of petroleum and products (SITC 33), petroleum being the single largest import from India reported by the United States to the U.N. data-base in each year between 1982 and 1985./
Textile manufactures (SITC 65) were the dominant export until 1978 and have been in the top four throughout the period. But there has been steady decline in real terms. The decline has been from an annual average, in constant 1990 U. S. dollars, of $740 million (c.i.f) in 1962-71, to $406 million in 1972-1981, to $285 million in 1982-1991. As indicated by Table 5.4 and Chart 5.1, India has steadily lost market-share in total textile imports into the United States, dominating the market with an average annual market-share of 20 percent in 1962-1971, reduced to 10 percent in 1972-1981, reduced further to less than 5 percent in 1982-1991. The imposition of American quotas has undoubtedly affected this loss in part.
Clothing (SITC 84) during the same period has shown high real growth, going from an annual average, in constant 1990 U. S. dollars, of $7 million in 1962-1971 to $178 million in 1972-1981, to $538 million in 1982-1991. Average annual market-share of total U. S. imports of clothing has gone from 0.10 percent in 1962-1971, to 2.11 percent in 1972-1981, to 2.34 percent in 1982-1991. While this has been small growth from the point of view of the U. S. market, the movement has been large relative to initial conditions from the point of view of Indian exporters. As shown in Table 5.5, there has been large-scale real growth of clothing from all countries of the subcontinent to the major industrial countries especially in the decade 1982-1991. Not only has there been remarkable growth in real terms of clothing exports from the entire region, but there has been relatively higher growth in Pakistan compared to India, and higher growth in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh compared to Pakistan. It is likely that some of the growth from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh has been derived from Indian capital investment in those countries to make use of their allocated quotas in U. S. protectionism. It is possible also that there has been substitution on the part of Indian exporters from textiles towards clothing in response to non-tariff barriers.
Overall, the story of Indian exports to the United States may be summarized by saying that while the long-run product composition has changed over thirty years, it has not done so in ways that had been expected or hoped for by India’s national economic plans. India has not become a major industrial power or even a significant small exporter of industrial goods in the world economy, as had been wished for by the framers of the Second Five Year Plan in the 1950s./
Textile manufactures, clothing, polished diamonds and petroleum account for approximately 70 percent of Indian exports to the United States.
Traditional exports like textiles and tea have seen drastic declines. While it is not clear whether clothing is traditional or non-traditional, there has been remarkable growth in that sector in the 1980s. Petroleum exports were not anticipated in India’s national plans yet dominated the short export boom which seems to have been registered in the early 1980s. Polished diamonds have shown spectacular growth as a result of Indian entrepreneurship at its best; however, value-added is significantly lower in view of the high import value of uncut diamonds imported via Belgium from South Africa. Although these are classified as “gems and jewelry”, to the extent the uses of diamonds have been industrial in the metal-working industries of the main importing countries of the USA, Germany and Japan, future growth of this sector may be affected by, for example, large expected sales of industrial diamonds by the United States Defense Department from strategic reserves held during the Cold War.
6. Analysis of Indian Imports from the United States
We turn next to examine India-United States merchandise trade from the other side.
In view of India’s commercial and exchange-rate policies described in Section 2, diverse factors appear to have affected the Government of India’s demand for American exports, including agricultural fluctuations, the Green Revolution and the state of international political relations.
Tables 6.1-6.3 describe the main trends to be detected in Indian imports from the United States. In the first ten-year period under consideration, 1962-1971, a dominant place in American exports to India was taken by food imports, mainly cereals like wheat, rice and corn (SITC 04). American institutions especially the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations played key roles in the mid 1960s in persuading India’s Food and Agricultural Minister, C. S. Subramaniam, to promote adoption of high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice in selected areas of the country. This went against the advice of most Indian economists at the time/, and in fact against the interests of America’s own farm lobbies as well.
Two direct results of this decision can be noticed in the trade-data reported in Tables 6.1-6.3. As is well-known, India was able to increase domestic food production spectacularly, permitting the reduction of cereal imports from the United States. Instead, India began since the mid-1960s to make large imports from the United States of manufactured fertilizers (SITC 56.2), which remain the single largest American export to India today at three-level SITC. American advice and assistance in stimulating the Green Revolution in India has certainly been a signal achievement of India-United States economic cooperation in the past.
The decline in Indian imports of American cereal in nominal and real terms can be seen in Table 6.4. In constant 1990 US dollars, average annual cereal imports have declined from $630 million in 1962-1971, to $295 million in 1972-1981, to an estimated $160 million in 1982-1991. Although the trend in Indian cereal output has been towards greater self-sufficiency, a random element still appears depending on the vagaries of the monsoon and the Government’s management of the country’s food-stocks. This is indicated by the large surges in cereal imports of 1975, 1976, 1983 and as recently as 1988.
Other than foods, a large component of American exports to India has been machinery and transport equipment, including aircraft and aircraft parts. Table 6.4. indicates that during the 1970s when India-United States political relations were not at their best, a distinct fall in real terms can be discerned of Indian imports of American machinery and transport equipment. Indian quotas for textile imports into the United States also likely suffered from weak political relations at the time.
Since the 1980s, American manufactured exports have started to climb again. In constant 1990 U. S. dollars, average annual imports of American machinery and transport into India was $717 million in 1962-1971, down to $456 million in 1972-1981, rising again to an estimated $673 million in 1982-1991.
The sporadic aspect to some of the Indian demand for American exports may be noticed also in case of the sudden large increases in imports of fixed vegetable oil (SITC 42) between 1977 and 1980, and in imports of cotton fibres (SITC 26) in 1977 and 1979./
In the period 1982-1991, the composition of Indian imports from the United States has seen some change with the growth of scrap iron ore and waste (SITC 28.2); precision instruments (SITC 87.4); pulp and waste paper (SITC 25); crude fertilizers (SITC 27); chemical elements and compounds (SITC 51), and plastics (SITC 58). Along with manufactured fertilizers and machinery and aircraft, these presently dominate United States exports to India.
As reported by the United States Commerce Department, India’s restrictive trade barriers in the past led to many American companies identifying potential export items but simply giving up in the face of quantitative restrictions and steep tariffs. Following the start of the economic reform process in July 1991, the United States has expressed the expectation that greater openness and transparency in the Indian trade-regime will lead to a significant increase in trade and investment. Lower Indian tariff barriers are expected to benefit a number of American exporters who presently face the tariff levels indicated: fertilizers (60 percent); wood products (110 percent); ferrous waste and scrap (85 percent); computers, office machinery and spares (95 percent); soda ash (over 50 percent); heavy equipment spares (80 percent); medical equipment components (40 percent); copper waste and scrap (50 percent); and agricultural products (135 percent).
Economics, when candidly treated, is indeed the dismal science, and any candid assessment of India-United States merchandise trade may have to conclude that there is no compelling reason at present to expect large movement away from past trends.
In the opinion of the author, sources of significant new growth in Indian exports to the United States, and indeed to the rest of the world, do not seem to be easily identifiable./ While small advances may well be made in new sectors by Indian exporters, the great bulk of Indian export earnings from the United States market will continue to be accounted for by textile manufactures (SITC 65), clothing (SITC 84), polished diamonds (SITC 66) and petroleum and products (SITC 33).
Of these, diamonds and petroleum may be expected to face fluctuating demand conditions, while textiles and clothing will continue to face high non-tariff barriers. Given the political strength of the domestic textile and clothing industry in the United States, such a situation may be nearly permanent, or at least no change can be expected in the near future. The fact that the United States remains the single largest trading partner for India, while India in 1992 was the USA’s 36th largest export market (down from 25th in 1986) accounting for less than 1 percent of total American trade and barely 3 percent of American trade with all of Asia, makes it inevitable that a disparity of economic power will affect the course of bilateral economic relations.
Successful commerce depends on intangible quantities like trust, reliable information and contacts between individual contracting parties. The declines in real terms which seem to have occurred in India-United States commerce in the past have led to wastage of this kind of informational capital and commercial trust. American importers and exporters have established new relations with others among India’s competitors in East Asia and Latin America. For Indian entrepreneurship to win back old customers and investors or win new ones will be extremely difficult. The radical changes in Indian economic policy of the last few years have at least reduced Government-imposed barriers towards this — vindicating the tiny minority of critics, starting with Shenoy, who had more or less correctly diagnosed the folly of India’s economic policies now abandoned. As in Kalidasa’s story of the man cutting the branch of the tree on which he sits, the cutting at least appears to have ceased for the time being.
From the point of view of American exporters to India, prospects may seem more promising in view of the breakthrough which has been achieved in Indian economic policy-thinking in the last few years. The large potential scope for expansion of India-United States trade depends squarely on (a) the deepening of Indian reforms; and (b) removal of the egregious American protectionism in textiles and clothing.
American exports to an enormous market-based Indian economy founded on principles of private property and free exchange, with democratic political institutions and an open society (and assuming political stability), will come to depend eventually on the price and quality of American products and the income-levels of Indian importers. But these ultimate factors can only be improved by the growth of Indian exports in turn. Large-scale real growth of exports from India are necessary not only if the Indian market is to generate effective demand for foreign imports, but even to finance the large external borrowings on capital account on which the entire adjustment depends. It is in such a context that the constraints on Indian textiles and clothing exports imposed by powerful domestic producer interests in the importing economies have to be seen.
The most promising source of export earnings for India may be in fact via a multilateral forum if there could be a successful completion of the Uruguay Round trade talks. It has been estimated that with a 30 percent reduction in tariffs and non-tariff barriers in the USA, Europe and Japan, India’s exports to these markets would grow by more than $1.8 billion over the actual 1991 exports of $5.6 billion. With a 50 percent liberalization, the growth would be almost $3 billion more than the actual 1991 figure./
Although completion of the Uruguay Round itself may be a subject of wishful thinking, Indian external economic policy would be well-advised to base itself on the principle of increased world trade and access to markets, including reduction of barriers to movement of capital and labour.
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Bhagwati, Jagdish & Padma Desai (1970) India: Planning for Industrialization, OECD, Paris.
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/ …..The author is a consultant economist in the Washington area. His publications include Philosophy of Economics (Routledge 1989), and (co-edited with W. E. James), Foundations of India’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s and Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s (Delhi & Karachi: Sage & OUP 1992). Correspondence may be addressed to…. Va. 22209.
/ John Maynard Keynes’s description of the Versailles Conference is perhaps the most graphic picture of America’s rise to predominance over Europe since the end of the First World War: “[T]he realities of power were in [President Woodrow Wilson’s] hands. The American armies were at the height of their numbers, discipline, and equipment. Europe was in complete dependence on the food supplies of the United States; and financially she was even more absolutely at her mercy. Europe not only already owed the United States more than she could pay; but only a large measure of further assistance could save her from starvation and bankruptcy.” Keynes (1920, p.38).
/ On the economic costs incurred by importing countries from protecting their domestic textile sectors from import competition, see for example Erzan et al (1989), Cline (1987), Hamilton (1988), Hufbauer et al (1986), and Tarr & Morkre (1984).
/ The multiple distortions of domestic and external sectors of the economy caused by these procedures have been documented and analyzed by a number of observers. Early advocacy of liberal economic policies and a market-determined rate for the rupee came from Shenoy (1955) and Friedman (1992). The treatment of B. R. Shenoy, as a result of his prescient and singular critique of conventional majority-views at the time, remains a permanent disgrace upon the Indian economics profession. Friedman’s statement was similarly neglected, and remained unpublished and undiscussed among Indian economists from 1955 to 1992. Later advocates of similar positions include Bhagwati & Desai (1970); Bhagwati & Srinivasan (1975) and Roy (1984). See also Desai (1991), Srinivasan (1992), and Roy (1993).
/ Chaudhuri (1982). Britain (23.5 per cent of total value), Japan (10.8 per cent), the United States (9.4 per cent), Germany (6.5 per cent), China (6.0 per cent) and France (5.0 per cent). The value composition of exports was: raw cotton (21.0 percent), cotton goods (1.6 percent), foodgrains (13.5 percent), raw jute (5.8 per cent), manufactured jute goods (14.5 per cent), hides and skins (8.1 per cent) and tea (10.7 per cent). All figures for 1930-1931.
/ Tables 5.1 and 5.2 are reproduced from Safadi & Yeats (1993) with the kind permission of the authors.
/ A discrepancy exists in the data as Indian data to the UN do not report any exports of petroleum to the USA or France in these years, when both the USA and France report receiving such imports as the top import from India. It is possible for an exporter to export without knowing the final destination of a product.
The author has not been able to determine if India’s petroleum exports were of crude oil, e.g. because of lack of refining capacity in India; or of non-crude classified as SITC 33.4. The United States Embassy in New Delhi in the mid 1980s suggested the former; latest U. S. Department of Commerce data suggest the latter.
/ Developing countries among the world’s 25 largest exporters of high-tech manufactured goods as of 1988, with their share of world high-tech exports and value of high-tech exports were: Taiwan (3.2 percent, $16.6 million); Korea (2.9 percent, $14.7 million.); Singapore (2.4 percent, $12.5 million.); Hong Kong (1.6 percent, $8.4 million.); Mexico (1.4 percent, $7 million.); Malaysia (1.2 percent, $6 million.); China (1.1 percent, $5.4 million.); Brazil (0.6 percent; $3 million.); Thailand (0.4 percent; $1.9 million.); from Braga & Yeats (1992, p.29).
/ See Hopper (1978) for an eyewitness account of how Subramaniam was prevailed upon to go against the advice of his advisers, which he did, leading to the largest seed transfer in history of 18,000 tons from Mexico to India. Also Sims (1988, p. 38).
/ The prediction made in Roy (1990) of an export boom following economic reforms has proven to be erroneous, in spite of the progress made in changing the broad direction of Indian economic policy. This was a memorandum dated October 26 1990 written at the invitation of the late Rajiv Gandhi then Leader of the Opposition, which contributed to the Congress Party’s economic manifesto in 1991. Mr. P. Chidambaram, former Commerce Minister in the Narasimha Rao Government, received the memorandum in hand from Mr. Gandhi in late October 1990. He has recently said that the economic reform program “was not miraculous” but was in fact based on the rewriting of the Congress manifesto when the Congress Party was in Opposition. “We were ready when we came back to power in 1991”. News India April 30 1993, p. 33.
/ World Bank (1992, Appendix C2, p.52). Safadi & Yeats (1993) estimate that India may have lower exports to North America by up to $17 million dollars from trade-diversion towards Mexico as a result of the North American Free Trade Association. They affirm the overwhelming importance for India of the gains from the Uruguay Round in response to regionalism.