Sunday, November 30, 2008

Changing rules of dharma

Speaking of the global financial crisis, Sonia Gandhi recently applauded Indira Gandhi’s bank nationalization of 1969, saying that it had given India ‘stability and resilience’. Like the Bourbons of France our political class neither learns nor forgets anything. I don’t think Sonia Gandhi realizes quite what she was saying. India’s bank nationalization delivered neither growth nor equity. Any public sector bank manager will tell you how loans were diverted to friends of politicians rather than to commercially deserving farmers. Bad debts of banks rose alarmingly in the 1980s and moral hazards persist.

Indira Gandhi drew us further away from world trade, raised tariffs and taxes, and made us one of the world’s worst performing economies from 1966 to 1989. Industrial growth plunged to 4% a year vs. 7.7 % in 1951-1965. Manufacturing productivity declined half a per cent a year. Rakesh Mohan estimates that her mistakes cost the nation 1.3 per cent lower GDP per capita per year—meaning that our income would have been more than double today. I don’t blame Nehru for adopting the wrong economic model as socialism was the wisdom of his age; I blame Indira for not reversing course as sensible countries in East and Southeast Asia did. Even China changed in 1978, but we had to wait till 1991. She multiplied by zero and put us back by a generation.

But let’s not dwell on the past. India is in the midst of a dire crisis and we don’t seem to realize how much we are hurting. Panic has choked credit worldwide. Our economy is slowing pitifully. Exports are collapsing. Banks have stopped lending. Construction has come to a halt. Fear has taken over, and people are not buying (except mobile phones). As demand shrinks, so do revenues and profits of companies. Investment has stopped and lakhs in textiles and construction are out of work.

The Mahabharata points out that rules of dharma change in times of crisis when one is forced to observe apad-dharma. Paradoxically, defending capitalism requires state intervention. History teaches that decisive government action can stem the pain. If Lehman had been bailed out the world might not have gone over the cliff. But once normal times return governments must sell off the banks that they had bailed out and not leave them as cash cows for politicians, like our public sector banks.

The quickest way to restore confidence is to further cut interest rates, CRR and SLR, and recapitalize banks. Today’s rates are still too high. Since oil and commodity prices have plunged, the risk of inflation has receded. As property prices decline, and as old mortgage terms become available, people will begin to buy the homes they postponed when interest rates rose. When people buy houses, they give jobs to millions. The same goes for other sectors. Consumer spending will raise demand, restore production, and lead to investment. There is a currency risk in this strategy, of course, but the risk of deflation is greater.

Of course, we should spend massively in infrastructure, but the trouble is that even the current programs are not moving. World Bank has threatened to withdraw funding from highway projects. 234 out of 515 Central projects are delayed. Hence, public spending wont work when speed is of the essence. The saving grace is that we have been accidentally ‘pump priming’ via the rural employment guarantee scheme and loan waivers. What we must not do is to close borders no matter how much local industry clamours for protection. In the 1930s every country tried to protect its own industry. World trade declined 60% between 1929 and 1932 and this caused a worldwide depression. We must do everything to protect the fruits of globalization which has lifted millions out of absolute poverty over the past 20 years. No one can predict when the present crisis will be over. Things could get much worse, meanwhile, but capitalism will eventually correct itself.


Baiju Elikkattoor said...

"We must do everything to protect the fruits of globalization which has lifted millions out of absolute poverty over the past 20 years."

Sir, could please explain why around two lac odd farmers of our country reported to have found solaze in suicide had million been lifted out of absolute poverty by the fruits of globalisaton?

Anshul said...

Excellent anaysis......great work once again

If the collapse of one I-BANK(Lehman Bros.) can bring havoc in the financial markets across the world...what repurcussion the failure of bail-out plan for the Big-3 of Detroit can possibly have across various industries, I think, is something beyond imagination.
Sir,could you please write something about it in the light of the flip side of globalization...

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madhan said...

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Anonymous said...

I will never look at Indira Gandhi the same way again..........Thanks. said...

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Anonymous said...

You just deleted the comments I posted yesterday. I see everyone on the capitalism side is a vaishya including you.

Anonymous said...

yes capitalism will correct itself, at the expense of innocent hard working people and the miscreant's go Scott free. Only the fruits of capitalism are seen not the ones who get dislodged.Hence Hitler was superior mind who prevented free riding in the society.These aberrations are caused by the jewish minds.

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