Bhaktonomics 101: All You Wanted to Know but Were Afraid to Ask

ARTS RAJAN

There is economics and then there is Bhaktonomics–or so called economics which is used regularly these days, to justify the actions of the Narendra Modi government.

This new faction of economics has never been explored before—at least not until today. In this column I will look at Bhaktonomics that is being used to justify why Raghuram Rajan should not have been offered a second term, as the governor of the Reserve Bank of India.

Here are a few arguments being made:

a) Rajan wasn’t cutting interest rates fast enough: This is an old argument that keeps getting made whenever a central bank does not cut interest rates as the government of the day would like it to. So the followers of Bhaktonomics say that Rajan should not have got a second term because he was not cutting interest rates fast enough.

The irony is that Rajan did cut the repo rate. The repo rate has been cut by 150 basis points since January 2015. Repo rate is the rate at which RBI lends to banks and acts as a sort of a benchmark to the interest rates that banks pay for their deposits and in turn charge on their loans.

But let’s leave that aside for a moment. Hence, the argument is Rajan wasn’t cutting interest rates fast enough. And because he wasn’t cutting interest rates fast enough, the bank lending had been growing at a slow rate. Since bank lending has been growing at a slow rate, individuals haven’t been borrowing to spend and companies to expand. Hence, economic growth hasn’t been robust enough. Given this, Rajan had to go.

But didn’t India grow at 7.6% in 2015-2016? Isn’t India the fastest growing major economy in the world? I personally don’t believe that India is growing at 7.6%. There are many other sceptics as well. But try telling that to the practitioners of Bhaktonomics and see how they react.

So, if India is indeed growing at 7.6%, and is the fastest growing major economy in the world, then Rajan has cut interest rates fast enough. And if he has cut interest rates fast enough, why is he being fired? Okay, okay. He has not been fired. He has chosen to go on his own.

If India is growing at 7.6%, then Rajan has cut interest rates fast enough. Or to put it as the conventional economists do, he hasn’t been behind the curve. On the flip side, if he hasn’t cut interest rates fast enough, then India isn’t growing at 7.6%. The broader point being that you can’t have it both ways like the Bhaktonomists are currently.

There are other points on the interest rate front that need to be made here. Rajan ensured that the real rate of interest on deposits was in positive territory, after a long time. This basically means that the difference between the nominal rate of interest on deposits minus the prevailing rate of inflation, is in positive territory.

This worked well for savers who had seen inflation eat away their hard earning during the Manmohan Singh years. It has also helped household financial savings grow, as less money went into gold and real estate, in comparison to the past. It is ultimately these financial savings which will finance the Make in India programme. So Rajan essentially was batting for the government and not against it, as Bhaktonomists have been pointing out.

But a real rate of interest for depositors means that the government had to bear a high rate of interest on its borrowings, something it is clearly not comfortable doing. This is after many years of paying a lower rate of interest on its borrowings than the prevailing rate of inflation.

Take a look at the following chart:

 

The green line is the rate of inflation. And the red line is the interest that the government pays on what it borrows. Between 2007 and 20013, the government paid a lower rate of interest than the prevailing rate of inflation.

The real rate of interest available to the depositors these days, does not allow the government to do that. Hence, as the biggest borrower going around, it wants lower interest rates. QED.

The saver be dammed. Bhaktonomics has no place for the savers. They are only bothered about the borrowers, which includes the government and the crony capitalists.

b) Individuals are not important/Nobody is indispensable: This is another point that is being vociferously made to justify the exit of Rajan. This is absolute rubbish. If that was the case then Manmohan Singh, would have still been prime minister.

Individuals make institutions and governments. They make institutions and they destroy them as well. Hence, individuals are important. What India lacks are institutions. One man cannot take this country out of the rut that it is in. Good institutions can. And institutions are ultimately built as well as nurtured by individuals. So saying that individuals are not important is not even an argument.

Also, India’s government these days gets as much attention as it does, globally, primarily because Narendra Modi heads it. Modi is an individual. His being the head of the Indian government gives it more credibility than the last one and given that he matters. And like he matters, so does Rajan, when it comes to the RBI.

Further, you don’t hound out an employee who is doing well, especially when you have a serious talent crunch anyway, when the best brains do not want to work for the government (and I mean any Indian government here not just this government) and stay far away from it. If something is working why try and destroy, in order to fix it again? Beats me. Perhaps, Bhaktonomics has an explanation for this as well.

Also, the next RBI governor, whoever he or she is, will take time to settle into the job. And precious time will be lost. This is when inflation has started to go up again. So have oil prices. The cleaning up of bad loans of banks has reached a very important stage. Continuity would have been good here.

In fact, The Indian Express reports that earlier this year the government scrapped the search for a new chief of the Securities and Exchange Board of India(Sebi) and extended the term of UK Sinha on the pretext that ““continuity may be desirable” at times of “excessive volatility — mainly due to external factors””.

If this was true for Sebi earlier this year, it is more than true for the RBI at this point of time. So, why the double standards? Also, UK Sinha, the Sebi chief, like Rajan, is a UPA appointee.

c) It’s the government’s prerogative to decide who works for it: This is the third argument being made justifying Rajan’s exit and is by far the most sensible of the lot. Also, it is better than saying nobody is indispensable.

But is this the way you hound out an RBI governor, when RBI remains one of the few government institutions which hasn’t degraded over the years? You don’t let an unelected member of Parliament run a malicious campaign against the RBI governor and then come out and say this is not the party’s stated position on the issue.

If you didn’t want him, the same could have been communicated to him, in a good way. Tata, bye bye.

The way Rajan’s exit has been handled, it is clear that the message that the government wants to send out is, that if you want to work for us, then you need to be a cheerleader (or  team player as the euphemism goes), and if you have an opinion your own, then it’s better to keep your mouth shut.

As Chandan Mitra of the BJP put it in a column on NDTV.com: “He also demonstrated a less-than-patriotic enthusiasm to play cheerleader, expected to tom-tom his government’s achievements.”

The column originally appeared in Vivek Kaul’s Diary on June 21, 2016

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About vivekkaul
Vivek Kaul is a writer who has worked at senior positions with the Daily News and Analysis(DNA) and The Economic Times, in the past. He is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. Easy Money: The Greatest Ponzi Scheme Ever and How It Is Set to Destroy the Global Financial System , the latest book in the trilogy has just been published. The first two books in the trilogy were published in November 2013 and July 2014 respectively. Both the books were bestsellers on Amazon.com and Amazon.in. Currently he works as an economic commentator and writes regular columns for www.firstpost.com. He is also the India editor of The Daily Reckoning newsletter published by www.equitymaster.com. His writing has appeared across various other publications in India. These include The Times of India, Business Standard,Business Today, Business World, The Hindu, The Hindu Business Line, Indian Management, The Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle, Forbes India, Mutual Fund Insight, The Free Press Journal, Quartz.com, DailyO.in, Business World, Huffington Post and Wealth Insight. In the past he has also been a regular columnist for www.rediff.com. He has lectured at IIM Bangalore, IIM Indore, TA PAI Institute of Management and the Alliance University (Bangalore). He has also taught a course titled Indian Economy to the PGPMX batch of IIM Indore. His areas of interest are the intersection between politics and economics, the international financial crisis, personal finance, marketing and branding, and anything to do with cinema and music. He can be reached at vivek.kaul@gmail.com

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