Undergraduate Economist

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Archive for the 'Globalization' Category

To Economists: please pay attention to the ‘real’ problems

Posted by Alex M Thomas on 1st September 2010

A talk by Arundhati Roy and watching Peepli Live has motivated the contents of this post largely. I have been forced to rethink what ‘economics’ as a discipline should do in a country like India. How can it contribute to economic growth and human development. It is often forgotten that, economics studies the big black box that transforms the labour of the labourers into commodities for consumption by the labourers. People or rather, people who work, appear at both the ends of the tunnel. The black box or the tunnel consists of varied actors, markets, institutions, laws, power groups, social classes, etc.

Some economists try to make sense of this complex interaction using tools such as game theory, which throws light of certain aspects of the interaction. This in turn is supposed to aid in the design of better institutions. A few study labour, the main actor in the whole economic process. Some look at institutions and how various legal arrangements affect the economic outcomes. It remains to be asked: outcomes for whom? In this manner, the entire profession of economics has been divided into various sub-disciplines, each specialising in a particular aspect of the economy. And it is evident that communication between the above mentioned sets of economists happen rarely. Very often, the larger picture is forgotten. Each group presents their results with a tremendous sense of certainty, which is entirely misplaced. And, the joke that economists love their ceteris paribus clause comes true here. Except that, the clause in this case, assumes as constant the remaining processes or aspects of the economy!

Who are the real producers in an economy? What role do farmers (small, marginal and large) play in our society? Do they live in dignity? When inflation occurs, do these farmers get more incomes? Or do the intermediaries pocket the increase? Are proper institutions in place to provide them with adequate credit? Can these formal institutions compete with the informal ones, such as money lenders and chitti funds?

It is accepted that farming is not a profitable enterprise any more. Policy makers are calling for industrialisation. They want the farmers to come away from their lands and work in industries. And so arises the slums in and around major cities, where their living conditions are perhaps worse than in the villages. Or, most of them are forced to become construction workers. Urbanisation implies buildings, which creates construction jobs in plenty. Once the space in big cities are exhausted, the urbanisation will take place in small cities. Workers will be in demand. In short, labour migration and increasing labour distress, owing to improper housing conditions will become even more intense. It is time, serious attention is paid to farmers and the role of farming in the development of India.

To conclude, it is time we paid more attention to the condition of India and not blindly follow academic fashions. It is the duty of the civil society and especially, the academicians to study the problems and issues thrown up by the society. When the problems of the majority of the population in India –those who live in the rural areas, those who work in the informal sector and those who are farmers– are forgotten and relegated as “deviations from the normal” or “problems of the Indian economy” and not as characteristics of the society we live in, it is indeed a pitiable situation.

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Posted in Agricultural sector, Development Economics, Economic Growth, Economics, Globalization, India, Industrial sector, Inflation, Informal Sector, Labour Economics, Macroeconomics, Poverty, Real economy, Uncategorized, Unorganised Sector, Urbanisation | 3 Comments »

The Indian Constitution and Human Dignity: for Economists

Posted by Alex M Thomas on 13th July 2010

The field of law and economics is a glamorous one with economists such as Ronald Coase, Gary Becker and Richard Posner. It was Coase who provided the inspiration to law and economics through his introduction of ‘transaction cost economics.’ And Becker was the one who extended the domain of economics to virtually any social phenomena. Issues such as law, crime, marriage, family, etc came to be studied by economists. Although, the tools used never varied. It was the same old microeconomic baggage of neoclassical economics. Suddenly, neoclassical economics started feeling successful all over again. Their theory of value and pricing started explaining various social and cultural processes in the economy. However, this post is not a commentary on law and economics that is practised. For an excellent commentary on its origins and methodology, see the article by William Davies ‘Economics and the ‘nonsense’ of law: the case of the Chicago antitrust revolution’ in Economy and Society published in 2010.

The content of this post certainly falls under the label of law and economics. However, this post discusses certain aspects of the Constitution of India in the the light of economic policies undertaken-that of liberalization. The quotations in this post are from Dr. Durga Das Basu’s Introduction to the Constitution of India, reprinted in December 2009.

Economic Justice

The banishment of poverty, not by expropriation of those who have, but by the multiplication of the national wealth and resources and an equitable distribution thereof amongst all who contribute towards its production, is the aim of the State envisaged by the Directive Principles. Economic democracy will be installed in our sub-continent to the extent that this goal is reached. In short, economic justice aims at establishing economic democracy and a ‘Welfare State’.

The idea of economic justice is to make equality of status meaningful and life worth living at its best removing inequality of opportunity and of status-social, economic and political.

That is, an increase in growth rate is seen as the way to banish poverty. This principle is certainly based on the idea that growth trickles down. As has been witnessed in India, all that liberalization has achieved is ‘jobless growth’. Hence, the need for policy documents to shout for ‘inclusive growth’.

Now, all those who contribute to wealth by being producers are supposed to be compensated. It is on this class, that the burden of development falls. For, they do not have the adequate social and economic voice to demand for ‘just distribution’.

Can India claim social justice just by making opportunities equal? Equal opportunities perform their function only in an already just and equitable society, and not in countries where inequality of income and wealth is so skewed. Thus, an active intervention is necessary at the level of production as well as distribution of GDP.

Nehru’s idea of Socialism is that “every individual in the State should have equal opportunity for progress.” However, this idea cannot hold any water until the institutions in the State are examined- judiciary, executive, military, private enterprise, unorganised sector, etc. For instance, some groups of people are exploited as producers, where they are paid less than minimum wages. Therefore, as a consumer, they get exploited as well. This then passes on to their access to health, schooling, sanitation, housing, and so on.

Individual Liberty

The Preamble, therefore, says that the State, in India, will assure the dignity of the Individual. “All citizens men and women equally, have the right to an dequate means of livelihood, just and humane conditions of work, and a decent standard of life and full enjoyment of leisure and social and cultural opportunities.”

When economists and policy makers talk of ‘inclusive growth’, it is the dignity of the individual which is at stake. Often, India’s characteristics such as high reliance on agriculture, a large percentage of unorganised sector, immobility of labour and the like are labelled as detrimental to India’s growth and development. One cannot help but ask: Whose growth? Such perceptions by the academia are largely a result of the manner in which human beings figure in micro and macro economics. If you take a moment to think about it, you will realise that poor people-who are a heterogeneous group- is absent from our theoretical edifice. Why? Who are we analysing? And to discuss poverty, we have created a sub-discipline called ‘development economics’.

In any case, human dignity appears to be of lesser importance than the computation of growth rates using yearly and quarterly data. We are satisfied to decipher whether stock market exhibits volatility or not? Or whether market A is co-integrated with market Z. Does this satisfaction come from the fact that stock market data is easily available? What about the farmers, the child labourers, the migrant labourers who are forced to leave their place and family, of street vendors, and all the others who actually engage in production?

Until dignity of human life features implicitly or explicitly in economics, it will continue to be a lifeless endeavour. Sadly enough, we are taught economics is the study of choice? Whose choices? Those who have the ability to choose? It is time we discarded such economics and re-visited economists such as Adam Smith, Joan Robinson, Amit Bhaduri, and others whose works show a concern for humans.

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Posted in Adam Smith, Agricultural sector, Amit Bhaduri, Classical Political Economy, Development Economics, Economic Growth, Economics, GDP, Globalization, Government, India, Informal Sector, Macroeconomics, Neoclassical Economics, Poverty, Uncategorized, Unorganised Sector | 2 Comments »

On the (US) Financial Crisis of 2008-200?

Posted by Alex M Thomas on 7th October 2008

I initially thought of writing a post which explains the possible causes of the present financial crisis in the United States. But, to my dismay, I found that it has been/are being discussed by the BBC, IMF, New Left Review, EPW and Wikipedia. (The list is not exhaustive.) However, I was delighted about the fact that I did not have blog about the details; I can directly plunge into my reflections regarding the crisis. Therefore, the present post is concerned with a few issues that have risen in my mind owing to the crisis.

1) Should financial institutions be completely unregulated? In other words, does a ‘free market’ set up result in a favourable outcome, where the resources are allocated efficiently? By ‘free market’, I mainly refer to a situation where market forces like “demand” and “supply” are not tinkered by any external body.

2) Is it financially prudent for financial institutions to invest much more than their savings? Investment and savings need to be understood as financial capital. Money was advanced on the premise that the future conditions will be favourable; there was no actual collateral. This is what happened in the sub-prime lending market. To add to that, the drive to make faster and higher profits induced the banks to lend that money to (unregulated) financial intermediaries. Money (funds) was not advanced for production purposes (industrial capital). Financial capital is a way to make huge profits in comparison with industrial capital, which produce commodities by means of commodities. With the progress of Capitalism as a mode of production, the wealth of the nation (understood as GDP by orthodox economists) has changed from industry to financial services – derivatives especially. In textbooks, progress is shown by a movement from agriculture to manufacturing and finally to services. In my opinion, it is the institutionalization of financial capital which is the source of present crisis.

3) The system thrived of the belief that the ‘alarms’ created by the quantitative analysts (Quants) would sound. [For more on Quants, read this.] They rely on mathematical models to estimate risks. Remember Black-Scholes, Markowitz and Robert Merton, Nobel Prize winners in Economics! One of the things that we learn from reading Keynes’s General Theory is that expectations cannot be quantified. To build elegant models, expectations can be quantified to some extent with the aid of probability. But, it shouldn’t be used in policy making lest the expectations of the individuals change drastically. But, New Keynesian Macroeconomics has to its (de)merit ‘Rational Expectations’; I wonder about the extent of the interpretations of Keynes’s works.

Another interpretation to the crisis would be that, the market does identify ‘problem makers’ within it. Think of the various asset bubble bursts that have taken place. But, with the complex and tight interdependencies of various economies in the world, a financial crisis can have repercussions on other countries as well, mainly through international trade. Thus, it is important that every country devotes resources for (trying to) understanding these interdependencies for solving the problems of today.

Update

Read this essay at Risk Latte. I am happy to find such views on a financial company website.

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Posted in Economic Crisis, Economics, Globalization, Government | 5 Comments »

Market and the Government

Posted by Alex M Thomas on 16th April 2007

The conflicting ideologies in Economics have more or less revolved around mainly two institutions- Markets and Governments. The Capitalists believe ‘Markets’ to be the panacea for all economic problems, while the Socialists replace the ‘market’ with the ‘government’.

On Markets

Market is the institutional framework within which the act of exchange takes place or the institutional milieu which is the context of the relationship of exchange between the parties. [Kurien 1993] Thus market is an institution which allows for exchange. This exchange is only possible if one of the parties have adequate purchasing power.

Markets exclude people as consumers or buyers of goods and services if they do not have any incomes, or sifficient incomes, which can be transalated into purchasing power. People experience such exclusion if they do not have assets, physical of financial, which can be used (or sold) to yield an income in the form of rent interest or profits. [Nayyar 2002]

So, relying on markets alone will exclude a large chunk of the populace of a nation. Those with relatively higher purchasing power will benefit over those will less purchasing power. And for the former, the world will become a flatter place, as Thomas L Friedman says.

On Government

A government is a body that has the authority to make and the power to enforce rules and laws within a civil, corporate, religious, academic, or other organization or group. In its broadest sense, “to govern” means to administer or supervise, whether over a state, a set group of people, or a collection of assets. [Wikipedia]

In our formal analysis of exchange and producation, the role of social norms ( Smith proposed that market exchange is sustained by the underlying social ‘norms’ resulting frm sympathy, for example, trust in exchange, respect for contracts etc.) are left out and we tend to exaggerate on one hand, the efficiency of an abstract market mechanism based on an invented ‘auctioneer’. On the other, we tend to neglect the roles which the state could play in either reinforcing or destroying these norms which are essential for the functioning of the market economy. [Bhaduri 2002]

On Globalization

Globalization is predominantly a ‘market’ centric process.

Globalization, both then and now, has been associated with an exclusion of countries and of people from its world of economic opportunities. [Nayyar 2002]

Economic globalization challenges the political authority, which the nation state had attained by undermining gradually many of the norms of the traditional civil society.[ Bhaduri 2002]

Globalization has resulted in high growth only in a selected few sectors. [Thomas 2007]

Conclusion

Relying solely on the Government to undertake the functions of the market will lead to social unrest and will result in economic inefficiency. And government regulations are a check on the markets so that a market failure does not occur.

Can markets and governments exist peacefully? Can market and governnment produced goods and services reach an equilibrium? Will this result in a state, where those excluded from the market will be included by the government machinery? Is this sustainable in the long run?

References

1)Deepak Nayyar (edited), Towards Global Governance, Governing Globalization, 2002.
2)Amit Bhaduri, Nationalism and Economic Policy in the Era of Globalization, Governing Globalization, 2002.
3)C. T. Kurien, On Markets in economic Theory and Policy, 1993.

Posted in Amit Bhaduri, Economic Philosophy, Economics, Globalization, Government, Market Theory, Markets | No Comments »