Talking about Economics, Science and Religion. And then adding humans to the equation.

Posted on December 19, 2017. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

So what do we know about science, economics and religion ? Well! for starters, science existed since the day Universe came into being, and therefore science has been around long before humans or human civilisation came into existence. Science is as old as the universe itself. There is science on Mars, but no economy. Also there is science all across the cosmos, but till date, the size of the space economy is limited to human activity closer to earth or our solar system, although this may change as humans venture into space on a larger scale. There are vast amount of natural resources spread across various parts of the Universe as well as continents like Antarctic here on Earth, which has resources worth tens of trillions of dollars. But it still has no economy or in other words GDP, and that is down to the fact that, there is no permanent human civilisation based there.

The idea of economics and economy started along side religion, nation state, and culture etc. And therefore, like other human ideas, it was conceived as a subject by humans. So humans will continue to influence it. Human behaviour, human perception and psychology, and their overall sentiment will continue to influence the subject of economics and the idea of economy. The data created by a human society, categorised as economic activity related data, tends to be the metrics widely used, to understand or gauge the overall wellbeing of an economy. And as the human society becomes more complex, so has the economy. It has no doubt continuously evolved and changed reflecting the changes in the human society. But like religion or culture, it has design flaws, and therefore fails to serve the entire human civilisation. The prime example is, the aftermath of the financial crisis. While we can measure the financial cost to an economy, what we cannot accurately measure is, the human costs that is directly and indirectly related to the financial crisis of 07/08. And the same does apply to religion. Although some of may of us continue to argue the case for religion, none of us have tried to accurately assess or measure the human costs of religion on humans, in terms of holding back human’s overall progress etc while the various religious franchise aka religions have gone richer and wealthier over time.

In the US alone, based on various estimates, the society known as the American society tends to give away around $ 82.5 billion a year to religion. And then, there are direct and indirect human costs. Having said that, wars have killed more humans than religion, and they also cost a lot more money than religion. But in historical context, some of the wars were religiously motivated, and humans still tend to fight over their religious and cultural ideology.

The question then is, do we need religion or economy for that matter ? And the answer isn’t that difficult. For many of us religion is still the answer to questions like, why do we exist and what’s our purpose ? And to a very large extent economics and economy has played a very vital role in the evolution of the human society as well as its overall progress. So to take away economics or religion from humans may not work out well. While science has always existed, sometimes, it is the economics that has justified scientific progress. And it is the economics of space that will most likely drive humans exploration of space.

According to space foundation, the space economy is already worth over $ 329 billion, and in the next 50 to 100 years, space industry will become the most dominant among all the sectors of the economy. It will not only create new jobs, but also help take humans as a civilisation to the next frontier. At least that’s what I feel. Imagine an economy that is not only going to measure the economic activities here on Earth, but also from across the Universe. But can it create enough wealth, to help fund the living of the entire human race ? Now this is a rather difficult question to answer, because unless and until, we keep finding ways to make the entire design of the economic system more efficient, it will continue to fall short.

My own assessment is that, economics and economy as an idea and subject is not a complete science, but unlike a religion, it isn’t stagnant, or requires the human society to completely surrender itself, and be at its mercy. It has flaws, but it also does have the capacity to continuously evolve, and so it should. Humans are the key input to the entire equation, and without adding humans, one could say, nothing is relevant. And the human element  will continue to add a level of unpredictability and uncertainty to the field of economics and economy.

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Taking measures to manage the future financial crises better – KNOWING the UNKNOWNS.

Posted on August 31, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

A well thought out financial regulatory framework, economic system, and policy decisions that can stand the test of time needs to be evolutionary, and requires a certain level of debate, discussion of ideas and possibilities. A strategy and approach that has gone through an evolutionary process, and is proactive, tend to have a greater chance of success than a policy decision or measure that is more or less reactive. And that’s just common sense. But during the financial crisis of 07/08, and in its immediate aftermath, we were hit by a barrage of half baked ideas and measures that came out of a reactive decision making process, and although the aim of the exercise  were well intended, and in some case temporary in nature, they haven’t made the markets or the global economy any more safer than they were before.

Also the existing reactive measures put in place to deal with the financial crisis can only be defined as an experiment. And even in a post crisis world, we continue to operate in the experiment mode, be it, the ultra loose monetary policy experiment to support the markets and the economy or the hard core regulatory environment aimed at avoiding future financial crises. Making it a hot topic of debate, and the possible outcome or outcomes of this ongoing experiment are being discussed around various quarters.   But the end result still remains somewhat unknown because quite simply there are no precedent, so all we have is, best guess estimates, and theories to help us navigate through the unknown terrain.

Having said that, we are at a better place today than during the financial crisis of 07/08, but even after being 5/6 years on the road to recovery, the global economy is still not firing on all cylinders, and there are obviously a number of reasons for that. In my own view, we will only be able to get a better assessment of the strength of the economy after the unconventional monetary policies are taken offline (exit), as there are still many UNKNOWNS out there. The record high stock markets is not fully reflective of the real economy, and although the global economy is in a much better shape than during the financial crisis, parts of the economy are still not firing on all cylinders. A large percentage of the people on the main street are still stretched as evident from the lack of wage growth. And the ongoing geopolitical instability will most likely have an impact on the markets and the economy especially the EU states. The Euro area is still in a very precarious situation, and it is quite likely that the year 2014 will turn out to be a lost opportunity for Euro Zone nations especially if the leadership in the EU fail to get their priorities right. And going forward, we may see significant monetary policy divergence among developed nations especially between the EU, UK and the United States because the respective economies are already in different speed gears. Also major economies like China are going through a transition period, in other words, a gear shift which needs to be managed well through policy changes as we all know that running a car in a wrong gear for a long period of time can pretty much ruin the car’s engine. So the Central bank in China as well as major world economies including of the US and UK will need to manage the gear change efficiently. And this is why, it is important to  create a mechanism that allows greater policy coordination in the global financial system going forward.

 And though, there are still many unknowns, but what we do know, and have learnt so far especially in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis of 07/08 is that, the financial markets and the economy are anything but efficient, and this may be contrary to what some may believe. The fear of the unknown will always trouble the market participants, and as a way to better understand the road ahead, people will make their own projections, which at times could raise more questions than answers.

So while taking a stock of the overall situation, may be its time, we look ahead , and find a way to revisit some of these experiments to help us better understand, and improve the existing structure of the economy and the markets going forward. And with this in mind, I thought, I will take the liberty, and share my own two cents worth on the subject.

To start with, I believe, we can all agree that the  financial crisis has revealed to us the vulnerabilities of our existing economic system and financial infrastructure. And, if we are to attempt to find a way to upgrade the system then we will need to explore ways to remodel, the whole financial infrastructure, in order to make sure it’s sustainable over a long run. So here is an outline of the broader idea, which is based around creating an ” emergency only use spare money supply capacity ” in the system, that could be tapped into during an exceptional situation ( a financial crisis type event ). This could be a possible solution to mitigate or address some of the underlying solvency related concern on a sovereign nation.

And here is how it could work, first and foremost, the utilisation of the newly added capacity will have to be approved by a country’s parliament, second the whole process could be monitored by a global financial stability board or a body under the IMF, and third the market should have a clarity about the rules. So the assumption is, if the markets know or knew that a country could tap into its inbuilt safety mechanism put in place or in other words utilise a back up facility under a defined set of rules in case of emergency then it is less likely to speculate about a potential bankruptcy of that country.

The overall premise is based on a common sense approach that an efficient and sustainable system should  have a back up or IN CASE OF EMERGENCY provision put in place to be  used under exceptional circumstances. So for example, in event of a tyre puncture, you would use the spare tyre that comes with your vehicle or in case of a power failure, you will switch on a back up generator, in same way the emergency money supply pool ( as a spare capacity )  could be tapped into or utilised during an exceptional financial crisis type event. So under the proposed framework, a country could be allowed to print emergency money equivalent to up to 10% of its GDP, and this new money supply will automatically cease to exist within a period of let’s say 5 years, and could be linked to the overall GDP growth. In others words, the money supply by design will be created with a limited shelf life, to be used under extreme and exceptional circumstances. And the assumption here is that a five year cycle should be a sufficient transition period to help the economy rehabilitate.

 Also linking the temporary additional money supply to the GDP growth creates a balance. So the overall idea works more or less like the rocket booster engine system that are used to take spacecraft into space, they do a job and then cut off  (burn out ). We are taking about, creating a provision that will allow a country to tap into its spare capacity, a builtin safety mechanism that could kick in, in case of emergency. And since the provision will have a defined set of rules, the debate around a possible exit, and its outcome will not have to factor in many UNKNOWNS, making the outcome somewhat certain. So we know what happens, and at what level.

And beside the concern over sovereign risk, the other big issue item are the large financial institutions considered too big to fail. Asking the institution to create a living WILL doesn’t really go far enough. So one of the idea worth exploring could be, creating a mechanism that will allow troubled large ( too big to fail ) financial institutions to temporarily come under the protection of the central bank. The limited protection will not be for a period longer than 2.5 years, and the restructuring and unwinding process could be monitored, supervised by a special committee reporting directly to the central bank.

The experimentation with unconventional monetary policies like QE  created uncertainty causing extreme volatility, and the problem was not the QE but the perception of QE, and what it will do or has done to the overall economy. Unconventional monetary policy tools like QE aren’t really a complete idea, and just like any human idea they need to reach a level of maturity through evolution. Also by design, the current structure of our economic system makes it prone to crises so if you are operating in a global financial system that has inherent builtin inefficiency then there is always a good chance that any policy measure even with best intention or design may not have the desired result.

So creating a defined safety mechanism in the overall infrastructure of the financial system should hopefully go a long way  in providing a level of certainty to the market. And here is an example, during the financial crisis, the uncertainty over whether a country would get bailed out or not, and on what terms sort of magnified the problem.

Also an investment or a business model can only factor what is known, and what  can be seen so a decision making will always have an element of risk involved. But knowing that there are many UKNOWNs keeps us honest and wise.  So going forward,  what we need to admit, and fully understand is that ,the journey to creating an efficient financial system will come with failures, and we may not have all the answers so being open to all and any good ideas makes all the sense. A Market economy is nothing but a human idea, and it has to go through an evolutionary process, and one of the reasons why the financial markets go through boom and bust is simply because the undefined rules creates an environment for extreme uncertainty leading to speculation.

That said, striving to create a financial and economic system that is 100% efficient, is quite impractical ( at least for now) . Also it must be said that inefficiencies do create opportunities, which allows entrepreneurs to add value, and in the process profit from it. Money or capital has no NATIONALITY so people will chase opportunities where ever they can find, and I believe thats a fair game because it encourages economies and businesses to compete for capital.

However, as a part of the evolutionary process, and over time, we have learnt to make safer cars, planes, and made tremendous progress in making various manufacturing process safer, transformed the telecom industry. And we have also made significant progress in many other fields including of space exploration among others, but our innovation in financial markets hasn’t  really made the economy or the markets any safer.

So its about time that we focus our efforts on not only making the economy and the financial markets safer, but also on making it work better by improving the overall design of the existing system, and take measures to manage the future financial crises better, in order to minimise the financial hardship on people in the Main Street as well as on the nation states during the time of an exceptionally damaging financial crisis that leads to broken people, broken families as evident from the financial crisis of 07/08. This will be a journey of knowing the unknowns.

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A Historic Opportunity For India and the Indian society To Bring About a Change From Within

Posted on January 7, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

 

Good to see the ongoing debate on governance, politics and reforming of the INDIAN TAX SYSTEM stirring up in India in the past few weeks. But by looking at the BIG PICTURE it’s clear that country isn’t just struggling cause of lack of good governance and good governance although essential but on its own won’t go far enough to move the country forward. It is quite evident that the country has been suffering from a severe lack of good reforms and efficient policy decisions but the again a good policy or much needed reforms can only be executed or delivered by an efficient delivery mechanism.And so far this has been India’s major problem because the existing administrative system is simply not fit for purpose. The reality is that a high percentage of the administrators(managers) coming out of the current Indian Administrative Services (IAS) program do not have the right training or the essential background on public policy administration and execution.

A good an innovative policy requires an efficient administrative infrastructure that is not just able to cope with the task at hand but also able to improvise by working closely with the relevant ministerial department on perfecting the policies if and when required. It should also be extremely reactive and responsive to its users / customers i.e. the citizens requirements. The administrative infrastructure created during the British Raj to govern India clearly needs to be revamped and updated. For example we can’t expect to run super fast trains on British Raj Era railway infrastructure without revamping and updating the existing railway infrastructure of the country and this is just common sense. So in short the existing policy delivery mechanism / infrastructure is quite simply outdated. And the problem is not that there is a shortage of talents when it comes to good public administrators but the system simply fails to keep the talent because it isn’t attractive enough. Historically India has produced amazing MINDS and even today the country has no shortage of Talents but the problem has always been the mindset of the Indian society.

Any good system requires a regular overhaul and upgrading and the current IAS program that more or less serves as an operating system to administer and govern INDIA is simply too old and is in need of immediate radical reforms to make it fit for purpose. And here is what the government of the day should look at, a good manager will need to be paid appropriately so what’s the harm in creating a private sector type bonus system linked to verifiable results and overall performance of an official. And the same should apply to ministers. The ministers and the managerial staff will need to work on making various administrative branches of INDIA INC more efficient and responsive and deliver better return on assets for the shareholders i.e. the citizens.

Corruption won’t go away on its own or by street protests or by a creation of new political parties. Also elections and governance etc won’t necessarily solve India’s problem in my own view. If you think the same way you will get to the same place so clearly the country needs to start the process of revamping it’s overall mindset and find a new approach. And this has to come and be driven by the society itself. So a lasting and sustainable change has to come from within. For example lets start with small things if people living in the same community decided to work together and started keeping their streets and town cleans then automatically the entire city will start to look and feel cleaner. Similarly, if people decided and encouraged their friends and families to look at the bigger picture and not to take short cuts for example when getting their kids admitted to a school or getting a normal job done or even when attending prayer events in temples the society will then start to look less messier and more organised as there will be less incentives for folks to ask for favours. It is important to understand that a vibrant bribe culture in India isn’t going to go away just like that and also on the flip side the fear of getting caught might in fact discourage the decision making process making the situation much worst so the people will need to take the initiative and lay the foundation that will bring about the required and essential change in the overall mindset of the Indian society. In other words the society of the day needs to get on 2014 bandwidth.

And obviously the government has a very important role to play by working together with the society and facilitating this change by starting with creating incentives within the existing system. For example, if the government comes with an investment or a social investment program then why not also create a provision where up to 10% of the allocated fund could be paid in bonuses to officials in charge of administering and executing that particular program or policy similarly if a government department is announcing a tender then why not create a BONUS pool of 5 % to 10% that could be paid to the department in charge of the particular project or tender irrespective of who wins the tender. This will mostly likely remove the need for companies to submit unrealistic bids in order to simply secure the project by finding a way to bribe the officials. Also the officials will know that irrespective of who wins the tender their bonus is guaranteed. This by no means should be taken as encouraging corruption but in fact these steps could provide the right incentives by taking away the motivation behind corruption and there are a number of practical, simple and innovative steps to create the right incentives. For example, every government secretariat could have a simple fast track service for citizens and people willing to pay higher fees will be able to access that particular service on fast track basis. Some of these incentives are probably already there. Also why not create a donation incentive so if customers are happy with the services provided by the officials in a particular department then they could donate towards the annual bonus fund. A Corruption that is under the carpet can kill any economy and unless we find a way to start paying people fairly we can’t take the moral high ground and expect people not to take bribe as most of them get involved in corruption because of their obligations towards the family and in a way they do have the right to do what is best in the interest of their family. So this is why it is important that we explore all the practical ways to remove the corruption embedded in the system say.

Now with regards to the TAX Code debate well a country where roughly only 4% of the population pays income tax clearly needs to do better and this will not only require the government of the day to make radical changes in the overall tax structure but also the people who are happy take to the streets to show their anger against corruption will need to have a serious look at themselves in the MIRROR and ask themselves what is their own contribution to the country that they claim to love so much. Talk is generally cheap and easy and most of us are good at it. A big economy like India can’t abolish the personal income tax system altogether, it is simply unrealistic and most probably a wrong debate.

Indian Tax system today heavily relies on indirect tax revenues including of VAT, sales tax, excise duties among others to pay the country’s BILLS. And no doubt the system is struggling cause of corruption but this isn’t just an INDIAN phenomena. Having said that it is surely getting entrenched in the DNA of the Indian society and people will need to realise that if you build yourself a US 100 million dollar mansion in a neighbourhood where the rest of them can’t afford even a US $5,000 house then you are making a serious mistake because you may end up having to spend millions on security etc so why not instead help build your immediate neighbourhood and by this I mean building a good road, a good sanitation system, may be a good school , a good medical centre and then build yourself a billion dollar mansion ( if you can afford it ) because in this case the new neighbourhood will be anchored around you and it always be grateful and most likely you will see significant benefits from your investment in the community. And this is not socialism but just smart and sustainable investment.

If you want to change the country then you will most likely have to start with changing yourself, your own family, neighbourhood and the city. So I will encourage the society, the government and the entrepreneurs to take the important first step and in a society where people like to follow and copy others it is highly likely others will follow suit creating a trend. Collaboration can help us climb mountains and help us get to the moon so the various communities will need to come together and work towards making a better India. A crisis also provides opportunity but it is important not to get overwhelmed by the CHAOS because a grinding process isn’t all smooth and beautiful so I believe it is time for the Indian society to look at the big picture knowing well that it has a truly historic opportunity to take the country forward by playing an extremely important role and in the process it could also set up a good example and precedent for similar societies living in the developing world going forward.

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