Wednesday, 27 November 2019

The other name for empowerment is informed decision making

In the age of consumerism, people have a right to choose from different products and services that are available to them. People can compare and contrast between different options that are available to them and make informed decisions.When all other sectors are positively responding to technology, why should not electoral politics move to the next level ?

The big idea, here is to identify and disseminate economic indicators at all administrative and geographical jurisdictions. Sophistry is for the weak and wicked. It is important to not bombard people with numbers and indices. So why not devise or identify easy to understand economic metrics (5 to 10 of them at the most) and make them available to people even in all vernacular languages.

As smart phone and internet penetration keep improving people get access to data and information. Using existing (independent !!) institutions, resources and without significant additional cost burden, it is possible to set up such a system where people can make informed electoral decisions. At the moment, in all parts of the world including the advanced economies, electoral politics are subject to all kinds of vagaries which we may not be proud of.

Also, as standards of living improve, people may no longer be direct beneficiaries of public schemes or at least one would expect so. In such a case, how do you judge the performance of your public representatives ?

When will people be empowered ? Not when some one belonging to their race, caste, creed, language etc gets elected to their public office. Not when they choose based on liquor or food or money they receive prior to voting day. The real empowerment is when people can make informed voting decisions based on unbiased numbers.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Eradicate Identity Politics and Symbolism

Identity politics and symbolism have long been part of politics everywhere in the world. Good economics cannot be bad politics. Except for subsidies on basic items like food, water, housing etc, economic considerations should guide political decision making. But unfortunately, the current situation is the exactly opposite of this. Poll strategies across parties involve fielding public representatives not based on their ability or commitment but based on their community or religion or net worth. By now everyone must understand that if you have a President or a Prime Minister or for that matter any public representative belonging to some backward class, the plight of all the people of backward classes in that country does not improve. In all classes, castes, creeds, religions etc there is a layer at the top beyond which growth and development may not reach. Any form of discrimination by governments positive or negative depending on an individual's caste, religion, creed, language etc is not acceptable in a civil society. These features are limited to an individual's person life and decisions. It may sound too idealistic but over a period of time we must, as a society move towards a system where any discrimination by governments is based only on economic status.There is so much of technology available at our disposal and we can use it to good effect.

There is a need for change and it is high time to eradicate identity politics and symbolism. As education levels increase and information becomes more widely available, people must be able to differentiate between political and economic issues. 

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Characteristics of an Evolving Democracy

When large sections of people are devoid of growth and development over long periods of time, their dissatisfaction results in change of guard at the highest levels of governance. Different political leaders reach out to people on different grounds including religion, region, language,race, caste etc. Some of these leaders are born out of the miseries of the people. Others are demagogues who take advantage of people's frustration. The reason for people's dissatisfaction is more economic in nature rather than any thing else - it may take a different form but the underlying cause is mostly economic in nature.

Over a period of time, it is important to develop and disseminate economic indicators at all administrative levels. One for the government itself, to understand whether they are on the right track and for people at large, to be able to assess the performance of their public representatives.  Every now and then we come across charismatic leaders who can garner people's support irrespective of economic issues. And make no mistakes charismatic leaders are required to establish stable governments. But, it is always important to remember that institutions are more important than individuals. Over a period of time, we need to have a system in place where we can distinguish between good performance and window dressing.

There will be people who are direct beneficiaries of government schemes and there will be others who may not be directly benefited by government schemes. (excluding common subsidies, roads and buildings, policing, military, water and electricity supply etc) Specially, working and middle class people may not have time and energies to evaluate the performance of their governments. It is important to have in place independent and unbiased institutions which make economic performance indicators available to the people at large. These indicators should be easy to use and understand for even less educated people. Don't just make them available but advertise - let people know about these indicators. Suppose if these economic indicators are made available on a web portal, then these web addresses should be displayed at all prominent places in the national and vernacular languages. In some cases, advertising could be the differentiating factor. As per a news article by The Economic Times (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/tech/internet/internet-users-in-india-to-reach-627-million-in-2019-report/articleshow/68288868.cms?from=mdr), by the end of December 2018, there were around 56 crores internet users and overall internet penetration was at 40% in India. So making economic indicators available on a web portal and advertising about them could be one of the better ways of reaching out to people. As literacy levels grow and internet penetration, increases digital platforms are going to play a critical role in large democracies.

It is extremely important to respect people's sentiments and emotions but at the same time rationality can't take a back seat. A mature democracy would be one where political decision making is based on economic realities - whether it is at the highest policy making levels or at the bottom where voting decisions are made and policies transform into action.

Any growth vision or agenda without proper checks and balances may not yield the desired results. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Streamlining Higher and Professional Education in India

It is important to assure that good quality higher education is available to all students irrespective of their economic background. In the current scenario, only the top layer of students get admissions into top notch colleges and all other students are forced to join lower rung institutions. As a result, we are left with degree holders who may not be fully ready to join the corporate world. To be fair to students, they have to go through some very high pressure coaching and entrance examinations. One has to remember that students have to perform in a limited time frame.

All educational institutions offering higher education need to maintain the requisite 'infrastructure' and have to be monitored by the concerned educational authorities. Among all other areas, education is the most critical and its impact on the economy in the longer run is probably the differentiating factor.

It is fine if some students do not find admissions, they can try next year or pursue some other vocation. But to graduate from bad institutions (it is homicidal to run such institutions) like half  baked potatoes is just not acceptable. So all those educational institutions that do not have the infrastructure or those that do not meet qualitative and quantitative standards have to be closed before the beginning of another academic year. Where there are issues related to specific branches of study, specializations need to be withdrawn and this requires continuous monitoring.

All the established institutions, have to incur capital and maintenance expenditures as a percent of revenues to avoid degradation and show them as part of their income tax returns. Students have to be provided with state of the art training, laboratories, teaching and guidance.

Also, it is not necessary that academic success reflects in professional success and vice versa. It is also necessary to include vocations which may not be main stream in the current higher education curriculum.

The problem with education sector is that one may not be able to see the impact in the short run. India has an educated middle class population which is aspirational and the foundations for the future have to be based on best in class education and skill development.

No one has the right to play with future of any country.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Linking aadhaar, pan, property and bank accounts

As of June 2018, 90% of Indians have been issued with aadhaar card. If we can link aadhaar, pan and bank accounts (accounting for all forms of income) of all individuals, it is possible to set up a data base which contains details of incomes of every citizen of the country. If there is also a one time property and wealth declaration exercise where all kinds of properties will be linked to their property holders, a huge database would be created with income and wealth details of every citizen. Using this data base people can be segregated based on their income and wealth levels. At least, we can have a system where most if not all of of the 'white' money and property transactions are accounted for. All forms of benefits to the citizens can be streamlined in the most efficient and transparent manner. Any forms of inefficiencies and duplications can be removed. It is possible to create a system where benefits kick in and kick out depending on income levels. Once beneficiaries' income levels reach the stipulated level, benefits can be withdrawn and diverted to more needy people.

When there is a scramble between subsidy and development expenditures every penny is important. Economies which spend more on production rather than subsidies are going to grow faster. It is high time to integrate technology with all forms of administrative and welfare schemes.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

A Sonnet in Appreciation of Prof. Damodaran


In the field of finance, there is one teacher who has millions of students and many more fans,


Across all the news and kabuki dance, he filters with a lens and finds every nuance,


Many data points and a lot of numbers, he sifts through them all like grains of sands,


Small and young firms or mature giants, he values them all, even if they are start-ups,


Numbers and stories, using spread sheets he ties them together in knots of inseparable bonds,


Not just in words, he backs his models and takes market positions in a number of stocks,


Forget all the fuss, he chants, growth, risk and cashflows are the main pillars, whatever be the case,


Makes rational assumptions, grounds them in realities and ties them to fundamentals,


Cashflows for micros and discount rates for macros, he unravels all corporate finance puzzles,


Mergers or synergies, may be real options, backs them with numbers, no fancy buzz words,


In a world full of imperfections, shares his toils through his writings and books,


Blogs on various topics, he surprises you with razor sharp analysis and laser like insights,


The intersection of three areas - education, publishing and financial services lies his place,


Awards and accolades although common place, show his commitment and decades of excellence,


Against all odds, he sticks to humble grounds, loves his kids and plays with his grandkids,


Holds the Kerschner Family Chair, at the Stern School of Business,he lives in the biggest of Apples.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Suggestions to improve economic equality

At the outset, we need to remember that by robbing the rich and giving the poor the economic value added as a whole is zero and the society as a whole is not going to get any better. (the same problems are going to persist!) We need to understand and appreciate the fact that redistribution of income generating ability is much more important than redistribution of income itself.

The poor have a higher marginal propensity to consume than the rich. So any cash transfers they receive, they spend immediately on their basic needs and it is back to ground zero again. So at least in the longer run the objective of governments should be to augment the income generating ability of the depleted sections of the society. And the objective of the recipient public must be to give up short term benefits in the longer run interests of everyone.

An ideal society would be the one where the people's dependence on government benefits and subsidies is reduced to zero and people voluntarily refuse subsidies and benefits. That would be a dream come true for every economy!

In this article, I am going to make a few suggestions to remove economic inequality. Some of these suggestions may reflect the views expressed in/by authors, books, newspapers, magazines etc that I read including authors like Prof. Joe Stiglitz, Prof. Raghuram Rajan, Prof. Aswath Damodaran, The Economic Times, The Hindu, Mint, Project Syndicate etc. 

1.Differential and broad based taxation system: The most important and effective way of addressing economic inequality is by having a differential and broad-based taxation system. The underlying philosophy is to have a system where you have differential tax rates for different levels of income.
Most countries do have differential taxation system and those which do not will have to move towards this system in the longer run.
At least, the majority of the rich realize their responsibility towards the poor. Any instances of regulatory arbitrage or outright fraud will be addressed within the legal system and it is not appropriate to stereotype people on the basis of income/wealth levels. 
At the same time, tax payers have every right to expect accountability and know where their money is being spent. 

2. Fool proof distribution systems: We need fool proof and transparent distribution systems. People at the highest levels of public office may have great intentions but their ideas and actions need to get transformed to economic welfare at the ground level. To be fair to the public office bearers, many good measures do benefit the people at the lower economic levels but there are vast sections that are omitted due to both qualitative and quantitative deficiencies.
Over a period of time, the objective should be to improve the income levels and living standards of people. Improvement in living standards is only possible when the dependence on subsidies and benefits is reduced and more funds are allocated to development expenditure which has more long lasting benefits.

3. Cutting down on duplication and free loading: When there is a scramble between subsidies and development expenditure every penny is important. Economies that find ways to spend more on development expenditure and cut down on wasteful expenditure are going to prosper in the long run.
For generations, there are societies and families who have benefitted from government schemes and subsidies and their economic levels are much better than many other sections of the society.
It is high time to segregate government benefits on the basis of the recipient's economic levels. Politicians are scared of excluding the higher income groups from subsidies and benefits for electoral reasons. People have to voluntarily give up any government benefits or subsidies when not required.

4.  Use of technology: There is a greater need for integration between policy administration and technology. Using quantum computing, data security systems and data warehouses, it is possible to issue an all purpose unique identification number for all citizens of a country and the progress of every citizen starting from birth to death can be recorded and tracked. Effective and efficient control measures can be put in place to make the administrative infrastructure more dynamic. In terms of investment, this would be a lumpy one time cash outflow and the follow up cash out flows are going to be much smaller but the benefits are going to be huge. 

5. Integration between private and multiple public welfare schemes: As stated earlier, there is a scramble between subsidies and development expenditure - every penny saved is going to help public welfare. Different forms of democracy have different political-party setups and in democracies where there are different political parties in power at the state and centre, there is a chance for duplication.
Each party tries to take credit for the benefit offered to the people but no body thinks of duplication.
There is a need to streamline welfare benefits and schemes and cut down on redundancy. 
Second, many big corporate houses take an active role in corporate social responsibility activities. Whatever is the reason, private corporations function more profitably and efficiently when compared to many public systems. In geographies, where corporates are socially active we do not need government schemes. That would be wasteful expenditure again  and in such areas governments can limit themselves to supervision of welfare actvities. 

6. Education: The importance of education does not have to be overstressed. In his book, The Third Pillar Dr. Raghuram Rajan describes how the founding fathers of the United States (including Thomas Jefferson) have stressed on the need for education and making every community part of the education ecosystem. Although the United States has its fair share of problems today, she is still among the economic leaders of the world. Better education is necessary for people's participation in a market economy. The success or failure of market economies is dependent on the education and skill levels of their populace.

7. Power hungry politicians and corruption in public works: In many parts of the world, the rivalry between political parties is so bad that people are ready to kill each other for power. To stay in power, they need to earn through illegal means or else the opponent is going to kill you!
Everyone needs to understand that political rivalries are only ideological and as a nation we are all one. In fact, Dr. Rajan envisions that two hundred years from today there may be a borderless world! People need to learn to co-exist and work together.
In many emerging economies, corruption in public works is so common place that it is ingrained in to people's psyche. (may be we need to have an official Corruption to GDP ratio!) Wherever, possible all big ticket payments have to be executed in electronic mode.

8. Broad based growth, job training and creation and equality in opportunity: Growth has to be broad based and every one has to be given equal opportunity. If growth is not broad based, then over a period of time people are going to get more restless and this may have volatile consequences.

The problem of economic inequality is present everywhere in the world irrespective of the size and state of the economy. Economic inequality feeds into political inequality and both reinforce each other. 

We need to be aware of our rights and responsibilities - together we need to work towards a more equitable society.