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Back to IMF: Whither Pakistan’s Medina Model

Amjed Jaaved

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Pakistan has been availing International Monetary Fund loan packages without stricto sensuo acting upon reforms since late 1980s. Its finance minister is now horn-locked with the International Monetary Fund ferreting out strings, a tangled skein, to a US$ 6 billion to $12 billion bailout package.    Pakistan could complete one IMF package that ended in 2016. That too with a number of requirements relaxed.

IMF’s worries

The thorny questions hovering over the instant package are opaque US$ 60 billion Chinese loans (diversion of IMF dollars to China), trimming unbridled spending,  nurturing  bloated state-owned corporations,  inaction against tax dodgers (low tax-to-Gross Domestic Product ratio), sluggish textile exports (lost out to Bangladesh), and US$7.6 billion debt-stricken energy sector. Besides, current-account and budget gaps have swelled to more than 5 percent of gross domestic product and foreign-currency reserves have plunged to the lowest in almost four years. In response authorities have devalued the rupee five times since December and hiked interest rates the most in Asia. The GDP growth of about 5.2 per cent in 2018 rolled down to 2.9 per cent in 2019 and a further decline to 2.8 in 2020.Inflation jumped from 3.9 per cent in 2018 to over 7.6 per cent in 2019. Already grey listed, Pakistan is fighting tooth and nail to wriggle out of stigma notwithstanding virulent Indian pressure to freeze it so.  

Interest-free Medina-model rhetoric

Pakistan had to go to the IMF doorstep despite cricketer-turned-prime minister Imran Khan’s reluctance. He was enamoured of Medina model as every Muslim should. Both Islam and Marxism did away with `interest’ as primum mobile of capital formation. But, Alas! Imran had to wake up about bitter reality of the economic world around. Much to his chagrin, even chairman of Pakistan’s Islamic Ideology Council has warned (October 22, 2018) him against `romanticism’.  He urged the government to set up a task force to realize a “Medina State” and suggested the formation of a task force to realize this vision., The whole of Pakistan,  with wistful eyes, looks forward to fulfillment of this dream of `new Pakistan’.

We now live in a different world.

Unlike Medina, today’s Pakistan is a complex state. Shortly after his arrival at Medina, the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) built a mosque and a market place there. Like the mosque, the market place could not be privatised. There was free entry and exit of traders (akin to perfect competition under micro-economics) and caravans to the market. No monopolies, duopolies and cartels! A section of the market caravanserai was reserved for foreign traders. The whole world could sell their goods there free of any taxes.  

Some clever local traders tried to take advantage of robust trade. They used to buy caravan camel loads outside the Medina (before they reached Medina), and sell it at dictated price. Islam outlawed this practice as talaqqiur rukaban (seeing faces of riders).  Islam prohibited all types of future trading involving element of uncertainty (advance purchase of raw tree-fruit, fish in the pond, and so on). Islam prohibited usury (riba) in all its forms (loan giving at agreed interest taffazzul, or loan profiting due to delay naseea). When Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) tried to exchange his coarse-quality dates with fine-quality dates the Holy Prophet forbade him. He told him to sell his dates for cash and buy better dates at prevailing price. The Prophet did not live in a 300-kanal-and-10-marla house (like Pakistan’s prime minister). Nor did he, like our numerous politicians, own assets abroad. He bequeathed a dozen swords but no precious metals (Golda Meier). Islam globalized free-market mechanism (laissez faire). It changed attitudes and avaricious mindsets. Being a dominant religion, Islam dictated its own terms of trade.

To fulfil its promises, Pakistan’s government budgeted public-sector development- programme outlay of only Rs. 800 billion for the federation and only Rs 850 billion for the provinces. The government has a Hobson choice. With India, at daggers drawn, could it divert security allocation to welfare? Some writers described Pakistan as a `garrison state’.

For an economic turnaround, Pakistan’s visionary prime minister has to shun rhetoric, and decide upon suitable economic policies. It needs to look at the economic world around, beyond Medina.

Interest outlawed under Pakistan’s constitution

Under preamble to Pak constitution `sovereignty’ belongs to Allah Almighty, not to people themselves as under US constitution. The elected representative can wield authority within defined religious limits. Interest is outlawed under

Article 38 (f) of the Constitution of Pakistan, quoted heretofore _ Article 38 (Promotion of social and economic well-being of the people) The State shall…(f) eliminate riba

[economic interest]

as early as possible. The Islamic preamble (Objectives Resolution) was inserted in draft constitution under Pakistan’s prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s influence. Unlike Pakistan’s most `leaders’, Liaquat Ali Khan was financially scrupulous. Aside from his honesty, Liaquat Ali Khan could not foresee he would be the first to sow seeds of religious discord. Jamsheed Marker, in his book Cover Point, observes ` charge against Liaquat was that he moved the Objectives Resolution, which declared Pakistan to be an ‘Islamic State’ (ibid. p. 33)”. Unlike the US and many other secular constitutions, the Objectives Resolution (now Preamble to 1973 Constitution) states `sovereignty belongs to Allah Almighty’. The golden words of the constitution were warped to continue an interest-based economy. We pay interest on our international loans and international transactions. Do we live in an interactive world or in an ivory tower? Isn’t Islamisation old wine in new bottle?

Follow-up to `Interest’ outlawed

The Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan enforced Shariah Governance Regulations 2018. This regulation is follow-up to Article 38 (f) of the Constitution of Pakistan, and Senate’s resolution No. 393 (July 9, 2018) for abolition of riba (usury).

(extortionist interest) and normal interest/profit are indistinguishable. They disallow even saving bank-accounts. They point out that riba is anathema both as `addition’ (taffazzul) and due to `delay'(nas’ee) consequent upon fluctuating purchasing power.

The regulation is welcome but there are unanswered questions about Islamisation of finance in Pakistan. We pay interest on our loans and international transactions. The sheiks put their money in Western banks and earn hefty interest thereon.

Future trading is hub of modern commerce. Yet, it is forbidden under Islam. At International Islamic University, I learned that Islamic law of contract does not even allow advance contracts concerning raw fish, fruit, or anything involving element of `uncertainty’. Islam does not allow even tallaqi-ur-rukbaan (buying camel-loads of goods from caravan before they had reached Madina open-market. Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him) forbade Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him) to exchange poor-quality dates with superior-quality dates. He was advised to sell off his dates in open market for cash and then buy better-quality dates with money so earned.

Interest-based real world

Complex `interest’-based world

Gnawing reality of complex interest-based economic world has now dawned on the government. To quote a Murphy Law `nothing is as simple as it seems at first’. Pakistan needs to review the whole gamut of its economic structure (feudal lords, industrial robber barons, money launderers, and their ilk) and International Monetary Fund conditions. In his lifetime, even our Holy Prophet had to engage in commercial partnerships with the non-Muslim also.

Even Marx did not live in Utopia. He, also, constantly searched for solutions to the problems of the real world around. Disgusted at the simplistic interpretations of his ideas, he cried in boutade: “If this is Marxism, what is certain is that I am not a Marxist”. Keynese offered panacea of deficit financing with concomitant inflation to swerve 1930-Depression unemployment and stagnation. He also reacted to mis-interpretation of his ideas, saying `I am not a Keynesian’.

Keynesian theories preceded a lot of discussion about Gold Exchange Standard, stable prices.  To create more money, deficit financing (paper money) was resorted to. As a result the hydra-headed monster of inflation was unleashed. Keynes believed inflation was a `short run phenomenon typical of a full- employment stagnant economy’. But, it became a long run phenomenon. Keynes postulated `With perfectly free competition, there will always be a strong tendency for wage relates to be so related to demand that everyone is employed at level of full employment’. When Keynes was asked about persistence of inflation (too much money chasing too few goods), he replied `In the long run we are all dead’. Post-Keynesian economists coined the term `stagflation’ to explain the phenomenon. With visible massive joblessness, Pakistan is far from a full-employment economy. The paltry household income has to bear the brunt of forced reduction in purchasing power due to rising price level, or falling rupee value.

We adopted floated exchange rate that ballooned our debt burden. No economist has ever applied his mind to effect, positive or negative, of international debt burden on Pakistan economy. No-one ever visualized even the idea of `odious debts’.

Pak government discourages savings

Keynes postulated savings are equal to investment. But, Pakistan discourage savings and encourage consumerism by reducing profit on saving deposits, and increasing taxes on small savings. Locke and others say government can’t tax without taxpayer’s consent. In Pakistan, the govt. picks people’s pockets through withholding taxes and reduction in National Saving Schemes profits. Even unissued bonds lying in Pakistan’s State Bank vaults are included in each draw.  The prizes on such bonds are devoured by State Bank, a body corporate, without buying them. Pakistan’s hidden economy is more than the monetized one. It needs to evolve politico-religious milieu and macro-economic theories that suit our country best. It should promote savings while blocking illegal cash flows by introducing magnetic-card transactions in everyday life.

Pakistan’s burgeoning interest-based debt burden

External Debt in Pakistan increased to US$ 95097 million in the second quarter of 2018 from US$ 91761 million in the first quarter of 2018. External Debt in Pakistan averaged US$ 54065.23 million from 2002 until 2018, reaching an all-time peak of 95097 US$ Million in the second quarter of 2018 from a record low of US$ 33172 million in the third quarter of 2004. International Monetary Fund expects Pakistan’s external debt to climb to US$103 billion by June 2019. Pakistan Government Debt to GDP 1994-2018 presents a dismal picture. Pakistan recorded a government debt equivalent to 67.20 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product in 2017. Government Debt to Gross Domestic Product in Pakistan averaged 69.30 percent from 1994 until 2017. It reached peak of 87.90 percent in 2001 and a record low of 56.40 percent in 2007. Successive Pakistan governments treated loans as free lunches. They never abode by revised Fiscal Responsibility and Debt Limitation Act. Nor did our State Bank warn them about the dangerous situation. State Bank however passively reported, every Pakistani owed over Rs115, 000 as the country’s burden of total debt and liabilities increased to Rs. 23.14 trillion by the end of December 31, 2016.

Pakistan’s debts not payable being `odious’?

Pakistan’s debt burden has a political tinge. For joining anti-Soviet-Union alliances (South-East Asian Treaty Organisation and Central Treaty Organisation), the USA rewarded Pakistan by showering grants on Pakistan. The grants evaporated into streams of low-interest loan which ballooned as Pakistan complied with forced devaluations or adopted floating exchange rate. Soon, the donors forgot Pakistan’s contribution to break-up of the `Soviet Union’. They used coalition support funds and our debt-servicing liability as `do more’ mantra levers.

Apparently, all Pakistani debts are odious as they were thrust upon praetorian regimes to bring them within anti-Communist (South East Asian Treaty Organisation, Central Treaty Organisation) or anti-`terrorist’ fold.  To avoid unilateral refusal of a country to repay odious debts, UN Security Council should ex ante [or ex post] declare which debts are `odious’ (Jayachandaran and Kremer, 2004). Alternatively, the USA should itself write off our `bad’ debts.

But Pakistan and its adversaries are entrapped in a prisoner’s dilemma. The dilemma explains why two completely rational players might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. .The ` prisoners’ dilemma’ was developed by RAND Corporation scientists Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher and was formalized by Albert W. Tucker, a Princeton mathematician.

No demand raised for forgiveness of `odious debts

Several IMF and US state department delegations visited Pakistan. But, Pakistan could not tell them point-blank about non-liability to service politically-stringed debts. The government’s dilemma in Pakistan is that defence and anti-terrorism outlays (26 per cent) plus debt-service charges leave little in national kitty for welfare. Solution lies in debt forgiveness by donors (James K. Boyce and Madakene O’Donnell(eds.), Peace and the Public Purse.2008. New Delhi. Viva Books p, 251).

Debt forgiveness promotes growth

Debt forgiveness (or relief) helps stabilise weak democracies, though corrupt, despotic and incompetent.  Research shows that debt relief promotes economic growth and boosts foreign investment. Sachs (1989) inferred that debt service costs discourage domestic and foreign investment. Kanbur (2000), also, concluded that debt is a drag on private investment.

In fact, economists have questioned justification of paying debts given to prop up a regime congenial to a dominant country.  They hold that a nation is not obliged to pay such `odious debts’ (a personal liability) showered upon a praetorian individual (p. 252 ibid.). Legally also, any liability financial or quasi-nonfinancial, contracted under duress, is null and void.

No economist to steer economy

Economics is mumbo jumbo to Pakistan’s finance minister. Renowned economist Atif Mian could not take over as finance minister because of uproar against his Ahmediyya/Qadiani religious belief. In protest, another cabinet-slot nominee Khwaja Asim also regretted to assume office formally (though continuing informal help ).

Pakistan’s economy: Back to basic

Economics remains a match between limited resources vis-à-vis unlimited wants (Lionel Robbins). What are our resources or factors of production (land, labour and socio-economic milieu, capital and organisation)?  Through what system these resources could interplay to start capital accumulation (growth/development/technical progress) in our country?

Our agriculture is exposed to vagaries of nature (floods, famines, etc.). Besides, productivity of our agricultural sector is low because of disguised unemployment (farmers produce less as compared to their ilk in advanced countries).

People are shy of investing in productive capacity because they could earn more in marketing and other business lines (even in real estate).

We have to determine optimal balance between public and private sectors. We have to balance constraints of security and welfare.

Manufacturing sector, not agriculture, produced Asian Tigers. Studies reflect that there is

correlation between manufacturing sector and economic development in our country. We need to adopt such polices as make manufacturing primum mobile of our economic development.Let some industries be croissance des fleures and improve some nuclei (one school, one university, one hospital) before expecting to transform the whole country through a magic wand (Waterston, Development Planning: Lesson of Experience).

Lessons for an economic turnaround

We need to realize that economics is a social, an inexact, science, but responsive to dynamic environment. Keynesian post-1930-Great-Depression macro-economic policies understood that unemployment is not due to un- or under-utilised productive capacity. It is due to under-spending and lack of effective demand to buy over-produced goods.

Mega housing project to promote capital formation Pakistan government has announced to build a million houses under Naya Housing Project . The scheme smacks of Ragnar Nurkse (Capital formation in underdeveloped countries). Will effective demand increased through mega housing projects will spill over into increased buying of goods imported from China and other countries?

A faulty project

To solve any problem, its nitty-gritty (features) should be first identified: (a) Shelter-providers are highly stratified. (b) Defence Housing Authority caters for shelter needs of military officers. It strictly adheres to its formula of allotment of flats and plots. But, it excludes `civilians paid out of defence services estimates’ (c) The Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (and affiliate Pakistan Housing Authority) is supposed to allot plots to retired employees. But, it does not follow the date-of-birth criteria. Now only Grade 22 employees (including judges) get plots. Those in Grade 17 to 21(septuagenarians like me or even octogenarians and nonagenarians) may die without a plot or a flat.  (d) The FGEHF misuses hardship clause which favours not so hard-up people. For instance, a Customs collector on deputation to National Accountability Bureau was quickly obliged with a plot. He was allotted plot first and asked to submit illness certificate later (e)  It is eerie that FGEHF’s definition of `employees’, now, has infinity as its limit. It includes non-employees like legal fraternity, including Supreme Court Bar Association. (f) According to media reports, the FGEHF reeks of corruption and favouritism. (g) Shelter for general public needs careful study, beyond rhetoric of market demand and supply _ The Korangi Town Project, Lyari Expressway Projects, Khuda Ki Basti, ‘Home Ownership Scheme for the People’(1964), and ‘The National Housing Policy’ 2001.Trusting FGEHF for `naya housing’? `A cat’s a cat and that’s that’. The new government should have the nerve to merge all shelter providers (in khaki and mufti) and devise a national housing policy, instead of focusing on `houses’.

China should change consumerist Pakistan into a productive economy

Let China help expand Pakistan’s manufacturing capacity and thereby reduce unemployment in Pakistan. All policymakers should act in unison. They include policy formulators (prime minister, finance minister, et. al), policy detailers (chief economic adviser, statisticians) and technocrats. The policy-makers should decide upon balance of priority. agriculture or industry, “closed” economy with import substitution, “living within means” and balanced budget or deficit budget. Will increased spending “crowd in” or “crowd out” private investment? Monetary policy objectives and the role of the central bank_ stability of employment and inflation, growth rate, balance-of-payments issues Role of foreign-direct investment and “non-bank financial institutions? Their impact on capital formation, consumption trends, and other macroeconomic aspects.

Technocrats, being apolitical unlike policy formulators, could implement policies single-mindedly. Our precious borrowed dollars should not be frittered away into increased imports.

Pakistan’s economic system?

During Ayub era, capitalist growth had a free hand.  That led to rise of 22 nouveau rich families. A university mapped them in `Concentration of wealth and economic power in Pakistan’. Dr. Mahbubul Haq, himself the architect of laissez faire growth strategy, identified his mistakes in `Seven Sins of Economic Planners in Pakistan’. During post-Ayub period, we experimented with Bhutto-brand socialism. Later we embraced Islamic mode of financing mostly by packing old wine in new bottle (PLS sharing for `interest’, modarba,  musharika for partnership, so on). At the same time we kept paying debt service and contracting new loans under capitalist international system.

The downtrodden remained so in our Islamic system. The international exploitative capitalist system, on the other hand, delivered goods. Rapid economic growth with substantial amelioration in lot of the common man.  Soviet brand collectivism collapsed into oblivion.

Capitalism accepts inequality in incomes as a fait accompli. So do studies by political philosophers like Aristotle, Tacitus, Moska, Michel, Marx, Pareto and C. Wright Mill. Yet, sans uniform health care, education, and other basic facilities to masses, life in Pakistan is more miserable than in the West. Why? Soul searching needed by rulers and ruled alike.

Islamic modernism

A fetter to Pakistan’s rapid economic growth is debate between radical Islamists (fundamentalists) and liberal reformers The liberals, like Farag Fuda and Abu Zayd (Egypt), read the sources of Islamic sharia in terms of time and place (historical relativism). They advocate reading holy texts in our own terms, interpreting them in accordance with spirit and intentions. The radials (conservatives) regarded the liberals as heretics or apostates. Farag was murdered in 1992 and Abu-Zayd exiled in following years.

The conservatives say `Islam is complete’. The man in the street sees no undisputed Islamic model in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan or anywhere. We `circumcised’ some banking, civil and criminal laws to show case them as Islamic. For instance, we introduced PLS, modarba, musharika. Practically, there was no tangible impact on society, economy or polity. In international aid and trade, we conformed to secular principles. We continued to interest-based loans and pay debt service. Islamic punishments, introduced by Ziaul Haq had questionable impact. Sami Zubaida points out in his book Law and Power in the Islamic World (p. 224), “It is ironic that so-called Islamic punishments are described as `medieval’, when in fact, medieval jurists and judges showed great restraint   in their application while modern dictators flaunt them as a religious legitimacy”.

The Islamisation of laws is regarded by critics as hypocritical. Pakistanis have a long list of Constitutional rights. But, a proviso makes them non-enforceable through courts. Pakistan’s qanun-shahadat (evidence law) defines qualifications of a witness (tazkia-tus-shahood). But, it softens its Palladian to accept any witness if the ideal witness is not available. The less said about sadiq and ameen clauses, the better. Under these clauses, even a three time priminister was sacked by Pakistan’s Supreme Court. 

A judge has to decide according to law not according to his conscience and divine authority. An example is ban on gambling like circuses by one judge. The decision was turned down on appeal as it is Pakistan’s Electronic Media Regulatory Authority, not the court to adjudicate such matter.

Conclusion

Pakistan could not emerge as an Asian tiger because of indecision about what system to follow. The vested interests, particularly religious obscurantists, often smother dissent from so called enlightened moderators. Rampant sectarianism in Pakistan with concomitant effects on economy is an offshoot of lacunae in religious interpretations by vested interests.

Pakistan has abolished interest (riba) in accordance with its fundamental law. Yet its banking sector and international transctions are interest based.

Let Pakistan face the truth. It needs to evolve and show case a politico-economic model of Islam that is compatible with international practices. Or else, dispense with hypocritical patchwork, and go for secularist IMF model.

Mr. Amjed Jaaved has been contributing free-lance for over five decades. His contributions stand published in the leading dailies at home and abroad (Nepal. Bangladesh, et. al.). He is author of seven e-books including Terrorism, Jihad, Nukes and other Issues in Focus (ISBN: 9781301505944). He holds degrees in economics, business administration, and law.

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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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Economy

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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