Thursday, March 14, 2013
'Exploitation of the workers' is the moral basis for all forms of
leftist ideologies and Marxism. This concept has permeated the
collective conscience of human kind in the past 200 years like no
other concept before. The moral basis provided by this concept had
caused more deaths, mayhem, mass murder, suppression of human rights,
stagnation of economies and corruption than any other ideology
including Nazism or any religious dogma. But the whole basis for this
concept of exploitation of the surplus value of labour by the
capitalists, which is derived from Karl Marx's magnum opus "Das
Capital' is an invalid and disproved hypothesis.
Marx argued in Das Capital that the one and only source of profits
(which accumulate into capital subsequently) is the exploitation of
'surplus' value of labour for which the workers are not paid. He
evokes complex mathematical models to 'prove' this hypothesis. But
when this 'value' is translated in prices, the theory looses its
validity. According the Das Capital, profits are derived solely from
the surplus value of labour. He makes no allowance for the
enterprising and organising skills of the 'entrepreneur-capitalist' ;
But we shall see that the profits are created solely by the
entrepreneur's abilities and hard work.
The following projections are put forth by Marx based on labour theory
of surplus value :
1. Profits tend to fall within a business cycle as well as in the long
term due to come due to competition among capitalists who will
innovate and introduce labour saving machines to reduce cost of
production. As the surlplus value of the labour is the only source for
profits, introduction of more machines that displace labourers will
reduce the profits.
2. Each business cycle will be progressively worse than the previous
one and at the end of each business cycle, the smaller firms will be
bought out by large firms which will grow in size.
3. The standard of living of the workers will always tend to border
the subsistence levels and can never ever increase to reasonable
4. As the troughs of each business cycle tends be lower than the
trough of the previous cycle, this downward spiral of the whole system
will ultimately end in a massive collapse of the capitalistic system
itself from which the socialistic state will emerge.
But the economic history of the world since Marx's time has not
progressed as per the above projections. Business cycles have not
worsened in the way he predicted nor did profits fall with the
introduction of labour saving machines. Most importantly the standard
of living and working conditions of the workers have improved
dramatically in the past 150 years ; Especially in the developed
nations in Europe, N.America, Japan, S.Korea, Taiwan, etc. Even in the
developing nations like India, China, Chile, Botswana, etc the average
standard of living of the proletariat has improved a lot in the past
All these results contradict Marx's hypothesis and hence it can be
assumed that the basis of his theory : surplus value of labour itself
is invalid. For the workers are always paid first according to the
market value of their labour, while the capitalist-entrepreneur may or
may not get the rewards for his risk taking and entrepreneurial
abilities. Some practical points that need to be explained by
Marxists are :
1. Assuming two or more similar companies engaged in the same industry
are located within the same industrial estate with similar capital
structure, machineries and labourers, the output, profitability and
growth of each unit varies considerably. Assuming the labour
productivity is the same for all the workers in this area, then what
can be the explanation for the sharp difference in the efficiency,
output, and profit margins of these companies ?
2. What explains the very high profit ratios in many industries which
had dramatically reduced the labour component in their production
costs by introducing automation and innovative machineries during the
course of a few decades. For example, in agriculture and textiles in
developed nations, in spite of the tremendous shift of populations
from these sectors to other sectors as a result of introduction of
enormous machines, the profitability in these sectors had not fallen
proportionately. Marxists may try to explain this paradox by arguing
that the surplus labour that went into the manufacturing of these
machines are the reason. But this again gives rise to the same
question about those industries that produce capital goods. No valid
and empirical proof exists for this theory !
3. According to Das Capital, the net surplus value in a system is
constant (and will vary with the variation of the workers population
only) ; But in reality the 'surplus' within many systems have
increased exponentially while the workers population had not grown
proportionately. Hence how did this exponential growth of total
surplus value occur ?
Any worker turned entrepreneur (there are many) would vouch for the
fact that it is the entrepreneurial ability that makes the vital
difference in the performance of the firm. All these worker turned
entrepreneurs had started their lives as workers, working along
millions of similarly placed workers. But some of them managed to save
and / or get into partnerships with co-workers to start small firms
which ultimately grew into giants. All the corporate giants in this
world were once tiny start ups fired by the sheer enthusiasm and
determination of those pioneers. Can anyone name any company which is
continuously existing in its present size and form for many centuries
? Petrochemical giants, pharma majors, automobile majors, IT majors,
companies like Walmart, CNN, Dell, Sony, Apple, Virgin Atlantic, etc :
all were founded by pioneering individuals with nothing but their bare
hands. Their legal heirs had expanded these companies into giants over
There are of course, criminal elements among capitalists and corporate
who misuse the loopholes in the rule of law, especially in the
developing nations which have high levels of corruption and cronyism.
But these are exception rather than the rule. Generally in nations
where the rule of law is upheld systematically and where the ethics
remain high, (like in Scandinavian nations, etc) the misuse by
companies are rare. But Marxists usually cherry pick these exception
to paint a distorted picture while glossing over the terrible crimes
caused by their socialistic alternative to the system.
It is always the risk taking, hard working and pioneering effort of
the entrepreneur that makes the difference. Nothing else ; neither
government 'help' nor 'looting' from the public nor wars. These
pioneers are heroes and not the villains (who exploit the workers)
that they are portrayed to be by the Marxists. I salute them all.
All the nations which had allowed full freedom for these innovators
and pioneers to get along their vision, without blocking their
entrepreneurship in any manner had prospered over the centuries, while
all those nations which did the opposite stagnated and remained
impoverished. Indian and Japanese experience since 1947 are the
prime examples for this basic difference.
However the myth of 'exploited' workers still wreck havoc and is very
difficult to eradicate from the minds of emotional idealists who only
see the sharp contrast between the poor and the wealthy. Only way to
eradicate poverty and usher in prosperity on a mass scale is thru a
free market system based on liberal democracy along with a welfare
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
Thursday, September 09, 2010
about the shortage of basic needs in India,
esp about food, healthcare and education needs.
But so far, i have not seen anything on the second most important
of the basic needs : Clothing
there is too much data on nutriciton deficiency, malnutrition, crisis in
agriculture, farmers sucides, food production, etc. But so far nothing
Clothing and textile industry has been allowed to evolve into full
fledged capitalistic model with economies of scale, etc after LPG.
Hence there is no supply constraints and prices too have
faller drastically when compared to the 70s and 60s. the poorest of
the poor are now better
and fully clothed than ever before. I guess for those who lived thru 50s, 60s
and 70s, witnessed torn and old cloths worn by poor and middle class.
Clothing was a luxury and owning terlin shirt was a prestige issue. Now,
a poor labourer can buy a piece of cloth (s shirt or saree) with his/ her one
or two day wages. I guess it cost more than these wage rates in the
Can we have an informed debate about this ?
and land ceiling acts prevented Indian agricultre into evolving into full
fledged large corporate farms of 1000s of acres of size (or collective
farms of communist states). Only coffee and tea plantations have
been exemtped because they will not be viable on tiny or small
scale. But the logic behind allowing very large farms of coffee or
tea equally applies to other agriculture farms like paddy, wheat,
sugarcane, fruits, etc.
Any inputs about the comparisons between these two vital
needs : Food Vs Clothing in India ? I guess the entry of Reliance
made a big difference in this field..
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Rajaji writes about Sri Sri Prakasa and Nehru's policies :
December 18, 1965 Swarajya
Source : Satayam Eva Jeyate Vol : III page : 170
Monday, August 17, 2009
Financial crisis? No, capitalism as usual
Dated: August 05, 2009
Just five months ago, when stock and commodity markets hit rock bottom, capitalism was viewed as seriously if not terminally sick. The Financial Times ran a series of articles labeled "The Future of Capitalism." Economists, politicians, and philosophers saw the Great Recession of 2007-09 as a historic watershed, and produced new visions of a changed capitalism.
Today, that looks like much ado about nothing. Stock markets are booming, commodity prices are rising, and shipping rates have tripled. Pessimists warn of rising defaults in credit cards, commercial realty and corporate debt, so we could have a double-dip recession. But markets believe the worst is over. Despite political and public outrage over "casino capitalism" the financial reforms being contemplated across the world are not fundamental.
Four months ago, pundits waxed eloquent about learning lessons for reform from the financial crisis. Today the greatest lesson of all seems to be that capitalism, with all its flaws, can cope with Great Recessions. We have always had financial crises and always will: that's the nature of capitalism. The system will always need reforms to keep pace with changing technologies and innovations. Yet it has proved its resilience. Mark Twain once said that rumours of his death were greatly exaggerated. The same can be said of capitalism.
In years ahead, financial regulation will definitely increase. But this will change capitalism's profile only slightly, since the financial sector was the most regulated one even before the crisis. Hedge funds, the least regulated financial entities of all, survived the crisis without bailouts, even as banks, the most regulated entities, suffered badly. Regulation does not prevent all crises: Japan had the most regulated financial sector among developed countries but suffered a lost decade in the 1990s. Lesson: while the future will see more regulation, financial crises will still happen.
Stiffer capital adequacy norms look certain, to check the excessive leverage of the last decade. Yet history suggests that financial innovation will ultimately find ways round regulations. Bank regulation was ultimately circumvented by a shadow banking system, and off-balance sheet vehicles. Expect ultimate circumvention of the new regulations. This will not be entirely a tragedy. The gains of financial innovation may initially be eclipsed by losses, but the losses are typically checked after a fiasco whereas the gains become permanent.
In future, most derivatives will have to be traded through a clearing house, ending the counterparty risk that sank the asset-backed securities market. Despite criticism, securitization will continue with modifications. Banks will be able to securitise mortgages subject to retaining a certain proportion of mortgages they originate, a safeguard against excessive risk-taking in mortgage origination.
Some flaws will not be reformed at all. A special US problem is that its mortgages are non-recourse loans: the lender can get back the house after a default, but cannot go after the other assets of the borrower. This encourages massive willful default. Mortgage lenders in India, Europe and most countries, can go after other assets. But US politicians portray the entire housing bust as an evil perpetrated by lenders on innocent home buyers, and this political theatre avoids making borrowers accountable too. This carries the seeds of a future bust.
Politicians rail against excessive executive pay, and pay curbs have been instituted in companies being bailed out. Yet there is no move to fundamentally change payment structures in solvent companies. Some reformers want bonuses to be clawed back after a fall, but in many cases the employees may have left, and it is difficult to pinpoint accountability for innovations several years after they arise.
There is vague talk of reducing the global imbalances that exacerbated the crisis, but no sign of a credible remedy. Neither the IMF nor Financial Stability Forum have the requisite powers to check future imbalances. Asian countries still want to build high reserves as insurance, perpetuating global imbalances. This too has the seeds of a future bust.
Politicians want to check future bubbles, but are unclear how to do so. There will always be differing opinions on when exactly a boom becomes a bubble. Besides, bursting an asset bubble without damaging the overall economy is problematic. High interest rates will check a housing bubble, but will also hit corporates and consumers, and may cause a recession. Imposing stiff margin requirements to check a stock market bubble might drive money into other assets and cause bubbles there.
In sum, no major overhaul of capitalism seems on the cards. The rapid transition from despair in March to the stock market boom today suggests that the markets don't really see the need for great change. The existing system has survived the Great Recession, and that is seen as Great News.
Is this because humans are utterly myopic? No, moaning and groaning about the failings of capitalism are really part of political theatre in a recession. In my youth, the Communist Party would meet delightedly during every recession and proclaim that capitalism was now in its final death throes. Even after the collapse of communism, dirges are still sung by other parties. The singing ends abruptly as economies pick up again, and turns out to be more a recession ritual than an anthem for reform.
Recessions are viewed by the public as outcomes of policy blunders, as tragedies that cost jobs and production. That's certainly true. But recessions are also essential correctives to the excesses inbuilt in a capitalism system driven by animal spirits, innovation, the search for higher returns, and euphoria. The system works through creative destruction. This entails boom and bust, greed and failure, euphoria and panic, fast growth and recession. Recessions and financial crises may look like blemishes of capitalism, but are actually integral to its process of creative destruction.
So, even after reforms, expect more financial crises and recessions in the future. We would be wise to institute reforms that reduce the risks, but even wiser to understand that the risks cannot be ended without ending enterprise and innovation too.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
At this URL you would get technical reasons for what you had stated so
Some other interesting issues:
Regards / அன்புடன்
K.R.Athiyaman / K.R.அதியமான்
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
by Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar
Anbudan / அன்புடன்
K.R.Athiyaman / K.R.அதியமான்
Chennai - 96
Thursday, April 02, 2009
by William A. Niskanen
Four federal economic policies transformed the Hoover recession into the Great Depression: higher tariffs, stronger unions, higher marginal tax rates, and a lower money supply. President Obama, unfortunately, has endorsed some variant of the first three of these policies, and he will face a critical choice on monetary policy in a year or so.
The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was passed by the House in May 1929, before the stock market collapse in October, and was enacted in June 1930 despite the opposition of many economists and several leading businessmen. Tariffs were increased 60 percent on 3,200 imported products, although most imports remained duty free. Moreover, most of the tariffs were in dollars per unit, so the real cost of the tariffs increased with the subsequent deflation. This act provoked 60 other governments to enact retaliatory tariffs. The higher tariffs and the general recession reduced total world trade by about two-thirds by 1933, and the U.S. unemployment rate increased from 7.8 percent when the Smoot-Hawley Act was enacted to 25.1 percent in 1933.
Senator Obama had been a cosponsor of the Fair Currency Act of 2007, which would have authorized a countervailing duty on imported products from a nonmarket economy with an undervalued exchange rate. Although directed primarily against China, it was also broadened to include Canada and Mexico. Approval of this act would surely provoke some form of retaliation; the United States is especially vulnerable to retaliation by China, because we are dependent on China to finance our current account deficit. A statement by Treasury secretary-designate Timothy Geithner during his confirmation hearing increases the prospect that the Obama administration will rule that China has manipulated its currency. During his campaign for the presidency, Obama also proposed opening up NAFTA to renegotiate the labor and environmental standards, and he opposed the several outstanding bilateral trade agreements that had been negotiated but not yet approved. During the congressional deliberations on the 2009 fiscal stimulus bill, however, President Obama expressed caution about any Buy America provision that might provoke trade retaliation.
The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 required that labor employed on a federally financed construction project be paid no less than the local rates on a similar project. The Norris- LaGuardia Act of 1932 made "yellow dog" contracts, which made an agreement not to join a union a condition for employment, unenforceable in federal courts, and it banned any federal injunctions in nonviolent labor disputes. This was followed by the 1935 Wagner Act—which guaranteed workers' rights to organize unions, collective bargaining, and strikes—and the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which established a federal minimum wage and banned child labor. These acts increased the real price of labor services, especially in the industrial sector, and were an important contributor to the substantial increase in the unemployment rate during the Great Depression.
Senator Obama had been an original cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act of 2007, the primary effect of which would be to outlaw secret ballots on the decision to certify a union. Another provision of this proposed law would authorize the government to write the labor contract in newly unionized firms if management and the union have not agreed to an initial labor contract within a specified time. Obama has also been a consistent supporter of higher minimum wages, which increases the unemployment rate of young unskilled workers.
A year before the bottom of the Great Depression, the Revenue Act of 1932 increased the top marginal federal tax rate on personal income from 25 percent to 63 percent, increased the corporate tax rate from 12 percent to 13.75 percent, and doubled the estate tax rate. The Revenue Act of 1936 further increased the top marginal tax rate on personal income to 79 percent and the rate on undistributed corporate profits to 42 percent. These two revenue acts increased federal tax rates more than in any other peacetime period and extended the length of the Great Depression by substantially weakening the incentive to work, save, invest, and increase productivity.
During his presidential campaign, Senator Obama proposed a combination of tax credits for low- and middle-income households, a substantial increase in marginal tax rates for those with an annual household income over $250,000, and several selective changes in business taxation. The top marginal rate on income would be increased from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, the marginal payroll tax would be increased from 1.45 percent to 5.45 percent (plus an equal increase to the employer), and the rate on capital gains and dividends would be increased from 15 percent to 20 percent. A phase-out of the personal exemption and specific deductions would add about 4.5 percentage points to the marginal tax rate (an estimate by the Tax Foundation).
The total marginal tax rate, thus, would be increased from 36.45 percent to 49.55 percent, reducing the after-tax return to additional earnings by about one-fifth; a lot of small business owners and professional couples would be subject to these higher marginal tax rates. Obama has not proposed a reduction in the corporate tax rate, although this rate is now the second highest among the industrial nations. His proposed changes in business taxation are designed to change the composition of U.S. business activity, increasing taxes on oil and gas companies and on U.S. multinationals that defer repatriation of foreign profits in favor of companies that produce renewable energy and increase domestic employment.
Obama's proposed federal tax rates do not look unusual compared to federal taxes before the Reagan-era rate reductions, but they would be a significant increase relative to recent years at a time when many other governments are reducing their personal and business tax rates.
In retrospect, the origin of the Great Depression seems surprisingly similar to recent conditions— with one huge exception. The Federal Reserve had increased the money supply from 1921 through 1927 by around 60 percent, contributing to the rapid increase in stock prices. In early 1928, however, the Federal Reserve began a policy of monetary restraint that continued through May 1929, increasing the discount rate from 3.5 percent to 5 percent in three stages. This triggered the stock market collapse in October.
The fall in stock prices and the subsequent general deflation led to a large increase in the demand for money. Following the collapse of the Bank of the United States in December 1930, however, the Federal Reserve increased interest rates again in early 1931. From 1929 to 1933, the money supply declined by around one-third, constrained by the rules of the gold standard, although the Federal Reserve Bank of New York had consistently urged a policy of monetary expansion. During this period, the number of U.S. banks also declined by around one-third due to either failure or merger.
This combination of a large increase in the demand for money and a substantial reduction in the supply of money was the primary cause of the first phase of the Great Depression. This period of monetary contraction ended only in 1933 when President Roosevelt raised the price of gold by 75 percent, permitting a renewed expansion of the money supply. In 1936 and 1937, however, the Federal Reserve doubled bank reserve requirements, leading to the short sharp recession of 1937–38 within the longer period of the Great Depression.
The monetary policy that led to the current recession was similar to the policy that led to the first phase of the Great Depression. The Federal Reserve maintained an expansionary monetary policy from 2001 into 2004, with a federal funds rate lower than the general inflation rate, contributing to both the housing boom and the increase in stock prices. Then from mid-2004 through mid-2007, the federal funds rate was increased by 4.25 percentage points, leading to a decline in residential investment beginning in the spring of 2006 and a decline in the stock market and national output beginning in the fall of 2007.
As in the 1930s, the decline in stock prices and the subsequent deflation greatly increased the demand for money and other financial instruments such as Treasury bills. The major difference from the earlier period is that the Federal Reserve has maintained a very aggressive monetary policy since mid-2007, reducing the federal funds rate by 5 percentage points. Moreover, beginning last fall, the Federal Reserve has purchased a wide range of private and public financial instruments, doubling the monetary base since last August. This dramatic change in monetary policy is primarily attributable to the lessons from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's studies of the monetary policy mistakes during the 1930s.
The very rapid increase in the monetary base since last August was, I believe, the correct response to the huge increase in the demand for money and is likely to be much more effective than any fiscal stimulus plan. But it presents a potentially large future danger. At such time as there is a revival of some general inflation and increased confidence in the security of nonmonetary assets, the demand for money will decline to a more normal level relative to total money income.
At that time, the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration will be faced with a very difficult choice—allow a high rate of inflation or raise interest rates fast enough to avoid that outcome. The first option would be the policy of inaction; the second option would require selling most of the financial assets that the Federal Reserve has accumulated in the past few months. My guess is that the time for this difficult choice is not too far off, probably in the next year or two, a guess based on observing that there has already been some increase in stock prices and commodity prices since November. And that will be a difficult time to make this difficult choice. Bernanke's term as Fed Chairman expires in January 2010 and, of course, there will also be a congressional election that fall, reducing the incentives and support for a rapid increase in interest rates. The second option would also present the potential for a W-shaped recession and recovery, extending the period of weak economic growth to avoid a high rate of inflation. In either case, the only way to avoid being faced with such a difficult choice in the more distant future is to correct the conditions that led this recession to be a financial crisis. This would require restructuring the mortgage market such that mortgages and mortgagebacked securities are more liquid and their risks are more transparent.
Other Related Policies
The trade and labor policies of the 1930s were designed to maintain the prices of products and labor services, usually at the expense of the amounts supplied. Other policies had the same objectives and effects. The 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act authorized cartels to maintain prices; until this act was declared unconstitutional in 1935, for example, members of these cartels were subject to fines for discounting. The most egregious of such policies was the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933; until this act was declared unconstitutional in 1936, this act authorized payments to farmers to reduce their acreage under cultivation. In effect, these policies established a floor under prices that prevented many product and labor markets from clearing, given the decline in nominal demand. These policies were an important reason why total output did not recover to the 1929 level until 1939, and the unemployment rate at the end of this decade was 17.2 percent.
Several current agricultural programs also have much the same objective and effects. The price of milk is maintained by a government- authorized cartel, the price of sugar by a quota on imports, and the price of corn has been increased by a regulation that requires a substantial production of corn-based ethanol as a motor fuel. I do not know Obama's position on the dairy cartel. During his campaign for the presidency, however, Senator Obama was a strong supporter of both the sugar quota and the ethanol program.
One other policy of both the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations was a substantial increase in federal expenditures for public infrastructure, especially hydroelectric facilities. These programs did not reduce total output but they were clearly not effective, given the combination of other policies, in reducing the depth or duration of the Great Depression. The government of Japan enacted a substantially larger public infrastructure program in the 1990s, also with no effect on ending what turned out to be a decade of very low economic growth. A major provision of President Obama's fiscal stimulus proposal, of course, is a substantial increase in federal expenditures for public infrastructure. Fed Chairman Bernanke was correct to observe recently that "Fiscal actions are unlikely to promote a lasting recovery unless they are accompanied by strong measures to further stabilize and strengthen the financial system."
The most important lesson of this paper is to avoid repeating the policies that increased the depth and duration of the Great Depression, particularly in combination. Unfortunately, some of these policies still have broad political appeal—limiting international trade, strengthening unions, other measures to support the prices of some products and labor services, and higher taxes on the wealthy and the income from capital. One important lesson that we seem to have learned from the 1930s is to avoid reducing the supply of money in response to an increased demand for money. Another important lesson that we have not yet learned is that some government spending for infrastructure may be both popular and valuable but is not very effective in countering a recession.
We have yet to learn the lessons about what caused the current recession and the general financial crisis. The United States had experienced 11 prior recessions since World War II without a general financial crisis, so something new must have happened that caused the current financial crisis. My judgment is that the government policies and private practices that changed the way mortgages are financed are that dangerous new development, but that is a story for another occasion. In this respect, I agree with Chairman Bernanke's recent conclusion that "we should revisit capital regulations, accounting rules, and other aspects of the regulatory regime to ensure that they do not induce excessive procyclicality in the financial system and the economy."
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2009 edition of Cato Policy Report.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
my old mail to chennai Traffic Commisoner :
From : K.R.Athiyaman,
Perungudi, Chennai - 96
The following is my article published in
Adyar times some time ago, regarding
Lack of sufficient public transport forces us, middle
class people to use two wheelers. And in the suburbs,
maxicab vans ply illegally (an open secret), and
provide a much needed fill-up to the demand. And
the public are greatly dependent on such vans, which
provide a valuble and cheap service. Ans they have to
regularly bribe the traffice constables and RTO
officials to run their much needed services.
The MTC bus service is inefficent and not enough.
The whole MTC system is corrupt, and nearly bankrupt
through mis-mangemsnt, top heavy bureacracy, etc. It
can never be revived or revitalised.
We request you to use your good offices with the CM to
implement the announced privatisation of the bus (mini bus)
transport system. We would be grateful to you if this
can be done. and it will go a long way in easing the
traffic conjestion. And legalising the maxicab
operators is much needed.
Thanks & Regards
my article :
Traffic Problems and Solutions
Phenomenal rise in private vehicles has resulted in
traffic congestion.Due to an acute shortage of buses
(especially during peak hours),commuters tend to buy
two wheelers or cars as soon as they can afford to own
one. Until 1980 it was normal for most middle class
people to travel by buses.
Nationalisation of buses in 60s resulted in creation
of goverment monopoly and corruption in this sector.
Mis-management, pilferage and lack of transparency and
accountability of government bus transport
corporations resulted in huge losses and acute
shortage in bus services to meet the growing demand.
The argument against privatisation that the private
operators will not service remote and loss making
routes has yet to be proved. Government MTC services
in loss making areas are curtailed. For example
many routes in Nanganallur, Chennai has been
withdrawn citing lack of patronage.
The existing private bus routes are now sold in black
market for crores of rupees. Yet private buses are
better maintained and profitable. There is a vested
interest lobby of existing private bus owners (permit
holders),bureaucrats,politicians and trade unions of
govt corporations who oppose deregulation and
privatization of bus transports. Even mini-buses are
not allowed to expand service areas. Share autos are
opposed by regular auto drivers union.
If, instead of nationalization of buses, free
competition and low taxes were encouraged since
independence, then there would have been an excellent
and efficient public transport system. The culture of
owning private vehicles for commuting would not have
grown this much. A single bus can carry upto 60
commuters while lack of bus forces these 60 commuters
to own and travel by two-wheelers, there
by shrinking road space and increasing pollution.
Private bus stands and parking lots (bus stops along
main roads and highways) can be permitted and
encouraged. Two wheeler taxis can be allowed in
suburbs and remote areas.
Decentralisation and delicensing of transport sector
will result in better services and reduce traffic
போக்குவரத்து நெரிசலும், சோசியலிசமும்
பேருந்து வசதி போதுமானதாக இல்லாததால் தனியார் வண்டிகள் பெருகி நெரிசல்
மிகுந்துள்ளது. Peak Hourல் எந்த வழித்தடத்திலும் பேருந்துக்குள் ஏற
முடிவதில்லை. போதிய எண்ணிக்கையில் பேருந்துகளை இயக்க அரசாங்கத்தால்
இயலவில்லை. காரணம் நஷ்டம் மற்றும் ஊழல். 70களில் தேசிய
மயமாக்கப்படுவதற்கு முன் TVSம், LGBயும் அருமையான சேவையினை செய்தன.
சோசியலிசம் என்ற பெயரால் இன்று கடுமையான பற்றாக் குறை, ஊழல் மற்றும்
நெரிசல். பேருந்தில் ஏற முடியாதவர்கள் இரு சக்கர வாகனங்களை வாங்க
முயல்கின்றனர். அவை மலிந்து விட்டன.சென்னையில் ஒரு 700 மினி பஸ்களுக்கு
permit வழங்கப்பட்டால் (ஏல முறையில்) பிரச்சனையைக் குறைக்கலாம். தனியார்
பேருந்து மற்றும் parking மற்றும் bus stops அனுமதிக்கப்பட்டு, மினி
வேன், ஷேர் ஆட்டோ, இரண்டு சக்கர டாக்ஸிகளும் அனுமதிக்கப்பட்டால்
பொதுமக்களுக்கு மிகப் பயன்படும். நெரிசல் குறையும்.
இடது சாரிகளும், ஆட்டோ யூனியன்களும், எம் டி சி பஸ் யூனியன்களும் ஊழல்
அதிகாரிகளும், அரசியல் தலைவர்களும் இதற்குக் கடும் எதிர்ப்பு
தெரிவிக்கின்றனர். முதலாளி வளர்ந்து விடுவானாம். மோனோபோலி வந்து
விடுமாம். டெலிகாம்மில் நடந்துள்ள புரட்சி இந்த வாதங்களைத் தகர்க்கிறது.
BSNLன் மோனோபோலி உடைந்தவுடன் சேவை மலிவாகவும், சிறப்பாகவும் ஆனது.
அனைத்துத் துறைகளிலும் இதே கதைதான்.
ஆனால் பூனைக்கு யார் மணி கட்டுவது? எங்கள் ஊரான கரூரில் பஸ் கட்டுமான
தொழில் பெருகியுள்ளது. பல முக்கிய தடங்கள் (உம்; சேலம் - ஈரோடு) பல கோடி
ரூபாயில் கைமாறுகின்றன. (பெர்மிட்டின் விலை, கருப்பு பணத்தில்). மேலும்
புதிய வழித் தடங்கள் அனுமதிக்கப் படவேயில்லை. கேரளாவில் புதிய வழித்
இதற்கு விடிவு காலம் என்றோ? அதுவரை மக்கள் மிருகங்களை விடக் கேவலமான
முறையில் பஸ்களில் திணிக்கப்பட்டு தொங்கிக் கொண்டுதான் செல்ல வேண்டும்..
K.R.Athiyaman, Chennai - 96
Friday, October 24, 2008
by Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar
Dated: October 22, 2008
Leftists claim that the global financial crisis was caused by reckless
deregulation and greed. Rightists blame half-baked financial
regulations and perverse incentives. Actually, the financial sector is
deeply regulated, with major roles for both the state and markets. It
was not one or the other that failed but the combination.
The best metaphor for the mess comes from Jack and Suzy Welch, who
recall Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express." In this
novel, 12 people are suspects in a murder. And 12 turn out to be
guilty. What starts as a whodunit concludes as an everybody-dun-it.
In the same spirit, allow me to present the 12 murderers of the US
1. The Federal Reserve Board. Alan Greenspan, Fed Governor in
1987-2006, was once hailed as a genius for keeping the US booming, but
is now called a serial bubble-maker. He presided over bubbles in
housing, credit, and stock markets. He said it was difficult to
identify asset bubbles in advance, so anti-bubble policies might be
anti-growth. It was better to let bubbles build, and sweep up after
they burst. Bernanke, like Greenspan, ignored the US housing bubble
till it burst.
2.US politicians. Envisioning a home for every American, regardless of
income, they provided excess implicit and explicit housing subsidies.
One law forced banks to lend to sub-prime poor borrowers. Legislators
created Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, government-sponsored entities that
bought or underwrote 80% of all US mortgages, and enjoyed exemption
from normal regulations. Politicians ignored Greenspan's warning that
such a dominant role for two under-regulated giants posed a huge
3.Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They resisted regulation, and spent over
$ 2 million lobbying legislators against any tightening of rules. As
mortgagers of last resort they should have been especially prudent.
But they bought stacks of toxic mortgage paper—collateralized debt
obligations (CDOs)—seeking short-term profits that ultimately led to
4.Financial innovators. Their ideas provided cheap, easy credit, and
helped stoke the global economic boom of 2003-08. Securitisation of
mortgages provided an avalanche of capital for banks and mortgage
companies to lend afresh. Unfortunately the new instruments were so
complex that not even bankers realized their full risks. CDOs smuggled
BBB mortgages into AAA securities, leaving investors with huge
quantities of down-rated paper when the housing bubble burst.
Financial innovators created Credit Default Swaps (CDSs), which
insured bonds against default. CDS issues swelled to a mind-boggling $
60 trillion. When markets fell and defaults widened, those holding
CDSs faced disaster.
5.Regulators. All major countries had regulators for banking,
insurance and financial/ stock markets. These were asleep at the
wheel. No insurance regulator sought to check the runaway growth of
the CDS market, or impose normal regulatory checks like capital
adequacy. No financial regulator saw or checked the inherent risks in
complex derivatives. Leftists today demand more regulations, but these
will not thwart the next crisis if regulators stay asleep.
6.Banks and mortgage lenders. Instead of keeping mortgages on their
own books, lenders packaged these into securities and sold them. So,
they no longer had incentives to thoroughly check the creditworthiness
of borrowers. Lending norms were constantly eased. Ultimately, banks
were giving loans to people with no verification of income, jobs or
assets. Some banks offered teaser loans—low starting interest rates,
which reset at much higher levels in later years—to lure unsuspecting
7.Investment banks. Once, these institutions provided financial
services such as underwriting, wealth management, and assistance with
IPOs and mergers and acquisition. But more recently they began using
borrowed money—with leverage of up to 30 times—to trade on their own
account. Deservedly, all five top investment banks have disappeared.
Lehman Brothers is bust, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch have acquired
by banks, and Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have been converted
into regular banks.
8.Rating agencies. Moody's and Standard and Poor's were not tough or
alert enough to spot the rise in risk as leverage skyrocketed. They
allowed BBB mortgages to be laundered into AAA mortgages through CDOs.
9.The Basle rules for banks. These international negotiated norms
provided harmonized regulatory checks on financial excesses across
countries. The first set of norms, Basle-I, was widely criticized as
too rigid and blunt. So countries agreed on Basle-II, which allowed
banks to use credit ratings and models based on historical record to
lower the risk-ratings of many securities. This dilution of norms led
to excesses everywhere. Iceland's banks went bust holding
loans/securities totaling 10 times its GDP. The dilution of
risk-rating in Basle-II helped inflate the financial bubble.
10.US consumers. Their savings used to be 6% of disposable income some
time ago, but more recently has been zero or even negative. They have
gone on a huge borrowing spree to spend far more than they earn. This
excess is reflected in huge, unsustainable US trade deficits.
11.Asian and OPEC countries. They undervalued their currencies to
stimulate exports and create large trade surpluses with the US. They
accumulated trillions in forex reserves, and put these mostly into
dollar securities. This depressed US interest rates, and further
fuelled borrowing there.
12.Everybody. Consumers, corporations, banks, politicians, the
media--indeed everybody-- was happy when housing prices boomed, stock
markets boomed, and credit became cheap and easily available. Bubbles
in all these areas grew in full public view. They were highlighted by
analysts, but nobody wanted to stop the lovely party. Everybody liked
easy money and rising asset prices. This trumped prudence across
So, forget the left-versus-right or regulations-versus-markets debate
on the financial crisis. States, institutions, markets and everybody
else was guilty. These actors will for some years don sackcloth and
ashes, adopt stiffer regulations, and listen to lectures on the
virtues of prudence and restraint. But after seven to ten years of the
next business upswing, I predict that we will once again have a new
generation of bubbles, evading whatever new checks have been put in
place. When everybody loves bubbles, they are both irresistible and
Friday, October 17, 2008
The current ciris is in finanacial markets and tooted in sub-prime
mortages, as we all know. First of all, the money market has severe
govt intervention for several decades when fiat money was invented and
standard was abandoned.
Some centuries ago the currecy were issued by banks backed by their
gold or other assets. Hence the original name : bank notes. Govts all
over the world 'nationalised' the currecy issuing system and established
Central Banks with sole monopoly over issue of legal tender. This is first
of all certainly not free market in the real sense.
Secondly, the chronic defict financing of all nations over decades
pumped in more money into the sytem than the sytem could absorve
thru growth in real GDP. This is true of most economies.
And US is in a unique position : its currency USD is the reserve
currency and most of world trade occurs in USD. And hence the
entire world funds the US deficts which is in trillions and trillions
over the decades. US govt prints and pumps in trillions and
trillions of USD into the world economy over the decades. The
cumulative effect of all this should be taken into account while
blaming 'free markets' alone for all this mess.
I vividly remember our discussion about value and money ; and
about the functions of money : as a medium of exchange, measure of
value, etc ; Especially the function : 'store of value' ; The accumulated
'surplus values' or capital or whatever the term flows all around the sytem
in search of investemtn avenues and good return on investemnts.
As the term value is tricky to define and contantly fluctuates in
currency and debt markets, the cumulative effect of too much money
chasing too few goods or avenues for investment seems the crux of
The old deficniton for inflation : "Too much money chasing too few
goods" : This seems to aptly apply for this financial market mess.
Combined with the govt gurantess of the twin giants for many trillions
(Freddie and Fannie), etc.
The word cheap money, easy credit, easy money, etc are all result of
this too much fiat money ? And as the govt is the both the issuer of
money and lender of last resot, it also controls the effective interest
rates by tinkering with Fed rates. All these are certainly govt intervention
and not free markets. Last year i read in major papers that the world
boom in equity and real estate is a function of global liquidity. Means ?
Excess liquidity ? And cyclic asset bubbles are always regular
happenings. What about the net amount of M4 or legal tender that
exists in the world economy at any given moment ?
The crisis is not in manufacturing or other services. Hence to term
all this as the failure of free enterprise capitalism is pre mature.
Anyway, I guess no one wants to get back to socialism. In US no one
seems to re-establism the, say : ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission)
which throttled many sectors like trucking (like our license raaj in India
as on date).
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I could not make myself very clear to you while arguing about free
market capitalism. The UN decleration of fundamental rights covers all
aspects of life.
and free enterprise is but a part of this declration : right to
property, right to do business and employ anybody thru volountary
free contracts ; and above all rule of the law and non-violation of
anyone's basic rights thru any means for any objectives.
All the rights of every human should not be violated by any other
individual or group or company or army or a nation or parliament or
statute or religious body, etc. that is the crux of it all. Violation of these
rights by any isim is wrong and
I consider these basic rights as the holiest of all holies in life.
Violation of property rights took place in Nandigram and elsewhere. Pls
compare how lands for mines and industires were / are acquired in the
West (say in Germany or Canda). but Gujarat SEZ land aquisition was
voluntary, free and fair.
Pls see my latest post :
Saturday, October 11, 2008
by : Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar
Pains of a slowing miracle economy
Dated: October 5, 2008
I am not usually a pessimist. But I predict that India will suffer a
lot of pain in the next 18 months, as the economy slows down along
with the current global slowdown.
The US, Europe and Japan are sinking into recession together. Forget
claims that India has decoupled from the US and can keep growing fast
regardless. India and most developing countries are indeed much less
dependent on the US economy than in the past. So, Indian growth will
be dented rather than smashed. GDP growth will slide from 9 % last
year to 7% this financial year, and to maybe 6% next year.
Now, 7% is a miracle growth rate by historical standards. You might
think that declining from super-miraculous to merely miraculous growth
cannot be particularly painful. You would be dead wrong. The direction
of change matters more than the absolute level. Rising from 5% to 7%
is blissful, but falling from 9% to 7% is painful. And a subsequent
tumble to 6% will be more painful still.
To appreciate why the direction of change matters so much, recall the
1990s. India went bust in 1991, reformed by globalising, and reaped
the reward of fast growth. GDP growth averaged 7.5% in the three-year
period 1994-97. India's growing integration with the world economy
enabled it to share in the global economic boom of those years.
Foreign institutional investors flooded into all emerging markets,
including India, sending stock market prices spiraling.
Indian optimists thought that miraculous growth was here to stay. But
along came the Asian financial crisis in 1997, and the Indian economy
slumped along with the global economy. Indian GDP growth averaged just
5.5% in the next five years.
Now, 5.5 % may not sound too bad, just a modest deceleration from the
7.5% of the preceding boom. Indeed, India's 5.5% at the time was one
of the fastest growth rates in the world. Yet the change in direction,
from acceleration to deceleration, caused enormous pain.
Industrial growth crashed in 1997-98, and barely limped forward for
years. Many industries had borrowed massively during the mid-1990s
boom to invest in world-class new plants, for which there was suddenly
no demand. Huge projects were abandoned unfinished, with companies
defaulting on mega-loans. These financial defaults brought the lending
institutions also to the verge of bankruptcy, from which they were
saved mainly by creative accounting and a friendly RBI. Medium and
small companies crashed along with their larger brethren. Employment
went into a tailspin. Stock markets crashed and companies stopped
repaying fixed deposits, so household investors suffered trauma.
The budgets of the central and state governments assumed steady growth
of revenue year after year. But the 1997 slowdown hit tax collections.
Meanwhile, a bumper Pay Commission award hugely inflated the wage
bills of central and state governments. So, governments, corporations,
employees and households investors were all sucked downward into a
whirlpool of distress. The only saving grace was the IT boom, sparked
by the global YK2 scare. But that turned out to be a bubble, and it
burst in 2001.
Difficult though these years were, they did not witness economic
collapse. India did not revert to the old Hindu rate of growth of 3.5%
witnessed in the three decades after independence. GDP growth in
1997-02 averaged a solid 5.5%. But the direction of change was
downward, not upward, and that was enough to cause widespread
I fear we are about to see a repetition of that process. As in the
1990s, a booming world economy first lifted Indian growth (and stock
markets) to new heights for several years, giving rise to the illusion
of permanency. As in the 1990s, the subsequent global slump is going
to cause an Indian slump too. As in the 1990s, the fiscal problems of
the government are going to be exacerbated by a Pay Commission award.
However, we are much better prepared for this downturn than in the
1990s. Our foreign exchange reserves are almost $ 300 billion,
cushioning our balance of payments. Corporations have not gone on a
borrowing spree paying 20% interest, as they did in the 1990s—they
have large cash reserves, modest debt-equity ratios, and interest
rates are much lower today. The banking system is in relatively good
shape today. The latest Pay Commission award this time is less onerous
than the 1997 one. Our savings rate has crossed 30%, and can keep
financing a healthy rate of investment. Infrastructural sectors like
telecom, power, roads, and ports will be only minimally affected by a
Nevertheless, pain will be widespread and sometimes deep. Income and
job opportunities will slacken, sometimes dramatically. Many companies
will suffer shrinkage or bankruptcy, especially small ones. Boom
sectors like transport, restaurants, trade, real estate and exports
will go into reverse gear. Credit will tighten, for consumers as well
as companies. Corporate profits will slump. The revenues of central
and state governments will fall, curbing their ability to alleviate
distress. The stock markets will fall further, and the Sensex may fall
below 10,000. Tighten your seat belts: we are running into rough
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Department of Economics
St. Lawrence University
September 28, 2008
In the last week or two, I have heard frequently from you that the
current financial mess has been caused by the failures of free markets
and deregulation. I have heard from you that the lust after profits,
any profits, that is central to free markets is at the core of our
problems. And I have heard from you that only significant government
intervention into financial markets can cure these problems, perhaps
once and for all. I ask of you for the next few minutes to, in the
words of Oliver Cromwell, consider that you may be mistaken. Consider
that both the diagnosis and the cure might be equally mistaken.
Consider instead that the problems of this mess were caused by the
very kinds of government regulation that you now propose. Consider
instead that effects of the profit motive that you decry depend upon
the incentives that institutions, regulations, and policies create,
which in this case led profit-seekers to do great damage. Consider
instead that the regulations that may have been the cause were
supported by, as they have often been throughout US history, the very
firms being regulated, mostly because they worked to said firms'
benefit, even as they screwed the rest of us. Consider all of this as
you ask for more of the same in the name of fixing the problem. And
finally, consider why you would ever imagine that those with wealth
and power wouldn't rig a new regulatory process in their favor.
One of the biggest confusions in the current mess is the claim that it
is the result of greed. The problem with that explanation is that
greed is always a feature of human interaction. It always has been.
Why, all of a sudden, has greed produced so much harm? And why only in
one sector of the economy? After all, isn't there plenty of greed
elsewhere? Firms are indeed profit seekers. And they will seek after
profit where the institutional incentives are such that profit is
available. In a free market, firms profit by providing the goods that
consumers want at prices they are willing to pay. (My friends, don't
stop reading there even if you disagree - now you know how I feel when
you claim this mess is a failure of free markets - at least finish
this paragraph.) However, regulations and policies and even the
rhetoric of powerful political actors can change the incentives to
profit. Regulations can make it harder for firms to minimize their
risk by requiring that they make loans to marginal borrowers.
Government institutions can encourage banks to take on extra risk by
offering an implicit government guarantee if those risks fail.
Policies can direct self-interest into activities that only serve
corporate profits, not the public.
Many of you have rightly criticized the ethanol mandate, which made it
profitable for corn growers to switch from growing corn for food to
corn for fuel, leading to higher food prices worldwide. What's
interesting is that you rightly blamed the policy and did not blame
greed and the profit motive! The current financial mess is precisely
No free market economist thinks "greed is always good." What we think
is good are institutions that play to the self-interest of private
actors by rewarding them for serving the public, not just themselves.
We believe that's what genuinely free markets do. Market exchanges are
mutually beneficial. When the law messes up by either poorly defining
the rules of the game or trying to override them through regulation,
self-interested behavior is no longer economically mutually
beneficial. The private sector then profits by serving narrow
political ends rather than serving the public. In such cases, greed
leads to bad consequences. But it's bad not because it's
greed/self-interest rather because the institutional context within
which it operates channels self-interest in socially unproductive
This, my friends, is exactly what has brought us to the mess we are now in.
To call the housing and credit crisis a failure of the free market or
the product of unregulated greed is to overlook the myriad government
regulations, policies, and political pronouncements that have both
reduced the "freedom" of this market and channeled self-interest in
ways that have produced disastrous consequences, both intended and
unintended. Let me briefly recap goverment's starring role in our
For starters, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are "government sponsored
enterprises". Though technically privately owned, they have particular
privileges granted by the government, they are overseen by Congress,
and, most importantly, they have operated with a clear promise that if
they failed, they would be bailed out. Hardly a "free market." All the
players in the mortgage market knew this from early on. In the early
1990s, Congress eased Fannie and Freddie's lending requirements (to
1/4th the capital required by regular commercial banks) so as to
increase their ability to lend to poor areas. Congress also created a
regulatory agency to oversee them, but this agency also had to reapply
to Congress for its budget each year (no other financial regulator
must do so), assuring that it would tell Congress exactly what it
wanted to hear: "things are fine." In 1995, Fannie and Freddie were
given permission to enter the subprime market and regulators began to
crack down on banks who were not lending enough to distressed areas.
Several attempts were made to rein in Fannie and Freddie, but Congress
didn't have the votes to do so, especially with both organizations
making significant campaign contributions to members of both parties.
Even the New York Times as far back as 1999 saw exactly what might
happen thanks to this very unfree market, warning of a need to bailout
Fannie and Freddie if the housing market dropped.
Complicating matters further was the 1994 renewal/revision of the
Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. The CRA requires banks to to make
a certain percentage of their loans within their local communities,
especially when those communities are economically disadvantaged. In
addition, Congress explicitly directed Fannie and Freddie to expand
their lending to borrowers with marginal credit as a way of expanding
homeownership. What all of these did together was to create an
enormous profit and political incentives for banks and Fannie and
Freddie to lend more to riskier low-income borrowers. However
well-intentioned the attempts were to extend homeownership to more
Americans, forcing banks to do so and artificially lowering the costs
of doing so are a huge part of the problem we now find ourselves in.
At the same time, home prices were rising making those who had taken
on large mortgages with small down payments feel as though they could
handle them and inspiring a whole variety of new mortagage
instruments. What's interesting is that the rise in prices affected
most strongly cities with stricter land-use regulations, which also
explains the fact that not every city was affected to the same degree
by the rising home values. These regulations prevented certain kinds
of land from being used for homes, pushing the rising demand for
housing (fueled by the considerations above) into a slowly responding
supply of land. The result was rapidly rising prices. In those areas
with less stringent land-use regulations, the housing price boom's
effect was much smaller. Again, it was regulation, not free markets,
that drove the search for profits and was a key contributor to the
rising home prices that fueled the lending spree.
While all of this was happpening, the Federal Reserve, nominally
private but granted enormous monopoly privileges by government, was
pumping in the credit and driving interest rates lower and lower. This
influx of credit further fueled the borrowing binge. With plenty of
funds available, thanks to your friendly monopoly central bank (hardly
the free market at work), banks could afford to continue to lend
riskier and riskier.
The final chapter of the story is that in 2004 and 2005, following the
accounting scandals at Freddie, both Freddie and Fannie paid penance
to Congress by agreeing to expand their lending to low-income
customers. Both agreed to acquire greater amounts of subprime and
Alt-A loans, sending the green light to banks to originate them. From
2004 to 2006, the percentage of loans in those riskier categories grew
from 8% to 20% of all US mortgage originations. And the quality of
these loans were dropping too: downpayments were getting progressively
smaller and more and more loans carried low starter interest rates
that would adjust upward later on. The banks were taking on riskier
borrowers, but knew they had a guaranteed buyer for those loans in
Fannie and Freddie, back, of course, by us taxpayers. Yes, banks were
"greedy" for new customers and riskier loans, but they were responding
to incentives created by well-intentioned but misguided government
interventions. It is these interventions that are ultimately
responsible for the risky loans gone bad that are at the center of the
current crisis, not the "free market."
The current mess is thus clearly shot through and through with
government meddling with free markets, from the Fed-provided fuel to
the CRA and land-use regulations to Fannie and Freddie creating an
artificial market for risky mortgages in order to meet Congress's
demands for more home-ownership opportunities for low-income families.
Thanks to that intervention, many of those families have not only lost
their homes, but also the savings they could have held onto for a few
more years and perhaps used to acquire a less risky mortgage on a
cheaper house. All of these interventions into the market created the
incentive and the means for banks to profit by originating loans that
never would have taken place in a genuinely free market.
It is worth noting that these regulations, policies, and interventions
were often gladly supported by the private interests involved. Fannie
and Freddie made billions while home prices rose, and their CEOs got
paid lavishly. The same was true of the various banks and other
mortgage market intermediaries who helped spread and price the risk
that was in play, including those who developed all kinds of fancy new
financial instruments all designed to deal with the heightened risk of
default the intervention brought with it. This was a wonderful game
they were playing and the financial markets were happy to have Fannie
and Freddie as voracious buyers of their risky loans, knowing that US
taxpayer dollars were always there if needed. The history of business
regulation in the US is the history of firms using regulation for
their own purposes, regardless of the public interest patina over the
top of them. This is precisely what happened in the housing market.
And it's also why calls for more regulation and more intervention are
so misguided: they have failed before and will fail again because
those with the profits on the line are the ones who have the resources
and access to power to ensure that the game is rigged in their favor.
I know, my friends, that you are concerned about corporate power. So
am I. So are many of my free-market economist colleagues. We simply
believe, and we think history is on our side, that the best check
against corporate power is the competitve marketplace and the power of
the consumer dollar (framed, of course, by legal prohibitions on force
and fraud). Competition plays mean, nasty corporations off against
each other in a contest to serve us. Yes, they still have power, but
its negative effects are lessened. It is when corporations can use the
state to rig the rules in their favor that the negative effects of
their power become magnified, precisely because it has the force of
the state behind it. The current mess shows this as well as anything
ever has, once you realize just what a large role the state played. If
you really want to reduce the power of corporations, don't give them
access to the state by expanding the state's regulatory powers. That's
precisely what they want, as the current battle over the $700 billion
booty amply demonstrates.
This is why so many of us committed to free markets oppose the
bailout. It is yet another example of the long history of the private
sector attempting to enrich itself via the state. When it does so,
there are no benefits to the rest of us, unlike what happens when
firms try to get rich in a competitive market. Moreover, these same
firms benefited enormously from the regulatory interventions they
supported and that harmed so many of us. The eventual bursting of the
bubble and their subsequent losses are, to many of us, their just
desserts for rigging the game and eventually getting caught. To reward
them again for their rigging of the game is not just morally
unconscionable, it is very bad econonmic policy, given that it sends a
message to other would-be riggers that they too will get rewarded for
wreaking havoc on the US economy. There will be short-term pain if we
don't bailout these firms, but that is the hangover price we pay for
15 years or more of binge lending. The proposed bailout cannot prevent
the pain of the hangover; it can only conceal it by shifting and
dispersing it among the taxpayers and an economy weakened by the
borrowing, taxing, and/or inflation needed to pay for that $700
billion. Better we should take our short-term pain straight up and
clean out the mistakes of our binge and then get back to the business
of free markets without creating an unchecked Executive branch
monstrosity trying to "save" those who profited most from the binge
and harming innocent taxpayers in the process.
What I ask of you my friends on the left is to not only continue to
work with us to oppose this or any similar bailout, but to consider
carefully whether you really want to entrust the same entity who is
the predominant cause of this crisis with the power to attempt to cure
it. New regulatory powers may look like the solution, but that's what
people said when the CRA was passed, or when Fannie and Freddie were
given new mandates. And the very firms who are going to be regulated
will be first in line to determine how those regulations get written
and enforced. You can bet which way that game is going to get rigged.
I know you are tempted to think that the problems with these
regulations are the fault of the individuals doing the regulating. If
only, you think, Obama can win and we can clean out the corrupt
Republicans and put ethical, well-meaning folks in place. Think again.
For one thing, almost every government intervention at the root of
this crisis took place with a Democratic president or a
Democratic-controlled Congress in place. Even when the Republicans
controlled Congress, President Clinton worked around it to change the
rules to allow Fannie and Freddie into the higher-risk loan market. My
point here is not to pin the blame for the current crisis on the
Democrats. That blame goes around equally. My point is that hoping
that having the "right people" in power will avoid these problems is
both naive and historically blind. As much as corporate interests were
relevant, they were aided and abetted, if unintentionally, by
well-meaning attempts by basically good people to do good things.The
problem is that there were a large number of undesirable unintended
consequences, most of which were predictable and predicted. It doesn't
matter which party is captaining the ship: regulations come with
unintended consequences and will always tend to be captured by the
private interests with the most at stake. And history is full of cases
where those with a moral or ideological agenda find themselves in
political fellowship with those whose material interests are on the
line, even if the two groups are usually on opposite sides. This is
the famous "Baptists and Bootleggers" phenomenon.
If you've made it this far, I am most grateful. Whether or not you
accept the whole argument I've laid out here, I do ask one thing of
you: the story I told at the start of the role of government
intervention in this mess is true, whatever your grander conclusions
about the causes and cures are. Even if you don't buy my argument that
more regulation isn't the cure, to blame this mess on "the free
market" should now strike you as an obvious falsehood and I would
hope, in the spirit of fair play, that you would stop making that
claim as you speak and write about the ongoing events of the last two
weeks. We can disagree in good faith about what to do next, and we can
disagree in good faith about the degree to which government
intervention caused the problems, but blaming a non-existent free
market for a crisis that clearly was to some extent the result of
government's extensive interventions in that market is unfair. So if I
have persuaded you of nothing else, I hope deeply that I have
persuaded you of that.
In the end, all I can ask of you is that you continue to think this
through. Explaining this crisis by greed won't get you far as greed,
like gravity, is a constant in our world. Explaining it as a failure
of free markets faces the obvious truth that these markets were far
from free of government. Consider that you may be mistaken. Consider
that perhaps government intervention, not free markets, caused
profit-seekers to undertake activities that harmed the economy.
Consider that government intervention might have led banks and other
organizations to take on risks that they never should have. Consider
that government central banks are the only organizations capable of
fueling this fire with excess credit. And consider that various
regulations might have forced banks into bad loans and artificially
pushed up home prices. Lastly, consider that private sector actors are
quite happy to support such intervention and regulation because it is
Those of us who support free markets are not your enemies right now.
The real problem here is the marriage of corporate and state power.
That is the corporatism we both oppose. I ask of you only that you
consider whether such corporatism isn't the real cause of this mess
and that therefore you reconsider whether free markets are the cause
and whether increased regulation is the solution.
Thanks for reading.