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Cash crisis in India

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] W [/yt_dropcap]orld attention was fully focused on US presidential poll as Republican Donald Trump was leading on November 08 as Indian premier Narendra Modi announced in the night on Indian TV channels about the state ban of currency notes, making life miserable for the people without enough money in hand.

While making the announcement to discontinue Rs 500 and 1,000 banknotes , the government had also announced closure of bank branches and ATMs next day. It also announced the launch of newer notes of Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 from November 10.

India has plenty of money but not got locked in banks, houses, offices, and elsewhere, including hidden underneath to avoid taxes to the government and people of India are unable to use them as government of India has banned currency notes of denomination of Rupees 500 and 1000, causing the first ever serious cash crisis in India.

Modi has indeed declared another surgical attack, now on the helpless Indians.

Demonetization measure is too harsh for the common masses who have very limited resources.

The result is people are not buying things, business establishments have no business, as banks allow only 2000 thousand rupees a day for the peole to withdraw or exchange. New rules are being announced complicating the life of common people while the rich and corporates have their own “channels” of money transfer and expenditures.

The BJP government of Narendra Modi abruptly announced a ban of big notes of denominations 500 and 1000 that played huge role in trade and even ordinary business. In fact, high value currencies have ceased to be legal tender from 8 November midnight when PM Modi announced the new financial measures. There has huge rush since 09 November at the bank branches as customers throng to deposit their Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes or exchange them with Rs 100/50 notes.

The Modi government explains the measures as being necessary to end black and bad money floating along with the genuine notes, causing inflation, whereas experts say corruption is the cause of inflation and poor quality of life of common people. Whether or not PM Modi would be able to contain the dirty cash and make the value of Indian money strong, people are suffering a lot, while the regime has not been able to control the corporate funding of elections, thereby bring Indian democracy closer to American.

Demonetization effect

The recent demonetization of currency notes reveals the sad state of our public discourse on government policy. The combination of braying anchors on TV channels and opinions on social media show how to mangle a discourse.

Demonetization of high denomination currency has created big problems to common people and law and order situation is being created with police being deployed outside banks to control the queue. The issue has reached the parliament. The Winter Session of Parliament opened on Nov 16 with a united Opposition mounting an assault on the government over demonetization, saying it had led to “economic anarchy” in the country. The opposition parties also demanded a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on the alleged selective leak of information before the official announcement. Joining ranks over the raging issue, parties like Congress, JD(U), RJD, SP, BSP, Trinamool Congress, Left and AIADMK slammed the government, particularly targeting PM Modi, for making Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination notes invalid and said the “ill-timed” and “ill-conceived” step had severely hit the common people, the farmers and the poor.

While Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day, the seven-hour-long debate in Rajya Sabha, however, remained inconclusive. The debate in Rajya Sabha continued till 6 pm as there were repeated demands by the opposition members that the Prime Minister should be present in the House to listen to the members. Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said PM Modi, who did not come to the Rajya Sabha, should at least be present tomorrow and possibly intervene.

During a discussion on demonetization, which was taken up after suspension of all business in response to notices given by a host of opposition members, a scathing attack was made on the government which strongly defended the step as one taken in national interest and to end corruption and black money, which it linked to terror activities in the country.

Opposition attack on Modi in parliament

In an all-day debate in parliament today, opposition leaders like Anand Sharma of the Congress said they are not opposed to the reform, but to what they described as the lack of preparation to manage the cash crunch. The government has emphasized that if the notice for the initiative had been longer, the move would not have been effective.

Congress is the major opposition in parliament. Deputy Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Anand Sharma sought a probe into “selective leakage” of the demonetization move, which he termed a “Nadirshahi farman” (autocratic order). Initiating a debate after listed business was suspended to take up a discussion on the 8 November decision to withdraw old higher denomination currency, Sharma used wit and humor to attack Modi for being insensitive to problems caused to the common man. He asked Modi to state where he got Rs 23,000-24,000 crore, estimated by the International Money Watch Group, for his Lok Sabha elections. He also asked if cheque or credit card payments were made to organize his rally at Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh a few days ago. Alleging that the information on demonetization was selectively leaked, he said, “Your BJP units have deposited crores (just before the 8 November decision).” Sharma sought to know from the Prime Minister as to “who wants to kill him”, referring to the Prime Minister’s speech in Goa where he had said that with demonetization resulting in “Looting of their 70 year corrupt earnings, they will destroy me, they can kill me”. “There should have been an ordinance for demonetization. But no ordinance was brought. This is a Nadirshahi farman (autocratic order),” Sharma said.

The decision to demonetize high currency notes was leaked to a select few. Secrecy was not maintained on this issue. It was published in a Gujarati newspaper long back and even other newspapers wrote about it,” said Sharma. “There should be a probe into the selective leakage of information,” he said, asking: “What did the government do to prepare for effective implementation of the policy.” He also sought to know from the government which law gave it the right to impose limits on withdrawing money from peoples’ own accounts. “An atmosphere has been created by the government where questioning them has become a parameter to decide one’s nationalism,” said Sharma. He sought to know from the Prime Minister as to from where the “15 thousand crore rupees spent on your mega election campaign come from”. “Did you pay for your recent Ghazipur rally through credit card,” Sharma said mocking the government for asking people to use plastic money for day-to-day expenses. After withdrawing Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 currency notes, restrictions were placed even on foreign tourists who could not get their currency changed.

The Modi government rejected as baseless the opposition charge that there was “leakage” of the 8 November decision that benefited BJP, and said everyone was taken by surprise which is why there are “initial” problems.

The government argues that the honest tax payer is being rewarded as he does not have to worry about his cash deposits. For once the honest tax payer is in a privileged position which is rare and shocking for him.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had informed Parliament in August that fake currency was 0.02 percent of the total currency in circulation. If 0.02 percent by government admission is counterfeit currency, how can that be made the base to remove 86 percent of currency in circulation. An undeclared emergency has put common people in grave inconvenience, he said while crime money, ill-gotten wealth and that accrued through corruption or tax evasion is black money. One wonders if money in the market, or in households or with farmers, workers and employees was also blackmoney.

Key opposition leaders

BSP chief and former UP chief minister Mayawati demanded the presence of the Prime Minister in the House to hear out the Opposition parties and address their concerns. Mayawati questioned the government’s preparedness for the demonetization of high-value bank notes, accusing it of spending the last ten months on settling the black money of its people. “The government has said that they spent ten months preparing for this decision. Ten months was a long time to prepare. If they were serious about it, they would have prepared well for all the problems that people are facing today.” “If the government had spent ten months preparing for it, then why do they need another 50 days? There is something fishy.”

While the masses are in pain, PM Modi keeps taking after creating a national crisis and Mayawati said he must be sleeping after taking pills, adding that the poor and the middle classes were the worst sufferers. “It is an immature decision taken in haste and the whole country feels that is an ‘economic emergency’,” she said adding that it was like a “Bharatbandi situation.”

The hardship is real especially among lower income categories that do not have bank account and need cash for emergencies. Their trouble is painful and affects the society emotionally. There is no justification logical or emotional for this pain. An emotional pain cannot be justified by logic, neither should an economic decision rest on emotional arguments. The reason an emotional justification is pulled in is because of the nationalist fervor or color being given to an economic decision.

The nationalistic line or patriotic one is wrong all it shows is the intellectual drought that TV channels suffer from these days. Their desire to kowtow the government line crosses limits of ridiculousness and borders on stupidity. Though the line is supported by those in the government and is detrimental as it will affect economic decisions in the future. People are not stupid to be swept by such fervor. TD will not reduce or remove corruption. The artifice is high and is the favorite line of criticism for opposition politicians. Especially, as the government is introducing a higher denomination Rs 2000 note and reintroducing Rs 500 and Rs 1000.

To understand, TD by itself does not remove black money or will get rid of it. One, it will help to bring more people in the banking system as they stop relying on cash, particularly traders and jewellers. Second, currency as stock is not going vanish anytime, it cannot go away, Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 are also going to come back. This step is a shock therapy to the system. To put the fear in the minds of people who do not pay taxes or use cash to hide unaccounted income. Clever politicians have tried to explain that black money is no longer kept in cash but in gold and real estate.

Like all criticism it is easy. There is no single step or action that can get India rid of black money irrespective of what politicians say. The reason it is black is because the system is not able to capture it. No country has been able to successfully capture it, which is why tax havens exist. TD affects a small percentage of it, but should this step not be taken because it affects a small percentage. Should we wait endlessly until we find that brahmashastra that will destroy black money. If incremental steps help they should be taken.

This shock required surprise, surprise required secrecy that means not many people knew. Therefore the system is still not ready. Hence the hardship! Though the secret argument cannot be used for justifying the hardship as once announced banks need to get their act together. Especially as the nail that has lost the kingdom is the tray in ATM machine that is not able to take a Rs 2000 note.

Yechury Mamata, Mayawati

CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said that of the 130 crore population in the country, only 2.6 crore have credit cards. He took a dig at Modi and narrated the infamous quote of Queen Marie Antoinette during the French revolution who had said that people can eat cakes when they don’t have bread. “We have Modi Antoinette who says ‘If you don’t have paper, use plastic'”. Alleging that a BJP unit in Kolkata deposited Rs 1 crore in Indian’s Bank Account on 8 November, he said “prove me if I am wrong.” He added that Prime Minister was advertising for Paytm while talking about cashless economy.

The CPM leader said 1/5th of the economy is black economy and people who kept black money invested it in real estate, gold etc. That is why the imports surged and stated that it was this PM only who had stated that 95 percent of the black money is stashed offshore and is in safe havens. “PM is cleaning a pond to kill crocodiles but big crocodiles have survived and only small fishes are dying.” He also demanded that corporate funding of all political parties should stop and there should be a system of state funding for elections to which Kurien said “why don’t you move a private members bill in this regard.”

Seeking immediate withdrawal of demonetization exercise, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met President Pranab Mukherjee along with leaders of National Conference, AAP and NDA ally Shiv Sena and submitted a memorandum voicing serious concern over the crisis arising out of ban on Rs 1000 and Rs 500 currency notes. She said the situation arising out of demonetization has triggered a sort of constitutional crisis.

Expressing concern over the problems being faced by the people after the demonetization move, she said “We have requested the President to speak to the government and decide on this and bring back normalcy in the country. President was once the Finance Minister and knows country’s situation better than anyone else, he will take appropriate action.” Leaders of the other opposition parties including Congress, Left parties, SP and BSP did not took part in the protest march. Describing as “dictatorial and draconian step” the government’s demonetization move, the memorandum has sought its immediate suspension. “Stop harassment of the common people by lifting of all sorts of restrictions recently thrust upon them,” the five-page memorandum said, and added “ensure that supply of essential commodities in adequate quantities be restored in the markets forthwith.”

Before beginning the march from Parliament, Mamata said “The march is to save common people from disaster.” The ban has affected the normal functioning of the household as there is no money available. However, the Shiv Sena differed on the issue and insisted the government to extend the deadline of accepting the old currency notes.

Mamata also said “Those with black money have been supported, but taxpayers are suffering”, and added that the situation arising out of demonetization has triggered a sort of constitutional crisis and financial emergency. Seeking the intervention of the President in the “interest of common people to alleviate the untold suffering, helplessness and financial insecurity that they are facing now”, the memorandum said “withdraw this draconian demonetization measure immediately.” Pitching for a broader campaign against demonetization, involving various political parties, Mamata yesterday met Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Both the leaders discussed the crisis for about 40 minutes but Kejriwal reportedly expressed his reservation to come along with Shiv Sena on a same platform.

Mamata had approached other parties, including Congress and Left, to join the march against the demonetization of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes, saying “common people are suffering because of it.” However, Congress and Left though opposing the demonetization move preferred not to join the rainbow platform created by Mamata against the government. Undeterred by the absence of major political parties she marched ahead.

Positives approach

On a day when the opposition launched an offensive against the government over the abrupt withdrawal of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1,000 notes, there was a rare exception. Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, expressed his “total support” for the ban, introduced last week by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Fake notes will disappear,” said Kumar in his home state, sharing rare agreement with PM Modi, who has said the reform will attack the roots of black or untaxed money, counterfeited currency and corruption.

The parliament decried the ban on notes as a move that is punishing the poorest and weakest, who suddenly find themselves cashless.

Eight days after the old notes were cancelled, with just a few hours’ notice, banks are swarming with huge crowds desperate to get to the counter or an ATM to collect some new currency. A new version of the Rs. 500 note is still a rarity; the 2000 rupee note is being rejected by many vendors who say they cannot provide change for the high-denomination bill.

Nearly 48 billion dollars have been deposited in banks so far, as people turn in the old notes. And though the lines at banks in cities are long, it is in villages that a crisis is threatened with lakhs who are excluded from the banking system.

For now, people can exchange Rs. 4,500 of old notes for new ones – after this swap, indelible ink is used on the customer to ensure it remains a one-time exchange; upto Rs. 24,000 can be withdrawn per week from a bank account; Rs. 4,500 can be withdrawn from an ATM per card per day. The government has repeatedly said it is working night and day to reconfigure ATM machines, which need bigger trays to stock the new currency. The Reserve Bank of India has also confirmed that it has made special arrangements to help villages by dispatching micro-ATMs

The Positives approach of Bihar CM Nitish should be misunderstood for support for the BJP government at all.

Observation

If the cash crisis, if not controlled effectively, could lead to a serious economic and financial catastrophe making India a weak nation among third world nations. If the government is unable to tackle the black and other flirty money, that could have serious impact on the future of Indian politics.

Moving towards cashless economy was fine but even the most developed economies of US or Europe has not achieved that objective yet. If they had, the US central bank would have stopped printing dollars, European Central Bank won’t be printing Euros and UK central banks would have stopped printing pound sterling.

The move is without preparedness and people will punish BJP in 2019 during general elections. People of five states going for elections including Manipur, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab will punish BJP.

The common people, especially the poor and the housewives were put to great hardship through this move and if elections are held today they will teach this government a lesson, he said, adding that majority of women who saved money through household savings were upset with the move. It shows the shallowness of the TV anchors as intelligentsia. It also shows social media has the ability to influence the trajectory of public debate. It does not portend well for a democracy when the crowd is used as the arbiter for policy. The broad segment of the public discourse can be easily drawn as it is shorn of all nuances and can be easily clubbed into segments.

The hardship is real, but griping about it is not an argument for or against TD. An opinion based on hardship is just that a gripe.

The nationalistic and the ideological jingoists are not too different. As both do not see facts they only see political angles to every policy. They are criticising this step because it will not rid India of black money.

Criticism is always the lowest form of intelligence as it is an argument without a solution. Anybody can make it does not take any effort. Just because there an opinion exists does not make it right.

Today, social media gives every man the means to broadcast their opinion. But if you have a solution with that opinion it may be just a mite more useful. Otherwise, it is just another voice shouting loudly.

Demonetization move, causing hardship for the common people, is an economic decision that has far reaching ramifications. The hardship caused to people is not the reason temporary demonetization should not be done. Please note it is a temporary demonetization (TD). If the measure is hardship government should not take any step that causes it even it is long term interest of the people.

Undoubtedly PM Modi and BJP are now focusing on the assembly poll in UP and next Parliament poll. UP poll results will have impact on the future elections in the country. After the loss of Delhi and Bihar, BJP would be hard-pressed to be seen as the loser of UP also. But BJP has no hopes whatsoever of winning state UP which is now being ruled by the Samajwadi Party (SP) and opinions reveal a plus point for the BSP of Mayawati in UP.

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Economy

Uber & the Neoliberal State

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Everyday in my local papers, I read stories with headlines like “Subway Ridership Dropped Again in New York as Passengers Flee to Uber.”  AMNY, in its daily Tweet compilation section, generally devotes at least half of its selections to posts bashing the subway and bus system.  In the midst of the hangover that was last week’s Uber IPO (in which it immediately lost 8% of its value), it would be appropriate to contemplate the intersection of Uber (and its ugly stepsister Lyft) and the government.

In the shadow of the Great Depression and WWII, under the Administrations of the multimillionaire Franklin Roosevelt and the no-nonsense Republican Dwight Eisenhower, the federal government invested the equivalent of football fields full of cash on infrastructure projects like the Interstate Highway System (which cost half a trillion in today’s dollars).  States and cities likewise undertook great transportation schemes.  Between the 1920s and 1960s, Robert Moses funded 413 mi. of parkways and 13 bridges for NYC through, among other things, local tolls. 

This spirit of investing in the mobility of American citizens and goods gradually died off with the rise of neoliberalism in the 1970s and 1980s; federal spending for transportation infrastructure spending has been in decline since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.  The sea change was most spectacularly evidenced on Oct 22 1981, when President Reagan fired and blacklisted 11,345 striking federal air traffic controllers. Cue to the present… The American Society of Civil Engineers has given America’s infrastructure a dismal grade of D+ since 2013.  Trump on the 2016 campaign trail said that, “Our airports are like from a third world country.”

Governmental abdication in regards to public transportation has created a vacuum that the private sector is now trying to fill. This is problematic for many reasons. Bereft of the full-time employee status and union membership of public transit employees, Uber and Lyft drivers, as “independent contractors”, are treated like sharecroppers, with no minimum wage or pension/healthcare plans.  Infrastructure underfunding leads to lost opportunities for construction companies and their suppliers, which costs the economy money and jobs.  Uber and Lyft, by contrast, contribute nothing to the roads, tunnels and bridges that they use, other than tolls and the income that they don’t shield via elaborate tax evasion schemes… That and a nearly threefold increase in congestion, which hurts shipping and personal drivers’ commutes. Safety laws are frequently broken by Uber and its drivers, who undergo nothing more than a basic background screening, and receive no substantive training, prior to being hired.  The secluded, close-quarters nature of the rideshare template has led to many incidences of sexual assault and harassment for drivers and riders alike (by contrast, bus and yellow-cab drivers are generally shielded from their clients by bulletproof glass).

The privatization of transit also creates a commuter caste system, in which affluent citizens can spend $20 on a quick Uber ride to work, while poorer people must rely on perpetually-delayed trains, anxiously waiting on train platforms that are often literally falling apart due to neglect.  This problem extends far beyond rideshare apps.  For years, Elon Musk has been unsuccessfully trying to sell various municipalities on the concept of the experimental hyperloop, a pricier, less efficient version of a subway.  Hyperloop trains of the future will supposedly be able to travel at 700 mph… but they can only carry 28 people at a time!  So Musk wants cities to potentially invest billions to construct underground tunnel networks that only a couple hundred people a day max would be able to use, let alone afford, considering the pricy ticket fees that would probably be necessary in order to generate electricity for the hyperloop’s futuristic maglev-vacuum operating system.  Bullet trains also operate on a maglev system, but the cost gets spread out to over a thousand customers per trip, instead of just 28.  Emulating Musk, fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos just unveiled his space exploration company Blue Origin’s lunar lander prototype.  The fact that NASA is, due to chronic underfunding, being outpaced by Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is not only a national disgrace, but a matter of concern for the welfare of humanity as a whole.  If space travel becomes monopolized by a handful of billionaires, it could eventually lead to the scenario envisioned by sci-fi dystopias like Elysium, wherein only the rich will be allowed to escape our dying planet, while the poor masses are left behind.

In regards to public transportation (and many other fields), the US is quickly falling behind China.  The Middle Kingdom has over 19,000 mi. of high-speed rail (much of it built just this past decade); the US has just 2% of that total and much of it is contained to an old NYC-DC Acela line that is woefully obsolete. Eight new airports get built in China every year, meaning that China’s total stockpile of airports will double by 2035.  The last American international airport was built last century and many existing airports, like the infamous LaGuardia, are falling apart due to underfunding.  The nation famous for its cyclists also boasts the world’s largest elevated bike lane; by contrast, bike lanes are a very controversial issue in American cities, where its staunch-individualist detractors decry them as Communist plots.

This growing disparity is being fuelled by the two nation’s different appropriations models.  China realizes the importance of central planning in regards to major infrastructure projects.  Investing in high-speed rail might not be “profitable” if measured solely by ticket revenue, but it pays for itself in the long-term by spurring urban development, construction contracts and employment, and increased tax revenues from workers now able to access better jobs and commerce.  Not to mention that traffic accidents, often the result of crumbling and obsolete road infrastructure, is the #8 cause of fatalities worldwide, including 32,000 a year in the US.  The American mindset is more myopic, focused only on short-term viability for investors.  This was encapsulated by Trump’s infrastructure plan, which focused on subsidies for corporations and localities… the same model that has been failing America’s infrastructure for decades.

It’s clear that the Uber-ization of public transportation is an inadequate and unsustainable solution.  The corporate model is solely predicated on short-term growth and the exploitation of its workforce.  In order to keep up with fellow superpower China, the US must take a centralized approach to maintaining and upgrading its faltering subways, trains, airports, bridges, roads and waterways.  Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration employed about 9M Americans in the construction of some of the world’s most successful infrastructure projects, such as 29,000 new bridges, at the height of the US’ greatest financial crisis. People like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are looking to emulate this past success by enacting a Green New Deal, which would employ millions of Americans in constructing sustainable infrastructure.  Likewise, it would be a boon for construction firms, industrial goods suppliers like Caterpillar, shipping-oriented companies like Amazon and urban-based businesses as a whole.  America must invest itself, in its people, in its future.

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Convergence Of Competitive Markets And Indian Elections

Joseph Abraham

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If competition is a key component of a flourishing economy, it is equally true that competition in electoral politics and elections is a powerful force for the healthy growth of a vibrant democracy enhancing legitimacy of political parties and their responsiveness to the aspirations of the electorate.

Viewed from the Indian perspective, there is a striking identity between the rights of consumers in the free market economy and the rights of voters in our political democracy. Equally noteworthy is the identity of the fundamental principles governing the rule of law in the free market system, the institutional arrangements for safeguarding consumer rights and the rule of law of elections and the regulatory environment for monitoring the functioning of a free and fair electoral democracy. The free market system ensures the best available goods and services are offered to the consumer at the optimal price following the principles of free market competition without restrictive and unfair trade practices enforced through the Consumer Protection Act1986 and the Competition Act 2002. 

 In the democratic system, the voters are given the right to elect the best available persons as people’s representatives through conducting elections in a free and fair manner which forms the bedrock of democracy. This is ensured by the Election Commission through the enforcement of the Guidelines of Model Code of Conduct for political parties and candidates during elections mainly with respect to speeches, polling day, polling booths, portfolios, election manifestos, processions and general conduct. Thus, while the role of a Referee in the free market system in India is played by the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum and Competition Commission of India, the rules of  free and fair elections in  political democracy are enforced by the Election Commission of India.    

In a market economy, competition facilitates a host of benefits: awareness and market penetration, higher quality at same prices, increase in demand and consumption through competitive pricing, product differentiation, upgradation and innovation, improvements in efficiency of production at optimal levels by minimising cost and losses and increasing customer service and satisfaction. Competition in politics and elections elevates the voter to a pivotal role in democracy as that given to the consumer in a market driven economy. Electoral candidates vie for votes by promising reforms such as better governance, greater socio-economic equity and positive measures for poverty alleviation.

Each political party through its campaigns, manifesto and other propaganda machinery strives hard to win the maximum number of voters in electoral democracy transforming it as a political free market system with fierce competition  between the players similar to the efforts of sellers in the  free market economy to attract the maximum number of customers.

A   free market system across the globe,  is characterised by the existence of not only the  most efficient firms but also several  inefficient ones who are unable to produce the best quality goods and services  at lowest prices and even  those resorting to fraudulent ,  restrictive and unfair trade practices. Similarly, in political democracy and elections around the world,  besides politicians and parties with high degree of integrity and democratic values, there are those with criminal records, adopting ideologies prejudiced by notions of  race,  caste, colour, gender and religion based politics, and those charged with allegations of vote buying etc. which continues to undermine the democratic process.

Consumer Rights in a Free Market Economy

In India,  the interests of the  consumer in the market economy from restrictive, unfair and anti-competitive trade practices by firms  is safeguarded through several strong legal provisions which inter alia includes  the enactment of the  Consumer Protection Act 1986  and the Competition Act 2002. In addition, consumers rights in the economy are further protected through The Indian Contract Act, 1872, The Sale of Goods Act, of 1930 and  The Agriculture produce Act of 1937.   This is further strengthened by the establishment of supportive quasi-judicial institutional arrangements i.e the Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission at the National, State and District level as well as the Competition Commission of India.

The main objective of the competition law of India is to promote economic efficiency using competition as one of the means of assisting the creation of market responsive to consumer preferences. The advantages of perfect competition are three-fold: allocative efficiency which ensures that costs of production are kept at a minimum and dynamic efficiency which promotes innovative practices.

To achieve its objectives, the Competition Commission of India endeavours to do the following:

  • Make the markets work for the benefit and welfare of consumers
  • Ensure fair and healthy competition in economic activities in the country for faster and inclusive growth and development of the economy.
  • Implement competition policies with an aim to effectuate the most efficient utilization of economic resources.
  • Develop and nurture effective relations and interactions with sectoral regulators to ensure smooth alignment of sectoral regulatory laws in tandem with the competition law.
  • Effectively carry out competition advocacy and spread the information on benefits of competition among all stakeholders to establish and nurture completion culture in Indian economy.

Voters Rights in a Political Democracy

As a free market economy cannot sustain consumer rights without supportive legal and institutional framework, there is little doubt that for the survival of a free and fair democracy, the rule of law should prevail and it is necessary that the best available persons should be chosen as people’s representatives for proper governance of the country (Gadakh Yashwantrao Kankararao v Balasaheb Vikhepati lAIR 1994 SC 678). India isa sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic. Democracy is one of the inalienable basic features of the Constitution of India and forms parts of its basic structure (Kesavanand Bharati v State of Kerala and Others AIR 1973 SC 1461). The concept of democracy, as visualised by the Constitution, pre-supposes the representation of the people in Parliament and State Legislatures by the method of election (N.P.Punnuswami v Returning Officer Namakka lAIR 1952 SC 64).

 Accordingly, in India,  in the  realm of political democracy and elections, the interests of the voters and electorate  is safeguarded through the Constitution of India,  Representation  of the People’s Act 1950 and 1951,Presidential and Vice Presidential Elections Rules 1974, Registration of Electors Rules 1960 and Conduct of Elections Rules 1961.

In India, the above legal provisions of elections and voting under political democracy    are administered and further supplemented by the Election Commission’s directions and instructions on all aspects. The underlying principle of  parliamentary democracy enforced by the Election Commission of India  is to ensure free and fair elections for which there are three pre-requisites: (1) an authority to conduct these elections, which should be insulated from political and executive interference, (2) set of laws which should govern the conduct of elections and in accordance whereof the authority charged with the responsibility of conducting these elections should hold them, and (3) a mechanism whereby all doubts and disputes arising in connection with these elections should be resolved. The Constitution of Indi has paid due attention to all these imperatives and duly provided for all the three matters.

The Constitution has created an independent Election Commission of India in which vest the superintendence, direction and control of preparation of electoral rolls for, and conduct of elections to, the officers of president and Vice President of India and Parliament and State Legislatures (Article 324). A similar independent constitutional authority has been created for conduct of elections to municipalities, panchayats and other local bodies (Articles 243 K and 243 ZA) along with legal and institutional provisions for  settlement of disputes relating to elections.

Model Code of Conduct in India

Election Commission of India  has laid down a set of guidelines for conduct of political parties and candidate during elections. The main points of code of conduct are:

  1. The government may not lay any new ground for projects or public initiatives once the Model Code of Conduct comes into force.
  2. Government bodies are not to participate in any recruitment process during the electoral process.
  3. The contesting candidates and their campaigners must respect the home life of their rivals and should not disturb them by holding road shows or demonstrations in front of their houses. 
  4. The election campaign rallies and road shows must not hinder the road traffic.
  5. Candidates are asked to refrain from distributing liquor to voters.
  6. The Code hinders the government or ruling party leaders from launching new welfare programmes like construction of roads, provision of drinking water facilities etc or any ribbon-cutting ceremonies.
  7. The code instructs that public spaces like meeting grounds, helipads, government guest houses and bungalows should be equally shared among the contesting candidates. These public spaces should not be monopolized by a few candidates.
  8. On polling day, all political party candidates should cooperate with the  poll-duty officials at the voting booths for an orderly voting process. Candidates should not display their election symbols near and around the poll booths on the polling day. No one should enter the booths without a valid pass from the Election Commission.
  9. There will be poll observers to who any complaints can be reported or submitted.
  10. The ruling party should not use its seat of power for the campaign purposes.
  11. The ruling party ministers should not make any ad-hoc appointment of officials, which may influence the voters in favour of the party in power.
  12. Before using loud speakers during their poll campaigning, candidates and political parties must obtain permission or license from the local authorities. The candidates should inform the local police for conducting election rallies to enable the police authorities to make required security arrangements. 

Conclusion

In a wider sense, both free markets and democratic elections are run on the basis of a set of rules with respective regulatory bodies enforcing the rules of the game. While there is a strong element of political centralization in the decision making process of elections, free market system is tilted more towards the principle of economic decentralisation. However, the consumer and the voter whose rights are legally and institutionally safeguarded remain as the principal beneficiaries of both systems- the economic and political. Thus free markets and democracy have identical underlying objectives of maximising welfare of the people. The convergence of the political economy of free markets and elections therefore highlights the democratic principles governing the welfare of citizens.

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Euro – 20 years on: Who won and who lost?

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The common European currency – the euro – came into being 20 years ago. Since January 1, 1999, the euro has been widely used in cashless money transfers. On January 1, 2002, banknotes and coins were introduced into circulation. How did the European countries benefit from the single currency? How many profited from its introduction?

In the early 1990s, the European Community entered a new stage of development which was characterized by a transition to a higher level of integration within it and expansion to include more members. This was provided by the Treaty on European Union, which was signed on February 7, 1992 in the Dutch city of Maastricht and entered into force on November 1, 1993. The Maastricht agreements and the subsequent decisions of the EU’s governing bodies – the European Council and the Council of the EU –formed a groundwork for a gradual, stage-by-stage creation of a monetary union and the introduction of a single currency, the euro.

At the time the decision on the introduction of the euro came into effect it was believed that the main objectives of the transition to a single monetary policy and the replacement of national banknotes with a single European one were the following. First of all, a monetary union was supposed to put the finishing touches to the formation of a common market and was to transform the EU territory into an economic space with equal opportunities for all players. A single currency was expected to facilitate the transition of the EU to a common economic policy, which, in turn, was seen as indispensable for moving to a new level of political integration. Many also viewed a single currency as vital for cementing European integration and a symbol of the economic and political integrity of the region. It was assumed that the euro would keep European countries “in the same harness” even in times of crisis and would help them to overcome differences and even resist outbursts of nationalism.

The second goal was to prevent losses caused by continuous fluctuations in the rates of Western European currencies. Once the euro was established, risk payments for possible losses in different-currency transactions became a thing of the past. It was assumed that stable and low interest rates would bring down inflation and stimulate economic growth. Thirdly, it was thought that fixed exchange rates within the euro zone with no more fluctuations would boost investment activity and, as a result, would improve the situation on the labor market. In addition, a better economic performance was to make it easier for countries to enter the EU and adapt to the new reality. A better economic performance was supposed to make European products more competitive in world markets.

Fourth, a single currency was supposed to significantly cut circulation costs. At the end of the 1990s, the existence of various national currencies cost the EU countries 20-25 billion ECU (26-33 billion dollars) annually, including the cost of keeping records of currency transactions, insuring currency risks, conducting exchange operations, drawing up the price lists in various currencies, etc. Finally, fifthly, the initiators of the single currency hoped that the euro would become one of the international reserve currencies. The introduction of the euro was supposed to change the balance of strength between the United States and united Europe in favor of the latter. In the long run, it boiled down to ensuring more independence of the EU economic policy since interest rates on long-term loans would be less dependent on American ones.

What is happening at present? Not surprisingly, the greatest difficulties emerged  while grappling with the most pressing and large-scale agenda involving the ambitious plans of the political and economic transformation of the EU and the strengthening of its global geo-economic role. Indeed, since the late 1990s, the economic and financial spheres of the EU have undergone dramatic changes. In 2004 and 2007, the majority of Central and Eastern European countries joined the Union (an increase in social dumping). The current EU “bears little resemblance” to that of 20 years ago. “Not only the currency has become different, but the entire European economy has changed.”

Nevertheless, as predicted by those who criticized the approved version of transition to a single European currency, chances for meeting the criteria of eurozone membership in case the global economy followed an unfavorable scenario are pretty slim for most countries of the eurozone. As economic and financial crises sweep Europe one after another, the presence of the euro and the unprecedentedly high level of the European Central Bank’s autonomy and its extensive powers are restricted by the “possibility of influencing the economy” of separate states. Since inflation rates vary from country to country, the interest rate suggested by the ECB (about 2%) turns out to be too low for countries with high inflation (which leads to financial bubbles) and too high for countries with low inflation (which has a negative impact on investments).

As a result, the economic slowdown in European economies in the 2000s through 2010s led to increases in budget deficits. According to the requirements of the eurozone, governments have to raise taxes or cut spending, even if it damages national economy. Formally, there exists a procedure to tackle economic upheavals in this or that country of the eurozone to minimize their consequences for other members. From the point of view of abstract macroeconomic indicators this procedure is functioning well. But, judging by what happened in Spain, and then in Greece and Italy, its social, economic and subsequently, political costs are too high. In the first place, we talk about social upheavals, which became one the main reasons for the rise of “right-wing populists” across Europe.

The euro is running into problems mainly because it hinges on politics, rather than economics. On the one hand, it is this that largely keeps it from the collapse. The EU leadership is ready to sustain any financial or economic losses to preserve the single currency.  However, from the economic viewpoint, the ECB’s readiness for currency interventions has ruined market discipline. In March this year the German Wirtschafts Woche stated that the euro had failed to become either an effective currency or an EU stability enhancing tool. What proves it is the fact that without “billions and billions in financial injections on the part of the European Central Bank and European governments to save the euro the single currency would have long sunk dead”. The 2008 financial crunch quickly triggered the crisis of the eurozone which culminated in the Greek debt crisis of 2010. As a result, “the dispute over how to save the single currency laid bare purely political differences across Europe”.

As skeptics forecast, membership in the eurozone, sought by countries with different levels of economic development regardless of the tough requirements and selection criteria, resulted in a situation in which a setback in the global economic performance hit weaker members the hardest. Citing the IMF, Le Figaro points out that “the euro exchange rate is too high for France and Italy (which deals a blow on their competitiveness), and is too low for Germany (by about 20%)”.  This provided the German economy with a clear edge over other EU members and secured a “huge foreign trade proficit”. Moreover, in the course of the eurozone crisis in 2009 there emerged a vicious circle: Germany’s domineering position in the EU enabled Berlin to dictate its policy of austere budgetary measures to the greater part of the rest of Europe, which, in turn, gave rise to an outburst of anti-German sentiment in a whole range of countries, including Greece and Italy.

Therefore, in 20 years of its existence the euro has made Germany yet more powerful economically than it used to be. Simultaneously, it has become a major factor that contributed to Germany’s isolation in Europe. Critics say that while drafting the euro project its authors meant to weaken Germany. Instead, the single currency “strengthened it, providing it with competitive advantages through a “weak” euro”. Central Europe has become a supplier of spare parts for German businesses thereby putting into practice the Mitteleuropa Doctrine in the 21st century. The rest of the EU countries have become a market for German goods. Meanwhile, Germany has to pay for economic failures of an ever greater number of its EU partners. In such a way, Germany’s economic might has all but become a major threat to European integration. Pessimists fear the current economic and geopolitical trends will sooner or later push the Germans into pursuing a more “egoistic” and “aggressive” policy, in every sense of the word. Everyone remembers what this kind of policy ended with in a period from the mid19th to the mid20th century.

As for the second and third points of the objectives of a single currency, the results are contradictory. Inflation in the eurozone is indeed at an all-time low. There has occurred a unification of the common market of goods, capitals and workforce. At the same time, measures which are being taken by the European Central Bank to fight low inflation have more than once driven a number of EU countries into recession and sovereign debt crises. Living standards in EU countries have not been growing steadily over the past few years. A rise in wages has turned out to be much smaller than predicted in the late 1990s.  Most European banks still prefer holding debt obligations of their countries only, which, in case of financial crisis, is fraught with banking problems and could ruin national economy. As for competitiveness, the appearance of a single market “in the first place, aggravated competition between  EU countries”. Simultaneously, the introduction of the same standards and requirements for all countries of the eurozone “cemented their differences, rather than brought them together”.

The fourth point can be considered fully implemented. Economic transactions have been simplified, cost less and have got rid of exchange-related risks. According to the British The Economist, three out of five residents of eurozone countries consider the euro useful for their country. And 75% of Europeans are sure that the single currency benefits the EU. Meanwhile, the removal of barriers to capital movements has led to a significant imbalance in investments, especially in the industrial sector. The main benefits went to countries located in the center of the EU while the geographical “periphery” of the eurozone has lost some of its former investment attractiveness. But the presence of the euro makes it impossible for the less fortunate countries to stimulate the economy by bringing down the currency value.

As for the fifth point, some of the ambitious plans have been implemented. The euro has already made a significant contribution to the weakening of the position of the US dollar in the global economy. According to the European Commission, one-fifth of the world’s currency reserves are denominated in the single European currency. “340 million citizens use it daily, 60 countries and territories link their currency to it”. On the other hand, 10 years of 20 years of its history the eurozone has devoted to the struggle against an “unprecedented crisis”. By now, experts say there has been a “fragile recovery.” Nevertheless, unlike its main competitors, the dollar and the yuan, the euro has no solid foundation. The EU budget is used mainly for paying subsidies to member countries, while the years-long disputes over prospects for creating a common EU ministry of finance all but fuel differences between 19 eurozone governments.

Thus, according to optimists, criticism of the euro is first of all the result of profound differences on the fundamental issues of European economic policy. The single currency consolidated the leaders of Europe, provided them with the common goal of creating a more integrated, a more attractive for trade and business, and a globally competitive, economy. However, a further stable existence of a single currency mechanism in Europe calls for urgent reforms, which European politicians are either not ready for or are not capable of. According to critics, the single currency has driven the different economies of the EU countries into the Procrustean bed of all-fitting standard format. The single currency mechanism completely ignores, if not completely denies, the geographical, historical and cultural specifics of the member states. Overall, the current model of economic and monetary integration in the EU mindlessly forces countries whose national economies do not match the general format “to carry out endless reforms,” which all but aggravate their long-standing inherent problems.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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