Jost Zetzsche Tool Kit

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dreaming of Swatantra by Niranjan Rajadhyaksha

The article with the title "Dreaming of Swatantra" was forwarded to me by my friend Chandrasekhar. It raises an interesting question about the now defunct Swtantra Party founded by Rajai, Masani amd Ranga recently in 1959. First let us go to the article reproduced here in bold italics.

Modern India's only stab at a successful liberal party started in August 1959; the Swatantra Party would have entered its 50th year this month, if it had survived as a national political force

(Cafe Economics | Niranjan Rajadhyaksha)

Nobel laureate Amartya Sen — who is not a free-market liberal — has spoken on how contemporary India needs a right-wing political party that is both secular and committed to an open economy. This is a good time to go back to the issue, for two reasons. First, we have seen how economic reforms were blocked by the Left to begin with and have now been hijacked by the crony capitalism of the Samajwadi Party. Second, modern India's only stab at a successful liberal party started in August 1959; the Swatantra Party would have entered its 50th year this month, if it had survived as a national political force.

Countries with low levels of trust and high levels of corruption tend to be more wary of free market capitalism
Fifteen years of high growth, thanks to economic reforms, should have created a strong political base for liberal party. It hasn't. I am often surprised at how even people who have benefited from economic reforms still believe that the government should control prices to beat inflation or that companies are making too much profit at the cost of society. Is it any wonder that no party is ready to face the electorate with a free market agenda?

The interesting question is why this happens. The answer involves more than political failure. The nature of Indian society and capitalism are also part of the answer.

An interesting new research paper by Philippe Aghion of Harvard University, Yann Algan of the Paris School of Economics, Pierre Cahuc of the Ecole Polytechnique and Andrei Schleifer of Harvard University offers one set of clues. They have mapped the relationship between demands for regulation in a country and the level of distrust between its citizens.

What these four economists show from their study of rich nations is that people ask for more government regulation when they do not trust their fellow citizens. They have used a concept that has attracted a lot of attention over the past decade and more — social capital. Any economy needs physical capital (tools), financial capital (money) and human capital (skills) to grow. It also needs social capital (trust). Economist Kenneth Arrow once said that virtually "every commercial transaction has within itself an element of trust, certainly any transaction conducted over a period of time. It can be plausibly argued that much of economic backwardness in the world can be explained by the lack of mutual confidence."

Aghion and his three fellow authors show in their July paper, Regulation and Distrust, that countries with low levels of trust in other persons, companies and political institutions are more likely to have more regulations on economic activity. But this regulation leads to low growth and corruption, as we know from our own experience of the licence permit raj. "What is perhaps most interesting about this finding…is that distrust generates demand for regulation even when people realize that the government is corrupt and ineffective; they prefer state control to unbridled production by uncivil firms," say the economists.

The way companies earn profits does affect the popularity of capitalism. In a paper published in 2006, Rafael Di Tella of Harvard Business School and Robert MacCulloch of Imperial College ask: Why Doesn't Capitalism Flow to Poor Countries? They say the most important factor is corruption, which cuts into the "moral legitimacy of capitalism". Di Tella and MacCulloch add: "Existence of corrupt entrepreneurs hurts good entrepreneurs by reducing the general appeal of capitalism."

These two pieces of research show that the popularity of a free market political party will depend on both the level of trust in a country and whether profits come from competitive markets or oligopolies protected by the state.

Economic historian Douglass C. North and his colleagues have given us what they call a conceptual framework to interpret human history. They say that societies emerge as "limited access orders". Here, the political system is used to limit economic participation and impose social order. The lack of economic competition leads to excess profits that are used to limit violence and maintain political stability.

North says that some societies later evolve into "open access" orders. Here, there are few restrictions on economic and political participation, which is another way of saying that these societies have open economies and open political systems. Order is maintained through the competitive process.

There is a famous story about Margaret Thatcher. Soon after she became head of the Conservative Party in the UK, she is said to have reached into her briefcase and pulled out a copy of F.A. Hayek's Constitution of Liberty, a book that explains with great clarity why liberal systems lead to freedom and prosperity. Interrupting the speaker, she is said to have banged the book down on the table and said: "This is what we believe."

Is there any Indian politician who has similar convictions — and the guts to make them public?

Now back to Dondu Raghavan. A few minutes after forwarding the article, Mr. Chandrasekhar has sent another mail saying,
"The important point I wanted to mention here that Mr Sen lectured at Indian Parliament recently (on this monday) on "demanding Social Justice". What a naive request! Where can he can get this social justice, when it is nowhere available in the world? (That what F A Hayek said years ago. "There is no such thing as Social Justice").

Thanks Chandrasekhar. But there is one small snag. It will not be possible to renew the Swatantra Party with things as they are obtaining in India now. A party has to take a constitutional oath owing allegiance to socialism, the selfsame bankrupt ideology, which the Swatantra Party was by default opposing. See my Tamil blog post on this subject. Unfortunately the original economic times article is no longer readily reachable; fortunately I had reproduced it at that time in toto just for such contingency.

Dondu N. Raghavan

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rich job offers cause poor response for economics PhDs

This article penned by John Samuel Raja D and forwarded to me by my friend Chandrasekharan (Hayek Order) goes on to add that poor faculty and scholarships also dissuade students.

It reminds me of Agatha Christie's novel 4.50 from Paddington starring the lovable old detective Miss Marple. In this novel she is assisted by one Lucy, who has majored in Mathematics but instead of pursuing a career in mathematics opts for the job of a housekeeper after a thorough study of the market needs. She goes on to become a highly successful housekeeper very well-paid and much in demand.

My reason to mention this is illustrated more starkly in the article referred to above. Now over to the article in bold italics.

D K Srivastava, director of Madras School of Economics (MSE), is disappointed when he sees 50 Master's students graduate every year with lucrative job offers.

He is unhappy because none of the 50 students apply for a PhD or doctoral degree and the Chennai-based institute is finding it difficult to attract high-quality students for this programme.

Like the MSE, the poor response to programmes for Economics PhDs (the abbreviation of the Latin Philosophiæ Doctor) appears to be a chronic problem in India.

"The best brains are going to industry after completing the Master's degree," said Srivastava, who has specialised in public finance and economic forecasting. "This is the malaise of good institutions where highly qualified students don't stay back," he added.

Even the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), a premier institute set up by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) for research in development issues, found it difficult to attract students for its PhD programme a couple of years ago.

MSE admits two or three students every year for its doctoral programme, a third of what it can accommodate. Aggregate data on the number of students completing their PhD in Economics are not available.

While PhD programmes run by universities across India have faced problems in attracting high-quality students for a long time, it is only now the top economic research institutions are facing the problem of student shortage, given the jobs boom that is attracting the best and brightest among Master's students.

Though there are globally recognised Indian economists like Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen and trade economist Jagdish Bhagwati, universities based in India have not kept pace with cutting-edge research produced by their counterparts in the United States and Europe, resulting in poor research output.

Three issues — faculty profile, poor scholarship funding and job opportunities — are being cited as reasons Indian universities have failed to attract good quality students, said four economists, including three heads of the institutions, who were contacted for this article.

For the few students who want to pursue a PhD, foreign universities have emerged as a viable option. These overseas institutions are targeting Indian students and are offering liberal scholarships that are hard for Indian counterparts to match, said D M Nachane, director of IGIDR.

Research scholars in Indian institutes are mostly paid between Rs 6,000 per month and Rs14,000, except in a few management institutes where they are offered around Rs 25,000 a month. Compare this with foreign universities that provide a tuition fee waiver and a monthly stipend ranging from $800 to $1,500, depending on the financial strength of the institute and its location.

Both Nachane and Srivastava agree that it's vital to increase the scholarship amount to attract students and provide an alternative within India. Both, MSE and IGIDR are exploring ways to increase their scholarship amount. Delhi School of Economics (DSE) did not respond to a questionnaire.

Students graduating from Master's programme in MSE and IGIDR get job offers in the salary range of Rs 6 lakh and Rs 8 lakh a year -- mostly from banks, financial institutions and consultancies. Candidates even after completing the PhD would get only Rs 50,000 more than what a Master's level students would get, said IGIDR's Nachane.

"The opportunity cost for a student with Masters Degree to pursue a PhD in economics is very high," he added referring to Rs 6 lakh salary the PhD student would have earned for four years, if employed.

Apart from scholarships, the faculty profile and the syllabus play an important role in attracting students. "What I learnt ten years ago is not even offered here in India," said Parth J Shah, economist and former professor of Economics at the University of Michigan.

Lack of quality faculty is often linked to salary structure in Indian universities that fail to differentiate between a professor who has done cutting-edge research with publications in leading journals and faculty who has only concentrated on teaching. "The sixth pay commission will solve this problem because it allows flexibility in salary structure," said Nachane.

But for Shah, who is now involved in a not-for-profit research and education institution Centre for Civil Society, the solution could also lie in giving choices to institutes to decide whom to affiliate.

At present, an institute present in a city has to affiliate in a university based in that city. "The geographical monopoly of the universities should be broken. This will create competition among the institutions," he added.
In the meantime, every year around five students of Madras School of Economics (MSE) come back to pursue research after working for a couple of years in the industry. But, as of now, they come to MSE to prepare for admission to foreign universities and Srivastava is hoping that some will stay back in days to come.

Now back to Dondu Raghavan. I would like to close this topic with an anecdote. A heart specialist calls in a plumber by name John Updike to have his washbasin repaired. After the work is over, John gives him the bill, which is for a hefty amount. The doctor sighs and exclaims, this is way above what I would have earned as consulting physician, whereupon he gets the reply "I know doc from my personal experience as doctor before changing over to plumber profession" from Doctor John Updike.

Dondu N. Raghavan

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mr. Lee and Mr. Chee agreed to have a fight

My friend Jayakamal has the welcome habit of forwarding articles that kindle my interest. I do use them for my blog posting in Tamil. Now due to a certain development in the blogger facilities, I would like to post the same in this English blog of mine as well. My Tamil post for those able to read Tamil is here. Now for the forwarded article Mr. Lee and Mr. Chee agreed to have a fight. Over to Atanou. The "I" in the succedding lines in bold italics refer to Atanou.

The NY Times of 30th May reports ("Power and Tenacity Collide in Singapore Courtroom" — Thanks, Naman) on the clash between two personalities — one powerful and famous, the other powerless — in a Singapore courtroom. Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, 84, met his political adversary Chee Soon Juan, 45, in court where the former is suing the latter for libel. In a newsletter published in 2006, Mr Chee had accused the Singapore government of corruption. Mr Lee takes charges of corruption seriously and refused to let Mr Chee’s accusation go unchallenged.

I suppose the court would figure out if Mr Chee’s charge is true or not. If the charge is false, I would be much relieved because I would hate to find out that the man I have very high regard for — Mr Lee Kuan Yew — has feet of clay.

Why do I admire the man so much? Perhaps because of what he achieved. Here’s the NY Times:

“The final test is what Singapore was when I became prime minister in 1959 and what Singapore is now,” Mr. Lee said. “We had less than $100 million in the kitty.” Today, he said, “global financial services assess Singapore to have sovereign wealth funds of over $300 billion.”

Singapore is just a few million people. LKY worked the miracle of transforming a third world resource-poor mosquito-infested swamp into a wealthy first world nation state admired around the world for efficiency, lack of corruption, order and cleanliness. He didn’t make pretty speeches about scaling the commanding heights of the economy. He just did it and did it within a generation. Not just the phenomenal infrastructure of the tiny place, not just the rich stock of human capital, Singapore has also amassed $300 billion in reserves. Under LKY’s guidance, Singapore’s reserves have multiplied 3000 times. How great is that?

Lee says that Singapore has $300 billion in the kitty. Chee says that it does not make up for the silencing of political opponents, the closing down of independent media “and all your shenanigans, including making sure that I’m not allowed to speak during an election rally.”

Speaking strictly for myself, I value political freedom and the freedom of expression. A civilized human existence requires freedom. But in what sense is there freedom if one is starving? Isn’t one willing to sell one’s soul for a piece of bread when starvation threatens one’s life? What would you give up in exchange for not seeing your child starve to death? I know that I would give up a lot of my highly prized freedom of political expression if in the process I could at least see my children not starve.

Mr Chee says that $300 billion in the bank (and of course all other goodies that Singapore enjoys) is too high a price to pay for the lack of political freedom and the muzzling of the press. Perhaps the restrictions on the press and on political opposition were wholly unnecessary and Singapore would have been what it is today even otherwise. Perhaps it was merely to satisfy LKY’s personal whims and fancies that political opposition was curbed and which actually did not serve any instrumental purpose. But I doubt it. When a country is poor, the squabbling for resources does push to the fore the most opportunistic criminals to enter the policymaking circles.

I know that no one reading this is actually starving. When one is sitting comfortably with a full tummy, it is easy to see how valuable it is to have the freedom to speak your mind. It is clearly better to have political freedom than not to have it, all else being equal. But how would one rank these two: one, a very full stomach but limited political freedom; two, a very empty stomach but unlimited political freedom.

At which point does the benefits of political freedom of the few outweigh the material concerns of 500 million others? How many million people is it ok to condemn to a pitiably poor life so as to guarantee that a few people have the right to make fiery political speeches?

And often times, the only political speeches made are ostensibly on behalf of the starving millions. If those starving millions did not exist, these politicians would have little to make speeches about. So it would seem that if by banning idiotic political speeches, one achieves a level of prosperity such that it makes political speeches about poverty completely irrelevant and inconsequential, it would be a good thing.

I think that there is a hierarchy of needs, as Maslow pointed out. Only after the lower level needs are met can one attempt to satisfy needs higher up. I will secure air before I start worrying about food and water. I will not worry about free speech if I am in imminent danger of keeling over from hunger. I would trade in a lot of pretty political speeches in exchange for a decent shot at living a comfortable life. If I were in the bottom 300 million in India, I would happily trade in my situationally useless right to political freedom in exchange for the life of an average Singaporean.

All the above with the usual disclaimer that your mileage may vary.

Why do I stress so much on the starvation bit? Because I know how it feels to starve for 2 days. If it feels that awful to starve for just 2 days, I wonder how it must be to chronically starve — as do an estimated 200 million in India. I know that I could not handle it and I would make a deal with the devil himself to try to avoid it. That is what I fear: that millions of people at the edge of starvation are quite capable of making deals with the devil. Don’t believe me? Well, then, how do you think the communists get elected in India?

Now back to Dondu N. Raghavan.

It is really very naughty of you Atanu. I refer of course to your last line. The commies do get their vote by promising the socialist utopia. In a way they keep their promise. The inequality between the haves and have-nots diminish as evry one tends to become a have-not except for the commissars with their filthy power of life and death. Let us keep aside for the moment their loyalty to the People's Republic of China and talk economics. In a way both Lee and the commies are alike in the matter of denying political freedom, but at least Lee delivered while the commies just took away everything.

I personally feel that Lee should not bother his head about Chee. Lee has already made his point.

Dondu N. Raghavan