I pledged to myself to read a book a week and write a short review here. The first book that I read under this pledge is Martin Wolf's 'The Shift and The Shocks : What We Have Learned - And Have Still To Learn - From The Financial Crisis'. A summary judgement, in the tradition of Amazon, is that this is a 5-star, absolutely brilliant book to read on the Financial Crisis and its causes. Martin Wolf, who I saw as an apologist of Globalisation and principally writes in the Financial Times, would not usually be an author I would start my reading pledge with, and it needed some persuasion from a friend whose I advise I value greatly and who suggested, accurately as I understand now, that if one has to read just one book about the financial crisis, this should be it.
It is, as is clear from the title, about the financial crisis that started in 2007 and shaped our lives in many ways. The boom years before 2007 is now a distant memory for many of us, and though some countries have returned to growth, its legacy still lives on in the perennial crisis of the Euro. Mr Wolf argues in the book that despite the deep crisis, the way financial sector operated has not changed much, perhaps, perversely, because the tax-payer funded rescues let them off the hook rather too easily. However, the great thing about this book is that it looks beyond the usual narrative - the misdeeds of the bankers and the mistaken assumption of the regulators - and interrogates the wider economic factors, such as the strategy of the developing countries to 'export' excess savings to advanced economies since the shocks of the 1997 Asian Financial crisis. This wider economic narrative is extremely relevant right now, as we see the warning signs in the horizon, an unsustainable property boom (when real estate prices become completely out of proportion with income) in some countries, and a real prospect of economic crisis across developing nations, yet again. Some economists are now predicting that we are just one shock away from another crisis, and if one looks around, there are plenty of candidates - Chinese stock markets, Indian Real Estate, US Current Account deficit, Greek exit from Euro, British exit from European Union, Donald Trump in the White House - that may bring it about.
The best bits of the book, in my mind, relate to European Union. The book clarified to me a lot of questions about the Greek crisis (with several moments of why-did-I-not-think-about-this-before) and the role Germany played in the crisis. There are two things in particular I should highlight. First, there is this rather naive approach that a country should manage an economy just as a household manages its finances. Originating perhaps from Margaret Thatcher, this is an underlying theme of discussions about economics, not just in the popular press, but also in the policy making circles and some parts of the academia. The discussion about the Euro in this book shows how hopelessly naive that approach is, and consequently, our idea of indisciplined Greeks causing mayhem just by themselves is rather flawed. Second, this book also makes one think about the concept of debt, particularly the underlying principle that we tend to hold dear - that all debts must be paid! While such a principle is important for functioning of a financial system (because, otherwise, there will be no credit), one must explore the concept of creditors' responsibility and look at ways how debts are dealt with in the event of a crisis.
Jumping off towards the very end, the conclusions that Mr Wolf makes are worth taking seriously. He points out the fundamentally incomplete nature of our response to the financial crisis, and that the job remains half done. The costs of the financial crisis - more than the World Wars without a matching recovery to follow - would perhaps be compounded without a robust response, and the crisis would keep coming. Mr Wolf identified six areas of action/ attention that are worth thinking about.
First, we should be making the financial system more resilient by raising capital requirements for banks and creating more 'bail-in-able' debt. He also suggests proper funding and empowerment of regulatory bodies, giving them more teeth to deal with fraud and other criminal behaviour.
Second, we should look to de-leverage our economies. The suggested method includes the removal of tax deductibility of interests and creating incentives for equity investment, and a proper tax on land values, as most boom-bust cycles start with land and real estate.
Third, the corporate taxation and governance needs serious attention, with the aim of reducing corporate savings glut which is creating serious economic imbalances. One powerful suggestion is to remove corporate taxation altogether and treat all corporate income as a part of their shareholders' income, which will create incentives for distribution of profits. Besides, the case for attacking the bonus culture is made, as this often leads to underinvestment in capital goods and over investment in schemes such as share buyback.
Fourth, the financial contracts may change to adjust with the circumstances. One key suggestion is to create mortgage contracts where the lenders could have a share of gains if house prices rose and share the losses if it falls.
Fifth, measures to facilitate income redistribution are urgent. Suggestions made by Thomas Piketty about Global Wealth Tax are referenced to, and even if this is ambitious, some measures to combat the rising inequality are urgent.
Sixth, measures to raise longer term economic growth, including investment in scientific research, relevant education, private sector investment, are urgent to make up for the lost growth.
In the end, I could not help but reflect how flawed the right wing orthodoxy, as demonstrated by every candidate in the Republican Presidential race, but also held with radical faith by our own Conservative front bench, is out of touch with this world. Martin Wolf is no socialist, and his clear presentation of these urgent, realistic measures would perhaps get more attention.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer. So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society. It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excell
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.