BERITA INDIA

Growth & Government Delusion

Growth & Government Delusion: Progress Comes From Learning, Enterprise, Exchange, Not The Parasitic StateBy Subroto Royfirst published in The Statesman, Editorial Page special article,
February 22 2008, http://www.thestatesman.net
P Chidambaram, Montek Ahluwalia and Manmohan Singh, like their BJP predecessors, delude themselves and the country as a whole when they claim responsibility for phenomenal economic growth taking place. “My goal is to continue to maintain growth but at the same time the government reserves the right to make rapid adjustments depending upon the evolving international situation” is a typical piece of nonsensical waffle.Honest Finance Ministers in any country cannot take personal responsibility for rates of economic growth nor is any government in the world nimble, well-informed and intelligent enough to respond to exogenous shocks in a timely manner. The UPA and NDA blaming one another for low growth or taking credit for high growth merely reveal the crude mis-education of their pretentious TV economists. There are far too many measurement and data problems as well as lead-and-lag problems for any credibility to attach to what is said.Per capita real GDPIndian businessmen and their politician/ bureaucratic friends seem to think “growth” refers to nominal earnings before tax for the corporate sector, or some such number that can be sold to visiting foreigners to induce them to park their money in India: “You will get a 10 per cent return if you invest in India” to which the visitor says “Oh that must mean India has 10 per cent growth going on”. Of such nonsense are expensive Davos and Delhi conferences made.What is supposed to be measured when we speak of economic growth? It is annual growth of per capita inflation-adjusted Gross Domestic Product (National Income or Net National Product would be better if available). West Germany and Japan had the highest annual per capita real GDP growth-rates in the world starting from devastated post-War initial conditions. What were their rates? West Germany: 6.6 per cent in 1950-1960, falling to 3.5 per cent by 1960-1970, and 2.4 per cent by 1970-1978. Japan: 6.8 per cent in 1952-1960; 9.4 per cent in 1960-1970, 3.8 per cent in 1970-1978. Thus, only Japan in the 1960s measured more than 9 per cent annual growth of real per capita GDP.Now India and China are said to be achieving 9 per cent plus routinely. Perhaps we are observing an incredible phenomenon of world economic history. Or perhaps we are just being fed something incredible, some humbug. India’s population is growing at 2 per cent so even if the Government’s number of 9 per cent is taken at face-value, we have to subtract 2 per cent population growth to get per capita figures. Typical official fallacies include thinking clever bureaucratic use of astronomically high savings rates causes growth. For example, Meghnad Desai of Britain’s Labour Party says: “China now has 10.4 per cent growth on a 44 per cent savings rate… ” Indian savings have been alleged near 32 per cent. What has been mismeasured as high savings is actually paper expansion of bank-deposits in a fractional reserve banking system induced by runaway government deficit-spending in both countries.Real economic growth arises from spontaneous technological progress, improved productivity and learning-by-doing of the general population. World economic history suggests growth occurs in spite of, rather than due to, behaviour of an often parasitic State. Technological progress in a myriad of ways and discovery of new resources are important factors contributing to India’s growth today. But while the “real” economy does well, the “nominal” paper-money economy controlled by Government does not.Continuous deficit financing for half a century has led to exponential growth of public debt and broad money. The vast growth of bank-deposits has been misinterpreted as indicating unusual savings behaviour when it in fact signals vast government debt being held by nationalised banks. What Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia,Manmohan Singh, the BJP et al have been presiding over is annual paper-money supply growth of 22 per cent! That is what they should be taking honest responsibility for because it certainly implies double-digit inflation (i.e. decline in the value of paper-money) perhaps as high as 14 or 15 per cent. If you believe Government numbers that inflationis near 5 per cent you may believe anything.The mainsprings of real growth in the wealth of the individual, and so of the nation, are greater practical learning, increases in capital resources and improvements in technology. Deeper skills and improved dexterity cause output produced with fewer inputs than before, i.e. greater productivity. Adam Smith said there is “invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many”.Consider a real life example. A fresh engineering graduate knows dynamometers are needed in testing and performance-certification of diesel engines. He strips open a meter, finds out how it works, asks engine manufacturers what design improvements they want to see, whether they will buy from him if he can make the improvement. He finds out prices and properties of machine tools needed and wages paid currently to skilled labour, calculates expected revenues and costs, and finally tries to persuade a bank of his production plans, promising to repay loans from his returns.Overcoming restrictions of religion or caste, the secular agent is spurred by expectation of future gains to approach various others with offers of contract, and so organize their efforts into one. If all his offers ~ to creditors, labour, suppliers ~ are accepted he is, for the moment, in business. He may not be for long ~ but if he succeeds his actions will have caused an improvement in design of dynamometers and a reduction in the cost of diesel engines, as well as an increase in the economy’s produced means of production (its capital stock) and in the value of contracts made. His creditors are more confident of his ability to repay, his buyers of his product quality, he himself knows more of his workers’ skills, etc. If these people enter a second and then a third and fourth set of contracts, the increase in mutual trust in coming to agreement will quickly decline in relation to the increased output of capital goods. The first source of increasing returns to scale in production, and hence the mainspring of real economic growth, arises from the successful completion of exchange.Risk and enterpriseTransforming inputs into outputs necessarily takes time, and it is for that time the innovator or entrepreneur or “capitalist” or “adventurer” must persuade his creditors to trust him, whether bankers who have lent him capital or workers who have lent him labour. The essence of the enterprise (or “firm”) he tries to get underway consists of no more than the set of contracts he has entered into with the various others, his position being unique because he is the only one to know who all the others happen to be at the same time. In terms introduced by Professor Frank Hahn, the entrepreneur transforms himself from being “anonymous” to being “named” in the eyes of others, while also finding out qualities attaching to the names of those encountered in commerce.Profits earned are partly a measure of the entrepreneur’s success in this simultaneous process of discovery and advertisement. Another potential entrepreneur, fresh from engineering college, may soon pursue the pioneer’s success and start displacing his product in the market ~ eventually chasers become pioneers and then get chased themselves, and a process of dynamic competition would be underway. As it unfolds, anonymous and obscure graduates from engineering colleges become by dint of their efforts and a little luck, named and reputable firms and perhaps founders of industrial families. Multiply this simple story many times, with a few million different entrepreneurs and hundreds of thousands of different goods and services, and we shall be witnessing India’s actual Industrial Revolution, not the fake promise of it from self-seeking politicians and bureaucrats.    

A Note on the Indian Policy Process

During the University of Hawaii perestroika-for-India project two decades ago, I had wished to attract Sukhamoy Chakravarty from Delhi. He very kindly met me on July 14 1987 and presented me his last personal signed copy of the famous RBI report his committee had chaired. He said he could not come to Hawaii because of ill health but he strongly recommended I take C. Rangarajan instead because, he said, Dr Rangarajan was the main author of the report. I met Dr Rangarajan in Kolkata at Jadavpur University where he was giving a speech in his role as President of the Indian Economic Society that year. Later in correspondence, he wrote to say he was over-committed but that if I took Amaresh Bagchi instead, he would help co-author Bagchi’s contribution to our project. So I commissioned Amaresh Bagchi, then Director of New Delhi’s National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.In my next project-related visit to Delhi in December 1988, I met Amaresh Bagchi personally for the first time; he was about to retire or had already done so. He told me he knew my name from the fact the High Commission of India in London had sent the Finance Ministry in Delhi the May 29 1984 lead editorial of The Times of London on my work which had been very critical of Indian economic policy; Bagchi had been at the time in the Finance Ministry, and, as an old sarkari statist, had naturally taken exception to what I had said by way of liberal criticism. He wished to co-write his contribution for our Hawaii project with a young colleague of his; I declined permission for him to do that and told him our understanding was that Dr Rangarajan would be writing with him.In any case, in May 1989, Amaresh was the first person to reach Honolulu in the team we had put together for the project, arriving early by several days. He was all alone and seemed miserable, so I took him to the supermarket and later invited him to dine with my small family at our home at Punahou Towers, 1621 Dole Street. It pleased him to eat some home-cooked Indian food, and he warmed slightly. He told me he had joined the Government as a bureaucrat in the income tax department and later acquired a doctoral degree in economics, though I did not get a sense that he was familiar with traditional public finance of the sort in Richard Musgrave’s classic textbook. I gifted him a copy of James Buchanan’s lectures that I had put together when Professor Buchanan had visited the University of Hawaii at my invitation in 1988 and which the University had then published with a preface by myself. He remarked he found it terrible that American supermarkets had all this canned pet food when the world was so hungry. Later I invited him to a larger dinner party again at my home before the conference began.At the conference itself, I placed him next to Milton Friedman, which some said was a master-stroke. There was a long and somewhat heated interchange between him and TN Srinivasan, though not with Milton, as Milton was, as always, invariably polite, patient and clear-headed in argument for the two days that he stayed.The chapter Amaresh Bagchi wrote for us in the book Foundations of India’s Political Economy, edited by myself and WE James, was useful as practically the only statement until that time on the fiscal-induced monetary weakness of India (that still continues today, indeed may have gotten worse since). It contributed to placing him in the policy-limelight in his post-retirement years. Dr Rangarajan was not a co-author after all but apparently contributed the most important paragraphs on the subject. (We have been trying for almost a year now to get the University of Hawaii to allow free republication of the book on the Internet; the original publisher, now dead, reneged on a promise to produce a paperback edition after there was leftist academic pressure on him in Delhi.)I gave a copy of our book to Manmohan Singh when I met him and his senior aides in September 1993 in Washington at the Indian Ambassador’s Residence; I was introduced to Dr Singh by the then Ambassador of India SS Ray as the person on whose laptop computer the 1991 economic reform had been designed for Rajiv Gandhi during Rajiv’s last months, a statement accurate enough as has been told elsewhere. (Dr Singh had 20 years earlier kindly visited our then-home in Paris at the invitation of my father who knew him, to advise me about economics just before I headed to the London School of Economics as an 18 year old freshman, but both he and I had forgotten that earlier meeting.)Today’s newspapers report Amaresh Bagchi’s passing and say that “When (Manmohan) Singh was finance minister in the early 1990s, Bagchi was one of his key advisers on fiscal policy”. Dr Singh has described Bagchi as “one of our most distinguished fiscal policy experts” and said “It is no exaggeration to state that Amaresh has been associated with almost every major fiscal policy reform in the past 30 years”.I am afraid I disagree with the Prime Minister of India in that I do not see any “major fiscal policy reform” having taken place at all in India, just a lot of unsystematic tinkering here and there. The root cause has been the failure to face or want to comprehend the extremely dismal state of government and public sector accounts throughout the country. Without proper government accounting, there can be neither accountability nor any serious fiscal policy, and hence no serious monetary or macroeconomic policy either.

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