Wrong solution for a distant problem

I was happy to read Harsh Vora’s piece and it is good that he was thinking far ahead – 10 to 20 years down the line.

I just have the following comments:

The case for freer capital flows, however, does not follow from his argument. If global economies are in a far advanced state of demographic decline – which they are – how do freer l capital flows help overcome the low natural rate of interest problem induced by the aging of the population?

Second, in India’s case, it will still be a developing nation and potential GDP growth improvements will occur through many other channels. In advanced nations, their potential growth is already exhausted. It is between 0.0% and 2.0%. The demographic transition to old age compounds the situation. It is not so in India.

Third, even if the supposed benefit of freer capital flows is that it allows the country to circumvent the domestic interest rate ceiling imposed by aging population is true, it comes with other bigger costs. Monetary policy autonomy is gone, in the presence of capital flows. It is the famous impossible trinity. In fact, it is an impossible duality. The exchange rate regime does not matter at all.

It might amount to burning down the house to get read of the bed bug.

Advertisements

A tragedy and a travesty if…

In today’s MINT, Ajit Ranade argues clearly and convincingly against the Government or the Parliament diluting RBI’ norms issued in February for recognition of non-performing debt. He is right and I agree with him. I had written on this right after RBI came out with its NPA recognition norms in February 2018.

This story in MINT on how the ICICI Bank had made an accounting rule change that enabled it to keep its non-performing loan ratio low and that too without disclosing the rule change to shareholders only strengthens the RBI directive issued in February.

It is all about a culture of accountability that is sorely lacking in India. It is missing almost everywhere, especially in public space.

It will be a travesty and a tragedy to dilute RBI norms issued in February.

Dilemma on Rodrik’s trilemma

More than eleven years ago, Professor Dani Rodrik had posted the ‘inescapable trilemma of the world economy’. You can see the chart in his post.

He wrote:

I have an “impossibility theorem” for the global economy that is like that. It says that democracy, national sovereignty and global economic integration are mutually incompatible: we can combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full. [Link]

My question is this: Regardless of whether the government is a democracy or authoritarian, is it possible to have global eocnomic integration and national sovereignty which means national policy autonomy?

I think not. So, it is really a dilemma. One can have global economic integration or one can have national policy autonomy/sovereignty but not both.

By the way, Paul Tucker’s book ‘Unelected Power’ is also about a form of ‘Global Economic Integration’ inasumuch as policy is increasingly made by unelected elites in global forums that then become binding on nations. No debates; Democracy or not – does not matter. These norms apply to India; apply to Russia.

Paul Tucker, summarising his book, for promarket.org wrote,

central banking has drifted into being, or always was, a vehicle serving the interests of a globalized metropolitan elite: policy by and for “Davos Man.” [Link]

In other words, if policy elites stayed away from Davos, Rodrik’ trilemma (or, dilemma) can be largely addressed or attenuated.

Read Paul Tucker’s interview with promarket.org here. I doubt if many would read his (needlessly) dense book. In fact, I think Willem Buiter’s paper written in 2012 anticipates much of Paul Tucker’s arguments on democratic non-accountability in the domestic context. So, if you do not have time to read Tucker’s book, reading Buiter’s paper (speech) will do just fine.

Food Inc. and ethics in business

Morgan Housel’s twitter handle took me to a NYT article on a Mexico village that is drowning in coke because they have no water! From there, I read articles about Colombia’s fight against the soda industry , Chile’s fight against obesity, etc.

The article on Malaysia where nutritionists take money from food giants opens up interesting questions on ethics vs. prgmatism.

All the articles are brilliant fodder for B-Schools, for students of pubic policy and for the food industry practitioners.

Many questions arise in my head:

Precisely, who are the food industry leaders trying to benefit? The managers themselves? The shareholders? Who are these shareholders? Mutual Funds? Asset Management Companies? Pension Funds or managers themselves again, as shareholders?

Don’t they have children and grandchildren and do they feed them soda, burgers and sugar, regularly?

How would they like to be remembered by posterity?

What should a laissez faire government do?

Should it let the food industry do what it does while it runs educational campaigns against sugar, soda and fat? Is that feasible? Will the government do it? Are governments somehow insulated from capture, coercion and co-dependencies with the industry? In some of the cases above, even educational campaigns have been muzzled, campaigners threatened or the campaign diluted.

Do these staid campaigns run by government departments stand a chance against cartoons, animations that lure children to consume unhealthy foods?

In the world where information is available at the touch of a few key strokes or punching of buttons in the phone, can parents not do a better job of informing themselve and their children? Or, am I underestimating the seduction of ‘sins’ in these times?

What is the moral equivalent of tempting children to consumer sugar, fat and soda and luring them to smoke? I am watching the 4-hour ‘Century of the Self’ documentary that aired on BBC. I have watched two episodes. Ed Barnays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, came up with the tactic to get women to smoke, calling it the ‘torch of freedom’! More on that later and in a separate post.

These issues and conflicts open up dilemmas for management education and educators. Multinationals and big domestic companies fund these institutions. Students there learn business ethics. They go and work for these companies too. Look how fiendishly complex all these become?

Is it possible at all for someone to reform these institutions from inside and is there a win-win solution that exists? If it does, is it grasp-able within a horizon that is relevant, meaningful and profitable for management and managers to personally gain from it? Otherwise, they have no incentive to pursue them.

Even activists who come to office promising to reform such practices and make society more humane immediately realise the gravity of the challenges and their internal contradictions. They depend on these companies for employment generation – direct and ancillary. How does one arrive at a meaningful costs and benefits? Costs are immediate – when these businesses threaten to and do close down  but benefits in terms of better health for children and citizens are more diffuse and long-term and hard to measure.

Even in Chile, where the battle appears to have been won, notice the possiblity of a reversal after the elections. Where and when does one declare victory? Or is it ephemeral? Or, are these initiatives doomed to failure and that martyrdom is the only glory? Am I being too pessimistic? Or, that some children and some parents will have irrversibly lerant their lessons for the better and they will carry on the torch and that the message will slowly diffuse? May be, it will.

Amidst all this, is the nutritionist in Malaysia, the most pragmtic where idealism might not produce results but will produce news-stories and secure martyrdom but not much else beyond that?

For his part, Dr. Tee said the obesity risk in Malaysia would be worse without companies’ help, and he couldn’t accomplish his goals without their support.

“There are some people who say that we should not accept money for projects, for research studies. I’m aware of that,” Dr. Tee said. “I have two choices: Either I don’t do anything or I work with companies.” [Link]

Sober Indian Edits on Khan as Pak PM

It is refreshing to see, for a change, sober Edits in Indian newspapers on the prospect of Mr. Imran Khan becoming the PM of Pakistan and what they mean for India.

Let us take ‘Business Standard’:

The turning point, however, came in 2013, following a poor showing in the elections. The rhetoric grew more strident, accompanied by a notable dialling down of the liberalism. Intelligence agencies around the world quickly attributed this abrupt change to Mr Khan’s new-found proximity to Pakistan’s military-intelligence complex.”

His fundamentalism appears to have steadily deepened over the past five years: His statements affirming the centrality of the prophet, and support for blasphemy laws imply that he is bound to toe the Army-Inter Services Intelligence line, viscerally anti-Indian and pro-jihadi, even as the country transitions its client-state status from the US to China. [Link]

From MINT:

this election has seen what has been widely called the “mainstreaming” of terrorist groups in Pakistan. A number of political parties founded by terrorists, including one by 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed, have found space on the ballot papers. This could not have been possible without the approval of the army. The results so far indicate that these parties haven’t performed well but it will be important to check the final vote share figures. Irrespective of how well these parties perform, Khan himself is seen as soft on extremist groups. He has defended the controversial blasphemy laws that are used to target minorities in the country and has also attacked the vulnerable Ahmadiyyas in his speeches. So, with Khan’s ascent, Pakistan is likely to offer an even weaker resistance than before to Islamic extremism. [Link]

Aparna Pande of the Hudson Institute:

Pakistan has spent slightly less than half of the last seven decades under military rule and there have been few elections in Pakistan that have been considered truly free and fair. However, even by those standards, there is a near consensus that this has been Pakistan’s “dirtiest” election yet. …

… Under the cover of an order issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the military deployed three times the number of troops in this election than during the 2013 election. Notwithstanding the large military presence, ostensibly to protect Pakistanis, this election has actually been one of the bloodiest, with the independent human rights watchdog, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, remarking that elections should be “gatherings” not “killing fields”.

… While Khan has been reticent to provide details about his domestic and foreign policies, what is clear is the alignment between his views and that of the deep state: sympathy for the Afghan Taliban and the Kashmir-focused jihadi groups, and belief that the US betrayed Pakistan and is close to India and that China is a more dependable ally. [Link]

While the newspapers have ended their op-edits with open-ended statements or questions, Ms. Pande provides her answer:

Lacking a credible mandate and absent an overhaul of Pakistan’s foreign and security policy, a government led by Khan will be unable to reassure neighbours or the international community and avoid the path of increasing isolation, economic doldrums and domestic instability.

In case you had not seen the Moody’s comments when it changed Pakistan’s rating outlook from stable to negative while reaffirming B3 credit rating, you can see it here.

Unfortunate and unnecessary comment

President Trump’s comments on the Federal Reserve monetary policy  were unfortunate and unnecessary. It also went against what he said on the campaign trail about ultra-low interest rates. Higher Federal Funds rate is overdue. It is only 0.0% in real terms. In this particular instance, political independence of the Federal Reserve goes hand in hand with independence from the financial sector. All the more reason for a President who claimed that he wanted to drain the swamp to desist from criticising the Federal Reserve.

By the same token, he was wrong to criticise the EU fine on Google. Google is not in his corner and will not be. Second, he is also forgetting the fact that the tech. sector market concentration is rather a big reality.

Those who have access should read the interview of Henry Kissinger with FT as part of  ‘Lunch with FT’. He refused to take Edward Luce’ bait to criticise President Trump or his summit with Putin. On the contrary, he thought that the summit was overdue.

What he said about Trump was rather interesting:

I think Trump may be one of those figures in history who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretences.

Dodd-Frank and Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi will, forever, be remembered for the label, ‘Vampire Squid’ that he came up with, for Goldman Sachs. No matter what else he writes.  In passing, I should mention that Pratap Bhanu Mehta will be remembered for writing, ‘While we were silent’ in 2013 no matter how many times we disagree with what he writes.

Matt Taibbi’s take on the two major political parties in the United States features flawed logic. In fact, it contradicts his earlier piece on how Democrats helped pass the Bill that diluted the Dodd-Frank Act. More on that later.

The reality is that one can smell Republicans (the political party in the USA)/Conservatives from a distance: they want status quo to continue. No disturbances or perturbations (a jargon that economists love to use) to the staus quo. ‘Do not interfere’ is their message to the government – on social and on economic affairs.

Democrats, on the other hand, were supposed to be the party of the underdogs. Instead, they favoured Wall Street interests. They repealed Glass-Steagall and they helped pass Commodities Futures Modernisation Act that kept many financial products out of regulatory purview. They became a party of elites, by stealth. That is fradulent. In fact, he should go back and re-read his own piece, titled, ‘Obama’s Big sellout’ written in December 2009 or early 2010. It is no longer available in the ‘Rolling Stone’ site. But, I found an extract here.

Hence, calling Republicans a party of ‘open con’ does not cut it. It was and is open, all right. It is no con game. We know their agenda.

He then wrote a piece about “The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act (Pub.L. 115–174, S. 2155), signed into United States federal law by President Donald Trump on May 24, 2018.”. It amended the Dodd-Frank Act or the Financial Stability Act, 2010.

He was right on some of the factual details. The word, ‘may’ has been changed to ‘shall’ in one place. True. Some limits have been increased from 50bn. to 100 bn. to 250 bn. US dollars, etc. But, he did omit some key aspects that lead us to a different interpretation.

The amendments do include the following:

(b) Rule Of Construction.—Nothing in subsection (a) shall be construed to limit—

(1) the authority of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, in prescribing prudential standards under section 165 of the Financial Stability Act of 2010 (12 U.S.C. 5365) or any other law, to tailor or differentiate among companies on an individual basis or by category, taking into consideration their capital structure, riskiness, complexity, financial activities (including financial activities of their subsidiaries), size, and any other risk-related factors that the Board of Governors deems appropriate; or

(2) the supervisory, regulatory, or enforcement authority of an appropriate Federal banking agency to further the safe and sound operation of an institution under the supervision of the appropriate Federal banking agency. [Link]

There is also a provision for ‘globally systemically important bank holding companies’:

(f) Global Systemically Important Bank Holding Companies.—Any bank holding company, regardless of asset size, that has been identified as a global systemically important BHC under section 217.402 of title 12, Code of Federal Regulations, shall be considered a bank holding company with total consolidated assets equal to or greater than $250,000,000,000 with respect to the application of standards or requirements under. [Link]

In plain English, S.2155 does not prevent the Federal Reserve from exercising its authority with respect to Bank Holding Companies where it deems necessary. The real issue is whether the Federal Reserve is keen. See here and here.

Amendments to the Dodd-Frank Act will not cause the next crash. That train has already left the station. If at all they do cause banks to take on more risks, it will be because theri capital requirements have not been raised enough and because the Federal Reserve has allowed monetary policy to remain too loose and interest rates to remain too low for too long.

Ultimately, it is all about appropriate pricing of capital and pricing it too cheaply and way below fair, risk-adjusted level is the biggest gift that the Federal Reserve continues to shower on the financial industry.

In another article, Taibbi makes the case for a Financial Transactions Tax in the United States. I endorse that, wholheartedly. He is right. But, he is pushing the envelope on facts when he writes that the European Union has already ’embraced’ it. That simply is not true. I wish it were true. It isn’t.

Read what he writes here and decide for yourself:

A financial transactions tax might help incentivize Wall Street to once again emphasize true long-term investment, as opposed to spending all day moving piles of money around. As with Medicare-for-all, it might take a while for Americans to accept an idea already embraced in Europe. [Link]

It is still in the works. Lo and behold, Brexit is supposed to have gummed it up, because it will be difficult to enforce in the UK that won’t be part of the European Union and hence financial transctions would migrate there. That is the logic for the dealy. So, FTT in Europe is still coming.

The lesson is that it has become impossible to read anyone and take what they write at face value, without doing some fact-checking oneself. Well, if you are reading this, remember that it applies to this blogger too!

So, caveat emptor!