Skip to main content

Industry in India "barely growing", export growth 0%, whither moral anchors?

Prof Kaushik Basu (middle) with Kumaramangalam Birla, Errol D'Souza 
Counterview Desk
In a sharp critique of the Modi government, the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A), one of world renowned economist Prof Kaushik Basu, who is Professor of Economics and Carl Marks Professor of International Studies at Cornell University, has told students at the IIM-A’s 54th Annual Convocation on March 16, 2019 that they have a “special responsibility” on their shoulders, “the responsibility to reject narrow sectarianism, uphold scientific thinking, openness to new ideas, and freedom of speech.”
Without naming Modi, Prof Basu regretted, under him professionalism and morality in managing the economy are taking backseat, leading to such decisions as demonetization and manipulation of economic growth data. In sharp contrast, he praised former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for showing extraordinary degree of professionalism in revamping the economy in 1991.
Recalling his years of working as chief economic adviser under Dr Singh post-2009, Prof Basu -- flanked by IIM-A director Prof Errol D’Souza, and Kamaramangalam Birla, IIM-A chairman, who called him "one of India’s most illustrious economists" -- said, India was then known for its “quality and integrity of its statistical system” among World Bank circles as also top economists like Nobel laureate Angus Deaton – something it may lose now.

Excerpts:

I have, over the years, become convinced that reasoning is the most under-utilized of human faculties. Read some of the discussions and commentary on social media, and listen to television debates, and you will wonder where reason has vanished. This is a telling commentary on education and explains why we make so many policy mistakes.
Within economics game theory illustrates the power of good reasoning. One important axiom of game theory asserts: It is not good enough to be rational yourself. You must recognize that others are likely to be rational too and take that into account.
Policy mistakes, such as the demonetization, which has hurt India’s growth, would not have occurred if there were policymakers that paid heed to this simple axiom. For every policy, you have to anticipate how ordinary individuals and also bureaucrats will respond. That is the key to designing successful policy mechanisms.
How good, professional reasoning is critical for good policymaking is illustrated well with India’s foreign exchange reserve story. For more than 20 years, till 1991, India’s foreign exchange reserves used to be roughly 5 billion dollars. The years 1991 to 1993 India saw some of the most far-reaching and well-designed reforms ever undertaken.
Those were the reforms that changed India’s growth story. One of the policy changes pertains to foreign exchange reserves. For a long time, the government’s belief was that since we have so little foreign exchange, we must not let people take foreign exchange out of the country. What this missed out on was not realizing that if you don’t allow people to take foreign exchange out, they will not bring foreign exchange in.
This logic led to the conclusion that you have to make it easier for people to take foreign exchange out of the country to increase the amount of foreign exchange in the country. This was part of the policy reform package of 1991-93. The benefit was magical. The foreign exchange reserve which used to be roughly 5 billion dollars for 20 years, rose in the next 20 years to nearly 300 billion dollars. It was professionalism with fine reasoning that led to this huge success.
Traditional economics talks a lot about profit-motive and individual rationality. What is often forgotten but is actually as important for a society’s long run success is morality. Morals and trust provide the nuts and bolts of society. Without those you can get short run success but not long-run development.
In 2009, when I was Chairman of Cornell’s Department of Economics, and taking a vacation in India, I got an unexpected phone call from the Prime Minister’s office. The caller, a Joint Secretary, quickly got to the point. Dr Manmohan Singh wanted to know if I would consider being the Chief Economic Adviser to his government.
The following day, after I met Dr Manmohan Singh and had a wonderful meeting, I made a vow. I told myself that, since my life till then had been one of pure indulgence, that of the joys of research, if I were to wean myself away from that, I must do so with only one purpose, that of serving society. That is what I tried to do during the 7 years I worked as a policymaker – 3 years with the Indian Government and 4 with the World Bank. Looking back, I feel better.
In the rough and tumble of everyday life, in trying to be successful at any cost, many people push aside all morality. We see this among politicians, who try to win elections at all cost; we see this among business persons, who try to earn more profit at all cost. This is the cause of many of society’s woes. Indeed, for long-run success of a society, it is essential to have these moral anchors.
Let me briefly turn to India’s economy to illustrate some of these arguments. There are unmistakable signs of India’s economy slowing down over the last few years. The latest data on industrial growth, pertaining to January 2019, shows that India’s industry is barely growing, with the growth rate down to 1.7%.In the year 2017-18 India’s exports were a little less than what the country exported in 2013-14, which means virtually 0% growth in exports on average for 4 years, which has rarely happened in the past.
What is happening to overall growth? The official data shows that GDP growth in the last quarter has gone down. And there are analysts, such as Arun Kumar, in Caravan magazine, arguing that growth is even lower because the unorganized sector for which we do not have proper data shows signs of a massive slowdown.
Further, the agricultural sector is in recession, and the farmers feel neglected. The most worrying is the jobs situation. If you put together all the piecemeal data coming in, it is clear that our workers are suffering greatly, with unemployment rate at over 7%, according to the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy, and youth unemployment at 16%, as per a study by Azim Premji University. It is unfortunate that data on unemployment are being held back.
The concern about this, expressed recently by 108 leading economists, is a genuine concern. When I was Chief Economist of the World Bank, it was always good to see that India stood out, not just among emerging economies but all countries, for the quality and integrity of its statistical system.
The Nobel prize-winner, Angus Deaton, in an article with Valerie Kozel in 2005, gave India tribute for its pioneering statistical work. He mentioned how India’s “NSSO surveys, pioneered by Mahalanobis in the 1940s and 1950s, were the world’s first … household surveys to apply the principles of random sampling.” We must take care not to damage this reputation. None of all this is necessary. India’s fundamentals are strong and we should be doing much better.
The two reasons why this is happening are a shortage of professionalism and a disproportionate focus on big businesses and their interests. The first pertains to reason and the second to morals. Professionalism means policymaking based on data and reasoning. The economy is too complex to be handled by hunch and gut feeling. Passion is important but you cannot have exports booming, jobs being created by passion alone. Expertise and professionalism are critical.
Make no mistake. Business and enterprise are important. Big business is also a fact of today’s world and technology. But in trying to nurture business and enterprise we must not neglect the poor and the unorganized sector. India is still largely an agricultural nation and it is sad to see this major sector suffering.
India’s is a remarkable history. Around the time that we got independence, several nations – in Asia, in Africa, in the Americas – also gained independence. Many of these nations wanted to be open and democratic. It is an amazing fact of history that the only new nation from that time that has managed to hold on to democracy, secularism, and free speech, for all this time, is India.
We were lucky to have open-minded founding fathers, like Gandhi and Nehru, and thinkers with global humanity, like Tagore. They had their own struggles but in the end they strove to build a nation that was open to all religions, all races and tried to banish divisions of caste and gender.
Did India do right by holding on to democracy, secularism, free speech and quality higher education so early? I do not have a definite answer. But I do know that nations like the United States by holding onto these qualities did phenomenally well in the long-run. In the early 20th century, Argentina and United States stood neck to neck in terms of economic status.
My point is simple, whether or not the early investment in democracy, secularism, free speech and higher education was right, having made these investments, we must not fall into the trap of narrow-minded group identities, and begin to imitate nations that do not value these qualities, and make ourselves in the image of those nations.
On February 8, 1994, on the occasion of receiving the Indira Gandhi Prize, Vaclav Havel, Czechoslovakia’s great revolutionary and, later, president, spoke about his admiration for India and its founding fathers. And how India’s victory “was a great victory for the ideas of nonviolence, tolerance, coexistence, and understanding.”
He went on say, “I am convinced that the creation of multicultural civilization I have talked about, the creation of conditions based on mutual respect and tolerance of different cultures … will always find one of the important sources of its vitality in Gandhi’s work.”
India commands a huge global respect for its polity of openness and tolerance. There are forces at work in the country that want to destroy this and make us in the image of failed nations.
---
To eead full speech click HERE

Comments

TRENDING

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

'Blatant violation' of law by Central government in making NREGA payments

By Our Representative  In September third week, NREGA workers across the country were mobilised for two day so raise their issues and submit a memorandum to the Prime Minister. Organised the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha (NSM), a collective of groups that work with NREGA labourers across the country, workers from 13 states -- Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal -- carried out Kaam Do Abhiyaan, staging demonstrations and rallies against what they called blatant violation of law by the Central government in making NREGA payments. While NREGA has had very positive impacts, it has lately become fruitless, exploiting labour, even though workers who have put in honest hard work have to wait for their wages endlessly, it was suggested.  In such a situation, there is a need to firm up NREGA implementation and end systematic corruption to ensure that workers get their basic NREGA entit

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Fascism on prowl? Religious meet 'deeply pained' at silence of Church, bishops, priests

Counterview Desk  The ‘Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace’which held its 17th National Convention at the Montfort Social Institute, Hyderabad, Telangana from 22 to 24 September 2022 on the theme “Deepening our Identity as Religious: Responding to the Signs of the Times”, has expressed concern “at the deteriorating situation of our nation on every front”, especially stating, “Fascism seems to have come to stay” in India. At the same time, the convention, which took place with the participation of 60 persons from 16 states representing 20 religious congregations, in its unanimously-adopted statement added, “We have reached abysmal depths on every parameter: be it social, economic and political”, underlining, “The poor in India become poorer every day; the rich and powerful continue to profiteer at their expense and amass scandalous amounts of wealth.” Text: We, members (63 women and men Religious, from 16 states representing 20 Congregations) of the Forum of Religious for Justice

Rajasthan cops 'halt' Gujarat Dalit women's rally: homage to untouchability victim boy

By Our Representative  In a surprise move, the Rajasthan police stopped a Dalit women's rally from Gujarat on the borders after it crossed Gujarat alleging that it would "disturb peace" in village Surana, Jalore district, where the gruesome incident of death of a Dalit boy took place on August 13 after he was brutally beaten up by his teacher on touching the drinking water pot. Sources said, while the Gujarat government had "no objection" in allowing the rally, which originated from the Dalit Shakti Kendra (DSK), an empowerment-cut-technical institute for teens founded by human rights leader Martin Macwan, on September 24 morning, the Rajasthan police stopped it for two and a half hours before allowing it to proceed to Surana. The decision to take out a women's rally was taken at a DSK meeting on September 5 following a condolence meeting of the NGO Navsarjan Trust, also founded by Macwan, activists committed to work against caste-based discrimination, orga

Introducing non-native cheetahs is 'not equivalent' to restoring pride in the nation

By Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay*  The Cheetahs from the African continent has finally been introduced to India by the Indian Prime Minister on his 72nd birthday. The process had started with the previous Government in 2009. However, the Supreme Court clearance was pending owing to the objection by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) plea to reintroduce cheetahs. Finally the clearance was obtained in January 2020 and thereafter Kuno National Park (KNP) was chosen for the reintroduction of first set of Southeast African Cheetahs. In the near future, depending upon the success story of the current reintroduction, more cheetahs from South Africa may also be introduced. This exercise has generated a lot of interest among various stakeholders with opinions on both sides galore. It is important to pose some questions that surround the whole exercise. Let us evaluate some of these arguments. The first set of arguments are quite detached from the issues of conservation as they most

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.